KUALA LUMPUR: Although it was the first established airline in the region, Philippine Airlines (PAL) has experienced ups and downs in its 78-year history – but now hopes to re-establish itself as a forerunner to those travelling to key cities in North America.
PAL’s chief commercial group adviser Datuk Bernard Francis recounted that PAL was also the first airline to offer full-fledged skybeds on board its Boeing 747s, the first Asian airline to traverse the Pacific Ocean with trips to the United States, the first to fly from South-East Asia to Europe, and the first to recruit female pilots.
The only Malaysian in the PAL Filipino team, Francis started in YTL Corp Bhd before branching off into aviation; in AIRASIA and Malaysia Airlines, where he brought new ways from a different industry to develop business in aviation.
Francis explained that as a national carrier, PAL had to face the country’s politics and economy of the day. What started as a model airline in Asia endured challenging years due to political turmoil, funding and the financial instability of the 1990s.
Under the helm of current chairman Lucio Tan, who bought over the airline in 1995, PAL announced in 2016 its commitment to upgrade from a three-star airline to five stars by 2020.
Currently, the airline has a fleet of 90 aircraft with an average age of less than five years. It has 10 Boeing 777s, four new Airbus A350s with two more to come, 16 Airbus 330s, six long-range A319s, and the normal A320s. Servicing the domestic routes are five Bombardier Q400 turboprops from its expanding Clark, Cebu and Davao hubs. PAL currently flies 14 times a week, which means two flights a day, to Los Angeles and 14 times to San Francisco.
It travels five times weekly to New York via the John F Kennedy International Airport, with daily trips to Toronto and Vancouver.
Starting April this year, PAL plans to increase its flight frequency and capacity to Los Angeles to 17 per week and New York to seven daily with the brand new A350. It is one of the longest flights in the world at 16½ hours direct from the Philippines.
Here is where Francis sees opportunity: “Currently, there are no airlines in Asia – except Singapore Airlines – that fly to the United States directly.”
And while PAL is first and foremost an aircraft service for Filipinos, as there are about 10 million of them living overseas, it sees itself poised as the gateway to North America from South-East Asia.
It is also positioning itself in the United States and Canada as the preferred carrier to South-East Asia.
The aircraft are fitted with a state-of-the-art inflight entertainment system, like the myPAL eSuite personal TV on board and the myPAL Player inflight streaming app with a wider selection of movies, music and TV shows. It also offers free Internet access via myPAL WiFi on selected international routes.
PAL offers a world-class inflight dining experience with halal menus available and seeks to introduce signature Filipino delicacies and more in collaboration with top Filipino chefs.
The Business and Premium Economy experience has also been redefined to provide only the finest-quality products and services to its premium passengers from the introduction of full-flat Business Class seats aboard the new B777s, the new Premium Economy Class in its A330s, noise-cancelling earphones in long-haul flights, and the rollout of luxury brands even in lavatories on ground and inflight.
“Malaysians can soon expect more daily flights and by April, PAL will fly 11 times a week to the Philippines, where they can take advantage of PAL’s network of flights to continue to North America, Japan or China, where we have routes other airlines don’t even fly to, such as Jinjiang,“
He said the Philippines is an English-speaking country, which takes the worry of being lost in translation out of the equation when Malaysians engage with the cabin crew.