Sunday, June 23, 2013

Philippine Airlines Introducing Four Class Configuration, Three Classes of Economy

Philippine Airlines Low Cost Carrier Class

Philippine Airlines will be introducing a fourth class of service in preparation for its incoming fleet of new Airbus A321 and A330-300 aircraft in an attempt to accommodate a larger range of passengers and remain competitive with its low cost carrier rival, Cebu Pacific.

pal 777 economy
Source: Philippine Airlines
The new Airbus A321 aircraft will be delivered beginning in August with 202 seats including 12 business, 36 premium economy, and 104 economy class seats. According to Ramon Ang, President of Philippine Airlines,  the remaining 50 seats on board the aircraft will be designated "low-cost carrier" class.

The Airbus A330-300 aircraft will arrive in two separate configurations with one designated for Philippine Airlines and another for PAL Express.

The eight aircraft that are due for delivery to PAL Express will feature 418 seats in a three-class economy layout including premium economy, regular economy, and low cost carrier class. The number of seats just falls shy of Cebu Pacific's 436 seat all economy A330-300 which is configured with the highest seat density in the world for an aircraft of that type. Adding to the list of international feats, Philippine Airlines will be the only airline in the world to offer three versions of economy class.

The twelve aircraft that are bound for Philippine Airlines will feature a four class seat configuration offering 18 business class, 36 premium economy, 264 economy, and 50 low cost carrier class seats.

The first of Philippine Airline's 20 Airbus A330 aircraft is scheduled for delivery in October 2013. Philippine Airlines intends to use its new aircraft to replace older aircraft in the fleet previously under lease and is continuing to explore the possibility of another long-haul aircraft order. It is unclear what in-flight entertainment will be available aboard any of the aircraft.

philippine airlines a321
Source: Airbus
Former PAL President Lucio Tan had announced in 2010 that the airline was carefully evaluating the configuration of its aircraft to optimize the cost per seat for all of its travellers particularly budget conscious guests. While very little information has been released on the distinction between the new economy classes along with the respective services and amenities, one can only speculate that Philippine Airlines is trying to design a new class that is similar to Cebu Pacific's long haul configuration enabling the airline to compete more effectively from a pricing point of view.

If that is the case, passengers seated in the low cost carrier class can expect a much tighter squeeze with a seat pitch as low as 30 inches in addition to what will likely be reduced services and amenities. The new class could be a modified reincarnation of PAL Econolight service that was introduced in 2008 on select domestic routes and international flights in an attempt to target budget conscious travellers by selling seats lower than standard economy. While the seats on board the aircraft were the same as standard economy, the services differed and all of the seats were at the back of the aircraft in the last few rows.

For guests who booked econolight seats, all tickets were non-changeable, non-refundable, and ineligible for frequent flyer mileage accrual. Passengers were not entitled to advanced seat selection, had limited baggage allowance, and were denied access to frequent flyer lounges regardless of status. On board domestic flights, passengers did not receive any headsets for in-flight entertainment and were only served a cup of water while regular passengers received beverage service and a snack. On board international flights, econolight passengers were entitled to peanuts and unlimited non-alcoholic beverages while full service economy passengers received hot meals. It is possible that the new Philippine Airlines low cost carrier class will be like econolight. The new class may focus on an a-la-carte style of service instead but the memory of econolight offers an insight as to what may be in store for budget passengers. What is likely is that PAL will come up with something to give its budget passengers an edge on Cebu Pacific but for now, passengers will just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, both Cebu Pacific and PAL Express are gearing up for a duel in Dubai. Cebu Pacific will have a head start as it launches its flight on October 7 while PAL Express doesn't begin until November 1.

Copyright Photo: DN280/Jetphotos.net
According to a report by Interaksyon, PAL Express will be offering meal-inclusive fares on the Manila to Dubai route hinting at the possibility that this feature may be the competitive advantage for the PAL Express low cost carrier class over Cebu Pacific's a-la-carte budget service. But with no further details released, it is unclear whether this service will be unique to the Dubai route or implemented across all PAL Express international flights in low cost carrier class. Another advantage PAL Express will have over its rival is the offer of Premium Economy which will feature additional legroom and other service enhancements. The best Cebu Pacific can offer is its 'Standard Plus' seats at the back of the aircraft with 32 inches of legroom or its 'Premium' seats located at bulk head and exit rows. It will be hard to know who wins in the price category until PAL Express makes their Dubai flights available for sale. 

Last week, Philippine Airlines announced that it would outfit its new A321 fleet of 34 aircraft with IAE International Aero Engines' V2500 model while its A330 fleet of 20 aircraft would be powered by Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines. Both the new A321 and A330 fleet will be equipped with an extensive range of Thales Avionic Equipment.  

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