PR721 Reviewed

What does PAL have in economy class?

31 January 2014


From Houston, Texas I can't help but ponder why my employer booked me a flight to Manila via London in the United Kingdom? From my experience, it is the least ideal of all places to make flight connections and longer too.

The most ideal would have been from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) or San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport. And that is not even the end of my flight. I'm connecting to Palawan same day.

What's comforting is I'm not paying for the economy fare. It could have been better if I was on Business Class but my company appears to be having some financial difficulties sponsoring my flight, so it seems from the tickets I have.

A week before scheduled departure on January 24, our PR Department handed me a return ticket for a flight to Manila via British Airways (BA).

British Airways is a cool airline. So I thought for a while that BA is flying us to Manila. To my surprise, British Airways does not fly to Manila anymore.

My ticket said that I'll have my flight connections in London via Philippine Airlines (PAL), Asia's first airline.

We left Houston around 9 PM (Central) on board British Airways Boeing 747-400 under flight 196 bound to London's Heathrow Airport and we landed a day later at Terminal 5 about 12 noon time (GMT).

Like what I said previously, Heathrow is the most undesirable airport in the world to make flight connections. At least to the world I know. Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 is never a good mix.

BA makes Terminal 5 its home while PAL stays at Terminal 4 which is considerably far from the likes of Terminal 1, 2, and 3 which just sits adjacent to each other.

I made my way to the terminal across the runway, albeit underground, and that process almost took me one hour to complete the transfer. Incheon or Narita is still the best place for transfer if you ask me.

Terminal 4

By the time I arrived at Terminal 4 five minutes to one, the check-in counter was already open for a five thirty flight to Manila and I proceeded to checked in my luggage. That would have been easier had the company which sponsored my flights secured tickets from airlines with alliance partners. Unfortunately PAL doesn't have one. And this place is filled with "Sky Team" airlines. Makes me wonder about this blogs recent post.

Moving on, before heading back to the secured zone, I took some lunch at a fancied french cafe with a name that has something to do with color red and drown myself with a round of beer.

What is beautiful about Heathrow's Terminal 4 is that it possesses the best view of the airport far better than the rest of all the terminal so after all the security checks I went directly to my favorite place, the terminal's best kept secret near a coffee shop made famous by the British like the Filipinos do to an oversize bee, waiting for the sun to come down while enjoying the view. It was a lovely weather but I saw storm developing up north.

I was enjoying the view when Philippine Airlines Boeing triple seven cross my sight taxiing towards Terminal 4 quarter to four. It must have landed at 27R and it was 30 minutes late. 

Much as I was tempted to let you see the place, the better judgment tells me to let you experience the sights as not to spoil the fun.

There were plenty of vacant gates in front that time that I was confident PAL would dock one of them but then it decided to taxi farther east before turning right until the tail was gone from my sight. It could only mean one thing. More walking to be done. 

But having been at Heathrow several times exiting at various terminals, the walk in Terminal 4 is like a breeze compared to its counterpart across the runway where Emirates jumbo docks.

And much as I would like to stay longer in this area waiting for my flights boarding time, I need to find my plane loss somewhere at the back.

Traffic Numbers

I thought I was arriving a little bit early as their wasn't much passengers around. It was one hour before the flight and boarding should commence 15 minutes from my arrival at the gate. And then the localized thunderstorm brought fourth strong gusty winds and heavy showers causing the loading in the planes belly to stop while workers ran for cover and then boarding times changed from 4:45 to a much later time.

That was the first time a saw a big plane actually moved like dancing to the beat of the howling winds with its feet firmly on the ground.  Of course its designed to fly.

According to PAL website, their Boeing 777-300ER has a seating capacity of 370 passengers, including 42 Business Class.

A small chit chat from the boarding crews gave me insights as to how the flight to Manila has been performing. A good summary of it actually.

They have poor traffic numbers in November, about a third of the planes capacity, a fully booked flight in the whole month of December and a full return flight to the UK until the third week of January.

As for today's flight, its barely a third as it booked 100 passengers for economy class. Its business class however was more than half full with 24 seats taken. I took liberty to count the expats from the Filipinos and they were closed to a fourth numbering about 26 of them. Sad reality for a traffic figures but the loads reflect the seasonal variations of the route. This route faces a possible A340 downgrade in the coming months.

There were also middle-aged Caucasian couples going with us for a holiday, a handful of them. Another one I sat beside was going to Manila for a University lecture about urban development while a younger chap is meeting his Filipina girlfriend who hails in Baguio but resides in Tondo. There was also a young lady from a place north of London heading for Tacloban for some government work. And another one, to my surprise, heading to the land down under. He got his wife in tow and he said his got the best fare deal ever offered by any airline as long as he can remember and he couldn't in his conscience let the opportunity pass. An impromptu holiday at less than a thousand pounds truly is amazing!

Usual Delays 

Boarding was announced around 5:30pm, 45 minutes late from the actual scheduled time, and we waited inside the plane for another 30 minutes due to four missing passengers. Its just crazy when passengers loiter around cafes instead of the holding areas.

Whatever the reason is for not being at the gate on time, I think its about time to fly. The airline was already late for 45 minutes. It could have been less had all passengers been accounted for 15 minutes from boarding. 

Funny, the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system doesn't work while the plane is at the ground. There was also no headphone given at this stage of flight. So don't bother asking because the flight attendant would not accede to your demands even if you play cute or desirable.

In the meantime, content your time reading and grab the in-flight magazine, "Mabuhay". Because you have no other choice of entertainment if you happen to sit in the middle. It does contain a movie guide with the latest show premiered sometime in October 2013. They do have an extensive library of films, almost a hundred of them, to satisfy your viewing pleasure for the 13 or so hours flight. None interesting except the three movies I plan to watch later, and possibly some soothing music to get me to sleep. And then I realized that this airline has connections to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin few hours later after our arrival in Manila. That explains the presence of the couples heading to Australia.

I also grabbed some Philippine newspapers to browse around, killing some boredom so to speak. The "Philippine Daily Inquirer" and "Philippine Star", are two of the foremost broadsheet in the country, which by the way is already history as it was dated a day before and was brought by the same plane from Manila.

Finally push-back was had at 6:03pm and we are at the active around 6:16pm which is fast because we were just adjacent to the departure runway.

At holding climb altitude 15 minutes from departure, the headsets were given and five minutes later the IFE started working for the entire 13 hours duration of the flight. I must advice you that this IFE will turn off again 30 minutes before landing.

The disembarkation and customs card was distributed 2 minutes after, then at 6:40 GMT dinner was served. Our first of three meals for the duration of the flight. Don't be surprise to find that they don't have menu on board.  So no chance of finding what is there in the kitchen.

According to the flight attendant only business class has this privilege of reading as we are offered only two sets of dishes so no menu service, which is kind of odd because other airlines do notify you of the food choices they have. Even if there are only two. Now the after taste.

The Food and the stuff

Like what I said there were only two food choices for the economy. Since the review is all about the economy class then I should confine myself to the services PAL offers for this flight to Manila.

Choices available are  "Pork Barbeque with rice" and "Beef Kebab with potatoes". That's it.

Having lots of potatoes in the other fight, I settled for the Pork and this is what they have. Beneath the rice are two carrot sticks and some green beans, and the gravy for the barbeque too.

There you have a set of vegetables, protein meat, and some carbohydrates from rice. A complete sumptuous meal for dinner. For the vegetarians, there was always the potato salad with the plump tomato.

Contrary to other review by Matt Wilkie,  I did find the butter in the meal.

And this coke can is sold only in the Philippines. Well, PAL aircraft is an extension of the Philippine territory so technically I'm in the Philippines already.

The Beckeberry's for dessert is however made in the UK and I guess the butter too. I'm not sure about the bread as there is no label on it other than its expiry date. I would definitely say that there are better fresher breads offered by other airlines.

Collection of food trays were unusually fast on this one, possibly due to the fact that we are a third fewer.

The next meal came six hours later at 00:45 GMT. It was actually early morning outside the window as we cruises over Jaipur in India which is kinda strange because were supposed to hover around Russia at this time but it seems PAL is flying a different airways on this route. Could the 75mph tailwind helped?

Prior to breakfast we were given a pair of hot refreshing cloth towelettes or the alcohol laced paper ones to wash our faces and disinfect our hands followed by offers of tea or coffee and I gladly settled for the latter. I was thinking why we were not given similar towelettes before dinner time?

For breakfast we were given again two choices, "Bacon with egg", and "Chicken with rice". I opted for the former and this is what they got. Same dinner bread, fresh fruits, a tasty soft bread with strawberry fillings, and of course the small butter.

I was hoping to try the corned beef with rice but I think they were available the other way around. You can also settle for orange or apple juice if you like but I'm contented with coffee.

Lunch was served over Udon Thani in Thailand just below Vientiane, Laos capital around 5:00 GMT.

Choices for lunch were "Pasta with chicken" and "Stir fry with Beef".

Having no clue as to which is the better meal I ordered Stir fry and this is what they gave me, a delicious butter cookie, a couple of grapes, and the usual bread again with butter.

The stir fry doesn't taste good as it was bland and dry. In the middle was a spicy very hot ketchup. I didn't have a clue of what it is for, whether to mix it with the noodles or not. I could not even understand the taste.

So I settled eating the tenderize beef soaked in soy sauce. This part of the meal is palatable.  

Choice of wine was likewise limited for this economy flight and I got myself soda as well.

And I said previously that soda on board were made in the Philippines. What a mistake it was as this one was made in the UK. There were no other delectable treats afterwards other than this cookie which definitely was made in the UK.

For a Bi-class airline, food is comparatively better and I would gladly rate this airline at 3 on 5 star rating. Which is more like similar to those provided by Skytrax. I would like to think that they need to provide menu to all passengers, like any other airlines do.

In-Flight Entertainment System

I am not a movie buff but I certainly watch movies every now and then. PAL doesn't possess an extensive library but they do have some interesting classics worth watching.

If you are expecting newest movie releases then prepare to be disappointed as they don't have the newest blockbuster movies to see around, like the "Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", "Wolf of Wall Street", "Mitty" or the "American Hustle" which were still doing runs at cinema.

I did say that I'll settle watching three movies during the flight but in reality I barely managed to
see two of them. Perhaps because my body was tired already moving halfway around the globe in opposite direction.

I did watched RED 2 by Bruce Willis and John Malcovich after dinner before retiring to a nice soothing music by John Williams, Alan Silvestri, and company.

This radio channel offers scintillating movie soundtracks far better than any other airline I know. Perhaps there are others but definitely not this good, sleeping wise.

I did remember they played this channel at embarkation time and it was very pleasant to hear.

Some might not find this kind of music very interesting so the airline managed to load the likes of "Justin Bieber" or British pop sensation "One Direction" to suit ones taste in music.

Another radio station offers the best of 70's which I gladly listened after breakfast and put me back to sleep again.

What you might hear now from today's artist might be a re-make. Sometimes when you thought the music you hear now are brand new when in fact they were hits back.

There are other 12 channels to suit your listening pleasure.

It was already over Thailand airspace that I watched my second movie "About Schmidt" a 2002 comedy drama starring Jack Nicholson, before I realized that I'm not gonna finish this movie which is two hours long. Well, its not exactly new but I did not saw this movie before.

It is indeed a fitting tribute to end this review knowing that perhaps it might make a difference to first time travelers from London to Manila and back. And if this might help in your future travel, there is no OnAir internet services on RP-C7777 and RP-C7776. All the other triple sevens however have it. Its possible that it might be installed in the future.

There is also a nice trip report made on the same day on the opposite direction, PR720 and the amenities PAL offers for Business Class travelers.

Our flight landed at Manila Airport on time at 7:41 GMT and we were at Gate S36 five minutes later.

Bukidnon International Airport Pushed

29 January 2014

By Imee Charlee C. Delavin

Two Lawmakers are urging the establishment of an international airport in Central Mindanao to support economic development in the area.

In a statement released yesterday, Cagayan de Oro (second district) Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez said: that the construction of an airport for Central Mindanao and Bukidnon “will provide great opportunities for industries in which direct access to either air cargo or passenger flights is of importance”.

The proposal is contained in House Bill (HB) 3106, filed last Oct. 7 by siblings Mr. Rodriguez and Abante Mindanao (AbaMin) Partylist Rep. Maximo B. Rodriguez, Jr.

In HB 3106, Messrs. Rufus and Maximo Rodriguez proposed the establishment and construction of an international airport -- to be known as the Mindanao Central International Airport -- in the area bounded by Damulog, Bukidnon, in the north; Antipas, North Cotabato, in the east; Carmen, North Cotabato, in the south; and Alamada, North Cotabato, in the west.

HB 3106 was referred to the House Committee on Transportation on Oct. 14 for consideration.

The Cagayan de Oro representative said that building the airport “would make it easy for farmers and producers of different produce to transport their products to anywhere in the country and would also provide additional business, investment and employment opportunities.”

“Given its very strategic location, it would now be more accessible to nearby countries like Brunei, Indonesia and Malaysia, which allows it to establish trade relations,” he added.

He also said that Bukidnon -- a landlocked province in Northern Mindanao -- is considered the food basket of Mindanao and is a major producer of rice and corn in the region.

However, he noted that there are no airports in the province.

“For many of these provinces, the nearest airport is the Laguindingan Airport in Cagayan de Oro City, which is considerably far from the center of Mindanao,” Mr. Rodriguez said.

He added the island group’s major airports in Davao, General Santos and Cotabato Cities are coastal airports and quite far from Mindanao’s center.

“Thus, it becomes difficult for tourists and would-be tourists to go to the various tourist sites and attractions that the region has to offer”.

Central Mindanao, also known as Soccsksargen, is composed of the provinces of North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and Sarangani.

The National Statistical Coordination Board lists Cotabato City as a component city, though it is physically located in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao

ANA Closes deal with PAL

23 January 2014

Star Alliance member Air Nippon Airways (ANA) of Japan has agreed to take the minority stake of Philippine Airlines, asia's first airline."We hope to close a deal maybe in the next 30 days," PAL president Ramon S. Ang said at the launch of the elevated expressways project linking northern and southern Metro Manila dubbed as Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3. At stake is the 51% interest of the Lucio Tan group but the sale will involved only 40% interest while the remaining 10% is expected to be sold to the public.

CEB's Long Haul Future Dim

22 January 2013

Cebu Pacific’s performance on the long haul route proved to be dismal on its first month of operation to the middle east after the airline registered average load factor of 36% only despite nine months of marketing lead time.  

In a disclosure to its stockholders, Cebu Pacific said that it carried about 10,000 passengers to and from Dubai during this period short of the 27,000 the airline was expected to carry. Although it reported better figures for November and December, typical peak travel time for the Filipino migrants in the Middle East to the Philippines, the subsequent months booking proved to be a challenge despite low fares.

Its forward bookings for the first quarter of 2014 were weak, with only 20% of available seats sold prompting the airline to reduce daily frequency to five times a week beginning on the last week of January until March.

Cebu Pacific flew 14.35 million passengers in 2013 (11.04 million were domestic, up an annual 7.6%, while 3.31 million were international, 10.7% higher on year.), up 8.3% from the previous year. The airline was targeting 15 million passengers in 2013.

Analyst suggest the low turnout to be cause by  huge seasonal fluctuations and market conditions of Filipino migrant workers whose ticket purchasing is done through their labor contractors. Only few of these workers purchase their tickets independently and fly low cost airlines.

The airline saw profit fall 70.8% to P664.081 million as of September last year from P2.274 billion in the same nine months in 2012.

France Agrees Daily Flight To Paris

16 January 2014

France has agreed to grant the Philippines with seven weekly flights between Manila and Paris.

Civil Aeronautics Board Executive Director Carmelo Arcilla said the Philippines requested 14 frequencies from the French authorities but Paris granted only seven for now, an increase from the previous four it allowed in 1969.Philippine Airlines (PAL) cancelled the route in 1998 due to the Asian financial crisis while Air France cancelled the route in 2001.

Arcilla who represented Manila in the three-day talks in Paris disclosed that France agreed on third-country code sharing for Air France and KLM on the Paris-Manila route via Amsterdam.

The code share agreement means that Air France can operate from Paris to Manila via Amsterdam, using KLM as operating carrier while Philippine Airlines is the operating carrier from Manila.

The talks with France gives the AirFrance- KLM group 14 frequencies to Manila but without Air France coming over. KLM currently operates to Manila via Taipei.

PAL will enter mainland Europe initially with seven flights alternating between Amsterdam and Paris weekly this summer. The airline has operated direct flights to London since November last year. It plans to launch flight to Frankfurt and Rome also this year.

Airbus Military Bags PAF Cargo Aircraft Deal

C-295 to Compliment C-130s

15 January 2014

The Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) declared on Monday that Airbus Military has been selected as the  lone eligible bidder to the Philippine Air Force (PAF)'s medium-lift aircraft acquisition programme, edging out other bidders, PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PTDI)'s CN295 and Alenia Aermacchi's C-27J offers.

Under the contract, Airbus Military will supply three C295 twin-turboprop tactical transport aircraft and spare parts worth PHP5.288 billion (USD118 million) to the Philippine Air Force.

Defense Assistant Secretary Patrick Velez said that the first aircraft is expected for delivery within 12 months or as early as December 2014.

Secretary Velez said that earlier delivery schedule by the end of the year was aided by the Indonesian Government after it offered to transfer their delivery slots of the same C-295M model to the Philippines.

Indonesian Air Force's ordered 9 aircraft of the same variant in 2012 which is built by Indonesian Aerospace, an EADS subsidiary. The Philipine Airbus Military plane order will be also be assembled at EADS plant in Indonesia.

The C-295, a further development of the commercially successful Spanish – Indonesian transport aircraft CASA/IPTN CN-235, made its maiden flight in 1998 with the first order coming from the Spanish Air Force.

It is also in service with the Armed Forces of 14 other countries. As of 31 March 2013, 121 C295s have been contracted and 94 are in service, two were lost in an accidents.

Operators of C-295 includes Algeria, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Mexico, Oman, Portugal, and Spain.

PAF Acquires 21 more UH-1s

14 January 2014

The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has acquired 21 additional Huey helicopters from two North American firms valued at USD30 million.

US-based Rice Aircraft Services and Canada-based Eagle Copters have won the bid to provide 21 refurbished UH-1 Huey combat utility helicopters to the Philippine Air Force.

Air Force spokesman Col. Miguel Okol said the combat utility helicopter would boost their disaster response and security capabilities.

They are scheduled to arrive in June 2014.

5J To Take Delivery of 3 Airbus 330 For ME & OZ

9 January 2014
Budget carrier Cebu Pacific is taking delivery of three more Airbus A330s this year for destinations to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Australia.

Cebu Pacific will begin flights to Doha and Dammam by the second quarter and Riyahd and Jeddah by third quarter of this year says airline executive Lance Gokongwei.

Mr. Gokongwei said an aircraft will be delivered every quarter, starting April that by year end the airline will have five Airbus 330-300 on their fleet. 

The airline intends to fly Melborne by October this year making its first debut to Oceanea.
Cebu Pacific began its Manila-Dubai service last October 7 starting the airline's first long haul flight to the Middle East.

5J In Talks With Tiger Airways for Buyout

2 January 2014

The 6th largest LCC carrier in Asia Pacific  is buying the Philippine unit of Singapore-based Tiger Airways, an official of the Transport Ministry confirmed today.

Transport Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya confirmed the buyout offered by Cebu Pacific.

On the negotiating table is the majority share of Southeast Asia Airlines (SEAIR), operator of Tiger Airways Philippines headed by Tomas B. Lopez. The remaining 40% share is owned by Roar Aviation II Pte Ltd. of Singapore, the holding unit of Tiger Airways. 

The negotiation sale when completed will be the second dual-brand strategy implemented by Tiger Airways after successfully negotiating similar deals with Virgin Australia.

The consolidation would see both airlines working together in slot assignments and/or reallocation of flight entitlements to maximize their operations at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Cebu Pacific operates from Terminal 3 while Tiger Airways operate at Terminal 4.

Tigerair Philippines operates a fleet of 5 Airbus A320 aircraft.

Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines has acquired a further 7.3% interest in Tiger Airways Holdings, parent company of Tiger airways, increasing its stake from 32.7% to 40%.  Cebu Pacific's fleet is maintained by Singapore Airlines subsidiary SIA Engineering.