The twice weekly direct flights of the Philippine Airlines from Manila to Saipan will have a positive impact on the medical referrals program of the CNMI and, to a certain extent, on tourism as well.
According to the director of Medical Referral Services Ronald Sablan, the direct flights to Manila—where a significant number of cases are being sent—will help in many ways.
“That flight will be helping us a lot. Not only on patients’ convenience but also the cost mainly because we don’t have to charter flights from Saipan to Guam now which is very costly,” Sablan told Saipan Tribune.
For fiscal year 2014, Medical Referral spent $6.374 million for about 784 cases. Last fiscal year, there were 763 cases for which they spent $6.689 million.
While most of the cases are still being sent to Guam, about 33 to 37 percent were sent to the Philippines.
In FY 2014 and 2015, 260 and 282 cases were sent to the Philippines, respectively.
The Medical Referral Services coordinates with four of the major hospitals in the said country namely St. Luke’s Medical Center, Medical City, Makati Medical Center, and Asian Hospital.
The direct flight will also eliminate the need for transferring patients from one plane to another to get to Manila.
“We put the patients on a real disadvantage at the same time risk possible injury when we transfer them from one flight to another,” Sablan said.
“Just having that direct flight will be a great help for our patients,” he added.
Sablan said the advantage that the PAL flights will be bringing in is that it will make the medical trips “shorter, easier, more convenient, and less costly.”
PAL also agreed to provide stretcher services as well as in-flight oxygen, which are “a plus,” according to Sablan.
Sablan said they have been waiting for airlines to consider this route and appreciate PAL’s move.
“We’ve been praying for some airlines to come in and provide direct flight services outside of the CNMI,” Sablan said.
“I really extend my appreciation for PAL to consider this flight. I know that everything is based on the bottom line, and hopefully this will prove to be true for them and continue this service,” he added.
The Marianas Visitors Authority is also welcoming PAL’s return to the region and is hoping to have an opportunity to increase traffic to the islands despite the limitation due to visa requirements.
“We welcome the return of Philippine Airlines to the CNMI. In addition to transporting Philippine nationals between countries and making medical referral-related travel more convenient and cost-efficient, we hope that there will be an opportunity to Increase leisure travel between our two countries and to link the CNMI to other countries via the Philippines’ vast regional network,” MVA managing director Perry Tenorio said.
“Unfortunately, the Philippines is not an allowable country under the U.S. Visa Waiver Program and the Guam/CNMI Visa Waiver Program, so leisure tourist from the Philippines to the CNMI will require a U.S. visa, which may limit its growth potential,” he added.
PAL will start their flights to Saipan on June 15. The new flights are on code share with PAL Express.
PAL president and chief operating officer Jaime J. Bautista noted fellow Filipinos’ need for this service.
“Saipan is home to thousands of Filipinos. Opening this new route will provide our kababayans that much-needed link to their homeland. On top of that, business and leisure travelers from Saipan now have the opportunity to experience PAL’s brand of service that is uniquely Filipino,” Bautista said.
PR1571 will depart Manila every Wednesday and Sunday at 9:20pm and will arrive on Saipan at 3:35am local time the following day.
PR1572 will depart Saipan every Thursday and Monday at 4:35am local time and will arrive in Manila at 6:45am.
PAL’s General Sales Agent in the CNMI is Century Travel.