MANILA, Philippines – Actress Claudine Barretto’s baggage issue, which led to the headline-grabbing airport brawl weeks ago, is not isolated.
Based to data released by the Department of Transportation on Thursday, May 24, Barretto shared the same experience with the 29 who lodged complaints against local airlines from January to April this 2012.
Baggage-related issues account for 7% to 16% of total complaints in the previous years. The bulk of complaints, or over 50%, were related to refunds.
Refund issues only retreated to 45% this 2012 because cancelled and delayed flights spiked.
See data from the Transportation Department below.
Bill of Passenger Rights
The number of complaints have been rising. In 2011, the total reached 83, higher than the 77 recorded in 2010.
Aside from ticket refunds, cancelled and delayed flights, and lost baggages, other persistent complaints were unfair practices or negligence of personnel, misleading advertisements, denied boarding and double charging of credit cards.
These have resulted in congressional hearings, prompting the Civil Aviation Board to conduct a review of passenger guidelines, and recently, an amendment of an existing regulation.
Amendments to Economic Regulation (ER) No.7 require the immediate implementation of the following:
- temporary suspension of overbooking, and the non-rebookability and non-refundability conditions attached to any ticket
- compensation for denied boarding, delayed and cancelled flights
- full refund and higher compensation for bumped off passengers: P3,000 from P150 for domestic flights, and P5,000 for international flights.
In a press conference on Thursday, May 24, Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas said further improvements will be enshrined in a proposed Passenger Bill of Rights.
“Under the ER no.7 the compensation due to a bumped-off passenger will be increased but it does not reflect the lost economic opportunity,” said Roxas.
“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 exam 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 was already a lost opportunity,” Roxas pointed out.
Roxas said the proposed Bill of Rights will be a department order but will be subject to public hearings next week.
In addition to the damages, the ER No.7 already requires local airlines to prioritize booking for the inconvenienced passengers for the next available flight.
This provision, which applies only to passengers with promotional fares, requires airlines to just extend the same ticket for which the passenger was denied booking.
Roxas said the local airline should book the bumped off passenger in the next flight available — even if the flight is with another airline.
Airlines are then required to inform their passengers that their “flights are not cancelled but moved only tomorrow.”
He said public discussions will include efforts to “redefine all extended delays,” as well as 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.
He invited passengers and consumers to attend the hearings, which will also be attended by airline representatives and airport officials.
The Passenger Bill of Rights could be implemented before the third quarter of this year, said the transportation chief.
Airlines will abide
Local airlines previously said they will abide by the revised rules on compensation package already in place under the CAB-led ER No.7
“Cebu Pacific believes that the amended ER no.7 received last May 21 is generally fair especially since it applies to both domestic and international carriers alike. We are currently reviewing our procedures and aligning them with the amended ER no. 7,” said Candice Iyog, the vice president for marketing and distribution of the local industry leader, in a text message.
For Seair’s part, its president Avelino Zapanta, said the airlines were not surprised as they are in constant discussion with the board. “We have been discussing this with the board for a long time now. The airlines have said their part,” he said.
When sought for comment, Zest Airways president Alfredo Yao, in a text message, said the airline will abide by the order. “If it came from the regulator, then we cannot do anything but to follow Anyway, the effect will be nominal for airlines, just on peak season only,” Yao said.
Zapanta, however, cautioned the regulators that it cannot suspend permanently the airlines’ practice on overbooking.
“It can’t be suspended forever because if it is made permanent it would be counter- productive in the end. It is a restraint of trade. They should allow the industry to operate the way they should,” he said, adding that Seair seldom practices overbooking since the carrier utilizes turbo-prop jets and Airbus A319s.
Cebu Pacific, according to Iyog, said its denied boarding ratio is one for every 10,000 passengers. “The global standard is one for every 1,000 while in a year ours is 1 for every 10,000 for all flights,” she said. – Rappler.com, with reports from Katherine Visconti