Cebu Pacific CEO Gokongwei apologizes for ‘failing’ patrons
MANILA, Philippines—Cebu Pacific CEO Lance Gokongwei on Wednesday apologized before lawmakers for the company’s delayed and canceled flights which stranded irate passengers at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia) during the Christmas rush.
“I am humbled by the trust of so many Filipinos and foreign tourists placed on Cebu Pacifi to take them safely home to their destinations. Last Christmas, we let them down. And I am profoundly sorry that we failed them,” Gokongwei told the House of Representatives transportation committee hearing.
“After the events of last Christmas, we had done a lot of soul searching… Normally we can recover from such issues as they are daily occurrence for any airline. On those days, we cannot. While we did our best…our service was found wanting,” he added.
Gokongwei appealed to the riding public to understand that Cebu Pacific could not control challenges like the inclement weather.
“We work in a complex aviation environment of busy airports and inclement weather and aircrafts (which are) at times subject to delay. But our passengers don’t care about such things. They expect their airlines to manage these challenges for them,” he said.
Gokongwei was present for the House panel hearing to explain the Cebu Pacific’s side on allegations that its management allowed overbooking despite the peak season, resulting in flight delays, cancellations and chaos among irate passengers on their way to see their families for the holidays.
The country’s largest budget carrier airline was fined P52 million by the government for the holiday fiasco.
Gokongwei cited the following factors as causing the massive delays and cancellations of flights: inclement weather, failure of ground handler to fulfill services, undermanned operations, absenteeism of staff, as well as Cebu Pacific’s failure to anticipate the effects of the holiday peak season.
But the budget carrier president said overbooking is not the primary cause of the holiday fiasco. He said the airline overbooked one to two percent for the average four percent of passengers who missed their flights.
“We conservatively overbooked one to two percent… We did not think overbooking is primary cause of the problems we had,” Gokongwei said.
He said in the industry, airlines are allowed to overbook by 10 percent.
Bayan Muna Representative Neri Colmenares, however, said he wanted to focus on overbooking allegations hounding the airline.
“I think overbooking is the main issue, not merely absenteeism of staff,” Colmenares said.
Negros Occidental Rep. Alfredo Benitez said he, as a frequent airplane traveler, noticed that flight delays and cancellations have become increasingly common with the budget carrier.
“Cebu Pacific used to be on time. But as years go by, it [has become] worse, delays have been increasing,” Benitez said.
Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone said Gokongwei’s apology is not enough to appease the passengers’ outrage over the airport mess.
“This cannot be simply answered by an ‘I am sorry.’ It is incumbent upon Congress to assert its power over Cebu Pacific’s franchise which is subject to amendment or repeal when common good so requires,” Evardone said.
Gokongwei said the airline has implemented the following measures to prevent a repeat of the December fiasco: requiring domestic ground handler to take preventive measures to ensure sustainable staff buffers, contracting a second ground handler to supplement domestic check-ins and serve as alternative buffer, strengthening the management control in key areas, coordinating more closely with terminal management for use of additional facilities, and using a brand new Airbus arriving first quarter of this year as additional aircraft to assist disrupted passengers.
“Cebu Pacific had always been acutely aware of its obligations as a public utility. The events of last Christmas had only increased our determination to win back the trust of our passengers,” Gokongwei said.