Travellers stuck in Asian airports due to flight disruptions after Manila air traffic control glitch

Passengers from Cebu Pacific Airlines to Manila and Davao are stranded at Changi Airport Terminal 4 after flights were cancelled on Jan 1, 2023. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI
Passengers wait for information about their flights at terminal 3 of Ninoy International Airport in Pasay, Metro Manila, on Jan 1, 2023. PHOTO: AFP
At least 56,000 passengers were affected as at 4pm on Sunday, according to the Manila International Airport Authority. PHOTO: AFP
Passengers look at a screen showing flight information at terminal 3 of Ninoy International Airport in Pasay, Metro Manila on Jan 1, 2023. PHOTO: AFP
Some flights were rescheduled, while others were turned back due to the restrictions on using Philippine airspace. PHOTO: AFP
Cebu Pacific Air said on its website that more than 230 flights were cancelled. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Mr John Paul Ambon has visited Singapore 13 times, but was met with a flight delay for the first time on Sunday when he wanted to return home to the Philippines.

“This is my first time getting stuck in Changi. Everything here is usually really easy,” said Mr Ambon, who arrived here alone on Dec 24 to visit cousins who work here.

Many travellers, like Mr Ambon, were stuck in airports in the region, including in Singapore, Japan and the Philippines, as flights were delayed, turned around, diverted or cancelled due to air traffic control issues in Manila on Sunday.

At least 56,000 passengers were affected as at 4pm on Sunday, according to the Manila International Airport Authority.

Mr Ambon was stranded in Terminal 2 after his Singapore Airlines (SIA) flight to Manila was delayed.

His flight was supposed to leave at 2.05pm but when he lined up to enter the gate, ground staff told passengers not to go in as it would be inconvenient to get out to use the toilets or seek food, he said.

He said passengers ended up mostly resting in lounges and chairs in the departure area. Some had been quite shocked when the delay was first announced at about 1.45pm.

Mr Ambon added that he also spoke to other passengers who had earlier left Singapore and were about to land in Manila around noon when they were diverted back to Singapore.

At about 5.45pm, he was notified that his flight was rescheduled to leave at 9.30pm and that no meal vouchers would be provided despite the long delay.

At Changi Airport on Sunday afternoon, The Straits Times observed groups of stranded passengers, some of whom were resting on benches and chairs looking slightly weary, while others were sleeping. Most were using their mobile phones to occupy their time.

Filipino businesswoman Darling Reterba, 52, said she was upset that her flight to Davao was cancelled, but added that it was no one’s fault.

Ms Reterba, who is here on holiday with her family of four, intends to wait in the airport until her rescheduled flight on Tuesday in the hope of getting an earlier flight.

“Since we’re tourists, we do not know where to go, so I might as well stay here and wait for an earlier flight,” she said.

The flight display board at Changi Airport Terminal 1 showing a delay for a flight to Manila, on Jan 1, 2023. ST PHOTO: SYAMIL SAPARI

The situation was no better for travellers elsewhere in the region.

A Singaporean who wanted to be known only as Lawrence, 67, and his family were stuck on the tarmac at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport for about two hours after their SIA direct flight to Singapore that took off at 9.20am local time on Sunday was turned around three hours later.

He said there was little explanation or announcement on the situation. He added that he was later told the flight would depart at 10.30pm. Passengers were allowed to disembark for food before boarding again later.

“They mentioned organising some food for us. I think SQ (Singapore Airlines) is trying its best, given the circumstances. I am actually glad to be on SQ and not other airlines,” said Mr Lawrence.

A traveller who wanted to be known only as Billy said many passengers were confused and anxious when they found out at the airport in Osaka that their Scoot flight was delayed to 10.25pm from the scheduled 6.30pm.

He added that ground staff did not provide much information, and eventually began checking in passengers. But he was unsure whether he should join them.

“What if the flights are further delayed and our bags are checked in?” said Billy, who is in his 50s and works in healthcare.

Filipino Jon V., who works in human resources, told ST that his Scoot flight was supposed to arrive at 3.35pm in Singapore, but returned to Tokyo’s Narita Airport midway through the flight.

He said the pilot announced that the plane could not pass through Philippine airspace. The pilot had tried to reroute through Taipei or Hong Kong, but was not allowed to as both air hubs were already overcrowded.

The plane landed back in Tokyo at around 3.30pm, and Scoot employees handed out water and bread.

Jon said he was also given a 1,000 yen coupon (S$10) for food, so he bought himself an extra snack from an airport shop.

He added that he was supposed to attend his brother’s birthday celebration in Singapore on Monday. At 6pm, his flight was confirmed for departure at 2pm on Monday.

Filipino Jon V said his flight from Narita Airport in Tokyo to Singapore returned to Japan midway through the flight. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF JON V

A Scoot spokesman said six of its flights between Singapore and the Philippines, Japan and South Korea were affected. Some were rescheduled, while others were turned back and had to be rescheduled due to the restrictions on using Philippine airspace. She added that more flights may be affected.

An SIA spokesman confirmed that several of its flights were impacted on Sunday, with some turning back to their points of departure, while others were diverted to alternative airports. Some scheduled flights are currently grounded, she said, adding that more flights may be affected.

A Jetstar Asia spokesman said five of its flights between Singapore and Manila and Clark International Airport in the Philippines were affected.

Philippine Airlines spokesman Cielo Villaluna said five flights were cancelled between Singapore and Manila on Sunday, out of more than 40 international flight cancellations and more than 130 domestic flight cancellations.

Three flights were diverted as a result of technical issues with the navigational air traffic management system for the Manila area, she said.

Cebu Pacific Air said on its website that more than 230 flights were cancelled, including three between Manila and Singapore, and two between Davao and Singapore.

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