Air Niugini’s Strange Idea of Customer Service
7:30 pm, 04.09.2014, Mactan International Airport, Cebu City, Philippines
“Madam I’m sorry to inform you that your flight to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been canceled. The woman responsible is just taking dinner, so please have a seat here and she’ll assist you soon.”
Flights rarely get cancelled and when they do it’s usually just an inconvenience — the airline brings you to your destination with the next possible flight (even if it’s with another airline). If the next flight is on the next day they usually put you up in a nice hotel overnight and pay for dinner and breakfast.
But our case was different: there are very few flights to PNG, and from here there is a plane only once a week. We felt devastated! What would happen to our plans visit the Goroka festival and the Sepik river?!
After an hour the lady in charge appeared and let us know that there is a flight from Manilla on the next day, and that she’ll reroute us through Manilla. “Sounds good” we thought and informed her of our flight from Port Moresby to Goroka on the next day, which we would miss due to the Cebu cancellation. “Oh, no problem, we’ll reschedule this one also. The people in PNG are taking care of all details. I’ll be back shortly.”
So far so good — just like it should be.
Two hours later I asked for an update, and it was this: “We are working on it.” After we pressed for more details, we were told the following:
- There are four people affected by the cancellation, all others were contacted by telephone ahead of time. Hmmm, why not us?
- Air Niugini will get rooms for the four of us at the nice hotel just across the airport’s entrance.
- They will fly us to Manilla tomorrow, via Philippine Airlines. There are flights at 11 am, 4 pm and 6pm. The 6pm flight is too late, the 4pm is full, so we’ll fly at 11 am.
Nothing’s happening, so we asked again. Information:
- The hotel across the street only has one double room free. Since they want to keep the group of four passenger together, they are looking for a hotel on Cebu island (1 hour away by taxi). Hmmmm, this means that we’ll have to get up at 7 am if we want to have breakfast and reach the airport on time.
- Rescheduling our flight via Manilla is done, but they are still working on the Goroka thing.
- Knowing that we’ll have an hour drive by taxi to our hotel, we asked if we can already go to the hotel while they are working on our flights. “Yes, but please wait a bit longer…”
A nice young girl arranged two taxis and rode with us to a fancy hotel in Cebu City. At around midnight she arranged for two nice rooms, took our e-mail addresses and mobile numbers and told us, she’ll be back in the morning at 8 am, 8:30 at the latest to pick us up. (Lesson #1: always have a local SIM-card and be easily reachable)
The hotel informed us that we can order dinner if we want to and the airline would pay for it. A nice gesture, but we were tired and not hungry. But we appreciated the thoughtfulness and felt that someone is definitely trying to make up for the airline’s mistake.
7:45 am, 05.09.2014, Forum Hotel, Cebu City
We had a nice breakfast, but felt very rushed since we wanted to be ready for our pickup at 8 am.
No one is picking us up, no one is calling us and there is no e-mail from Air Nuigini. It was high time to leave for the airport and since we didn’t have the number of the girl from last night or from anyone else at the airport we hired a taxi and payed for it. (Lesson #2: always take the phone number of your contact person, no matter how nice or full of promises they are.)
Arrived at the airport, none of the staff from last night are on duty and no one of the new guys knows about our case. Ooops!! But we made our way to Philippine Airlines and I cut the line and asked if we are scheduled to fly with the 11 am flight. “No Sir, sorry!” Ooops again!!
Suddenly a familiar face, one of the guys from last night appeared and informed us that Air Niugini is working on our case, and we will fly at 4 pm. “But that flight is full!” we said. “No worries, you are flying at 4 pm”. So I spoke to Philippine Airlines again and asked if we are flying at 4pm. “No, sorry…” “Is the 4pm flight full?” “Yes, sorry.”
At this time we are standing there together with the two other passengers affected by the cancellation, and one of them, a Filipino woman checked with her name. Philippine Air said she is flying at 4pm. We asked them to double-check for our names — no, not on the 4pm flight.
The person form Air Niugini is telling us to wait, but the 11 am flight is leaving in 20 min, so I went to the ticketing counter and payed 175 EUR for two tickets to Manilla. This was the only way to get to Manilla on time and to later fly to Port Moresby, PNG.
12:30 pm, Manilla
“Sorry Madam, there is no airline Air Niugini flying from Manilla.”
Oh-oh… But we asked someone else and they told us that indeed there is a flight and there is an office of Air Niugini which will open at 6 pm.
Received an e-mail fromAir Niugini with our online tickets Manilla – Port Moresby.
The Air Niugini office opened and they knew about our case, but they said that they cannot refund us our money, since the purchase was not authorized by them. But we should talk to the supervisor at check-in.
8 pm, check-in counter
“Sorry Sir, we cannot refund you your money, but we’ve informed the customer service office in Port Moresby, please contact them as soon as you land in PNG. Oh, and here are two vouchers for the VIP lounge.”
5:30 am, 06.09.2014, Air Niugini’s customer service counter, Port Moresby
Crossed PNG immigration, went to the ATM, got enough PNG currency for a week, bought a SIM card and proceeded to the customer service. Our flight to Goroka should be leaving in about 2 hours…
“Sorry Madam, we don’t know anything about your case.” What?!?!?
We explained the entire situation again and again, to different people, and they each told us that they will not fly us to Goroka because that flight was with a different airline (Airlines PNG) and that their responsibility ended with bringing us to Port Moresby. No one seemed to notice the fact that they brought us to Port Moresby one day later…
And the solution was so easy: Air Niugini has two flights daily to Goroka, and they had places on both flights on that day. They could have just taken us, but instead they wanted us to pay 250 EUR.
When we asked about refunding our 175 EUR for the flight to Manilla they said that they cannot do that since it was our decision to buy those tickets. And no comment about the fact that there was no other way to get to Manilla on time.
Air Niugini wanting us to pay almost 400 EUR for something they screwed up was getting usincreasingly upset, so we asked to talk to a supervisor. “Sorry Sir, you cannot talk to her directly, one of us will talk to her and this will be the final decision.” What an absurd idea!
As we feared, the supervisor decided that we have to pay for our flight to Goroka. After talking to all these people and everyone assuring us that the person at the next station will solve our problem. And all of this was handled with an of indifferent tone and a facial expression like they don’t understand why we are irritated at all.
I was mad as hell and Katja was close to bursting into tears. We felt like we wanted to leave the country as soon as possible.
I asked about rescheduling our return flight. Sure, they’d do that for free.
Do you see the irony here? They wouldn’t solve their own problem and help us see their country (which could cost them NOTHING, since a plane was going to Goroka anyway and they had free seats), but they’d be happy to fly us out of the country.
Another passenger, apparently an influential PNG local, was close by and overheard our conversation. He told us that we shouldn’t worry and that he’ll take care of the situation. He took our mobile number, we took his, and we waited.
About an hour later he called us and told us that the General Manager of Air Nuigini is calling the customer service at that very moment and that in 5 minutes we will get VIP tickets to Goroka.
We waited for 15 minutes, then went to the counter again. Nope, they will not take us to Goroka, but they will refund us our money for the flight to Manilla. But not today, because it’s the weekend. We should come back on Monday…
What the heck!!?!??!?
After a longer consideration and a few more calls with the important person (who offered to pay for our flights to Goroka himself!) Katja and I decided that we do not feel very welcome in PNG.
You should know that PNG is considered to be rather undeveloped and a bit dangerous. Most locals are supposed to be very friendly (which we believe), but there are some bandits who would do anything to get to your valuables. There is virtually no public infrastructure, so transportation and accommodations are either primitive and rather expensive or privately organized, quite luxurious but utmost expensive.
Katja and I had of course decided to do PNG the simple way, so we expected problems, but only after reaching Goroka. After seeing that even the modern part of the infrastructure does not work as expected, we were not at all confident or motivated to get to know the wild side of PNG.
So we confirmed to Air Niugini that we’d like them to reschedule out return flight. They said no problem, but the flight would be two days later, and we’d have to pay for food and accommodation ourselves. We accepted even though we knew that hotels in Port Moresby start at 250 EUR per night. The Lonely Planet also listed two simple guesthouses, which we called reserved the last free room at the CWA at 65 EUR per night. The taxi to town was another 7 EUR, but it didn’t matter.
At the guesthouse they advised us to take absolutely no valuables with us when we go out and to be back at in our room at 5 pm.
08.09.2014, Port Moresby International Airport
After spending two days in Port Moresby and exploring the city a bit, we felt better about PNG. Most people on the street were really friendly, but we also witnessed two fights and 2–3 nasty looks. We were quite sad that our PNG adventure is not going to take place, but we were mostly relieved to be leaving this country full of contradictions.
All we had to do now was go back to the customer service counter and get our refund for the Cebu–Manilla flight.
“Sorry Sir, we don’t know anything about a refund. And we cannot issue a refund here.” I immediately made some unhappy noises, they told me to wait for the supervisor.
At that time an SMS from the nice PNG person from Friday came in informing us that a manager of Air Niugini will be coming to us to apologize and to upgrade us to business class for our return flight. Nice and thank you, nice person, but what good is business class for a backpacker who was prepared to sleep in the bush and each crackers for two weeks?
We waited anyway, hoping to get our refund. About 45 minutes later we were informed that the supervisor responsible for the refund will not come, but that we should leave our credit card details and that they will refund our money later.
We didn’t even bother to ask for a contact name, a telephone number or what “later” means. Still I left them my credit card details.
We flew to Indonesia in business class.
24.09.2014, a nice shack at the beach, Lombok Island, Indonesia
There is no refund yet on my credit card.
A quick calculation shows that our two-day visit to Port Moresby (which was supposed to be an 18-day visit to the country of PNG), cost us 2028 EUR.
Why do we share this story with you?
- Because things like this happen (very rarely) and you should at least know your rights and what you should expect from the airline.
- Because even after such an experience we are still enjoying the rest of our trip immensely. And we hope that our experience will not discourage you from traveling.
- Because you should always take the name and number of a customer service representative whenever you are waiting for a service.
- Because you should always have a plan B and some extra money to take care of unhappy situations.
- Because we hope that someone at Air Niugini will read the entire story and understand that Air Niugini screwed up.