Is Philippine Airlines Troubled?

During the last two years, we have experienced nothing but grief when using Philippine Airlines’ (PAL Express) when traveling between Calbayog City and Manila. Our last three experiences with that carrier resulted in two lengthy delays and one early morning flight cancellation where we were bused (rushed) to Tacloban to catch the early afternoon PAL flight to Manila. PAL Express, formerly Air Philippines and Airphil Express, is an airline operating under the business name of Air Philippines Corporation, under the ownership of Philippine Airlines (wikipedia).  

Just last week we had tickets to fly from Calbayog City to Clark (Angeles City) and our flight was cancelled within 15 hours of our flight time. The actual email message I received was…

“Your flight from Calbayog, Philippines (CYP) to Clark International Airport, Mabalacat, Philippines (CRK) on  flight 2672 on 19 Feb 2018 at 10:15 AM has been cancelled.

Please standby for further details of your new schedule.”

No Further details or information was ever received! And because we had a connecting international flight in Manila, it was urgent that we not wait around for PAL to come up with a plan “B.” We decided to head straight to the DLTB bus station and get some seats. We managed to catch the 9:30 morning bus and were in Manila just after sunrise the next morning, with about 40 hours to spare before our next flight. While in Manila, I took the opportunity to visit a PAL ticketing office and process the paperworks for a full refund. There seemed to be no problem receiving a ticket refund but in the end, the amount of the refund did not match the amount I spent on the tickets. When I questioned this the agent told me “The amount does not include the Ticket Service Charge (TSC) which is not refundable.” Then i learned that the refund also did not include the “extra baggage” fees we paid either. Like Jekyll turned Hyde I immediately lost my cool, which I rarely do. Well, after a full three-round-bout with this agent-in-training, she called in the heavy hitter (supervisor) for help, but in the end, I won the battle that should have never been waged. How could we possibly be held responsible in any way for PAL cancelling the flight? We won… this time. We were to receive a FULL refund!

             PAL Ticketing Office – Makati

Talking with other PAL travelers, it has become clear that more and more delays and flight cancellations are occurring with this carrier, at least on some of the domestic routes. WHY?

On that very day last summer when we sat in the Calbayog Airport waiting on our flight, there were three separate announcements that our flight from Manila had been delayed, each time with a newly issued Calbayog ETA, before the flight was actually cancelled. Meaning: the plane was maybe broken and could not be fixed, leading up to the eventual cancellation of the flight. That is the morning we took the 3.5 hour ride to Tacloban to catch the afternoon flight to Manila from there. My first thought about why this is happening would be “maintenance issues.” I’ve spent too many years in and around the aviation community, and although I’m no expert, I’m not exactly ignorant about these things.

Now I don’t mean to scare anyone here, but when you think about the increasing numbers of delays and flight cancellations, I don’t think you can chalk all that up to pilot no-shows or heavy flight traffic! Just last September (2017), President Duterte threatened Lucio Tan, chairman and chief executive officer of Philippine Airlines (PAL), to settle his liabilities with the government in 10 days or he would shut down Terminal 2 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Naia). About that same time, the Department of Transportation (DoTR), had announced that PAL has “unpaid navigational fees and other charges” amounting to almost P7 billion to the government – P6.97 billion payable to the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) and P322.11 million payable to the Manila International Airport Authority (MIAA).

The PAL Express De Havilland Canada DHC-8-402Q Dash 8

I find this a bit ironic that about this time, PAL packed up and moved some of their domestic flights from Manila to Clark. I would also surmise that if PAL is having trouble paying their bills, what other issues might they be experiencing internally – Staffing? Maintenance? Keep in mind that the Bombardier Dash 8 series aircraft that is used by PAL was originally launched in the 1980’s, and although they have received some recent new deliveries from Bombardier Aerospace, some of the planes in the PAL domestic fleet are aged. You can learn more about this aircraft here, making your own judgements on reliability and safety from information provided here.

While PAL has let us down each of the last 4 times we have flown domestically (turboprop), we have never experienced any delays with international flights (jet aircraft). As a Mabuhay Club members, we will likely continue to use PAL for international travel, but domestically I’m leaning on using Cebu Pacific exclusively – Let’s just call it a “gut” feeling. In a country that can’t keep a locally produced hamburger (Jollibee’s) in stock, I have to ask myself, what about aircraft parts?

And it’s going on 5 days and I’m still waiting on our refund!