Philippine travel agents are backing moves by Filipino lawmakers to create a legal ‘Magna Carta’ to protect air passenger rights, following months of growing public anger over delays and cancellations by locally based airlines.
Senator Grace Poe told a recent Philippine Senate hearing on passenger complaints that while overbooking was a globally accepted practice, "systematic delays and cancellations are not". Currently Philippine airlines are allowed a maximum overbooking quota of 5%.
"This pressing public service issue calls for urgent effective solutions as it involves not only the air passengers' rights, but also the overall impact on the country's tourism and economy,” Poe said.
Patria Chiong, who is president of Philippine Travel Agents Association and also vice president of West Gate Travel and Tours, agrees with that travellers need a “Magna Carta” for air passenger rights.
We are more concerned about flight disruptions and misconnections that cause inconveniences to our clients.
“The airline-travel agency relationship on the issue of cancellation and delays are not that serious and alarming,” said Chiong. “However, we are more concerned about flight disruptions and misconnections that cause inconveniences to our clients.”
Poe has also hit out at what she claims is the generally poor customer service response of the airlines to complaints. In her view, airlines overly reliant on chatbots and social media to handle passenger queries rather than having sufficient ground service personnel available, complicating the rebooking and refunding of cancelled or delayed flights.
Airlines under fire for response
The row over the extent of Philippine air travel delays and cancellations has been building for several months, with the country’s two largest carriers, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines (PAL), both coming under fire.
Cebu Pacific, in particular, has been a target of this criticism. Alexander Lao, the airline's chief commercial officer, attributed the issues to factors such as global supply-chain problems causing unavailability of replacement parts, as well as seasonal weather conditions and plane damage.
According to Lao, Cebu Pacific has implemented measures to enhance operations, including activating a disruption management team, increasing live chat agents, and improving policies and processes for handling disruptions.
“We acknowledge that these actions may still be insufficient for affected passengers, and we are actively managing the situation and assessing how we can provide better care during this recovery period," he added.
Philippine Airlines (PAL) has also faced mounting criticism. During a wave of delays and cancellations in mid-June, the airline advised passengers to use non-voice channels like Viber, WhatsApp, and FB Messenger due to high volumes of requests and longer wait times on active voice channels.
PAL attributed the delays to necessary maintenance caused by ongoing supply chain delays and unexpected technical issues. Additionally, the airline’s decision to split international and domestic flights into separate terminals at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) has exacerbated passenger congestion, leading to longer queues for departure, according to lawmakers.
The move is part of Manila International Airport Authority’s STAR (Schedule and Terminal Assignment Rationalization) programme, which is reassigning airlines among the capital's four airport terminals.
However, lawmakers claim that this has exacerbated rather than eased passenger congestion at NAIA resulting in longer than usual queues for departure.