Dubai: The Philippines low-cost airline Cebu Pacific could go back to a “full daily schedule” on the Dubai-Manila route this year itself.
“Dubai was one of the first international routes we restarted, and by December, we had actually gotten back to our old levels in terms of frequency,” said Alex Reyes, Vice-President for Commercial at Cebu Pacific, which in the recent past had brought down its ticket rates to well under Dh300 as part of its offers. And even dropped it to below Dh100.
The carrier even got back to its pre-COVID-19 frequency of flying daily to Dubai in December and January. “It was the only international route where the frequency count and capacity deployed were back to record levels,” said Reyes.
However, passenger traffic during that period wasn’t all that encouraging. During Decembers, Cebu generally sees load factors of “high 80s to low 90s”, but that was not the case this time, said Reyes, but did not disclose the latest numbers.
Drop in frequency
However, the carrier has been constantly changing the number of flights to Dubai, depending on the situation with regard to travel restrictions in the Philippines. It operated thrice-weekly flights in February and raised it to five this month. “There are flights [and] there is sufficient traffic to support the capacity we have on the route today,” said Reyes.
Low cost all the way
Cebu plans to continue its aggressive pricing strategy going forward - but even that has its limitations. “That's our basic play - we try to make fares very affordable, so that the travel decision is easy for consumers to make,” said Reyes.
But, the low fares will only “take you so far” because of all the restrictions in place that require travelers to take several additional steps before they even step on a flight, he added.
In fact, compulsory quarantine has been determined as the biggest detriment to air travel demand at the moment. Around 84 per cent of the travelers will not travel if there is a chance of quarantine at the destination.
We're seeing very hopeful signs – a lot of the schools end their term in March, so that leads to higher-than-normal demand for air travel in the Philippines
Domestic picks up
While international travel stays on hold, domestic air travel has become a lifeline for several global airlines. “Yes, it’s picking up – (however) the network that we're operating today is still a small subset of what it was pre-pandemic,” said Reyes. “We're seeing very hopeful signs – a lot of the schools end their term in March, so that leads to higher-than-normal demand for air travel in the Philippines.”
Once sufficient numbers have been vaccinated, there should be an opening up of borders and lifting of travel restrictions, said Reyes. “We think that Dubai can go back to our full daily schedule within the year - there is that possibility.”
And a chance to bring back those hyper-competitive ticket rates…