“Why did it take you this long?” was the partly teasing but wholly demanding question a Filipino immigrant in New Zealand asked of Philippine Airline’s high level delegation to Auckland the day the flag carrier landed its maiden voyage to Middle Earth.
Out of an estimated 4.5-million population, the scenic country, which earned its nickname as the spectacular movie set of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, is now home to more than 44,000 Filipinos. And, with a distance of 8,018 km between Auckland and Manila, and hardly any airline serving the route, PAL’s welcoming interrogator had every right to an answer.
Representing storied 74-year-old company, PAL president Jamie Bautista responded
New Zealand is known as Middle Earth as it is where the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed. The spectacular scenery of the country was the perfect place for New Zealand born Peter Jackson to bring to life Middle Earth (from Lord of the Rings), beginning with The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001.
Auckland in New Zealand, the 39th destination in the international route network of Philippine Airlines, was linked with Manila on December 2, with the inaugural flight warmly welcomed by New Zealand officials and representatives from the more than 44,000 Filipinos in Auckland.
The four-times-a-week flight to Auckland makes a one-hour stop over at Cairns in Queensland, northern Australia, which passengers can visit for a few days before taking the next flight to Auckland or Manila, all in one PAL ticket.
Passengers of the inaugural flight, including a delegation of officials from the Department of Tourism, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, Philippine media and PAL executives, as well as a dozen owners/representatives of travel/tour operators were welcomed with traditional greetings and native dances at both Cairns and Auckland airports.
At a gala dinner hosted by PAL at the Stamford Plaza hotel at the Central Business District of Auckland, Mr. Bautista said, “We hope this new service will promote more than economic trade and cultural exchanges but also understanding and peace. Today, airlines have a noble role to play—that of catalysts for the exchange of ideas to promote peaceful co-existence.”
He added, “Amidst conflict in various parts of the globe, we can build air bridges that will allow people of different beliefs to appreciate and understand each other.”
New Zealand Minister for Transport Simon Bridges responded, saying there is a steady increase in the number of arrivals from the Philippines, so that he “hopes to see a similar celebration marking the 10th anniversary of PAL’s inaugural flight,” indicating his high optimism the new PAL flight will succeed.
Philippine Department of Tourism Director for Market Development Ma. Corazon Jorda-Apo relayed the gratitude of Philippine Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez for PAL’s efforts at opening the new route to New Zealand.
She cited Philippine President’s remarks during his meeting with New Zealand Prime Minister John Key at the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Manila: “Our relations with New Zealand have grown even stronger as we foster greater people-to-people interaction and economic ties.”
At the same dinner, Filipino diva ZsaZsa Padilla was rowdily taken in by the Filipinos in the coat-&-tie/formal dress crowd, delighting them with nostalgic Pinoy songs.
A number of former PAL employees who have resided in Auckland were visibly involved in the preparations and hosting of events.