BY MAUREEN N. MARATITA
Israel Fontanilla, area manager for Philippine Airlines for Guam, Papua Guinea and New Zealand, has a lot to be grateful for. Making his first visit to Guam, Fontanilla told the Journal the airline currently has a 60% to 70% load factor on its daily flight between Guam and Manila. He expects traffic on the route “to reach pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year,” with an 86% load factor.
Passenger travel has come back since the Philippines dropped mandatory quarantine, though some restrictions still apply. Non-Filipino nationals and former Filipino nationals need to be vaccinated with at least one booster shot to avoid presenting a negative COVID-19 test. Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated non-nationals cannot travel to the country. Filipino nationals – including those who hold dual citizenship must prevent proof of vaccination to travel to avoid presenting a negative test.
Government guidelines require masks on flights and in indoor settings, such as stores, but is optional in open or outdoor spaces.
Traffic on the flights are mostly island residents, who visit the Philippines to see family, for medical needs and to shop. Flights for the Christmas season are about 80% booked, Fontanilla said.
One way to boost passenger levels would be with the visa waiver for Philippine nationals coming to Guam.
Gov. Lourdes A. Leon Guerrero raised the visa waiver program again during a recent meeting with officials of the U.S. Embassy in Manila on “economic issues of mutual concern,” her office said on Oct. 11. Carl T.C. Gutierrez, president of the Guam Visitors Bureau also discussed the visa waiver program for Philippine nationals, while in the Philippines in June. “Right now, they’re having challenges securing visitor’s visas,” Fontanilla said. Applicants for a visa typically need to be interviewed at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, which can take months.
Nevertheless, 6,230 visitors from the Philippines made it to Guam in fiscal 2022. Fontanilla said Philippine Airlines will continue to promote the route. “We’re looking at sending travel agents to Guam – the Top 10 agents.” Media partners would also be invited. “We’ve already sent a letter to Gov. Gutierrez that we’re ready to have a partnership,” Fontanilla said.
Aside from an attractive peso to dollar rate, he said the airline offers competitive rates. “Promos are back.” He said Guam travelers could pay $250 return. “Some promos are lower than that.” Ticket costs include complimentary travel insurance until Nov. 23.
Fontanilla said the airline aims to develop onward traffic from Manila. “We want Philippine Airlines to be known as a network carrier.” The Guam flight arrives in Manila at 8 a.m., offering smooth onward connections. The airline flies to a variety of destinations within Asia and beyond. A PAL program usually provides hotel accommodation for a layover of eight hours or more in Manila. “Right now, it’s on hold. The government is not allowing transit passengers to exit,” Fontanilla said.
Manila does have stiff competition in the region as an international airport. Singapore’s Changi and Korea’s Incheon have developed their international terminals to meet a variety of shopping, dining and rest needs.
PAL utilizes an Airbus A321 NEO on the Guam-Manila route – a narrow-bodied plane with 160 passengers. As to personnel levels at Philippine Airlines, Fontanilla said, “We have enough staff, even with the ramping up of services.”
And he encouraged Guam residents to travel to the country. “It’s now the right time to go to the Philippines.” mbj