An Honest Review of Philippine Airlines

The following article was written by Andrew James Masigan and originally published in the Manila Bulletin.


pal flight review
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
Last week, Philippine Airlines President Ramon S. Ang (RSA) announced the replacement of 20 ageing aircrafts with modern, fuel-efficient planes. The re-fleeting program is one of many strategies meant to put the flag carrier back in the black while increasing competitiveness. The program involves the acquisition of 100 brand new planes, which, when completely delivered, will give PAL the distinction of operating the youngest fleet in Asia, with an average age of just 3.5 years.

RSA has made a $10 billion financial commitment to put PAL in top fighting form. He has also embarked on an aggressive expansion of international routes. The flag carrier has since expanded its routes in the Middle East, Australia, Japan, Canada, Indonesia and restored direct connections to Europe via London. And with the country’s recent upgrade to category 1 in America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ratings, PAL is seen to expand its ports of call to New York and Chicago in the U.S., and Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and hopefully, Madrid in Europe.

I have been an ardent supporter of PAL since RSA took over. I view the man as a visionary for his own businesses and his country. He is one of the few captains of industry who can actualize his grand visions given his proficiency in management and financial muscle. If anyone can turn this perennial money-losing airline into a competitive, world-class carrier, RSA can.

I had the privilege of meeting RSA in an intimate dinner hosted by my good friend and fellow columnist, Cito Beltran. Right off the bat, I was taken by his street-smart, no-nonsense approach to management. But more than that, I was astounded at how adept he was on the technical side of his businesses. The man could recite, by memory, the engine types, horsepower, thrust and fuel consumption of each of his aircrafts. RSA blends mechanical, financial and managerial savvy in one neat package.

Civil society has a lot riding on PAL’s success. The flag carrier plays a vital part in the tourism industry, an industry that now employs 4.9 million of our countrymen. With our national target of 10 million tourists by 2016 comes 1.9 million more jobs and $8.9 billion in tourism revenues. PAL can help make this happen if it successfully expands its routes and patronage. Put into context, an additional 1.9 million jobs will reduce our unemployment rate by two percentage points while $8.9 billion is equivalent to 40 percent of OFW remittances. These are serious numbers able to improve the quality of life of every Filipino.

Honestly Speaking…

I took my family to Sydney for the Holy Week and, as usual, we flew PAL (on board PR 211/212). We bought economy class tickets but the folks at PAL extended us the courtesy of placing us in the section with a wider legroom. I was upgraded (without my wife and kid) to business class on one leg of the journey.

While others may exchange PAL’s courtesy with a glowing “press release”, I choose to give RSA an honest, sincere review of our experience on his airline. I genuinely want PAL to succeed and the best way I can do it is to let RSA know the real score in the frontlines.

First off, it must be said that both our departures, from Manila and from Sydney, left right on time. We arrived at our destination 15 minutes ahead of schedule. This was not a one-off as all of my recent trips on PAL were on the mark, schedule-wise. To me, they have proven the “Plane Always Late” moniker a thing of the past.

As usual, take-offs and landings were as smooth as one can hope for. In the air, turbulence was minimal and the flight was generally comfortable with a pleasant cabin atmosphere onboard the A340. However, things were not that good in as far as the in-flight service was concerned. The in-flight crew proved to be the weak link.

The more senior crewmembers were assigned in business class while the juniors were in economy. Presumably, the older crew had more experience to better serve the preferred passengers. Sadly, this was not the case. Our stewardesses, women in their late 50s or 60s, were off their game. They mechanically fulfilled their “chores” in a slow, sluggish manner, without the amor or cariño Filipinas are known for. I had the impression they were so bored with their jobs, having done it for the last 30 years. They were way off the mark when compared to the business class service of Singapore or Thai Airways.

There were two young stewards also attending to us, both of whom were more eager to serve. However, we were shocked when one of them offered to put ice on our champagne since they forgot to chill the bottles beforehand.

Back in economy class, the young staff seemed more enthusiastic. However, amor or cariño was missing, too. It was regrettable since the charming service of PAL’s stewardesses has always been its secret weapon. If anything, these young women seemed like they were in a state of frantic panic. It made the atmosphere tense.

My biggest complaint, however, is the crew’s fondness of chatting among themselves. They talk to each other during service (speaking with voices loud enough to be heard by the passengers) and in the galley when in rest mode. They talk and laugh loudly, to the point where they actually disturbed the passengers. Refined and sophisticated they are not. This has always been the problem of PAL even before RSA’s time. I hope they recognize it as a problem that needs to be nipped in the bud.

The food was not good either. I remember when PAL used to have a wide choice of breads, a good selection of wines and tableside buffet service. That is no longer in effect. Sure, my salmon dinner was supposedly prepared by a renowned chef (Fernando Aracama, I believe) but to me, it was of inferior quality. It was overcooked, unremarkable in taste and had the serving size good for a nine-year-old. No refills were offered.

As this was an eight-hour flight, overnight kits were distributed. I didn’t get mine because they ran out. I wanted to purchase a bottle of cologne but they did not have testers onboard either.

Lest it be said that I am being overcritical, I am intentionally writing this piece without filters. I’m doing this to allow my beloved PAL to improve. Nothing would make me happier than to see it rise from a three-star airline (per Skytrax Ratings) to a five-star carrier. After all, PAL is a symbol of national pride. Besides, with the time, money and management commitment RSA is pouring into it, PAL deserves to be at par with the likes of Emirates and Singapore Airlines. I reckon PAL’s crew and trainers should realize this and up their game. The competition has leveled up, and so should they.

One last thing…as we lined up at immigration in Sydney, I saw PAL’s flight staff in a row, following those from Emirates and Thai Airways. I really encourage the management to change the uniforms already. They appear old and utilitarian. It does not reflect the new energy and vitality of PAL under its new management.

Notwithstanding all these, PAL remains to be my airline of choice. It is a work in progress, one heading towards the right direction. In many ways, it is much like the Philippines. For that reason, I am proud of it.

Andrew is an economist, political analyst and businessman. He is a 20-year veteran in the hospitality and tourism industry. For comments and reactions, e-mail andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. Follow Andrew on Twitter @aj_masigan. 

26 comments:

  1. The crew stuff is true. At 21 years old, I have flown with PAL for 19 years and I must say that their crew are 55% boastful, noisy, and rude while the remaining 45% are nice, elegant, and helpful. But my worst crew experience was when I went to LAX via PR102. It was around an hour after dinner and was thirsty so I called on a stewardess for a glass, technically a plastic cup, of water via the FA button. My call was repeatedly shut down deliberately by the crew. So when the Venus Raj looking crew passed by, well she was the FA assigned on our section, I asked her for it. She didn't smile at all. When she handed me my water, my seatmate also asked for the same. Guess what was her reaction? She just didn't frown, her face really turned into someone might call "Face of Doom." Lucky for her, my seatmate didn't see it cause if he did I'm pretty sure she'll either get fired or suspended cause he was one heck of a picky passenger- like me. All through the 13 hour flight, she was really pissed. I don't know what happened to her before the flight but she has to know that she should not mix work with personal stuff.

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    1. FAs should undergo random drug tests too.

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    2. Best idea ever.

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  2. "My biggest complaint, however, is the crew’s fondness of chatting among themselves." 100% true in all PAL flights I have taken, especially during take off and before landing when they are strapped to their seats.

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  3. They are far from singapore. Malaysia. Qatar thai etc. Lack of ife on brand new planes? No competetive product that will make me choose them over asiana or qatar on trips to europe or america.

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  4. My last flight with PAL was boring.. first, majority of the crews are old already. Second, its true they love talking in loud voices. Third, they choose passengers whom they will only treat nicely. Fourth, the aircraft lacks entertainment system. Fifth, the food is not that attractive to eat...lastly, only a few knows how to smile. The rest works in the cabin like a panic robot... to be honest.. i love flying with PAL during the 80s. The spirit is there, those wide smiles with service par excellance...shining through...
    like SQ of today and CX... anyway, theres always room for improvement. Goodluck!

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  5. I will add two comments. The first when a few years back I turned left at the door on a MNL-SIN flight and was stopped at the entrance and asked by the matronly PAL stewardess - 'do you like ballroom dancing sir...'...to which I replied..'er why?'...response was...'well you are the only passenger in business class'...BRILLIANT. We came to an accord by which they ensured I had enough red wine and they could sit and chat - which they did quietly.

    Secondly, the sometimes loud and boorish behaviour of the flight crew is not limited to PAL...some sectors on CEB have been just as bad with a couple in which the cabin crew just shut the curtain after take off and opened it again before landing - with themselves the other side chatting and laughing with no service at all on the sector.

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  6. Old age doesn't mean bad service! I've had extremely excellent senior crews with NZ. My last SQ purser, an old guy, was fantastic. It's not the age, it's the PR crew...

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    1. I do agree with that. AGE does not justify the service. Its how well their managing during the flights. Their are couple of FAA that could be young and dont have much experience at all. And you probably be like "Young FAA always gives good service" Which is wrong. Sooo. Dont ever base on their age.

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  7. A lot but not all of PAL in flight crews have a mistaken notion that they are glorified "maids in the sky". Hence they carry this chip on the shoulder. They do not realize that the passenger has a choice of other carriers, and the success
    of the airline depends on projecting the best frontline behavior. When they go to their own homes, they have maids who serve them, after having been inflight "servants".. This is a Filipino mentality that sadly is true and needs to be sorely corrected. Unless management also addresses this psychological hang up, they will never really be professional crews like true 5 star airlines.. They will always project this detached, lazy, snotty, loud and boorish behavior especially on their co-countrymen who are paying passengers. They may feel superior to them , for example over overseas workers from the Middle East who may not speak perfect English. Only when this is addressed head on in their training, can PAL crews improve. Filipina stewardesses on other airlines do not show this shoddy behavior.

    DAVID M, GARCIA,MD
    LAGUNA HILLS, CALIFORNIA

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    1. Couldn't have said it better myself.

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    2. So true. And their loud conversing between themselves exemplifies it all too often.

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  8. Please don't compare PAL with Qatar or SQ. Philippine Airlines belongs to Jurassic era while QR or SQ is so way ahead. PR crew is so old!

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    1. Sadly but true, PAL was ahead of all of these carriers and in the 1970's offered truly excellent service.

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    2. I agree, PAL was one of the top airline until the Asia's Financial Crisis. They had to discontinue the flights to the most profitable destinations like New York, etc and Europe. And then Downgraded to Cat.2 cause lack of safety requirements. If all of this wouldnt happen. Im sure PAL would of been still the top airlines. But sadly, it ruined PAL.
      But even though, I still love PAL no matter what. They have lots of potential for the future.

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  9. I flew PAL from Saigon to Manila, business class (at least that's what they call it). The plane was an A320 and it proved to be my last flight on PAL.
    First off, the business class seating is cramped, offering much the same pitch as other airlines economy class. It's cramped!
    Secondly, I was assigned seat 2A, although I had requested a seat in the first row and the flight had only 3 of us in business class. When I boarded and went to my seat, I noticed it was wet - someone must have spilled something on it on the last flight. I asked the stewardess to let me sit elsewhere, but she said that I had to stay in my assigned seat until after take off. I did observe that the entire first row was empty and that the seats in the first row immediately in front of me were used for newspapers and magazines that the crew were to distribute.
    Indeed, after take off, I was allowed to move to seat 1A, which affords a little more legroom.
    While the crew were congenial, they also spent a great deal of time chattering amongst themselves in the service area, behind a closed curtain.
    The meal was fair, nothing to rave about. But no airline meal is exceptional these days although some do better than others.
    There was IFE, but it was dismal and the screens that drop down kept retracting and then dropping down. As the crew were too "busy" chattering, they paid little attention.
    Years ago, PAL crew were well-known for their conduct and manners. They were, as I recall, trained by Chito Madrigal in manners and comportment. Chito Madrigal is gone, sadly, but there are many about whom PAL could use to teach crew the fine art of service - which is what an airline is all about.
    Sadly, I gave up flying PAL after I sat all the way home in discomfort with my pants damp. There are too many other airlines to select from these days, many competitive with PAL's pricing. It is sad to see PAL in this state, Mr. Ang.

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    1. I respect your opinion but in fairness to the FA, they are really not allowed to reseat passengers until after takeoff because of the safety.

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  10. To be honest, they should retire the old FAs. It is not because of their senior look but rather in the eyes of possible air emergency. FAs are tagged as "maid in the skies" but they really are safety professionals. If time will come that a PR flight would crash, can the old ones still perform the emergency procedures? I don't think so. It is natural that as we age, we deteriorate in strength. What my argument is that their senior crew will not probably function properly in times of emergency despite trainings since what they are against here is the natural ageing and body deterioration.

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  11. Welcome to Palengke Airlines!

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  12. I flew PAL from Singapore to Manila last March. I intentionally booked a PAL flight just to satisfy my hunger to fly with PAL once more. I booked my flight from SYD-SIN then MNL-PER via Singapore Airlines and SIN-MLA via PAL. I have always loved PAL but since I first flew with them I already saw these rude FA's uttering degrading words to those people who are going to toilets because the aisle was a bit narrow. I found it very shameful specially that they are not giving considerations to those passengers. The in-flight services were not really good..I am hoping that someday they will improve their services not only on flights to US but also to other countries like Australia. I am hoping that someday the PAL FA's will be as accommodating as the FA's in Singapore Airlines.

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  13. I hope ang can change uniforms and service instructors. Cabincrew dont smile and lack that instinct like cx and sq cabincrews have. Also the chefs, why only filipino chefs and not foreigners? Would be more variaty. And i want nice cutlery to eat with. Not plastic!! It doesent cost. Look at etihads new interior that got released yesterday for media. Get some inspiration. I like pal, but prefer other airlines at same price. I dont care long waiting as i like shopping and discovering new airports. The money is not worth it with pal, sad to say it.

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  14. I like pal from the outside, not from the inside. Their a321 sharklets are nice. Lack of ife, and good seats. The old ones where more comfy , but still shit compare to what u get from other 5 star carriers with similar price. Focus more on food, i like desserts from premium carriers like malaysia and sq where u get chokolates and nice pastries. Not a tasteless muffin packed in plastic with plastic cutlery to!!! Premium market is large in philippines but they dont go with pal!!! Impress them. Learn from other 5 star airlines, and service is not good anymore. And we need more pretty crew with a nice smile that makes u fall asleep.

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  15. RSA has an unenviable task of upgrading PAL to a 4-star world class airline. Almost all the changes necessary are a priority. EQUIPMENT- planes, IFE, etc. SERVICE- flight crew retraining or replacement, developing incentive plans that will motivate the cabin crew to provide better service : CUISINE, review and upgrading. Least costly but immediate results would be Crew restructuring. Dr. David Garcia of Laguna Hills, Calif said it best about PAL cabin crew. I would recommend hiring a international firm the will conduct an audit of the cabin crew function using a lot of "Secret Shoppers" that will observe how they operate in flight. Firing a few cabin crew for poor performance will wake up the rest of the employees. SMILE OR GET FIRED!! FOOD will be number 2. It is only when changes are made that PAL will get back more customers and return to profitability.

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  16. training and discipline is very vital for a cabin crew to perform well..AGE IS NEVER A BASIS...i would rather have aged looking crew but very efficient and compassionate and with presence of mind, than young ones who are very cold and always in limbo....competence comes with age,so the not so young ones have that..the millenium born has to earn wisdom first to be able to be efficient,experience wise.fyi,all airlines have such mixed crew in age range..the complains are valid,but some filipinos have this attitude that the moment they step in the pal plane,they're also paying for the crew to be their slaves.how come they cannot be as arrogant when they take the other airlines?i would still take pal among other airlines because it's my flag carrier, and i never felt so at home in the sky, and i like the filipino crew mentality.they will always help you in times of need..whatever i ask,they were always there to help me,even if it takes a while, i still believe in their genuine kindness.

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  17. What a great journalist you are Andrew James Masigan.
    Whining about your Salmon dinner on a business class flight, and the dumb flight attendant forgot to cool your champagne?
    The salmon was overcooked and tasteless but you asked for a refill? WTF!!!
    While 90% of your countries population lives in poverty?
    You are a disgrace, shame on you.
    #pleaserefilltheovercookessalmon

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    1. I don't see what you are doing here in an airline review page? Sheesh. If you're paying thousands of dollars for a business class flight - yes, it's not unreasonable to expect the same service that you'll get from other airlines.

      If you go to an airline page - you'll see reviews of the seat, service, salmons, wine, and other crap. Feel free to leave and never come back. There are other better use for your data plane. Adios.

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