When we think of low-fares and affordable air travel in the Philippines, one airline comes in mind, and that is Cebu Pacific. They are like the "Colgate" and "Xerox" when Filipinos search for "murang airline ticket" or "cheap airline tickets." Moreso, they changed the way other airlines would purchase aircraft, influencing a myriad of carriers in the Philippines to go for the Airbus A320.
If we actually examine our Philippine commercial aviation industry nowadays, most changes happened due to Cebu Pacific. First is the introduction of budget airlines. Though they said that Cebu Pacific is the very first low-cost airline in Asia, we would highly disagree with this as they actually started out as a full-service airline utilizing DC-9s and Boeing 757s. Though they were founded in 1988, the original plan was never to be a low cost airline. They only switched to becoming an LCC sometime 2003. Cebu Pacific later on transitioned to becoming a full-fledge low-cost airline when they started taking in the Airbus A320 and A319.
After seeing the success of Cebu Pacific, other airlines began rebranding and switching to a low-cost airline model, and these include Air Philippines who became AirPhil Expess then PAL Express later on and Asian Spirit that eventually became Zest Air then AirAsia Zest. Both also offered an all-economy no-frills service for domestic flight operations.
Another change that Cebu Pacific made which affected all the rebranding and refleeting of other airlines was the choice of aircraft, the Airbus A320. Before Cebu Pacific ordered its very first Airbus, Boeing ruled the Philippine skies. Philippine Airlines alone had up to 20 Boeing 737 aircraft. Whereas PAL also had Airbus A320 in its fleet after 1996, it was still less than the number of 737s in their fleet. Air Philippines operated Boeing 737-200ADVs, and Grand Air had around 4 Boeing 737-200s. After Cebu Pacific replaced their DC-9s with Airbus jets in 2005 which included 10 brand-new A319s and 2 A320s, all other airlines were shaken. Philippine Airlines began taking in more Airbus A320 jets to replace their ageing Boeing 737, all of them. In 2010, Air Philippines decided to take in Airbus A320 aircraft after having a hard time compete with Cebu Pacific. The latter rebranded as AirPhil Express utilizing Airbus A320 jets, and later on ordered more to increase capacity. Asian Spirit went on into also using Airbus A320 aircraft. They first rebranded as Zest Air and operated initially 2 A320s. Other airlines that then opened in the Philippines would no longer utilize used Boeing 737s, instead, would purchase Airbus A320 jets too. Pan Pacific Airlines and Royal Air also makes use of A320 family aircraft. Today, Boeing no longer rules Philippine skies, but Airbus. As they say, the Philippines is an "Airbus country." The only airline that operates Boeings is PAL, which are the ultra long-range and best selling widebody aircraft, the 777-300ER.
Indeed, how can an airline with old Boeing 737s compete with Cebu Pacific's brand new Airbus A320 jets plus lower fares? Things were indeed bound to change.
Perhaps if Cebu Pacific decided to go for its previous plans of replacing the DC-9s with Boeing 717 jets, would we then be a Boeing country operating Boeing 737NG jets instead?
A third move that Cebu Pacific did which changed Philippine air travel was to go digital and online. When Cebu Pacific introduced a new livery on its brand new A320s in 2005 and so on, they already had their website CebuPacificAir.com painted on the fuselage of every aircraft. People had the convenience of online booking and payment. Other airlines then began putting this feature on their airline websites and making it a main feature.
Aside from going online, Cebu Pacific also went into social media to market the airline. They were the first to create a fanpage on Facebook and Twitter. Other airlines began to follow suit on having their own social media pages. Cebu Pacific currently has around 5M fans and followers on their Facebook page.
With all the innovations and "firsts" brought in by Cebu Pacific, other airlines began to now have their own "firsts" too and innovating in their own special ways. Just last year, Philippine Airlines became the first airline in the country to introduce full-flat business class seats with IFEs on narrow-body jets like its Airbus A321NEO.
Cebu Pacific is also the first to open more hubs outside of Metro Manila such as Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Kalibo, and later on, Clark. Utilizing its turboprop fleet of ATR 72s and some of its Airbus jets, they introduced interisland flights. One of their shortest flights is Cebu to Bacolod. Interisland operations helped a lot in their cargo revenue. Companies prefer their products flown from one island to another rather than being transported via water given also the safety state of the Philippine maritime industry.
Today, the Philippine commercial airline industry is a very competitive one where introducing innovations and being the "first" somewhere is better than being left behind. The success of Cebu Pacific proved exactly just that, in a time when they bit every risk bullet to introduce something new and unheard of.
Today, Philippine domestic air travel has grown by leaps and bounds. As our airlines are expanding, they too slug it out by bringing in more promo fares, allowing more Filipinos to travel faster by air. Cargo movement has grown too due to interisland operations.
Cebu Pacific indeed played a huge role in shaping our Philippine commercial aviation industry to what it is today, a very competitive and vibrant one! At the end, more Filipino travellers benefit from this. Philippine Airlines has introduced a number of improvements to their products especially for their international flights in order for people to fly in legacy airlines more than budget carriers. Philippines Air Asia has been on their feet introducing their own versions of "fun flights" and promo fares that will rival Cebu Pacific's popular "Piso Fare" promos.
When we say or hear "promo fares" or "affordable plane tickets" or "cheap fare", Cebu Pacific is indeed the name that comes into the mind of many. They are indeed a gamechanger in today's air travel industry, and we are excited for what is in store in the future of Philippine commercial aviation.