Opinion: Where should PAL's A350s fly to?

Philippine Airlines (PAL) seems to capitalise on its recently-acquired four-star rating from Skytrax by unveiling fresh new designs for its upcoming Airbus A321neo and A350 aircraft.  In previous years, details such as a lack of proper in-flight entertainment system in Economy class and fully-flat beds in Business have plagued the flag carrier.  



Today, the designs suggest top-of-the-line facilities such as seat-back in-flight entertainment for all classes and wifi.  For the A350, business class seats will have direct aisle access, full-flat beds, more storage spots, and a lot of privacy for each passenger.  PAL's upcoming aircraft also features a proper premium economy class cabin with wider seats, foot and headrests, in-seat reading lights, and storage for other items.  For those who cannot wait until July, passengers can still enjoy most of these features on PAL's reconfigured A330s, which are used on some flights to Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, and Bangkok.  

Which now leads us to this piece's eponymous question: where should PAL's A350s fly to?  It has been established that PAL's new A350s will fly to North America (especially New York) and London.  It makes sense.  With the Manila-London flight being one of PAL's longest, business travellers will really appreciate a fully-flat bed in the air, and some leisure travellers will appreciate the extra inch of seat width and a few more inches of recline and legroom.  The same story for passengers bound for New York, where PAL will open up a nonstop flight in a few months to.  Unlike San Francisco or Los Angeles or even Vancouver, traffic to these Atlantic destinations from the Philippines appears to be thinner and the A350 sits less than 300 passengers.   

There's just one problem: PAL only has six firm orders for the said aircraft.  Moreover, not all of them will be delivered before the year ends.  A flight between Manila and most destinations in North America and Europe is more than 12 hours long, which means that if an A350 is deployed to the likes of New York or even Los Angeles, it won't be back in Manila for more than 24 hours.  This also means that if PAL wants to use its A350 aircraft on a second destination which is of similar distance from Manila as New York or Los Angeles, it will need to have a second A350, and that assumes that the route will not fly daily or on any two consecutive days.  In practical terms, two A350s are needed to serve a single long-haul route that operates on consecutive days of the week.  If PAL only has six A350s, it means they can only be used on three long-haul destinations.

Thus bringing up a more specific question: if passengers on PAL's New York and London services will be the first to experience the A350, what should be the third destination?  This is a tough one because I feel many long-haul destinations should eventually see it but given the limited number of aircraft that will be part of the fleet, I have to say Los Angeles should be next.  It all boils down to symbolism.

PAL's Manila-Los Angeles route appears to be the carrier's 'flagship' route.  It continues to be a lucrative one for the flag carrier.  Based on what PAL has done over the years, if push comes to shove, PAL seems determined to 'save' its services to LA first.  Along these lines, the route has also attracted a sizeable share of premium traffic.   It should mean that the best that the flag carrier has to offer should be on such routes.  PAL has two flights and it can choose to deploy it to either flight.

Why I am making such a big deal about which destinations should see the A350?  PAL's current flagship is the Boeing 777-300ER aircraft (77W), which it has 10 of.  They all serve PAL's North American routes and its Manila-London flight.  At the time PAL was permitted to deploy its flagship aircraft to its 'flagship' route, the 77W was pretty much the best the flag carrier had to offer, so that was just fair.  Even then, the LA route received priority for PAL's new 'flagship' aircraft over San Francisco, which continued to receive 747 service for a few more months.  But today, even PAL's existing reconfigured A330s arguably offer more 'appropriate' amenities for premium long-haul travellers than the 77W.  For instance, the business class seats on the 77W are just angled lie-flat seats and passengers sitting in the window or the middle seats will have difficulty going to the aisle without disturbing passengers seated in the aisle seats.  Angled lie-flat business class seats may have been the industry standard for long-haul flights 15 years ago, yet a lot of four- and five-star carriers have gone all-out to continually improve their long-haul business class products.  And not to put too fine a point to it, but the 77Ws do not have a proper premium economy class product.  Given that the 77Ws PAL had received just last December are similarly configured to the first batch of 77Ws, I do not expect a cabin revamp to happen there anytime soon, which means 'premium' passengers on routes served by PAL's flagship aircraft will continue to experience more of the same in the near future.

In other words, I would find it unfair that Los Angeles-bound passengers have a more (for lack of a better word) 'inferior' product than passengers going to Hong Kong and Bangkok, which are regularly served by the reconfigured A330s.  

PAL has mentioned that it is working to turn its recently-acquired four-star rating into a five-star one.  It would take some time, but one way to do that is to show Skytrax that it offers 'appropriate' products to passengers on what it considers to be its 'flagship' long-haul destinations.  A key to a five-star rating is how a carrier treats products intended for its premium passengers and where it deploys the best of them to.

-hybridace101

Where do you think PAL should deploy its A350s to?  Do you have a way for the A350s to see as many destinations as possible given that they will only be few in number?  Sound off on the comments section.

A350 cabin photo courtesy of Philippine Airlines (via Cielo Villaluna's Facebook page); A350 aircraft courtesy of Airbus (via its Twitter page)

8 comments:

  1. I don't know if they'd want to use an A-350 on the route, but I wish one of the airlines would fly to Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is one of the few SE Asian capital cities not to have direct flights to the Philippines.

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  2. I think SFO should be the flagship “blue riband” route. While LAX has more flights, airlines make more money “up front”, and the business class cabin is always full on SFO flights. The Filipino population in the bay area is generally more affluent than the SoCal area and they pack the premium cabin. PAL even operates its own Mabuhay Lounge in SFO, as bad as it is, and the only one they operate outside the Philippines. But then again this is just my hunch. The LAX flights are packed to the gills but with rock bottom consolidator fares, whereas the SFO flight earns higher margin from the front.

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  3. I should add that PAL has option for 6 additional A350s which if activated could either be used for expansion or on exsisting routes also since they are intrested with the A350-1000 its possible that they can used the slots to order the A350-1000 which they can used on exsisting routes such as 2nd daily flight between MNL-LAX or replaced the B777 with the A350-1000 in there MNL-SFO routes.

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    1. As there are 10 77Ws lying around, my preference would be for the older ones (circa 2009-2013) to be reconfigured. But because that is out of the question for the foreseeable future, it will be about what to do with the upcoming new birds. Given PAL's financial state where they suffered losses last year and are expected to suffer more because of Boracay's closure, I don't expect these options to be exercised.

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    2. Option are more like garante slots for produceding aircraft and usually have dealine when to excercised there options. Also according to James Bautista Airbus has no dealine for PAL option for 6 additional A350 so PAL can take there time when to excerised them.

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  4. As for what next route will PAL A350 fly I beat Toronto since its one of the airlines longest routes and they had to blocked seat to allow the B77W to operate it.

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