Thursday, January 07, 2010

A PR nightmare of Pacific proportions

Last December, the cabin crew of a Cebu Pacific flight bound for Manila from Hong Kong attempted to refuse passage for a mother and her son with Global Developmental Delay (GDD), citing company policy of not allowing 2 special children board the same flight. Apparently, a child with Down's syndrome had already gotten on the plane, so they couldn't accommodate another special child. The mother, Mylene Alcantara, is now slapping civil and criminal suits against Cebu Pacific for discrimination and for publicly humiliating her and her son.

When I saw the news report on TV last night, my mouth was actually agape in shock. What kind of flight attendants could be callous enough to approach a mother with a special kid and ask them to get off the plane? How does one even phrase that? "Um, excuse me, we need you to disembark because we've exceeded our limit for special children. Very sorry for the inconvenience, but we're just following airline policy."? And for that matter, what the hell kind of company policy is that anyway?? Is limiting the number of passengers with special needs common practice among airlines, or is it only Cebu Pacific that enforces this insensitive and unconscionable rule? Moreover, even if that rule weren't so obviously offensive, don't the passengers at least deserve the courtesy of being given prior notice, and not just be informed of it AFTER they've boarded the plane?

Then again, we are talking about the airline infamous for its countless delays, bump-offs and cancellations. I suppose it shouldn't surprise anyone that they'd have such a thoughtless and heartless policy in place. It lends a bitter irony to their slogan, "It's time everyone flies". Apparently, they don't really mean everyone.

To add insult to injury, Cebu Pacific didn't even issue a formal apology to the Alcantaras. They only reportedly sent a text message to say sorry. What kind of respectable company TEXTS to wronged customers? Would it have killed them to send an email or place a phone call, offer them free plane tickets? For crying out loud, they tried to kick them off a plane for no good reason! If it had been me, hell yeah I'd sue their politically incorrect asses off.

I've never flown Cebu Pacific before (given their infamy for countless delays, bump-offs and cancellations), and after this incident I'm even more inclined never to do so. It will be interesting, though, to see what kind of damage control their PR people do now. Perhaps the first step should be to change their company slogan.


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