Owner rants after dog denied boarding on PAL flight despite multiple prior calls to clarify pet carrier policy

One passenger has taken to social media to rant about Philippine Airlines’ supposedly “unreasonable and unfair” treatment of pets after the airline failed to clarify its condition for allowable pet carriers.
Image: Herbie Docena (Facebook)
One passenger has taken to social media to rant about Philippine Airlines’ supposedly “unreasonable and unfair” treatment of pets after the airline failed to clarify its condition for allowable pet carriers. Image: Herbie Docena (Facebook)

While flying with pets is never a straightforward affair, given the multitude of requirements one needs to comply with, one passenger has taken to social media to rant about Philippine Airlines’ supposedly “unreasonable and unfair” treatment of pets after the airline failed to clarify its condition for allowable pet carriers.

Herbie Docena shared the story of what happened on Facebook, where it soon went viral. He began his post by explaining why he decided to bring his dog, Shanti, with him on a domestic flight. 

“I used to just leave Shanti behind when I went on trips—sometimes in family members’ houses or sometimes alone at home, with a friend coming over to check her once or twice a day. It saddened but didn’t deeply bother me then,” he wrote on Facebook. “But one time, a friend told me that every time she’d come home, she’d find Shanti where she left her the previous day: by the front door, waiting, as if she didn’t move at all the entire time my friend was away, and unwilling to move still even when my friend asked her to go with her to the kitchen as if I was going to appear there anytime soon and she didn’t want to miss that moment.”

“Ever since then, I resolved to limit time being away from her—or to do more to bring her with me on my trips,” he added.

Docena found out that Philippine Airlines had a “humane” policy that allowed dogs to board selected domestic flights.

One of the requirements stated on the airline’s website was that pets had to be placed in a “secure and leak-proof container”, although it did not offer more specifics or a visual guide. “The first time I read this, I knew right away this was unclear and could cause problems,” Docena shared.

The dog owner called the airline to immediately clarify what they meant by a secure and leak-proof container. “Does it have to be the tough plastic type? Or can it be the soft flexible type? It sounded like the agent had little idea about the variety of carriers in the market. ‘Basta po ‘secure and leak-proof.’ (As long as it’s ‘secure and leak-proof).’”

Docena recalled calling two more times, even offering to email pictures of the different types of pet carriers to the customer service agent to confirm which type was acceptable. “As long as there was no hole in the bottom that could leak in case my dog pees in the middle of the flight, it made no difference to them,” he wrote. 

After consulting with his veterinarian, he ended up purchasing a soft carrier as it seemed the more comfortable option for his dog. “I made one last call last night and went through all the requirements to make sure I got everything in order, including her carrier. Agent said ‘this is good to go.’ So I took Shanti in a soft carrier.”

Yet Shanti was eventually denied boarding when Docena had checked in at the airport. He said he respectfully asked the supervisor to reconsider and explained the steps he took to clarify the matter. “But a gruff and totally unsympathetic supervisor (likely overworked but underpaid) just asked me for the names of their agents I spoke with and just file a complaint. Who takes note of the names of all the customer service agents they speak to on the phone? How could I even file a complaint when I didn’t even know their names? And what was I to do now—just leave Shanti behind or miss my flight despite everything I did and all the clarifications I made to make sure I got everything right?”

“Would I be compensated for all the expenses I incurred and all the time I spent that would now all go to waste because of a clear failure to communicate on PAL’s part?  Not even a small apology, let alone an offer of assistance or a promise to do better next time—all I got was just a dismissive and arrogant ‘magreklamo na lang po kayo sa customer service namin kung gusto nyo!’ (Go complain with our customer service if you want!) I’m thankful she didn’t say it out loud but I still heard her loud and clear: I don’t care about what happens to your frigging dog!”)

Docena asked the agent to reschedule his flight to 11am the same day so he could have time to find a suitable hard-case carrier for his dog. He was able to find an acceptable carrier in time to make the flight. 

Docena’s post was shared over 3,000 times, with many commenters offering sympathy and sharp words about PAL’s customer service.

“Poor Shanti. PAL supervisor needs a lesson in empathy,” one comment read.

“​​You took all possible precautions and made all possible preparations and they don’t even help you? I am glad you found a solution on the spot. Well done. PAL needs to provide better customer service. Then again, PAL is not the only airline that should improve service!” Another one said.

After his post went viral, Docena said a Philippine Airlines representative reached out to him to address and rectify the situation.

“On behalf of Philippine Airlines, we would like to apologize for what you and Shanti unfortunately went through. I understand that a clear line of communication is important so our passengers are equipped with the right information to ensure seamless travel,” part of the airline’s message read.

The airline assured Docena that it was reviewing its current pet policy on the website and re-orienting on-ground staff. He also said they offered him free miles.

Docena said he appreciated the airline’s “gracious, courteous, sympathetic” response, but one wonders what kind of response, if any, he would’ve gotten if his post hadn’t gone viral. At any rate, while PAL will hopefully follow through with clarifying their pet passenger policies, it’s a lesson to all of us to prepare for the worst and to get to the airport extra early when trying to fly with your furbabies. 

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