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Flight cancellations 2022: Keeping travel safe as airline personnel struggle with COVID

By: - Content Researcher Writer / @inquirerdotnet
/ 04:44 PM January 14, 2022

Artwork by Daniella Agacer

MANILA, Philippines—Hundreds of flights had been cancelled in recent days, prompted not by the lockdowns common in 2020 and 2021 but by airline workers either getting infected or exposed to infected persons.

As Omicron lights a massive rise in COVID cases in the Philippines and elsewhere, local airlines, already financially reeling from the impact of the ongoing health crisis, had to cancel flights because of manpower shortage.

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Philippine Airlines (PAL) said some flights set on Jan. 14 to 24—190 domestic and 63 international—had been cancelled because “we continue to experience challenges in maintaining full operations.”

READ: Airlines cancel more flights amid infection surge

Cielo Villaluna, PAL spokesperson, told INQUIRER.net that since the situation remained “fluid,” the carrier may need to make further adjustments in its operations and cancel more flights.

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This, she said, was prompted by employees—both ground and flight workers—who remained in isolation either because of COVID sickness or exposure to COVID. Last Jan. 11, she told Teleradyo that less than 10 percent of flight crews continued to be in isolation but its impact on operations was significant.

RELATED STORY: Omicron-related disruptions cause over 3,600 flight cancellations to start off 2022

“We are taking the precaution of cancelling a number of PAL flights, even as our PAL teams do all we can to maintain as many other flights as possible, process all passenger requests and relieve the longer call waiting times and ticket office queues,” PAL said in a statement.

Graphic by Ed Lustan

Here’s a list of PAL’s cancelled domestic flights:

  • Jan. 14

PR 2037/2038, PR 2045/2046 and PR 2047/2048 Manila-Caticlan-Manila
PR 2519/2520, PR 1525/1526 and PR 2529/2530 Manila-Cagayan de Oro-Manila
PR 2861/2862, PR 1849/1850, PR 1853/1854 and PR 1847/1848 Manila-Cebu-Manila
PR 2921/2922, PR 2923/2924 and PR 2919/2920 Manila-Legazpi-Manila
PR 2985/2986 and PR 2987/2988 Manila-Tacloban-Manila
PR 1815/1816 and PR 1809/1810 Manila-Davao-Manila
PR 1141/1142 Manila-Iloilo-Manila
PR 2783/2784 Manila-Pagadian-Manila
PR 2777/2778 Manila-Tagbilaran (Panglao)-Manila
PR 2969/2970 Manila-Kalibo-Manila
PR 2963/2964 and PR 2965/2966 Manila-Busuanga (Coron)-Manila
PR 2889/2890 Manila-Ozamiz-Manila
PR 2205/2206 Manila-Roxas-Manila
PR 2934/2935 Manila-Butuan-Manila

  • Jan. 15

PR 1835/1880, PR 2861/2862, PR 1849/1850 and PR 1853/1854 Manila-Cebu-Manila
PR 2037/2038, PR 2045/2046 and PR 2047/2048 Manila-Caticlan-Manila
PR 2529/2530 and PR 1525/1526 and PR 2519/2520 Manila-Cagayan de Oro-Manila
PR 2921/2922, PR 2923/2924 and PR 2919/2920 Manila-Legazpi-Manila
PR 2957/2958 Manila-Cotabato-Manila
PR 2965/2966 and PR 2963/2964 Manila-Busuanga (Coron)-Manila
PR 1815/1816 Manila-Davao-Manila
PR 1141/1142 Manila-Iloilo-Manila
PR 2891/2982 Manila-Tacloban-Manila
PR 2557/2558 Manila-Dipolog-Manila
PR 2545/2546 Manila-Dumaguete-Manila
PR 2938/2939 Manila-Butuan-Manila
PR 2969/2970 Manila-Kalibo-Manila
PR 2936/2937 Manila-Basco-Manila
PR 2889/2890 Manila-Ozamiz-Manila

  • Jan. 16

PR 1835/1880, PR 2861/2862, PR 1847/1848 and PR 1853/1854 Manila-Cebu-Manila
PR 2965/2966 and PR 2963/2964 Manila-Busuanga (Coron)-Manila
PR 2773/2774 Manila-Tagbilaran (Panglao)-Manila
PR 2938/2939 Manila-Butuan-Manila
PR 2037/2038, PR 2045/2046 and PR 2047/2048 Manila-Caticlan-Manila
PR 2519/2520 and PR 2529/2530 Manila-Cagayan de Oro-Manila
PR 2921/2922 and PR 2923/2924 Manila-Legazpi-Manila
PR 1819/1820 Manila-Davao-Manila
PR 2129/2130 Manila-Bacolod-Manila
PR 2987/2988 Manila-Tacloban-Manila
PR 2781/2782 Manila-Puerto Princesa-Manila
PR 2783/2784 Manila-Pagadian-Manila
PR 2957/2958 Manila-Cotabato-Manila
PR 2145/2146 Manila-Iloilo-Manila
PR 2889/2890 Manila-Ozamiz-Manila

  • Jan. 17

PR 2773/2774 Manila-Tagbilaran (Panglao)-Manila
PR 2938/2939 Manila-Butuan-Manila
PR 2037/2038 Manila-Caticlan-Manila
PR 2519/2520 and PR 2529/2530 Manila-Cagayan de Oro-Manila
PR 2921/2922 Manila-Legazpi-Manila
PR 2135/2136 Manila-Bacolod-Manila
PR 2965/2966 Manila-Busuanga (Coron)-Manila
PR 1819/1820 Manila-Davao-Manila
PR 1853/1854 and PR 1835/1880 Manila-Cebu-Manila

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  • Jan. 18

PR 2773/2774 Manila-Tagbilaran (Panglao)-Manila
PR 2938/2939 Manila-Butuan-Manila
PR 2037/2038 Manila-Caticlan-Manila
PR 2519/2520 and PR 2529/2530 Manila-Cagayan de Oro-Manila
PR 2921/2922 Manila-Legazpi-Manila
PR 2135/2136 Manila-Bacolod-Manila
PR 2965/2966 Manila-Busuanga (Coron)-Manila
PR 2957/2958 Manila-Cotabato-Manila
PR 2985/2986 Manila-Tacloban-Manila
PR 2236/2237 Cebu-Tacloban-Cebu
PR 1819/1820 Manila-Davao-Manila
PR 1847/1848 and PR 1853/1854 Manila-Cebu-Manila
PR 1781/1782 Manila-Puerto Princesa-Manila

Here’s a list of PAL’s canceled international flights:

  • Jan. 14

PR 422/421 Manila-Tokyo Haneda-Manila
PR 535 Manila-Jakarta
PR 5654/5655 Manila-Riyadh-Manila

  • Jan. 15

PR 536 Jakarta-Manila
PR 507/508 Manila-Singapore-Manila
PR 890/891 Manila-Taipei-Manila
PR 438/437 Manila-Nagoya-Manila
PR 209 Manila-Melbourne

  • Jan. 16

PR 412/411 Manila-Osaka (Kansai)-Manila
PR 301 Hong Kong-Manila
PR 210 Melbourne-Manila
PR 110 Manila-Guam
PR 5654/5655 Manila-Riyadh-Manila

  • Jan. 17

PR 507/508 Manila-Singapore-Manila
PR 438/437 Manila-Nagoya-Manila
PR 426/425 Manila-Fukuoka-Manila
PR 111 Guam-Manila
PR 658/659 Manila-Dubai-Manila

  • Jan. 18

PR 5682/5683 Manila-Dammam-Manila
PR 110 Manila-Guam

  • Jan. 19

PR 301 Hong Kong-Manila
PR 412/411 Manila-Osaka (Kansai)-Manila
PR 111 Guam-Manila
PR 422/421 Manila-Tokyo (Haneda)-Manila

  • Jan. 20

PR 301 Hong Kong-Manila
PR 422/421 Manila-Tokyo (Haneda)-Manila

  • Jan. 21

PR 301 Hong Kong-Manila
PR 412/411 Manila-Osaka (Kansai)-Manila
PR 507/508 Manila-Singapore-Manila
PR 890/891 Manila-Taipei-Manila
PR 438/437 Manila-Nagoya-Manila
PR 535 Manila-Jakarta

  • Jan. 22

PR 890/891 Manila-Taipei-Manila
PR 536 Jakarta-Manila
PR 215/216 Manila-Port Moresby-Manila

  • Jan. 23

PR 684/684 Manila-Doha-Manila

  • Jan. 24

PR 658/659 Manila-Dubai-Manila
PR 507/508 Manila-Singapore-Manila

The carrier was also forced to cancel some international flights to comply with limits to daily international passenger arrivals being imposed by authorities at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

Since Jan. 12, the Civil Aeronautics Board set the limit to 3,000 daily international passenger arrivals. From Nov. 1, 2021 to Jan. 11, 2022, the limit was fixed at 4,000 daily. Villaluna said PAL’s allocation is 960 international passenger arrivals daily.

RELATED STORY: PAL seeks higher passenger cap

With the continuing rise in COVID-19 cases, Cebu Pacific (CEB) likewise said it was managing the effects of the crisis on its crew, saying that there are employees who are either sick or exposed to individuals who tested positive for the virus.

With this, flight delays and “on-the-spot” cancellations remained a possibility. According to CEB’s Travel Advisory No. 8, at least 76 domestic flights scheduled on Jan. 14 to 17 had been cancelled.

Here’s a list of CEB’s cancelled domestic flights:

  • Jan. 14

5J 899/900 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
5J 905/906 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
DG 6243/6244 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
5J 389/390 Manila – Cagayan de Oro – Manila
DG 6703/6704 Manila – Camiguin – Manila
DG 6984/6985 Cebu – Clark – Cebu
DG 6051/6052 Manila – Coron – Manila
DG 6197/6198 Manila – Legazpi – Manila
DG 6117/6118 Manila – Naga – Manila
5J 506/507 Manila – Tuguegarao – Manila

  • Jan. 15

5J 899/900 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
5J 903/904 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
DG 6243/6244 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
5J 787/788 Manila – Butuan – Manila
5J 389/390 Manila – Cagayan de Oro – Manila
5J 447/448 Manila – Iloilo – Manila
DG 6191/6192 Manila – Legazpi – Manila
DG 6195/6196 Manila – Legazpi – Manila
DG 6117/6118 Manila – Naga – Manila
DG 6031/6032 Manila – San Jose – Manila

  • Jan. 16

5J 893/894 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
5J 897/898 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
5J 905/906 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
5J 793/794 Manila – Butuan – Manila
5J 567/568 Manila – Cebu – Manila
5J 581/582 Manila – Cebu – Manila
5J 975/976 Manila – Davao – Manila
5J 457/458 Manila – Iloilo – Manila
5J 771/772 Manila – Pagadian – Manila
5J 853/854 Manila – Zamboanga – Manila

  • Jan. 17

5J 893/894 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
5J 901/902 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
5J 905/906 Manila – Boracay (Caticlan) – Manila
5J 379/380 Manila – Cagayan de Oro – Manila
5J 561/562 Manila – Cebu – Manila
5J 961/962 Manila – Davao – Manila
5J 971/970 Manila – Davao – Manila
5J 649/650 Manila – Tacloban – Manila

Flight options

While PAL said it sincerely regrets the “inconvenience” caused by the cancelled flights, tickets remained valid and passengers may avail themselves of these options if their flights had been cancelled:

      1. Convert ticket to travel credits equivalent to unused base fare of canceled flight. Voucher validity is one year from date of issuance.
      2. Rebook or reroute flight to those available your ticket within 60 days from the original flight in the same booking class or higher within the same cabin class.
      3. Refund ticket without penalties, excluding ticketing service charge

Passengers may make these requests through the MyPAL Request Hub: https://www.philippineairlines.com/en/ph/home/covid-19/mypalhub

CEB also extended “flexible options for all its passengers with domestic and international flights” until Jan. 23 as it encouraged passengers who have non-essential travel to avail of these options:

      1. Rebook for travel within 60 days at no additional cost, following CEB’s permanent removal of change fees. Fare difference waived.
      2. Store the amount in a virtual CEB wallet valid for two years and use this to either book a new flight or pay for add-ons (e.g. baggage allowance, seat selection, etc.).
      3. The process of asking for refund may take up to two (2) months from the date of request.

Passengers may request these through CEB’s Manage Booking: http://bit.ly/CEBmanageflight

‘Early call’

Romina Yasmin Aguirre, CEB corporate communications manager, told INQUIRER.net that with the rise in COVID-19 cases post-Christmas and New Year, the airline has been implementing preemptive measures as early as Jan. 4.

She said CEB’s decision to consolidate flights and announce the cancellation of flights early helped passengers rebook, convert to virtual CEB wallet, or request for a refund.

Flight and ground workers reporting sick or isolating after contact with COVID-positive individuals was the main reason for the disruptions.

“Those who reported sick or quarantined as close contact two to three weeks ago, have started reporting for work, which balances the situation,” Aguirre said.

Villanuna said PAL also informed passengers about the cancellations, saying that last Jan. 9, over 100 flights scheduled until Jan. 15 had been canceled. “Announcements were made via official PAL pages and email notifications,” she said.

“However, on Jan. 10, there were five outbound Manila flights that were cancelled two to three hours before their scheduled departures. Most passengers were already at the airport,” she said.

According to Villaluna, PAL asked for understanding from passengers whose flights were cancelled, saying that several cabin crew “called in sick and that the flights had to be cancelled.”

She said passengers were led to a tent outside the NAIA Terminal 2 PAL ticketing office. “They waited for their turn and our airport staff provided water and sandwiches,” she said.

Safe flights

While flights were canceled because of employees who went in isolation either because of sickness or exposure, PAL and CEB said they were doing everything to make flights safe.

“Our PAL medical team is actively monitoring the health and wellness of all employees, including our cabin crew and flight teams. PAL adopts and continuously updates strict health and safety protocols to protect all travelers,” PAL said.

PAL explained that this included the provision of complete PPE for the cabin crew, aircraft cabin air flow systems, and High Efficiency Particulate Air filters that screen out viruses and other contaminants, “for a safer and cleaner environment.”

CEB said it operates with 100 percent completely vaccinated active flying crew. Pilots and cabin crew undergo regular antigen testing (Test Before Duty) before they are assigned to operate flights.

While AirAsia Philippines said all domestic flights will continue, it “will always prioritize the safety of our guests while remaining committed to their needs for air transportation.” It said AirAsia supports the “mobility of vaccinated passengers eligible to travel.”

It said it likewise established a Safety Plus 24/7 Team composed of different department leaders and the People and Culture-Medical team to strengthen support and monitoring of the health and wellbeing of its employees, including by distributing medication and vitamins to those who have contracted the virus.

Last year, CEB and AirAsia said 100 percent of their active flying crew was already completely vaccinated against COVID. CEB, last Jan. 11, started giving out “booster” doses, saying that the program aims to administer 200 booster shots daily. PAL, meanwhile, said 99 percent of its employees are already vaccinated.

Fighting setbacks

Local airlines were severely hit by the COVID-19 crisis. With the increased cap on daily international passenger arrivals, a chance was seen to recover from the financial losses of 2020, the year when demand for air travel collapsed.

Graphic by Ed Lustan

On June 17, 2021, PAL’s listed parent company, PAL Holdings Inc., said there was a net comprehensive loss of P73 billion in 2020, higher than the P10.2 billion in 2019, as the demand for air travel was decimated by the health crisis.

Graphic by Ed Lustan

CEB likewise saw a P22.2 billion loss in 2020 since only five million passengers flew, a 78 percent decrease from the 22.5 million in 2019. AirAsia Philippines, saw a 77 percent drop in revenues.

AirAsia said it had P6.3 billion in revenues for 2020, way lower than the P27.35 billion it had in 2019. This, as AirAsia Philippines only had 2 million passengers in 2020. It had 8.55 million passengers in 2019.

There’s hope, though. In a recent December 2021 survey that was commissioned by AirAsia Philippines, it was found that seven out of 10 passengers are keen on proceeding with their trips in 2022.

READ: AirAsia PH: Travel habits to shift in 2022 but demand stays strong

“We are seeing that Filipinos are now much more confident to travel as we as a nation gain a better understanding of the pandemic and develop a more fitting culture of safety and vigilance,” AirAsia Philippines CEO Ricardo Isla said.

Graphic by Ed Lustan

“At AirAsia, we are observing an uptrend in long-term bookings which signifies a more positive outlook on travel plans this year. But we are not letting our guards down. We will be consistent in prioritizing the safety and well-being of our guests as they fly to their intended destinations,” he added.

The results indicated that demand for domestic travel will remain strong with respondents keen on flying to Palawan (77 percent), Boracay (69 percent), Cebu (58 percent), Siargao (57 percent) and Bohol (52 percent).

Budgets will also be lessened for the trips—38 percent said they wanted to limit travel expenses to below P15,000; 15 percent said they were willing to spend up to P20,000; while 13 percent were prepared to spend up to P40,000 for a trip.

In a September 2021 study, the World Bank and Australian Aid found that one of the best ways to convince people to get vaccinated was to show them the personal and social benefits of getting the vaccine.

The activities that respondents looked forward to the most were time with family (64 percent), celebrations (49 percent), normal life (23 percent), travel (14 percent), in-person school or work (14 percent) and others (2 percent).

TSB

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