Airport brawl puts spotlight on quality of Cebu Pacific servicesBy Paolo G. Montecillo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The budget airline industry is now also under fire for what some consider “abusive” business practices that fuel the perception that companies focus too much on profits and too little on customer service.
In a statement on Monday, budget airline Cebu Pacific apologized for putting Baretto’s luggage on a different flight to Manila, which was what caused the initial tirade against the airline’s staff that Tulfo was taking photos of.
But the airline cleared that this was done for safety reasons. “Flight 5J896 from Caticlan to Manila had to offload some luggage due to Caticlan airport’s weight limitation, which is implemented for safety reasons,” the airline said.
“The bags were loaded in the earliest available Kalibo-Manila flight on the same day and have been delivered to the owners,” Cebu Pacific vice-president for marketing Candice Iyog said. “We regret the inconvenience this may have caused our guests and we hope for their understanding as their safety is our primary concern.”
Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II declined to comment on the matter prematurely. “I will wait for the MIAA (Manila International Airport Authority) details,” Roxas said.
According to industry veteran Avelino Zapanta, current president of leisure carrier Southeast Asian Airlines (Seair), airline passengers have to understand that cheap tickets offered mean reduced services.
“Passengers cannot have the best of both worlds. If they want free meals on flights and other frills, they should fly PAL (Philippine Airlines). But the reason budget airline tickets are cheaper is that they cut a lot of costs,” Zapanta said in an interview.
For Zapanta, however, cutting corners to lower operational expenses should not be done at the expense of passengers.
He said Cebu Pacific’s decision to offload some baggage was understandable due to restrictions at the Caticlan airport. But he said passengers should always be notified before their flights leave—not on arriving at their respective destinations.
“That’s basic procedure. The airline has to tell the passenger. The people will understand because it’s for safety reasons,” said Zapanta, a former president of PAL.
Since the start of the peak summer season, Cebu Pacific has been hit for its practice of “overbooking” its flights, or selling more tickets than the available seats.
Zapanta explained that the practice, which has often led to paying passengers being refused boarding, was an industry norm. “Airlines really overbook their flights because normally, there are passengers that don’t show up,” he said.
He said the problem lay with the insensitive treatment by airlines of passengers affected by overbooking.
The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) is currently drafting rules to suspend the practice of overbooking. In a statement, Cebu Pacfic said it would study the draft order, which the company’s legal department already had a copy of.
Last week, Cebu Pacific also came under fire after militant partylist Akbayan asked the House of Representatives to look into the airline’s treatment of persons with disabilities.
This was after passengers Socorro Jabora, a bilateral leg amputee chose to crawl down the airplane ramp in Singapore’s Changi airport because she refused to pay the P11,000 fee for the wheelchair lift, which Cebu Pacific failed to inform her about. Cebu Pacific pinned the blame for her predicament on the travel agent who arranged Jabor’s flight.
“This is a question of command responsibility. The burden is on Cebu Pacific and all other airlines to ensure the safety and convenience of all their passengers, and they should be doubly attentive to the needs of PWDs who are flying with them,” Akbayan Representative Walden Bello earlier said.
In 2010, Cebu Pacific was accused of discrimination after refusing a “special child” from a flight—in line with a company policy of not allowing more than one mentally ill person at any given time on a plane.
Meanwhile, Manila resident Ricardo B. Ramos, a former Cebu Pacific patron, said the government should look into the budget airline industry’s abuses that could affect thousands of passengers every day.
In 2010, Ramos, an executive director of government watchdog InfraWatch, earlier filed a complaint with the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) after his July 5, 2010 flight from Manila to Iloilo was delayed for over six hours.
He said the airline’s personnel at the time ignored demands from passengers for explanations for the delay, which was later revealed to be caused by problems with the airport navigational equipment.
“I’ve tried to avoid riding Cebu Pacific when I can since that incident. That airline is unapologetic for the inconvenience it causes its passengers,” Ramos said.
Having gone through the stress of dealing with budget airlines in bad situations, Ramos, reacting to the Tulfo-Santiago-Barretto incident, admitted that tempers could run high.
“But that kind of violence can never be justified. (Barretto) has gone on TV saying she was provoked and trying to pass her off as the victim… But you can see from her aggression what she is capable of,” Ramos said.
“I have known Tulfo over the years and I may not agree with him sometimes when he writes, but I know him as a gentleman,” Ramos said.
Tags: Airlines , airlines services , airports , Avelino Zapanta , budget airlines , Cebu Pacific , Civil Aeronautics Board , Features , Infrawatch , Manila International Airport Authority , Ricardo B. Ramos , SEAIR , Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II , Travel