These two photos are part of a set that Baguio City's judo team took before they were supposedly blocked by Cebu Pacific to board their flight 5J635 to Puerto Princesa City on August 25, 2019. Right photo shows a young athlete getting her boarding pass from a check-in kiosk by the airline. (Photos courtesy of Baguio Judo Team)

Athletes and coaches of Baguio City’s defending champion team in the Batang Pinoy 2019 judo contact sport have filed a complaint against Cebu Pacific for missing their flight to Puerto Princesa City.

The complaint filed on August 25, the same day they were supposed to arrive in the city, was because their boarding gate was presumably changed by the budget airline without prior notice, said Sharon Kaybelle De Veyra in a phone interview with Palawan News.

De Veyra identified herself as one of the three coaches of the judo athletes.

All 17 members of the Baguio City judo team, including her and two other coaches, who will be participating and defending their title in the Batang Pinoy national championships failed to leave Manila at 6:30 a.m. via flight 5J635.

In an interview with Palawan News late Sunday evening, De Veyra said the incident transpired at the departure area of the NAIA Terminal 3 with Cebu Pacific.

De Veyra said they made sure to arrive early at the airport at 4 a.m. to avoid being late for their flight, but because there was no appropriate announcement that they had to change gate from 119 to 134, they failed to make it to their flight.

She said they patiently waited to board from 119 as indicated on their boarding passes but to their dismay, their boarding gate was changed at the last minute without proper notification.

“Nineteen kami during that time pero kasi ‘yong dalawa doon ay pang-8 o’ clock trip. Nandoon kami nakakumpol kami and then ‘yong screen sa harapan namin — I also took pictures of it — was a blank screen. Kasi hindi ba kapag mag-change ka ng gate, dapat merong tao silang dapat may dalang placard to tell us, pero wala, wala kasi ‘yon,” she said.

She said they were told “literally on the last minute”, and the only time they learned that the boarding gate changed was during the “last call”.

De Veyra said that when they were explaining this to a representative of the airline at the ticketing department, the “board remained blank” and they have pictures of it to prove their claim.

However, when they returned, the airline already has a representative holding the placard announcing the last call.

De Veyra said when they saw the placard notifying the last call, they all ran to their new boarding gate to make it.

“Tired and exhausted, we arrived exactly right on time of the last call, but the airline personnel refused all of us to depart and board our flight. The plane has not yet left and we were all there on the last call,” she said.

De Veyra said that a personnel also said it was “the passengers’ fault” for missing the flight.

In their complaint letter to the airline sent also on the same day, De Veyra said they were not paged and no staff came near them to inform.

“May narinig kami na parang ‘final call’ ganyan. Pagkatapos noong final call na ‘yon na Puerto Princesa… nagtakbuhan kami tapos pumunta kami sa 119 entrance kasi doon ‘yong gate namin. Hindi namin alam na nag-change din. Noong sinabi ko ‘yan, sinabihan kami na ‘ay, wala na po, hindi na kayo umabot’,” she said.

De Veyra also pointed out that they did not hear any first or second call.

She said during that time, they already heard their names being announced so they pleaded with the airline personnel at Gate 119 to coordinate to Gate 134 that they are on their way and to allow a little more time since they were with children.

But when they got to the lower level of NAIA Terminal 3, they were already hindered to board.

“During that time narinig na namin na mini-mention ‘yong name namin. I explained that doon kasi ni-re-refer na kami sa ticketing, I tried to explain that, sabi niya (airline personnel), ‘ma’am, yan na kasi ‘yong sinabi hindi naman namin kasi alam ‘yong nag-transpire’,” she said.

The airline personnel wrote at the back of one boarding pass, she said, that they need to go to the ticketing department.

“Sinulat ‘yon tapos nilayasan na kami,” she said.

Athletes devastated, tired, and disappointed

De Veyra said when they were at the ticketing area, they asked for a Cebu Pacific representative to speak with to ask for options.

But the only advice they were given was for them to book a new flight that will depart at 6:05 p.m. the next day, August 26, and pay P5,240 each.

“Ang sabi ko puwede bang may kausapin kami immediately na person para maaksyonan ito kasi desperate na, tapos sabi nila gawa kami ng email. Pero sabi ko, no, we need someone to talk to right now, it’s urgent matter, hindi lang ito basta flight — we’re competing,” she said.

De Veyra said the young athletes with them were all devastated, tired, and disappointed.

They “begged,”, but no consideration was given to them.

“These children are athletes, students who are dependent on their parents. They were all eager to bring home pride to their families and their city through the sports that they love. These are future Olympian hopefuls, aiming at bringing pride to our country someday. They saved up from their allowances so they can travel and compete,” the judo team also said in their complaint.

Borrowed credit cards to pay for new tickets

De Veyra said the P5,240 they are being asked each by Cebu Pacific to pay for rebooking was not a small amount.

Anxious to make it to Puerto Princesa to be able to rest and practice for their sports events on August 27, De Veyra said they and the children called their parents and friends to borrow credit cards and look for ways to get new airline tickets.

She said they all paid more than P87,000 for their new round trip Philippine Airlines (PAL) tickets, which is “a big burden to the children and their parents”.

“This is the sacrifice the airline burdened us with. Where are these children expected to stay while waiting for August 26, 2019? They booked an early flight so they can take a rest, condition their bodies for the upcoming tournament. But they were deprived!” their complaint letter said.

Cebu Pacific explanation

De Veyra said a certain Tonette Umerez of Cebu Pacific called them late Sunday night, telling them they will be refunded through “rebooking”.

“Ang sabi ko ang gusto namin refund kasi may babayaran na kami na bagong tickets na inutang, pero ang sabi niya ‘yong monetary parang malabo. Tapos sabi ko, ang other options hindi na namin i-la-lay sa table ‘yan kasi ang gusto namin makuha ‘yong refund na ipangbabayad namin sa na-book namin tomorrow (August 26),” she said.

She said upon learning this, Umerez had changed what she said about being refunded through rebooking and had told them instead that Cebu Pacific will investigate the matter within 24 hours.

De Veyra said they did not accept the rebooking option Umerez informed them about as what was offered was separate flights for all 17 of them.

“Hindi namin in-accept kasi ang option magkahiwalay pa na flights. Ang mga bata first time nilang lilipad, alangan naman na hiwalay. Kaya nga kami maraming evidence na kinuha to prove na wala silang announcement kasi first time ito ng mga batang lumipad,” she said.

De Veyra said if within 24 hours they did not receive any word or explanation from Cebu Pacific, they are going to pursue a case against Cebu Pacific.

She said they had already elevated the matter to the Philippine Sports Commission (PSC).

De Veyra said even the local government of Baguio City is already acting on the matter to help them.

“Yes, in-inform na rin namin ang PSC about sa nangyari sa amin at ang local government namin umaaksyon na rin,” De Veyra said.

Palawan News reached out Monday morning to Cebu Pacific corporate communications director Charo Lotgarta Lagamon for comments, but she said she was in a meeting.

“We are already in touch with the team po,” she said in a text message.