Saturday, July 19, 2014

MH17: Filipino passengers identified; Use of Safe Routes Reassured by PAL

The identities of the three Filipino passengers who perished on Malaysian Airlines (MAS) flight MH17 were released by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).  

Image source: Craig/Wikimedia
The passengers were Irene Gunawan (54) and her children Sherryl Gunawan (14) and Darryl Gunawan (20).  These passengers were based in the Netherlands.  At the time of release, the DFA did not disclose where they were ultimately headed to.  However in a newscast, Irene's brother, Tirso Pabellon, later revealed that they were expected to arrive in Manila around 2 pm of June 18 for a family reunion.  Pabellon also verified the news through relatives abroad.

Two hundred ninety-eight passengers and crew were on board the ill-fated Boeing 777-200 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on Thursday when it was alleged to have been shot down in the Eastern Ukraine by Russian Rebels.  It is presumed all of them, most of whom were Dutch nationals, perished with the carrier.  World leaders condemned the incident, called for a thorough and immediate investigation, and expressed their sympathy to families of the victims and the Malaysian people.    

Meanwhile, Philippine Airlines (PAL) for its part reiterates that it does not utilise Ukrainian airspace for its Manila-London flight.  PR720 and its return counterpart, PR721 do not go through the former Soviet Union.  In a statement issued last Friday, PAL also assured everyone that it complies with "all safety advisories covering allowed flight routes, areas of restriction or conflict areas, and all other related matters governing flight paths".  Under permitted routings, it uses a more southern route that goes through Indochina, the Indian Subcontinent, Iran, Turkey, Southeastern Europe, Austria, Germany and Belgium.  However, even using a Great Circle trajectory, which is the shortest distance between the two points, PAL is not expected to go near Ukrainian airspace.

What a MNL-LHR flight would look like when utilising a Great Circle Routing
Image Source: Great Circle Mapper
DFA Spokesperson Charlie Jose said it will up to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) whether to ban Philippine-based carriers from using Ukranian airspace.  Other carriers have also stopped using Ukrainian airspace amidst the incident and the ongoing conflict between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels.  Moreover, the United States' Federal Aviation Administration banned its carriers from using the same airspace.

SOURCE: ABS-CBN News and GMA News 


Friday, July 18, 2014

MAS Aircraft Crashes in Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH17 bound for Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam is reported to have crashed in the Eastern Ukranian town of Torez.  All 298 passengers and crew are presumed dead.  

MAS 772
Source: Sydney Morning Herald

The Boeing 777-200 aircraft carried with it 154 Dutch nationals, 43 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, 9 British nationals, 4 Belgians, 4 Germans, 3 Filipinos and 1 Canadian.  The nationalities of 41 passengers and crew have not yet been verified as at 7.40 am Philippine Time.  Up to 100 passengers on board, including International AIDS Society President Joep Lange, were headed to Australia for a global AIDS conference, according to the AFP.  In Schiphol Airport, family members cried as they saw the names and passports of those on board shown on TV screens.  

Messages of sympathy have poured in from around the world, including the United States.  

Anonymous US officials and an adviser to Ukraine's Interior Ministry confirmed that the jet was shot down by militants using a surface-to-air missles but they have not yet identified which side fired the missle.  This crash was reported to be connected to the ongoing internal conflict between Ukranian forces and pro-Russian seperatist rebels.  Both the Ukrainian and Russian sides blamed one another for the incident, with Russian President Vladimir Putin saying the Ukrainian government bears ultimate responsibility as it happened in their airspace and for failing to peacefully engage with pro-Russian separatists.  

Major countries, including the US and UK have called for an international investigation into the incident.  The US has also called for an immediate ceasefire from all sides in order for the investigations to take its course.  

A social media site associated with a rebel commander said MAS' aircraft was mistakenly shot for a Ukranian army transport plane.  

In the wake of this incident, MAS said that all its flights involving Europe will take alternative routes.  Other carriers, such as Singapore Airlines, Korean Air, Asiana Airlines and Qantas indicated that they do not fly their aircraft via the Ukraine or have ceased to do so for quite some time.  The United States' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has prohibited US-based carriers from flying over this Eastern Ukrainian airspace.

This is the second major incident to hit MAS in a span of five months.  On March 8, 2014, flight MH370, headed for Beijing disappeared with 227 passengers on board, 154 of which are from China and Taiwan.  The flight, also operated by a Boeing 777-200ER aircraft has not yet been found to date.  Malaysian Prime Minister Rajib Nazak said that "This is a tragic day, in what has already been a tragic year, for Malaysia."  MAS' shares were down by more than 17% in the wake of the latest incident.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

EVA Air to End 747 Service to Manila in January 2015

As part of its gradual phase out of the Boeing 747-400 Combi aircraft from its fleet, EVA Air has announced that it will operate its last Boeing 747 flight to Manila on January 4, 2015. The aircraft will be replaced by a more fuel efficient Airbus A330-200.
Image Source: Wikimedia
Beginning on December 15, passengers departing from Manila on EVA Air will begin to see the introduction of the A330 aircraft. EVA Air plans to operate the A330 for three flights each week, while the Boeing 747 will continue to operate the remaining four weekly services. This will continue until January 5, 2015 when the A330 takes over full-time operating EVA Air's daily flight to Manila. 

The EVA Air Airbus A330-200 is equipped with 252 seats in a two-class configuration featuring Economy Class and Premium Laurel Class. Passengers in Economy Class enjoy personal in-flight entertainment delivered through seat back monitors and a 33" seat pitch, while passengers in Premium Laurel Class enjoy a number of service enhancements including a 61" seat pitch. EVA Air currently has eleven A330-200 aircraft in its fleet. 

EVA Air is one of the last airlines around the world to continue operating the Boeing 747-400 Combi aircraft. It was designed for routes with minimal passenger traffic that could not justify a Boeing 747 in full passenger configuration, but had strong demand for freight services. EVA Air currently has 2 Boeing 747 Combi aircraft left in the fleet. They are configured in a three-class configuration featuring 276 seats. In addition, the aircraft can transport up to fourteen LD-1 cargo containers with seven on the main deck and five in the lower hold. 

Image Source: Wikimedia
With its ability to accommodate pallets on the main deck of the aircraft, the Boeing 747-400 Combi was practically considered a freighter. The aircraft took flight in 1989 and earned popularity with more than 30 carriers around the world that deployed it on thin passenger routes with a stronger focus on cargo. Many of the carriers that used the type were from Asia. Over its lifespan, Boeing delivered 144 Boeing 747 Combi aircraft, with 58 of them being 400 series aircraft. Production of the Combi aircraft was stopped in 2002. 

Air China, Asiana, EVA Air, and KLM are the last of the Boeing 747 Combi operators. However, all of these carriers have since placed orders for other wide-body aircraft, particularly the Boeing 777-300ER, which features a similar cargo and passenger capacity, but without the ability to accommodate main deck pallets. 

While many are emotionally attached to the Boeing 747 aircraft, emotions are no match for economics and like Philippine Airlines, EVA Air and many other carriers around the world have decided to retire the four-engined Queen of the Skies that consumes too much fuel and requires too many passengers to fill. 

"Like a good car, when it gets old and it's time to replace it, you get sad, of course," says Austin Cheng, President of Taiwan based EVA Air. The carrier has been gradually swapping out the Boeing 747 for the twin-engined Boeing 777 aircraft. The 777-300ER has proven to be the airplane of choice for most carriers seeking to improve operational efficiency. 

While the Boeing 777 aircraft is smaller, most carriers end up losing approximately fifty economy class seats, with the premium cabin seating usually maintained at a level similar to that of the 747. The distinct advantage for the 777 aircraft is its two extremely efficient engines that replace the four older engines of the 747. Overall, the 777 is a vastly more economical aircraft that makes it an obvious choice for airlines as a replacement for older aircraft. In September, Philippine Airlines will retire its entire Boeing 747 fleet and operate Boeing 777 aircraft exclusively to its destinations on the US mainland. 

The EVA Air Boeing 747-400 Combi will continue to be operated until its retirement on routes from Taipei Taoyuan to Manila, Qingdao, Shenzhen, and Tianjin. However, it remains unclear when it's official last flight will be. Early reports suggest that it could be on January 4, 2015 from Shenzhen to Taipei or on January 5, 2015 from Hong Kong to Taipei.  

Throwback Thursday Trip Report (2010): Manila to Hong Kong via PAL on a 77W

February 26 2010 was my seventh time to travel to Hong Kong in my life.  And out of these trips, we used Philippine Airlines (PAL) on the last five of them.  Apparently, I am hardly alone in using our country’s flag carrier as almost everyone I know almost always follows suit.  My dad though, who is on a business trip and will meet us here, took Cathay Pacific (CX).  

Flight Number: PR300
Registration: RP-C7777
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Gate: N06
Flying time: 2hrs05min (actual flying time was 1hr40min)
Scheduled Dept Time: 08.00

As you can see, what made this trip a bit special was that we were going to use PAL's brand new Boeing 777-300ER (77W) for this short hop.  Delivered in November 2009, RP-C7777 was at this time PAL's 2nd newest member of the fleet.

Flight Review: Cebu Pacific MNL-CEBU-MNL


Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
It was a gloomy mid-morning when I arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 (NAIA 3) for my Cebu flight from Manila. I was dismayed at seeing one long line outside the only gate opened but after a few minutes, airport officials decided to open Gate 5 so some of us transferred.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Inside NAIA 3 was a working air-conditioning that made the checking-in experience a breeze. For all the long lines outside, there wasn’t really a lot of people flying that morning. There was only one passenger ahead of us and we were it the moment we stopped to wait for our turn. We could have skipped this section as we had already done web check-in but we needed to check in my luggage.

My friend and I had a lot of time to kill afterwards and as it was near lunch time, we decided to eat at Shakey’s before proceeding to the departure area. This is one of the reasons why I love flying out of NAIA 3. Not only is the air-conditoning working, but there are a lot of familiar restaurants that serve good food at regular prices.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Shakey’s is located on the floor above the check-in and departure areas so naturally, we had to find our way down back. We ignored the immediate flight of stairs near it as we wanted to use the escalator some meters away. My friend still had her hand-carry luggage as she did not opt for the check-in service. However, none from the entire floor was going down so we looked for the side stairs and they were all sealed off that we had to go back to the Shakey’s area to go down. Retreating our steps, I noticed the above sign. I appreciate any effort to “improve” airport facilities but they should also provide signs to show us that all other stairs were cordoned off to avoid passengers like us from going to and fro. We must have worked off whatever calories we gained at Shakey’s! Thanks for the exercise, NAIA 3!

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Boarding time was supposed to commence ten minutes ago so I walked up to the counter to inquire why we have not boarded. The staff answered by saying she made an annoucement that boarding was to be delayed by 40 minutes. My friend and I did not hear it at all. What we kept hearing were the announcements of other flights and airlines but not ours.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Anyway, true to her word, we started boarding almost the time that we were supposed to taxi off. My friend was stopped by an airline representative requiring us to surrender her hand-carry for check-in as space was limited. We readily agreed as it was convenient for us and best of all, it was for free.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
We hopped on a shuttle bus and stayed for at least 10 minutes like a pack of sardines. There was no explanation given why we were just idling by.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Finally, we were brought to our plane…


Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
…and we boarded.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
As I climbed the stairs, I realized that I made a mistake of wearing a summer dress as anyone underneath the stairs would have a free peep show.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The time it actually took us to depart Manila was our original estimated time of arrival. The captain explained that the delay was caused by the usual “air traffic congestion and the late arrival of the turn-around aircraft.”


Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Meals were served, or to be more precise, were offered for sale. As I am no fan of airline meals and their exorbitant prices as well as having eaten already, I skipped this service. I then observed one flight attendant bringing two rice meals to the pilots. At first, she just opened the door and walked in. Upon exiting, another attendant blocked the path with the cart before she came out. I guess this was to prevent anybody from taking advantage of the open cockpit door.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Souvenirs for sale were rolled out afterwards by the cabin crew including one who was introduced as “Maleficent” during the safety procedure demo. I’m glad to see our crew was enjoying their private joke.

If there’s anything I like about flying Cebu Pacific is the games especially if I like the prizes like pouch, notepad and T-shirt which I have all won through a trivia game. (I seldom win at show-me games.) But the game for this flight was called off due to turbulence. Drat.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Finally, we landed at Mactan Cebu International Airport.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Baggage retrieval time was okay. Not long enough to make you impatient but not short enough to make you glad.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
As this is not my first time in Cebu, I noticed a change. The airport had removed the hotel showrooms at the baggage claim area and replaced them with the usual airport shops. Personally, I prefer the hotel showrooms as they showcase what the hotels have to offer and the sight of comfortable beds help relieve some flight stress. It also made the Cebu airport different as I have yet to see something like that at other airports here and abroad.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The hotels are now just relegated to displaying their logos at a counter near the exit.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

Upon exiting the Cebu airport…

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
…passengers who have no one to meet them can avail of taxis---either fixed or metered.

BABAY, BAY!

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
And now it was time to leave Cebu. Like my experience coming in, check-in was quick and easy. Before I went to the airport, I checked the status of my flight online to make sure it was going to fly as scheduled. Last time I was in Cebu, I arrived at 11 a.m. for my 1 p.m. flight only to be told at the check-in counter that my flight was delayed for four hours. Upset, I asked why I was not informed beforehand through email or text since they already knew it was going to be delayed and they had my contact information. I could have used the extra time sleeping in or seeing more of Cebu. The representative simply went on a mute mode.

So anyway, I was glad to see that my flight was “on schedule” and was encouraged all the more by the fact that all the previous Manila-bound flights that day flew on time.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
After the security clearance, I was impressed by how much livelier the atmosphere in the departure area had become. It looked busier and more colorful.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
There were new souvenir shops to help you not only to while the time away, but make you impressed with how creative Cebu can be.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Looking at their works of art was such a feast for the eyes.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Makes me wonder why we can’t do the same at NAIA.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Mactan-Cebu Airport also has working computer stations with free Internet access.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
It has food shops that take a dig at airline meals.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Generally speaking, Mactan-Cebu International Airport is a good airport for a developing city. So I am glad that it continues to improve to serve its rising number of tourists and passengers.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Click here for the plans.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
And then it was time for us to board which commenced on time.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
For the first time in a long time, I walked inside a tube to board a Cebu Pacific aircraft where we entered by the middle door, not the front nor the rear.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I have been flying Cebu Pacific ever since it was launched and I think this is the only time I have flown on a huge aircraft with three rows of seats. I asked the attendants if the aircraft (A330) was new and I got two different answers simultaneously. One answered in the affirmative while the other said no adding that it’s the one being used in flights to Dubai.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I like the fact that the plane seems and smells kind of new but the seat did not impress me much. The bottom seat felt like there was a hollow space in the middle. My friend remarked it’s probably ergonomic but it didn’t feel comfortable. Although I must admit I had completely forgotten all about it later. I’ll explain why in a minute.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The aircraft may seem new but the literature was worn out by constant handling. I guess you expect that to happen on a flight with no entertainment at all.

While waiting for everyone to be boarded, I noticed some occasional shaking of the aircraft as they loaded the baggage. I have flown on smaller planes before which never shook when baggage was being loaded. And then I started noticing something else. It was beginnig to feel kind of hot. At first I thought it was only me because I tend to get hot easily but I saw other passengers fanning themselves so I asked an attendant about the air-conditioning. He said it wasn’t turned on yet. I wanted to ask what were they waiting for but he kept walking. A few passengers started murmuring, “Air-con!” Then came the announcement that changed everything---our departure will be delayed for at least 40 miutes due to air traffic control. So now we were going to be stuck in a plane with no air-conditioning at all for almost an hour!

A female passenger got up to the front where the cabin crew was and asked to be let out as she was starting to feel unwell. As that was not allowed, she was instead given oxygen to lower her now rising blood pressure. An attendant had started fanning her. The other attendants rolled out cold water. Some of the crew were already sweating.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Some male passengers started converging in the front as it was cooler there for some reason. Others started complaining about the consequence to their connecting flights.

As I was on the second row, I overheard the captain requesting for permission to be allowed to open the door and have the tube reconnected to allow some air inside. A few minutes later, it was opened and some passengers immediately got out. I asked an attendant if we could leave as well but she said it wasn’t allowed. I then pointed out how some passengers had already gone out. She could only wince in frustration. Over the pubic announcement system, passengers were told to stay in the tube. (The air-conditioning was still not turned on, by the way.) One attendant was talking over the radio with somebody outside the plane explaining that once the air-conditioning was turned on, it will take at least half an hour to fully cool the aircraft. I could hear a few passengers muttering under their breath that Cebu Pacific was just being cheap. One compared his experience being inside a Cathay Pacific plane for 90 minutes with air-conditioning. Another suggested calling the Cebu Pacific hotline to complain but my friend remarked sarcastically, “No use. Wala naman sasagot. Magriring lang nang ring” (No one will answer. It will only ring.) Then he suggested posting live on Facebook.

A few minutes after the tube was connected, airport medical personnel entered to attend to the passenger suffering from high blood pressure. I guess she was feeling better as the personnel left soon after and she and her husband were transferred to the front row seats.Then we heard what we had been waiting for for almost an hour---we were now ready to depart. The air-conditioner started making its presence felt. The taxi was kind of bumpy as if we were on a tricycle hurdling a lot of road humps.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Meals were offered for sale. (After the ordeal, the least Cebu Pacific could have done was to offer more drinks for free.) There was none of its trademark game. I don’t know if they were trying to be sensitive, or it was because of the turbulence, or for lack of time as thirty minutes into the flight, the captain announced our start of descent.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
As I was seated near the restroom, I noticed how a lot of people was having a hard time pulling the doors open from the inside. Most tried to push at first then upon realizing it was to be the other way around, but the doors still won’t open. They seemed stuck. The attendants would every now and then help push. When I had to use it, I asked my friend to stand by in case I also experience the same difficulty. I can’t think of anything more embarrassing than being stuck inside. Our flight experience was already interesting enough without me adding to it.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
We finally landed at NAIA 3 with an apology from the captain for the delay “brought about by departure constraints and numerous arrivals from Manila.” I almost expected the passengers to groan and scoff when the attendant thanked us for making “Cebu Pacific your airline of choice.”

As people were in a hurry, the passengers started to converge by the front door only to find out that we will all be exiting by the middle door instead.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
After getting out of the tube, I timed the walk going to the carousel….

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
which took only five minutes. It often felt longer than that.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
While waiting for my baggage, I noticed this sign. They really should remove the quotation marks on the words, “free” and “optional” as they suggest a wink-wink tone to it.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
This was one of the first that came out of the carousel. It passed by me and I still couldn’t tell what it was. Somebody was really into maximing every centavo he paid for his check-in.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
My baggage came out around ten minutes and I was ready to meet my friend outside. Normally, my review would have ended here but the taxi service staff amused me.

Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The taxi service staff was shouting, “Taxi?! Taxi?!” like market vendors at each and every passenger coming out. There really was no need to shout as people in need of a taxi would naturally line up where they were. Then they started shouting, “Mr. White! Mr. White!” I turned around and saw a Caucasian man in white going out. I had to laugh at their attempts. Sadly for them, Mr. White had another ride in mind. Only in Manila!

- THE PARANOID TRAVELER


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

SIA and MAS Aircraft Damaged at NAIA due to Glenda

In the midst of Typhoon Glenda (international name Ramassun), a Singapore Airlines (SIA) jet sustained some damage while parked at gate 6 of Ninoy Aquino International Airport's Terminal 1.  As a result of strong winds, the aerobridge was said to 'come into contact' with SIA's Boeing 777-200 (772) aircraft with registration 9V-SRJ.  

Image source: Rappler/PAGASA

User @raoulesperas tweeted that the left engine and wing of the SIA aircraft were the ones to sustain some damage.  However at the time of contact, no passengers nor crew were on-board.

A Malaysian Airlines (MAS) Boeing 737-800 was also damaged as it was forced to a 45-degree turn and hit a staircase at the cargo terminal.  

As a result of damage to both aircrafts, the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines said that they will be unable to fly.  According to SIA, passengers on SQ915, the flight that 9V-SRJ was supposed to serve, would be rebooked on later flights to minimise disruption to their travel plans.  SIA also said that they will monitor the situation and issue advisories on schedule changes or cancellations.

Gates 101 to 106 in Terminal 3 were also reported to sustain some minor damage.

Typhoon Glenda was the first major storm to directly hit the Metro Manila area in 2014.  As a result of this storm, more than 50 flights involving Manila had to be cancelled.  There were also reports of Philippine Airlines' (PAL) wide bodies being moved to other airports for safety.