PAL slowly rolls out new Business Class product

31 Oct 2008

Business Class regulars of Philippine Airlines (PAL) will have to wait a little longer to use the second retrofitted Boeing B747 that features the new premium products and services.

The ongoing strike of Boeing employees has delayed work on the aircraft, which means the earliest delivery date could be December 2009.

PAL’s P3.5 billion (US$72 million) renovation of its long-range, wide-body fleet – consisting of four B747s – involves the reconfiguration of the passenger cabin from a tri-class to bi-class layout, along with a major upgrade of the interiors and amenities. The result is 42 lie-flat seats in Business Class and 383 in Economy Class.

The first enhanced B747 went into service recently and is being used on trans-Pacific flights.

Key elements of the “Mabuhay” (a Filipino greeting) Class seat, designed by German firm Recaro, include seat pitch of 60 inches, controls to adjust the seat to a variety of positions, AVOD technology carrying up to 200 films and a wide range of music selections and interactive games, noise-cancelling headsets, in-seat power for laptops, individual LED reading light, oversized tray table and bottle holder. Passengers can create their own audio playlist from a collection of CD albums.

Meal-wise, the “One by One” concept has been adopted, offering an a la carte menu and served with all the trimmings of a fine-dining restaurant any time during the journey. Noritake of Japan even designed a tropical-themed china series for PAL.

In the Economy (Fiesta) Class, seats boast the new-generation thinner seatbacks with personal TV monitors and a seat pitch of 32 to 34 inches.

Wall panels, upholstery, curtains and carpeting throughout the aircraft are in hues of blue, silver, white, gray and tan creating a coastal ambience that parts of the Philippines is famous for.

While agreeing with fellow members in the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines that the next six to 18 months would be tough, PAL president Jaime Bautista continued to believe in the potential of the Philippine market. “Filipinos (especially in the US) will continue to fly back to Manila despite any financial crisis. But for an airline to survive, it has to maintain passenger loyalty. And we are doing that by providing the service they deserve.”

Many recall the airline plunging into bankruptcy in 1998 (it was closed for two weeks) but under accountant Bautista’s management, it emerged last year from receivership impressing the industry with a leaner operating profile, improved on-time performance and brighter balance book. Said Bautista: “We foresee a 5 percent growth in traffic this year, which is not the rate we want but it’s not really bad given the circumstances.”

As part of its refleeting programme, PAL expects to take delivery of a B777ER by the end of 2009, which could lead to additional destinations on the West Coast and Midwest such as Seattle, San Diego and Chicago where large concentrations of Filipinos reside. The carrier is also considering using the new jet to New York via Vancouver.

PAL is currently in discussion with an airline alliance, which Bautista declined to name, saying: “One has to be invited to join, but we have indicated our interest to them. They said the earliest they can tell us is either in 2010 or 2011.”

On October 28, the airline resumed flights between Cebu in central Philippines and Osaka after more than seven years after the flight connection was halted due to a travel slowdown because of the 9/11 attacks in the US. Initially, the flights will operate twice weekly.

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Margie T Logarta

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