IN PHOTOS: Filipino pilot shows what it’s like to travel by air during a pandemic

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IN PHOTOS: Filipino pilot shows what it’s like to travel by air during a pandemic
PAL pilot and photographer Mike Buenaventura documents a 37-hour repatriation flight to Canada, showing how flying has changed since the pandemic

MANILA, Philippines – While travel restrictions have grounded most flights in and out of the country, Philippine Airlines (PAL) has continued to service a limited number of cargo, sweeper, and repatriation flights to bring foreign nationals back to their home countries. 

Mike Buenaventura, a first officer on PAL’s A350 fleet, recently documented a repatriation flight to Canada – a 37-hour flight on April 18 to 20, taking passengers to Vancouver and Toronto, which required two sets of cabin crew and eight pilots.

While the pilots and flight attendants are given the choice to refuse flight assignments, most readily accept them as their part in essential services, vital to bringing passengers home safely.

The unprecedented situation called for special procedures to be put in place. Days before the flight, the company’s medical division interviewed each crew member on their travel history and symptoms.

Flight attendants have been getting special training in handling food service, which has changed significantly: no more menus are handed out at the beginning of the flight; all the food is sealed and covered in foil; everything is disposed of immediately after. They are also decked in specially designed PPEs.

Passengers’ bags are rolled through disinfectants several times upon entering the terminal, while the travelers themselves walk through a footbed disinfectant before boarding the plane. Because the flights are not full, passengers can practice physical distancing on board.

The travel industry is one of the hardest hit during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Here is a glimpse of how air travel has changed as the Philippines flag carrier brings stranded travelers back home:

The outbound cabin crew are ready to accept passengers. All photos by Mike Buenaventura

The lights on the A350 are dimmed as two flight attendants conduct meal service on a repatriation from Manila to Vancouver and Toronto.

A purser suits up for service.

The 37-hour flight required 8 pilots, working in teams of 4.

The cabin crew debriefs before they handover the aircraft to the ground crew for sanitizing.

The crew's spirits remain high as they continue to serve travelers under unusual circumstances.

Health and safety precautions have changed meal service significantly.


Social distancing is strictly observed at the airport in Vancouver.


Two sets of cabin crew were required for the 37-hour return flight.




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