2023 has been branded the year of “Revenge Travel.” But as airlines worldwide gear up for recovery, is the Philippine aviation industry prepared and equipped enough for the surge in tourism and the challenges that come with it? A traveler’s horrible experience with a local airline showed, that reforms are needed badly and quickly before we go full blast.
Like everyone else, I got bitten by the “Revenge Travel” bug. It started late last year when our Asian neighbors began dropping their quarantine restrictions and started welcoming tourists back. But this renewed zeal for travel was abruptly doused by a traumatic experience with a local budget airline.
In a recent Asian trip, engine trouble caused a last minute cancellation of our flight. We were stuck inside the plane for four hours, and at a foreign airport for another eight hours—without the option to get a refund or rebook. Worse is finding out the cabin crew had already hied off to their hotel while I, along with over a hundred other passengers languished at the airport, waiting for the recovery flight that came only at 2 AM (We’ve been in the airport since 10 AM the day prior). To top it all, after reaching home 24 hours later, I discovered my luggage was cut open and broken into.
It was because of this grueling ordeal that I would introduce myself to our very own Passenger Bill of Rights. Though less comprehensive than the United States’ and the European Union’s, the Philippine version still ensures that passengers’ basic rights are upheld and airlines take some accountability for the troubles they cause.
(infographic courtesy of www.cab.gov.ph)
For instance, once a flight is delayed by at least three hours, a passenger is already entitled to food and refreshments, and the right to either get a refund, rebook, or be endorsed to another carrier at no additional expense.
(infographic courtesy of www.cab.gov.ph)
If a flight is delayed by at least six hours, it will be deemed cancelled. If it was the airline’s fault, the passenger must be compensated at least the equivalent value of the sector cancelled, including taxes, additional charges and fees paid, in addition to the option to rebook or take the recovery flight.
The passenger must also be provided with sufficient food and refreshments, hotel accommodation, transportation to and from the hotel, free phone calls, text, or emails, and first aid, if necessary.
If a plane is stalled at the tarmac for at least two hours, all passengers must be provided with sufficient food and beverage.
If the flight cancellation was due to force majeure or an extraordinary event (such as the January 1 NAIA power outage), security or safety reasons, the passenger is entitled to a refund of the full value of the fare.
(courtesy of cab.gov.ph)
The airline should also be able to give an outright refund or a claim form that is convertible to cash within only 15 days.
In the unfortunate event that your airline fails to comply with these rights, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) encourages passengers to immediately file a complaint with their office.
“They can be slapped with fines, penalties, and suspension,” explained CAB Executive Director Carmello Arcilla. He admits though that the penalty is measly. “The biggest penalty is only Php 5,000, but it is counted per affected passenger.”
Because of this, it seems to make better economic sense for an airline to violate the aforementioned rights and just pay the Php 5,000 per passenger fine—than to reimburse each passenger and provide all the amenities required under the regulation, which would entail more work and costs.
Rants and bashing on social media do not seem to be deterrents either. For instance, a random internet search I did on my recent airline showed numerous angry complaints and demands for a refund. These go as far back as three years ago, and seemed to have just fallen on deaf ears. This, while the same airline continues to expand, offer new routes, and lure new customers with cheap fares.
Mary Anne, a 30-something professional, shared that she had a similar experience with flight cancellations last year with another budget airline. “We were supposed to leave for Manila that night, when we received a message from the airline that afternoon saying the flight was moved to the next morning, forcing us to extend another night. Then that morning, while at the airport, we were informed the flight would be delayed again, not just by an hour or two, but by several hours,” she lamented.
Upset, Mary Anne asked the airline for other options, and the staff was able to provide her party an earlier flight. To make up for the inconvenience, the airline also gave them travel vouchers on the spot.
So will she fly with that airline again? “Yes”, she answered definitively. Despite the hassle and delays, she explained: “I appreciated how their staff handled the situation. They were very apologetic and quick on their feet. They were able to give us an option, and immediately compensated for the trouble”.
When she and her friends planned to use the travel voucher, however, they were faced with another challenge. “Our chosen destination turned out to be more expensive than the original route we paid for. As in double (the price),” shared Mary Ann. “But we were surprised that the airline accommodated. The reservation staff just said it was our right.”
So maybe there is hope—for both Filipino passengers and airlines. In our case, the cabin crew initially did try to provide solutions. There was talk at one point of giving hotel accommodations and a refund option. But the proposals, for some reason, were not approved.
The CAB admits they have given airlines some leeway since the pandemic. “We gave them a bit of a latitude during Covid because there was an existential threat due to their losses”, explained Arcilla. “But that’s already expired. Now there’s no more excuse.”
“I think the problem is we (Filipinos) are just so used to inefficiencies that we just accept them,” explains Mary Anne. “But if people know that we have these rights and that we can be heard, then maybe it can improve.”
If compliance and enforcement are not automatic, then it seems necessary for the public to go through the trouble of reporting and filing a complaint— a choice between asserting one’s rights or conceding that such violations are simply part of the pains and risks of travelling from and to the Philippines.
For passenger complaints, you may fill up an online form at www.cab.gov.ph
Click the link below for the full text of the Passenger Bill of Rights
Version Joint Administrative Order No. 01 Series of 2012