Lance Gokongwei, chief executive Officer of Cebu Pacific Air, was profuse with his apologies on Wednesday for the airport chaos that occurred in December because of delayed flights that stranded thousands of passengers.
The Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) slapped a fine of P52 million against Cebu Pacific.
“I am profoundly sorry. We acknowledge our shortcomings and that the incident has a corresponding penalty. We are awaiting legal advice as whether this [P52 million] is the amount [that we will pay]. This has to be discussed because it will set serious precedence in the industry, but we agree there should be a penalty,” Gokongwei told congressmen.
But he maintained that overbooking was to blame for the airport fiasco. Gokongwei admitted though that the airline did not have enough agents to process the stranded passengers at check-in counters.
“Normally, if there is cancelation of flight, we offer them a refund. They take it and go home. But this time, they camped out until the counters opened because they wanted to be with their families for the holidays,” he said during an inquiry by the House Committee on Transportation into the dozens of canceled flights.
“Our passengers deserved better. It will be a key consideration next time . . . We have to coordinate much better with the agents and terminal management so they can support us with additional needs,” Gokongwei added.
But for CAB Executive Director Carmelo Arcilla, the P52-million fine is paltry.
“That is small, actually, compared with other countries. I don’t think it will set a bad precedent. Public interest is paramount and we have used the coercive power of the law to make the airline comply with [its]obligations,” Arcilla told reporters.
At the end of the hearing, the House panel adopted a resolution that requires airlines, particularly Cebu Pacific, to grant compensation to passengers who suffered because of the flight schedules from December 24 to 26.
“This is not answerable by merely saying sorry. We have to assert the power of Congress, which granted Cebu Pacific the franchise to operate. The grantees of such a franchise should not forget that their franchise is subject to amendment, even repeal, if they fail to meet their obligations in the name of public interest,” Eastern Samar Rep. Ben Evardone, vice chairman of the House appropriations panel, said.
“This overbooking policy leaves passengers standing on the plane, while some are left waiting inside the tube because they were stopped from boarding. If you have a franchise, these instances should not be the case,” Evardone added.