People of the Philippines versus domestic airlines

DIRECT FROM THE MIDDLE EAST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

We commend the government for imposing a 52 million peso fine against one domestic airline and we applaud the Lower House for starting a congressional investigation in aid of legislation on the many problems besetting domestic air travel. We hasten to add a caveat however, that the other airlines are also similarly guilty and they must be fined as well. All the local air carriers should be put to task for the many abuses, gross negligence, notorious ineptitude and tales of discourtesies and anti-passengers acts and omissions. Then victims should be indemnified, on top of the fines paid to the government.

The President of the erring airline manifested candor and humility in apologizing to the Filipino people for his airline's failures, causing chaos and tremendous delays, damages and inconvenience to the riding public. This gesture is an excellent PR act and should serve as a precedent that all the players in the local airline industry should emulate. We submit that all airlines are almost always guilty of:  unabated overbooking, excessive delays, gross discourtesies, overcrowding, lack of customer-orientation, making it difficult to the passengers, unforgiving when passengers are late, and compelling them to sign onerous waivers.

What strikes me in the apology expressed by that airline owner is that one of the causes of the problem was the massive absenteeism on December 26, thereby leaving many counters undermanned at those crucial hours. We know the overall HR head of the conglomerate that owns this airline. He is an excellent HR professional. But the fault lies in the outsourced ground service provider.  In hindsight, the airline president admitted that management should have been more proactive in anticipating the manpower needs in relation to volume of passengers. Well, given the volume of its bookings, management should have made contingency plans, so as not to inconvenience and anger the riding public who already paid their fares.

The people do not care if overbooking is an accepted practice among IATA-member airlines. The public should not be made to suffer because airline companies are maximizing their profits. The passengers are not privies and thus should not be bound by agreement among airlines' association members. To deprive a paid ticket holder his seat at the agreed date and time is a plain and simple breach of contract, and victims should be properly indemnified. No ifs and no buts. Airline personnel should treat customers with respect and even with utmost care and understanding.

Airlines are also guilty of discourtesies. Their announcement that bringing out of magazines and safety jackets are crimes and are punishable by law, is offensive. They lack sensitivity and offend the decent riding public. Making passengers walk thousands of meters from disembarkation to the baggage carousels, and not using the tube to save on cost is anti-customer. They expose their customers to sun and rain. They are very cruel especially to senior citizens and persons with disability, as well as those carrying infants and young children. The airport seats are overcrowded and airline staff is just chatting among themselves unmindful of the heat and lack of adequate space for their own customers.

All these refer to all airlines and not merely the one fined by government. Under the law on common carriers, these companies are duty-bound to exercise extra-ordinary diligence to assure the safety and the punctual arrival of passengers and baggage. There are no excuses, except acts of God and force majeure or fortuitous events. Therefore, we, the riding public should be vigilant and should assert our rights. No ifs and no buts.

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