New year, old problems

By: Anna Cristina Tuazon - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | January 05,2023 - 08:00 AM

Oh, what a start to 2023. Day 1 started with a Naia shutdown that stranded tens of thousands of passengers, not to mention risked the safety of planes within our airspace. And just yesterday, BPI’s system caused duplicate withdrawal transactions, causing panic among its account users. As of this writing, we have yet to see if they can resolve this issue safely and securely. And of course, the onion shortage continues, threatening to take red onions with it. (Needless to say, onions were the most welcomed and prized gift last Christmas.) The bus carousel also ceased to be free, and I am wary what its effect will be, given that the fare can now go as high as P75, at least three times the cost of the maximum MRT fare.

I’m writing all this, mindful that some people expect me to write something hopeful for the new year. What I feel to be more useful, rather than ideological optimism, is constructive realism. We need to quickly accept what’s broken, so we can fix it just as fast. The more we ignore a problem or passively wait for someone else to attend to it, the worse they can get and less likely for us to solve them. The more we see how interconnected our problems are, the more we can implement systemic solutions that work in the long run. Failing systems belie a lack of value toward maintenance.

Food and supply shortages show a lack of strategic coordination—the onion crisis was completely preventable if farmgate prices were closely monitored to prevent losses to farmers, agricultural land wasn’t being reduced below self-sufficiency levels that contributes to supply shortages, and distribution channels were eased and varied, which would have prevented monopolies of middlemen. The harder or more inconvenient it is for produce to get from farm to table, the more likely that corruption will take place. When systems are effective and efficient, there is no need for people to turn to fixers or people who can “grease the wheel” of bureaucracy. If transportation of goods and people were reliable, we wouldn’t be having most of our current problems.

Several of my relatives were set to fly back on New Year’s Day, only to have to wait for their canceled flights to be rebooked. They were apparently much better off than others since they were able to turn back and wait at home, as those who have already checked in were literally stuck at the airport because their bags couldn’t be released.

In fiascoes like this, we see plainly how the lack of adequate infrastructure made this scenario much worse than it needed to be. Air traffic management systems are crucial, not only for commercial or transportation reasons, but also for security. Therefore, this deserved multiple backup systems or redundancies, and under no circumstances should it be allowed to fail. Backup systems should have their own backup systems. Software and hardware should always be maintained and updated. Contingency plans should have been created in anticipation of all systems failing to minimize adverse consequences.

If cancellation of all flights and operations are unavoidable, there should be established procedures to protect passengers’ rights. In other countries, they are required to distribute food and drink if the flight is delayed a certain number of hours. For longer delays, airlines are required to provide hotel accommodations. Airports should have adequate basic needs facilities for stranded passengers, including for rest. Transportation in and out of airports become crucial here, as it allows passengers to have a choice to wait elsewhere, especially when the rebooked flights are scheduled for the next day.

In any crisis response, communication must be clearly established. My relatives couldn’t get ahold of their airline representatives as news spread of the system outage at Naia. Airlines and airports should provide frequent, regular announcements, both to allay concerns and to assure passengers that the problem is being addressed. Hotlines should be temporarily augmented for extraordinary events. Filipinos are sadly already used to unreliable systems and flight cancellations. What distressed the passengers more, however, were the seeming lack of care and urgency, as evidenced by the lack of clear communication.

Nothing stresses us more than receiving zero response in a crisis. We use psychological first aid (PFA) in crises because having someone get in touch with you and hearing your concerns go a long way in making a person feel safe. An essential component in PFA is the linking of the survivor to needed services. Showing that we take their concerns seriously, and we are taking meaningful steps to get them adequate care, helps them finally breathe and rest easy. I hope in 2023, we will finally learn to focus on fixing our systems.


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TAGS: 2023, New Year, passengers, planes
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