Following the issuance of enhanced community quarantine in Luzon by President Rodrigo Duterte last March 16, 2020, all foreigners visiting the Philippines were asked to leave the country within 72 hours.
Foreigners scrambled and rushed to re-book their flight in the fear of being stranded.
The day after, an inter-agency group dealing with the health crisis announced that the deadline had been lifted and foreigners could leave Luzon anytime during the monthlong quarantine. “We don’t want to give them pressure because it’ll be more difficult for them, so we opened up,” Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles told a late-evening televised news conference.
But previous to this, exiting passengers, including balikbayans were dismayed with the flag carrier of the Philippines itself, Philippine Airlines after it allegedly charged rebooking fees amounting to $7,000 per person.
Jocelyn Padua Policarpio and her family of 4, is one of the many Filipino-Canadians who were allegedly overcharged.
“We want to rebook our flight because the Philippine government has given us 72 hours to leave the Philippines but the cost of rebooking is very prohibitive, almost $7,000 per passenger, and because we are four in our family, I will have to spend more than $28,000 and we do not have that money to pay for our quick exit,” Policarpio sent to the Filipino Journal by private messenger.
With hundreds of returning passengers, the majority could not afford to pay for the rebooking fee. The Policarpios being among these passengers decided to just stay and wait for their original schedule flight on the last week of March.
And announcement to leave the country within 72 hours triggered the panic button of the foreigners mostly vacationing in the Philippines. The PAL office in NAIA was mobbed by the passengers for rebooking, anxious to leave the country as soon as possible.
“Why that amount of rebooking, there is a pandemic and PAL must be sympathetic to their customers, must give us the best service,” Policarpio said.
In a video which had become viral, the male host had interviewed many passengers and they chorused the same feeling of frustration for what PAL was charging.
With this chaotic scenario, the Filipino Journal tried to find a clear answer as to why PAL was charging the said amount.
“It depends on the situation and because of the immediate request to fly, the management finds available seats and because it would be within a day or two, the rebooking fee is very expensive, and this is normal to all airlines,” said Kenneth San Pedro, a local travel consultant. “And in connection to the announcement of our Prime Minister to all the Canadians and Permanent Residents to come back, this is only an encouragement for their protection against this pandemic. If I were these passengers, I would wait for my regular departure booking,” he added.
San Pedro further said: “I do not think that PAL is taking advantage of the situation. They are just working on what is available. We just need to remember that the seats were offered and made available for a year. So if you are going to book a flight a day before, or two days before your chosen date, chances are the cheaper seats are already taken or the flight is already fully booked. In my experience, people tend to prefer PAL now because they want to avoid the layover to another country where COVID-19 is prevalent. Thus, PAL seats are usually booked and taken and the available seats are diminished.”
In the newcast of GMA7’s 24 Oras about this incident, the reporter faced many complaints about the amount of rebooking and passengers asked President Duterte to intervene. As reported, many of the passengers and their friends had uploaded their videos to the media outlets, even reaching Raffy Tulfo’s program.
The Filipino Journal tried to get a hold of the Philippine Airlines office in Vancouver but efforts were to no avail. And talking to the Manila office was futile.
For the passengers who waited until the lifting of the 72-hour deadline was announced and decided to wait for their scheduled flight, lucky for them that they were not forced to shell out extra money.
As for the Policarpios, with all the “surprises” they have already experienced during their Philippine vacation in the height of a pandemic, they are thankful that they waited and made the right decision to outdo what could have turned out to be the worst scenario in capping off their vacation.