PHILIPPINE Airlines (PAL) inaugurated its direct Cebu to Los Angeles (LA) flight last March 15. There was a program at the predeparture area of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport attended by lots of people.
Doing the honors were PAL’s vice president for sales Ryan Uy, senior assistant vice president for Philippine sales Harry Inoferio and area head for Visayas sales and services Christopher Lebumfacil,
Harry and Chris greeted the crowd in Cebuano and joined the special guests invited to the inaugural flight. It was a good mix of travel agents, media personalities and friends. There was a long line to board and security was strict, as it should be.
Once on board, the words of welcome were also in Cebuano. Among the in-flight staff was Ingrid Deen. The pampering started as soon as we were on our business-class seats. The flight of 14 hours and 30 minutes was generally smooth, save for a bit of turbulence halfway.
We left in the late afternoon of March 15 and arrived also in the late afternoon of the same day in LA, due to the international dateline. A comfortable bus took us to the Omni Hotel in downtown LA.
In such optimum luxury, I dozed off, even if I had slept most of the flight. Next morning, March 16, we had to be at the hotel lobby at 9 a.m. for an excursion to Palm Springs. So, there we were: Harry Inoferio, Chris Lebumfacil, Joy Martinez Onozawa and her son Jazu Onozawa, Jingle Hernando of the PAL office in LA, Julius and Nelia Neri, Cybill Guynn, Bobit Avila, Honey Loop, Mila Espina and Diane Limchua.
Among the travel agents were Marget Villarica, Zenaida Chua, Allan Carvajal and Gin Ging Dimitiman from Cebu; Lily Ho from Bacolod; Emma Caseñas from Bohol; Bebot Jariol from Cagayan de Oro and Iligan; and Dom Vitor from Davao.
Completing the group was Andrew Harrison, general manager of the Cebu-Mactan International Airport for the GMR-Megawide consortium. He is very communicative and, best of all, he makes sense with his ideas.
We were taken to the Palm Springs Aerial Terminal to board a gondola that brought us up 8,516 feet to the high Mt. San Jacinto State Park. The temperature was quite cold, and there were pockets of crinkly snow among those ominous huge stone boulders.
After lunch at the scenic Peaks restaurant, we descended back. Next destination was the Cabazon factory outlets where we were replenished by an excellent Chinese dinner at the NBC restaurant in Monterey Park.
There was much to talk about over breakfast the next morning of March 17. The day’s itinerary took us to the San Antonio Winery, the only one within the city limits of LA.
The winery was established in 1917 by an Italian immigrant; he had no children, but a nephew inherited the winery and it remains in the Riboli family to this day.
Giving us the grand tour was one of the descendants, Dominic, who led us to lunch and to taste a few of the wines.
There was more shopping in the afternoon, at the Citadel outlets. The day ended with a visit to Hollywood. We saw the famous Grauman’s Chinese theater, and traced out steps through the pavement adorned by stars with the names of notable actors and actresses, as well as directors and producers. Among them were Julio Iglesias, Faye Dunaway, Lily Palmer, Irving Thalberg and more.
I would have wanted to see more names, but we were having dinner at the Las Vegas buffet, where the menu was most comprehensive.
On March 18, we had free time in the morning. The hotel’s shuttle car took me to the Last Bookstore which wasn’t very far. I browsed through the whole place, bought a book and tried to find my way back to the hotel.
I seemed to have lost my bearings, so I asked a policeman for assistance. He told me to go uphill on the street where we were and then turn right, walk a bit, “and you’re at the Omni Hotel.”
And, indeed, I got there.
In the afternoon, we all got dressed up to go to the SLS Hotel at La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Grove for the grand PAL press conference followed by a gala celebration. Present were PAL president and COO Jaime Bautista, VP for marketing Ria Domingo, senior assistant VP for international sales Eric Clark Tan and spokesperson Cielo Villaluna, who handled the presscon with expertise.
It was once more stressed that this was PAL’s 75th anniversary, its first flight having been in March 15, 1941, at a time when it was the first-ever airline established in Asia.
Many wanted to know when PAL would fly direct from Cebu to San Francisco and even New York City. Jimmy Bautista, with an amused smile, said, “It is all a matter of time.” That is exactly what he had said some years back when asked about direct flights from Cebu to the United States.
There followed a dressy cocktail party and a formal dinner. Guest performer was Zsa Zsa Padilla who, as she sang, mixed with the crowd. Of course, there was a rush for photos to be taken with her.
After the dinner, Cebu media had some precious moments with Bautista, to exchange ideas and impressions, and mostly to thank him for the wonderful opportunity to be part of such a historic event.
A stretch limousine took us back to the Omni Hotel, making us all feel like celebrities. As we waved farewell, we were reminded to be at the lobby next day, March 19, for checkout before noon.
The Los Angeles airport must be one of the largest in the world, so we realized when we checked in our luggage, passed through the security measures and found our way to the lounge to await boarding. That was quite a trek to the assigned gate, from where we took a bus to the plane. Once on board, everything was nice and smooth.
We arrived in Cebu early in the morning of March 21. What had happened to March 20? We had passed the international date line!