Greed pays, grumbled one passenger, a harassed mother shepherding two restless young boys from one overcrowded gate to another in terminal 2 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport after it was announced that the nation’s flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) had overbooked a flight again.
Boarding time for this weekend flight from Manila to Cebu was delayed by nearly an hour. For the most vulnerable group of passengers — adults pushing a stroller or carrying a child, elderly or incapacitated passengers on wheelchair — the press of bodies milling around the pre-departure gates was another obstacle to hurdle in the test of endurance that currently is the most apt metaphor for commercial flights in the country.
The relaxation of pandemic restrictions creates an upsurge in travel, particularly air travel. Unfortunately, travelers’ tales of woes are also on the uptick.
On social media, netizens post their frustrations about being abandoned to airline companies’ “greed” to recover from pandemic losses and increase profit by scheduling more flights and resorting to shoddy practices that seemingly prioritize the bottom line rather than travelers’ and their workers’ welfare.
Cebu Pacific, PAL, Air Asia, and other aviation stakeholders showed up during a Senate inquiry last June to respond to charges of overbooking, offloading, flight delays, and flight-related complaints from passengers. Sen. Nancy Binay filed a resolution specifying only issues raised against Cebu Pacific but the Senate Committee on Tourism invited other stakeholders to the probe.
Sen. Grace Poe asked the Civil Aeronautics Board to monitor and determine if airlines are exceeding the allowable five-percent limit of overbooking, considered as a global industry practice to offset incidences of passengers cancelling or arriving late for flights.
“Systematic (flight) delays and cancellations are not (acceptable),” Poe pointed out.
The impact of flight irregularities on tourism and investments was singled out by Senators JV Ejercito and Risa Hontiveros.
Before considering the interests of tourists and investors, airline companies must view Filipinos’ welfare as their primordial interest.
After the overbooking of PAL PR 2859 was announced on Aug. 6, an offer of a P2,500 cash voucher and a confirmed seat on the next immediate flight of the company was dangled for those who volunteered to defer their flight, originally scheduled at 9:15 p.m. The next flight was estimated to be at past 11 p.m.
Following successive calls for volunteers to surrender their seats for this compensating arrangement, the next public address focused on the rule that only one carry-on luggage was allowed for every customer. Passengers bringing more than one luggage or exceeding the weight limit for carry-on luggage would have to surrender the packages for check-in. The next announcement was to call for passengers to volunteer to have their carry-on luggage checked in at no additional cost.
Such announcements often cause a flurry of movement among passengers made anxious, competitive, and aggressive. Passengers with infants or toddlers and wheelchair-limited elderly should be first to board; however, last Aug. 6, the “comfort class” had to compete like all the younger, more able-bodied, and less encumbered passengers because, on top of the overloading and movement of carry-on baggages, there was a last-minute change of gates for boarding.
Airline companies should reflect on the domino effect set off by flight irregularities, particularly overbooking. Last-minute changes take their toll on the efficiency of ground and flight crews to facilitate pre- and post-flight movements.
Especially with the spike in the cost of flying, particularly with the rates of checked-in luggage, safety, efficiency, and professionalism should be the airlines’ counterpart for the patronage of citizens sustaining their business.