Today, different airline companies offer cheap airfares to entice would-be passengers to book flights with them. And for a budget traveller like me, I always compare different airfares before I buy my airline tickets online. On the 4th of July, I thought that I got myself a good deal when I decided to buy cheap airfares online from Tiger Airways via their Bangkok to Clark route. But little did I know that I would have the most horrible experience as I became a victim of airline bullying from Tiger Airways and SEAir.
Why I decided to book flights from Bangkok to Clark
Being a cheapskate, I normally wait for promo fares online before I buy airfares to any destination. However, on July 1st, almost 5 months after I started backpacking in Southeast Asia, I learned that my mom was rushed to the hospital due to a stroke. I immediately thought it would be best if I go home but my family thought it would be wise if I stay in Bangkok until further notice.
Then on July 4th, after eating cereals for breakfast and opening my mails at 10 in the morning, I saw my sister’s message letting me know that my mom’s condition has not improved at all. My sister could not afford to go on leave for a long period of time and she might request that I come home.
Looking for cheap airfares online
Without having any second thoughts, I immediately told my friend, Ed, that I will go home. I told him that the date of my flight will depend on the cheap airfare I would find online. By 10:30 am, I started scanning for cheap airline tickets from Bangkok to the Philippines on the same day. I found one via Cebu Pacific and the flight was scheduled to leave at 11:40 that night. The base fare indicated 4k+ baht. Then I checked Tiger Airways’ airline fares. When I saw their cheap airfares online, I immediately decided I will buy those tickets. The base rate was only 3,400 baht and after taxes, I only needed to pay 4,275 baht. The only catch was the flight was scheduled to leave Bangkok to Clark at 4:40 pm. With Bangkok’s traffic, I had to carefully consider the consequences. But I had to book the cheap airfare. I was afraid that if I delay my trip home, I might regret it.
By 12:30 pm, I finished buying my airline tickets online. I bought a one-way ticket from Bangkok to Clark via Tiger Airways, which will depart 4 hours after I booked the ticket last July 4, 2012.
I also bought a ticket for the first flight from Manila to Cebu, a one-way ticket, via Cebu Pacific. My flight to Cebu was scheduled to depart the NAIA Terminal 3 at 0410H on July 5, 2012. After booking the trip to Cebu, I hoped and prayed that I won’t have any troubles travelling from Clark to Manila after my flight from Bangkok to Clark arrives so that I could make it in time for my early morning flight that next day.
I failed to print a copy of my itineraries since no one was manning the internet café I passed by. Instead, Ed, helped me capture images of my confirmation itineraries just in case I will be asked for my airline ticket.
Leaving Bangkok in a Hurry
The clock was ticking fast. Although I knew I had to hurry up, it seemed I still took my time packing my stuff. I set 2pm as my queue to leave for the airport. I thought of going to the airport via the Airport Rail Link but decided to go by taxi instead. So by 2:10pm, with only cereals inside my tummy, I left Den’s place in Ratchayothin without even saying goodbye to her, the friend who was hosting us during our stay in Bangkok, since she was still at work.
The traffic was crazy from the area where I stayed. The good thing was it was located on the northern district of Bangkok, which is near the Suvarnabhumi Airport.
on my way to the airport
photo credit: Ed
Checking in at the SEAIR counter
I really thought I would not make it in time for the 45 minutes check-in allowance so I let out a huge sigh of relief when I arrived in the airport at 3:15 pm. I immediately looked for the check-in counter of SEAir since I will fly with them. Tiger Airways has tied up with SEAir for their routes in the Philippines.
lining up at SEAir’s check-in counter at the Suvarnabhumi Airport
When the Nightmare Began
When it was my turn to check-in, I handed my camera to show her my confirmation code. However, the check-in counter staff had a hard time finding my name on their list. She said that my name is not on the list. I told her that I booked the flight at 12 noon that day and I got confirmed for my booking. She then called someone else, Ms. Areerat K., a passenger service lead agent, to ask for assistance. I saw Ms. Areerat talk to someone on the phone and when she hung up, she told me to wait for 5 minutes since the counter at Tiger Airways would check on my booking. She said it was likely I didn’t show up on their list since I just bought my ticket a few hours ago. The check-in counter staff started accommodating other passengers by this time.
Airline Bullying at its Finest
When 5 minutes passed, I made a follow-up on the status of my online booking. Ms. Areerat called TigerAirways again. She then told me that the SEAir flight was fully booked and I had to wait 45 minutes before boarding time to see if someone will not show up so that I can take their seat. Whatda?!?!?!
After hearing this, I immediately panicked and told her that that can’t be true since I have a confirmed booking. How could my online purchase go through if the flight was already fully booked? I kept calm but continuously bombarded her with questions about what exactly happened. I also asked her if Tiger Airways will refund my ticket as I was about to walk out of there and just book a flight with Cebu Pacific so that I can leave that night. She said she doesn’t know if TigerAir will refund me.
I was about to loose my wits at that time. They were not giving me the right responses and I felt stuck in a limbo. I started worrying about how I’d have to book for a new trip again, not to mention the Cebu Pacific flight I booked for the next day considering that I only borrowed the credit card of a friend to book those flights.
“I have to be on that flight!”
Ms. Areerat asked me to go with her to the Tiger Airways check-in counter to settle my problem. When I went there, Mr. Noppalit C., a passenger service agent, looked like he was taking care of my situation. However, it seemed that he was too busy handling other customer’s concerns. I kept asking them what will happen and they said I need to wait for a no show from a passenger 45 minutes before the boarding time.
This was when I got mad. I started to raise my voice and demanded that I had to be on that flight. I never used curse words though. If I was speaking in my dialect, I would have probably done it. But since I had to say it in English, I didn’t I find it weird to use the F word all the time or other curse words I also didn’t see the point of mentioning I was rushing a trip home because of a sick mom. I don’t want their pity. I want action since it was my right to be on that flight. If anyone saw me that time, they would probably be afraid for I had to put up my super angry face because I was and because I had to.
A Filipina also arrived at that Tiger Airways counter since she had a similar case like mine. She also booked a flight that noon and the staff from SEAir didn’t issue her a boarding pass and was told the same thing as I was.
I pleaded to Mr. Noppalit and Ms. Areerat that I was willing to pay the 150 baht I saw online when I booked my flight so that they can prioritize my boarding (even if I only had 200 baht left in my wallet) just to get it over and done with.
They said I can’t and I really have to wait. They said they were fixing the issue. But when I saw that they were still entertaining other customers, it gave me the impression that they were doing it on purpose. That they were just taking their time without prioritizing my issue. It looked like they were trying to delay solving my problem until 3:55pm, the deadline given to me before they give me a boarding pass.
Getting a boarding pass 45 minutes before departure was a no no for me. Have you been to the Suvarnabhumi Airport? That airport is huge. I would need a lot of time going through the security checkpoints and the immigration check point. This Bangkok airport is one of the busiest airports in the world and I can’t bear the thought of missing my flight just because I got stuck lining up at the immigration checkpoint.
The Art of Injecting Pressure
“No photo, no photo!”
Still worried sick about the staff of TigerAirways’ not helping me and the other passenger, I started taking photos. I was fuming with anger so I just clicked my camera to capture images of the counter and the staff and the next conversation happened:
Mr. Noppalit (waving his hand): “I’m sorry ma’am. No photo.”
Me: “Why not?”
Mr. Noppalit: ”It’s for security reasons.”
Me: “There’s no sign here saying taking a photo is not allowed!”
Ms. Areerat: “Ma’am, please, we are trying to help you with your problem.”
After a couple more minutes, he finally told us that he found our names and that we are already confirmed for boarding. All we needed to do was to go back to the SEAir check-in counter, which was a few aisle away, to get our boarding pass. With that, I thanked him for his help and hurriedly walked with my heavy backpack to get to the SEAir counter.
As I briskly walked to the counter, my head was chanting “I can still make it! I can still make it!” (worried that the plane will leave without us)
The time on the monitor showed 3:45 pm. Ms. Areerat also went back with us.
I was almost relieved when I reached the SEAir counter and started to wipe out my angry mood when all of a sudden, after giving my confirmation number, the staff at the check in counter told me I needed to wait for the clock to strike 3:55. Whatdaaaaaaaaaaa!!!???!!!???!!!
Fighting another battle
I had to insist that Mr. Noppalit said at the other counter that he found our names already and instructed us to come back to the SEAir counter so that we could get our boarding pass. The staff said that I really had to wait for 3:55. I raised my voice again and told her the instructions given by Mr. Noppalit. Ms. Areerat didn’t do anything at all even if she heard the conversation we had with Mr. Noppalit. The staff on the next counter heard the commotion and she asked the other staff for my confirmation code. After which, I saw a boarding pass popping out of her printer. This staff gave me my boarding pass at 3:50pm.
Making a run for it
I thanked her for her help and hurriedly dashed towards the security checkpoint. I got detained for a while since I forgot to remove a pair of scissors and they had to check the liquid container that I was carrying, which was my contact lens solution. There was a long line at the immigration check point too and after getting through it, my newfound friend and I made a run for our boarding gate.
We reached the boarding gate at 4:30pm, 10 minutes before the scheduled departure and boy were we relieved!
Finally on board SEAIR!
My bottled water got confiscated and I would be eating my first meal for that day at 11pm after I landed in Clark. I hoped to drop by one of the 7Eleven stores inside the airport terminal to grab a quick meal while waiting for my flight but thanks to Tiger Airways and SEAir, who wasted all of my time, I flew out of Bangkok with a grumbling stomach. It was a good thing I brought 5 packs of small crackers with me. When I bought a bottled water inside the aircraft, I asked how much it costs. The flight attendant said it costs 50 pesos. I only have 500 and they had no change. I asked if they accept Thai baht and asked how much it costs and their reply was “50 baht”. The baht rate is more expensive but without thinking (probably because of my hungry tummy), I paid in baht. Way to go SEAir!
Recalling the traumatic airline bullying incident
I flew with SEAir/Tiger Airways when I travelled to Bangkok last February and I never thought that I’d be a victim of their airline bullying tactics when I went back to the Philippines after buying a Bangkok to Clark airfare. Had I known this would happen to me, getting denied boarding passes because I booked my plane tickets 4 hours before my flight, I would not have bought my plane fare with Tiger Airways at all. I read from Manila Bulletin that…
“If the delay or cancellation of flight is not caused by force majeure, Maglaya said the airline should pay the full amount and all that a passenger is entitled to including meals, hotel accommodation and hotel-airport transfers.”
This news came out after DTI received reports of airline bullying from airline companies. However, given that I was out of the country and I booked my flight with an international airline operator who just tied up their operations with a local airline company in the Philippines, I had no clue what to do with the incident I experienced last July.
The lack of appropriate responses from the staff of SEAir and Tiger Airways in Bangkok also limited my options on asking for a refund and fly with another airline company.
The stress and ordeal that I had to go through after the bullying that TigerAirways and SEAir did to me was something I wouldn’t easily forget. Although I still managed to fly out of Bangkok, I will avoid flying with them from now on.
How about you? Have you experienced being bullied by airline companies during your trips? Would love to hear them too