Saturday, October 15, 2016

Philippine Airlines Planning to Order 12 Bombardier Q400 Aircraft

National flag carrier Philippine Airlines has signed a Letter of Intent with Bombardier Commercial Aircraft of Canada to acquire twelve two-class 86-seat Bombardier Q-400 aircraft. Last March, the carrier revealed that it was studying options for the replacement of its existing fleet of regional aircraft operated by PAL Express. 

pal express q400
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
PAL Express currently operates a fleet of four Q300 aircraft and five Q400 aircraft. If the deal pushes through, it would increase the size and capacity of PAL's regional turbo-prop fleet allowing further expansion. In addition, the carrier will be the launch customer of the two-class variant of the Q400.

The 86-seat two-class variant will feature 10 "premium service" seats. According to Philippine Airlines President Jaime Bautista, the Q400 will serve an integral role in helping the carrier to realize its vision of becoming a 5-star rate airline.

"As we strive to become a 5-star rated airline, the Q400 aircraft, featuring a modern and innovative configuration, will be instrumental in providing our travellers with a world-class, in-flight passenger experience," said Bautista. "We are proud that our continued fleet growth now makes us the first airline to launch service with the two-class, 86-seat Q400 aircraft." Bautista added that Bombardier aircraft have been instrumental in evolving the carrier's domestic network operations over the last decade.

Meanwhile, Bombardier praised the carrier's decision, noting that Philippine Airlines chose the right aircraft for reshaping its domestic air travel strategy. "With its perfect balance of passenger amenities and operational flexibility, the 86-seat Q400 aircraft will offer Philippine Airlines significant opportunities to differentiate itself in the region's fiercely competitive environment," said Fred Cromer, President of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft. "We look forward to working with Philippine Airlines to reach a firm purchase agreement for Q400 aircraft."

The 86-seat variant Bombardier Q400 is the largest two-class turboprop aircraft available on the market offering the lowest seat-mile and operating costs in the regional aircraft market. This will support Philippine Airlines' efforts to develop its domestic operations from secondary hubs and increase intra-island connectivity, as it competes with budget-carrier Cebu Pacific, which recently introduced the ATR 72-600 into its fleet. Cebu Pacific is doubling its turbo-prop fleet as it seeks to increase inter-island travel and establish new bases.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Naga City's Fiesta for Our Lady of Peñafrancia

Naga is a pilgrim city, and you can expect many Catholics to visit the Queen City of Bicol. Even those of different faiths come to visit the city and the image of La Nuestra Señora de Peñafrancia, especially in September, during the city's world renown Peñafrancia Festival.

Peñafrancia Festival
Image Source: Tom Falcon / Choose Philippines
Under the traditional Peñafrancia Festival schedule, every second Friday of September the image of Our Lady is taken from her original home, the Peñafrancia Shrine, to the Naga Cathedral. The image, together with the image of the Divino Nostro, is placed on a carosa or andas (a silver float on wheels) that is pushed (but once upon a time carried) by devotees called "voyadores". The procession itself is a spectacle, even for those who do not believe in the Catholic faith. Scores of people, mostly barefooted men, surround the image of the Virgin, and slowly move her towards the Cathedral. Then the rest of the procession, made up of men, women, and children of all ages, pray, talk, laugh all the way to the Cathedral as well - rain or shine.

For nine days, people flock to the Cathedral to hear mass, line up, touch the image, wipe their handkerchief on the image, pray, wish, and give thanks. Our Lady of Peñafrancia is known for her miracles. Many devotees claim that their prayers have been answered through the intercession of Mary, so many return to give thanks, and many return to request more prayers.

The novena ends on the 9th day, the 3rd Saturday of September with a fluvial procession, in which the images are brought to the Basilica atop a pagoda (a large raft that can hold 200 people) through the river.

fluvial procession
Image Source: ABS-CBN
Many find a spot along the riverbanks, and wait hours for the pagoda to pass by. And when she does come, slowly being pulled by smaller boats, you see white handkerchiefs wave furiously, candles lit and raised, and shouts of "Viva!" fill the air.

The image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia reaches the Basilica in the evening, and mass is celebrated. Throughout the city, families open up their homes to feed more family or friends who have become family, or even strangers who end up becoming friends.

The fiesta in Naga is definitely an experience of hope, faith, and love - for the Almighty, for Mary, and for the people who come.

-- a believer --


Regularly scheduled daily flights are offered by Cebu Pacific and PAL Express between Manila and Naga. If you are travelling from the Visayas, Cebu Pacific offers a flight between Cebu and Legazpi, which is a short van or bus ride away from Naga. The city is also served by several bus companies offering daily trips from Manila to Naga and all points in between. 

Would you like to visit Naga City to experience the Peñafrancia Festival? Find a place to stay in our listing of Naga City Hotels!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Philippine Airlines Adjusts Flight Schedule Ahead of New Clark Flights

Philippine Airlines is acting on the government's request to shift flights to Clark International Airport in an effort to help decongest Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. As the national flag carrier prepares to launch new flights out of Clark, PAL has revealed a list of domestic flight cancellations at NAIA, which will take effect in September. The cancellations are expected to support the decongestion of the airport.

philippine airlines a320
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
The cancellations will affect flights from Manila to the following Philippine airports: Caticlan, Cebu, Calbayog, Kalibo, Laoag, Legaspi, Tablas, and Tuguegarao. Both Caticlan and Cebu will see the largest number of flight cancellations from Ninoy Aquino International Airport. 

In a statement released by Philippine Airlines, the carrier expressed support of the government initiative to reduce congestion at NAIA and shift some of the workload to Clark, which needs to be better utilised to help alleviate traffic at the country's primary international gateway. "These moves are being carried out in support of the government's thrust to decongest NAIA," stated PAL.

87 percent of all Philippine Airlines flights currently arrive or depart at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila. In 2015, the airport already breached its annual maximum capacity of 35 million passengers when more than 36 million travellers passed through the airport. 

Philippine Airlines is counting on the national government to build the necessary infrastructure at Clark International Airport to support expanded flight operations. According to PAL President Jaime Bautista, Clark Airport needs catering services, re-fuelling stations, and better bus service. Bautista believes that the government will set up appropriate infrastructure, once they are made aware that new flights will be coming. 

Meanwhile, any passengers affected by the Philippine Airlines cancellations are invited to contact the airline to re-book their flights or request a refund. Flights can be re-booked within 30 days of the original flight date by calling Philippine Airlines at (02) 855-8888. Alternatively, passengers may also visit the nearest PAL ticketing office.

The Great Philippine Road Trip: Manila to Davao by Land & Sea

As “Viber-ed” by Grace to the Paranoid Traveler

Weary of Metro Manila with all its traffic and pollution, Grace Dousel decided that Davao was the best place in the country to raise her family so off she and her family of four traveled from Manila to Davao by land and sea. 

Grace shared her journey with Philippine Flight Network's Paranoid Traveler to provide our readers with an exclusive look at 'The Great Philippine Road Trip,' a journey that perhaps most of us would not even dare consider taking, especially when there is always the option to fly!

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Typhoon Butchoy (international name: Nepartak) was making its presence felt in Metro Manila when our family commenced our migration to the South, but the weather was expected to improve. We were excited for the adventure ahead especially after seeing the jeepney banner, "God is always with us." This was a sign of assurance as we headed out to the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) for our first stop in Legazpi.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Entering Quezon Province

From SLEX, Waze directed us to the Pan-Philippine (Maharlika) Highway then to Tiaong Diversion Road. The highway spans from North to South taking you on a very scenic ride of the countryside.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
The perk of traveling on a rainy day is having the highway all to ourselves.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
As we drove through Atimonan, Quezon, the skies began to clear!

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Seaside highway view at Gumaca, Quezon

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Downpour at Sipocot, Camarines Sur

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Entering Vice-President Leni Robredo’s hometown.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
After a day of travel, we finally saw someone we know in Pili, Camarines Sur.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
We arrived in Legazpi, Albay where we enjoyed some sili ice cream.

sili ice cream bicol
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
chili ice cream
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Nice and creamy but hot once it hits the throat.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Now driving to Matnog to catch the ferry to Allen, Samar.

samar ferry
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
After days of rain, the sun came out and the skies were blue. Perfect for crossing the seas!

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
We admired the skill of the bus and truck drivers who could squeeze their vehicles onto the ferry boats neatly. We were last to board.

samar roro
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
This is how it looks at the bottom of the ship.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Goodbye, Luzon!

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Visayas, here we come!

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Our voyage took us from Luzon (Sorsogon) to Visayas (Samar) cruising through the San Bernardino Strait, which they say can be very rough sailing. Thankfully, our journey was smooth and uneventful.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Penafrancia is one of many shipping lines at Matnog pier ferrying vehicles and people to Samar.

Crossing the ferry from Matnog, Sorsogon to Allen, Samar cost P1,600 for our car freight charges and passenger fare on board Penafrancia Shipping Company which is one of many shipping lines in Matnog pier ferrying vehicles and people to Samar.

The sailing time is only 1.5 hours---faster than driving from Quezon City to Ortigas Center on a Friday night!

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
We reached Samar safely and began driving towards Tacloban.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
I don't mind the long drive with this view!

Driving took half a day to Tacloban. The RORO trip was smooth with the calm sea and the sun up shining brightly. It was a perfect day to sail. I had more motion sickness driving to the port than on the ferry because my husband was driving as if he was in a Daytona race.

longest bridge in the philippines
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Entering San Juanico Bridge, the longest bridge in the country.

longest bridge in philippines
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
We  paid a visit to McArthur’s landing site and spent the night in Tacloban. We headed out to Liloan Port early the following morning for the second ferry boat ride to Surigao (Mindanao), which many people said is longer and possibly rougher. We'll see.

We had a restroom break at the office of the Dept. of Public Works and Highways atop a hill on the road to the port. Too bad I forgot to take a photo. It’s a good place to stretch and rest. The restrooms are very clean even though it is in the middle of nowhere!

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
We reached the end of the Eastern Visayas after a three-hour drive from Tacloban. The Pan-Philippine (Maharlika) Highway stretches all the way to the end. The road was really good!

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
We arrived at Liloan Port, the tip of Leyte, Eastern Visayas at 8 am hoping to catch the earliest boat so we could be in Mindanao by noon. However, there was only one available vessel that day, the Fast Cat which was to leave only by noon. Thankfully, it was worth the wait because this time, we are taking the newest vessel, FastCat which boasts world-class service and international safety standards.

fastcat ferry
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Our trusted Avanza on her second RORO ride! Mindanao, here we come!

fastcat roro
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
This is how they position the smaller vehicles on the Fast Cat lower deck.

fastcat ferry
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
All aboard!

fastcat ferry
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
The economy accommodation

fastcat ferry
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
The premium economy accommodation

fastcat ferry
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
The sailing was so smooth that we did our homeschooling onboard tackling, what else, Philippine geography.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Hello, Mindanao!

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
The tip of Eastern Visayas, facing the tip of Eastern Mindanao

roro ferry
Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
The trip lasted for an hour. Crossing from Liloan, Leyte to Lipatan, Surigao on board Fast Cat cost P3,558 covering car freight charges and passenger fares for Premium Economy cabin (air-con bucket seats). Here, you have to buy your snacks whereas they are free in Business class.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN
Arriving in Surigao with our welcome banner from heaven.

It took us eight hours to get to Davao City in spite of my husband’s Formula One driving due to road constructions that rendered some one-way only. We cruised along the CARAGA Administrative Region composed of Surigao del Norte, Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur. I had no idea how huge Mindanao was until we made this trip! As we were in a hurry,  we had to forego photo ops along the way. We reached the area surrounding Butuan City (the capital of Agusan del Norte) around 5 pm. It would have been an ideal place to sleep over as there were nice hotels in Butuan and malls in the city proper.

It already seemed like we had been driving forever as we made our way through Agusan del Sur! By 8 pm, we stopped at a roadside restaurant and resort called Hillview Resort for dinner and a half-hour respite. We knew we were already far from Manila because the names of food were a bit different, like "pututoy" which is like halo-halo except that it is partnered with puto.

We hit the road again determined to be in Davao before midnight. Waze was telling us we could make it by 11:30 pm. Incidentally, Waze was our very reliable guide throughout this journey. Local radio station signals were already out but our Waze was still active.

Except for gas refilling, we did not have any other stops. We kept filling up our gas tank to full every time we saw a Petron gas station, which was strategically located all over the country.

The roads were smooth, winding through the mountains of Agusan del Sur and onto Compostela Valley. Some parts were dimly lit which concerned my dad in Davao who phoned around 9 pm telling us to just break the journey and stay the night in Butuan. Too late as we were already miles away. We later found out that the areas we passed by were not very safe late at night.

For most of the night driving, we saw quite a number of trucks and SUVs speeding ahead. Our trusty Avanza couldn't go as fast but we managed to hit town after town, noticing that the highways were well-lit once nearing the town/city proper. When we hit Nabunturan, the capital of Compostela Valley, I knew we were closer to home so I phoned my mom who warned us about a speed limit “once you pass Panabo. Our traffic enforcers in Davao are strict. You best slow down.”

By this time, I could no longer take photos due to travel exhaustion and everything was already enveloped by the darkness of the night.

Tagum was well-lit with malls along the main highway lined with palm trees. Panabo comes after Tagum which was signaled by a strict military check point.  We were finally entering Davao Del Sur and going towards the city. One of the first things that welcomed us was an electronic speed monitor that told my husband that his current speed was 45 kph. That was a good reminder because the maximum speed limit in the highway was 60 kph and only 30 kph in the city proper. The smell of durian was somewhat faint but strong enough for us to know we had reached Davao. By 12 midnight, my parents were thrilled to see their grandchildren and we were able to breathe a sigh of relief. We were home.

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN

Copyright photo: Grace Dousel/PFN

Monday, August 8, 2016

Clark Airport Under Investigation After Security Breach

A full-scale investigation is under way at Clark International Airport after a man was able to board a flight to Singapore without a passport or even a plane ticket. Airport officials are now under scrutiny following the security lapse.

Image Source: Clark International Airport
According to initial findings reported in the Philippine Inquirer, the intruder, who allegedly claimed to be looking for his wife, entered the terminal at approximately 1:10pm on August 3 through the arrival exit lobby door, having passed all of the security measures in place to ensure efficient screening of passengers at the airport. 

In the Inquirer's report, it was revealed that an unknown source stated that the man headed to the second floor to cross the passengers' boarding bridge to enter the aircraft, after having gained access through the exit door for arriving passengers. He was eventually caught by a flight attendant that asked to see his boarding pass. 

It is rumoured that this may be the second security breach at Clark International Airport this year. The first incident occurred last June, allegedly involving a foreigner. It remains unclear if the intruders were held for questioning or charged in either incident. 

In a memorandum released by Clark International Airport, Emigdio Tanjuatco III, President & CEO of Clark Airport, stated that the incident is completely unacceptable. "Considering that Clark International Airport implements strict security and safety procedures, such incident should not have occurred," said Tanjuatco. "The incident is intolerable as it has created an alarming event that dispels absolute security of the passengers and safety of the whole airport grounds."

Cebu Pacific Expands Routes in the Visayas & Bicol

Cebu Pacific, the nation's largest low-cost carrier, has announced several new routes designed to cater to the needs of passengers in the Visayas and Bicol. In the last month, the budget carrier has announced a number of new or expanded routes including Kalibo-Seoul, Cebu-Ormoc, Cebu-Calbayog, Cebu-Roxas, and Manila-Virac.

cebu pacific virac flights
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
Beginning October 1, Cebu Pacific will launch a daily flight between Kalibo and Seoul, Korea aboard its 180-seat Airbus A320 aircraft. According to Cebu Pacific officials, the new route is designed to create opportunities for travellers to explore some of Asia's most popular tourist destinations. 

"Cebu Pacific gears toward bringing travellers for business and leisure to magnificent countries at the lowest fare in the market," said JR Mantaring, Cebu Pacific's VP of Corporate Affairs. "The new Kalibo-Incheon route opens opportunities for passengers to explore must-see places in Incheon such as Wolmi-Do Island, Landing Memorial Hall, and Jeondeungsa Temple, among others."

The new non-stop flight between the Visayas and South Korea will complement Cebu Pacific's existing services to South Korea including daily flights to Seoul-Incheon from Cebu and Manila, and four weekly flights from Manila to Busan. The budget carrier recently revealed that South Korea is one of its largest short haul international markets.  "We will remain committed to exploring more routes to cater to more passengers and to beef up economic, trade, and tourism in this destination," added Mantaring.

Earlier this month, Cebu Pacific also announced the launch of three new domestic routes out of its hub in Cebu. Beginning on November 19, Cebu Pacific will launch new daily flights from Cebu to Ormoc and Cebu to Roxas. In addition, four-weekly flights between Cebu and Calbayog will be added. All flights will be operated by 72-seat ATR 72-500 aircraft. "With the additional routes in and out of Cebu, more guests can travel and visit scenic spots in the Visayas region," said Mantaring.

Meanwhile, travellers to Bicol will appreciate the added convenience of an additional frequency on Cebu Pacific's Manila to Virac route. The service, which is operated by a 156-seat Airbus A319 aircraft, will be increased to a total of five weekly flights. The new service is expected to boost connections in the Bicol region, complementing Cebu Pacific's existing flights from Manila and Cebu to Legazpi, and from Manila to Naga. 

Removal of Philippine Travel Tax Proposed

The Department of Tourism is exploring the possibility of removing or reducing the Philippine Travel Tax in an effort to make travel more affordable for Filipinos. At present, Philippine passport holders are assessed a tax of P1,620 for those seated in economy class, while first class passengers are charged P2,700. The tax is imposed on passengers leaving the Philippines irrespective of their destination. 
Image Source: The Poor Traveler
Citizens of the Philippines are required to pay the tax, along with foreign passport holders under special circumstances. However, the travel tax does not apply to all Filipinos and there are exemptions for overseas workers and permanent residents of other countries. In addition, a reduced travel tax is available to dependants of overseas Filipino workers.
According to Tourism Undersecretary Katherine De Castro, the Department is currently reviewing the travel tax system to identify if there is an opportunity to either reduce the tax or remove it altogether. 
"It still needs a lot of review. It's an ambitious part from the end of the DOT," said De Castro in an interview with the Philippine Star. "Travelling in the Philippines is not cheap. If we can't remove it totally, we want to at least lower it."
Proceeds of the travel tax are currently split between the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority, the Commission on Higher Education, and the National Commission for Culture and Arts. "We're looking at the fact that a percentage of the travel tax goes to the Commission on Higher Education, which is in no way connected to travelling at all," added De Castro.
To date, the Department of Tourism has removed the P200 processing fee assessed for the issuance of Travel Tax Exemption and Reduced Travel Tax certificates, which came into effect on July 25. In addition, the Department would like to see the travel tax incorporated into airline tickets similarly to the passenger terminal fee at select airports in the Philippines.
De Castro noted that all carriers will be expected to incorporate the fee into their tickets, regardless if they are a full-service or low-cost carrier. "It's inconvenient in such a way that you think you're already checked in, but in fact, you are not, so you would still have to line up in another booth to pay for your travel tax."