The flag carrier of the Philippines is being required to transfer its boarding gates by the end of the month in the largest international airport in Southern California to the detriment of its passengers.   

Philippine Airlines (PAL) regrets and expressed deep concern on the decision of the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) management that PAL’s Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) boarding gates be transferred from their present gates to farther location in the expanded Midfield Satellite Concourse (MSC) of the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT).

The LAWA decision was relayed through a LAWA email advisory received on May 7, 2021 stating, among others, that the airline is mandated to move to the new MSC effective June 1, 2021.

PAL has been flying Filipino-Americans to and from the US West Coast since 1946, and to and from LAX since 1984 where they operated up to 17 weekly flights before the pandemic. 

Through email, PAL North America Regional Head Bryan Lim informed that PAL management already disagreed in talks with LAWA as early as 2018 on a possible move to the MSC  as it will affect their passengers, especially the elderly. 

According to sources, PAL President Gilbert Sta. Maria reiterated this PAL position in a letter he wrote to LAWA Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Justin Erbacci on April 19, 2021 stating that PAL is deeply concerned and urgently appeals for reconsideration of the initial plan to relegate PAL to operate from gates at the MSC.

PAL President and Chief Operating Officer Gilbert Sta. Maria

The appeal letter reasoned that forcing PAL to operate from the MSC “would result in a significantly degraded passenger experience with a disproportionate impact on our senior citizen passengers and our passengers who are persons with disabilities (PWD)” which are disproportionately high in number accounting for the highest usage of wheelchair services among operators at the TBIT.

Lim supplied figures stating that PAL’s wheelchair use in 2019 was 18,082 for arriving passengers and 21,766 passengers for departure. Even during the pandemic, 2020 figures on wheelchair use were 8,428 for arriving passengers with 8,072 for departing passengers.       

The Sta. Maria letter also estimates that ambulatory passengers will take longer time to travel from PAL’s present check-in counters to the MSC which could, in turn, adversely impact their on-time departure performance and incur additional costs for the PAL, including higher costs for wheelchair services due to additional demand 

In a walkthrough done with LAWA, PAL claims that a total of 30 minutes regular walk from the check-in counter to the new gates, an additional twenty minutes from the present ten-minute walk from the check-in to the boarding gates at the main terminal. 

Additional inconvenience poised by the planned transfer is that there are only vending machines, a stall with light snacks/drinks and a food delivery service which are the barest food services to cater to the needs of the passengers departing from the MSC. . 

The relegation of PAL, the letter continued, would put PAL at a competitive disadvantage, as all their direct competitors — Korean Air, Asiana, EVA Air, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Japan Airlines and Singapore Airlines, all of whom serve Manila via their respective hubs — are to be assigned gates at the main TBIT concourse. Other Asian airlines designated to operate out of the MSC do not fly to Manila at present, e.g., Sichuan Airlines, Hainan Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines, etc. 

In their response letter dated April 26,2021 that our sources provided, LAWA maintains that they strongly value the longstanding relationship they have  with Philippine Airlines and the Filipino residents of and visitors to Los Angeles and look forward to providing an outstanding guest experience for Philippine Airlines passengers at LAX for many years to come.

“The new Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) West Gates make up a brand new state-of-the-art concourse that is designed as a seamless extension of the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Therefore, the operational parameters of airline functions at the TBIT West Gates are expected to be substantially similar to current practices for airlines operating at TBIT…The innovations and technology at the TBIT West Gates will enhance the overall efficiency and experience for guests and operators,” the letter continued.

On concerns about the elders and PWD passengers, LAWA claims they are committed to providing for the efficient transit of these guests through our facilities mentioning, in particular, the use of a minimum of 12 Terminal Transport Vehicles (TTV) that can transport 4-5 passengers at any given time with necessary partitions for COVID-19 separation and that will ensure that transfer of wheelchair passengers is not unduly delayed.

LAWA also do not expect undue delays with arrivals or bag transfers, as all international passengers are required to clear immigration and customs at the first port of entry, which is LAX and that they also confirmed that the transfer times from the to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Federal Inspection Station are comparable to the transfer times from some of the current TBIT gates.

Because of this development, a PAL advisory was released for guidance of their departing and arriving LAX passengers informing of the move, over PAL protest, to the new Midfield Satellite Concourse (MSC) of the Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) beginning June 1.

The advisory also asks for passengers’ patience and understanding while alerting them the following: 

  • Additional Walk Time to and from Aircraft Gates that asks passengers to allot at least 20 minutes additional time to walk to your departure gates at the MSC;
  • Availability of alternative transportation or terminal transfer vehicles (similar to golf carts) available for passengers who are unable to walk the full distance also asking to allot extra time in case of limited availability of these transfer vehicles; 
  • Limited shops and services that advises passengers to plan on completing their  shopping and dining needs at the TBIT main concourse pre-departure area, before proceeding to the MSC for boarding; and .
  • No Change in Check-in or Arrivals location as all departing and arriving PAL passengers check-in and claim baggage, correspondingly and clear immigrations and customs at the same area in present use at the TBIT.

PAL assured that they have appealed urgently to the airport authority to reconsider the decision to move PAL flights from the TBIT to the MSC aside from seeking assistance from city officials. 

On mid-May 2021, PAL president Sta. Maria also wrote a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to raise PAL’s concern as LAWA is the LA City department that owns and operates LAX. Reports have it that Garcetti sent PAL an email deferring to LAWA claiming that the department has thought of and considered everything that led to the decision. Still, PAL is reaching out to him and is trying to exhaust all means for his reconsideration. 

PAL North American Regional Head Lim has written as well to the President of the Board of Airport Commissioners and Chair of the Trade, Travel and Tourism Committee of Los Angeles to appeal not to push through with the planned move.