Passengers Furious Over Cebu Pacific's Christmas Chaos

Just over one week after the Christmas fiasco that disrupted the travel plans of countless passengers, the public remains furious with Cebu Pacific with some even calling for the airline to be penalized and even have its franchise revoked. Between December 24 and 26, Cebu Pacific left thousands stranded at Ninoy Aquino International Airport due to cancelled and delayed flights.

cebu pacific a320
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
According to Ben Evardone, Eastern Samar Representative, the public outcry is driving a plan to revoke Cebu Pacific's franchise. "There have been complaints by paying passengers on Cebu Pacific's poor services, resulting in long queues, flight delays, and cancellations without due notice, overbooking, among others, even on Christmas holidays, on December 24, 25, and 26, 2014, in particular."

Public Calls for Revocation of Cebu Pacific's Franchise

Cebu Pacific currently operates under a franchise granted by Congress, which stipulates that the carrier must "maintain scheduled and/or non-scheduled and/or chartered air transport services between any and all points and places throughout the Philippines and other countries at such frequencies as traffic needs may require, provided, however, that at least 25 percent of all its frequencies shall be for the domestic market."

The only exception to this mandate comes in the event of force majeure, or whenever weather related or other circumstances beyond the control of the carrier prevent it from operating as required. But a revocation of the franchise is only likely to happen if there has been a gross violation of Cebu Pacific's terms of reference.

According to Representative Mel Sarmiento of Western Samar, congress has no interest in arbitrarily revoking the franchise without first considering the overall state of the industry and the possible effect that a revocation would have on connectivity in the archipelago, that would only lead to further chaos. Given that Cebu Pacific is the nation's largest low-cost carrier flying to more domestic destinations than any other carrier, it is highly unlikely that a revocation would proceed.

Sarmiento believes that a revocation is too harsh a recourse, though he added that Cebu Pacific should be penalized pending the outcome of the congressional probe. If the franchise was to be revoked, the carrier would no longer be permitted to operate, which would severely impact the economy as all international and domestic flights are cancelled.

cebu pacific anger
Image Source: Talonggo
"To protect the riding public, a warning with a corresponding penalty should be given," said Sarmiento. "A low-cost carrier airline should not provide a shabby service. The main purpose of low-cost carriers is to deliver each passenger from point A to point B, safely." He added that low-cost carriers such as Cebu Pacific, are not focused on providing passengers with a five-star experience.

It has been nearly two weeks since the airline's passengers were plagued by delayed and cancelled flights resulting from air traffic congestion, bad weather, overbooking, and inadequate staffing. Reports indicated that some passengers claimed that there were as little as three Cebu Pacific staff assisting passengers at the check-in counters at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The Civil Aeronautics Board is seeking an explanation from Cebu Pacific as to why the carrier lacked counter personnel to adequately serve the needs of the increased number of holidaymakers. The delays and cancellations caused passengers to miss their flights or be left behind. The incident has already left a bad taste in the mouths of not only Filipinos, but foreigners as well, that have been given a negative impression of the country. "I won't tell my friends to come here to the Philippines," said one foreign tourist in a report. "For me, this is the first time and last time."

Bad Weather, Air Traffic Congestion, and Sunset Limitations Cited as Causes of the Chaos

On December 24, a total for 192 flights were delayed, while 11 were cancelled. Five of those flights were cancelled due to lack of aircraft. An additional 144 flights were delayed on Christmas Day. According to Jorenz Tanada, Cebu Pacific's Vice President for Corporate Affairs, air traffic congestion and bad weather during the holiday rush is what caused the chaos. He added that the carrier had to adjust its flight schedules due to the cancellation of several flights caused by the bad weather. Tanada stated that these factors led to the delays, long queues, and angry passengers.

"Christmas Day was really a big, big deluge that we experienced, but we experienced a lot of consequential flight delays because of the air traffic congestion," said Tanada. "There was inclement weather in some regions and this resulted in a lot of flights being cancelled."

cebu pacific chaos
Image Source: Talonggo
Tanada highlighted Virac, Tuguegarao, and Puerto Princesa as three cities that were badly affected by the weather, with at least seven flights being cancelled resulting in backlogs from December 23. Poor navigational infrastructure at a number of the nation's airports also caused delayed flights to become cancellations due to the sunset limitations. "Some of our major tourist destinations such as Busuanga are unable to accept aircraft after sunset," said Tanada.

Cebu Pacific Defends Overbooking & Inadequate Staffing

However, it was not only circumstances beyond Cebu Pacific's control that led to the chaos. There were a number of internal issues from inadequate staffing to overbooking. Tanada suggested that much of the overcrowding in the airport may have been triggered by overbooking of the aircraft, which is an internationally accepted aviation practice to add buffer to compensate for those who do not show up for their flights.

Airlines around the world usually overbook flights by approximately 10 percent to compensate for the "no show" passengers. But in this case, the plan backfired on Cebu Pacific with the majority of passengers showing up for their flights. Tanada indicated that the carrier is willing to have talks with the Civil Aeronautics Board to review policies regarding the overbooking of flights during peak season.

In regards to inadequate staffing, Tanada said that fatigue was the cause of the lack of personnel manning the Cebu Pacific counters as many employees had been subjected to fatigue due to the long work hours during the Christmas season. This caused many staff to either arrive late or not show up at all on Christmas Day. Tanada added that even on the 26th, many staff did not arrive on time or report for duty.

Cebu Pacific was eventually able to secure additional staff and to tap manpower service companies for additional workers. Some of the carrier's international crew members were also assigned to domestic flights to alleviate the employee shortage. But Tanada offered no explanation as to why staff were subjected to such long-hours in the first place when seasonal staff could have been hired to meet the additional demand. In addition, there was no word as to whether staff would be disciplined for failing to report for duty or arriving late.

Cebu Pacific ended up asking the Manila International Airport Authority for the use of nine additional counters although the carrier is only assigned 28 in order to cope with the backlogs, while airline staff pleaded for guests to take advantage of alternate check-in options such as the self-service kiosks and web check-in.

Government Officials Unsatisfied with Cebu Pacific's Response

Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya blamed Cebu Pacific's Christmas fiasco on overworked staff that could not perform efficiently and a complete lack of preparation. In an interview on television, Abaya said that Cebu Pacific should have prepared a contingency plan to address the needs of passengers during the busy Christmas season. He added that inefficient performance of staff is no excuse regardless of fatigue.

President Aquino also expressed his disappointment, as he ordered authorities to step in and ease the woes of travellers. The government believes that Cebu Pacific should have anticipated flight delays and cancellations during the holiday rush. In addition, there should have been staff available to deal with the complaints of irate passengers.

Abaya said that the government does have the ability to intervene during crisis situations and is considering imposing a ban on overbooking, especially during the peak travel season. "As early as the first day, the President himself noticed the situation. He called me up as we picked it up from the media almost at the same time," said Abaya. "I immediately contacted GM Honrado and Attorney Arcilla of Civil Aeronautics Board to know what happened and the reasons behind it, and investigate possible violations in policies or in law."

cebu pacific anger
Image Source: Talonggo
The Secretary of Transportation immediately called Gokongwei "to find and implement a solution," as it was inappropriate to allow images of stranded passengers to be continuously shown in the media. "Clearly, there were a lot of delayed flights," said Abaya. "Those whose flights were cancelled, obviously, they wanted to continue their travel because that was Christmas Day. They should have anticipated that."

In addition to mismanaged flight plans, Abaya also agreed that check-in counters were understaffed at Terminal 3. "We pleaded to Cebu Pacific to give a face from the company to explain the situation," said Abaya. "If only outsourced personnel are out there, they would only say that they are just following orders and they they do not know the plans of management. This only adds to the frustrations and anger of the public if no one on the part of management is there to explain."

Abaya says that due to the serious nature of the incident, the government will consider taking greater control of the industry to restore order. "Overbooking is a practiced activity even in the best airlines. But in this situation, it looks like we need to study if the government can step in to control, limit, if not prohibit or completely eliminate overbooking," said Abaya. "The government should not be satisfied that just because we have penalized them after the fact, our role is finished. The President's order is for us to be proactive, the government should be doing something before it happens. Given that direction, we need to have a clear policy addressing overbooking and under-manning of check-in counters."

Change in the Airline Industry is Needed

At least one legislator believes that this issue has been long coming and should have been addressed before the incident happened. According to Bayan Muna Representative, Neri Colmenares, the Civil Aeronautics Board should take responsibility for the airlines that it was supposed to regulate.

"The refunds are not enough to silence the complaining passengers. What is just is to punish airlines that are chronic failures," said Colmenares. The representative originally made an appeal on December 16, before the incident took place, seeking Congress to investigate the airline industry's excessive fares, delays, and dismal service.

Colmenares certainly has a valid point in that one of the top complaints of passengers is the inability to obtain refunds in a timely manner regardless of which carrier they fly. The responsibility of oversight falls on the Civil Aeronautics Board. Colmenares would like airlines to be more accountable for their cancelled flights, expensive rebooking fees and penalties which penalize passengers for mistakes, but yet offer no compensation to passengers when the airline is at fault.

In addition, Colmenares would like Cebu Pacific to address its deceptively low initial base fares, which hide surcharges and taxes, that are often higher than the fare itself or even higher than surcharges imposed by other carriers. Other jurisdictions such as Europe have taken steps to ensure that air fares are only advertised with taxes and surcharges included to minimise any form of deceptive advertising. Moreover, Colmenares says the "ridiculous" web administration fee must go. The representative also called attention to Cebu Pacific's refusal to use jet bridges at certain airports, which makes it a challenge for the sick and elderly to go down to the tarmac. He added that the nation's airlines should be rolling back airfares given the dramatic reduction in fuel prices worldwide.

Failing to Plan or Planning to Fail?

An initial investigation revealed that of the 142 flights delayed on December 24, 100 belonged to Cebu Pacific. This raises the question as to whether the carrier was simply being irresponsible in stretching its resources far too thin in order to make more money. A high utilisation rate with aircraft is common among low-cost carriers, as is a quick turn-around of aircraft.

However, one simple delay or cancellation can throw off the entire network like a row of dominoes. In this case, it seemed that Cebu Pacific stretched every last resource that it had to put on additional flights in an effort to generate more revenue, without preparing a contingency plan or having spare aircraft or staff available in the event of flight cancellations, delays, or the absence of employees. In short, the airline got greedy as problems compounded and its luck ran out quickly.

Cebu Pacific is equally as guilty for congestion at Ninoy Aquino International Airport as any other carrier or the airport itself, given that it controls the highest number of slots at the airport. It has been no secret that the airport is congested and in failing to plan its peak season schedule properly, Cebu Pacific left no room for delays or congestion, which is to be expected especially during peak season. This would have been a good opportunity to utilize Clark International Airport further to meet the additional demand, while potentially charging passengers a premium for the convenience of utilizing the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

a330 cebu pacific
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
According to Jose Angel Honrado, General Manager of the Manila International Airport Authority, they do not accept that the delays and cancellations were caused by congestion and bad weather. But they did confirm that check-in counters were undermanned.

The Department of Transportation has asked the Civil Aeronautics Board to review the Air Passenger Bill of Rights to seek revisions in order to better protect the riding public. With complaints against Cebu Pacific growing on a daily basis, a panel has been formed to research the liability of the carrier amidst the complaints. The panel is composed of representatives from the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Manila International Airport Authority, and the Civil Aeronautic Board, which is set to meet at the beginning of this month, when it will review reports and documents submitted by Cebu Pacific.

Passengers are Entitled to Refunds

Cebu Pacific has said that it will refund or rebook passengers that missed their flights due to the delays. Those that wish to rebook can do so within 30 days or request for a refund. Any passenger that had a flight originating or connecting in Manila between December 23, 2014 and January 5, 2015
is entitled to the refund. Cebu Pacific is also extending its offer to passengers that were tagged as "no-shows." Passengers will have until January 12 to determine what option they will take.

The following Cebu Pacific offices are equipped to address passenger concerns:
  • NAIA Terminal 3 Sales Office – Level 3, Departure Hall, Naia Terminal 3, Andrews Ave., Pasay City
  • NAIA Terminal 4 Express Ticket Office – Old Domestic Road, Pasay City
  • Robinsons Galleria – West Lane, Level 1, Ortigas Ave. cor. ADB Ave. Quezon City
  • Robinsons Place Imus – Level 4, Aguinaldo Highway Imus, Cavite
  • Robinsons Place Manila – Level 1 Adriatico Wing, Pedro Gil cor. Adriatico St. Ermita Manila
  • Cebu Airport Ticket Office – Mactan International Airport, Lapu-Lapu, Cebu City
  • Robinsons Fuente – Fuente OsmeƱa, Cebu City
Meanwhile, Cebu Pacific says that it will cooperate with any government investigations. While most travellers will accept refunds and abandon the issue, at least one passenger is suggesting that substantial change should be sought from Cebu Pacific. 

cebu pacific atr
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
"Should one remain docile and allow this crass airline trick to go unnoticed? I could not fathom the callousness of this airline that communicates like the Oracle of Delphi with its full-paying passengers. Besides, their pricing does not match their abysmal service, which consists mainly of distracting their passengers with on-board "fetch-me" games," said Joel Vega, a Netherlands based journalist. "If an airline thrives and piles up its profits on the quiet desperation of their passengers, and from paying customers who are cowed to a silent "bear-it-all," if this is Philippine society in a nutshell, this certainly bodes ill to the rest of us who still hopes for a meaningful, substantial change."

Do you have a complaint about Cebu Pacific?

Click Here to complete and send an online passenger complaint form to the Civil Aeronautics Board.


  1. ...And now you report on this?

    Something tells me this only got posted because of the comments in the previous blog post. You should have posted this back in December, when it was more relevant. So disappointed. This site is obviously pro-CebPac.

    1. They probably got tired of me "bad mouthing" Cebu Pacific so they decided to write about it. Filipino time!

      Sincerely, your Businessman in a Tux
      - Mr. HK

  2. Cebu Pacific has no plan b so expect delays with no information given. A true cattle class airline and run by people who dont care. Shame on you Cebu Pacific for how you treated your passengers over the xmas and new year

  3. Typical Cebu Pacific!

  4. Its about time to expose Ceb Pac.Majority of its employees are contractuals that is why they dont care if they report for work during the holidays.They treat their customers like cattle for the reason that what they pay is a bargain.
    Same thing with the way they deal with other entities. Maintenance provider Lufthansa Technik Philippines opted to early terminate its ATR-72 line maintenance agreement with Ceb Pac. To minimize flight delay LTP mechanics rectify defects on aircraft scheduled for flight without waiting for the Ceb Pac Rep approval who is nowhere to be found.The additional charges accumulated to more than 1.5M USD, and when billed they have a thousand reasons not to pay, hence the LTP German CEO terminated the agreement and just continue to deal with reputable legacy carriers like QANTAS,Virgin Atlantic, Philippine Airlines, Air Asia, Asiana, Lufthansa Airlines, Jetstar, Air France, Starflyer of Japan.
    DHL Global also terminated its forwarding services because they were badmouthed for a justifiable delay in their incoming aircraft part shipment urgently required.
    Rank & file employees are rude and tackless which is part of their corporate culture

  5. I hate this airline. Screw up BIG TIME! I will be happy to see it's Franchise penalized or revoked!

  6. I witnessed first hand the chaos that occurred at the Cebu Pac counters last December 26. It was definitely a frustrating experiencing seeing the large crowd! The official comments made by Cebu Pac were unacceptable. It boils down to implementing the proper systems. Cebu Pac management can not use the holiday season, air traffic and staff fatigues as an excuse.

    The photos that were published in this article did not give the true story of what really happened that day. Upon entering the main entrance of the airport, there was already a large crowd pushing there way to the Cebu Pac area. There was totally no system and no proper guidance from any of the staff. I tried talking to one of the staff at the very start but they looked confused and powerless to do anything. I pity them, especially those manning the counters! There was no supervisor on site and half of the counters were definitely not manned. To make matters worse, the pre-assigned counters for senior citizens, bag drops and check-in counters were not followed properly. It was to each his own and people were just trying to line up to whatever available counters that were there.

    Cebu Pac management should learn from this catastrophe. The chaos could have been prevented if there was somebody in charge that day. That person could have restored order by systematically establishing the lines, removing the carts to clear the way (the carts were left by the passengers at the very front of the counters upon getting their boarding passes), adding additional people in the counters and prioritizing counters for bag drops. I was amazed that a lot of people have already printed their boarding passes but the bag drop counters were not used for its intended purpose. This alone could have lessen the build up at the check in area.

    I have travelled to different parts of the world during the peak holiday seasons and saw first hand the multitude of people travelling but there was hardly any chaos. It's proper implementation of systems. Plain and simple.

    To the credit of those that endured the nightmare during those times, I give kudos to all of the Filipinos! Even if it was a complete debacle on the part of Cebu Pac, everyone was patiently waiting to get to the counters. You could hardly hear any rude voices or anyone screaming. The Filipino bayanihan spirit was also present. Strangers were helping others passengers lift their luggages over the crowds. An old lady also helped us when she heard my wife pleading (from several feet away from the counter) that we still had a chance to make our flight. She voluntarily got our etickets and presented it directly to the staff manning the counter. That is the true Pinoy spirit for you. No matter how hard and difficult the situation was, we kept ourselves civilized all throughout.

    To the Cebu Pac management, there are no excuses for what happened this holiday season. Either learn from this or go take a hike!

  7. Bad weather is a big factor. Your safety comes first always. What you feel on the ground is nothing compared when you are flying up there. Why do people always book most of your flights on the last minute? You have weeks and months to get an earlier schedule since everyone knows that December is a peak season. Do you people even know or understand what will happen to the sinking economy of the Philippines if Cebu Pacific's license is revoked? You people better stop blamming or pointing fingers since you're not helping.

    1. The timing of people's bookings is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. People will fly whenever they want to because they're the ones who pay and not you! People anywhere in the world fly in and out during those peak times so stop blaming them. I pity those people who had to endure the appalling situation. I'm sure those people bought their tickets at a premium (even more expensive than PR or 2P) because 5J doesn't sell cheap tickets on those dates because they want to milk money from the riding public. It's true that it's not wise to get their license revoked but they gov't should at least penalize then so they'll get their shit together

    2. People are booking at the last minute? Get an earlier flight schedule? Are you freaking kidding? I am not sure if you are part of the PR group of Cebu Pac but your making it worse for your boss. Your reasoning is so ridiculous! Issues with air safety and corporate management are totally different. If you have read the thread properly, the main issue is how the airline mismanaged the whole thing. I also agree with the previous comment that it is none of your business on when people should fly. CP is definitely the one to blame.

  8. Read the Terms & Conditions when you purchase your ticket. You must agree when you buy. The carrier gets your money but is not obligated to give you anything in return. Remember, you get what you pay for. You have a choice in carriers. Make your choice accordingly.

  9. CP is the worst airline in the world! so embarrased to use CEBU as part of their name! Their license should be revoked ASAP!

  10. That's nothing for them. Wait until the financial results are announced. It WILL be massive! 2014 was a defining year for the airline. A few days of chaos on the last week of the year will not put a dent on their overall performance.

  11. Cebu Pacific enjoy your well earned 52 million peso fine for treating your passengers with contempt,I hope in the future they revoke your flying permit forever !

    1. Too big to fail is the buzzword. They may gave said the same thing about Pan Am, but this is the Philippines... & 5J's competition is weak. It will be political suicide for the government to revoke 5J's license.

  12. so unforgettable eperienced also for us who waited long hours outside the Davao terminal airport,, so stressful .till we gave up since it seems we are running of cash for our food, and we decide to go home, since always cancelled and move the arrival of my brother..I saw mother and child there seems can not help them, they were cold since it rained..also a seniour citizen seems her excitement turned into brother arrives almsot 2 am in the morning where we are in deep sleep since we waited too long..he spend so much for his food at Manila terminal..I can see his anger and seems he lost weight . he said lack of sleep for he had to stay awake for worried his belongings will be gone once he would fall asleep, carrying his laptop to go to toilet , no choice but to entrust his other luggage to some good samaritans at the NAIA 3..CAB wake up do something ..cebu Pacific be serious please.Where is your heart?

  13. I tried web check in last year at hk. Sustem of Ceb says - must be 4 hours before. It did not work.

  14. I think the reason why 5J is such a shitty airline is because it is owned & run by a Filipino-Chinese! Yes, I know that sounded racist, but let me explain by merely stating the obvious. Big business in the Philippines is dominated by the Filipino-Chinese, so-called tycoons, yet none of these businesses can lay claim to superb quality & service. Let's take a look at real estate for example. Not one single real estate development company owned by a Filipino-Chinese can proudly boast a reputation of first-class quality & service. Megaworld, SMDC, Robinsons (another Gokongwei corp), etc, etc… all SUCK big time, from construction quality to post-handover maintenance & support. If you want high quality in this sector, you go for Ayala or Rockwell - the top two developers in the country, both not owned by Filipino-Chinese. But that's not to say that other non-Fil-Chi developers are great either (Villar's company as an example, or in another industry - Globe Telecom, an Ayala company), but we can't escape the fact that Filipino-Chinese businesses cannot deliver a quality product or service. Even PAL, another tycoon-owned entity, which although marginally better than 5J, is still one of the shittiest full-service airlines in the world. What about the malls? SM & Robinsons are not quality malls. Again, Rockwell and Ayala are tops here.

    I thought Lance would be better than the other tycoons. After all, he's armed with an Ivy-league degree, and cum laude no less. But I suppose it's the Chinese DNA that's got the better of him. Perhaps the same reason why the "Made in China" label has such a shitty reputation worldwide.

  15. Can you comment in english? Not everyone knows korean.

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