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CAB probes AirSWIFT on canceled flights, passenger complaints

Caption: Passengers booked to and from El Nido (Lio Airport) on January 9, air their complaints against carrier AirSWIFT Airlines Philippines, due to the latter’s flight cancellations and sluggish action on their inquiries. The carrier has since limited comments on its Facebook page, while complaints are no longer visible to the public. (Screencap from AirSWIFT FB page) 

THE Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) has asked AirSWIFT Airlines Philippines to explain its flight cancellations on January 9, following the temporary closure of the Lio Airport in El Nido, Palawan due to its plane’s trouble.

This is the second whammy for the country in the eyes of tourists, just after the New Year’s Day glitch in government’s air traffic management system, which caused the closure of the Philippine airspace for seven hours.

In a phone interview with the BusinessMirror, CAB Executive Director Carmelo Arcilla said the Lio airport is privately-owned “so we don’t have passenger officers there. We are asking them (AirSWIFT) to submit a sworn statement on the incident [on January 9], but they have not yet submitted. We are making them explain [what happened] under oath.” Formerly Island Trasnvoyager Inc., AirSWIFT is owned by the Ayala Group.

He said the CAB sent AirSWIFT a letter on January 17. As per the Facebook page of AirSWIFT, 12 flights had to be canceled on January 9, starting at 1:05 pm from El Nido to Caticlan until 5:20 pm from El Nido to Manila, after the airport closure.

‘Horrendous service’

According to separate reports, “tire failure” caused an AirSWIFT flight to get stuck at the runway of Lio airport, which is also owned by the Ayala Group. This resulted in the airport’s closure on January 9, and subsequent cancelation of flights that day. Passengers complaining on AirSWIFT’s Facebook page alleged they only found out their flights were cancelled when they arrived at the airport. Other passengers who were in a rush to return home, were told to go to Puerto Princess Airport for possible accommodations in other carriers back to Manila.

Meanwhile, at Naia-3 on the same day, passengers who were bound for El Nido complained of AirSWIFT’s “horrendous service” and “poor management skills” for failing to properly inform them of their flight cancelation. They also alleged there were no representatives on the ground to explain to them what happened.

The runway was eventually reopened on January 10 for flights starting at 1 p.m. “Due to the number of flights we need to recover as a result of the airport closure, some of our flights will be diverted to Puerto Princesa. With this, AirSWIFT will be providing the necessary transfers between the airport,” said an advisory by the carrier at 11 p.m., on January 9. The carrier likewise limited the comments feature on said advisory.

As of press time, the Ayala Group has yet to revert to this paper’s request for a statement on the incident. Under its hotels and resorts units, the group operates several resorts in the municipality, including the Lio tourism estate town on the mainland and on Miniloc, Pangalusian, and Lagen islands. El Nido has been recognized by several foreign travel publications and websites as among the best islands in the world.

Lower fuel surcharge

Meanwhile, CAB lowered the fuel surcharge carriers can impose on air tickets, which Arcilla described as “good news,” and bodes well for the country’s tourism industry.

In an advisory issued on January 16 signed by Arcilla, the applicable fuel surcharge from February 1-28, 2023 is Level 6, following the lowering of the cost of jet fuel to P38.92 per liter from December 10 to January 9, 2023. “For fuel surcharge to the collected in equivalent currency, the applicable conversion rate for the same period is 1USD = 55.60 PHP.”

“[The cost of jet fuel] is getting low, but it’s very hard to say if it will continue its downward path because of the uncertainties in the market, as you know the world, we cannot predict what will happen. Also because there are political upheavals, like realignments, and sanctions — so it’s very, very difficult to predict how it will behave. But so far in the past few months, it is downwards so we can only hope it will continue,” said Arcilla.

Under Level 6, passengers can be charged anywhere from P185 to P665 in fuel surcharge on domestic flights, and P610.37 to P4,538.40 on international flights depending on the distance from the port of origin to the destination.

The CAB maintained the Level 8 fuel surcharge in December, which kept the cost of air tickets steady. (See, “Carriers, hotels: Brisk holiday travel as airfare cost steady,” in the BusinessMirror, November 28, 2022.)

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