DOTC sets public hearing on passenger's bill of rights

By Lenie Lectura, BusinessMirror

Posted at May 25 2012 07:53 AM | Updated as of May 25 2012 03:53 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Most of the complaints lodged against local airlines in the first quarter of the year were related to ticket refunds, data released by the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) showed.

Transportation Secretary Manuel Roxas, in a media briefing on Thursday, said 29 complaints were recorded from January to April this year. Of which, 45 percent were about refund; 14 percent pertains to unfair practices or negligence of personnel; 10 percent were due to canceled flights; and misleading advertisements with 3 percent. Complaints on delayed flights, denied boarding, double charging of credit cards, damaged or lost baggage each make up 7 percent of the overall number of complaints during the period.

In 2011 the total number of complaints reached 83, higher than the 77 recorded in 2010 but lower than the 123 complaints lodged in 2009. Complaints on refund top the list during those years.

To address the rising number of complaints, Roxas said the department will create an improved Passenger Bill of Rights, which will spell out the rights of the passengers and obligations of all airlines during untoward incidents.

Among other things, the Passenger Bill of Rights will zero in on overbooking, flight delays and cancellations, full disclosure on the conditions when buying a plane ticket.

“What will happen or what are the rights of a passenger when such incidents happen? These will be included in the Passenger Bill of Rights, which will be a department order but will be subject to public hearings next week,” said Roxas.

Under the proposed bill, an airline is obligated to book a bumped-off passenger to the next flight available even if the flight is with another airline.

“There was already a lost economic opportunity which can’t be compensated by just refunding the full amount of the ticket. What if the passenger had to take an examination or had to seal a deal or attend a funeral of a relative? The airline can’t just give a refund or another ticket because the passenger simply can’t attend the funeral on another day. There already [corresponds to] a lost opportunity,” Roxas pointed out.

Roxas said the government, through the Civil Aeronautics Board, had initiated steps to address concerns of bumped-off passengers by amending Economic Regulation (ER) 7 Boarding Priority and Compensation for Denied Boarding, Delayed and Cancelled Flights.

One of the salient points of ER 7 is the increase in compensation fee for bumped-off passengers.

Domestic flights passengers are entitled to a full refund and a compensation of P3,000 from P150. Passengers with confirmed international flights will also get a full refund and a compensation of P5,000 if they will be bumped off.

In addition to the damages, a priority booking for the next available flight using the same ticket for which the passenger was denied booking will be extended. Further, this provision shall apply to passengers holding promotional fares.

“Under the ER 7 the compensation due to a bumped-off passenger will be increased but it does not reflect the lost economic opportunity,” said Roxas.

The said bill also promises a “more attractive” compensation package to bumped-off passengers, said Roxas.

“We will install an auction system similar to what other countries are doing. We will give the passenger the choice if he wants to be bumped off or not and if he opts to he can then choose from the attractive compensation offers,” said Roxas.

Passengers, he added, should also not be told by airlines that their “flights are not canceled but moved only tomorrow.”

“We will redefine all extended delays and passengers must understand in fine print all conditions stated in the tickets. There will also be a review of all the airlines’ advertisements. We will also clarify who will provide assistance to the elderly and the disabled. Is it the airline or the airport?” stressed Roxas.

The Passenger Bill of Rights could be implemented before the third quarter of this year, said the DOTC chief.