Cebu Pacific Still Mired in the Mud

One week after the unhappy landing of Cebu Pacific Flight 5J-971 in Davao’s International Airport, Cebu Pacific has not rendered account to its riding clientele as to how it could have sunk so deeply in the mud. It has issued no official statement to convince its thousands of passengers that their crews are competent to handle emergency situations. It has only insulted the aggrieved passengers with the declaration that its crew acted “according to the book,” that the passengers were alive, and that therefore they should presumably be on their knees thanking God that Cebu Pacific neither plunged them to their deaths nor allowed them to be blown to smithereens.

One week after the event, I am still horrified at the testimony of my teachers on that plane that it took 27 minutes to open the doors and begin evacuating the passengers using emergency chutes. In other airlines, emergency evacuation is executed within three minutes, while the emergency norm is 15 seconds. PAL, I understand, has done it in 9 seconds. I am horrified that before the passengers’ exit, there was no attempt by the Cebu Pacific captain or crew to inform them what had happened or to assure them that they were safe. If, as Cebu Pacific CEO Lance Gokongwei stated in his ANC interview on June 3rd, it was not an emergency, the captain should have informed the passengers of this. Cebu Pacific captains routinely inform passengers about the altitude they fly, the weather conditions at the point of destination, the commencement of descent, and even the time of day; after a terrifying landing, it is not unreasonable for passengers to expect a word of explanation from the captain. Why did the engine catch fire? Why were they mired in the mud? But no word came. Instead, from the disoriented crew, as smoke and fumes invaded the cabin’s interior, came only the instruction to stay seated. The passengers experienced no leadership from the Cebu Pacific captain. It was a Navy captain among the passengers who acted to calm and reassure the passengers. The photographs published in the media the next day of a ladder coming down from the cockpit are not reassuring. Had the captain left the plane before the passengers could?

The passengers were let down the emergency chute, uninformed as to whether the plane, whose engine had burst into flame upon landing, was safe or about to blow up. There were 165 passengers. It was raining. To pick them up were a tiny multicab and an ambulance without a medical team. Those who could squeeze themselves into these sorry vehicles were driven to the terminal building; those who couldn’t get in them, had to walk the kilometer in the rain. As passengers came into the terminal building, airline personnel wearing Cebu Pacific uniforms stood by looking at them curiously, as spectators look at shell=shocked people on parade. Some approached them to encourage them to go home, telling them their carries-on and valuables would be sent to their homes. Their bottom line message: “You’re alive. Be thankful. Go home. Good riddance.”

But that was not the mood of the passengers. Being human beings, they wanted an account from Cebu Pacific. They craved an explanation. They demanded the opportunity to tell Cebu Pacific what they had suffered. They demanded the care and recognition that accrued to them as paying human passengers, and not as mere milking cows. It took close to two hours before Cebu Pacific personnel offered them water in the terminal. It took close to two hours before Cebu Pacific even recognized that among the passengers were people already suffering from high levels of stress, anxiety and hypertension. It took close to two hours before a junior staff member of Cebu Pacific came to the passengers to apologize “for the inconvenience.”

In this context, without benefit of interviewing any one of the passengers, Mr. Gokongwei stated in the same interview, “I’d like to congratulate the professionalism of the crew on board with all of our passengers safe.”

The statement flabbergasts me. The passengers may all still be alive, but to congratulate the crew for their “professionalism” mocks the passengers for the anxiety and suffering they endured, and exposes how people-unfriendly the so-called “professionalism” of Cebu Pacific is. In the same breath he states, “In this situation we may not have handled issues perfectly, but we can learn from this experience.”

What is it that I hope Cebu Pacific has learned?

If when a Cebu Pacific plane lands roughly, the engine catches fire, then the plane skids off the runway and ends up mired in the mud, it is “not an emergency,” the captain should inform the passengers of this. He should explain what happened.

Otherwise people will think they are in an emergency, and should not be sitting in a plane with smoke and toxic fumes twiddling their thumbs.

If it was not an emergency evacuation and merely an “emergency disembarkation” the captain should have informed the passengers of this.

The passengers should have been informed that the fire in the engine had been contained, if indeed it were contained, and was not about to explode.

The passengers should have been informed of the nature of the smoke and fumes that they were inhaling.

Upon emergency disembarkation, the passengers should have been shuttled appropriately to the terminal, and not made to walk a kilometer in the rain.

Uniformed Cebu Pacific ground personnel should have acted together to bring comfort and care to the passengers, and not have just gawked at them. Water and food should have been offered to them immediately, not only after two hours.

The spokesman for Cebu Pacific should have been high-level and should have expressed the concern of the company for human beings, and not have acted as if what had happened was normal and a mere “inconvenience.”

Medical care should have been provided persons who were suffering from hypertension and high levels of anxiety.

Cebu Pacific should then have issued a statement declaring that it had done its best to care for the people and had attended to their needs. It should then also have declared to the world that they do have emergency protocols in place, if they are indeed in place. If any of their officials or personnel had erred, it should have announced the sanctions imposed on these persons.

This could have reassured people.

One week after the incident, however, Cebu Pacific is still mired in the mud because it has assiduously avoided comment on the mishap, and has missed dealing directly with the passengers. This was a serious error. It has convince no one that it is a caring airline, and has only advanced the image that it cuts costs to increase profits at the jeopardy of safety, security, courtesy and compassion.

For this reason, we at ADDU have closed our account with Cebu-Pacific. If we are convinced it is dangerous for us, we do not recommend its patronage to others.

About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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2 Responses to Cebu Pacific Still Mired in the Mud

  1. TJ says:

    Another thing that irked me about the situation was the reaction of some of the Cebu Pacific’s staff/crew that I read online. “So? Di na kau sasakay sa amin? Okayü hahahaha” That was one of the status I read on Facebook of a flight attendant acquaintance with a link to an article about your memo regarding this incident. I find it crass and insensitive. I found more like this on the internet. In light of the situation, I am very angry that these people who have said to commit their selves to serve and protect passengers would say something like this, as if concerns for our safety and our rights as paying customers is something to be mocked with.

    It’s true that they offer some of the cheapest flights in the country, and people would probably still ride with them if only because of this. But at the end of the day, is it really worth sacrificing a company’s mission and values for the bottom line alone? Well, I forget. Cebu Pacific’s mission and values do not state anything about committing the best service that passengers deserve – only that they are in it to spread the “fun.” I wonder, what is fun about the recent situation?

    By the way, the friend who posted the status was a batchmate in the Ateneo (HS and undergrand). And I have numerous other friends from Ateneo who works for Ceb Pac as well. As an alumni, I think the school can also do more in inculcating better ethics and morals to the future workforce. I noticed that CSR was only slightly mentioned even in BA classes. I think it would be a good area of improvement for the current curriculum if this was further emphasized, not just in a corporate context, but social responsibility in general.

  2. Sonny Datoy says:

    i just had an interesting conversation recently with a co-worker (an american) attempting to answer his question as to why there are so many filipino nurses in new york (and in the US). i told him that aside from the obvious economic incentive, i posited that a nursing career is not uncommon because filipinos are compassionate and caring by nature.

    so i thought it was amusing that when he read the news about the emergency landing and the apparent indifference of the airline crew, he texted me saying that cebu pacific should have hired nurses instead as flight attendants. it was obviously a joke, but it still left me feeling a bit uneasy- and then a bit mad. my co-worker had a point: where was human compassion in all of this? i’m sorry, but i don’t think a disaster preparedness training is required for one to act instinctively and decisively in the interest of the passengers’ safety, even if, as you correctly pointed out, it only involves keeping everyone informed. this leads me to believe that the core of the issue is that these airline workers have no freakin’ clue as to what their job is really about. and that is the real disaster here.

    in a way, your very public outing of their incompetence validates my own share of cebu pacific horror stories (and there are countless others out there). it saddens me that the airline management’s reaction thus far has been deplorable, but at the same time, i really hope to see something good come out of all this. cebu pacific has their work cut out for them, but in the meantime, my personal boycott of them remains in full effect (~2 yrs now!), and i have urged my family and friends to do the same.

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