IT was a cold New Year’s Day in Tokyo at 9°C. Veteran journalist Cathy Cañares-Yamsuan and her family were already seated, waiting for their plane to takeoff for from the tarmac of Narita Airport in Tokyo. Then their pilot spoke.
“Ladies and gentlemen. We were told that the whole Philippine air space was down. They already cancelled departing flights out of NAIA. As for the status of (our flight), we are still awaiting word from our operations. As of the moment, Manila is unable to accommodate arriving flights. We have to wait for word from our operations. We will update you in 30 minutes,” she recalled the captain saying.
The Yamsuan family was on a holiday vacation in Japan. It was a long overdue family vacation to get away from the stresses of the pandemic, and at the same time a chance to see their daughter who is working there.
But on their supposed last hour of holiday, the Philippine air traffic radar and communication went dark causing massive disruption in the airport operations and cancellations of around 300 flights.
Cañares-Yamsuan said they waited inside the Philippine Airlines plane for more than two hours. Passengers have become edgy.
“Hindi nakatulong na hindi alam ng piloto ang buong sitwasyon. Sporadic ang updates from Manila. And one can sense the frustration and anxiety in the pilot’s voice,” Cañares-Yamsuan told republicasia.
Then the pilot went back to the mic and announced: “Ladies and gentlemen, the flight will have to be rescheduled. As of now, please start disembarking. Please bring all your belongings and rest assured the ground staff will take care of your concerns. Hope to see you soon, thank you, God bless.”
What happened later after disembarking turned their Japan holiday into a traveller’s nightmare.
“There were repeated instructions to ‘return and refund’ the duty-free items we purchased,” she narrated. Japan customs and immigration staff escorted them to the Duty-Free area. Later, they were let go. Nobody gave a clear explanation. Perhaps a language barrier, she thought.
So they queued to get their refund. As luck would have it, they missed the announcement at the airport for them to rebook their flights.
“Nung nahabol namin ang ibang pasahero, they relayed to us that the Japanese reps (immigration? customs? not clear) said ‘kanya-kanyang rebooking’ na lang since PAL did not cause the incident,” she said.
Having missed the chance to rebook their flights, they left the airport terminal.
Since they were five in a group, and they had to take two taxis. Each taxi ride cost them J¥31,000 (around Php 13,300).
“Our travel agent had to scramble to get us two rooms back in Shinjuku, where my daughter is now based. Sinlaki lang ng closet ang unit nya, magpapatayan muna kami to get space to sleep,” she said.
Others had worse experience, she said. She had co-passengers who senior members and babies in one group. A mother of two stepped out of the airport terminal, because children were getting restless but they have no plans on where to go.
Yamsuan said while they cherished the chance to be with their daughter again, other worries piled up, making their stay more miserable.
One, they need more physical cash. Cañares-Yamsuan had to use her debit card, which would charge an enormous transaction fee for withdrawals. Then, they are running out of maintenance medicines supply for her husband.
And then she also had to attend to the domestic concerns in Manila. Her mother-in-law is bedridden, and they don’t want to stay away from home for a long time.
Cañares and her husband flew back today, January 4, to Manila. She said their travel agent booked them to an ANA flight and they had to pay the airfare difference. For every passenger, it cost them P33,000 or a total of P165,000.
When sought for reaction, Philippine Airlines spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said passengers whose flights were cancelled six hrs before scheduled departure, should be given hotel accommodation and assisted for their next available flight. This is embodied in the Passenger Bill of Rights.
“As to why Ms Cathy was unable to secure these is a matter we will look into,” Villaluna said.
Banner photo courtesy Cathy Cañares-Yamsuan