Friday, February 27, 2009

Zest Air : A Review

An Airbus A320 parked at the tarmac of Mactan-Cebu International Airport

Many of my friends are asking me about Zest Air, whether it is a new airline or it is reliable or if the fares are cheap and it is safe to ride in their airplanes. Zest Air is much more commonly known before as Asian Spirit. I happen to ride in one of Asian Spirit's plane last summer to Baguio City and I'm just glad that we landed safely in one of their decades old Dash-7 aircraft which even triggered my allergic rhinitis due to the aircraft's very dusty interior.

It's a good thing that Zest Air now operates only brand new turboprop planes and for the first time they acquired an Airbus plane as they are now expanding their routes. I happen to experience riding in their first Airbus A320 aircraft last December 2008 and the following are some of my rants and little praises for Zest Air.

* What a relief to finally see the Old Domestic Terminal with just several passengers. As far as I can remember even when I'm just about 4 years old on our way to Iloilo that the terminal is always full of passengers as it is the sole terminal of Philippine Airlines for all its domestic destinations. During the 1980's even at 2AM the Old Domestic Terminal is a bustling building because of people taking the "Bulilit Flights" of Philippine Airlines. Cebu Pacific Air outgrew the terminal and is now enjoying the vast space at Terminal 3.

* Check-in was fast. The flight was delayed by about 30 mins. but it is tolerable as it is the busy holiday season. No aerobridge when you board the aircraft as the terminal does not have them.

* I was assigned to seat 5A (I always request for a window seat) but inside the aircraft the flight attendants transferred all the passengers to occupy the middle part of the plane to distribute the weight & balance thing as the flight is just 1/3 full. In the end I was transferred to an aisle seat and I completely blame it on the check-in counter girl as it is her duty to distribute the passengers accordingly because she knows beforehand that we are only 50+ who will take that flight.

* I initially thought that their first Airbus A320 aircraft is brand new but I was wrong the very second I entered the aircraft just because of the smell... Yes, I know how a brand new airplane smells like. It didn't smell like a brand new airplane at all. Aside from that, the seats are not new as there is a cover on the back of the seat where a personal entertainment system of its previous owner might be placed. Then I saw the passenger safety information card, if you look closely on the picture below there is just a sticker of Zest Air covering the words JetBlue. I therefore conclude at that time that U.S.-based JetBlue Airways is the original owner of the aircraft. A funny thing is that it contains a Spanish translation targeted for the Hispanic passengers of JetBlue. I hope by now Zest Air replaced those safety cards as I think it is not that costly for an airline to print those cards so it can display their official company colors rather than the design which is only intended for JetBlue. If they want they can put a Filipino translation to replace the Spanish translation as it is more practical for a Philippines-based airline.

* Inflight service is quite good. I don't know if Zest Air is calling itself a budget airline as the flight attendants pass newspapers just like what legacy carriers offer. And then I was even more surprised when they offer refreshments of either mineral water or Zest-O juice drinks (Zest Air's majority owner is also the chairman and president of Zest-O Corp.).

* The flight ended in a smooth landing at Mactan-Cebu International Airport. When it is time to deplane I was dumbfounded to know that we need to walk all the way to the terminal as Zest Air does not use the aerobridges which Mactan Airport obviously have unlike its terminal in Manila. I don't know why, maybe because the other gates with an aerobridge are reserved for other airlines or Zest Air just does not want to pay extra to access an aerobridge. Oh well, the weather is good at that time and I need a little exercise anyway.

* On the flight back to Manila it is such an inconvenience to passengers when only 1 check-in counter is open to accommodate all of us passengers. I'm still on queue 30 mins. before the official departure time and I found out that the flight is only half-full. It didn't stop there as the flight was delayed for 2 hours and they only announced it way past our scheduled departure time.

* For the inflight service back to Manila almost everything is the same as my previous flight.

Would I fly with Zest Air again? Why not? I had also bad experiences with Cebu Pacific, SEAIR and Philippine Airlines. I BELIEVE THAT THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BAD EXPERIENCE AND A BAD AIRLINE. If Zest Air would not improve their Airbus service then that would be a different story and I would tell you again about it here in my blog. It's a good start that they are now operating with newer planes to all of their flights.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I Love Couchsurfing!

I think that CouchSurfing (CS) is a genius idea for all sort of travelers. I have made several wonderful friends in Indonesia and here in the Philippines because of CouchSurfing. Some of my CS friends showed me their town/city and served as my tour guide and translator as well. The only thing that I have yet to do to comply with the mission of this project is to actually surf someone's couch.

To be honest, I have reservations and concerns about meeting and staying with or hosting strangers in my home although my initial doubts changed and the fears disappeared when I met Sita and Haru in Bali, Indonesia and Benny together with other CS members in Jakarta, Indonesia. CS is for any traveler with an open mind and would love to meet new friends and enjoys learning about and experience other cultures. A wonderful time can be guaranteed as long as you have common sense as with anything involving meeting strangers. Who knows, these strangers can be your lifelong friends or even your soulmate.

CouchSurfing FAQs:

Q: What is Couchsurfing?
A: According to wikipedia, it is an Internet-based, international hospitality service and it is currently the largest hospitality exchange network. Members use the website to coordinate contacts and home accommodation (couch-surfing) with other network members around the world.

Q: How it works?
A: Memberships in the organization is free and is obtained simply by registering on the website. The core activity of the organization is exchange of accommodation. Acting as a host, a member offers the possibility of accommodation at his or her leisure. Acting as a surfer (guest), a traveller may search for and request for accommodation at his or her destination. Accommodation is entirely consensual between the host and the surfer and the duration, nature and terms of the surfer's stay are generally worked out in advance to the convenience of both parties.

Q: Do I recommend it to other travelers?
A: Definitely! Although you should carefully choose whom to stay for the night or several nights.

Q: Have I used the website to sleep in other people's house?
A: I have an issue when it regards to security so I haven't yet tried to couchsurf in other traveler's home. In my recent trip to Bali and Jakarta, Indonesia I used the website to try to find locals who could show me more about their city/town. I enjoyed every minute of being with other couchsurfers.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Free Seats Up for Grabs! Thank You Air Asia!

This is an annual event for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia-based Air Asia. Enjoy free seats to all Air Asia destinations in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia and of course the Philippines. This seat sale starts NOW!

To enjoy this promo all you have to pay is the Administration Fee. As far as the routes Clark-Kuala Lumpur-Clark and Clark-Kota Kinabalu-Clark are concerned they will just amount to 1,000+ pesos. Meanwhile, destinations originating from Kuala Lumpur to Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia or Vietnam will range from 1,000 pesos to 4,000 pesos roundtrip. If you have an Australian visa then this is the cheapest airline in the world going to Perth, Brisbane or Melbourne from the Philippines.

This is an impulse buying thing because it is too good to resist that you don't have the luxury to think if you will fall prey to this seat sale but the beauty behind this seat sale is that you will have all the time in the world to plan for your chosen trip as you have at least 6 months to spend for planning your itinerary and budgeting for your chosen trip.

Just book! Plan later!

Friday, February 6, 2009

I'm Off to Surigao & Butuan... I'll be Back in a Jiffy

Mabua Pebble Beach in Surigao City (photo taken from Annemarie)

This Surigao trip would be just short, it is so short that I have no time to go to Siargao, the surfing capital of the Philippines. I learned to surf when I was in Bali, Indonesia last year and I definitely would love to try it again in Siargao but due to time constraints I will not visit that island even it is only a 3-hr. boat ride away from Surigao City. I would really want to brush up my surfing skills if there's any left after 6 months of its hibernation. Nevertheless, it would be my first time in Surigao City so I am still excited. Thank you Cebu Pacific Air for offering an almost FREE seat last December 24, 2008. A one way ticket during the promo just cost Php 28 nett to any Philippine destination being served by the airline.

Have a great weekend to you all!

my itinerary

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Pre-Summer Seat Sale

Cebu Pacific Air and Zest Air have their own versions of seat sales. The images below said it all so I don't need to further explain here in this post. They are both applicable for domestic travel.

Seat Sale from Cebu Pacific Air

Seat Sale from Zest Air

16th Travel Tour Expo

Calling all travel bargain hunters in the Philippines. The 16th edition of the Travel Tour Expo (TTE) being organized by the Philippine Travel Agencies Association (PTAA) will take place on February 6, 7 and 8 at the SMX Convention Center, Mall of Asia Complex, Pasay City.

I went to this event for the last 3 years and I was treated to a number of packages for local and regional destinations being offered by travel agencies and airlines. I hope this year would be better in terms of choices and of course the price. Example, for those who are Boracay bound for the summer you will find many resort operators who will have their own booths like One MGM Boracay, Patio Pacific and Microtel Inn & Suites. South East Asian Airlines (Seair) will be offering a "Buy 1, Take 2" promotion for its Busuanga and Boracay roundtrip tickets while a "Buy 1, Take 1" promo will be available for the Batanes route.

Department of Tourism Secretary Joseph Ace Durano said the TTE is an essential element in the government's drive to market the Philippines as a leading Asian tourist destination. There will be more than 200 travel and tourism companies from the Philippines and abroad which will participate in the country's biggest travel and tourism expo.

With the theme "Travel in Style," the event features two segments - lifestyle (which will cover travel accessories, health and well products and services, culinary schools, car rentals and the like) and food sellers with lounge areas.

Established in 1979, the PTAA is the country's biggest grouping of tourism related companies.