Air passenger bill of rights
EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - August 29, 2019 - 12:00am

In a bathroom at the Zurich Airport one late night of March, I remembered dressing up hurriedly after taking a quick shower. In less than an hour, I would be boarding an Emirates Airlines flight to Dubai and then to Manila. Or so I thought.

The announcement came as soon as I stepped out of the shower room. The flight would be delayed for an hour. After an hour, the airline staff said the flight would be delayed some more. And lo and behold, I would later learn the flight would be cancelled and no longer just delayed.

I don’t get to go home, not at that moment. Wow.

The A380 plane encountered some technical trouble. Emirates wanted to fly in a Boeing 777 from Sweden as a substitute aircraft, but it was not possible. Sweden’s cold snap shut down the Stockholm-Arlanda Airport.

There were many things on my mind all at once. I needed to call home, first and foremost, and then I needed to tell my boss. I also had to inform my hosts. I needed to get my luggage, line up for hotel vouchers, queue at the bus that would bring us to the hotel, eat and then finally get a good night’s sleep at the hotel. There really was nothing much I could do but to surrender to my situation.

It seemed fairly manageable until I realized some little mundane details — I was running out of underwear and my pocket wifi was programmed only until that night.

But fast forward to the end of the story. In the end, of course, I survived and made it home. The hotel was nice and comfortable too, and the airline staff were all very patient and kind. The next day, after breakfast, I had a few hours to spare and then I was ready to go back to the airport again for my flight.

Flight compensation regulation

But I would later learn that was not the end of this story. Months later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive the amount of 600 euros as compensation from the airline for my cancelled flight. I wrote the airlines to ask for some documents necessary for my insurance claim, but I was told I was actually entitled to compensation in accordance with European Union law 261.

According to this regulation, passengers are entitled compensation of 250 to 600 euros, depending on the flight distance for delays that are over two hours. This is applicable to flights cancelled or delayed in any EU territory.

Delays shorter than two hours will have no entitlement to any compensation of any kind. Airlines must provide refreshments and accommodation where appropriate, according to the regulation.

There are virtually no exceptions because the Court of Justice of the European Union is strict in implementing passenger rights.

Looking back to that time, I remember feeling so helpless that I couldn’t go home when I already told my family I’d be home soon. That was frustrating and I can never get back the time that I lost, but I appreciate the compensation, which arrived just recently. I haven’t touched the money. Maybe I’ll use it to fly somewhere again when my schedule permits or maybe I’ll buy tickets for U2’s concert in Manila.

Can’t we have that in the Philippines?

Now I wonder, can’t we have a similar law in the Philippines? It would be good if we have it, right?

But knowing our airlines, our airports and the whole crappy aviation landscape in the country — wherein delays and flight cancellations happen all the time — our local airlines might be bankrupt in no time.

I asked around and one airline company executive said it was a regulation that may not work in the Philippines because companies would have no choice but to pass on the cost to passengers.

“There is a plus and minus to that regulation. Obviously that cost will be passed on to the price ordinary passengers pay for tickets. Likewise, with all the force majeure events that happen in the Philippines like typhoons, bird strikes, lightning alerts — this will create a lot of increased costs and unpredictability for airlines which may cause airlines to reduce or stop service to marginal routes. Note that US, Japan, Singapore etc all don’t have that regulation. We already have passenger bill of rights which require us to provide full refund, and if cancellation is our fault such as mechanical issue etc, we pay for hotel and other expenses as well,” my source said.

It is, therefore, very important to read and understand our Air Passenger Bill of Rights. The document is available on the web. So the next time you board that flight, it is important to know your rights and what you’re entitled to or not. Our aviation regulators should also make sure that this regulation is implemented well and not ignored by airline companies.

Of course, we need new airports too, so airlines can depart and arrive on time.

Indeed, we don’t necessarily need a law as first-world as that of the EU’s flight compensation regulation but we do need to work on our perennial aviation mess and airport woes.

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

AIR PASSENGER BILL OF RIGHTS
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