A LABOR dispute hounding the Philippine Airlines (PAL) threatens to disrupt the lives not only of passengers, but also travel agencies.

National Association of International Travel Agencies Cebu chapter president Jenny Franco was worried when she heard the news about PAL’s cancellation of several international and domestic flights during the weekend.

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“That can affect our tourism industry, more so if the international pilots are the ones leaving the airline company,” she said.

All of PAL’s Manila-Cebu-Manila flights went back to normal yesterday, but the flag carrier still lacks pilots to fly its Airbus 319s and Airbus 320s.

The airline rejected the resignation of more than two dozen pilots and gave them seven days to return to work, or they would have to face civil, criminal and administrative charges.

“PAL doesn’t want to get in the way of its pilots’ dream of landing better-paying jobs abroad, but they have contractual obligations with the company and a moral

responsibility to thousands of passengers,” PAL stressed in a statement sent by Jonathan Gesmundo of the corporate communications group.

At least eight flights were cancelled Sunday, but PAL said it made sure all its passengers are attended to, and assured the public that it hopes to get all the schedules back to normal within a week.

Two other flights in the Manila-Bacolod-Manila and Manila-Iloilo-Manila routes were cancelled because of mechanical problems.

The PAL statement said the airline was forced to cancel several regional and domestic flights after 13 captains and 12 first officers flying its Airbus A319s and A320s resigned, without giving PAL ample time to train replacements.

“We apologize to our loyal patrons for the inconvenience. We know our passengers missed connecting flights, including important personal and business appointments.

But the pilots’ resignation is something we couldn’t prevent. Many of them simply did not show up for work and just handed in their resignation letters. Some of them even owe PAL millions of pesos for the cost of their training,” the PAL statement said.

Control station manager Chito Villareal, who is based at Mactan Cebu International Airport, said only the A320 fleet was hit by pilot problems because the other aircraft like the A330, A340, Boeing 737 and Boeing 747 have the required number of pilots.

Watching from the sidelines, travel and tour operators said they hoped for a quick resolution to the flag carrier’s problems.

Liezel Mapula, marketing officer of Black Panda Travel and Tours, feared the problem may trickle down to their travel agency.

“We are a PAL-accredited travel agency, so what PAL is going through now is a big

concern to us,” she said. She said the airline’s cancellation of flights subjected many passengers, some of whom could be their clients, to the hassle and inconvenience of re-booking.

Kathleen Lim, manager of Grand Holidays Travel and Tours, said PAL should immediately fix the problem before the dispute blows out of proportion and affects other sectors, particularly travel agencies.

“I’ve heard about PAL’s plan to outsource some parts of its operations, like reservation and ticketing. But I think these plans have yet to be implemented. As the flag carrier, PAL should settle whatever disputes it has with its employees,” she said.

Her agency was lucky its affected clients adjusted to the changes in their schedule last weekend.

“As of now, we don’t feel yet the impact the problems of PAL may have on us,” she said.

Gerlie Palarao, Baron Travel Corp. office manager, said PAL’s labor problems may affect travel agencies “in some ways” but will not necessarily jeopardize their business.

“We have airlines aside from PAL. We can look for other airlines if it can’t operate normally in the meantime,” she said. “There are other airlines that even offer cheaper prices than PAL.” (RSB/EOB)