Magna Carta for Air Passengers
When it comes to air travel, there is no shortage of horror stories about misplaced luggage and cancelled flights. There is this unverified story where irate passengers of a budget airline posted their grievances and the airline replied: “They booked a budget airline, what do they expect ?”
Air passengers have a right to expect a minimum level of acceptable service and air carriers, being public utilities must provide these services and maintain standards. The business of operating an airline is imbued with public interest and is a privilege.
In 2012, there was issued a Joint DOTC-DTI Administrative Order No. 1 , which established a Bill of Rights for air passengers in the Philippines. The order focuses on protecting the major rights of air passengers, which include:
1. Right to be provided with accurate information before purchase
Air passengers are entitled to a full disclosure of the terms and conditions of the ticket which must be disclosed before purchase. Some of these conditions are those involving check-in, rebooking and refund, procedures for delayed or cancelled flights, liability limitations and claims which must be printed on the ticket, the boarding pass, referred to in the carrier’s website or sent by mail or email, upon request.
For online bookings, the passenger must be notified of the disclosures twice before the completion of the purchase.
The order also provides that sales and promotions of air carriers shall be carried out with honesty, transparency, fairness, and in accordance with the requirements of the Consumer Act.
2. Right to receive the full value of the service purchased
The order provides that a passenger shall not be considered late or a no-show, and shall not be denied check-in if it is within the air carrier’s designated check-in area at least one hour before the published Estimated Time of Departure (ETD), or within the prescribed time set by the air carrier.
Check-in counters for international flights must be open at least two hours before the ETD, separate check in counters for flights nearing the check-in deadline at least one hour before ETD and one for persons with disability, senior citizens, and persons requiring special assistance or handling are to be provided.
For domestic airports, check-in counters must be open one hour before ETD.
Passengers shall not be denied the right to board the airplane except in cases of overbooking by the airline or for legal or other valid causes.
In cases of overbooking, airlines shall look for volunteers willing to give up their seats and offer compensation until the required number of volunteers are met.
3. Right to compensation
Air passengers have the right to compensation for inconveniences and damage caused by an airline’s failure, flight delay, cancellation, denied boarding, or mishandling of baggage.
For cancellations made more than 24 hours before ETD, the passenger must be notified and allowed to rebook or refund the ticket.
For cancellations less than 24 hours to ETD, the airline must notify the passenger as well as provide for amenities (which may include food, drinks, and accommodation), reimburse the passenger of the value of the fare, endorse the passenger to another airline, or rebook the ticket without additional charges;
Cancellations due to force majeure or safety and security reasons entitle the passenger to reimbursement of the full value of the fare.
For flight delays, if the delay is for at least three hours, passengers have the right to refreshments or meals, free phone calls, text or emails, and first aid. They may choose rebooking, refund, or to be endorsed to another carrier.
If the flight is delayed for at least six hours, the flight may be considered as cancelled and passengers may claim compensation of the equivalent of at least the value of the sector delayed, or seek a rebooking, refund, or board the delayed flight.
For tarmac delays, where passengers are already on board the aircraft, they can avail themselves of sufficient food and beverage.
Passengers have the right to be informed if their bags are off-loaded and be paid P2,000 for every 24 hours of delay in the delivery of their baggage as well as a refund on the checked baggage fee. For lost or damaged baggage in international flights, the Montreal Convention applies. For domestic flights, passengers are entitled to half the amount provided for lost baggage for international flights.
A passenger can consider the baggage lost if it has not been delivered within seven days.
Passengers have a right to the immediate payment of compensation from airlines which shall be made via cash, check ,or a voucher which is convertible to cash.
Despite the Oder of the DOTC-DTI on air passenger rights, there is a strong lobby to strengthen air passenger rights.
On Jan. 9, 2023, House Bill No. (HB) 6738 entitled An Act Providing for the Magna Carta of Airline Passenger Rights, Imposing Obligations on Airline Companies, Providing for Penal Sanctions, and Other Purposes was filed in Congress (Magna Carta for Air Passengers).
The Magna Carta for Air Passengers not only incorporates many points contained in the Order of the DOTC-DTI, but also adds other significant provisions such as.
1. The diligence required of airlines is extraordinary versus ordinary for passengers;
2. When damage or injury is suffered by passengers, there is a presumption of negligence on the part of the airline and the proper selection and supervision of employees by the airline does not overcome this presumption;
3. Overbooking of flights is prohibited;
4. The contract of air carriage, the ticket, is interpreted liberally in favor of the passenger and strictly against the airline;
5. Passengers who cancel their tickets more than 24 hours before ETD are entitled to a refund of 75 percent. Baggage and terminal fees are also refundable. For cancellations less than 24 from the ETD or for show, no refund is due except for ancillary services not availed of such as baggage and terminal fees;
6. Passengers may be denied the right to board for acts “due to the fault of the passenger” which is defined as when the passenger acts in violation of a law or contract of air carriage affecting the safety and security of other passengers or crew. Passengers at fault are not be entitled to any relief provided for in HB 6738;
7. Passengers are entitled to equal protection regardless of race, age, sex, education, income, social status, language, physical characteristics, religion, political belief, and other circumstances. Moreover, airlines shall not discriminate against passengers because of a previous grievance filed by the passenger against the airline;
8. Airlines that do not provide immediate compensation shall be subject to the payment of interest on the amount due;
9. Delay is shortened to 2 hours where passengers may ask for rebooking or refund and a flight may be considered as cancelled when the delay lasts for 3 hours;
10. Passengers can demand to leave the plane in case of a 3 hour delay on the tarmac;
11. Arrival Delay of 1 hour entitles passengers to free food and drinks. When the delay is due to the negligence of the airline, it must pay passengers P10,000 or the actual damages suffered by the passenger, whichever is higher.
12. Airlines are liable to pay passengers at least P50,000 plus other damages for violation of the rights of air passengers.
The authors of HB 6738 seem to have taken pains to balance the interest of passengers and airlines, though airlines may not agree with this assessment. On the other hand, passengers who have had the unfortunate experience of suffering through hours of delays, cancellations, mishandling of baggage, and long waits on the tarmac in a cramped airplane, may feel that the penalties do not go far enough.
Whether or not HB 6738 will be passed into law remains to be seen. Abangan!
(The author, Atty. John Philip C. Siao, is a practicing lawyer and founding Partner of Tiongco Siao Bello & Associates Law Offices, teaches law at the MLQU School of Law, and an Arbitrator of the Construction Industry Arbitration Commission of the Philippines. He may be contacted at email@example.com. The views expressed in this article belong to the author alone.)