Air passenger rights bill out ‘this week’

Aya Lowe
The final draft of the bill released by the Department of Transportation and Communications now also covers foreign carriers, not just local ones

MANILA, Philippines – The much-awaited Air Passenger Bill of Rights, which sets guidelines on airline obligations such as overbooking and ticket refunds, is expected to be released within the week, said a DOTC undersecretary on Monday, December 3.

The final draft of the bill shows it will cover not just local airlines, but also foreign ones.

Speaking at a public consultation for the final draft of the Bill of Rights, Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo Lotilla announced the bill will be approved and published in two high-circulation local newspapers before the end of the week and will take effect 15 days from publication.

“We hope to finalize the bill within the week,” said Lotilla.

The Air Passenger Bill of Rights, which was formed under a joint administrative order of the DOTC, Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), will lay down the guidelines on several airline practices, including overbooking, rebooking, ticket refunds, cancelled and delayed flights, lost luggage and misleading advertisements on fares — the top causes of passenger complaints in the last year.

“The intention behind the bill of rights is to protect the passenger. The theory behind it is that this is a contract of addition meaning the passenger is supposed to be somebody who doesn’t have the same level of protection as the airline,” said Lotilla.

Foreign airlines now included

The final draft saw a number of changes from the previous one particularly, in terms of coverage and compensation figures. (Read about the previous rights bill draft here)

The first draft of the bill only applied to local airlines, however now all airlines will have to comply with the rules and regulations set by the bill. This change is welcomed by local airlines which complained that the exclusion of foreign airlines would create uneven competition.

Other main changes “have been cancellations, baggage delays and certain policies for penalties,” said DTI Undersecretary Zenaida Maglaya.

There was a big change in compensation figures in the case of lost luggage. According to the first draft of the bill, a passenger of an international flight is entitled to compensation for any loss of baggage attributed to the fault of the airline of $20 per kilo for checked-in baggage and $400 for hand-carried baggage. For domestic flights, the equivalent amount in pesos would apply.

In the final draft, domestic baggage loss will entail compensation of the peso equivalent of SDR500, which as of December 3, was P31,426.

According to Lotilla, this high penalty will act as a deterrent against “unscrupulous and abusive practices.” “The reference of the SDR is only incidental in the sense that the bill of rights is making a specific provision on the amount of damage,” he said.

According to the first draft, the passenger would also receive P1,000 as compensation for inconvenience for every two days that the luggage is missing and is failed to be delivered. The second draft provides for a P2,000 compensation for every day of delay. Baggage is presumed to have been lost if not delivered within a period of 14 days in the old draft. In the final draft, this was changed to a period of 7 days.

The bill also instructs airlines to compensate passengers whose flights were cancelled and delayed, under certain provisions, and to “fully disclose promotional fares.”

Overbooking

The final draft also removed limits on overbooking or the industry practice of selling more tickets than there are seats in a flight.

Currently, airlines are allowed to overbook 10% of seats. This percentage limit was removed in the final draft.

However, the final draft maintained that airlines which overbook cannot automatically bump off passengers or choose whom they can take out of the flight.

“Overbooking is a practice that is recognized globally and of course the government does not want to impose certain restrictions on the commercial opportunities available. Of course, we have to draw the line if there is abuse. Even the prior regulation it [did not explicitly say] 10%. It’s only a recognition on overbooking sustained by jurisprudence. We want to allow a certain level of laissez faire,” said Lotilla.

The final draft requires that in case of overbooking and there are excess passengers, airlines must ask for volunteers who will give up their seats in exchange for a compensation package.

In case the number of volunteers is not enough to resolve the overbooking, the airline is mandated to increase the compensation package by adding more services until the required number of volunteers is met.

Aviation regulators were prompted to review airline policies following a jump in the number of airline passenger complaints in 2011 from 2010. – Rappler.com

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