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NCR+ lockdown hits 20,000 Holy Week travelers, carriers

Metro Manila is shown in this aerial photo.

MORE than 20,000 flying passengers are scrambling to either rebook or refund their flights this coming Holy Week, with the government decision to ban leisure travel from the National Capital Region and four provinces from March 22 to April 4.

In a Viber message, Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing and customer experience Candice Iyog said, “We have about 14,000 passengers booked on flights from Manila to popular leisure destinations such as Boracay, Cebu, and Bohol, for the upcoming Holy Week (March 29 to April 5). We had increased some of our frequencies to cater to the demand, but at the moment, we are allowing everyone to manage their preferred option online (rebook, convert to travel fund, or refund).”

In its latest advisory, the carrier and its subsidiary, Cebgo, have cancelled seven Manila-Caticlan flights leaving on various dates starting March 25 to April 4, four Caticlan-Manila flights leaving on various dates starting March 25 to April 4; two Manila-Cebu-Manila flights on April 2-3; but have kept its flights to Tagbilaran intact.

Other cancellations were for some flights to Legaspi, Coron (Busuanga), Cagayan de Oro, Cauayan, Pagadian, Ozamiz, Iloilo, Puerto Princesa Kalibo, Naga, and Virac, on various dates starting March 31 until April 4.

For her part, PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said, “We are now processing requests for flight rebooking by passengers directly affected by IATF Resolution 104. They are leisure travelers restricted on flights between Manila and domestic destinations up to April 4.”

Before the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases Resolution No. 104—restricting leisure travel between Manila and domestic destinations—was released, Villaluna said, “We were operating two roundtrip flights daily between Manila and Caticlan, seven flights a week between Manila and Tagbilaran, and four round-trip flights daily between Manila and Cebu.” Most of the flights to Caticlan, the gateway to Boracay for instance, use the 76-seater Bombardier Q300, but when demand is high, as it is during the Holy Week, the carrier uses a 156-seater A320-200.

She added, “Since flights have to be cancelled in view of the temporaryexclusion of leisure travelers until April 4, flight frequencies have decreased. We now operate one round-trip daily between Manila and Caticlan,
five flights a week between Manila and Tagbilaran, and three round-trip flights daily between Manila and Cebu.”

‘Load factor in high 80s’

Based on the aircraft used and the reduced flights, BusinessMirror estimates close to 6,000 passengers on PAL flights from Manila to Mactan, Tagbilaran, and Caticlan, have been affected by the leisure travel ban.

Issued on March 20, 2021, IATF Resolution No. 104 reverted Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, and Rizal to general community quarantine (GCQ) status, and grouped them with the NCR and the municipality of Pateros in a “bubble” as these had the highest recorded Covid cases in the country. Non-essential travel is prohibited from and to said bubble from March 22 to April 4, 2021.

Before the resolution was released, Villaluna said their passenger load factor “was in the high 80s this Holy Week,” meaning 80 percent of the available seats for each flight were taken by paying passengers.

“With this latest restriction, on domestic leisure travelers, our load factor on flights to Bacolod, Busuanga, Cagayan de Oro, Caticlan, Cebu, Davao, Dipolog, Legaspi, Siargao, Tagbilaran, and Zamboanga are most affected,” she said. “These are domestic destinations which have been accepting domestic tourists. In fact, booking loads were good because these were Holy Week travels.”

Hotels and resorts in many leisure destinations have also been hurt by the leisure travel ban. (See, “Leisure destination hotels, resorts hit by 2-week NCR lockdown,” in the BusinessMirror, March 23, 2021.)

While unable to reveal the actual number of booked passengers for the Holy Week, usually a peak revenue period for carriers, Philippines Air Asia spokesperson Steve Dailisan said, “Our load factor during Holy Week is around 75 to 85 percent.”

PH Air Asia uses a 180-seater Airbus A320 for most of its flights. With an 85-percent passenger load factor, this would have meant passengers could have reached 153 for each flight during the Holy Week.

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