BACKGROUND South East Asian Airlines (SEAIR) was established in 1995 with PHP2 million (US$41,071) in capital, offering only two nine-seater airplanes servicing between Manila and Caticlan. Headquartered at Clark Airport, this commercial airline has since grown to today’s fleet of six 19-seater LET410 and four 32-seater Dornier 328 serving nine domestic destinations and flying the fastest to Boracay and Batanes.
CHECK IN From Singapore, we touched down at 4.05am at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport. As my flight from Manila to Caticlan (Boracay) was set to leave at 8.40am, we had plenty of time to grab a doughnut and coffee before making my way via taxi to Manila Domestic terminal for my SEAIR flight DG713. Ten minutes later, we arrived at Manila Domestic Airport at 6.45am.
Still, there was plenty of time to spare, so we sauntered up to the SEAIR counter for check in. The process was leisurely. After all, the L410 can take only 19 passengers. Four ground crew handled our check-in – one was hand writing our boarding passes, while the other three took care of checked cabin bags.
The counter staff gave us our passports, boarding passes and, icing on the cake, two redemption coupons that we could use to exchange two pairs of flip-flops at the Havaianas store in Boracay. Used to carriers handing out somewhat-standard travel premiums such as a travel adaptor, I found the gift of flip-flops amusing, fun and yet relevant. We knew then that we were heading to Boracay for leisure and pleasure.
THE LOUNGE With hand-carry in tow, we cleared baggage screening (taking off our shoes too) and entered a huge waiting lounge which harked back to the Eighties. Rows and rows of off-white metal seats faced the doors leading to the tarmac. There was no Wi-Fi but there were a few shops and a kiosk for food, drinks and magazines. However, the interiors and the toilets were kept very clean.
BOARDING There was no announcement as time crept closer to the 8.40am take-off. At 8.25am, I approached the SEAIR counter, manned by the same ground staff who had checked in all 19 passengers, to enquire if the flight was departing on time. Cheerfully, they advised that they would inform us when there was further information. Apparently, the aircraft from Caticlan was delayed.
At approximately 9.15am, the much awaited boarding announcement came. We presented our boarding passes for verification and seat assignment. Then, we walked the short distance on the tarmac to the waiting plane.
THE SEAT My partner and I were assigned seats 5 and 6, side by side in row 2. At my window seat, I struggled to fit my laptop backpack and handbag on the floor but managed to figure it out after some wriggling. Given that it would be a flight of under one hour, I sat back and grabbed a copy of the inflight magazine.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Even with my 1.5m-tall frame, I had difficulty fitting into the seat with bags, so I was glad my 1.8m tall partner took the aisle seat, which provided more legroom. So if you are tall, opt for an aisle seat with more legroom, and avoid burdening yourself with too much hand-carry.
THE FLIGHT Once everyone was seated, one of the two ground staff gave a welcome message and the safety spiel and demonstration. Then, she got off the plane. Before long, the pilot started up the engine. As it roared to life, the propellers whirred strong and after taxiing on the runway, we took off. Forget inflight service, the aircraft carried just the pilot and passengers.
As the plane ascended, we all eagerly peered out of the window, studying every detail of the hilly green landscape and aquamarine waters below – which made up for the lack of inflight entertainment.
ARRIVAL The flight touched down at Caticlan at 10.30am, an hour after take-off. When the plane came to a complete stop, we disembarked without rushing and walked on the seething tarmac and over to the terminal building. Once inside, we waited for our baggage, cleared security and proceeded to meet up with our hotel representative.
VERDICT Despite the short delay, it was a fun flight. The complimentary pair of Havaianas was a nice touch.
PRICE Return fare starts from PHP8,047 (US$166) in late October.
Goh Chui Peng