The third AirAsia charter flight to the Philippines since Palau’s borders closed is set to repatriate 105 Philippine nationals tomorrow morning.
Flight AirAsia Z2-8062 is scheduled to take off from Palau International Airport tomorrow at 11am and land in Manila around 12:35pm. The flight will only be carrying passengers out, with nobody disembarking in Palau.
The special charter flight was coordinated by the Philippine Consulate in Koror, Palau, in conjunction with Surangel’s Worldwide Travel Corporation. Tickets for the one-way flight cost $599 each.
The vast majority of the Philippine nationals on tomorrow’s flight are workers who either finished their contracts or lost their jobs in light of the economic crisis. Around half of the passengers work or worked in the tourism industry or in construction.
The rest of the passengers are returning home for a range of reasons including family visits and medical needs, while others who were originally in Palau for temporary visits were stranded when borders closed.
With the plane able to accommodate 180 passengers, the Philippine Consulate has said that the flight will allow for social-distancing measures, and that passengers will be required to wear face masks and face shields on the flight. Once in Manila, the Department of Health in the Philippines has said that passengers will be required to undergo a COVID test, and will wait in designated quarantine facilities for three-to-five days while the results are processed.
The cost of the accommodations during the quarantine period for Overseas Filipino Workers will be covered by the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, while all other returning citizens will pay for the accommodations themselves.
The Philippine Consulate has said that the flight will only be carrying Filipino nationals, and cannot accommodate passengers who want to transit to other countries. Although the Consulate and the Government of the Philippines have been working to make transiting flights possible, Qatar Airways, which manages the connecting flights from the Philippines, requires negative COVID test results for all passengers issued 96 hours prior to departure– a requirement at odds with Palau’s financial inability to administer COVID tests for outgoing passengers.
This is the third AirAsia repatriation flight to the Philippines since Palau’s borders closed, with a flight in early August carrying out 106 Philippine nationals, and another in September carrying out 59 nationals.
Philippine Honorary Consul in Koror Eric Ksau Whipps says that the Consulate is working on scheduling two more repatriation flights to the Philippines possibly in December, but this depends on the number of passengers who want to go back. Mr. Whipps says that a charter flight would only be economically viable with a minimum of 50 passengers. Palau, though, is also working with Qatar Airways to find a way to accommodate transiting passengers who are moving on to other places through the Philippines, meaning that future charter flights may be able to carry non-Filipino nationals.
President-Elect Surangel Whipps Jr., whose business is helping to coordinate the repatriation charter flights, has been active in promoting repatriation of stranded foreigners during the time of the global pandemic.
“There are currently 2,000 foreigners in Palau . . . we need to be honest, we don’t have money to pay them; [we should be able to] send them home,” said the President-Elect in the “Meet the Press” Presidential Forum last month.