Airline firms seek increased mobility among fully vaccinated

Published September 16, 2021, 4:55 PM

by Ellson Quismorio

Major airline groups have sought Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion’s help in airing their concerns to the government regarding the impact of the protracted coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic on their businesses.

Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship and Go Negosyo founder Joey Concepcion (Photo from Go Negosyo Facebook page)

Airline companies expressed worries that overly stringent travel requirements imposed by both national and local governments amid the health crisis could lead to the eventual crash of the local aviation industry.

Collectively, the companies have asked for increased mobility among vaccinated Filipinos in term of transportation in order to give them a shot at recovering some of the billions worth of revenues they’ve lost since the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020.

“For these airline companies to survive, there has to be sustainable number of passengers especially for the tourism industry,” said Concepcion, founder of Go Negosyo.

Concepcion and the stakeholders of the airline sector met with Dr. Edsel Salvana, one of the advisers of the Department of Health (DOH), to tackle concerns over the strict policies that discourage travelers from flying to various parts of the country or even abroad.

Stakeholders called on the government to relax some rules to help encourage Filipinos to travel, especially those who are fully vaccinated from COVID-19.

Among the rules that they hope can be done away with are the multiple requirements for traveling, especially for domestic destinations, and expensive testing as most destinations require a negative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test. The long quarantines for arriving passengers from international flights has also been identified as a turnoff for travelers.

When it comes to international flights, travelers consider requirements such as testing and the 10-day quarantine period very burdensome, forcing them to put off their travel plans, Philippine Airlines (PAL) President and COO Gilbert Sta Maria and Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy and Planning Officer Dexter Lee noted.

PAL, for its part, proposed piloting a new protocol to reduce risk and cost to passengers of international flights.

Under the proposal, passengers will be tested 72 hours before departure and will undergo quarantine upon arrival and take an RT-PCR test on the third day. If the result is negative, they can go out of the quarantine facility on the fifth day and continue home quarantine. Based on the data presented, testing before departure helps reduce positivity rate and risk.

The proposal would also enable passengers to save as much as P25,000 aside from enjoying a more comfortable quarantine in the comfort of their own home.

The stakeholders also requested the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) to consider placing North America on the list of “green countries” as this is the biggest market for local airlines. According to PAL, it has earned $1 billion from the North American market before the pandemic.

Cebu Pacific, through its Vice President for Cargo Alex Reyes, also called on the IATF to release guidelines to allow fully vaccinated Filipinos to travel domestically to help start tourism and economic activities.

“They only must present a vaccination card or DICT vaccination certificate as sole requirement,” said Reyes, adding local government units (LGUs) may require RT-PCR test for unvaccinated travelers.

Meanwhile, Air Asia CEO Ricky Isla proposed the use of antigen testing if testing will still be required. He said it is more convenient and cheaper.

The proposal is similar to the “Bakuna Bubble” being pushed by Concepcion. Under the Bakuna Bubble, COVID-19 guidelines are eased for fully vaccinated individuals to help boost the economy and protect the employment of many Filipinos.

Concepcion has been pushing for safer reopening of the economy specially for the vaccinated. Some minor wins were noted after some sectors were allowed to reopen during the pilot implementation of granular lockdowns in the National Capital Region (NCR)

The airline industry assured the IATF that they are well-equipped and prepared because they have been doing these measures even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hotel industry, represented by Philippine Hotel Owners Association Executive Director Bong Bengzon, asked the government to revisit the number of passengers who are allowed to come in, even as they assured that they can handle the influx of tourists once the tourism industry is opened.

For its part, the bus industry was supportive of the call to allow intra/inter-provincial travel for vaccinated individuals, saying it would help revive the sector that has been heavily affected by lockdowns.