Showing posts with label Adventures Abroad. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Adventures Abroad. Show all posts

Monday, August 8, 2016

A Guide to the South Korea Visa Application For Filipinos

Travel to South Korea continues to rise as the nation continues to influence the region as a "leader of popular culture." The country is considered a "trendy and innovative" travel destination marketing itself with the slogan, "Imagine Your Korea."

how to apply for south korea visa
Image Source: GMA Network

According to the Korean Tourism Organization, the autumn season is one of the most popular times of year to visit the North Asian country, offering Filipino travellers a unique opportunity to experience different seasons and climates.

However, if you plan to visit South Korea, a travel visa is required. Let's uncover the steps to obtaining a South Korean tourist visa to help get your planned vacation get off to a great start!

HOW TO OBTAIN A SOUTH KOREA TOURIST VISA

South Korea issues different types of visas depending on the purpose. There might be additional requirements that are needed to be submitted depending on your visa so make sure to check which type of visa you need to apply for.

Visa applications are directly submitted to Embassy of the Republic of Korea located in Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City. The official visa section of the Embassy of the Republic of Korea can be accessed here.

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. You should also provide a photocopy of the Passport Bio-page which is on page 2 of the Passport.

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, consisting of 5 pages that you need to print-out and complete. Instructions and details are written in both English and Hanggul, South Korea's official language. Please ensure that all spelling is correct.

You can download the form here.

3. One (1) recent coloured Passport size photo with white background
Wear appropriate attire with dark colors and preferably with collar and sleeves. The photo must be pasted on the specified portion of the application form and should not be stapled. The photo should be taken within the last 6 months, full face without hat, front view against white or off-white background. Most photo stores today offer packages that you can easily purchase.

4. Original and Photocopy of valid visa/s and arrival stamps to OECD member countries for the past 5 years (If applicable only)
If you have traveled to countries such as United States, Canada, Japan, Schengen member states, and the United Kingdom, bring a photocopy of the visa and include it in the application. If these visas are in a different passport, bring them as well to show them as a proof.

5. Certificate of Employment
The certificate of employment should be original and issued by Human Resources. This should include the following information:
- applicant's position
- hiring date
- compensation
- company address
- human resources contact number (mobile number is not allowed)
- human resources email address

6. Original Bank Certificate
The bank certificate will be used as proof that you can support your stay in South Korea. This document is different from the bank statement that is usually issued on a monthly or quarterly basis. There is no specific amount that needs to be declared. But it should be a realistic amount that can adequately support the duration of your trip. The bank certificate should include the following details:

- account type
- current balance
- account opening date
- 6 months average balance (ADB)
 
 7. Original or Certified True Copy of Bank Statements/Passbook for the last 3 months
This document is sent to the account holder on a monthly or quarterly basis. If this is not available, some online bank accounts allow you to download it and have it certified as a true copy.
 
8. Income Tax Return (ITR) or Form 2316

9. Copy or Professional Regulatory Commission (PRD) ID or Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) ID (If applicable only)

IMPORTANT NOTES:

a. If personally invited by a Korean, you must provide:
  • Invitation letter
  • Photocopy of Passport or Identification Card of the person who invited you (authentication not required)
b. If invited by a Company in Korea, you must provide:
  • Invitation letter
  • Photocopy of Korean Company Business Permit (authentication not required)
c. Frequent travellers who have travelled as tourist to OECD member countries within 5 years are exempted from submitting ITR.

d. Processing Time
  • 3 working days (for those who have been to OECD member countries within 5 years as tourist)
  • 5 working days (for those who have not been to OECD member countries within 5 years)
e. Visa Fee
  • 59 days (or less) stay in Korea -- GRATIS
  • 60 to 90 days stay in Korea -- Php 1,800.00
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or contact us at info@philippineflightnetwork.com

-travelling_bk

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Tromso Pass: A Taste of Arctic Norway

NOTE: This article was originally featured on hybridace101's Trips and Tips website.  It has been republished and slightly modified for audiences on this page.


Image Source: Visit Norway
Don't get me wrong, an experience in Norway is not for those with shallow pockets.  In fact, I recently travelled to what is dubbed as the Gateway to the Arctic, Tromsø, and only saw a few spots. For instance, a midnight sun excursion to outlying islands will usually set one back by at least $110 for a 2.5-hour trip.
norway
Arctic Cathedral in the Background
Image by hybridace101
But during summer, you can see quite a bit of Tromsø within 48 hours on a relatively tight budget. First of all, you will need a Tromsø Pass (Tromsøpasset).  It is a fairly new card but what it does is that it grants you unlimited access to the city's public transport and admission to what are the city's most important sites.  It costs 399 kr ($48) for adults for 48 hours.  It can be purchased at the transport office or the Arctic Museum.  Let me briefly describe what some of these sights are:

Arctic Cathedral (Ishavskatedralen) - This is perhaps the city's most iconic landmark.  Whilst it is made of glass, the inside of the Church is pretty simple.  During the late 'night' hours of June, you can pay extra and watch a 30-minute midnight sun concert.  Click here for more information on other events.  From the centre, you can use Bus 20, 24, 26 or 28.


Ishavskatedralen
Arctic Cathedral
Image by hybridace101

Cable Car (Fjellheisen).  Its base is a 15-minute walk from the Arctic Cathedral.  It goes up the mountain and the trip between the base and peak is less than 5 minutes.  By going on the cable car, you will effectively get more than 40% of the cost of the Tromsø Pass back as a ride's normal standalone price is 170 kr (£15.50).  You will get a bird's eye view of the island of Tromsø and will spot the Arctic Cathedral as well.  There is also a restaurant and cafe at the peak, as well as signs to various cities.  During summer, it operates from 10.00am-1:00am and trips (in both directions) happen at the top and bottom of each hour.


Tromsø air tram
View of Tromsø Island from Cable Car (Fjellheisen)
Image by hybridace101

Polaria.  This museum is dedicated to showing you parts of the arctic ecosystem.  You get to encounter wildlife and witness live feeding of bearded seals.  There is also a dedicated spot for one to take a ‘seal-fie’.  Polaria is one of the museums operated by the University of Tromsø.  The museum also has a panoramic film-showing on arctic wildlife and how climate change affects it.  This website has more information.

Polaria
Live seal feeding at Polaria
Image by hybridace101
MJ Polstjerna.  This is an extension of the Polar Museum and one gets to see the actual ship.  It was used for seal-hunting, which was an industry that required specialised resources.  Admission includes an audio guide where accounts about the ship's history, features and its crew are narrated.  A decent visit will take at least an hour and a half.  You will enter selected rooms.  Below the ship is an additional exhibit on other sea vessels used.

MJ Polstjerna
MJ Polstjerna
Image by hybridace101
Polar Museum.  This museum is located in the Tromsø's old customs house.  By visiting this place, one will know the other expeditions involving Tromsø, including Roald Amundsen, a famous explorer whose expeditions took him to the Arctic and Antarctic Zones.

Polar Museum
Polar Museum
Image by hybridace101
Polar Museum
Exhibit in the Polar Museum
Image by hybridace101
Tromsø Museum.  This is actually an interdisciplinary museum consisting of accounts from biology, astronomy, archaeology, religion, culture (especially Sami), and even women's rights.  One needs to use bus 37 to get here from the city centre.

Tromsø Museum
Tromsø Museum
Image by hybridace101
Tromsø Museum
Exhibit from Tromsø Museum
Image by hybridace101
OTHER CITY EXPERIENCES
In addition, one can see the Perspektivet Museum and Art Museum of Northern Norway at no extra cost.  The former also features photography of life in the city.  The Tromsø Cathedral (separate from the Arctic Cathedral) is Norway's only wooden cathedral.  These are all conveniently located in the city centre.

If you are pressed for time and want to get an overview of the city, then I would recommend taking a 'train' tour by City Sightseeing Tromsø.  The tour lasts 30 minutes and costs 150 kr ($18.10) with credit cards accepted.  The tour includes pre-recorded audio commentary in several languages. Assembly is at the souvenir store at Storgata.  It runs several times throughout the day so if you miss one, don't worry, the next one will likely be less than an hour away.

Tromsø has its own railway station even if it is impossible for trains to reach here. Well, it's actually a pub which is themed like a railway station. They serve the usual drinks and you get to watch sport matches inside.

tromso railway station
Tromsø's 'Railway Station'
Image by hybridace101
tromso railway station
Tromsø's 'Railway Station'
Image by hybridace101
Finally, the thing that makes me want to come back to Tromsø is the midnight sun.  I prefer June because the temperature usually is not too bad, and the skies are bright at midnight.  When one wakes up at 2:00 or 2:30 in the morning, it just feels like getting up from an afternoon nap.  And in the middle of June, the city has a midnight sun marathon.  I was there to see its preparations but I did not stick around to see the actual race.

Tromsø Midnight Sun Marathon
Tromsø Midnight Sun Marathon
Image by hybridace101

GETTING THERE

In order to get to Tromsø, one will need to fly via Oslo.  Fortunately for Filipinos, Norwegian Air offers a low-cost flight to Oslo from Bangkok.  But you may need to stay overnight in Bangkok as the Norwegian flight from Bangkok departs at 9:00am.  A return ticket between Bangkok and Tromsø can cost less than $810 if one is willing to settle with hand-luggage only and have a seat automatically assigned.  Alternatively, Emirates and Qatar have flights to Oslo from their hubs in Dubai and Doha respectively where upon arrival, one can transfer to a Norwegian Air or SAS flight to Tromsø. As Norway hotels can be quite expensive and budget accommodation in Tromsø will fill up fast, it's best to plan your travels well in advance.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

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

- Follow travelling_bk on Instagram


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

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
Questions or Comments? Send us an e-mail at info@philippineflightnetwork.com

Related Articles:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Qatar Airways A380 Flight Review: London to Doha (Business Class)

I had seen the A380 demonstrator when it visited the Philippines a couple of years ago.  I was impressed by it, especially the fact that after walking the length of the huge main deck, I climbed the wide stairs up to another huge deck above it!  This coupled with the fact that I got to sit in the pilot’s seat really impressed me.  I wanted to ride on that big airplane!



Copyright Photo: Qatar Airways A380 / Airliners.net
My chance came late last year when I visited London and flew Qatar Airways.  Just prior to my flight from London to Doha, Qatar Airways had inaugurated A380 service on the route and I made sure to reserve the A380 flight.

After check-in and security, I went to the Qatar Airways Business Class Lounge.  Talk about nice -- the lounge in London is only rivalled by their lounge in the new airport at Doha.  The lounge offers dining service just like a proper restaurant. 

qatar airways business class
Qatar Airways Lounge, London Heathrow.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
A waiter gives you the menu and after making your selections, the food is delivered together with whatever you care to drink. The food is good, the service great, and no bill!  Unfortunately, I overdid it in the lounge and had no appetite for what looked like a very respectable in flight meal. 

qatar airways lounge london
Qatar Airways Lounge, London Heathrow
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
Boarding in the lounge is announced about 30 minutes prior to the flight. It is a simple process, which is made much nicer because the lounge is just across a corridor from the gate used by Qatar Airways.  



qatar airways lounge heathrow
Qatar Airways Lounge, London Heathrow
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
Business and First classes board through a special air bridge directly to the upper deck of the A380.  The aircraft was all shiny and new, having been in service for only a few weeks.  Believe me -- it is big indeed and very impressive.

qatar airways a380 business class
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
qatar airways a380 business class
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
Business Class seating allows for individual, private areas with comfortable 22-inch wide seats that fully recline. 

qatar airways a380 business class
Comfort in the Air: The Qatar A380 Business Class Seat
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN

Qatar Airways' “Oryx” in flight entertainment system is second to none and there is a very wide selection of movies, music, and television programs to help passengers relax and enjoy the flight.

qatar airways a380 business class
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
I had a window seat overlooking the A380’s massive wing. It is immense and one cannot be blamed for wondering just how such a huge machine can fly!

qatar airways a380 business class
The A380's Massive Wing
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
Shortly after being seated, pre-take off drinks were offered along with other amenities.  Soon thereafter, the doors were closed and we began push back. Sitting by the window, I was rather transfixed at observing just how ponderously the A380 moves along to its take-off position.  But move-along it does and soon we were lined up on one of Heathrow’s long runways.

Take off was surprisingly normal and the take off run did not seem any longer than that of a Boeing 777. The climb out of London Heathrow was smooth and soon we were cruising along at our assigned altitude, on the way to Doha. One thing that became apparent almost immediately was how strangely quiet the A380 is. Being up and above the engines, their noise dissipates below the wing, rendering the quietest cabin I have flown in to date. The flight was also very smooth.

Truly, the A380 impressed me in almost every way because everything is bigger, or so it seems.  The bathrooms on Qatar Airways A380 are larger than on smaller planes. (I could actually turn around in one and change clothes without difficulty.) But the big surprise is the bar-lounge on the plane -- aft of the business class cabin.  It is large and spacious, providing business and first class passengers with an opportunity to stand up, stretch their legs, have a drink, and socialize as the flight progresses.  

There are seats in the lounge and in case of turbulence, these seats are equipped with seat belts for passengers. I haven’t seen this type of thing since years ago when Continental Airlines had the Backgammon Lounges on its wide body aircraft or Gulf Air had its lounges on its Tri-Star aircraft.  Most lounges were taken out to jam in more seats. For a long haul flight, the lounge is an excellent addition and Qatar Airways' lounge on the A380 is indeed pleasant, relaxing, and fun.  It also lends to passenger health because people can stand and walk around the plane, further reducing the risk of deep vein thrombosis.

qatar airways a380 business class
It is said that the head of Qatar Airways is meticulous about details.  The A380 reflects this.
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
qatar airways a380 business class
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
qatar airways a380 business class
Copyright Photo: Tamarind Walk/PFN
Meal service on this flight, as I observed, was right up to Qatar Airways standards of excellence and I am happy to see that although the meals are tasty, the quantity is reasonable – not too much.  But as noted, I passed on the in flight meal, having stuffed myself in the lounge!

The flight into Doha proceeded all too quickly – barely 6 ½ hours. I would have been most happy to fly right on to the Philippines aboard Qatar Airways’ A380.  Arrival was smooth and on time and Doha’s new airport is excellent, spacious and very efficient, indeed. If you can swing it, try to get yourself on an A380 flight.  It is one fine aircraft, indeed!

TRAVELERS’ NOTES FOR LONDON HEATHROW:  

  • For passengers travelling out of London, the security folks are strict with hand carried liquids – even medicines and cosmetics.  These have to be placed in a zip lock type clear plastic bag and shown at security in that plastic bag.  Failing to do so will only create delay because you will be given a bag by security and made to put all your small liquids in it prior to being cleared.  Avoid the hassle and be prepared!
  • Duty free shopping in the U.K. is easy and presents an opportunity to save a considerable sum.  Stores will do some of the work in completing the necessary forms for reimbursement.  However, there are parts of the form that the passenger has to complete.  A word to the wise, complete this paperwork prior to going to the airport.  The lines at the tax refund counters can be long and you will save yourself (and others!) time and grief if you have your papers complete and ready for inspection.  Nothing is more irritating that being behind someone who has multiple forms that are not completed and who holds up everyone else!
Are you travelling to London or Doha? Check out our London hotel promos and Doha hotel promos!