The ‘Heart of the Filipino’ just got bigger
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - July 19, 2018 - 12:00am

This week, I am Filipino,” said a European passenger during the delivery flight of Philippine Airlines’ first A350-900, part of Airbus’ XWB (extra wide body) fleet, from Toulouse to Manila, as he observed the mood on board.

He probably sensed the throbbing pride that surged through each and every Filipino as the A350-900 streamed seamlessly through Toulouse’s blue skies, dipping one wing after the other, to bid goodbye to the factory where it was born.

The blessing of PAL’s new A350 XWB aircraft led by Fr. John Conolly with PAL president and COO Jimmy Bautista, Airbus Asia EVP Jean Francois Laval, LT Group’s Michael Tan and PAL airline operations SVP Nicky Gozon.

Now, it was time to spread its wings.

Champagne on ice was ready to be passed on as the seatbelt sign was off, and the passengers, including Philippine Airlines (PAL) president and CEO Jaime Bautista and LT Group Inc. president and PAL director Michael Tan, erupted into jubilant applause.

Then came twin victories that enhanced the euphoria of the two countries behind the takeoff of this mighty bird: Manny Pacquiao had just knocked out Argentine Lucas Matthysse, and France vanquished Croatia in the World Cup. The chief Airbus pilot of PAL, Capt. Butch Generoso announced the Pacquiao victory mid-flight. If anything, PR 5003 from Toulouse to Manila, was a victory flight.

The author with (first row, from left) Arnel Patawaran, Dinah Ventura and Tessa Arriola; (second row) Sam Chui (left) with Jimmy and Joji Bautista.

More applause. More bubbly. It was Christmas, Independence Day (for the French, it actually was Bastille Day) and pay day rolled into one.

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LT Group Inc. president and PAL director Michael Tan.

The evening before, at a dinner hosted by Airbus at the Toulouse Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Bautista said, “The aircraft is a game changer in the industry with its greater range, lower fuel burn emissions and lower operating costs.” He told me at the sidelines of our Airbus factory tour earlier in the day that the first three of the six A350-900 acquired by PAL will be flying to New York and London by the end of October, and most probably Seattle next. Non-stop.

Bautista said PAL is targeting not just Filipino passengers, but “mainstream” passengers from all over the world who prefer the convenience of a direct flight from Asia to the rest of the world and back, because PAL’s connections are quick and Manila’s location is very strategic. He related the story of a Hong Kong businessman who takes the early flight to Manila then hops on the 1 p.m. flight from Manila to London and arrives there in time for dinner.

Jimmy Bautista with granddaughter Elle after the inauguration of the plane on the Airbus tarmac.

For his part, Michael Tan said as he made a sweeping gaze of the aircraft in the Airbus factory, “I feel very proud.” PAL’s A350-900 is the first of its kind to have the colors of its nation’s flag painted on its belly, for all the world to see even if the plane is in flight.

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PAL’s A350 will set a new standard by allowing the flag carrier to fly nonstop almost halfway around the world on the longest routes ever to be served by a Philippine carrier. It boasts a quieter cabin, up to four times less noise, making it the quietest twin-aisle aircraft to date. You can whisper a marriage proposal and your partner will surely hear it.

The Business Class cabin has 30 seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, so that every single seat is also an aisle seat — even if you’re by the window like I was. The seat — which reclines to a full flat bed measuring 78 inches in length — has an adjustable air cushion to adjust seat firmness and a lumbar massage feature.

Capt. Oliver Efren ‘Obie’ Odulio, chief pilot Capt. Butch Generoso and First Officer James Joseph Estrada.

The Premium Economy Class has 24 seats on a 2-4-2 configuration in an exclusive cabin, with leg rest and footrest. The Economy Class cabin seats total 241 on a roomy 3-3-3 configuration. Seat pitch is at 33 inches, seat width at 18 inches and a recline of up to six inches. All seats on the PAL Airbus A350 have personal TV screens with dual screen functionality.

Wi-Fi service is offered free for all passengers (subject to time and volume caps), with affordable renewal plans.

The plane also features special LED mood lighting, providing passengers a more intimate flight experience that helps them adjust to new time zones.

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Ernest Ong serves macarons on board.

The designer of the interiors Daniel Baron says he wants passengers to be “wrapped in the Filipino heritage” as they enter the aircraft, with the barong Tagalog-inspired wallpaper and the cushions reminiscent of Mindanao weave patterns.

PAL has placed six firm orders for Airbus A350-900s, and options for an additional six A350s. Four are to be delivered in 2018, and the other two are slated for delivery in mid-2019.

The mood lighting system of the A350-900.

As Captain Generoso announced as the A350-900 took off from Toulouse, “We’re now on our way to being a five-star airline!” I looked out my window and saw the Philippine tricolor painted on the wing, and my own little heart fluttered like a flag in the wind.

That day, at 41,000 feet, I wore the heart of the Filipino on my sleeve.

(Services to other points in North America and/or Europe are expected to follow as more aircraft join the fleet over the next 12 months, including possible routes to Seattle, Chicago and a point in Western Europe.)

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