Jaime J. Bautista, Philippine Airlines’ (PAL) President & COO, knows from the get-go that he needs his entire team—around 8,300 employees spread across the globe—to align with the company’s vision: to become a five-star airline by 2020 by providing a safe and pleasant flight to every customer, who is most likely a discriminating Filipino passenger.
“To stay in the lead, one must always adapt and innovate. This requires constant investment, creativity, and 100% commitment of a dedicated workforce,” Bautista tells Fil-Am Who’s Who in a recent interview.
“Our goals and targets were clear, and it was important that all PAL people understood them before we solicited their commitment…We also rallied our people in the less-visible back offices and shops whose contributions were just as crucial as those from the higher-profile frontliners. We keep everyone updated in regular town hall meetings to track our progress and discuss each innovation that we introduce.”
A top management officer at PAL for 23 years, Bautista believes that investing in innovation in the company’s products and services has paved the way for its recent feats: a global survey of 20 million passengers conducted by Skytrax, an international air transport rating organization, has ranked PAL as 49th in the world airline standings and the Second Most Improved Airline in 2018; Skytrax has also certified PAL as a four-star airline earlier this year, and at least 15 new aircraft were added to its fleet of around 85.
Take note though, the road to the top is not easy. There’s a fierce competition among major airlines. Change is inevitable for the 77-year-old company: improve the customer experience and come out with an attractive pricing or be left behind.
Bautista calls to mind, “The last two years were a roller-coaster ride of constant struggle to overcome various obstacles to implement truly transformative changes in all areas of operations. By rallying everyone in the PAL organization—making them understand and embrace what we are doing and why—we solicited their support to make small but significant changes at all workstations/areas, ultimately making the impact on overall passenger service.
“We’ve also made big investments in aircraft: 15 new planes earlier this year, but at least 43 new aircraft over the 2016 to 2024 period, and full cabin reconfiguration of existing planes—to offer the public a truly elevated customer experience.”
He adds, “To thrive in our industry, it’s not enough to react quickly and efficiently to competitive moves; we have to be relentlessly pro-active and lead the way, whether it’s pioneering new routes to develop new passenger markets or introducing new service innovations as an industry leader.”
With hubs at Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila, Clark International Airport in Pampanga, and Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Cebu, PAL travels to at least 33 destinations across the Philippines and 43 international destinations including Southeast Asia, East Asia, Middle East, Oceania, Europe, and the six major cities in North America: Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York.
PAL has recently purchased six Airbus A350-900s, which will primarily provide non-stop services to Europe and North America, especially to New York, the carrier’s longest route so far.
East Coast Expansion
Half a million Filipinos are based in the East Coast USA, which is hard to ignore. At 15 to 17 hours of non-stop flight from New York to Manila and vice versa, PAL’s newly acquired A350-900 makes the long-haul travel a lot faster and more convenient for the passengers beginning October 30, 2018.
“When we decided to modernize our long-haul fleet with ultra-long-haul airliners, we had in mind the expansion of our network in the U.S. as well as Europe, and in particular the East Coast. We believe our product, particularly the Business Class and Premium Economy high-end cabins in the A350-900, and the roomiest Economy Class ever in our A350s and retrofitted A330s, puts us at par with or superior to other global carriers operating in the same regions,” Bautista explains.
He says further, “We fully expect the U.S. market to grow steadily, while competition will intensify. This is why we’re the only airline offering non-stop flights from New York to Manila, as well as non-stop flights from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Honolulu.”
World’s Most Advanced Commercial Aircraft
PAL’s A350-900 boasts a tri-class layout: Business Class, Premium Economy, and Economy, which provides a total of 295 passengers with an upgraded in-flight entertainment, from 11.6-inch to 18.5-inch TV screens; WiFi connection for all passengers; more personal space and more room to stretch, and a quieter and more relaxing long-haul flight.
It also has “a cabin atmosphere (pressurization, humidity levels) that fights jet lag…Its extra-wide body is the latest generation of high-technology aircraft and has a cabin that’s four times quieter than other aircraft of its type. Its two Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines burn less fuel, while the fuselage is made of new composite materials that make it lighter—allowing it to fly farther. The wing and the winglet (‘sharklet’) design provides an aerodynamic efficiency by mimicking the wings of a bird, contributing to fuel efficiency,” Bautista describes the A 350-900, dubbed as “the world’s most advanced commercial aircraft.”
“Passengers will love the bigger windows, the mood lighting that offers more than 16 million lighting combinations, the higher cabin humidity, and more comfortable pressurization levels for a more relaxing journey,” he says.
Interestingly, Daniel Baron, the plane’s interior designer, has installed Barong Tagalog-inspired wallpaper and placed cushions attributed to Mindanao’s radiant weave patterns.
“Our passengers will [definitely] get a feel of the sunny Philippines the moment they board the aircraft because of the [customized interiors], warm hospitality of the crew as well as the delectable Filipino meals.”
Bautista, a native of Cabanatuan City, Nueva Ecija, says. “Customer First: this is the foundation for all aspects of our core values and ‘Buong Pusong Alaga’ service culture.”
Resilience and Growth
Although currently the ninth-largest corporation in the Philippines in terms of gross revenue, PAL has been through ups and downs—the aviation industry’s financial growth is cyclical; slumps will turn to profitability over periods of time. But like the Filipino people, which the company represents as the Philippines’ flag carrier, PAL is known for its unwavering resilience in the midst of the hard times.
“The experience of more than 77 years provides us with a wealth of knowledge and insights that we use when confronted by challenges. We also nurture a pool of loyal employees who use this experience to work around new problems. When we set our current five-star strategy and rallied our people, I was amazed to see the strong and gratifying all-out enthusiasm throughout our ‘PAL family’–who then went out to make sacrifices and go the extra mile to serve our customers. They love PAL passionately! That’s our biggest asset and the key to our resilience and dynamism,” Bautista proudly states.
Looking forward, PAL is also finding the right balance between pricing and full service to lure in a more mainstream market. “The goal is to offer the best value for our customers of all nationalities, whether business and high-end premium travelers or families on vacation, along with our traditional Filipino balikbayan and OFW customers. With the market still price-sensitive, we regularly offer ticket promos with very affordable fares, without compromising service quality, consistency in service, and a good product,” Bautista says.
“We also project PAL as the window to the Philippines to attract inbound traffic.”
Propelling the company’s considerable growth through the years is business titan Lucio Tan, PAL’s Chairman & CEO and Bautista’s longtime staunch friend and ally.
Bautista remarks, “He’s one of the country’s greatest visionaries and the man who made the bold decision to turn around the flag carrier to better serve the Filipino people. He’s one of the world business leaders I greatly admire.”
Photo: L-R: Angelique Tinsay, VP Information Systems; Atty. Siegfred Mison, SVP General Counsel; President Bautista; Stewart Lim EVP/Treasurer & Chief Administrative Officer; Maria Antonia Llamzon, VP Human Capital; Cielo Villaluna, Manager, External Communications; Emilio Yu, Special Assistant to the Chairman & CEO