Are You Ready to Take A Flight?

By Peachy Vibal – Guioguio,

Around this time last year, we were anticipating our first cruise experience. We make it a point to visit countries we have not been to yet, with last year’s choice being the countries around the Baltic region. This now seems to be a world away as we have yet to board a plane this year, and will most likely be looking at the same predicament in the next two to three years. Given this and with no clear guidelines on the future of travel, airline businesses, one of the most pummeled industry in this pandemic, are grappling with billions of dollars in losses and a bleak scenario ahead.

With the Philippines breaching 200,000 cases of COVID-19 virus infections (press reports cite 217,000 plus and counting) the dislocations caused by this pandemic to our business and commercial institutions right now is a matter of national security concern. How do we get out of this morass? How can we as a nation emerge from this nightmare with our body politic intact and our sense of well-being and hopes for the future still unwavering?

This could be problematic as a study by the pollster Social Weather Stations (SWS) said that the pandemic brought great stress to 55% of Filipinos 15 years old and above, and 34% experienced “much stress.” Moreover, in a July 2020 SWS survey, the majority of Filipinos believe their quality of life has gotten worse compared to last year in the face of the unprecedented crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic. Conducted from July 3 to 6, the survey found that 79% of Filipinos said their quality of life worsened (losers) while only 8 percent said it got better (gainers).

The main issue here, lest our policy-makers and program implementers forget, is how do we control this virus from spreading. It is the health factor and safety issue that need to be addressed by both the government and the private sector first, before all these talks about reviving the economy and how the Philippines will rebound from this pandemic by 2021. So it is noteworthy that amidst the gloom and the downcast brought about by the longest quarantine/ lockdown period that Filipinos are going through when compared with the rest of the world, that there is one Philippine company, our very own Philippine Airlines (PAL), that is taking the issue of public safety very seriously and whose efforts have been commended by authoritative international observers.

According to press reports, PAL is one of the top 10 airlines when it comes to safety for travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Safe Travel Barometer (STB). PAL got a rating of 4.2 out of 5.0, tying with China Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, AirAsia and Emirates. More than 150 airlines were rated for their performance in the pre-flight, actual flight and post flight stages. The airlines were also given a rating for COVID-19 related hygiene and safety measures they announced to passengers and crew. Lufthansa topped the list with a rating of 4.5.

It was followed by Vistara, Delta Airlines and Allegiant Air at 4.4. Alaska Airlines rounded out the top 10 list with a rating of 4.1. PAL welcomed the recognition and promised to maintain its standards. “We are grateful for the unexpected recognition, and honored to be recognized for doing the right thing. PAL shall continue to maintain the highest standards of safety and the protection of the health of our colleagues and all the passengers in our care,” PAL president and chief operating officer Gilbert Santa Maria said in a statement. STB, in a statement on its website, said it conducted an independent audit of more than 150 airlines and 20 traveler health and safety measures announced, as part of airlines’ renewed preboarding. boarding and onboard experiences during the pandemic.

In an email interview, Santa Maria disclosed stringent safety measures for both their flight crew and ground personnel. “All PAL ground frontliners are asked to wear mask and face shield as they are the first line when dealing with passengers. We have also installed acrylic barriers in all our ticket offices and check-in counters to serve as barriers between our staff and the passengers,” Santa Maria said. And it is a given that all PAL workers are subjected to thermal scanning to record body temperature before entering workplaces. To ensure the safety of flight crew and passengers in its flights, Santa Maria mentioned that each aircraft is subjected to intensive disinfection before and after every flight. “We use High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters to cleanse cabin air of bacteria, viruses, and impurities with 99.99% efficacy,” he explained. “PAL flight attendants have also been provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) they use throughout the flight. Added to this, we also conduct COVID-19 testing for returning Filipino (non-Overseas Filipino Workers) and foreign travelers.” Santa Maria said.

Flight safety has always been part of PAL’s corporate culture as exemplified by a previous honor given to PAL Express in 2018 which was awarded the highest ranking for safety with 7 stars from the world’s only safety and product rating agency in conjunction with its IOSA – the International Air Transport Association Operation Safety Audit. IOSA was first introduced in 2003 to curb the disturbing trend in airline accidents that could be attributed to simple processes and maintenance programs. Of significant importance to is that the audit is done every two years and covers over 1060 parameters.

PAL’s safety measures for ensuring that passengers are secure from COVID-19 exposure include not only the mandatory wearing of face masks but also mandatory wearing of face shields (effective August 15) for passengers in PAL international (and domestic) flights throughout the flight and inside the airports. There are also mandatory physical and social distancing and minimum contact at all times and in all places within the airport premises, and during all procedures, from check-in, boarding, inflight, disembarking to retrieving of check-in baggage. Other pro-traveler health and safety initiatives are their utmost transparency in communication of safety measures with travelers as well as regular sanitation and disinfection of all airline facilities and equipment, including lavatories, frequently touched surfaces, wheelchairs, trolleys, countertops, etc.

So, there is a reason enough to fly PAL’s “safe skies” when the time comes that all the hassles of travel are gone: i.e., quarantine pass, 14-day stay at home at destination, road checkpoints, but more importantly, when the Philippines can rightfully say that the COVID-19 virus is under control.

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