Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Thai Smile Launching Cebu to Bangkok Flights in November

Thai Smile, the regional affiliate of Thai Airways International, plans to launch non-stop service from Bangkok to Mactan-Cebu International Airport in November. It will become the first direct service from the Visayas to Thailand.

thai smile a320
Image Source: Asia Travel Tips
Earlier this year, the Thai Airways President announced that Cebu had been added to the carrier's list of new destinations. The new service would complement Thai's existing daily non-stop flight from Bangkok to Manila. The addition of Cebu represents an effort by the Thai flag carrier to expand its network and revive routes that now have the potential to be profitable.

Thai Airways recently announced that it planned to recruit up to 600 new flight attendants to support the network expansion ahead of the upcoming peak season. "We see a very bright future for us in the coming high season this year," said Charamporn Jotikasthira, Thai Airways President. "It's a time for THAI to move fast."

The Thai flag carrier is pushing for Bangkok to become a true aviation hub for Southeast Asia by increasing frequencies on several routes including Bangkok-Manila, as the carrier attempts to attract connecting passengers from India, Europe, and the Middle East.
  Thai Airways launched Thai Smile in July 2012 as its low-cost arm and regional affiliate. The Thai subsidiary currently operates a fleet of 15 Airbus A320-200 aircraft in an all-Economy class configuration of 174 seats. However, thirty seats aboard each aircraft are dedicated to 'Smile Plus,' which is the carrier's version of Economy Plus offering enhanced in-flight service and additional space.

When Thai Smile launches new service to Bangkok from Cebu, it will become the fifth new international route added from Cebu this year alone. Earlier this year, Mactan-Cebu Airport celebrated the launch of direct flights to Los Angeles, Taipei, Dubai, and Xiamen.

Philippine Airlines Considers Regional Hub in Davao

National flag carrier Philippine Airlines is contemplating the possibility of developing a hub in Davao for regional and inter-island flights. According to Philippine Airlines President Jaime Bautista, Davao has proven to be a profitable market domestically. 

philippine airlines davao
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
"One of our profitable domestic routes is Davao," said Bautista. "Davao would be another airport that we would consider to be a hub." He added that Philippine Airlines was considering launching flights from Davao to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manado, Bali, Palau, and Australia.

While Philippine Airlines currently operates flights from Davao to Cebu and Manila, its chief rival, Cebu Pacific, already utilises Davao as a strategic hub with non-stop service to Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Iloilo, Zamboanga, Manila, and Singapore. 

According to Cebu Pacific, Davao has emerged as one of the budget carrier's most popular destinations with an average 44,000 passengers flying on board Cebu Pacific flights out of Davao each week. Cebu Pacific operates a total of 128 weekly flights from Davao. In 2015, the annual passenger volume for Davao reached more than 2.15 million passengers for Cebu Pacific alone, representing an increase of 4 percent over the previous year.

Last year, Philippine Airlines invested in Cebu, where it revived its domestic hub with flights to six cities including Bacolod, Butuan, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, Iloilo, and Tacloban.  All flights are operated by Philippine Airlines' A320 fleet. 

Cebu has become a battleground for Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines as they pursue ambitious domestic expansion in an effort to establish dominance and control market share. Both carriers have added capacity in Cebu this year across several domestic routes. Davao is likely to become the next battleground.

A Guide to the Japan Visa Application for Filipinos

How to Apply for a Japanese Visa in the Philippines

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan recently relaxed restrictions on the issuance of tourist visas for Philippine nationals. The move was part of a greater strategy to promote Japan as a tourism-friendly country and to attract 20 million foreign visitors. As we approach the beautiful cherry blossom season, let us guide you on how to get your tourist visa to the Land of the Rising Sun.

Image Source: GaijinPot
Japan issues several visa types so you need to determine which one best fits the purpose of your travel. All visa applications should go through accredited agencies of the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines as direct visa applications will not be accepted. The official visa section of the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines can be accessed here.

HOW TO OBTAIN A JAPAN TOURIST VISA 

APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS
Here are the documents that you need to submit:

1. Philippine Passport
The machine-readable passport (MRP) or ordinary IC passport should be valid six (6) months from the date of travel and should be in good condition. If you need a new passport or want to renew your passport, click here.

2. Complete Visa Application Form
The visa application form is a PDF file, which is readily available to edit once you download it. You can type in data using your computer. Be sure to print it out after as the data typed cannot be saved. Make sure that all the spelling is correct and do not leave any blank spaces. If information does not apply to you, put in N/A on the space provided. You can download the form here.

3. Two (2) recent colored 2x2 photos with white background
As with any visa application, make sure you are wearing appropriate attire, preferably dark colors with a collar and sleeves. The photo must be pasted on a specified portion of the application form and should not be stapled. More information on the photo can be found here.

4. Original authenticated birth certificate issued by the National Statistics Office
A copy of the birth certificate can be requested online through the E-Census page of NSO. The detailed information on costs, delivery fees, and processing time is also available on their website. You can access the page here.

5. Original authenticated marriage certificate issued by NSO
Follow the same procedures for requesting a birth certificate.

6. Daily schedule/itinerary in Japan
The 'taizai nitteihyo' is a detailed document stating the place you intend to visit, your contact number and the place where you are staying. Applicants can be as detailed as they want to be but make sure that it has the same number of days stated on your application form. If you do not have a roaming number that can be contacted, you can just use the number of your hotel in Japan. You can download the form here.

7. Employment Information

  • Employed: certificate of employment stating position, tenure of service and gross annual income.
  • Self-employed: DTI Business Name Registration and/or SEC Registration Certificate.
8. Original bank certificate
In order for them to see that you can financially support your stay in Japan, the government requires applicants to submit a bank certificate, which you can request through your bank. This is a different document from a bank statement that is usually issued on a monthly or quarterly basis. There is no specific amount that needs to be declared. However, you should declare a realistic amount that can adequately support your stay in Japan.

9. Copy of latest Income Tax Return (ITR or Form 2316)

IMPORTANT NOTES:

a. List of accredited travel agencies, click here.

b. Applicants who have previously visited Japan with a visa
- NO longer required to submit requirement 4 & 5
- REQUIRED to submit old passport bearing the visa

c. Applicants with NSO Birth certificates under "late registration" should also submit their original Baptismal Certificate and School Record Form 1-37.

d. Applicants with NSO Birth certificate with "unreadable details," and/or if "no record found" are required to submit a certified true copy of the birth certificate issued by Local Civil Registry or certification issued by the National Archives.

e. Applicants who are government employees are required to submit an approved leave of absence form.

f. If the applicant has a guarantor there are additional documents that you need to submit:
- 'juminhyo' or residence certificate of a Japanese guarantor.
- Foreign Registration Certificate from City Hall, if guarantor is not Japanese
- 'mimoto hoshosho' or a guarantee letter
- Any of the following income certificate: shotoku shomeisho/income certificate from City Hall, nouzeishomeisho/tax certificate from tax office or kakuteishinkokusho hikae/Bank Certificate.

g. Original documents that are submitted will not be returned whether you are granted or not granted a visa. Information on the status of your application should be directed to the agency where you submitted your requirements.

h. When the visa is granted, the visa fee is gratis or free. However, agencies have processing fees, which amount to between Php 1,200 to Php 2,500.

i. In the event of visa denial, the reasons will not be disclosed to you and you need to apply again after six (6) months with the same purpose. However, if it is for a different purpose such as emergency or humanitarian reasons, you can again re-apply without waiting.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or contact us at info@philippineflightnetwork.com

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DO YOU NEED A HOTEL IN JAPAN? CHECK OUT OUR TOKYO HOTEL DEALS AND OSAKA HOTELS!

Cathay Pacific Flight Review: Manila to Hong Kong

Checking-in had never been easier and faster as I made my way through all the mandatory queues in just five minutes in spite of the snaking lines. I accomplished most of it even before I stepped inside Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 for my trip to Hong Kong aboard Cathay Pacific.

cathay pacific manila
Image Source: Cathay Pacific
Three days prior to my departure date, I paid my travel tax at Robinsons Galleria and the day after, I received an email from Cathay Pacific offering online check-in. So when I finally arrived at the airport, I went straight to the bag drop counter where I was the only one in line.

Immigration was also faster this time with local and foreign passport holders segregated and all counters were open with short queues except one which had none. I hesitated joining it wondering why it was being avoided but I took my chance and five seconds later, I was headed towards the security check but not before noticing how some people transferred from their original line and followed my lead.

As I had two hours to kill, I headed straight to Skyview Lounge, which I am able to access thanks to my membership in an affiliated loyalty program. So there I was, an economy passenger, enjoying the perks of business class. However, I was disappointed at the sight of the most limited food offering I have seen at a lounge. There was just the vegetable rice, noodles, chicken adobo, crackers, and sandwiches but the taste more than made up for it. Don't take my word for it; take the sporadic burps erupting every now and then across the room.

After my breakfast, I asked for the wifi password and was disappointed that it was out of service. Good thing I had my own pocket device. But entertainment inside was not scarce with one group sharing their conversation with the entire room with their loud voices and another group of senior ladies having a hard time taking selfies that another guest rose from her seat to help them.

Twenty minutes before boarding time, I headed out to my designated gate and noticed how the business class area was cordoned off with wider leg room compared to ours.

Now for some reason, people started lining up before any announcements were made so by the time it came, the narrow passage leading to the ramp was already crowded by those waiting for their row number to be called while blocking the path for the legit.

Then it came time for my boarding and I was dismayed upon realizing the mistake I made booking myself a seat online. I misread the diagram thinking I had gotten myself an aisle seat. Good thing it was a two-seater row so I had the window seat. 

Because I suffer from vertigo, I need to recline my seat somewhat so I pulled the lever giving myself a surprise when the bottom seat slid out instead. Good thing I did not slide together with it.

The seat wasn't the most comfortable as it made the TV screen, which was usually at eye level, now a bit higher so I had to look up making me fearful for a potential vertigo attack. It subsequently made my movie viewing more like an audio experience as I settled for listening to it while glancing at the screen from time to time to see if the image matched the one in my head.

Then came our snack of a turkey wrap, mango juice and almond chocolate chip cookie. The turkey wrap was okay but the cookie was a welcome surprise as it was tasty and flavorful. I inspected the packaging to see where I could buy some more in Hong Kong but nothing was indicated.

The remainder of the trip was smooth considering we had two warnings of turbulence where the crew had to postpone their duties to get to their seat for safety.

When we were about to descend, naturally, we were told to open our windows but upon landing and waiting to disembark, we were asked to close them to conserve the energy inside the plane as it was 34 degrees Celsius outside.

I usually fly our local airlines going to Hong Kong as they are almost always cheaper but with the other services that Cathay has to offer, the minimal extra charge is definitely worth it---just as my editor had told me. Lesson learned: Always listen to your editor!

(I’m sorry for the absence of any supporting personal photos which were corrupted after the transfer. Drat. Another lesson learned: Do not cut and paste your photos from the memory card but copy them to your computer instead!)

---THE PARANOID TRAVELER---

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ninoy Aquino International Airport: It's Everyone Else's Fault!

If incompetence had a name, it would be Jose Angel Honrado, General Manager of Ninoy Aquino International Airport. If it was believed that NAIA was a ship that could not sink any further, we should all consider using Honrado as the anchor to finish the job once and for all. There have indeed been many dark days in the history of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. But at the end of Honrado's tenure, we may have finally reached the darkest of them all.

Image Source: Inquirer
An article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported that at his last flag-raising ceremony as the General Manager of the Manila International Airport Authority, Honrado finally revealed the true cause of all the woes that the country's main gateway has had to endure over the years: the media.

Really? Whenever you have a commander and chief who chooses to blame everyone else but himself and refuses to accept ultimate responsibility for the agency that he has been entrusted with, then there is indeed truly no hope left at all.

From the title of the World's Worst Airport to a series of incidents that have included everything from murder to leaking roofs, sink holes, power outages, bullet-planting, and collapsing ceilings, Honrado blames the media for doing their jobs, while he failed to do his. 

His leadership has even influenced his fellow colleagues, who were also inspired to blame others for the airport's shortcomings. It was only two months ago that an overseas foreign worker complained that her bag had been damaged and items had been stolen from inside. NAIA officials insisted that the incident must have occurred at Hong Kong Airport



According to Honrado, it all began in 2011 when NAIA earned the title as the World's Worst Airport. Since then, the media has been "hounding us day in and day out," stated Honrado. He added that the MIAA was devasted after the agency was blamed for not resolving the "tanim-bala" problem even though they allegedly had no oversight or influence over the airport security screening process.

Honrado's incompetence can be summed up by this statement he made after NAIA Terminal 3 was hit by a five-hour power outage, which he described as a "blessing in disguise." His response to the incident: "We became more aware of the importance of maintenance." Is this guy for real? 

It's incredibly ironic that an individual who doesn't even recognize the importance of basic maintenance could be associated with one of the world's safest industries. However, it's hard to know whether one should point the finger solely at Honrado or at President Aquino for allowing this farce to continue for so many years without correction.

Honrado highlighted his incompetence further when he said, "The succeeding months proved to be non-significant, but not to the media. The broken glass panels, a 2x2 meter slab falling, the low water pressure, and the wrong spelling of the signages were highlighted for lack of something big." 

If mediocre and unsafe were acceptable standards for what should be considered a normal operation, then Honrado is highly qualified for the job. All I can say is that we should be thankful that the media, which represents the voice of the people, cared enough to highlight these incidents as significant. But perhaps the more significant issue is the fact that Honrado believed these incidents were insignificant. 

If safety is not a significant issue to the person entrusted with the safety of millions of passengers, then serious questions need to be put forward. Furthermore, if he can't even accomplish simple proof reading and ensure that signage is spelled correctly, then what exactly is he being paid to do? Does he even work? But at least we know our terminal fees have been well spent. Right?

In his final address, he told employees of NAIA that they had survived. "I dare say, we survived them all," said Honrado. Indeed, they were incredibly lucky to survive in an airport run by him! "Please accept the assumption that I did my job as my conscience and competence allowed me to do it," added Honrado.

It was obviously an assumption that Honrado was competent because he wasn't hired to be the NAIA chief based on any relevant experience or proven track record in airport management. Indeed, all NAIA employees are left to do is assume that he was doing his job because there are simply no facts evident over his entire term to suggest or prove that he did anything, much less do it competently. Can you believe that NAIA doesn't even have a functional website for passengers with real-time arrival and departure information?

Luckily, employees of NAIA aren't fooled by Honrado's rhetoric. As he recounted his alleged milestones, employees mocked him, highlighting their resentment over unpaid and withheld benefits. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 contractual workers that were responsible for maintenance in NAIA's four terminals remained bound to repeating six-month contracts without regularization and benefits even though some had been working at the airport at least fifteen years. 

Honrado's tenure at NAIA is indeed a period best forgotten. It was a dark moment in the country's history and a bruise on the country's pride. If there is any legacy that Honrado has left, it is the taste of failure and a reminder to employees and the travelling public alike that we do not ever want to see such incompetence at the helm of the nation's primary international gateway ever again. The Philippines deserves better.

In fairness, Honrado did most likely win at least one award during his tenure -- the award for the highest number of calls for resignation that any NAIA chief has ever seen. Kudos to him for being that callus and arrogant that he never once obliged over the six years that he was in charge. A Japanese official likely would have been shamed to resignation or possibly even suicide after earning the title of the World's Worst Airport!

We deserve a gateway that we can be proud of that is efficient, safe, comfortable, warm, and welcoming to everyone who passes through it. It should be a facility that represents the heart of the Filipino to each foreigner that arrives and showcases the best that this country has to offer. For balikbayans, it should represent, "Welcome Home!" as opposed to "I'm so glad I left!"

After all, it is the very first impression that anyone sees when they arrive in the Philippines. But if the primary international airport cannot be perceived as safe and welcoming, what is a tourist to expect for the rest of the country? One can only hope that the next General Manager will paint a much brighter picture that is better reflective of the Philippines and worthy of the Filipino. Better yet -- award the management of NAIA to a private operator that can deliver results like in Cebu.

Monday, June 27, 2016

WestJet London Gatwick Flight Review

WestJet Inaugural Vancouver to London Flight Review

When I first read that WestJet was going to begin flying non-stop to London's Gatwick Airport, I was extremely excited at the prospect of affordable airfares to Europe, which would enable me to visit relatives in England more frequently. WestJet, a low-cost carrier in Canada, happens to be a code-share partner of Philippine Airlines.

westjet london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
I purchased my ticket on September 15, 2015 immediately as they went on sale for the first time on WestJet's website. I was pleased to obtain one of the introductory fares, which was nearly half the price a passenger would normally pay for a flight from Vancouver to London. That left only the need to find some London hotel deals.

Although Air Canada had lowered their fares to match WestJet's introductory price, I was enticed by the opportunity to fly on-board the inaugural flight to London, which for WestJet, would be a very historic occasion. Moreover, it satisfied my curiosity to fly aboard the carrier's Boeing 767 wide-body aircraft and experience what would eventually become WestJet's long-haul product. 

westjet inaugural london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
If you are planning on reserving a flight to London and cannot decide which airline to fly, there is a large asterix that must be placed beside WestJet's airfare. Indeed, WestJet does offer very competitive fares and they have done the travelling public a great service by adding a new competitive element to the market, which has brought down the cost of air fares between Canada and the United Kingdom. 

However, it is important to note that there are incidental costs that the unsuspecting passenger may not realize when booking their ticket. When you purchase a ticket to London on WestJet, you need to pay extra for checked-luggage, meals, and in some cases, in-flight entertainment. 

westjet inaugural london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
As WestJet does not have any seat-back televisions, one is required to use their own personal electronic device to access their wireless in-flight entertainment system. That means if you did not bring an electronic device such as a smart phone, tablet, or laptop, you will need to rent one of WestJet's tablets in order to watch movies in-flight.

westjet inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
While none of this is necessarily a problem, I must stress to everyone doing their flight research to not assume that WestJet offers the lowest price on this route. If Air Canada matches WestJet's airfare, they technically become the cheapest airline as they do not charge extra for meals, entertainment, or checked luggage. Please note this would not be true in the case of flights operated by Air Canada Rouge. However, even Air Transat has WestJet beat in this category as they include meals, entertainment, and one piece of checked luggage on flights bound for the United Kingdom.

THE INAUGURAL FLIGHT

As I had an early connecting flight from Victoria, I already had my boarding passes all ready to go by the time I reached Vancouver International Airport. I made a point to arrive especially early so that I could take in the expected festivities. 

westjet inaugural london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
The boarding gate, D67, was completely decked out in all things London up to and including the Union Jack and a red British telephone booth. There was a photo booth, where passengers were able to take a commemorative photo of themselves in front of a London landmark such as Tower Bridge. There was also a DJ blasting a number of popular British hits from the Beatles to the Spice Girls.

westjet london inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
As this was expected to be a highly publicised event with media in attendance, a special area was set up for the official press conference that would include representatives from WestJet, the Government of British Columbia, and Vancouver International Airport. A number of passengers waiting to board the inaugural flight were also interviewed for the news.

westjet london flight inaugural
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
westjet vancouver to london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Prior to the start of the press conference, the cabin crew of the inaugural flight posed for a photograph with WestJet's President & CEO Gregg Saretsky, who was also scheduled to travel on the flight. 

westjet inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
The Press Conference kicked off prior to boarding with a speech from Craig Richmond, President & CEO of the Vancouver International Airport Authority.

craig richmond yvr
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
westjet inaugural flight london
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Shirley Bond, BC Minister of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training followed with a speech of her own.

westjet ceo
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Last, but certainly not least, we heard from the President & CEO of WestJet, Gregg Saretsky.

westjet london flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
After the customary presentation of an aircraft model, the ribbon ceremony was held. After the ribbon was cut, passengers were invited to indulge in the various refreshments that had been laid out including cupcakes, sandwiches, and beverages prior to the commencement of the boarding process. 

westjet inaugural flight
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
THE WESTJET BOEING 767-300ER ON-BOARD EXPERIENCE

After the festivities had ended, passengers began settling into their seats for what would be a completely full flight. As we boarded the aircraft, guests were handed a gift bag that was filled with a greeting card, chocolate, WestJet's Premium Ear Buds, and a set of Charging Cables. I guess they forgot the free flight? The last two items are usually sold on board the aircraft for $9.99 and $14.99 respectively.

The Boeing 767-300ER is the first wide-body aircraft in the WestJet fleet. It has enabled the carrier to operate its own long-haul flights with a range of nearly 11,000 kilometres.

westjet boeing 767
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
WestJet currently operates a fleet of four of these aircraft. They are ex-Qantas aircraft with an average age of 23.9 years. The cabin features a total of 262 seats with 238 economy seats in a 2-3-2 configuration, and 24 premium 'WestJet Plus' seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. The economy seats offer a 31" seat pitch with a 17.3" width, while Plus seats feature a 38" seat pitch with a 20" width. You might find it worth the extra money to upgrade. 

westjet connect
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
IN-FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

When you sit down, you may be surprised to discover that you are staring at a blank seat. That's because there is not a single seat-back monitor on board this aircraft. The Boeing 767 fleet is equipped with WestJet Connect, the low-cost carrier's wireless in-flight entertainment system. 

The system offers passengers wireless internet connectivity for an additional charge and complimentary access to more than 300 television programs and 85 movies if you have brought your own device. Otherwise, you can rent a tablet for a fee. Passengers will need to download the latest version of the WestJet app prior to boarding.

The back of each seat aboard the Boeing 767 has been specially equipped with a holder for passengers to mount their tablets, as long as they do not exceed 1 kilogram in weight. The aircraft seats are also equipped with USB power outlets and apparently, 110-volt outlets. However, my seat-mate and I failed to locate a 110-volt outlet on both the outbound and return flights. That is indeed a problem for those who are using their laptops to access WestJet Connect.

westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN

ON-BOARD SERVICE

The on-board service began with a snack and beverage service. As this was the inaugural flight, one complimentary alcoholic beverage was provided as a courtesy to each guest. This was accompanied by a choice of either pretzels or cookies. It might be worthy to note that both Air Canada and Air Transat do provide alcoholic beverages at no additional charge, while WestJet does charge extra for alcoholic beverages although non-alcoholic selections are complimentary.

After the snack was served, it was time for meal service -- if you had pre-ordered one. WestJet served passengers like myself that had pre-ordered a meal, before they came through the cabin with the buy-on-board service. I can imagine some passengers must have been starving by the time the buy-on-board service arrived. WestJet does not include a hot meal with the purchase of tickets to London. This has drawn mixed reviews from passengers. WestJet claims that it provides passengers with the flexibility to save money and pay only for the services they want. However, that argument only stands if a passenger is actually saving money compared to flying Air Transat or Air Canada. 

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
If you buy from the pre-purchase menu on the WestJet website, you can order a selection of hot meals that includes a light snack prior to landing. I took advantage of this service and paid the standard $14.99 charge. Alternatively, if you buy on board, the meal without the snack would cost $8.99. I would say that the snack is not worth the additional $6.

The meal choices included Tomato and Tarragon Chicken, Red Wine Braised Beef, or Creamy Marinara Cannelloni. In honesty, none of the choices appealed to me and I ended up selecting the pasta. 
westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Generally speaking, my expectation for airline food is low. However, when you are forced to pay an additional $15 for it, I do expect a little more. In fairness, it was relatively tasty but for the most part on par with the quality of an individual microwaveable frozen pasta that you might purchase in a grocery store. This was accompanied by a stale chocolate brownie and a salad that would probably leave even the slimmest rabbit feeling hungry. 

Truly, I was appalled at what I received after paying $15 for a meal. It was not fair value at all and it was not even on par with the complimentary meals served by other carriers. It seemed that WestJet had selected the cheapest possible ingredients and there wasn't even a bread roll with butter included. 

I find it quite disappointing when a complimentary meal on a competing carrier exceeds the quality of an in-flight meal that one had to pay extra for. In addition, this isn't a case of "I got what I paid for" because I could have booked a flight on a competing carrier for the very same price of my WestJet ticket. Overall, my advice to fellow passengers is to skip the WestJet meal and buy a nice hearty meal inside the airport prior to departure. You'll get much better value and feel more satisfied.

westjet president ceo
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
After the meal service, WestJet's President & CEO, came through the cabin to help clear meal trays and garbage. He took time to ask the passengers for their feedback on the inaugural flight. I was impressed that he made the effort to engage with passengers. 

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
A couple of hours prior to landing at London's Gatwick Airport, the cabin crew delivered the second portion of my pre-paid meal, a light snack of banana bread and sliced apples. It was hardly the continental breakfast that I have been accustomed to on other carriers, but it was adequate. 

The flight attendants then came through the cabin again with another round of beverages and buy-on-board. But on this service, WestJet's CEO took the place of one of the attendants serving the beverages, which was another impressive move on his part. We eventually arrived at Gatwick on-time and without incident. 

THE RETURN FLIGHT

I was hoping that my WestJet flight back to Canada on May 23rd would have been as uneventful as the first one, but the mediocrity began before I even departed for the airport. I received a notification that my flight had been cancelled the evening prior to my scheduled departure. In the e-mail, I was presented with the option of rescheduling and flying back on another date or flying on the same date but routing through Toronto. 

westjet 767
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
Although I was not pleased as the new schedule would have me home prior to midnight as opposed to dinner time when I was originally scheduled to arrive, I took the option of the flight via Toronto as I had to get back for work. I arrived at London Gatwick Airport with plenty of time to spare. I must say that after Vancouver Airport, London Gatwick leaves much to be desired in terms of comfort and service.

When our flight was called to the boarding gate, the agents had us all form a long line and wait to board even though there was a completely empty boarding lounge filled with seats. As I stood in line, I learned that we were about to board a rescue flight that had been sent into transport passengers that had been displaced due to the cancelled flight. 

Apparently, one of WestJet's 767 aircraft had broken down the day before and they were unable to get a part to fix the aircraft in a timely manner. This resulted in not only the cancellation of my flight but several others as well. This caused some passengers to be stranded in London for another day. This is indeed the downside of flying with a carrier with a limited wide-body fleet as there are no spare aircraft that are readily available when one breaks down. In addition, break downs are to be expected when you are operating aircraft that are more than twenty years old.

After boarding the aircraft, the flight was delayed further because a passenger had become ill on board and wanted to disembark. We ended up being delayed around thirty minutes, which would not have been so bad except for the fact that I had an extremely tight connection in Toronto that would leave me only 45 minutes to clear customs, collect my luggage, and head to my next flight. Although I made it in the end, it made for a rather stressful experience at the prospect of being stranded in Toronto overnight.

On board the aircraft, the service was much the same. Tensions were high as all of the passengers had been inconvenienced in one way or another due to being on board a rescue flight. However, the cabin crew did their best and I must give special mention to a flight attendant from South Africa named Suzanne, who really made a special effort to bring light to a negative situation. 

She was very kind and patient with passengers and made the effort to check on them and engage them in conversation regularly. She stood out by a long shot against the other cabin crew, who didn't even come close to her level of service. In spite of her efforts, passengers including myself seemed disappointed that WestJet had not made any gesture to compensate the passengers for all the hassle and inconvenience -- a complimentary meal or alcoholic beverage would have gone a long way to addressing disappointment.

The rest of the flight seemed consistent with the inaugural flight in spite of the delays. However, I noticed that this time, pre-ordered meals were served simultaneously with the buy-on-board service. The meal choices on the return flight were different: Sweet Bell Pepper Chicken, Shepherd's Pie, and Butternut Squash Ravioli. Although I am partial to Shepherd's Pie, I won't pay $14.99 for it. Therefore, I ordered the ravioli.

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
All I can say is that this was the greatest disappointment of all. Firstly, the cabin crew had no record that I had even ordered a meal. Thankfully, I was able to produce a receipt that I printed at home proving that I had pre-paid for it. Secondly, they didn't have any of the side dishes available at the time of service. The flight attendant said, "Hopefully, we'll be back with the rest of your meal if we can find some." I thought they better find some as I had paid for it!

westjet food
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
While the cannelloni I was served on the outbound flight was decent, the ravioli was absolutely disgusting. The pasta lacked sauce and overall, it was dry, hard, and freezer-burned. It's obvious to the naked eye seeing the discolouration of the pasta. I could not believe that I had paid $15 for that, when it was below the quality of a $1.99 frozen pasta at the grocery store!

westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
The flight attendants later returned with the remainder of the meal, which was an oatmeal raisin cookie and pasta salad. Although I was incredibly disappointed that I paid $15 for the meal, it turned out when I arrived home that I didn't end up paying anything for it. 

Since my original flight was cancelled, WestJet's computer system automatically cancelled and refunded the purchase of my meal. Although it ended up being a happy accident to my benefit, it is a bit alarming that my order was not transferred to my new flight schedule as I could have ended up without a meal at all. 

westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
westjet meal
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
A couple of hours prior to landing in Toronto, I received the light snack that I had ordered with my pre-purchase meal. It was an extremely basic cheese sandwich wrapped in cling film.

westjet meal
"WestJet Sandwich"
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
It looked like something that your mother might have packed for a school lunch - very bland and underwhelming in every way possible. Compare this to the complimentary cheese sandwich that I received on a British Airways flight from London Gatwick to Barcelona. I paid only £40 for that two-hour flight and both the sandwich and packaging were much more impressive.

british airways meal
"British Airways Sandwich"
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
SHOULD YOU FLY WESTJET TO LONDON?

I consciously chose to fly WestJet to London as they have worked hard to earn an enviable reputation for their domestic and trans-border flights in Canada. I am thankful that they have brought down the cost of airfares between the United Kingdom and Canada. However, I would likely never fly with them to London again unless they improve the quality of their product and service. 

It would be completely fair to receive a sub-standard product if I had saved a considerable amount of money over competing carriers because it is acceptable to receive less when you have paid less for it. But in this instance, there was a choice and I could have flown Air Canada mainline or Air Transat for the same price and I would have undoubtedly received better value. To add insult to injury, the in-flight meal that I paid for with WestJet ended up being well below the standard of complimentary services that are included in the cost of a ticket with competing carriers. After paying extra for checked luggage, meals, and not even having seat-back televisions screens, I can equate this experience to nothing more than a flying school bus.  

I must disclose that I did receive compensation from WestJet for the delayed return flight. However, that is a credit to the European Union's Denied-Boarding and Delayed Flight Regulations. While I appreciate my compensation, I can't help but wonder what gesture WestJet would have made had the regulations not been in place. Overall, I was disappointed with the experience. It did not meet my expectations and WestJet's long-haul product leaves much to be desired. Growing pains are expected in the beginning but I sincerely hope that they will focus on improving.

westjet 767
Copyright Photo: D.Wilson/PFN
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