Cebu Pacific eyes dominance in the skies

It’s been reported that Cebu Pacific’s video of the “dancing flight attendants” has become a big hit on You Tube that an estimated 1 million people are viewing it every day. That’s quite an impressive viewership figure, comparable to the “dancing prisoners” at the Cebu provincial jail last year. It’s an excellent publicity stunt that put the airline into everyday conversation, which some say is being done to increase media visibility before the company holds its IPO. Whatever the objective, the people behind the video deserve praises.

But there’s another reason why I’m writing about Cebu Pacific. It’s  about the company’s aggressive marketing strategy that is centered on bargain fares. In this age of digital commerce, Cebu Pacific appears to have dominated the online ticket market with its frequent sale promos and consistently low fares. I haven’t bought a ticket at the traditional sales outlet for a long, long time. When I have to travel, I just click on its website, take out my credit card, and in a matter of minutes, I am able to book my flight.

On the average, I am able to book a flight to Manila for P1,200 one-way. This is cheap — even comparable to an inter-island vessel outlay that requires you to set aside 24 hours to make the trip. How does the airline manage to do this? Not hard to figure out the reason. The airline has made a big effort to cut costs. CebuPac passengers noticed that in most flights, they no longer pass through the “tube” and have to walk down the ramp before boarding their aircraft. Even boarding passes are no longer pre-printed cards; the company now issues paper print-outs the size of an ATM receipt. Aboard the aircraft, the airline doesn’t serve snacks. You have to buy soda or water or food.

The airline has also done well in on-time departures and arrivals. This zealous effort to achieve zero-delays can often be problematic: the airline’s flights occasionally depart ahead of the published schedule. Once, I had to run from the check-in counter to the departure gate in order to catch my flight, although it was still a good 15 minutes before its ETA. This has forced many passengers to be at the airport at least two hours before departure time.

All these are taking place as Philippine Airlines, the national flag carrier, is beset by a labor problem involving its flight attendants. Not too long ago, a good number of its pilots also left the company for higher-paying jobs with foreign airlines. It’s clear PAL cannot keep its customer base unless major changes are also undertaken at the company. I just hope CebuPac’s service improvement program isn’t a short-term effort, but a long-range, sustained campaign to build a loyal customer base.

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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