(Privilege speech delivered on February 1, 2012)
I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege to narrate an ordeal that I and my fellow Cebu Pacific passengers suffered on the night of January 22 on our flight from Iloilo to Manila.
Madam Speaker, in the afternoon of January 22, I was supposed to fly back to Manila after attending the Dinagyang Festival in Iloilo. It was my first time to attend the Dinagyang and was excited to come home to a family dinner in Manila to tell my relatives about the wonderful experience of the last two days.
My flight, Cebu Pacific Flight-J458, was originally scheduled at 5:45 p.m. I was at the airport at 3:45 p.m. At around 4:00 p.m, we were informed that the flight would be delayed due to repairs that had to be done on the plane in Manila. We were later told that departure time was moved to 7:45 p.m. or two hours later.
I was upset because obviously I would be missing my dinner appointment which was the only reason I was leaving Iloilo in the thick of Sto. Niño festivities. Like most of us, I just gritted my teeth and bore it. I did not even complain when the airline did not even offer us merienda when they should have served us a full dinner for the two-hour delay.
At around 8:00 p.m., we were finally called to board the plane. Once we had settled on our seats, the pilot said over the public address system that one of the engines couldn’t start due to a malfunctioning starter valve. He said we were waiting for a mechanic from Cebu but he would try some procedures anyway to get the engine to run. After that, the plane proceeded to the runaway with us passengers exchanging nervous looks at each other. Ano kaya ang gagawin ng piloto? Kapag hindi ba umandar iyong makina magtutulak tayo ng eroplano, I joked to myself.
At the runaway, we heard and felt the engines being turned on. We heard what sounded like failed attempts to make one of the engines run. It sounded like a car starter only with a longer cycle and a deeper, scarier sound. After three tries, we felt the plane move and go back to the tarmac. We were then ordered to get off and return to the pre-departure area. It was now almost 9:00 p.m.
By this time many of the passengers were upset and tense. Ang iniisip ho nila, sira pala iyong eroplano bakit pinaandar pa ng piloto? At kung umandar iyong makina at lumipad iyong eroplano, paano pag namatay sa ere iyong makina? Hindi ba parang, bakit nag-aantay ng mekaniko, ano ito, parang kotseng tumitirik na reremedyuhan lang ng mekaniko? Hindi ba dapat palitan iyong eroplano?
In the middle of all these questions and the problem of missed appointments and even connecting flights abroad, nobody from Cebu Pacific could give us any answers. The boarding pass checkers were being harangued by the passengers and could only offer their tears and apologies. Ni hindi po kami mabigyan ng tubig. They told us that the water and food inside the airplane could not be given to the passengers and we would have to wait while they buy chicken joy.
Simple lang ang gusto ng mga pasahero, ang gustong malaman, ano ang nangyari sa eroplano? Paano at kailan kami makakauwi ng Maynila? Nasaan ang pagkain at tubig? It was around ten o’clock by that time. And last, hindi ba nila kami patutulugin sa hotel? It took almost two hours for the chicken joy and water to arrive at past 10:00 p.m. Also by this time, we were able to get hold of a supervisor, binaba pa ho namin sa baba, ayaw umakyat and we forced her to go up to answers the question of the passengers. And it was clear, it was explained by the supervisor that there was a malfunction in one of the engines but that a mechanic from Cebu was now on his way to repair the engine.
At paano kung hindi kami makakauwi ng Maynila? We were given four choices: one, we could ride back the same plane once it is fixed by the mechanic; two, we could refund our plane tickets; three, we could place the amount in a travel fund; and four, we can choose to rebook the next day but without any assurance that we will get a seat. Also, the airline would not shoulder hotel expenses for those who refuse to fly on the malfunctioning plane.
By this time, Madam Speaker, nagwawala na ho iyong mga pasahero. We had been delayed for around five hours. And the passengers adamantly refused to fly on the same plane and were demanding that Cebu Pacific send another plane or house us in a hotel until we were able to fly out in another plane. Paano nga naman magtitiwala ang mga pasahero sa pilotong nagtangkang paandarin ang isang sirang eroplano?
We also refused the lame offer of a refund, the rebooking without guarantee of having a seat the next day or giving the money to a travel fund for the airline.
As a compromise, we requested the pilot to explain the situation in order to assuage our fears and assure us that the plane was, indeed, safe to fly. The pilot did face us but only to say that the plane was safe and that he was staking his own life and reputation on it. He said he was not authorized to discuss the details concerning the aircraft or its malfunction. Eh, ‘di lalo hong nag-alala iyong mga pasahero.
Finally, upon our insistence on riding another plane, we were informed that there was an available 72 seater that the mechanic from Cebu used in coming over. Mayroon naman po pala. Hindi kaagad sinabi.
So, those who refused to ride the Airbus could ride the 72 seater. In the end, 72 passengers rode the small plane, some 40 rode the Airbus and more than 20 were left to be booked for flights the next morning and to be housed by the airlines at our insistence.
Now, Madam Speaker, my dear colleagues, why is it important for Congress to look into this and similar horror stories involving our airlines?
Under Section 4 of the Civil Code, common carriers like Cebu Pacific and PAL are bound to observe extraordinary diligence in the vigilance over the goods and for the safety of the passengers transported by them. A common carrier is bound to carry the passengers safely as far as human care and foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of very cautious persons with a due regard for all the circumstances. The common carrier’s responsibility prescribed in the preceding article cannot be eliminated or limited by stipulation or by the posting of notices, by statements on the tickets or otherwise the so-called “fine print.”
Now, Madam Speaker, if we look at the terms and conditions of a Cebu Pacific plane ticket, it’s printed on the back side. It says there in one provision, and I quote: “The airline will exert reasonable efforts to notify the affected passengers of any change in or postponement of the flight schedule but the airline will not be liable in any way for any loss or damage that may occur as a result of such change or postponement.” And in another provision, it says: “In case of flight cancellations, for safety and security reasons, as determined by the airline, or when justified by circumstances beyond the airline’s control or suspension of the operations of a route for reasons outside the airline’s control or flight diversions, or flight delays of three hours, or less, the affect passenger will have the option to rebook the flight or apply for the creation of the travel refund, as provided for in another clause.
“If delay is less than one hour, the affected passenger will have the option to rebook the flight or apply for the creation of the travel fund. In case of flight cancellations and suspensions for other causes or postponements of more than three hour hours, the affected passenger may rebook the flight, seek a refund of the fare and other charges or apply for the creation of the travel fund as stated in Clause 7 of these General Conditions.”
What is wrong with these provisions in the ticket, Madam Speaker? One, in case the airline fails to provide the service as mandated under its obligations as a common carrier, it does not obligate the airline to ensure that the passenger can rebook and be guaranteed a flight for the next flight. It does not also guarantee the meals when there are delays during mealtime, it does not guarantee any of the hotel accommodations or other services that we usually expect from the airlines when they get into trouble. More than that, on the aspects of safety, it does not mandate the airline to even explain to the passengers what the situation is, to give them the proper information to make informed decisions on whether to ride the plane or not, or to choose to book for another flight.
In other words, Madam Speaker, because of these terms and conditions that the airlines themselves put on their tickets, they are able to escape from a lot of the demands or they are able to sidestep the very legitimate demands and concerns of their passengers who are harassed.
Kapag tayong mga pasahero nale-late tayo o hindi natin nasisipot iyong ating flights, napakatindi ng penalty, hindi ka pasasakayin, hindi ka makaka-refund or mag-a-adjust ka lang ng iyong schedule at papatawan ka ng kung anu-anong penalties. On the other hand, when it is the airlines themselves who are unable to comply with their commitments, then ang sasabihin nila sa kanilang provision that they are not liable in any way for any loss or damage that their failure to operate results in.
Madam Speaker, I know that previous Members of the House or other Members of the House have previously narrated their own horror stories about our airlines. I would like to add my voice to that and hope that the Committee on Transportation would immediately look into this, the fact that most of our airlines are now considered budget airlines are not an excuse for the lousy treatment and the lousy service and the shabby treatment that they are giving their passengers.
I hope that Congress can look into this. Mayroon ho tayong bagong slogan ngayon para sa ating mga turista, “It is more fun in the Philippines”, but with airlines like Cebu Pacific, with services such as this, how can we say that it is more fun in the Philippines?
Thank you, Madam Speaker.