Cebu News

RTC opposes CAB’s policy

Gregg M. Rubio - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — A trial court in Mandaue City has opposed the Civil Aeronautics Board policy allowing airline companies to overbook up to 10 percent of their seating capacity.

The decision penned by Regional Trial Court Judge Ferdinand Rafanan came as the Senate Committee on Tourism chaired by Senator Nancy Binay has launched an investigation into the complaints against Cebu Pacific about overbooking, offloading and glitches in booking flights on June 21, 2023.

“There were complaints that travelers were offloaded by Cebu Pacific without any verifiable cause or reason due to the airline’s overbooking,” Binay said in Senate Resolution No. 575.

The court said that in an action based on a breach of contract of carriage, the aggrieved party does not have to prove that the common carrier was at fault or was negligent.

“All that he has to prove is the existence of the contract and the fact of its non-performance by the carrier,” Rafanan said in his decision dated June 20, 2023.

The court defined a contract of carriage as one whereby a certain person or association of persons obligate themselves to transport persons, things, or goods from one place to another for fixed price.

In deciding the case filed by now Cebu Sixth District Provincial Board Member Glenn Anthony Soco, the court said “that the plaintiff held a confirmed reservation for the Cebu Pacific Flight 5J 553 bound to Cebu from Manila is not disputed.”

Rafanan said that undoubtedly, Soco is entitled as of right under the contract to be accommodated in the flight and the defendant is bound to transport him on the said flight.

Ivan Henry Gaw, the Guest Service Manager of Cebu Pacific, confirmed in court that at the time Soco checked in at the counter on April 16, 2011, the system of the airline showed full capacity and he can no longer be accommodate for the flight.

In situation like this, the standard policy of the airline is to look for other passengers who are willing to volunteer their seats in lieu of other passengers with confirmed tickets and could no longer be accommodated.

Otherwise, the passenger will be offered an option to either take the subsequent flight or be given a refund.

Gaw also cited CAB Economic Regulation (ER No.7) which recognizes the practice of airline companies on overbooking that does not exceed 10 percent of the seating capacity of the aircraft.

Under Section 5 of the ER 7, for passengers of domestic flights, 100 percent of the value of the first remaining flight coupon plus the amount of P150 are given as compensation for passengers who are bumped off from flights.

The defendant airline also proposed a roundtrip ticket and a confirmed booking to the next available flight but Soco refused.

Another witness Juliet dela Rosa, the Airport Performance Officer of Cebu Pacific Air, reiterated the Gaw’s testimony.

However, the court said the defendant’s contention that it exercised extraordinary diligence in offering timely assistance to Soco by providing him with a seat on the next flight and a roundtrip ticket is irrelevant.

“The defendant’s allegation that airlines are allowed to overbook up to 10% of their seating capacity is also irrelevant. The defendant was bound by its contractual obligations and its failure to fulfill them cannot be excused,” the court said.

Since it has been established that the defendant defaulted on its obligations under the contract of carriage, the court also determined whether Soco is entitled to the relief sought in his complaint.

The court ordered the defendant to pay Soco a total amount of P500,000 as and by way of moral damages, exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees and litigation expenses and to pay the costs of suit.

“Na-vindicated ta, the court ruled in our favor. Para nako it’s a moral victory ni para nako, I am not doing this dili lang para ako lang,” Soco told The Freeman.

Soco filed the civil case for damages on May 24, 2011 against Cebu Pacific Air alleging that by reason of its breach of obligation to transport him, he suffered inconvenience, serious anxiety, physical suffering, and sleepless night.

During Senate hearing on June 21, 2023, Senator Grace Poe called for a tougher policy on air passengers’ rights to address the cancellations and delays in flights by local airlines besetting travellers.

She said cancelled flights impact on the rights of air passengers and are not solved merely by rebooking or refunding.

"A cancelled flight could mean opportunity loss - a missed workday, botched business deal, school exam, important family occasion, or even a chance to say goodbye to a loved one. Time waits for no one," said Poe. — (FREEMAN)

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