Tacloban runway repairs force PAL to wait-list passengers

Paterno Esmaquel II
Tacloban runway repairs force PAL to wait-list passengers
Officials target to finish runway repairs by the first week of December

TACLOBAN CITY, Philippines – Runway repairs in Tacloban, the area worst hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), have forced the Philippines’ flagship carrier to wait-list or even bump off passengers bound for this city.

On Thursday, October 30, around a dozen passengers had to wait an hour or two to check in.

In Manila, staff at the Philippine Airlines (PAL) airport counter informed them they had been wait-listed. PAL guaranteed the seats only of the first 35 passengers to check in, even if others also had tickets.

The Rappler team bound for Tacloban was among those wait-listed. Our flight was supposed to be at 9:55 am.

One of us arrived at 7:15 am, more than two hours before the flight, and ended up as number two on the waiting list.

The other team member arrived at around 8:10 am. He was wait-listed as number 8.

1 passenger bumped off

The wait-listed passengers stayed near the check-in counter, some of them seated on the floor.

PAL allowed the wait-listed passengers to check in at around 9:30 am, or 25 minutes before the scheduled departure.

Rappler confirmed that at least one passenger, who had a ticket for the 9:55 am flight, got bumped off to the next flight around noon.

The flight left at around 10 am. It was a 76-seater plane, but at least 14 seats remained empty on the way to the typhoon-hit city.

Efren Nieves Nagrama, civil aviation area manager at the Tacloban airport, told Rappler that airlines have used smaller aircraft because of the shortened Tacloban runway.

The runway was shortened while the displaced portion is under repair. The repairs began in September.

Since then, airlines have flown to Tacloban at a maximum capacity of around 75 passengers, as opposed to 185 before the repairs began, according to Nagrama.

Prioritizing fuel

The other problem, another official said, is the lack of an airplane refueling facility in Tacloban. This means airplanes should fully load their tanks in Manila, and bring extra fuel with them.

The weight of extra fuel could dislodge passengers.

Other factors, such as the weather and strength of wind in Tacloban, could affect the number of passengers allowed.

“What we are doing now is to fast-track the repair of the runway,” Nagrama said.

He said officials target to finish the runway repairs by the first week of December.

For now, a PAL agent, who refused to be named for lack of authority to speak to reporters, said passengers to Tacloban should come around 3 hours before their flight, or earlier.

The PAL agent also advised them to use their airline’s web check-in facility to make sure a seat is guaranteed.

A surge of passengers to Tacloban is expected on All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day, November 1 and 2, and on the first year after Yolanda on November 8. – with reports from Franz Lopez/Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.