By Jenina P. Ibañez, Reporter

CASH-STRAPPED airlines owe nearly P1 billion in ticket refunds for canceled flights during the pandemic, travel agencies said.

The Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA), which has 439 members, issued the estimate of receivables due to agents as well as consumers.

“The usual refund time — without the pandemic — is about one to two months for airlines to refund the actual money. Since March, all the refunds that we have requested to airlines have not been processed,” PTAA Executive Vice-President Jhaytee Wong said in a television interview Thursday.

The agencies in a previous statement said the refunds were due from 27 airlines, including domestic carriers Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and Philippines AirAsia.

“The problem is, we as travel agents, are having a hard time explaining to our clients because it’s already almost six months and we haven’t been refunding them. And it’s hard for us to shell out money for refunds… the funds are with the airlines, not the agents,” Mr. Wong said.

In a statement sent on Viber, Philippines AirAsia said that the airline has been receiving more than the usual volume of refund requests during the pandemic.

“We continue to do all we can to best assist any guest affected by a disrupted service during this period and thank them for their patience,” the company said.

“AirAsia understands the urgency of customer queries relating to the current health situation and any changes to their travel plans. The company has made it a priority to persistently work with various partner organizations, including banks and travel agencies, to immediately address guests’ concerns.”

With aviation among the hardest hit businesses during the pandemic, Cebu Pacific said it is still behind its capacity forecast despite restarting commercial flights in June. The company said it is operating 10% of its pre-pandemic network.

“Given the high number of flight cancellations, refund requests continue to rise and pile up day by day. This unprecedented volume has caused a backlog in the system, resulting in processes taking longer than expected. As of now, refunds take about five (5) months from the date it was filed,” Candice A. Iyog, Cebu Pacific vice-president for marketing and customer service, said in a mobile message.

“We assure our partners and customers that we are still here, listening, and doing all we can to expedite the refund process.”

Philipine Airlines has not responded to requests for comment.

Only 20 of the PTAA’s members continue to operate, catering to overseas Filipino workers and seafarers.

“Currently, all the members are hanging on. They’re waiting until the end of the year to make a decision if they’re going to close permanently or they will continue to be temporarily closed,” Mr. Wong said.

The Tourism Congress of the Philippines last month said that the tourism industry had lost P190 billion in revenue during the five-month lockdown so far.