Philippine Airlines was formed in February 1941 and its two planes were lost in December as they were evacuating Americans following the Japanese invasion in WWII. In 1946 the airline resumed operations with war surplus DC-3’s. The airline provided domestic services as well as international flights and during the 1950’s PAL as it was affectionately known was one of Asia’s most prestigious carriers. When jets were delivered to PAL in 1962 the airline used them on services to Europe and the US. In 1966 the airline was privatised. In 1972 President Marcos introduced a one airline policy and in 1976 the airline was re-nationalised. Beginning in the late 1970’s the airline experienced phenomenal growth adding routes and multiple aircraft to its network. In 1992 the airline was again privatised and the new administrators borrowed heavily to re-equip. From 1997 the airline’s debt began to swamp the company and it drastically reduced services but could not avoid bankruptcy. The entire airline was grounded for 14 days in 1998, with Cathay Pacific filling the gap. In 2000 the airline went into receivership and re-emerged, much smaller in 2008. The airlines balance sheet remains battered by discount rivals in a fully deregulated market and in 2010 the airline was banned from European airspace over its dreadful safety record.
Philippine Airlines provides quite good service. Flight attendants tend to be older who may have worked for the airline a long time and have seen better times. However they are chatty, naturally cheerful and enjoy advising tourists. Uniforms are reasonably colourful but have a 1980’s look about them and women’s scares look like a computer designed them.
The airline has a comprehensive network covering all popular domestic destinations within the Philippines and they also connect Manila to South East Asia, the US, Canada and Australia. During its heyday the airline served eight European cities; today none.
Philippine Airlines is a reasonably priced airline and generally provides competitive fares. On long haul flights they are often the cheapest but on shorter haul routes they are usually undercut by the likes of AirAsia, Tiger Airways, Cebu Pacific Airlines and other cheap and nasty carriers.
While other airlines axe free meals then charge passengers for junk food they stock on board, Philippine Airlines continues to provide customers with a surprisingly tasty dining experience. Meals are nicely presented, generously portioned and drinks are regularly topped up.
Only the newest long haul aircraft the modern individual seat back entertainment units in all classes. Older aircraft have a single monitor at the front and drop down screens. The airlines Mabuhay in-flight magazine is an interesting read with articles about airline destinations and plenty of ads.
Most passengers tend to be Filipinos or ex-pats returning home. They tend to be carrying a lot of gifts and check-in can take a while as staff negotiate over the excess baggage. Check-in staff can get frustrated and appear bored with their job. Baggage theft is a real issue in the Philippines so it pays to lock bags. Baggage handlers are poorly paid and generally don’t give a damn about passengers belongings.
The airline’s Mabuhay Class is the airlines premium product. Mabuhay means Long Life. Philippine Airlines premium products don’t live up to the luxury airlines like Singapore Airlines, Etihad, Emirates or China Airlines, but are comparable to legacy airlines like Delta, United or Qantas. Catering in Mabuhay Class is impressive and bound to add to the waistline. The airlines Mabuhay Lounges resemble up-market cafes. Outside the Philippines the airline uses partner airlines lounges.
Philippine Airlines has a pleasant Economy Class which it calls Fiesta Class. Cabins are room, service good, entertainment adequate and passengers typically get a higher baggage allowance than no-frill carriers. Filipinos do tend to bring a lot of carry-on luggage on board which can make it difficult to find overhead cabin space on crowded flights.
Philippine Airlines does not belong to any global airline alliance and has no plans on joining any time soon. The airline operates its own Mabuhay Miles loyalty scheme which can be useful for frequent flyers, but there seems no reason for anyone else to join. The scheme is aimed at Filipinos and is partnered with credit cards but little else.
Philippine Airlines has a very them and us management mentality. Management are disliked by staff. The corporate elite who run the airline have an exaggerated view of their own skills and worth as they have failed to produce results. The company has a long history of corruption and nepotism and little has changed. Having the right contacts gets you promotion, not the right skills. In short, Philippine Airlines unethical corporate culture is much the same as that found at US or Australian airlines.
Philippine Airlines has had an amazing 13 hijacking incidents; the last one in 2000. The airline has had an equally astonishing 68 accidents with 34 resulting in casualites. It is doubtful things really have improved based on the European Union withdrawing flying rights in 2010. Clearly the airline’s management prioritises revenue over maintenance.
If you can overlook the airlines shocking safety record, Philippine Airlines provides good service at a reasonable price.
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