Excess Baggage

by Philip Nemenzo

“What would be the evolutionary consequences if pigs had wings?” my former professor in Advanced Ecology at UP Diliman once asked. Back then, I thought it was a ridiculous question, a question that I had found no answer…until now.

I’ve lived in Japan for almost 10 years, and whenever I return home, the Mactan International Airport is almost always my entry and exit port. After all, my hometown is just 25-30 minutes away from Cebu by plane. In addition, because of the fewer number of international flights going through Mactan, the queues at the check-in and immigration counters are often shorter and faster than those at NAIA.

Flying to Mactan from Narita, however, has its dire price. One has no choice but to take Philippine Airlines (PAL). For the Filipino traveler, this is most tragic! I have tried various airlines before such as Northwest, Thai Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, even Pakistan Airlines, and in no other airline did I experience dismal service than in PAL, my country’s very own flag carrier. (More feedback on PAL’s service can be found at Timog Forum and at http://www.airlinequality.com/Forum/pal.htm.)

Soon after takeoff and after the captain has switched off the “Fasten seatbelts” sign, almost always, the flight attendants would seem to hurriedly dish out the in-flight meals and serve the drinks as quickly as possible. After which, they would appear to vanish completely into thin air. Occasionally, however, you would hear them laughing or giggling in their own compartments, as if to remind you that they still surreptitiously exist. I thought they are supposed to go out occasionally to check if the passengers are comfortable or if they need water or extra blankets.

Moreover, there appears to be a double standard when it comes to their dealings with the passengers. If you are Japanese or a Caucasian, they would seem to trip over just to cater to your every whim. But if you are a Filipino, esp. if you look like an impoverished maid or sunburned contract worker, you are sometimes treated like a nonentity. (Thank God, we no longer send entertainers to Japan by the thousands.)

Certainly, not all PAL flight attendants are the same. The younger ones, esp. the Japanese flight attendants, are often more courteous, kind and do not discriminate. They are in stark contrast to the older and jaded ones whose sense of service, in my opinion, appears to be indirectly proportional to the girths of their trunks. In almost all of the flights that I’ve taken to Mactan and back, there would often be a number of them whose waists pack 34-36 inches of blubber, maybe even more. (Isn’t there a guideline against obesity in the airline industry?) It is they whose sense of service is often deadwood. (It should be clear, however, that not all old and “heavy” PAL flight attendants are the same.)

A typical jumbo jet consumes a gallon of fuel each second, and the heavier the plane is, the higher is the fuel consumption cost. Thus, an airline’s profitability partly hinges on charging passengers exorbitantly for excess baggage. Its profitability, in my opinion, would be further enhanced if flight attendants are required to shed off their own excess baggage. After all, they’re on board everyday and don’t have to pay for this built-in excess load. They’d also probably end up more efficient in hauling themselves through the narrow aisles of the economy class section and be quicker in bringing that glass of water to the OFWs who keep the Philippine economy afloat.

It’s been more than 10 years since my former professor tickled our brains with that hypothetical question. The answer is that the proverbial winged porcine has no evolutionary consequences. Thanks to the advent of flight, it can be on board! *