Philippine Airlines Pivots Toward Premium-Full Service Product

For the last two years, it was widely believed that Philippine Airlines was facing an identity crisis. However, since the the Lucio Tan Group regained control of the national flag carrier, PAL President Jaime Bautista seems to have breathed some clarity back into the airline. 

pal boeing 777
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
Philippine Airlines reached its most confusing point under the management of the San Miguel Corporation. Bautista inherited a scattered fleet of modern Boeing 777 aircraft fully equipped with in-flight entertainment at each seat, ageing and fuel-inefficient Airbus A340 aircraft with main screen entertainment, and brand-new A330 aircraft in two distinct configurations without a single television screen to even display the moving map. 

The A330 fleet was mixed with two configurations: a 414-seat mono-class product of just economy and premium economy and a tri-class configuration with business class, premium economy, and regular economy. In spite of being brand new aircraft, the cabin looked sparse and cheap at the best of times. 

After conducting a thorough fleet analysis, it seems that Bautista concluded that these aircraft in their current configurations were not the right fit for PAL or at least not the right way to move forward. Former PAL President Ramon Ang seemed to favour a hybrid-model that leaned more towards budget carriers like Cebu Pacific, which was introduced to the dismay of loyal and long-time PAL passengers.

As Philippine Airlines prepares to order new long-haul aircraft to shepherd the national flag carrier into the next generation and era of aviation, Bautista now has an opportunity to solidify the direction and identity of the national flag carrier as it prepares to move forward.

PAL is currently evaluating proposals from both Boeing and Airbus with regard to their respective Boeing 787 and A350 aircraft. It is expected that Philippine Airlines will make a decision on what aircraft it will order by the end of this year. Bautista has indicated that the carrier intends to order eight aircraft. Six will be used to replace the ageing A340 fleet, while two will be used for modest expansion. The carrier hopes to launch new non-stop flights with the aircraft such as Manila to New York.

Although we do not know whether PAL will select the Boeing 787-9 or the A350-900, Bautista has provided some insight into the configuration of the aircraft, which signals a change in strategic direction for the carrier. In an interview with Aviation Week, Bautista noted that regardless which aircraft is ordered, it will have less than 300 seats and feature an economy, premium economy, and business class cabin. Bautista did not comment on in-flight entertainment systems, but it is likely that these aircraft will be equipped similarly to the Boeing 777 fleet.

This is welcome news for long-time customers of PAL that have long feared that they would be left with no choice but to travel in cattle class aboard a mono-class aircraft across the Pacific. Former PAL President Ramon Ang long held the belief that all Filipinos cared about was price and that passengers would sacrifice all forms of comfort and amenities in order to get the lowest airfare. It was that rationale that led to the introduction of the 414-seat mono-class A330 aircraft, when Ang had ambitions to challenge Cebu Pacific. 

But the days of that sort of thinking, which is not befitting of a national carrier, seem to be over. Bautista seems more determined than ever to revamp Philippine Airlines and to give the carrier a much needed facelift that will offer passengers a higher standard of service and comfort, as well as a consistent experience across aircraft. 

The carrier will be accepting delivery of two additional Boeing 777 aircraft next year, which Bautista says will be the last of that aircraft type destined for PAL as it plans to "concentrate on newer technology" in the future. The A340 aircraft will be retired when the new Boeing 787 or A350 aircraft arrive. Meanwhile, Bautista intends to completely refurbish the cabins of the entire A330 fleet.

Currently, fifteen of the A330 aircraft are in the 368-seat three class configuration, while eight aircraft carry the high-density 414 seat configuration with just economy and premium economy. Bautista intends to reconfigure the entire fleet in a single configuration with fewer seats than both of the present configurations.

In addition, the carrier will install new seats and brand-new in-flight entertainment systems, which will be installed in 2017. However, no details have been provided as to what type of entertainment system can be expected. According to Bautista, the aircraft in the all-economy configuration will be the first to be re-configured with the new product.

With the new changes that Bautista plans to introduce over the next two to five years, it is obvious that the current Philippine Airlines management has a clear vision of what the national flag carrier's identity should be and what it represents. The focus is now shifting towards full-service and premium products in all of the carrier's international markets, which is a badly needed change from the budget approach of the previous management under San Miguel Corporation.

Meanwhile, Bautista has confirmed that Philippine Airlines is planning to convert some of its existing A321neo orders to the long range variant. As many as a third of the thirty A321neo aircraft on order could be converted to the long range model. These aircraft would be used to replace some existing A330 services, while opening up new smaller, long range markets in Australia and India. However, Bautista has not indicated if the new A321 aircraft to be delivered will feature a new in-flight entertainment product.

58 comments:

  1. Manila - New York? Up to 8,500 miles for Airbus A350-900

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  2. Philippine Airlines should consider hiring outside consultants from the airline service industry if they are serious about pivoting towards premium service...and maintaining it long-term. Both their on-board crew as well as their outsourced ground crew are in need of a major overhaul in service training. PAL's aspirations to become a world-class airline at par with those airlines in Asia cannot be realised if overhauled only from within. They are planning to expand to other major cities in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and more, which also happen to be markets which are accustomed to premium airline service. The airline can invest millions and billions in new aircraft, new seats, and new IFE systems, however if the service is still at its current discount-carrier quality, it will be a waste. There is simply too much competition with far superior quality, when making the long trek to the Philippines.

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    1. People like you is why PAL won't get any better. Things don't change overnight you know. If you want to help improve PAL, how about you give PAL the proper feedback to their social media or even write a letter to Mr. Bautista?

      Right now, PAL is fixing up the mess from the previous management.

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    2. The responder has a valid point. You can't just put a lipstick on a pig and make it look presentable. It is still a pig!

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    3. I beg to differ. Maybe if you compare to other Asian carriers like CX, SQ, EK. PAL still lags behind. But compare the service of the Big 3 US Legacy Carriers?! PAL has still superior service despite lacking proper IFE (IPAD is distributed) compare to those airlines. And the current people running the airline is now fixing the previous management's problem.

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    4. To the first responder - you're blaming the public or this individual for PAL's woes??? Too funny!

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    5. If you want to help pal to become a world class airlines then fly pal.singaporeans,koreans,hongkong chinese,japanese are nationalistic and thats the reason why their airlines succeed.sana ganyan ang mentality natin.the more filipino fly with pal,the more profits and service upgrade will follows.success dont come overnight..

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    6. Transpacific, after the meal service:

      PAL flight attendants: disappear to the galley, never to be seen again until the next meal service

      Other airlines' flight attendants: going through the aisles every few minutes distributing water, snacks, donning blankets, picking up fallen pillows, wiping up lavatories, helping mothers with crying babies

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    7. Same as Delta, United, and AA on TransPac flights, so don't complain

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    8. It is the false sense of nationalism that has gotten PAL where it is today. The management has no clue. No Filipino has experience running a proper airline. Forget this stupid Pinoy first policy & hire qualified foreigners. Just like CX, EY, EK, etc etc... The close-minded way of thinking has no place in the globalized economy!

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    9. To: September 19, 2015 at 1:05 PM

      The public. All I hear are people bitching about PAL. Complaining about seats? Why? You paid for Economy so don't expect anything fancy. Want comfort? Pay the extra money. Complaining about the flight attendances? Sure, I've had couple of issues here and there, but none of which that turned me off from flying with PAL.

      Instead of being negative about PAL, how about you do your part as a customer and give them feedback on how to improve their services?

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    10. Ummm... right because I really have a lot of time on my hands as a busy businessman traveling for work. Sorry but it's not up to me. U think CX, SQ, etc... got better because they were "told"? No! Feedback is about improving what they've already got! Not teaching them the basics. My money will talk, & I will give it to the airline deserving of my business. Take for example a flight to SFO, which I go to on a monthly basis. PAL should be my first choice because it's convenient. But it's not because for just a little bit more on CX (biz class), I get an individual seat, gourmet food & wine, the great lounges at HKG, CX Studio, priority lines at immigration, much better ground services, priority bags that actually work! I flew this route just last week & was surprised to see onboard famous businessmen/CEOs from MNL in J. Why did we not take PR when nonstop is supposedly convenient? We should have been the natural market for PAL. But they're no match for CX & others... It is not up to us to improve them. They should do their research & see what their competition is up to & come out with the same product or better to entice us to switch.

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    11. Agreed, and I don't believe that PAL is cleaning up the mess from the prior mgmt. Well, PAL has been cleaning up the mess since 1941. PAL started its business much earlier than Vietnam AL, but VAL has already ordered 10 of A350 and 8 of B787. PAL cannot even make decision. The next deliveries for A350 is in 2020. That means PAL passengers would have to suffer for many years more before they can fly with better airplane. The longer wait they make decision the longer wait the airplane can be produced. So why the passengers can't switch to a better carrier? I think PAL is insulting their passengers. PAL passengers are paying expensive fares with no decent products and amenities. PAL should understand that their passengers are not flying like a hobo. I think they deserved to fly with dignity and respect. lol.

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    12. Obviously that moron who says that we must fly PAL to improve their services is an absolute ultranationalist. Make PAL improve their services pure and simple. Stop forcing us to fly PAL if we don't like it's services at all because you're like forcing us to eat pagpag even if it's unhealthy to eat. No wonder why our country can't face globalizaotion unlike Singapore because pinoys like you are too coward to face competition and always uses his dysfunctional pride first. Ano ka north korea?

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    13. Many here expect to eat filet mignon and yet can only afford bistek. Hahaha. Chill guys. They started and you can't expect things to happen overnight. Why not give the inputs? What's wrong with that?

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    14. Until now pal still flying...without the pretentious third world cattles

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    15. Obviously people here that can't afford to travel in premium class are jealous of those who can... and with the better carriers! PAL is a joke of an airline...

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    16. C'mon stop pretending, you cant afford premium class..it is intended for greedy businessmen and corrupt politicians.

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    17. Greedy? Stop being jealous of other people's success & start working harder so that maybe you can join us in premium class with better airlines & see for yourself what a joke PAL is!

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    18. Lets just sum it up. People running PAL aren't risk takers.

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  3. If it were I to pick what planes PAL should take, they should go for A350 for now. As much as I want them to get the 787, they should just forego it. If they still need additional aircraft, they should order the 777-X next to complement the existing 777 fleet. That way, you only have two aircraft types for long haul. PAL wins for maintenance, Airbus wins, Boeing wins. Everybody is happy.

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  4. reconfigure the existing A321's also! 199 seats, very tight, remove premium economy, give 1 more inch of seat pitch, add IFE like the A320's, add one more toilet!

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  5. does joining an airline alliance will help them propel towards this goal?

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    Replies
    1. Yes, but given the poor state of NAIA, do not expect PAL to be in an alliance any time soon.

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    2. True. PAL being thr sole carrier in T2 isn't strategic. Much better if the move to T3 and shift domestic flights to T2. T3 has much bigger space. Thus they can create bigger lounges efficient for use of partner airlines. Plus fast transfers for international connectiong passengers.

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  6. Airbus A350-900
    - Chicago
    - London
    - New York City
    - Paris

    Boeing B777-300ER
    - Frankfurt
    - Miami that connects to the rest of Latin America, such as São Paulo, Buenos Aires, more.
    - Rome
    - Washington that connects to the rest as same as Miami does

    Boeing B787-900
    - Amsterdam
    - Las Vegas
    - Madrid
    - Seattle

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    Replies
    1. By the way, PAL cannot operate more than 4 aircraft types due to CAAP's rules and regulations.

      PAL already has:
      - A319/A320/A321 Family
      - A330 Family
      - A340 Family
      - Boeing 777 Family

      Hence why they can't simply get both the A350 and B787. They must choose one to replace the A340 Family.

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    2. Actually ang ibig sabihin ata ng CAAP ay type rating, not necessarily type. Ang A330, A340 (and I think A350) ay pareho ang type rating. With that said, I think it would be more practical for PAL to stick to one type (my heart wants the 787 but I think the A350 is a better fit for them because of the longer range) at least for now and maybe buy another type if they improve. It's hard to maintain many types of airplanes anyway.

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    3. You are right Airbus A330 pilots just need a few weeks cross training and they will be good to fly the A350!

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  7. I hope PAL "new product" won't be outdated comes 2017. Their b777 products are way to outdated when they introduced them few years ago.

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    Replies
    1. They will update the configurations when their B777 enter its first D-Check, which is actually closer than you expect.

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    2. that's good news. honestly, their 777 business class is 2 generations behind the leaders. The business class which SMC ordered for the new a330's are such a joke. PAL will spend quite a large amount pf money to upgrade

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    3. Exactly PAL A330 Business Class NO in flight entertainment.

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  8. "Other airlines' flight attendants: going through the aisles every few minutes distributing water, snacks, donning blankets, picking up fallen pillows, wiping up lavatories, helping mothers with crying babies"

    In PAL, After meal service its lights out. Pal fas usually do those things too especially cleaning lavatories(malas mo lang siguro balahura yung last gumamit ng lavatory, fas cant keep track of lav cleanliness all the timecos they have other things ti do). Not Donning blankets? Haha are you really sure now? And not passing out water every now and then? LOL And there's paSs arround snacks given in the middle of 1st and 2nd service. And fas are more than willing to assist mothers with babies.

    What im sure is usually pag pinoy sa ibang intl full servixe airline tahimik sumusunod. Pero pag nag pal ayan andaming satsat etc.

    I mean pal fas most if not all are spectacular . Depende kung insecure ka talagang tao na konting mali lang suplado/a na agad sila. NEXT TIME YOU FLY, USE THE freaking PASSENGER CALL BUTTON IF YOU NEED ANYTHING.

    Nakakainis minsan kasi insecurity ng ibang pinoy pasahero. At yung attitude na sense of entitlement.

    Isa pa yang sinasabi nila bias daw sa foreigner esp caucasian. Eh sjyempre naman ma kwento sila. And when fas greet them they greet back. Eh typical pinoy mag good morning ang fa di man lang makasagot. Yan usually yung mga nag rereklamong wala sa lugar.

    And yes if you think something needs to be improved, tell it to the company.

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    Replies
    1. it's not that the person who said that states PAL cabin crew do not do their duties. it's just the fact that other crew on other airlines are proactive enough to do what passengers might need or want without being prompted by call lights. they serve passengers even if passengers do not say they need anything. it is the proactiveness of PAL crew which make them fall short of being "world class". yes, there are some good crew on PAL, but in all my years flying PAL, I have never had an exceptional crew. And let me tell you, on my first flight with SQ and CX about 6yrs ago, my mind was blown with the service they provided.

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    2. Why?! Is there amusement and theme park in cx and sq?

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    3. their exceptional service came form their good cabin staff and certainly, it appears you came up with that "witty" reply of yours for no apparent reason. bottom line that i wanted to say is : PAL lacks the better proactive service of other carriers and anyone could easily tell that they are way better than PAL. the service i have experienced in PAL fits the amusement parks you were talking about though, their service are similar to those of clowns.

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    4. You fly PAL and you fly these airlines we talk about. And you'll see.

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    5. i already did and PAL is just way out of the league of other carriers. their lack of IFE and inconsistent service make me embarrassed that they are our flag carrier

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  9. Flew with PAL from yyz to mnl last summer. The FAs were young and nice. I think see any bad attitude on them. I am nice to them so they are nice to me. One pinoy got an FA so irritated. She called the FA to get her luggage in the overhead bin. Wtf!!! Why she can't do it by herself? Why call FA? Some pinoys thinks FAs are their household help.

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    Replies
    1. Actually you are right. You shall get what you deserve. many here are complaining about bad FAs. But have you seen bad passengers? Many passengers, mostly Pinoys, think they've bought the crew with the ticket they purchased. And one will say, well it is still their job to keep composure. They're human beings after all. No one is perfect. So lighten up.

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  10. Bakit ayaw mg comment si Mr. Bobo (Mr. Hong Kong)? Pag PAL article, wala talaga siya dito. HAHAHA

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  11. I hope PAL could introduce products the like of Vietnam Airlines. Have you ever seen their new b787s??!

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    Replies
    1. Ordering planes take time you know. PAL is still choosing between the A350 and B787

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    2. And the longer they wait, the longer the airplane can be produced. Then switch to another carrier.

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  12. You cannot just order an aircraft without pre-financial planning and market strategies. If you are Bautista, you have to please the stockholders, majority owners, etc., because these transactions involve millions and millions of US dollars! And at press time, PAL is reportedly cutting costs! Therefore, PAL is not Korean Air, Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific and Asiana Air which are making the money and I will not tell you why because it is obvious!

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    Replies
    1. PAL had a rough time over the years because of the blacklisting by the EU and FAA category 2 rating hindering their expansion. Ever since PH was no longer blacklisted, PAL has been on a aggressive move on expanding their services.

      AFAIK, they are only cutting costs on ground crews. I seriously hope they do not cut costs on maintenance. We all know how that went decades ago.

      That said, another issue that will hinder PAL yet again is NAIA-2. Last time I went through this terminal, It was already crowded. From the get-go, NAIA-2 was intended to be a Domestic terminal, not for International. Looks like PAL is paying that price.

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  13. PAL can check the routes that dont have enough premium - full service market. If the route don't have enough premium market. Let PAL express fly that route or PAL can bring back the Econo light class (seats on the back of the plane, no IFE, food for a fee, P1500 rebook and refund fee). This will ensure that all seats will be filled up to maximize PAL profits.

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    Replies
    1. Agree like SIA group. Silk air flies the low density secondary cities.

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  14. Another Exciting News From Pal.. Israel Tourism Minister announced recently that Pal is soon going to fly over Israel..lets wait for the formal announcement by Pal President Jaime Bautista seeing such photos with Pal B777 plane replica together with the officials of Pal and the Israeli Govt. makes it very clear that the arrival of 2 B777ER next year will be used in MNL-TVL-MNL route..

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    Replies
    1. Dont think so. A330 could reach tel aviv i guess B777s are for transpacific

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  15. Premium full service product on PAL's LAX to MNL round trip route would be more than one thousand dollars economy whereas China Southern and China Eastern charges you only five hundred twenty five round trip economy LAX/MNL round trip as well. Make your choice, its your money!

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