MANILA, Philippines–Consumers are hopeful that the government’s air passenger “bill of rights,” once finalized, will help protect travelers against corporate abuses, without necessarily stunting the growth of the country’s airlines.
“We think this will achieve a lot because there has been mass clamor for new regulations,” said Elvira Medina, president of the National Council for Consumer Protection (NCCP).
In an interview, she said she was confident that the new bill of rights, being drafted by the Department of Transportation and Communications together with the Trade and Industry and Tourism departments (DTI and DOT), would lead to better services and benefit all industry stakeholders.
The NCCP was one of several consumer groups that participated in the first of three public hearings hosted by the DOTC for the Joint Administrative Order (JAO) among the DOTC, DTI and DOT.
Highlights of the JAO include stricter rules on overbooking of flights, bumping off of passengers, responsibilities of airlines during flight delays, and even a requirement for companies to maintain an extra plane in case other aircraft break down.
At the hearing, Medina also stressed the need to protect the rights of senior citizens and overseas Filipino workers (OFW) who are the most vulnerable to airline abuses.
The creation of the JAO was prompted by a sharp rise in passenger complaints in March, April and May. Most passengers complained of bad service by airlines, ranging from arbitrary bumping off of ticket holders and flight delays.
The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) likewise said many passengers had complained of rude airline employees.
Susan Ople, head of the Blas Ople Policy Center and OFW rights advocate, welcomed the creation of a JAO, but she asked for the inclusion of provisions that would outline the procedures for OFWs when travelling by air. She said many OFWs are bumped off from their flights for unexplained reasons.
Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas said the JAO, once finalized, would clearly define the rights of all types of passengers to protect them from abuses by airlines.
Roxas also stressed the need to strike a balance between what airline passengers are entitled to, and the rights of airlines to conduct their business without unnecessary restrictions.
“We don’t want to interfere with business models of the airlines. Budget airlines have been advantageous to the economy because now, the ordinary person has access to affordable air travel,” Roxas said.
“We don’t want to tell airlines how to conduct their businesses, but what we want to say is when airlines sell tickets, these are contracts and these are the rights of the other contracting party,” he said.
Cebu Pacific, the country’s largest airline, welcomed the new rules but asked that the same regulations be applied to all airlines operating in the Philippines.
Today, the draft rules only cover local carriers.