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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Every Juan Can Fly

While the public continues to express outrage over Cebu Pacific's mishandling of its holiday operations when 100 flights were delayed on Christmas Eve, today I thought it might be worth reflecting on the bigger picture. After all, it's the end of the year. And while in no way do I wish to defend Cebu Pac, I wish to point out that in fact the Philippines is in the midst of amazing growth in air travel as noted recently by the World Bank's Philippine Development Report.

Air passenger traffic has more than tripled in the past decade from over 8 million passengers in 2005 to almost 30 million in 2013. Yes, that's correct -- tripled. Domestic passengers went from 7.2 million to 20.3 million in the period while international travelers increased from 9.7 million to 17.3 million passengers.1
Source: World Development Indicators

Source: Civil Aeronautics Board

A major development has been that prices have dramatically fallen. Austria (2001) notes that a PAL flight from Manila to Cebu cost around Php 2000 in 1997. That same PAL flight now, if you check online, costs at most Php 2,270 for a February flight. So in real terms, that's a 46% decrease -- the equivalent price in 1997 amounts to Php 3,773 while it now merely costs Php 2,045 in 2010 prices. That tagline "Every Juan Can Fly" is increasingly becoming a reality.

Now I understand the terrible inconvenience Cebu Pacific must have brought on Christmas Eve, especially since many hold Christmas to be the single most important day of the year and Filipinos are known as migrants, living in many places in the country and abroad. I myself had a flight delayed for hours during a similar time last year and remember how I fumed.

But maybe this time we can spare a moment to take in a larger perspective and perhaps even be grateful. Only a few years ago, there would have been nothing to complain about. Many of us would not have had access to flight.

1. Note though that there appears to be some discrepancy over the total numbers reported by the World Bank and the Civil Aeronautics Board. I am in particular suspicious about that dramatic increase in the first figure between 2009-2010 but couldn't pinpoint what it is (a change in reporting methodology?). Nevertheless, the numbers remain astounding.