Senators confront CebuPac with 3,000 flyer complaints | Inquirer News

Senators confront CebuPac with 3,000 flyer complaints

Wednesday’s four-hour Senate hearing chaired by Sen. Nancy Binay unloaded a heap of criticism on Cebu Pacific, whose passengers are seen disembarking in this December 2021 file photo. STORY: Senators confront CebuPac with 3,000 flyer complaints

TURBULENT DAY | Wednesday’s four-hour Senate hearing chaired by Sen. Nancy Binay unloaded a heap of criticism on Cebu Pacific, whose passengers are seen disembarking in this December 2021 file photo. (Photo by LYN RILLON / Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — The Senate Committee on Tourism began on Wednesday its probe of the mounting passenger complaints against the Gokongwei-led Cebu Pacific Air, with senators unconvinced with the budget carrier’s explanation for its delayed and canceled flights as they zeroed in on its practice of overbooking, believed to be the main reason why many passengers were suddenly told that they could no longer board their plane.

Sen. Nancy Binay, who presided over the hearing as chair of the Senate committee, narrated that even some members of her staff had their own share of nightmarish tales about Cebu Pacific’s dismal performance and customer service.


Her office, she added, was able to compile more than 3,000 complaints against Cebu Pacific that were posted by exasperated passengers on social media.


The four-hour proceedings virtually turned into a “grief-sharing session” as passengers shared their ordeal after their flights were suddenly canceled or delayed for several hours.

One of the complainants, who participated in the hearing online, narrated the budget carrier’s shabby treatment of passengers when their return flight to Manila from Tokyo on June 5 was delayed due to “noise problems from the aircraft’s engine.”

The passenger, whose identity was withheld, also noted the inconsistencies in the explanation of Cebu Pacific’s staff as they were later told that the delay was caused by the late arrival of another plane.

“We were left there without food and any commitment for accommodation while waiting for our next flight,” said the woman, who said she, her husband, and their child were forced to sleep on the floor of Narita International Airport in Japan.

She said she and her husband also had to file an unscheduled leave from work while their child had to skip classes.

Another passenger said she nearly missed the dentistry board exam on May 3 when she was informed that her May 1 flight from Dumaguete City to Manila had been moved four days later.


“It caused me too much stress,” said the complainant, who noted that she learned about the cancellation only moments before she was about to board her flight.

She said she was surprised after her aunt, who was in Australia, was able to buy a ticket for a Cebu Pacific flight, which cost more than P10,000, on the morning of May 2.

“How is it possible that they were able to offer new seats to highest-paying customers when they knew for a fact that there are a lot of passengers (of the delayed flight) who want to come to Manila?” the complainant asked.

Unexpected challenges

During the hearing, Cebu Pacific blamed “freak incidents” and the global logistics slowdown for flight disruptions such as overbooking and canceled flights.

“Clearly, the challenges have been unprecedented, especially for Cebu Pacific, because of all of the freak incidents that we’ve had,” Airline president and chief commercial officer Alexander Lao said in response to a query by Sen. JV Ejercito.

“We express our sincerest apologies to our passengers for the disruptions and assure you that we are committed to resolving these challenges. We understand that this is still our responsibility,” he said.

Among the “freak incidents” that Lao mentioned were the frequent lightning and bird strikes, ground damage due to runway debris, and sudden severe weather disturbances.

He also said that one of their planes was damaged when its tire burst upon landing while another sustained damage while being towed by its maintenance provider.

According to Lao, “red lightning alerts” had become “more prevalent and are longer in duration this year.”

From April to June, he said Cebu Pacific recorded a total of 78 red lightning alerts that disrupted 535 flights.

“Some red lightning alerts take up to three hours, which require stoppage of operations and could affect flights that are flying to airports that can only operate before sunset and could eventually lead to cancellations,” Lao explained.

He said the delays in the maintenance service for its planes also adversely affected its operations, while Airbus itself failed to deliver new planes on time.

“These delivery delays necessitate changes to our flight schedules, including flight cancellations and equipment changes from larger to smaller aircraft, which may cause some passengers to be disrupted and cause the perception of overbooking,” Lao said.

“Rather than canceling the flight,” he said, “the use of smaller aircraft allows us to still bring as many customers as possible to their destination and lessen the number of disrupted passengers.”

Remedial measures

Despite the challenges, Lao said Cebu Pacific had been complying with the “Air Passenger Bill of Rights,” which the Department of Transportation implemented in 2012 to safeguard the interests of flight passengers.

In a statement on Wednesday, the Gokongwei-led airline said it has ramped up customer assistance, reduced scheduled flights, and increased standby aircraft to mitigate the surge in flight delays and cancellations due to fleet availability issues.

“We have established a disruption management team to augment our ground staff and help passengers during unexpected events. Additionally, Cebu Pacific has expanded its customer service capabilities by increasing the number of live agents who can assist our customers around the clock,” the airline added.

“Given the sudden unprecedented number of grounded aircraft, some of which will be out of service for a considerable amount of time, we have reduced our flight schedule to account for the long-term unserviceable aircraft and enabling more standby aircraft on the day,” it noted.

The airline said it now has four standby aircraft — which can accommodate passengers with same-day flight schedule change — from three previously and plans to increase this to six by year’s end.

The airline booked a net income of P1.08 billion in the first quarter this year, a turnaround from the P7.61-billion net loss in the same period last year, as passenger volume more than doubled to 4.8 million.

Regulators’ failure

During the hearing, senators also took to task officials of the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines for their failure to crack the whip on Cebu Pacific and other erring airlines.

“You are inutile since nobody has been sanctioned and punished despite their repeated violations,” Sen. Raffy Tulfo bluntly told CAB executive director Carmelo Arcilla.

Senators Ronald dela Rosa and Grace Poe then joined Sen. Risa Hontiveros, Tulfo, and Binay in pushing for a law that would institutionalize the Air Passenger Bill of Rights.

Poe said the state regulators should also take stern actions to stem the abuses of airline companies, reiterating that “systemic delays and cancellations” of flights should not be the norm.

“Canceled flights are not solved merely by rebooking or refunding,” Poe said, adding: “This pressing public service issue calls for urgent effective solutions as it involves not only the air passengers’ rights but also the overall impact on the country’s tourism and economy.”

In the Lower House, meanwhile, Makabayan lawmakers also want their own probe of the complaints against Cebu Pacific.

The three-member bloc on Wednesday filed House Resolution No. 1093, which urged the House transportation panel to conduct an investigation in aid of legislation on the complaints.

The measure also called on the Department of Transportation and other government agencies “to review and strengthen the regulations on overbooking, compensation, and customer service in the airline industry.”

Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, for his part, pushed for the suspension of Cebu Pacific’s legislative franchise to punish it for its alleged “lousy, terrible” service amid complaints of delayed, canceled, and overbooked flights.

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“Congress should temporarily withdraw such privilege from Cebu Pacific until such time that it can provide satisfactory service to the riding public,” noted the chair of the House constitutional amendments committee.



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TAGS: Air Passenger Bill of Rights, Cebu Pacific, CebuPac overbooking, Civil Aeronautics Board, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Senate CebuPac probe

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