By Fil C. Sionil
The country’s flag carrier and Asia’s oldest airline, Philippine Airlines (PAL) has been soaring high, amidst the bumps and turbulence in the industry.
It has gone a long way, now flying like a phoenix after its unceremonious closure due to labor problem years ago. As a loyal passenger of the flag carrier, I distinctly recall that I, too, was affected by the September 23, 1998, closure. I was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles, California, en route to Washington DC, to cover the World Bank-International Monetary Bank annual meeting. I booked Cathay.
I was already buckled up as instructed by the flight purser when another voice reverberated on the PA, requesting for indulgence for the last passenger to board. I was dumb-founded because, surprise of all surprises, the passenger was no less than the main man himself, tycoon Lucio Tan. At that very moment, my heart bled for him. Here was the owner of PAL taking another airline. As expected, a journalist never passes up an opportunity to get a story. Why was “Kapitan” – his term of endearment in the business circles – going to Hong Kong. Skeptical to respond at the onset, persistence paid off and in not so many words, Kapitan admitted that he, along with representatives of the national government was negotiating with Cathay for a temporary aircraft lease.
PAL was in a critical juncture of its operations back then. Already in dire straits, the closure exacerbated its financial condition. The management filed for financial rehabilitation. A lot has happened since then, almost 20 years ago. Today, PAL has retained its position in the domestic sector with a market share of 28.2 percent while AirAsia is inching-up, getting 17.86 percent
PAL is now cruising to reach the 5-star Full Service National Carrier from the 4-Star bestowed by Skytrax early in the year. The 4-Star status has opened up doors to join airline alliances – aviation industry agreements between two or more airlines to cooperate in order to facilitate passengers making inter-airline codeshare connections within countries. PAL President and Chief Operating Officer Jimmy J. Bautista shared with me the airline is carefully studying joining an alliance. “You do not apply to be a member of an alliance. It is by invitation.”
In his first-quarter townhall dialogue held last week, he reminded the airline’s workforce to sustain the momentum. There’s no room for complacency. The key words: Sustainability and consistency. “We need to sustain our 4-Star rating by delivering on our commitments to Skytrax such as business class duvet, group boarding cascade, business-class check-in enhancements, transfer process review, and new lounges or lounge enhancements. We should work to keep and deserve our 4-Star rating in all of our flights by delivering BPA (Buong-Pusong-Alaga) repeatedly, seamlessly, and consistently.”
To achieve its quest for a 5-Star status, a holistic approach is required–from passengers’ ease of travel to terminal modernization, comfortable lounges, cargo handling. More “innovations and product refinements” will be introduced.
PAL recently engaged Amadeus Technology to power up its 5-star journey.
Amadeus is a booking and travel management system and solutions provider that has been mobilizing the travel industry for 30 years. Amadeus will provide a complete Passenger Service System that will help PAL maximize bookings, make ticketing more efficient, and reduce processing costs.
As I mentioned earlier, there is turbulence in PAL’s fly path to the 5-stardom. One turbulent wind PAL is facing at the moment is the decision from Manila International Airport Authority on the pending airport rationalization program. PAL initially planned for a two-terminal set-up with Terminal 2 (T2) for domestic operations and T1 for international operations. Also, being considered is operation in T2 and T3. While PAL’S entire operations team is “working very hard to ensure our readiness and efficient working environments for both scenarios,” Mr. Bautista said, “this will have an impact on the new Mabuhay Lounges in the pipeline.” PAL has allocated some R60 million for this endeavor.
“We need to find out the optimum Mabuhay Lounge space needed for domestic business class passengers. We also need to find an alternate space for lounge operations in T3. Given this, we have placed Mabuhay Lounge enhancements in Manila on hold. In the interim, we are channeling our efforts to build new lounges for outstations,” the PAL COO said.
While there are dark clouds on the horizon, Mr. Bautista is forever optimistic. “Together with our partners in government and the travel industry, let us work even harder to focus on the customer, sustain our hard-won gains, be profitable, and make the next big leap to a 5-Star status by 2020,” he said.
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