Last week, spent a few days in Seoul; it was the second time visiting the South Korean metropolis. Have previously penned feature articles on sights throughout the city and the amazing food scene. On this trip, however, had an eye-opening experience in terms of really appreciating the way travel can be a convenience, as opposed to the antiquated methods employed by the local tourism industry.
Even before leaving Bacolod City, was faced with a problem from a local carrier with the domestic flight between Bacolod-Silay Airport and Mactan-Cebu International Airport (personally, at all costs, always try to avoid connecting through the nightmare that is Ninoy Aquino International Airport). Received a text alert about a week before flying saying the flight back to Bacolod City had been canceled and the reservation had been rebooked on a flight to Davao City. Have experienced canceled flights before and gone through rebooking, but to be moved to a completely different final destination?
Needless to say, this caused massive consternation – especially because the text came in around 9:00 p.m.
Stopped by the ticket office the next morning to have the situation cleared up and was rebooked on a later flight back to Bacolod-Silay Airport. Turned out, whoever is operating the text alert system sent a message with the wrong airport code – a pretty horrifying error, even if it was just an isolated case.
Just the local process of entering the airport is truly a Filipino concept; visiting a number of other countries, have never experienced the type of barriers faced when using airports in the Philippines. Having to go through an x-ray before entering airport check-in is a unique concept and while it may serve as a means of keeping the airport safe, it often comes up as a hassle – having to reorganize everything even before stepping one foot into the airport. Also, the fact that one cannot even enter the airport without a travel reservation is ridiculous. Sure, the departure gate is only for passengers with valid tickets, but there is no reason the check-in area should be barred for friends and family looking to see their loved ones off.
Once checked in, the tax counter comes next; again, in all the places visited, have never had to stop at a tax counter. This is not a complaint about having to pay the tax, perhaps other airports insulate the airline tickets with the tax already, it is merely because passengers are forced into taking this additional step in what is already a tiresome process – not to mention, its additional pocket money being spent.
After having the ticket reservation checked before entry, then the initial security check, then check-in, then paying the additional tax, there is another security check – flying to Cebu City takes around 30 minutes, the check-in process takes about as long as the flight itself.
Additionally, flights (no matter the local carrier) are almost always late and, it would appear, rather than trying to improve service, local airlines merely embrace “Filipino time” and just settle for flights always running behind.
Plus, with so few choices, passengers are left at the mercy of these local carriers.
As much as the local tourism industry likes to brag and namedrop about every little thing, the primary mechanics of hospitality are still severely lacking. Seems pretty evident, the focus is primarily on the superficial rather a desire at providing an easy and efficient travel experience.
Incheon International Airport in South Korea, meanwhile, even on the first visit last year, was a breeze to navigate. There are well marked signs to get around the massive facility and, on that first visit, while following signs to the Airport Railroad Express Train (AREX), took note of the food court and movie theater, presumably for passengers with extended layovers. Upon reaching an information desk, the attendant, who understood and spoke English, was able to provide tickets for the AREX along with a separate card for the subway – the AREX itself has ticket booth and the attendant could have easily just directed that way, however, with ability to take care of the matter herself, she made it a one-step process.
Even getting on the AREX for the first time, was unaware there were assigned seats. Luckily, once arriving at the bottom of the escalator and onto the train platform, there is an attendant that explains the car number and seat number.
On this last trip, flew with Korean Air, the flagship carrier of South Korea and lauded by international magazines and ratings bureaus for their service. Arriving back at Incheon International Airport on the way home, saw a quartered-off wide open space with the names of all the local airlines, including Asiana Airlines, posted above the counter. Noticed it was a self-check-in service, similar to the system Cebu Pacific Air has set up at Terminal 3 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport. However, with this system, once checked-in, there are no attendants standing behind the counter to collect checked bags, instead it is an automated system with only a couple attendants attending to the bag drop area – all they do is scan the boarding pass and, after the bags are weighed, bag tags are automatically spit out from the machine.
Additionally, the airport check-in area is also equipped with robot escorts, manufactured by LG, equipped with touchscreens on their back. Lost passengers just have to enter the airline they are flying and then follow the robot to their assigned counter. There is also a robot that sweeps the floor and greets travelers.
For a flight that takes over three hours, the check-in process at Incheon International Airport took about 10 minutes, less than half the time it took just trying to get through Bacolod-Silay Airport./WDJ