Cebu Pacific took a beating from airport melee, tooBy Paolo G. Montecillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Radio host and columnist Ramon Tulfo was not the only one who took a beating from actor Raymart Santiago and several of his companions at Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport on Sunday.
The budget airline industry is also under fire for what some consider “abusive” business practices that fuel the perception that it focuses too much on profits and too little on customer service.
In a statement on Monday, budget airline Cebu Pacific Air apologized for putting the luggage of actress Claudine Barretto, Santiago’s wife, on a different flight to Manila, which was what caused the actress to berate its ground staff and what prompted Tulfo to take photos of the incident.
But the airline clarified that this was done for safety reasons. “Flight 5J 896 from Caticlan to Manila had to off-load some luggage due to Caticlan airport’s weight limitation, and is implemented for safety reasons,” the airline said.
“The bags were loaded on the earliest available Kalibo-Manila flight on the same day and have been delivered to the owners,” Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing Candice Iyog said. “We regret the inconvenience this may have caused our guests and we hope for their understanding as their safety is our primary concern.”
Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II declined to comment on the matter prematurely. “I will wait for the MIAA [Manila International Airport Authority] details,” Roxas said.
Cheap ticket, less service
For Avelino Zapanta, president of leisure carrier Southeast Asian Airlines (Seair), airline passengers must understand that cheap tickets meant reduced services.
“Passengers cannot have the best of both worlds. If they want free meals on flights and other frills, they should fly PAL [Philippine Airlines]. But the reason budget airline tickets are cheaper is that they cut a lot of costs,” Zapanta said in an interview.
For Zapanta, however, cutting corners to lower operational expenses should not be done at the expense of passengers.
He said Cebu Pacific’s decision to off-load some baggage was understandable due to restrictions at the Caticlan airport. But he said passengers should be notified before their flights leave—not upon arrival at their respective destinations.
“That’s basic procedure. The airline has to tell the passenger. The people will understand because it’s for safety reasons,” said Zapanta, a former president of PAL.
Since the start of the peak summer season, Cebu Pacific has been hit for its practice of “overbooking” its flights, or selling more tickets than there are seats on a plane.
Zapanta said the practice, which often leads to paying passengers being refused boarding, was an industry norm. “Airlines really overbook their flights because normally, there are passengers that don’t show up,” he said.
He said the problem lay with the insensitive treatment by airlines of passengers affected by overbooking.
The Civil Aeronautics Board is currently drafting rules to suspend the practice of overbooking. In a statement, Cebu Pacific said it would study the draft order.
Last week, the airline also came under fire after militant party list Akbayan asked the House of Representatives to look into the airline’s treatment of persons with disabilities (PWDs).
This was after passenger Socorro Jabor, a double amputee chose to crawl down the airplane ramp at Singapore’s Changi airport because she refused to pay the P11,000 fee, which Cebu Pacific had failed to inform her about, for the use of a wheelchair lift.
Cebu Pacific pinned the blame for Jabor’s predicament on the travel agent who arranged Jabor’s flight.
“This is a question of command responsibility. The burden is on Cebu Pacific and all other airlines to ensure the safety and convenience of all their passengers, and they should be doubly attentive to the needs of PWDs who are flying with them,” Akbayan Representative Walden Bello earlier said.
In 2010, Cebu Pacific was accused of discrimination after refusing a “special child” from taking a flight—in line with a company policy of not allowing more than one mentally ill person at any given time on a plane.
Meanwhile, Metro Manila resident Ricardo B. Ramos, a former Cebu Pacific patron, said the government should look into the budget airline industry’s abuses that affect thousands of passengers every day.
In 2010, Ramos, executive director of watchdog InfraWatch, earlier filed a complaint in the Department of Transportation and Communications after his July 5, 2010, flight from Manila to Iloilo was delayed for over six hours.
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