By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat
Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) harvested a new wave of international awards and a historic foreign airline investor in 2019, even as Asia’s oldest airline transitioned to a new management with a laser focus on regaining financial profitability while maintaining top-quality customer service.
PAL took in its first foreign airline partner in February 2019 – All Nippon Airways (ANA) – through its parent company ANA Holdings, prompting the election of an ANA representative (Mr. Ryuhei Maeda) to the PAL Board of Directors.
Other changes in the Board include the appointment of Vivienne K. Tan, the daughter of Chairman Lucio C. Tan, as director. Ms. Tan concurrently serves as PAL Executive Vice President/Treasurer, representing the Tan family’s new leadership generation. The family mourned the untimely passing of namesake Lucio “Bong” Tan Jr., who had been appointed head of parent company PAL Holdings.
Business processing outsourcing (BPO) expert Gilbert Santa Maria was anointed as PAL’s new president in July, following the retirement of long-time head Jaime J. Bautista. Mr. Santa Maria is currently leading a digital transformation initiative to ensure that the airline’s needs are met by the most ideal technology solutions.
After re-certifying the airline’s 4-Star rating earlier in the year, ratings giant Skytrax announced that PAL won top honors as the World’s Most Improved Airline of 2019 based on a global survey of more than a million passengers. The US-based Airline Passenger Experience (APEX) association also rated PAL a 4-Star Major Airline for 2020, based likewise on customer votes.
In September 2019, PAL Express was included in the list of Asia’s Top 100 Best Employers – for its employee engagement efforts, while PAL’s stirring 2018 Christmas video “Regalo” bested eight other finalists to win two awards at the YouTube Ads Awards Philippines.
PAL was also cited as a “Talent Accelerator” for its trend-setting virtual reality (VR) training for cabin crew at the 3rd Annual IDC Digital Transformation Awards.
New aircraft were delivered in 2019: The last two Airbus A350-900s (dubbed Love Bus) – completing the long-range fleet – and a new 195-seat variant of the A321neo.
With a fleet of 97 aircraft, PAL was able to open regular flights to the capitals of Cambodia and Vietnam – five times a week to Phnom Penh and four times a week to Hanoi – as well as new domestic routes: Cebu-Zamboanga, Cebu-Dipolog and Zamboanga-Tawi- Tawi.
Among the product and service enhancements launched in 2019 was an upgraded Premium Economy experience available on A350 and selected A330 aircraft – so passengers can choose to sit in an intermediate private cabin between regular Economy and Business Class.
PAL also introduced a new automated passenger service system – Altea Suite by Amadeus – to enhance the process of booking, buying tickets, checking-in and boarding flights.
PAL will be 79 years old in March 2020.