Philippine Law: Violation of Airline Passenger Rights

by Geraldine Rullan-Borromeo
(Manila City, Philippines)

What do you do when you have a first class ticket and you are forced by an airline to move to the tourist section?

Worse, can an airline deplane you upon suspicion that your travel documents are fake?

Article 1755 of the New Civil Code provides that: “A common carrier is bound to carry the passengers safely as far as human care and foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of a very cautious persons, with a due regard for all circumstances.”

In the case of AIR FRANCE vs. RAFAEL CARRASCOSO, G.R. No. L-21438 (September 28, 1966), Rafael purchased a first class round trip ticket from Air France to fly for a pilgrimage to Lourdes on March 30,1958. In Bangkok, the Air France Manager rudely forced him to vacate the “first class” seat that he was occupying because a “white man had a “better right” to the seat. Rafael refused and told the Manager that “his seat would be taken over his dead body.” Since many of the Filipino passengers got nervous in the tourist class and came across to plead with Rafael, he reluctantly gave up his first class seat.

Rafael later on filed a case in a Manila court which upheld his rights and the case was brought up to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. The courts all held that the ticket, which is a contract to furnish a first class passage covering the Bangkok-Teheran leg, was dishonored with bad faith as Rafael was forced to leave his first class accommodation.

The courts rightly held that: “Passengers do not contract merely for transportation. They have a right to be treated by the carrier’s employees with kindness, respect, courtesy and due consideration. They are entitled to be protected against personal misconduct, injurious language, indignities and abuses from such employees. So it is, that any rule or discourteous conduct on the part of employees towards a passenger gives the latter an action for damages against the carrier.“

The 1966 decision of the Supreme Court awarded P25,000.00 as moral damages; P10,000.00, by way of exemplary damages, and P3,000.00 as attorneys’ fees for the inconvenience, embarrassments and humiliations Rafael suffered, causing him mental anguish, serious anxiety, wounded feelings and social humiliation.

Again, in JAPAN AIRLINES (JAL) VS. JESUS SIMANGAN, G.R. No. 170141 (April 22, 2008), the courts upheld the rights of a passenger under a contract of carriage. Jesus was to donate a kidney to his cousin, Loreto, in the U.S.A. He then purchased a round trip plane ticket from JAL. On the date of his flight, he checked-in at JAL’s counter and at the immigration counter where his plane ticket, boarding pass and his visa were examined. He was then allowed by JAL to board.

The turn of events began when JAL’s crew accused Jesus of carrying falsified travel documents and told him that he would only use the trip as a pretext to work in Japan. After the stewardess demanded to examine his travel documents, she arrogantly ordered him to deplane over his pleas and protests.

On the ground, Jesus was refunded the cost of his plane ticket less a deduction and was offered to be rebooked the next day after confirmed that his travel papers were in order. Jesus did not accept the offer and filed an action for damages against JAL with a Valenzuela City court, alleging that he suffered terrible embarrassment and mental anguish. The court decided the case in his favor and held that in “summarily and insolently ordering him to disembark while he was already settled in his assigned seat, JAL violated the contract of carriage which caused him embarrassment and besmirched reputation; and that when he was finally not allowed to take the flight, he suffered more wounded feelings and social humiliation.”

JAL’s attempt to rebook his flight did not relieve it from liability as the damage had been done to Jesus. Upon appeal, the Courts of Appeals cited Ortigas, Jr. v. Lufthansa German Airlines, (GR L-28773 June 30, 1975, and declared that “inattention and lack of care on the part of the carrier resulting in the failure of the passenger to be accommodated in the class contracted for amounts to bad faith or fraud which entitles the passengers to the award of moral damages in accordance with Article 2220 of the Civil Code.”

Again on appeal, the Supreme Court in a 2008 decision held that JAL was liable for P500,000.00 in moral damages, P100,000.00 in exemplary damages and P200,000.00 in attorney’s fee.

During the trial, however, JAL claimed to have suffered damages as Jesus caused the publications of his complaint against JAL in the newspaper. The courts further held that since JAL is a common carrier and it illegally bumped off Jesus, the publications involved matters about which the public has the right to be informed because they related to a public issue. The constitutional guarantee of freedom of the speech and of the press includes fair commentaries on matters of public interest was upheld and JAL’s claims for damages was denied.

Thus, once an airline issues a confirmed ticket to a passenger with a specified flight, class and date, a contract of carriage arises, and the passenger has every right to expect that he will board that flight, on that class and on that date. If any of these specifications on his ticket is changed, then the airline opens itself to a court action for breach of the contract of carriage.

“The breach of the contract of carriage creates against the carrier a presumption of liability, by a simple proof of injury, relieving the injured passenger of the duty to establish the fault of the carrier or of his employees; and placing on the carrier the burden to prove that it was due to an unforeseen event or to force majeure. “

These two cases illustrated that simply in a court action for breach of contract of carriage, all that is required of the passenger is to prove that he purchased a ticket and that the carrier failed to perform the conditions specified in the ticket.

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