naia manila airport1
Planning a trip to the Philippines comes at a steep cost for UAE's Filipino expats. Last minute cancelled flights add to the concerns. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Last minute flight cancellations and no confirmation of when regular services will start – for Filipino expats in the UAE this is the constant uncertainty when planning a trip back home. The other option? Having to pay quite a bit extra for a seat on the specially designated flights to the Philippines.

When Philippines eased travel restrictions on flights from UAE in September, it was met with instant and overwhelming response from the country’s expats. But fast forward to November and the situation has not changed much – normal services are yet to commence in full and the ‘Bayanihan flights’ - special commercial flights approved by the Philippines government – are the only way to fly in and out of the country.

“Airlines do list normal flights every now and then, but they get removed within a few days,” said a UAE-based travel agent. “I believe the Philippines should want to open for good given that the high season (Christmas and New year) is coming up. We might hear something from the airlines in the next week or so.”

All this uncertainty around a return to normality is forcing Philippines expats to book seats on the special flights - despite the unrealistically high fares. A Philippines Airlines flight from Dubai to Manila costs nearly Dh9,800 on November 8, while on Emirates, passengers will have to pay around Dh11,300.

Cebu launch

Meanwhile, low-cost carrier Cebu Pacific told Gulf News that it has started operating flights on the Dubai-Manila route this month. The airline will connect Dubai with Manila, Cebu and Davao.

The planned schedule:

• Dubai-Manila - Monday & Wednesday

• Dubai-Cebu - Sunday & Tuesday

• Dubai-Davao - Thursday, Friday & Saturday

• Manila-Dubai - Daily

It remains to be seen if these flights will get the green-light from the concerned authorities. “We are appealing to the Philippine authorities to consider allowing more international arrivals, so we may be able to accommodate more passengers, especially now that many Filipinos are wanting to come home for the holidays,” said an airline spokesperson.

“We are hopeful that the Philippine and Dubai authorities will reach a positive stage that will enable Philippine carriers to maximize their flight operations to and from Dubai for the convenience and safety of passengers, at a time when traveling is challenging given the pandemic.”

NAT Cebu Pacific plane-1597056650781
Cebu Pacific says that it is awaiting the go-ahead from the Philippine authorities to launch more flights to and from the UAE. Image Credit: Supplied

More flights the only answer

Philippine Airlines should start operating some flights from Dubai to Manila over the next week. Flights scheduled for November 9 and November 11 will cost passengers around Dh5,000 – but fares are seen coming down to Dh3,770 on November 12.

Earlier, the airline cancelled some flights between Dubai and Manila, citing flight restrictions imposed by local authorities. These flights were scheduled between October 31 and November 2.

“These cancellations and adjustments are beyond PAL’s control and prevent us from serving the urgent travel needs of our OFWs and other passengers,” said the airline in a Facebook post. “We sincerely regret the inconvenience.”

“We urgently appeal to the Philippine and Dubai authorities to work towards resolving the situation so that we may again be able to operate our planned schedule of flights to and from Dubai and make use of all our seats onboard each flight, for the best interests of our passengers.”

Travel rules

Who is currently eligible to travel to the Philippines? Let’s take a look:

Filipino citizens with

• Valid Philippine Passport; or

• Identification certificate as proof of recognition as Filipino Citizen; or

• Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003 Certificate under RA 9225

2. Balikbayan, who may be either one of the following:

• A Filipino citizen who has been continuously out of the Philippines for a period of at least one (1) year;

• A Filipino overseas worker;

• A former Filipino citizen and their family who have been naturalised in a foreign country and comes or returns to the Philippines; and

• Immediate family members (spouse and children) of the Balikbayan, who are nationals of countries falling under EO 408 travelling together with the Balikbayan.

Foreign nationals with valid and existing visas

• All visa categories are now accepted by Philippine Immigration for entry.

• 9(a) Visa holders will be required to obtain an Entry Exemption Document (EED) from the country’s foreign post abroad except for foreign spouses, parent(s) and/or children of Filipino citizens who are not travelling with a Filipino family member. Their 9(a) Visas will have a notation “EED not required per IATF Resolution No. 128”.

• All foreign nationals must present a confirmed booking for at least ten days in an accredited quarantine hotel/facility or for passengers who are fully vaccinated and stayed in “Green” List Countries as determined by the Department of Health.

Exemptions and special handling

• Visa on arrival for eligible nationalities is suspended.

• Domestic and/or international connections/transit are not permitted.

• All airlines operating and deadhead crew are exempt from any immigration and testing requirements but will be subjected to strict quarantine protocols as all arriving passengers.

• Unaccompanied minors are not allowed to travel to the Philippines due to the duration of the quarantine period.

• Passengers travelling as medical repatriates must get prior approval three (3) days before the start of their journey.

Losing out

The Philippines risks losing the tourist bookings to Thailand, Fiji and Singapore, which have opened without quarantine to vaccinated international travellers from select countries. Airlines have also quickly ramped up their operations on these routes.

A one-way Emirates flight from Dubai to Bangkok costs only Dh1,700. Singapore flights cost passengers only Dh1,200 or so.

Passengers in distress

Several passengers, who suffered as a result of last-minute flight cancelations, took to social media to express their anger. “When will you rebook our flights? I was about to go to the airport yesterday - what kind of service is this Philippine Airlines? We need an update on flight dates,” said a Facebook user.

Another passenger said this on social media: “You don’t know the stress you bring to us - you are playing with us using our own money!”

In general, passengers want more flights to be added on the route. “Please open more flights/slots by November end,” said a user.