Filipinos who live in the UAE are struggling to get return tickets to the Emirates after a power cut brought air traffic to a grinding halt at Manila airport on New Year's Day.
Flights have been partially restored at Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport, but many Filipino residents who went home for Christmas are still struggling to rebook tickets because of the backlog.
Many tourists who came to the UAE, and were supposed to fly back on January 1, have also been affected.
About 60,000 travellers were affected and 282 flights were either delayed, cancelled or diverted to other regional airports on New Year’s Day, Manila International Airport Authority said.
Aaron Francis, an administrative assistant in Dubai, told The National that he has rebooked for January 8 after the cancellation of his return flight on Philippines Airlines on January 1.
“I was at the Manila airport before 7am to catch my flight that was scheduled at 12.25pm local time. There was utter chaos at the airport. I waited for a few hours and finally returned home exhausted,” Mr Francis said.
“I was supposed to join work on January 2. I had to write to my boss and extend my leave until 8. Not a great start for the New Year but everyone was caught unawares.”
Gerilynne Dumayas, a Filipina who lives in Abu Dhabi, said her scheduled Eva Air flight from Manila to Narita in Japan via Taipei was cancelled.
“I was headed to Narita for a family holiday with my brother, nephews and nieces on January 1. We had to wait for long hours at the airport and go back home,” she said.
“Luckily, Eva Air managed to rebook us on January 2, but there were long queues at all check-in counters.”
Ms Dumayas, who works for an insurance company in the UAE, said she flew to the Philippines on December 4 and is scheduled to return to the Emirates on January 14.
“By then I hope, things will get back to normal,” she said.
Blogger Dr Angelo Nino Santos was lucky and made it back before the flights were disrupted.
“My Emirates flight EK33 to Dubai was the last one that took off from Manila at 7.55am on January 1,” he said.
“The glitch happened soon after and all inbound and outbound flights got cancelled. The New Year turned lucky for me,” Mr Santos, who has more than 130,000 Instagram followers, told The National.
A medical manager at Max Health Insurance, Mr Santos flew to Manila on December 20 to spend Christmas with his family.
Huge backlog on rebooking
Airlines and travel agents are offering travellers rebooking options and refunds, but finding new flights is taking time.
January is a busy season for both inbound and outbound travel from Manila. There are an estimated 750,000 million Filipinos living and working in the UAE.
Josh Vasquez, area manager for UAE at Philippines Airlines, said the airline has started operating replacement flights to accommodate affected passengers.
“There were 280 passengers booked on our Dubai-Manila flight on January 1. Passengers were advised about the cancellation through email and were automatically rebooked to the next available flights free of charge.”
Philippines Airlines operate one daily flight between Dubai and Manila.
He said affected travellers have the option to convert their ticket to travel credits equivalent to the unused base fare, valid for one year. They can also rebook or reroute their ticket to another flight within 60 days or get a refund without penalties.
A staff member at Cebu Airlines, which has two daily flights on the Dubai-Manila route, said they are rebooking passengers on available flights.
“It is a heavy season, and we are doing our best to find alternative flights. But because of the heavy backlog, dates are not readily available for everyone.”