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My Life in Cebu: Flying

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Once long ago, in the 1970’s when I was in college, I was stuck at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport in dead winter, after a longer flight from Europe. Planes weren’t leaving to the West Coast; it was socked in and at 3 am, the only airport place open for food was called “Terminal Diner.” Now this isn’t a really good name for an airport eatery at 3 am in the middle of a snowstorm, and I really didn’t want to eat there. But, I was hungry. And you know, it all worked out. I got home to the West Coast 12 hours later; the plane didn’t crash and the cheeseburger and fries I scarfed down didn’t turn out to be my terminal meal.

BizzzBuddy - The Business that works while you sleep

Most of us who live in the Philippines have the need to fly sometimes, either within the country or back and forth to our native countries or within Asia. Airline choices and tickets are many these days and most of this is done online. We’ve pretty much said goodbye to the travel agency, but like most things in my life, I am a creature of habit. I fly the same airlines and the same routes over and over. I am always looking for discounts but I have personal guidelines. I just don’t fly Vomit Airlines (or even Aeroflot) no matter how cheap their tickets are.

International Airlines I Love:

Please note that none of these are US airlines; not that all US Airlines are bad; I fly Alaska Airlines up and down the West Coast and I like it just fine, but generally I absolutely stay away from United, American and to a lesser degree, Delta.

What makes an airline one that I love? Generally On Time Flying, Straightforward Baggage Transfers and Handling, Comfortable Seats, Media on the back of the seat in front of you, Gracious Employees and Tolerable Food.

Most of my international flying is between Cebu/Manila and Los Angeles, Seattle or Portland, Oregon. The choice used to be to fly either through Seoul, South Korea, Tokyo, Japan or Hong Kong and then direct to Cebu, or on a bad day, through Manila. The longest total flights were Cathay Pacific through Hong Kong, but that route usually fried me.

Portland to Narita to Cebu is pretty good on either JAL or the old Northwest (now Delta) Airlines. 10 or 11 hours to Tokyo, a two or three hour layover and then 4 hours to Cebu. There is a great passenger shower place at Narita; for $15 you could take a shower and change clothes. It made all the difference. The flight through Japan was sort of spendy though and so I started flying through Seoul, South Korea and discovered Asiana, Korean Air and EVA Air. The time of the flights was about the same and all of these airlines were first rate. Singapore Airlines is simply one of the classiest airlines around and I always look for good fares that involve them.

Now that I live in the Philippines I have discovered Philippine Airlines and it has become my international airline of choice to the USA, not because it ranks for comfort with the really good Asian airlines but because the routes to the US West Coast are great. For a while there was a direct flight Cebu to LAX. 13 hours, one plane, no waiting between flights. (I heard someone say they are going to reinstate it???) The food on Philippine Airlines is shitty and you can see where they’ve cut corners.

For example: in case of an emergency water landing the pork adobo doubles as a flotation device. One flight on PAL really tried to cut expenses. They didn’t have locks on the bathroom doors; but they told you to just whistle when you were in there. They also hand out these individual little Macbook (they’re not) tablets so you can watch movies which sort of work. But the flight to LAX is cheaper, and cuts 4 or 5 hours off the trip time, so I can tolerate the rubberized food AND, I do know how to whistle.

Domestic Flying

I used to really love Cebu Pacific and their cute little smiling airplane signs. I even have a bright yellow baggage tag.

But now that I’ve flown on Cebu Pacific a bunch of times, there are some things I hate about it: their extra charges for seat selection and baggage, and the fact that if you aren’t careful you get automatically charged for travel insurance and meals, even on a 45 minute flight. Cebu Pacific (now calling itself Cebgo) is often late. We have spent many hours at different airports waiting for our plane to arrive from somewhere else. Sometimes they leave early and then announce that we’ve arrived 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I am not sure how they do this exactly; I guess if you aren’t waiting for other passengers you can take off whenever you want. Cebu Pacific was the first airline I flew that used the Cattle Stampede method of loading passengers. It didn’t matter what seat you had, but after the Senior Citizens, Disabled and Families with Small Children, it was like the Black Friday Christmas sales at Walmart. This seems to only happen sometimes; you never know and you have to watch, lean forward in your waiting room chair and be ready to be smacked in the butt by a couple of lolas and some families carrying way too many carry-on bags . Once on the plane the flights are usually trouble-free and they play these cute little games where the first passenger to name the capital of Botswana or show a 1000 peso note with writing on it wins a plastic pencil holder. I have three.

My favorite domestic airline is Philippine Airlines.

They just seem more professional; they are the flagship airlines of Philippines and have aspirations to be a quality, major airline. The criticisms I have of their service is mainly on international flights; here in The Phils, they are usually on time and don’t have add-on hidden charges. Even though they aren’t a “discount airlines” like Cebu Pacific (I’m sorry; I can’t call it Cebgo), their tickets are only slightly more expensive and sometimes not at all.

Air Asia: I really do want to love Air Asia. They try and they do go everywhere as long as you don’t mind flying through their hub, Kuala Lumpur. Because of this, almost nowhere internationally is direct, but within the Philippines you can fly direct to Clark, Manila, and Davao and Caticlan again when Boracay re-opens. Their flights are sometimes late and because of their reputation as Asia’s #1 Discount Airline, their flights are often full of every sort of traveler. I will say that when I want to fly to cities other than Bangkok in Thailand, or Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, India or Indonesia, I always check Air Asia. Their fares are often cheaper and they fly to many places off the usual paths.

The past few years we have been flying in Europe a lot, but that’s a whole other story, and I’ve left out all my tips about how not to get sucked into a conversation with the woman in the seat next to you who is nervous and needs to tell you her life story and about how her brother-in-law knew the winner of the Kentucky Derby ahead of time and her uncle who can get me 15% off really good carpet, direct from the manufacturer as long as I donate at least $10 to her Bible Study Group for Wayward Girls in Peoria, Kansas. These techniques involve rude body language and looks taken directly from Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

I can’t wait to hear your flying stories.

Posted in

Rob Ashley

After travelling to the Philippines and SE Asia perhaps 15 times between 2007-2011, I decided to retire in Cebu and moved here in August 2011. Things changed fast. A month after I was here I met my wife Rachel; In 6 months I decided I was bored after having taught high school English and in a graduate school of education at a Portland, Oregon university for 30+ years; I looked around; I was hired as the Head of the English Department at a Cebu international school. Rachel and I got married; we bought a condo in Cebu City; we got two cats. After 3 years here I was offered a similar position at a Japanese international school, so we went to Japan. After two years there I was offered another position of Coordinator of Languages at a Vienna, Austria international school. Living in Europe was nice, but Rachel said, “It’s too cold here.” So, finally last August, we returned to Cebu for good, and I really am retired. I have learned that you pretty much take your life with you wherever you go. I have a PhD from the University of Oregon and I’m a diehard Oregon Ducks fan. Likewise an NBA Portland Trailblazers fan, so I am often up at 3 am on Sundays or Mondays to watch football and basketball games. Cebu is home now and many thanks to Bob Martin for LIP and the services and opportunities he offers us Expats.

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MalcolmDonMarcelino ZabalDaniel BeeganRob Ashley Recent comment authors
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Marcelino Zabal
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Domestic free flight snack of the Philippine Airlines is better than most airline snacks here in the US, unless you buy from the menu.

Daniel Beegan
Guest

Unless the promo is just too good to turn down, I fly PAL for domestic flights.

Marcelino Zabal
Guest

Daniel Beegan
Convenient for to visit PH, direct check in with your 2-50lb luggage all the way to provincial destination without penalty of weight.

Dan
Guest
Dan

Another story written by a creative writer who seems to enjoy proclaiming the ironic and the absurd, to the immense boredom of the reader who simply wants to read the facts. Sorry to be a killjoy but…

Steve X
Guest
Steve X

Dan,
You’re not a “killjoy” – you’re a jerk!
All writers have differing styles, but to attribute terms such as “absurd and immense boredom” to Rob’s well written, humorous and accurate article is childish and mean spirited.

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Thank you Steve: I have been both absurd and boring in my life; I try not to be in my writing…well at least the boring part. Be well. -Rob

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Dan: Lots of writing styles I guess. What I write is certainly not newspaper reports of facts only. I think that would be Jack Webb on Dragnet, “Just the facts Ma’am.”
It is fine that you don’t like what or how I write; it is like taste in music I think. I suggest you skip over my “articles” and go on to the next day. All the best to you, and thank you for your comments. Rob

PapaDuck
Guest
PapaDuck

Rob, I think you handled that comment from Dan with class. We flew Air Asia to Vietnam last month. It was a direct flight. We were an 1 1/2 late coming back due to the heavy air traffic at NAIA. As far as international flights, we have flown on ANA, JAL and China Southern going through Narita or China to either Chicago or NY. NY is especially long, 17 hours in the air. No bad experiences to report. Philippines Air i believe is getting the Dreamliner for there long international flights. We may try Philippines Air on our next flight… Read more »

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

PapaDuck: Thanks for your support and kind words. Well if Philippine Airlines gets the Dreamliner and reinstates the Cebu to LAX route….Wow. I hope that happens. Thanks for the info. -Rob

LeRoy
Guest
LeRoy

I have some agreements with you and some disagreements but it’s just personal opinions. Cebu Pacific lost my business yesterday. I have used them on various hops and for family members. I booked a flight about 10 days ahead of time and specifically made sure checked baggage was included. Yesterday they charged me all over again and tried to address it. I was basically told tough luck. Singapore Airlines gives better economy class service on my last 9 or 10 flights than some first class flights I have been on. Singapore is a long layover and somewhat out of the… Read more »

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

LeRoy: I envy you flying Singapore; it is very classy. Airlines seems to be one of those things where you only need 1 or 2 bad experiences to sour it for you. I can’t say I’ve flown United much recently, but had a couple of bad/rude flights in the past and so I avoid them. Cebu Pacific is ok, most of the time, and sometimes the only choice between Philippine cities. I do hate the “extras” and I have had to sit in NAIA for quite a few hours though on one of their connections and that is a bit… Read more »

Art
Guest
Art

Nice article and I am largely in agreement. My wife and I tend to fly JAL and/or ANA exclusvely on our route from Chicago to Manlia via Narita or Haneda and use PAL domestically in the Philippines. We have a strong preference and comfort level with Japanese service having lived in Japan for many years. US carriers are lacking and that is a disappoionting reality. It is a shame what Delta has done to Northwest. We used to fly Northwest all the time in the 80 and 90s between Japan and the US east coast and it was wonderful, they… Read more »

John Miele
Guest
John Miele

Rob: I probably fly more than 90% of the readers on this site…I have flown 53 flights YTD. So I have a pretty broad experience in airlines. Some observations: 1. I agree with you regarding US airlines. The service continues to get worse every year. Since I rarely need to go to the US, it is pretty easy to avoid them. 2. Every flight in or out of MNL is delayed due to overcapacity. Since domestic flights tend to ultimately feed into or out of MNL every day, delays there make most domestic flights in the Philippines subject to chronic… Read more »

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

John: Great detailed information from a very experienced flier. I think the worst airline I flew was HK Express. There was literally no legroom on this discount airlines and I swore, never again, I too like Bangkok as a hub and when we were flying from Europe, we would fly through BKK before the flight to Cebu. My opportunities to fly Business Class are small, a couple of times on Cathay Pacific with frequent flier miles and a few times in the US. Thank you for your comments. -Rob

Don
Guest
Don

If an entrepreneur started an airline who actually banned kids under 10 from flying I am positive they would be successful…it would be my airline of choice!!!!!

Steve W
Guest
Steve W

My wife and I do yearly trips between Chicago and Cebu. We won’t even consider a connection thru Manila or Japan’s Narita due to bad experiences many years ago.

Cathay Pacific was on our preferred short list until they cancelled a route a month before we were due to fly. (We booked a few months in advance). They offered no apology or alternative.

Korean Air is now pretty much our regular airline. No complaints. Asiana was fine when we used it once. The Inchon/Seoul airport is also much better than anything I’ve seen in the USA.

Rob Ashley
Guest
Rob Ashley

Steve: I agree about the Korean Airlines. They are all pretty smooth and accommodating. I never had the trouble with Narita that you did, but as I said before, I think you only need one bad experience with an airline to make you avoid it. Incheon also has those great traveler’s showers while you are waiting for your 4 hour flight to Manila or Cebu; they make all the difference for me. -Rob

Malcolm
Guest
Malcolm

Hi Rob. I used to be an Emirates fan owing to the in flight entertainment system which was a great kid pacifier but we now use Singapore Airlines for trips back to Europe. The reason is that we can fly Davao to Singapore without the hassle of going via Manila. We even prefer Singapore Airlines to Australia because it avoids the hassle of passing through Manila. The only thing going for Cebu Pacific is that it is cheap – even when you have to pay for seat allocation and the like. However, it really is a pretty awful airline. I… Read more »

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