Thursday, March 4, 2010

PALing Around

It's very much up in the air as to whether global air travel - borne aloft, or not, by the global economy - is recovering from the Great Recession. But Philippine Airlines, for one, seems to be wagering that a recovery is indeed underway.

That is the conclusion I draw from PAL's latest news, announced just as the Philippines' national flag carrier begins its 70th year of operation. To wit: PAL has purchased two state of the art Boeing B777-300ER jetliners, and is using them to update its service between Manila and Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and between Manila and Hong Kong.

The arrival of the triple-7s, in turn, allows PAL to redeploy other aircraft and use them to revive two long-haul routes it abandoned some years ago. Those routes are (as of March 28) Manila-Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and Manila-Brisbane, PAL's third destination in Australia, which resumes March 17.

This gives travelers in the Asia-Pacific region a wider choice of airlines. That is the very region that is reviving fastest when it comes to business and leisure air travel, according to the numbers-crunchers at the International Air Transport Association, in Geneva. The region that comes second in air travel growth by IATA's count is - you guessed it - the Middle East.

PAL, citing a poor market following the Asian financial crisis of 1997, stopped flying to Brisbane back in 1998. Now, encouraged by signs of revival, PAL's service will resume to Brisbane twice a week on an Airbus A330-300.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, PAL spokespeople say the presence of 2.2 million expatriate Filipino workers justifies the return of a service that was suspended in 2006 for unspecified "commercial reasons.'' PAL is evidently counting on winning back Filipinos flying to and from the Middle East, as well as other travelers. It will fly a Boeing 747-400 on this route.

In line with all this, PAL - which was founded amidst the storm clouds of World War II, on March 15, 1941 - has upgraded its business class, called Mabuhay, and its economy class, called Fiesta, with new food, new on-demand in-flight entertainment systems and new seats. The carrier does not have a first class.

I haven't flown with PAL, so I can't personally vouch for the airline. But as I discovered in November, on my first visit to the Philippines, Filipino hospitality is very real and warm, musical and social. If the airline is good at transfering that culture from the ground to the air, it has a better chance to make these new moves - which are not without risk - pay off. It's a welcome sign of confidence during turbulent times.

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