Flying SEAIR to Boracay

1:20 am PHT

 The Dornier 328 is the main aircraft of SEAIR.

In the Blogger Boracay Weekend a little more than two weeks ago, our flights were sponsored by SEAIR, one of the small local airlines that prioritizes leisure and luxury domestic destinations instead of major local cities. (Like, they have flights to Tawi-Tawi but not to Davao—at least not yet.) You might recognize SEAIR from their many ads and billboards saying that they have the fastest flights to Boracay (and most flights to Palawan) and for capitalizing on Marc Nelson’s abs. (The airline got a bit of very minor publicity because of Marc in the Amazing Race Asia 2. During the Singapore-Manila leg, an all-ladies team were amused to see Marc, also a race participant, on SEAIR’s ads with their airport pamphlets.)

If you remember my Microtel Dinner post last August, Microtel wanted us bloggers to try one of their hotels and blog our reviews about the experience. Well, the Boracay Weekend was the result and while our accomodations are set, getting there was the problem. So for our flights, Microtel got SEAIR as a second sponsor for the “junket.”

Company Presentation

SEAIR invited the bloggers for a dinner on the Monday before the trip. Like Microtel, they organized the dinner as a company presentation. There we got to learn more about the airline and the various services and promos they offer. VP for Commercial Affairs Patrick Tan gave an introduction of SEAIR while his assistant Czarleo Gimena gave most of the rest of the show.

SEAIR, which stands for South East Asian Airlines, also has another acronymic meaning: S for speed (fastest flights), safety (zero-accident record), and space (spacious cabins and seats); E for European-trained pilots; A for accessibility (they can land on short unpaved runways, like the one in Taytay, Palawan); I for innovative promos (see next paragraph); and R for relaxation.

Two of their most interesting promos is the Adventure Pass and the LEP or Leisure Escape Packages. The Adventure Pass is definitely the most interesting offer they have: for only 18,000++ pesos, you have a 45-day fly-all-can package. This is targeted mainly for people who want to explore most of the Philippine islands affordably. But if I had the money, I’d probably use this to go to Boracay every weekend for six weeks: fly to the island Saturday morning, hit the beach in the afternoon, party all night, sleep away the morning on Sunday, then fly back to Manila in the afternoon. Hehehe.  :D However, only the first and the last flights are bookable and the flights are subject to availability of seats. So my six-weekend Boracay indulgence would definitely fail during peak season since seats would likely not be available then.

The Leisure Escape Packages is where SEAIR becomes sort of a travel agency. The airline has partnered with various hotels and resorts in Boracay, Palawan, and Cebu and the program can provide you with affordable travel packages. For example, they have a promo for January 7 to February 3, 2008 where you can avail of a 3-day-2-night stay at Escondido (Station 1), inclusive of daily breakfasts and round trip airfare from Manila, for only 7,857 pesos (that already includes the 12% EVAT). If there are three of you, it comes down to 5,169 pesos per person. That’s quite affordable, don’t you think?  :D

The Flights

The main aircraft SEAIR uses is the Fairchild-Dornier 328 with the turboprop engine. SEAIR claims that they are the only local airline to employ these planes and the Dornier 328 (Do 328) is behind their claim to have the fastest flights to Boracay—only 35 minutes. For reference, by the time a public bus has driven from Fairview to Baclaran, A Do 328 would have flown at least three times between Manila and Caticlan.

I’ve never ridden a small plane before and since I’m a bit apprehensive about flying and because small planes are more affected by turbulence, I wasn’t particularly thrilled to fly. But surprisingly, I enjoyed both flights to and from Caticlan. I’m definitely strongly considering flying SEAIR again if I go back to Boracay—unless it’s much, much more cheaper to take another airline flying to Kalibo. Never mind the two-hour land trip to Caticlan. Hehehe.

Since the destination is just relatively near, the planes fly at an altitude of about 16,000 feet instead of the usual cruising altitude of more than 30,000 feet for international flights. (Update: the altitude seems to be for a different reason other than distance; see the comments.) This gives you an opportunity to spot things on the ground instead of just plain clouds. Roof surfing experience from Google Maps and Google Earth as well as blogging at Vista Pinas enabled me to identify a lot of landmarks, which suitably impressed my companions.  :) Among the sights I saw were Enchanted Kingdom, Mount Banahaw, Mount Makiling, Robinsons Place Lipa, STAR Tollway, Puerto Galera, Mount Mayon (!) (see picture in the gallery), and the islands of Romblon. In addition, despite not having set foot on Boracay, I was able to spot Puka Beach, Diniwid Beach (with Microtel Boracay), White Beach, Willy’s Rock, and Boracay Rock (at Bulabog Beach) from the plane. On the return flight, I also got to see Taal Volcano.

So was it really fast? Well, I didn’t really time it but I think the actual flight travel time took us about 45 minutes from taxiing for takeoff down to parking after landing. I guess the 35-minute flight time, as advertised, is just the absolute fastest they can do depending on prevailing weather conditions and is not the average. (Also, you have to factor in the one-hour check-in and boarding time, and the 15-minute baggage claim time in your overhead.)

As for their touted spacious cabins that they claim would make you feel as if you were on business class? I strongly disagree. The leg room was quite cramped and is comparable with economy class. (Believe me, provincial bus trips have more leg room.) Add to the fact that our only snacks is some inexpensive packaged nuts and mineral water, it hardly seems like business class at all. I suggest that they stop claiming to offer business-class-like experience so that people won’t have very high expectations. After all, they have the fastest flights to Boracay and that’s not enough time to develop leg cramps.  ;)

Here are my fellow blogger stories and/or pictures about SEAIR and the rest of my pictures are in Flickr:

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