travel and tourism

Cebu Pacific passengers decry ‘arbitrary’ flight cancellations, Senate probe set

Joann Manabat

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Cebu Pacific passengers decry ‘arbitrary’ flight cancellations, Senate probe set
Carmina Reyes-Romero, a spokesperson for CebuPac, says lightning alerts due to the rainy season lead to sudden flight cancelations. These in turn cause ‘consequential delays.’

MANILA, Philippines – Mentions of Cebu Pacific in viral social media posts have increased lately, with passengers recounting how sudden and what they consider “arbitrary” cancelations or rescheduling of flights have caused them additional expenses, missed appointments, and ruined vacations, among other things. 

“It seems to be arbitrary and how are they able to get away with it? How come we don’t hear anything from CAAP (Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines)?… Dapat makialam na ang gobyerno dito. Dapat tignan nila ’yan, imbestigahan nila. (The government should step in. They should look into this, investigate this.),” Human Rights Watch senior researcher Carlos Conde said in a Facebook post after his family’s travel was thrown into disarray due to a flight cancelation. 

“I don’t know if this is something they take seriously,” he told Rappler on June 14. “It’s not only just the flight; there are other arrangements that one needs when traveling, the whole domino effect,” he noted. 

The Senate committees on tourism and on public services heard the distressed calls, and will start on June 21 an investigation into these complaints, reported.

Cebu Pacific, meanwhile, told Rappler on Thursday, June 15, that weather woes, given the onset of the rainy season, are among the reasons for the flight cancelations, which in turn cause “consequential delays.”

Carmina Reyes-Romero, the airline’s director for corporate communication, said Cebu Pacific had heightened their customer care for canceled flights and refunds. 

She said that travel vouchers and hotel accommodation were offered if needed for on-the-spot and significant delays.

This contradicts the reports reaching Senator Nancy Binay’s office that “Cebu Pacific has not provided immediate assistance and support” for passengers who seek help from the airlines’ customer service hotlines and in-person help desks. Binay chairs the Senate committee on tourism. 

Delayed, boarded, deplaned

Michael Kevin Gox Goco is used to delayed flights by Cebu Pacific Air. Things came to a head, however, on May 19.

While he and his wife were already at the airport, they received an announcement that their flight to Iloilo had been moved from 7 pm to 9 pm. But when 9 pm came, airline staff said their plane needed fixing.

After waiting for some more time, the affected passengers stormed the manager’s office and demanded an explanation from Cebu Pacific.

“Majority of us refused [to rebook or cancel] because we must be in Iloilo for some urgent matters. One passenger was even bringing medicines. We told them that we would wait for our flight,” Goco said in a phone interview with Rappler on May 31.

By 2 am, they eventually were allowed to board the plane for a 3 am flight to Iloilo. But Goco noticed that the plane was understaffed and short of one pilot. At around 3:30 am, they were told to deplane because the flight had been canceled partly due to thunderstorms.

“That’s what you get if you fly on a budget. It was ‘business as usual’ for Cebu Pacific,” Goco said.

All he wanted, he said, was for the airline to deploy personnel who know crisis management, especially in dealing with irate passengers, but that didn’t happen. 

The Goco couple ended up rebooking their flights and paying the corresponding fees. 

TRAVEL WOES. One of the planes of Cebu Pacific, an airline dealing with viral social media posts over flight delays and what irate passengers see as “arbitrary” cancellations and rescheduling of flights. Joann Manabat/Rappler
No choice but…a class suit?

Conde, his wife, and children were also bound for Iloilo on June 1, having booked an 8 am flight through the Cebu Pacific website. 

It wasn’t a budget flight, the full fare was paid. 

The night before the flight, however, Cebu Pacific notified them that their flight had been moved earlier by four hours, to 4 am. 

Then an hour or less before 4 am, they received another notice – the airline had converted their trip into travel vouchers instead of giving them a refund.

“That would mean they already canceled our flight” without explicitly saying so, Conde said, frustrated.

“If Cebu Pacific is overbooking flights, as other passengers say on social media, then the government needs to control that,” said Conde. 

“Thousands of thousands of lives are affected by these arbitrary cancellations and delays. Maybe it’s time these affected passengers organize and file a class action suit against Cebu Pacific because there is no way you can get away with this,” he added.

“Objectively speaking, in terms of options, you don’t really have a choice. The refund will take at least a month or something. For someone who is financially distressed, you can’t wait for another month to refund your money,” Conde, who initially wanted a refund instead of vouchers, told Rappler.

“It’s just pointless to raise an argument with them, all you can do is just sigh, really. First of all, I don’t call their hotline anymore. Their travel customer service experience is really terrible. You can hardly talk to a human being. It’s infuriating because we are all looking forward to our flights. No explanations at all.”

LONG LINES. Passengers build up at checkout counters of the NAIA Terminal 3 in Pasay City on January 2, 2023, following air traffic system issues on New Year’s Day.

Binay’s Senate Resolution No. 575 refers to complaints of offloading “without  any verifiable cause or reason due to the airline’s overbooking.” 

“Being offloaded without alternative flight options or compensation not only has a direct impact on someone’s travel plans, but it also reflects how airlines treat customers and tourists,” the draft resolution points out. 

Early reservation, offloaded nonetheless

Maizy Colleen Tan was scheduled to fly to Incheon, South Korea, on June 13 using a free-of-charge (FOC) ticket courtesy of Cebu Pacific. “I’m an influencer for Cebu Pacific,” said the fashion designer and influencer from Davao City.

She paid for her trip to from Davao City to Cebu City, where she was to take the connecting flight to Incheon.

She was traveling with her mother and aunt, whose [Davao to Korea] tickets were paid for. 

She had booked their flights as early as December 2022.

“What happened was my mom and my auntie’s flight was rebooked. We bought their tickets at the full price of P45,000 plus a rebooking fee of P4,000,” Tan told Rappler on Wednesday, June 14. 

When Tan asked Cebu Pacific how she could catch the June 13 Cebu-Incheon flight, staff told her she would have to travel a day earlier, June 12, but with an added stop in Siargao. So it would be Davao-Siargao-Cebu, then Incheon.

Tan said she agreed to take the Davao-Siargao-Cebu flight.

Tan said she agreed to take the Davao-Siargao-Cebu flight.

However, while Tan eating breakfast at the airport in front of the gate where boarding for the Siargao flight had already started, she “received another Viber message that the June 13 Korean flight will be moved to June 18 instead.”

She asked the Cebu Pacific staff at the boarding gate what she should do. They said she should proceed to Siargao, then Cebu, and then inquire about the status of the Incheon flight there.

She said the instruction made no sense if her flight to Korea had been moved back by a few days.

Tan added that her mom had talked to the robot customer service named Charlie. It have her mom and aunt the option for to fly Davao-Manila-Manila-Incheon. 

However, the gap between Manila to Incheon is only two hours. They knew that the waiting time for the baggage plus the long queue at the immigration counters could take three hours, she said.

“It was just odd for them to abruptly offload those who booked early,” Tan said. 

Her original post said she sadly wheeled her bag home.

But when her Facebook lament received 9,000 reactions, 1,100 comments, and 6,900 shares, Tan said Romero reached out and rebooked their canceled local flights and also booked them on the earliest flight to Korea.

She stressed that aside from her FOC Cebu-Icheon flight, they did not get free flights. Instead, the airlines got their old reference codes for the paid canceled flights and regenerated new schedules at the original prices.

Her post update states she and her companions are now in Korea. While thanking the airlines for making the trip happen, Tan said she still wanted compensation “for the damage Cebu Pacific’s glitches have caused.”

Rainy season woes

When Rappler asked Romero on Thursday about passengers’ complaints on social media, she said: “We encourage our passengers to send their requests for assistance in our social media channels, via Facebook messenger or Twitter, or in our Guest Feedback form. We have agents who will answer passenger concerns and solve their issues.”

“The rainy season has officially started and it is [a] period that may dampen plans for many air travelers,” Romero explained. “If a Lightning Red Alert is imposed at the airport, all flight and ground operations are suspended until the alert is lowered to a Lightning Yellow Alert, indicating the resumption of flight operations.”

Romero acknowledged that flight suspension “may lead to consequential delays and sometimes, cancellations.”

Their foremost consideration is everyone’s safety, she stressed. “We will always prioritize the safety of the passengers, crew, and airport workers. Nevertheless, Cebu Pacific remains committed to hearing from our passengers and to flying them safely to their destinations.” 

Romero said the chain consequences of bad weather conditions include delays and cancellations.

“It impacts on crew limitation. Also, there are sunset-limited airports. ’Pag nag-cascade ang delay and sunset, limited ang airport, paano pa lilipad? (Once the delay cascades and sunset limits operations at airports, how can we fly?) – with reports from Francis Allan Angelo/ 

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