Friday, March 1, 2013

The Passenger Bill of Rights in Traveling in the Philippines (Atty. Jun Villegas)

With the yearly increase in the number of tourists, domestic and foreign, traveling in the Philippines, it is a must that the passenger must be informed of the basic rights given to any passenger traveling in the Philippines.

The moment a passenger buys a passenger ticket or a bill of lading for his cargoes and/or/baggage  or boards a bus, ship, or airplane, certain rights are already afforded to him.

Contract of Transportation is thus created.

Contract of Transportation is a contract whereby a person, natural or juridical, obligates himself to transport persons or goods, or both, from one place to another, by land, water or air, for a price or compensation.

A Contract of Transportation is imbued with public interest, and that is the reason why it is considered a public utility. As a public utility, the State has the power to regulate common carriers for public welfare and the common good. 

Common  carriers are persons, corporations, firms or associations engaged in the business of carrying or transporting passengers, or goods or both, by land, water or air, for compensation, offering their services to the public indiscriminately (Art. 1732 NCC). Shipping companies and airline companies are common carriers.

Noteworthy, the right to travel is guaranteed under the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, specifically Section 6, Article III provides - "xxx Neither shall the right to travel be impaired except in the interest of national security, public safety, or public health, as may be provided by law."

Moreover, the Philippines is a signatory to the right to travel  under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In line with the right to travel guaranteed under the Constitution, the Laws on Transportation and the rights of the consumer, the Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) have come up with what is called as "The Passenger Bill of Rights."   

The major rights are the following, namely -

A. Right to be provided with accurate information before the purchase

Purchasing a ticket in a travel agency or on-line is a contract. A contract is the meeting of minds between two persons  whereby one (the carrier) bounds himself with respect to the other (passenger), to give something or to render some service (transportation) (Article 1305, RA 386 Civil Code of the Philippines).

The law provides that consent (in buying the ticket) is manifested by the meeting of the offer and the acceptance upon the thing and the cause which are to constitute the contract. The offer must be certain (accurate information relative to the ticket) and the acceptance absolute (Article 1319, RA 386)

The law further provides that in case of interpretation of obscure words or stipulations in  a contract, it shall not favor the party who caused the obscurity (Article 1377, RA 386).

The ticket sold is in the nature of contracts of adhesion, i.e. contracts which are prepared by one party to which the other may "adhere" if he chooses but which he cannot  change. The rule specifically applies to bill of lading fro goods and plane and ship tickets.

Hence, in case of doubt, the doubt will be resolved against the shipping lines or airline which provided the the ticket.

Nowadays, there are some airlines offering promotions in order to sell their tickets and the passenger must be informed accurately and be very cautious in purchasing the ticket sold on-line.

B. Right to receive the full value of the service purchased

     1.Right to be Processed for Check-in

The passenger must bring the copy of the ticket. Airlines nowadays accept either the printed copy of the ticket and/or the electronic copy of the ticket by using their laptop, tablets or cellular phones. In case you do not have either of the two mentioned, the flight code is the other option.

During the check in procedures, the ticket itself, two (2) valid identification cards and the credit card used (if purchased on-line) are the usual things ask to be produced from the passenger.

Having all the things needed for the check-in, the carrier has no right to refuse the passenger. Unless of course the flight is cancelled and/or delayed.

     2. Right to Sufficient Processing Time  

The processing itself should not entail  a lot of time and burden on the part of the passenger. There are only two major reasons why a person travels. It is either business or pleasure. For a tourist, pleasure is the ultimate thing. And so the passenger should not be burdened with a anxieties and long queues. He must be afforded the adequate and sufficient processing time.

     3. Right to Board Aircraft for the Purpose of Flight

The right to board the plane/ship is an inherent right once the passenger buys the ticket and allowed to check in for the flight.

C. Right to Compensation

     1. Right to Compensation and Amenities in Case of Cancellation of Flight

Airlines offer certain options if the flight is cancelled such as re-booking of the flight to another day or month, reimbursement of the amount paid,  and/or paying for the hotel and food for the passenger. The passenger should read the terms and conditions stipulated at the ticket itself.

Cancellation of flight is normal during rainy season due to typhoons that frequent the country.

     2. Right to Compensation and Amenities in case of Flight Delay and Exceptions Thereto

Delay in the passenger's flight is the number one cause of stress in traveling.

Delay caused by a fortuitous event or by an Act God is excusable on the part of the common carrier. Examples of fortuitous events are typhoons, tornadoes, tsunami or poor visibility brought about by a fog or recurrent rains.

But if the delay is caused by mechanical problems or poor and inefficient service on the part of the common carrier. Then, the passenger has the right to complain.

Common practice on the part of the carrier is to offer food to the passengers for the delay and/or paying for the hotel stay of the passenger.

     3. Right to Immediate Payment of Compensation

                Damages recoverable from Common Carriers (MENTAL)

a. Actual or Compensatory damages – are adequate compensation for pecuniary loss suffered by a person as he has proven (e.g. – medicine, hospitalization expenses).
b. Moral damages – include physical suffering, mental anguish, fright, seriouos anxiety, besmirched reputation, wounded feelings, moral shock, social humiliation, and similar injury.
G.R. – Moral damages are not recoverable in breach of contract of carriage
                                                Exceptions –
a.       CC acted fraudulently or in bad faith, even if death does not result
b.      Where the  mishap results in the death of passenger

c. Exemplary or Corrective damages – are imposed, by way of example or correction for the public good, in addition to actual or compensatory, moral, temperate or liquidated damages.
d. Nominal damages – are adjudicated in order that a right of a person, which has been violated or invaded by the CC, may be vindicated or recognized, and not for the purpose of indemnifying such person for any loss suffered by him.

e. Temperate or Moderate damages – which are more than nominal but less than compensatory damages, may be recovered when the court finds that some pecuniary loss has been suffered but its amount cannot from the nature of the case, be proven with certainty.

f. Liquidated damages – are those agreed upon by the parties to a contract, to be paid in case of breach thereof.

                                                g. Attorney’s fees and Interest

     4. Right to Compensation for Delayed, Lost, and Damaged Baggage

If the delay, lost or damaged baggage can be attributed to the negligence and lack of care on the part of the common carrier, then the common carrier is liable. 

“Common carriers, from the nature of their business and for reasons of public policy, are bound to observe EXTRAORDINARY DILIGENCE in the vigilance over the goods and for the safety of the passengers transported by them, according to all the circumstances of each case  (Article 1733, NCC)"

“Common carriers, from the nature of their business and for reasons of public policy, are bound to observe extraordinary diligence in the vigilance over the goods transported by them, and this liability lasts from the time the goods are unconditionally placed in the possession of, and received by the carrier, for transportation until the same are delivered, actually or constructively, by the carrier to the person who has a right to receive them. (Sarkies Tours Philippines, Inc. v. CA, 280 SCRA 59, [1997]).

It is incumbent on the part of the common carrier to prove that it has exercised extraordinary diligence in order for to be exculpated or mitigated from its liability.  

     5. Right to Compensation in Case of Death or Bodily Injury of a Passenger

“A common carrier is bound to carry the passengers safely as far as human care and   foresight can provide, using the utmost diligence of very cautious persons, with a due regard for all circumstances. (Article 1755, NCC)

“The victim becomes a passenger from the moment he steps on the platform of the bus, and entitled to all rights as such, including the observance by the common carrier of extraordinary diligence.” (Dangwa Trans. vs. CA, 202 SCRA 574)

“The relationship ends when the passenger after reaching the destination safely alighted and had the reasonable opportunity to leave the common carrier’s premises, which includes the time to look for his baggage and claim them. (Aboitiz Shipping vs. CA, 179 SCRA 95; La Mallorca vs. CA, 17 SCRA 739)

Lastly, it is a must that the passenger must keep the passenger ticket and bill of lading for the cargoes. The ticket and bill of lading being the best evidence in order to recover damages against the common carrier.

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  3. Great post! Thanks for sharing this bill of rights!