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Last direct flight to Manila: Less fun for travelers from Europe

March 28, 2012 8:59am
It's now become less fun flying from Europe to the Philippines for travelers who can't wait for tropical sunshine.

The country no longer enjoys a direct flight from any European city after Air France-KLM, a merger of the continent's most prestigious aviation brands, flew its last flight to Manila from Amsterdam last Sunday. No other airline had maintained direct flights. Philippine Airlines stopped its direct flights to Europe in the 1980s.

Air France-KLM claimed it could no longer sustain the flights after the Philippine government would not lower or abolish aviation taxes that the airline had been demanding.

Travel agents foresee that the loss of the direct flights won't have a big impact on tourism arrivals, since Air France-KLM had become less competitive than Asian and Middle Eastern airlines which offer cheaper connecting flights to Manila.

What the Philippines stands to lose is the prestige of a direct connection. "Parang nawawala tayo sa mapa," says one travel agent, who asked not to be identified. "It's important to our image."

Still, many individual travelers who are not part of tour packages prefer direct flights, according to Michelle Reus of Unilink Travel Agency. "It saves them time... There are several concerns when travel destinations have connecting flights: there's additional airfare, waiting periods, lost baggage during transit among others."

Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez declined to say how the loss of the last direct flight would affect tourism or the country's image, but said via SMS that "we believe that KLM will fly direct to Manila again as soon as conditions improve here."

"The legislature shall soon do away with the fiscal barriers to profitable air business in the Philippines," Jimenez said.

The Tourism chief was referring to a bill moving through Congress that would abolish the "common carriers tax," which Air France-KLM and other airlines had long been complaining about.

"Our flight has become unsustainable because of declining passenger numbers," said Cees Ursem, Air France-KLM's country manager. "If we can't fill the plane, then there is no point flying direct... because overhead expenses for long haul aren't cheap, more so with the Philippines' unreasonable tax regime."

Air France-KLM terminated its direct flight despite the growing possibility of abolishing the tax via legislation.

The government currently charges a 3-percent common carriers tax and a 2.5-percent cargo tax.

Ursem explained that the taxes are especially harmful to airlines flying long distances to reach the Philippines, in view of the high cost of aviation fuel.

"The taxes are levied over the value of the ticket," he said, adding that "European carriers pay the maximum price, regional carriers pay far less, and the Philippines' own carriers do not pay the taxes at all."

KLM, which merged with Air France in 2004, had been flying to the Philippines longer than any other foreign airline.

Starting this week, Air France-KLM passengers from Manila have to fly first to Taipei before proceeding to Europe. — China Jocson/ Howie Severino/RSJ, GMA News
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