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Wanderlust: Weak demand, lack of LGU requirement standards decelerate airline operations

After more than two months of non-commercial operations due to the lockdown, Cebu Pacific, the country’s biggest budget airline, is slowly flying back to its hubs and select destinations. However, in spite of the flight resumption, recovery is seen to be sluggish as the airline faces weak travel demand and changing local government unit restrictions to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

“We are flying just close to 10 percent of our original network,” revealed Cebu Pacific vice president for marketing and customer experience Candice Iyog during a virtual press briefing last July 24.

Pre-pandemic, the airline flew an average of 450 flights a day. Since it’s resumption, its current network flies only to 23 domestic and 1 international destinations, or around 40 to 50 flights a day.

“It is important for us to be flying again but the schedule is very fluid. We’re still finding stability,” Iyog added.

One of the main reasons that hampers their flight resumptions to their destinations is the shifting of LGU restrictions.

“Without standardization of requirements from them, we continue to have difficulties in rebuilding our network,” she explained.

Iyog mentioned that some local governments require negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) results for passengers 72 hours before a flight while others only accept local residents but not those from neighboring cities or provinces.

“We manage this predicament on a day-to-day basis on a per destination basis. It’s really quite difficult, not just for us but also for the passengers,” said Iyog.

When asked if the airline will continue to offer budget-friendly tickets, she affirmed as it is in their “DNA to offer low fares.” They also continue to offer passengers unlimited free rebooking and a travel credit to be used for the next two years. However, Iyog also said that they are constantly reviewing destinations and considering demands.

“There are still so many uncertainties but we need to achieve balance so can we start the momentum to grow our routes,” she quipped.

Cebu Pacific, along with other member airlines of the Air Carriers Association of the Philippines, have also sought the assistance of the LGUs as well as the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines to address their concerns.

To date, the Philippines’ COVID-19 active cases continue to surge, reaching almost 80,000 cases. Meanwhile, ASEAN countries like Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand have flattened the curve and are gradually reopening tourism to boost their ailing economies.

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