Filipinos scramble to rebook or cancel holidays as direct flights home suspended

Philippines authorities say travel ban effective from May 15 until May 31

The Matanguihan family were looking forward to a reunion in the Philippines this month. Courtesy: Ruperto Matanguihan Jr
The Matanguihan family were looking forward to a reunion in the Philippines this month. Courtesy: Ruperto Matanguihan Jr

Filipinos who live in the UAE were unable to return homeas direct flights to the Philippines were suspended at the weekend.

Emirates and Etihad will continue to operate scheduled services to the country, but only for those transiting through the UAE.

The Philippines authorities barred the entry of passengers from the UAE and Oman from May 15 to May 31.

Filipino residents in the UAE who had plans to travel home for a holiday said they were unhappy with the news.

They had to decide whether to rebook for a later date or cancel their plans altogether.

When I called the customer helpline, the agent told me the outgoing flight was cancelled and the next available departure flight was for June 8, so I have booked that instead

Ruperto Matanguihan Jr

Dubai resident Ruperto Matanguihan Jr, 46, said he had not been home to Manila for two years.

“Initially, I had a flight booked from Dubai to Manila for April 22 with Philippine Airlines which was moved to April 25, then subsequently cancelled because of the cap on passengers able to arrive into the city,” he said.

“I paid Dh1,665 for that ticket and I am still waiting for a refund. I then rebooked a return flight from Dubai to Clark airport for May 28 on Emirates.

“When I checked my 'manage booking' on the mobile application, I saw that the departure journey was not showing, but the return journey was.

“When I called the customer helpline, the agent told me the outgoing flight was cancelled and the next available departure flight was for June 8, so I have booked that instead.”

Mr Matanguihan said he was desperate to see his wife, son and daughter and was distraught when his plans to travel home for a month-long break were cancelled for a third time.

The ban comes amid concerns in the Philippines over the new coronavirus variant first detected in India, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at the weekend.

Kim and Faith Gutierrez received an email to say their flight to Manila was cancelled. Courtesy: Faith Gutierrez
Kim and Faith Gutierrez received an email to say their flight to Manila was cancelled. Courtesy: Faith Gutierrez

Ellanie Villena, owner of Angel Wings International Tourism, a travel agency in Dubai, said her staff were working round the clock to deal with customer queries.

"Since the announcement was made we have had cancellations for 15 people that were due to fly to the Philippines from the UAE in the coming days," she said.

"We have also had to call 15 clients in the Philippines who were due to fly to Dubai and Abu Dhabi to inform them of the travel update.

"Depending on the ticket booked, some airlines will offer a refund, but most will allow passengers to rebook or keep an open ticket free of charge.

"We mainly deal with Emirates, Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines."

For human resources executive Maria Sierra May, 32, news of the travel ban was heartbreaking.

She was unable to travel home last year due to the pandemic and was hoping to see loved ones in Cebu this month.

“I paid Dh3,800 for a flight from Dubai to Cebu on Emirates,” the Dubai resident said.

“My original departure date was May 6, but I changed it to later in the month as the Covid-19 cases in the Philippines were getting worse.

“Now I have to change the date of travel again because of this new travel ban. It is disappointing but I didn’t want to risk trying to get a flight out yesterday then not be able to fly back to the UAE for work.

“Thankfully Emirates is allowing me to keep my ticket open so I can rebook for a later date, but right now I don’t know when that will be.”

Kim and Faith Gutierrez were hoping to fly home to Manila from Abu Dhabi at the end of the month to see their family after more than 18 months.

The couple originally had a flight booked on Philippine Airlines for March 27 but it was cancelled due to the cap on passengers able to fly into the country.

"We hoped second time around we would be lucky but the new flight we had booked for May 27 has also just been cancelled," Ms Gutierrez said.

"We paid more than Dh4,000 for the tickets so I am now trying to contact the airline to get a refund, but I don't think I will have much luck.

"It has been a pain trying to book, cancel then rebook annual leave from work, as many people want to go for their vacation.

"Right now it is best for us to stay in Abu Dhabi, as I don't know how the situation will end up because of Covid."

Both Emirates and Etihad said that passengers from the UAE and Oman would not be allowed on flights to Manila until further notice, and that it was working closely with affected travellers to notify them of changes to their itineraries.

Last week, the UAE barred entry to all travellers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, amid concern over new variants of the Covid-19 virus in the region.

The decision, which is still in place, affected incoming flights and all carriers, excluding transit services.

In April, authorities suspended flights from India to guard against the spread of the highly contagious Indian variant.

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Updated: May 16, 2021 01:18 AM

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