Cebu Pacific is something of a hidden gem in international aviation, carrying Filipino travellers across its extensive route network at affordable prices.
While not a household name in the west, its services are highly-prized in the booming low-cost markets across Asia, where it serves 26 international destinations.
Alongside prestige departures to Sydney in Australia, Chinese capital Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai, the carrier also maintains an extensive network across the Philippines, with its 37 domestic routes served from seven strategically placed hubs in Manila, Cebu, Clark, Kalibo, Iloilo, Davao and Cagayan de Oro.
As Mike Szücs, chief executive adviser of Cebu Pacific Air, explains to Breaking Travel News: “Earlier in the year, we announced our aim of flying more passengers in 2018, in light of the increase in domestic and international inbound tourists to the Philippines.
“The number of international passengers we serve increased by almost eight per cent from last year.
“While the majority of our customers are Filipinos, as we continue our expansion into the international markets, particularly the ASEAN and north Asian markets, we have to find ways to better serve our international passengers.”
He adds: “To reach this goal, and to better cater to our international passengers, we have invested in an expansive route network to meet passengers’ demand, while maintaining our year-round low fare proposition.
“We recently launched the Manila-Melbourne direct flight, as part of our expansion across the region, boosting our current network.
“Recently, we announced additional frequencies of our Davao-Singapore direct service, from twice weekly to four times weekly beginning the first of December.
“Cebu-Narita will also grow into a daily service in December.
“This shows our growth in the international market is also driven by our services from our other hubs outside of Manila.”
Boarding one of the carrier’s Airbus A330 flights from Manila to Hong Kong earlier this month, it is clear Cebu Pacific has got the on-board product just right.
Similar to European low-cost operators, colours on board are bright and welcoming, while pop music reduces the rigors of international travel.
With planes operating near capacity, boarding starts early - nearly an hour before take-off.
This means Cebu is able to offer a more dignified service than its rivals, with passengers able to take their sears in an orderly fashion, rather than in an undignified rush.
During my flight there was a slightly surreal pop quiz, with branded prizes handed out to those who guessed the correct answers to suspiciously easy questions, while the customary duty-free products were also offered.
Passengers are also able to pre-order snacks before departure, with a choice of hot dishes on the menu.
Szücs, a former chief operating officer with UK-based easyJet, continues: “Being a low-cost carrier also means finding new avenues to improve our passengers’ in-flight experience, which is also the reason for the launch of our new pre-ordered meals menu.
“Developed in partnership with Miascor-Gate Gourmet Philippines, the new menu highlights the flavours of Philippine cuisine, with a wide selection of savoury meals and light bites to suit different tastes and preferences.”
The passengers surrounding me during the two-hour hop to Hong Kong were full of praise for Cebu, detailing how the carrier allowed them to reach destinations which may otherwise have been unaffordable.
Szücs explains this has been key to the airline’s success to date: “Our business model is strongly grounded in our product, which focuses on ease and convenience.
“Our core message is that it’s easy to fly with Cebu Pacific, with the ease of transaction, ease of service and ease of travel with Cebu Pacific’s flight network and frequency.
“It is this philosophy that guides our investment in technologies and initiatives to make sure that our passengers have a seamless experience when flying with Cebu Pacific Air.
“For example, in 2017, we expanded our payment channels to enable all of our customers to pay for their flight bookings even if they do not have credit cards with PayRemit.
“We also recently announced the increase of flights to and from Clark by 75 per cent, improving the connectivity between Clark and Macau, Cebu, Tagbilaran (Bohol) and Davao.
“Come October, we will also be the first airline to resume flights to Boracay.”
For Cebu, being a low-cost carrier doesn’t have to mean scrimping on service.
Szücs adds: “As a low-cost carrier, we have a strong focus on cost control.
“But that does not mean cutting corners; it means being efficient.
“In the market for short-haul travel, you need a service that is efficient, safe, punctual and clean.
“Cost control also does not mean sacrificing passenger comfort.
“The seven new Airbus A321ceos that we have added to our fleet are part of our efforts to enhance customers’ in-flight experience.
“With ergonomic seats designed by world-renowned seat manufacturer Recaro, each seat is also equipped with a USB port for passengers to charge their mobile devices, and the new seat design allows for more legroom between each seat row.
“The new seats are also 40 per cent lighter than conventional economy-class seats.
“The A321ceo also has a larger cabin space, which allows the aircraft to carry an additional 50 seats.
“This lowers our unit seating cost and fuel cost, allowing us to pass on the cost savings to our customers through lower fares, achieving efficiency while improving passenger comfort.”
Touching down at Ninoy Aquino International Airport is also a breeze.
Passport queues are short, at least for those travelling on a foreign passport, while baggage reclaim is quick an efficient.
If only the same could be said of the traffic out on the streets on Manila!
With a great product and loyal customer base, Cebu is also looking to expand its operations in the coming years.
Szücs reveals: “We are in the midst of modernising our fleet to support our ongoing network expansion, beyond China, Australia, Asia and the Middle East.
“We have planned for the delivery of 45 more aircrafts from now to 2022, with about one aircraft arriving every month for the next 14 to 15 months.
“This includes seven Airbus 321ceos, five of which are currently in service, and 32 Airbus neos over the next four years.
“The first A321neo will arrive in November this year, with another eight scheduled for next year.
“In addition to this, we also have five A320ceos scheduled to arrive.”
The Philippines’ leading airline, Cebu Pacific entered the aviation industry on March 1996 and pioneered the “low fare, great value” strategy.
It has flown over 150 million passengers since inception.
Find out more on the official website.