Pain In The Ash

This is how I look when I'm not happy
(on the slopes of Mt. Apo, an active volcano)

A week since that volcano in Iceland stopped many travelers in their tracks, things are moving slowly on the path to normalcy. Planes are flying again but then, there's a long, long, backlog of passengers waiting on those flights. My own travel plans to Eastern Europe have been derailed with no definite dates as to when I can fly. Why? It's the issue of capacity control. My ticket booked on Finnair is non-revenue, having earned them through my Cathay Pacific frequent flier miles. When things go wrong and planes are grounded, priority is always given to passengers who paid for their tickets to fly on the next available flight. Customers who merely redeemed them, sad to say, are at the back of the passenger manifest. This includes me.

What made it more difficult for passengers was calling the airline. As you can just imagine, everyone else had the same idea to call the affected airlines. In my case, I had to call Cathay Pacific since it was through them that I got the Finnair tickets. On the day my Helsinki-bound flight was canceled, I knew it was hopeless going into the Finnair desk and asking them about dates so I went straight home from JFK and called the Marco Polo Club number. As always, my call was routed to Hong Kong which, with the current 12-hour time difference between New York & Hong Kong, meant it was 6:30 AM over there. A 'quiet' time to call, I thought.

I feel like blowing off steam
(Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica)

Under normal circumstances, my calls to the Marco Polo Club had been answered expeditiously. This time, I got a busy line. It took several calls before the usual recorded message offered me a plethora of menu to choose from. And then it took almost 30 minutes before someone could answer.

me: I'm booked on AY 006 but the flight's canceled.

agent: Are you still at the airport?
me: No, I'm at home now. Can you look for availability next week?

agent: Uhhmmm . . . (click) (click) . . . sorry, nothing for next week.

me: Too bad! I really need to be in Estonia.

agent: (click) (click) Sorry. I checked for you the week after. Nothing.
me: What about first or second week of May then?
agent: (click) (click) No, nothing.

This went on and on, with me asking week to week, month to month; absolutely nothing was available for the whole summer up until fall - and this just for the outbound trip to Helsinki! It was as if a whole cloud of ash fall came all over me from Iceland, blanketing me heavily on my shoulders. What to do now? It appears the only available dates would be just around winter - which I certainly don't fancy going. Winter in Eastern Europe is much colder than in Eastern United States. With an agent almost ready to give up on me, I told her I'll call the next day.

I feel like erupting
(National Geographic, May 2010 issue)

Friday, the next day, the waiting time got worse. It must be the most stressful time for airline call center workers, I tell you. I waited more than an hour just to talk to someone! When an agent finally spoke, he talked with a hurried tone. I merely repeated my previous requests, none of which were available. Suddenly, I got the idea of asking the agent to just cancel the reservations and have my 45,000 miles returned to me and use those miles elsewhere.

agent: That will be a penalty of $120.

me: Why? It's not my fault.
agent: This is airline policy.

me: How can Cathay Pacific do that to loyal customers?

agent: I'm sorry there's nothing I can do about that.
me: I don't know what to do with this ticket. You don't have
the dates I prefer.
agent: Your ticket is valid for one year. Maybe you can travel early next year?
me: No. I need to cancel it but not without being penalized.
agent: That's not possible. Sorry. Why not call again, maybe the
dates you want will open next week?

Duh! It wasn't going anywhere and my ears hurt from the phone's handset. I have a year to use the ticket and a year to decide if I really still want to use the ticket. Or pay $120 to get my miles back. In exasperation, I told the agent I'll call again. Calling again is certainly going to be another exercise for my fingers - this week or next or even the week after next. Why, oh why did that volcano have to erupt last week? Next time I plan for a trip, I'll listen to the ground for rumbling volcanoes on my flight path.


  1. haha on the pic! rebooking is such a hassle... tsktsktsk. I hope you get to cancel your ticket without any additional fees though. It wasn't really your fault. I hope they get that. :)

  2. CP should have its policy changed for this special circumstance. I am sure lots of passengers have encountered the same issue! Like the pictures you posted to support your writing~~

  3. I know that airlines have stupid rules like these to somehow deter people from redeeming their benefits. And too bad Billy (the Icelandic volcano, I just can't figure out how to pronounce let alone spell that thing) decided to erupt on you. Hopefully you have better luck next time.

  4. Hope you get to save your miles; that sucks really to lose them like that.

    Wow. Is it a coincidence that NatGeo's May cover is of a volcano??

  5. I hope there would be available dates when you call again.

  6. dealing with airlines is worse than the delay it seems. keep the faith, when all this quiets down in a matter of a few weeks, you'll be able to resume with your plans. i hope your work will accommodate your vacay plans by that time.

  7. It is indeed a pain in the you know where LOL. Cheer up, you'll get to your vacation destination eventually.

  8. arggghhh! i do hope you'll be able to get the desired flight schedule soon. :D your picture says it all!

  9. Next time I plan for a trip, I'll listen to the ground for rumbling volcanoes on my flight path.>> kulit ah.

    naakyat mo na pala ang mt apo. that's on my bucket list along with mt mayon.

  10. pain in the ash indeed!
    kainis pa nama tumawag sa mga airlines. swertihan ifsome human will answer you.

    pano na? push through o cancel?

  11. @Cza
    I'm still following up with CP to find suitable dates for my flights. Or continue pleading with them to cancel it without penalty.

  12. @micki
    I know. It's so disappointing they do this. I won't stop calling them.

  13. @Linguist-in-Waiting
    The way I see it, airlines are gradually tightening their grip on award tickets.

  14. @aud
    Isn't it timely NG has an erupting volcano for its May 2010 cover? I hope to get my miles back if I can't fly.

  15. @princess_dyanie
    I do still want to use the ticket but not during winter. If not, I'd rather get my miles back.

  16. @Photo Cache
    That's my other problem, getting my vacation approved again depends on staffing needs of my work.

  17. @bertN
    Thanks for the reassuring words Bert.

  18. @Marites
    I do wish! I'm following it up with CP every day!

  19. @the donG
    I've been to Mt. Apo 3x, the last time was in 2008. It's worth it, hwag lang during Holy Week mismo.

  20. @Chyng
    Nakabitin pa rin ang travel plans ko Chyng. If they can give me better dates, yes pero kapag wala, I'll plead with them again to give back my miles without penalty.

  21. Anonymous1:04:00 AM

    it's not that often you feature a photo of you in your wonderful posts, tapos this time hindi pa smiley; lol! but that one is really remarkable being on 'top' =) and you've been to mt. apo 3x? amazing!

    patience is indeed a virtue especially while waiting and talking on the phone to airline agents. kala ko sa PAL lang ganyan, sa ibang airlines din pala. worry not; you'll have your free flights to europe soon, i hope.

  22. whoa! three times! hanga talaga ako. magagawa ko rin yan. in time.

  23. Anonymous1:06:00 AM

    take it easy! i'm sure something will be open and you get off flying again!

  24. Hi Doc Gelo,
    Climbing Mt. Apo was a childhood dream kasi lagi kung nakikita noon from where we live. As for my flight, nakabitin pa rin as of today.

    Hi Dong,
    Kayang kayang mong akyatin ang Mt. Apo, kahit ilang beses pa. Di naman kasi technically difficult.

    Hi Prinsesamusang,
    I do hope so pero sa ngayon, wala pa rin silang dates na gusto ko. I can't fly in winter!

  25. pity for you... but if i were you i will go to other places and plan again for eastern europe later =p but well if still wanna come to europe... just pray for the best =p

  26. too bad about that trip. at least you are safe where you are . have a nice day!


  27. Wee naalala ko tuloy ang Mt Apo... so nasa peak ka na nyan tama?! are those wild berries? kumuha ako niyan noon... jijijijiji... bunga lang naman... jijijijijijiji... okay okay pati sulfur... konti lang naman... jijijijijijiji

    Hope next week will be a better news for you!

  28. or consult a psychic before booking your flights (LOL). re-booking flights is always a hassle...stay cool. if it's any consolation, think of it as a blessing in disguise.:p

  29. That doesn't look good...but then sh*t happens ;-)
    You are scary looking... not sure I want to meet you anymore! ;-)
    Cool shot of the Arenal Volcano.
    Hope you will be able to fly to Estonia soon... I can't imagine they can't rebook you in a few weeks.

  30. That's a real hassle. Funny and great shot (first photo)!

  31. Anonymous6:14:00 AM

    one word to describe your first photo: fierce! LOL.

    i can imagine what thousands of travelers are going through with the flight cancellations. i hope you get some easy exercise for your fingers the next time you call and get the dates you prefer. A $120 penalty is just insane.

  32. hahaha I like your photo and your title....pain in the ash nga talaga ang macancel ang flight dahil sa pesteng ash na yun hehehe. Yun mukha mo parang pain la talaga na parang galit LOL bagay talga yun title LOL. I hope makatravel ka sa Europe next month para may bagong pictures na naman hehehe

  33. So sorry to hear that. I'm still not sure how my flight to London later this week is going to be. Hopefully this long haul and other domestic flights in my Europe itinerary would fly as scheduled date and time... :(

  34. hope things get back to normal...tingin koy sasabog rin ako ng sobra if i were in your shoes during those times hehe ....God bless

  35. so how have u rescheduled ur past week.... travelled anywhere or stayed in NY?


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