Last week we narrated the plight of several members of PMA class 1965, including a widow, who were traveling by air to Tagbilaran, Bohol. They had booked online round-trip tickets on Cebu Pacific Airways in order to attend the burial of a classmate, Rear Adm. Manuel De Leon. At SM Fairview, they could not locate any Cebu Pacific office and, therefore, paid at a BDO payment center, presenting their senior citizen IDs. Here they were informed that the BDO office could only accept what was indicated on the online booking entry, which was P50,265.44. Upon checking in at the airport, they were also informed by the counter clerk that senior citizen IDs were not being honored for discounts on tickets booked online.
Upon their return to Manila, they filed a complaint using the passenger feedback form and asked for a refund of the discount to which they were entitled under the law.
In my column, I mentioned that Cebu Pacific did not comply with the Bill of Rights for Air Passengers, and violated Republic Act No. 9994, the law that provides for senior citizen discounts on domestic airfares. (The law does not cover international air travel.) I also suggested that lengthy legal proceedings would not benefit the community of senior citizens, as well as the business organization concerned, and that it would be in the best interests of both parties if they could reach out and help each other.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. Last week, Cebu Pacific personnel contacted the passengers concerned, apologized for the unfortunate situation, and refunded the amount covered by the senior citizen discount. The senior citizens concerned wish to express their appreciation for the positive response of Cebu Pacific, particularly its CEO, Mr. Lance Gokongwei.
Several years ago, television, radio, print media, and numerous social media sites were flooded with complaints from air passengers regarding overbooking, long delays, abrupt cancellations, inadequate counter personnel to handle heavy traffic, and unusual situations, as well as other similar aggravations caused by inefficient domestic airline operations.
As a result, the Department of Transportation and Communications (through the Civil Aeronautics Board) and the Department of Trade and Industry came up with Joint DOTC-DTI Administrative Order No. 01 dated Dec. 10, 2012. The order provides for regulations known as the “Air Passenger Bill of Rights.” It is aimed at infusing “a certain measure of balance, fairness, and reasonableness between the precarious position of a passenger vis-à-vis the vast resources at the disposal of the air carrier,” which if unchecked would lead to policies and practices prejudicial to the best interests of air passengers.
Let me highlight some of the relevant provisions of this Bill of Rights that affect senior citizens in particular, as well as pertinent sections of which all air passengers should be aware in order to protect their rights.
In Chapter I, “General Provisions,” Section 2.17 reads: “Senior citizen” refers to any resident citizen of the Philippines at least 60 years old. Passengers may be asked to present identification documents in order to avail themselves of benefits and privileges reserved for senior citizens.
Chapter II, “Right to be provided with accurate information before purchase,” Section 4.2 reads: “In case of online bookings, the air carrier must establish a system wherein the purchaser is fully apprised of the required disclosures under this section, twice, prior to final submission of online offer to purchase.”
My observation: Since 2012 up to now, air carriers have not established the necessary system in order to provide the means for potential purchasers to present the required disclosures, such as the senior citizen status. My understanding is that this is the subject of an order from the Civil Aeronautics Board that will be coming out soon.
Chapter III, “Right to Receive Full Value of the Service Purchased,” Section 9.2 reads: To ensure that PWDs and senior citizens shall have equal access to air transportation services, air carriers shall at all times adhere to Batas Pambansa Blg. 344, and the Expanded Senior Citizen Act of 2010. “Accordingly, an air carrier shall designate at least one check-in counter which will prioritize PWDs, senior citizens, and persons requiring special assistance or handling. If this is not practicable, the air carrier shall provide for priority handling and processing of such passengers… Persons accompanying a PWD, a senior citizen, or a person requiring special assistance or handling should also be accommodated at the designated check-in counter mentioned in the preceding paragraph. It is the duty of an air carrier to inform its passengers if additional costs will be incurred for the use of facilities for passengers needing special assistance.”
Chapter V, “Administrative matters,” Section 17 reads: “Air carriers shall provide customer service representatives who can address common problems such as arranging for meals and hotel rooms for stranded passengers, settling the denied boarding compensation, arranging luggage resolutions, and settling other routine claims or complaints on the spot.”
Chapter VI, “Final Provisions.” The order calls for periodic reviews by an interagency body consisting of DOTC, DTI, CAB, airport operators, in consultation with air carriers and other
In the next few weeks, according to CAB sources, the public should expect modifications/updates of certain provisions of the Bill of Rights to make it more responsive to the needs of air passengers. This new order will correct deficiencies on online booking, particularly as it concerns senior citizens and PWDs.
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