When one of our kababayan (countrymen) is picked-on or becomes a victim of injustice, the rest of us rally behind them. This is the essence of being Filipino.
I was quite affected when I found out that the Los Angeles World Airport (LAWA), the airport authority that owns and operates the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), unilaterally decided to move all departing and arriving Philippine Airlines (PAL) flights from the main Tom Bradley International Terminal of LAX to the Midfield Satellite Concourse, effective tomorrow.
The Midfield Satellite Concourse, to which PAL flights will be transferred, is a separate building from the main terminal that can only be accessed via underground tunnel. This means PAL passengers will have to embark on a 20-minute walk from immigration and security clearance to the gates, and vice versa. Mind you, the kilometric walk will require passengers to navigate escalators and/or elevators as well as an underground tunnelway whilst carrying their hand-carried luggage.
Los Angeles is home to some 600,000 Filipinos-Americans and the direct flights between Manila and Los Angeles, via PAL, is one of the densest in terms of load factor. Records show that more than a third of all passengers for this route are senior citizens, 59 years old or older. Many of them have disabilities and are unable to walk more than 200 meters, let alone manage a 20-minute trek with their carry-on luggage on hand. Making matters worse is that the Midfield Satellite Concourse has little or no food outlets yet.
Without doubt, the transfer to the Midfield Satellite Concourse will compromise the travel experience onboard PAL, not only for senior citizens but for everyone. Upon further investigation, I found out that the air carriers mandated by LAWA to move to far flung gates are those that don’t belong to a particular air alliance.
Although LAWA informed PAL of its intention to move the airline to the Midfield Satellite Concourse back in 2017 and 2018, PAL never agreed to such an arrangement. It was a surprise for PAL to receive an advisory from LAWA that they were enforcing the move anyway.
The flag carrier has filed an official protest to challenge LAWA’s decision and is demanding a reversal. PAL argues that LAWA’s decision was handed down without its consent and without considering the needs of the elderly who comprise a third of PAL’s passengers. It was a decision bereft of humanitarian considerations.
LAWA responded by saying, and I quote: “The New Tom Bradley International Airport west gates make up a brand-new state-of-the-art concourse that is designed as a seamless extension of the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT). Therefore, the operational parameters of airline functions at the TBIT west gates are expected to be substantially similar to current practices for airlines operating at TBIT. The innovations and technology at the TBIT West Gates will enhance the overall efficiency and experience for guests and operators.”
On concerns about the el ders and PWD passengers, LAWA says it is committed to providing efficient transit of these passengers, mentioning the use of at least 12 terminal transport vehicles (buggies) that can transport four to five people at any time.
LAWA’s response simply tries to justify its decision. But it does not negate the fact that the new gates assigned to PAL are 20 minutes away on foot. Sure, the new concourse is state-of-the-art but it will still be a colossal inconvenience (and challenge) to Filipino passengers and those traveling to and from Manila.
LAWA is not budging on PAL’s appeal. This stings acerbically since PAL is both a historic and strategic partner to LAWA and the county of Los Angeles. It will be recalled that at the end of the Second World War, it was PAL that repatriated stranded American servicemen back to the US west coast. PAL did the same for the remaining servicemen stranded during the eruption of Mount Pinatubo and withdrawal of American military bases. The national carrier has been calling on LAX for 75 years (since 1946), without interruption, and has been a good “customer” to LAWA all throughout. PAL is the lone airline that offers direct service between the Los Angeles and Manila.
Last week, the Filipino-America community, led by Ethel Rubio, made an urgent petition to the Los Angeles City Council to intervene in the LAWA row. It is not certain yet what will come out of this request.
On behalf of PAL, I make an appeal to my old acquaintance, John C. Law, who is the Chargé of Affairs of the American Embassy in Manila. Surely the cultural, economic, diplomatic, and even familial ties that exist between the Philippines and the United States are far deeper and infinitely more important than the interest of an airline alliance.
The airlinks between Los Angeles and Manila is an umbilical cord that keeps this relationship thriving. It is foolhardy to stress that umbilical cord for commercial reasons or, worse, for the interest of that single airline alliance. It is not worth it, especially now that our relations are strengthening anew after the unfortunate (and hugely regrettable) statements made by our Chief Executive.
If only for the contributions of the Filipino community to American society, to its healthcare system, and to its economy, we ask that this undue burden not be inflicted upon PAL passengers. Your intercession, Mr. Law, will affect more than 300,000 Filipino passengers that fly to and from LA every year and will be deeply appreciated.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist
Facebook @AndrewJ. Masigan