Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Shout-Out To Philippine Airlines, My Home In The Sky

I know that Philippine Airlines (PAL) may not be among the best airline in the world nor ranked as one of the safest but, so what?  It will always be my home in the sky when flying around the country and it's neighboring nations.  I have always had a fear of flying but have always felt safe and secure when flying with PAL. Also, I have never had a negative experience with them except maybe for occasional delays. Even when I got stranded in Cebu during Typhoon Frank in 2008, my only complaint was the lack of information.  The ground staff did the best they could amidst all the chaos, unlike the other airlines whose staff would disappear in times like this. This is why I always fly PAL except for the very rare occasions when my tickets were purchased for me and even then, I would always request for PAL, and with good reason.

Last June 17 I flew to Manila for a training seminar and the ticket purchased for me was that of AirPhil Express. I was a bit disappointed but relieved when informed that Air Philippines has merged with PAL.  Thank God for small blessings!  The plane we would be riding would still be PAL (same PR number as the regular flight) except that we have less baggage allowance. We were delayed for about 20 minutes but this was a small inconvenience compared to that other airline which was delayed for more than 2 hours!   On my return flight the following Sunday, we arrived in Bacolod about 25 minutes early...way ahead of schedule.  Although it's budget fare is still a bit more expensive compared to the others especially for domestic travel, still no other local airline can match PAL in terms of reliability, safety, convenience and customer service.  

The very few times I took a trip overseas, I flew with Cathay Pacific and PAL.  I can't really compare them since I am not a seasoned traveller, except maybe during that time, Cathay had a bigger plane and older flight attendants (though that was more than 10 years ago).  Which brings me to wonder why during my 2009 trip to Singapore the flight attendants of PAL looked as old as those that Cathay had? Is that a practice among airlines to put their older looking attendants on short-haul international flights...or maybe there are more FA's in PAL nearing retirement age?   But older age notwithstanding, the FA's were charming and friendly (except for one who looked a little exasperated...heheh) and food service was quick.   

The Ideal FA (photo retrieved from PAL website)

When I fly I choose an airline based on two major criteria: safety and experience. Of course, ticket price is also a consideration but a minor one compared to those two.  By stating only these two factors, it is obvious that I don't do air travel that lasts for hours on end, otherwise there would surely be more factors to contend with. But my tolerance for air travel is approximately 3 hours, the reason why I have not gone to countries outside of Asia.  And this, I guess is why I really don't care about flight amenities or food because I would rather catch up on sleep during the entire flight.   

PAL has been around since 1941.  It is the first and oldest commercial airline in Asia.  Since 2006,  it has complied with internationally accepted safety standards, including the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) and audits by major foreign aviation regulatory authorities. PAL is the only IOSA-certified Philippine carrier for four years now.  Moreover, regular maintenance of the PAL fleet is undertaken by Lufthansa Technik Philippines, a subsidiary of Lufthansa Technik AG of Germany, the world’s leading provider of maintenance, repair and overhaul services for commercial aircraft, engines and components.  

"PAL's pilots and crew are one of the best in the world".  This statement was made after a PAL flight from Manila to LA in August 2011 made an emergency landing when it was discovered that two of it's tires were busted.  That is no wonder since PAL Airlines maintains training facilities both for its pilots and other crew, composed of the PAL Aviation School, the PAL Technical Center, and the PAL Learning Center. 

photo retrieved from PAL website
Let me share three of real-life experiences about why I feel safer riding PAL than any other domestic airline. For more than 10 years my cousin was an international flight attendant for PAL and she can attest to the really intensive training on safety and service that the flight crews get from PAL.  This served her well during one harrowing experience early on in her career.  In the early 80's, when she was still flying domestic and they were on their last leg for the day (Davao-Manila) the plane suddenly lost altitude and continued to drop! The oxygen masks started falling and for several seconds it seemed like this was the end.  The crew were all so scared but they never panicked. My cousin told me that it was difficult keeping composure especially when the passengers were all screaming for help. She said they could not do anything while the plane was dropping, but once the plane stopped falling and settled at 10,000 feet, the crew immediately got to their feet and checked on all the passengers, seeing to their needs and assuring them.  I believe that the good training of the pilots saved a disaster from happening. It was a close call because once they landed, it was found out that there was a small leak (?) somewhere in the plane.

I have two personal experiences with the way PAL handles an incident on the air.  First was in the late 70's when I flew to Iloilo City mid afternoon with my grandmother and brother to be with our youngest brother who was scheduled for brain surgery early the next morning.  The plane was not full and our seating was changed,  perhaps to achieve better balance for the plane. Anyway, it was good weather when we left Manila and the ride was smooth until sometime in between. I remember that I stood up to check on my grandmother when suddenly the plane literally fell a few meters.  The fasten seatbelt signs went on, and from then on the ride became very bumpy.  It was cloudy and almost zero visibility when we reached Iloilo. The pilot circled around thrice, but then he decided it was too risky to land, and flew to Cebu instead for refueling.  It was early evening when we got there, and were offered an overnight accommodation if we opt to disembark in Cebu and some did.  We chose to go back to Manila and take the earliest available flight to Iloilo the next morning. What I remember most was how well PAL took care of everything. We got to Iloilo on time to see my brother before he was wheeled into the operating room.  The second time was during the aftermath of Typhoon Frank on the PAL (AirPhil) Express Cebu - Bacolod flight. The Bombadier plane we were riding from Cebu was already near Negros Island when the pilot announced that due to a technical problem we were going back to Mactan Airport.  The 20 minute ride became an hour long with the plane going around in circles.  I think the pilot was unloading the plane's fuel because I can smell it from my seat near the wings.  Finally after more than an hour, the plane started descent and landed without further incident.  While disembarking, we saw engineers and maintenance crew gathering around the plane.  We heard that the problem was one of the landing gears which did not close. The crew was very apologetic and fed us lunch.  After about an hour, we were ready to go again, this time with the Canadian engineer of Bombadier coming with us.  Needless to say a few of the passengers decided to forgo air travel and decided to take a land trip instead.  And how about me?  I took the flight and slept peacefully on air, knowing I was in good hands.


Disclaimer:  Philippine Airlines (PAL) has nothing to do with this post. I wrote this piece for two reasons: the several accidents these past few weeks involving airlines, and my good experience with PAL that has greatly diminished my fear of flying.


2 comments:

  1. I prefer flying with PAL too, better than the other budget airline! But financial constraints prompts us sometimes to take the one we're not suppose to. :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Beng! PAL offers budget fare via PAL Express, you fly PAL but with less baggage allowance :) Next time I am in Manila, let's meet :)

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