Stock - Philippines Ninoy Aquino International Airport
For many Filipino expats caught out by the January 1 flight cancellations, this means delays in returning to work after the holidays Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: Several UAE-based Filipino expats are still trying to find alternate travel plans after getting stuck in the Philippines over the New Year period. This followed the power outage at the Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport led to flight cancellations and forced those with confirmed bookings to the UAE scrambling to get seats.

Many are still trying after all flights into and out of the airport scheduled for January 1 were cancelled. (An estimated 1,000 passengers fly from the Philippines to Dubai and vice-versa daily.)

“Several Dubai-bound passengers from Manila have chosen to rebook their tickets January 2-4 as they need to return to work,” said a source at the Dubai operations of Cebu Air. “Some opted to postpone their travel plans altogether. The stranded passengers are a mix of tourists and UAE-based Filipino expatriates.”

About 450 passengers travelling to and from Manila-Dubai were forced to change their plans due to the power outage at Manila airport.

- Joesyl Vasquez, Area Manager at Philippine Airlines

According to official figures from the Manila International Airport Authority, a total of 282 flights were either delayed, cancelled or diverted to other regional airports on Sunday (January 1), affecting at least 60,000 passengers. The system was partially restored, allowing limited flight operations by late evening that day and leading to eight flight arrivals and eight departures.

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“For CEB, PH domestic and international on January 1, a total of 259 flights were cancelled, disrupting 26,253 passengers, and on January 2, about 75 flights were cancelled, causing inconvenience to 11,578 passengers,” according to the source at Cebu Pacific.

Options for stranded travellers

Travellers on Cebu and Philippines Airlines have been offered free rebooking options, travel funds, and refund options. In a statement to Gulf News, Cebu Pacific said, “Passengers can store the amount in a virtual CEB wallet valid for six months and use this to either book a new flight or pay for add-ons, example: baggage allowance, seat selection, etc. The refund process may take up to two months from the date of request.”

“For flights until 11:59pm of January 3, 2023, passengers may voluntarily postpone their travel and avail of their options (free rebooking or travel fund) on the Cebu Pacific website,” stated the airline. PAL is also offering similar rebooking and travel fund options.

Tourist returns

According to travel agents, a sizeable number of tourists who were on visits to the UAE and had to return to the Philippines were affected by the last-minute flight cancellations.

Geoffrey Salatan, a Dubai-based travel agent, said, “Every passenger flying into Manila or out of the country on January 1 was impacted. It was tough for passengers to go through something like this on the first day of the year. Many were waiting outside the aircraft when the last-minute advisory came through.

“Many passengers were UAE residents who wanted to return to work. The January load from the Philippines to the UAE is usually fully booked. Moreover, the rates during this time are also very high.”

Flight cancellations and re-bookings
Passengers were caught off-guard due to malfunctioning of the air traffic control systems at Manila airport.This happened even to those who had completed their check-in, immigration, and other pre-travel procedures, which was when they were informed of the revised travel advisory. “We were waiting at the boarding gate when we were suddenly informed of the flight cancellation,” said Renante Laguna, a Dubai-based teacher with Al Sadiq Islamic English school.

Laguna was returning to Dubai after his vacation in Manila on Sunday (January 1). “It was absolute chaos at the airport when the announcement came. “My flight was supposed to depart at 12.25pm, and we found out at 10am that it had been cancelled. I rebooked my flight for January 3 free of cost. I was supposed to rejoin school on January 2. I had to call my superiors in school and inform them about the date change. There was much confusion, and nothing was being communicated to us.”

Flights from UAE to Philippines

  • Philippine Airlines (PAL) operates one flight to and from Dubai every day.
  • Cebu Pacific will operate two flights between Manila and Dubai until March.
  • Dubai carrier Emirates operates one flight daily to and from Manila.
  • Etihad Airways, which operates one daily flight to Manila, stopping at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Neither airline has reported any cancellations.