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Opinion

Coming home made costlier, more challenging

POSTSCRIPT - Federico D. Pascual Jr. - The Philippine Star

A Filipino abroad must have a compelling reason, extra money for COVID-19 quarantine expenses and, in the case of elderly balikbayans departing from Los Angeles, physical endurance to walk to the new boarding gate moved 20 minutes away.

For many returning residents, the trip home in this time of the pandemic has become an expensive obstacle course, on top of its being a cause for anxiety over possibly catching the coronavirus along the way or, ironically, in quarantine hotels and facilities.

Among the common complaints is the compulsory 14-day quarantine, the first 10 days at a designated hotel or facility. The arriving passenger pays for the room and meals even if his house is just nearby, thereby generating revenue for the flagging tourism-hotel industry.

The quarantine period is cut to seven days for returning overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and those who had been fully vaccinated earlier in the Philippines. What is the difference between them and others inoculated abroad as far as possible infection is concerned?

Filipino Americans in Southern California appear agitated by the transfer on June 15 of the boarding gate of Philippine Airlines from the Los Angeles Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) to the distant Midfield Satellite Concourse (MSC) reached only through a tunnel.

Adversely affected are senior citizens, people with disabilities and wheelchair users who will need some 20 minutes to negotiate the distance through a maze of small elevators, escalators, walkways and the TBIT-MSC tunnel.

Check-in will still be in the TBIT as the MSC is an isolated building surrounded by the tarmac and aircraft areas. Passengers cannot enter it from any street, but only through the tunnel from the TBIT.

Transfer of PAL boarding gate in LAX hit

With the support of the FilAm community in Southern California which appreciates its being the only airline with direct flights from Los Angeles (LAX) to Manila (MNL), PAL has been protesting the transfer of its boarding gate to the MSC by the Los Angeles World Airports.

The major Asian airlines serving Korea, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan are not being similarly transferred to the MSC – despite PAL’s being the biggest Asian carrier of passengers to and from LAX from July 2020 to March this year.

Other airlines also being transferred to MSC include Air Tahiti, Air Fiji, KLM, Aer Lingus, Sichuan, Hainan and Viva Aerobus. But none of them carry significant numbers of elderly and wheelchair passengers.

Ethel Rubio, president of the UP Alumni Association of Greater Los Angeles, said in a public post: “You don’t need to be a Filipino to realize that having two tiny elevators service 20 to up to 80 wheelchair-user travelers per flight to get from point A to point B is outright ridiculous. It will be a total bottleneck! From a mobility standpoint, especially for disadvantaged passengers, the relocation does not make sense at all.”

On June 2, she appealed to the Los Angeles City Council: “Filipino Americans in this community and worldwide are being marginalized in the decision of LAWA to relocate the Philippine Airlines gate(s). I implore the City Council to intervene in LAWA’s customer-insensitive decision. The move will aggravate the mobility of the aging population who makes up more than a third of the Philippine flagship carrier passengers.”

Consul General Edgar B. Badajoz said: “The Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles understands the concerns of the Filipino American community regarding the impending transfer of the PAL flights to the MSC. The Consulate General assures the community that it is exerting efforts through diplomatic channels to help address these concerns.”

Pandemic cuts airline traffic to US

With PAL’s current five weekly flights, some 1,000-1,300 passengers are flown by the airline out of LAX every week (1,500-plus on a good week) for the 15-hour direct flight to MNL.

Overall, the airline has nine weekly flights between MNL and the US mainland – five to LAX, three to San Francisco (SFO) and one to New York (JFK). That is a 77-percent drop in PAL’s total operations to the mainland before the pandemic, when it had 39 weekly flights consisting of 18 to LAX, 14 to SFO and seven to JFK.

Among international carriers flying to/from the US, PAL is the top wheelchair user. In 2019, it had an average of 3,320/month (arrivals + departures) wheelchair passengers, whose number went as high as 80 on one flight (one way).

Data show that on average, 30 percent of PAL’s passengers between LAX and MNL were aged 59 and above. Of the elderly/senior citizens, 29 percent asked for wheelchairs.

Going to the new MSC boarding area, some elderly passengers and those with disabilities can ask for wheelchair service. There is no fee for the wheelchair – and the pusher will tell you that if you ask – but he/she will accept with a smile and a thank-you the customary tip.

The same obstacle course awaits arriving passengers who will disembark at the MSC area then must proceed to TBIT for screening by immigration, claiming of baggage and clearing by Customs.

On its website, PAL advises passengers departing LAX to allot 20 minutes for walking to the MSC after clearing security at TBIT. Those who do not have wheelchairs and are unable to walk the full distance may ride transfer vehicles similar to golf carts, but may have to wait longer if the carts in use are limited in number.

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NB: All Postscripts are also archived at ManilaMail.com. Author is on Twitter as @FDPascual. Email: fdp333@yahoo.com

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