Air Passenger Bill of Rights is out

MANILA, Philippines - The Air Passenger Bill of Rights -- which aims to protect travelers from what are perceived to be abusive practices by local and foreign airlines -- has been signed and will be implemented in time for the rush in Christmas traffic.

It will take effect on December 21, or 10 days from publication on Tuesday, December 11. It was signed by Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya and Trade Secretary Gregorio Domingo on December 10 since their respective units will approve the mechanics of promotions, and the latter the fares. 

It sets 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 2011.

“Most of the contexts of the passenger bill of rights are services or amenities that are being already rendered by most airlines. The bill of rights is just setting certain minimum standard," Civil Aviation Board (CAB) executive director Carmelo Arcilla told Rappler.

"In the system of the airlines, we have noted that some passengers are being denied check in because they’re late so we’re trying to put this into perspective,” he cited as an example.

“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,” explained Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) Undersecretary Jose Perpetuo Lotilla at the latest hearing of the final draft of the bill. 

Full disclosure

A key aspect of the joint administrative order is "full disclosure."

Airlines will be compelled to disclose to their passengers both in print and verbally what are at stake when they rebook flights, refund tickets, impose conditions on baggage allowances, check-in policies, as well as promotional fares.

These conditions or key terms of the fare must be printed when airlines issue passenger tickets or boarding passes, or must be delivered electronically when tickets are bought online. 

These will likewise be "verbally explained to the passenger" either in English or Filipino, "placing emphasis on the limitations and/or restrictions attached to the ticket." 

For promotional fares, airlines are now also required to disclose the "number of seats offered on a per sector basis." Currently, most airlines only disclose the promo duration.

The bill also outlines compensation passengers should receive in the case of cancelled or delayed flights. 

Lost luggage

A number of changes have been made between the different drafts. Among these changes are the inclusion of foreign airlines, as well as higher compensation figures in case of lost luggage.

For lost luggages, airlines will have to compensate passengers P2,000 for every day that a bag is missing. After 7 days, that bag will be deemed lost and the passenger will be compensated based on "relevant convention."

In the previous draft, the required compensation was set at 500 SDR (special drawing rights), a currency unit created by the International Monetary Fund. One SDR is equivalent to P63 stated in the final draft.

The draft required airlines to seek the Department of Trade and Industry's (DTI) approval for airline promotions and the sale of discounted tickets.

In the final bill, this was changed so airlines only need to seek approval from the CAB removing the need for airlines to deal simultaneously with the DTI and the CAB. 

Delayed flights

In case of delayed flights, airlines will also need to provide free food, drinks, Internet access, phone use and, in extreme circumstances, hotel lodging until the flight departures for passengers affected by late flights.

Below is a copy of the Air Passenger Bill of Rights.