SERIES: Fly Gratefully from EL NIDO to CATICLAN with AirSWIFT

‘Travel Gratefully’ is a series of special or sponsored write ups that add more value and gratitude during my travels. The topics cover unique grateful experiences with specific people, things, places, and many others. For sponsored write ups, all are inspired by my experiences and nothing else. All posted articles are deemed worthy and in line with the main goal of this blog series which is to inspire MORE grateful travelling.

‘Irene, how do we travel directly from Boracay to El Nido or vice versa?’ This is usually the question I receive through email or social media from people I meet during backpacking trips when they are visiting the Philippines. As travelers, we always look for the most efficient routes to destinations we want to visit. And who wouldn’t want a direct transit from two of the best islands in the world, right?

In the past, I would always disappoint them and say that there is no direct flight between Boracay and El Nido. I would suggest other routes like Manila – Boracay – Manila – El Nido or Manila – Kalibo – Cebu – Puerto Prinsesa – El Nido. These routes are okay for some but for those who have limited time and just want to visit both Boracay and El Nido only, it’s a hassle to take too many connecting flights or boats.

Gone are the days when flights to different parts of the Philippines would only come from Manila. Today, airports all over the country like Cebu, Davao, CDO, Kalibo, and Clark are expanding to be able to accommodate flights to different destinations. We can already mix and match tourist hubs for our vacations without having to spend more going to Manila for connecting flights.

And recently, one of the best flight routes that could ever happen to Philippine tourism has launched. Two of the best islands in the world (according to Condé Nast Traveler) are now connected via a 45-minute direct flight through AirSWIFT!

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Helicopter Beach in El Nido (Photo from our Nov 2015 trip)

You can have a relaxing beach session in El Nido during the day and party the night away in Boracay.

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Boracay Sunset (Photo from our Jan 2015 trip)

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My sister at Boracay’s white beach (Photo from our May 2012 trip)

You can jog along Boracay’s white beach in the morning and retire at Marimegmeg beach in the afternoon for drinks and sunset viewing.

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Sunset at Marimegmeg Beach (Photo from our Nov 2015 trip)

The itineraries will be something fun to plan and definitely overwhelming!

I was fortunate to be a part of AirSWIFT’s inaugural flight from El Nido to Caticlan and vice versa last weekend and I’m here to share my experience(s) with you! I am very grateful to AirSWIFT, especially Miss Chressa Malicdem, for the opportunity provided to me and Inspiring Grateful Travels. I learned a lot and I will definitely remember this experience for the rest of my life!

MANILA TO EL NIDO

The night before the inaugural flight, I was so excited that I didn’t get to sleep! NONE AT ALL! SOBRANG EXCITED KO TALAGA because it was my first press trip! I knew it was going to be an interesting first!

At 9PM, I set my alarm for 3AM since my flight was at 7AM. I was already on my bed TRYING TO SLEEP! I tried reading a book, browsing social media, and etc. WALA! HINDI TALAGA AKO NAKATULOG! HAHAHAHAHA!

What’s amazing is that when I got to the airport, I didn’t feel tired at all! I was just happy and excited knowing that I was going to experience things for the first time.

Since each flight on AirSWIFT only has around 48 seats, checking in was a breeze. There was no line when I arrived. Looking around at the commercial flights with long lines, it was a relief riding with AirSWIFT. They provided me with a small sticker to put on my shirt so AirSWIFT staff can identify its passengers.

AirSWIFT (former Island Transvoyager Inc.) departs from NAIA Terminal 4. It used to have its own private departure hangar but since its aircrafts and flights have accommodated more passengers, they were asked to transfer to the domestic terminal. This airline used to have guests that only stayed at El Nido Resorts but now they have opened up to any guest wanting to go to El Nido whether they’re staying at El Nido Resorts or not.

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At NAIA Terminal 4, they do have a small seating box at the end of the departure area where passengers can get their snacks. The airline also has a separate area that is tinted for those staying at Pangulasian Island for guests who want privacy. This island is usually where VIPs and celebrities stay and since AirSWIFT left their private departure hangar, the company had to improvise at the terminal.

At the AirSWIFT area, I showed my boarding pass and the staff provided a paper bag with snacks. There was a bottled water, sandwich, and a brownie. The tuna sandwich was a bit cold (both the bread and the spread which I found unappetizing) but I liked the brownie.

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I had 3 flights with AirSWIFT (Manila – El Nido – Caticlan – El Nido) that day. What I loved most about the whole thing was boarding and departure was always early or on time. The boarding time was even earlier than what was indicated in the pass so I really liked AirSWIFT for this.

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When our flight was called for boarding, I went to the gate and there was a staff there with a basket full of candies. You can get as many candies as you want. We were then led to a bus which brought us to the aircraft’s parking space. This area had private planes and helicopters. I usually just board planes that have commercial airlines around it so this area was something new to me. There was kind of an exclusivity feel to it.

Our aircraft was just two weeks old so the overall ambience was definitely new. The environment inside and the seats were very clean. There was only one flight attendant and there was no food served during the flight but water and newspapers were available upon request.

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Since the plane was small and could only accommodate around 48 passengers, the leg room was similar to low cost commercial airplanes. I didn’t mind much because the overall feel of the two-week old aircraft was really comfortable. There was just something about AirSWIFT that felt a bit luxurious, I don’t know but that’s just how I felt. YUNG FEELING NA NAKAKAGAAN NG LOOB!

The flight from Manila to El Nido took 1 hour and 10 minutes. It was a very smooth ride in the air with a good view of the clouds.

I was seated beside a woman from London who was very excited to experience El Nido. She and her friends went all the way from London to Manila via Kuala Lumpur. They didn’t get to explore Manila because they only had a few hours before they had to catch our El Nido flight. I can’t imagine if they took the Puerto Prinsesa route and had to take an additional 6 hour van ride. Flights like these from AirSWIFT are really convenient for travelers like them.

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Upon arrival at Lio airport in El Nido, the inaugural team has to go down with all Manila to El Nido passengers for proper arrival process. It was my first time at El Nido airport since I took the long route from Puerto Prinsesa during my past trip. It was a vast field with a long strip of road leading to the sea horizon. Once we got down on the plane, a big jeep was waiting for us there. I think that was the biggest jeep I’ve seen in my entire life so far.

The jeep ride from the aircraft’s parking area to the Lio airport took around 1 minute. Even though the sun was glaring, the strong winds made up for it. The Lio airport was small and pretty different from all the airports I’ve been to. It resembles a provincial rest house and it gives off a homey vibe which I found culturally inviting.

EL NIDO TO CATICLAN

Since we only had less than an hour before our next flight to Caticlan, we went through the departure process immediately. Security check is manual so the staff will be opening your bags and inspecting all items inside. After that, check-in is pretty quick. 

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Arrival area at Lio airport

The Lio airport is open so there is no air conditioning. There are big cooling fans though at the departure area. I didn’t mind so much because SOBRANG PRESKO. You wouldn’t notice the heat anyway because the refreshing natural air made up for it. Both the departure and arrival area served cool drinks (Iced Tea, Orange Juice, etc…) and Filipino rice cakes (Pichi-Pichi, Biko, etc…).

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Departure area at Lio airport

While waiting for our next flight, I got to converse with other travel writers. They shared their experiences and some tips on writing articles and how to manage travel websites.

From all that was talked about, I was really struck when I asked advice for tips on travel writing from someone who has been in the media industry for quite some time. She just told me to, “Find my niche”. Nowadays, almost anyone can write. She told me to write something different, something that can make me stand out from the rest. The writing/blogging industry is becoming bigger and bigger. Everybody’s writing budget and travel guides. Everyone’s sharing their own takes and itineraries on travel through social media.

What makes ME a different writer?

What can I offer in the ever growing travel writing world?

It was something good to think about. I really liked learning from people who are more experienced than me. It helps me grow as a writer and know what I really want to achieve through this endeavor.

When our flight was called for boarding, there was an aura of excitement around! I was also filled with glee because I will become a part of AirSWIFT’s history. I get to ride their first flight from El Nido to Caticlan, a great feat for any airline! Take note, I haven’t had any sleep yet and I felt very much alive!

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We rode the big jeep again to the aircraft’s parking area. What was different this time is that there was a red carpet before boarding the plane! POSH! HAHAHAHAHA! Everyone was in paparazzi mode taking their respective photos of the aircraft. Inside the plane, the feel was still the same as the flight from Manila to El Nido but I was surrounded mostly by inaugural guests consisting of media, VIPs, staff, agents, and management.

THIS WAS IT! THE FIRST FLIGHT FROM EL NIDO TO CATICLAN! YAY! The flight took around 45 minutes. It was very comfortable. I drifted off a bit this time. I think my lack of sleep was starting to catch up. HAHAHA! When the pilot announced to prepare for landing, I immediately looked out the window. I was really thinking, ‘WOW! I’m a part of AirSWIFT’s history! Ang galing! I’m very grateful!.

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AirSWIFT’s arrival in Caticlan! (Photo from Kit Stephen Agad)

When the aircraft landed, most of the passengers were clapping! It was definitely something to appreciate and applaud. It was the airline’s first! They connected El Nido and Boracay for the very first time via a direct flight.  

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When we got out of the plane, I was surprised that the red carpet was still there AND MORE! Airline staff was all lined up holding umbrellas for passengers leaving the plane. VIP, much? HAHAHAHAHA! The staff was greeting everyone with all smiles! I felt so special!

The last time I was in Caticlan was September 2015 so I was surprised to see the new arrival process there. The landing strip was longer and there was a new and extended area where aircrafts parked. In the past, I remember our plane parking near the arrival gates so we’d only need to walk but this time we had to take a bus. Aside from the vast landing strip, what you see first is an amazing ocean view. This is so nice to see if you’re a first timer in Boracay, you already get the beach feels once you arrive in Caticlan.

With this set-up though, the bus has to go all the way around from the landing area and pass by the town to the arrival gates of the airport. This transit was around 5-8 minutes. But the view was amazing! Even though I’ve been to Boracay lots of times already, there’s just something about it that keeps me coming back! This island has so many things to offer and in each trip, I always experience something new.

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The inaugural team didn’t have time to cross the island to Boracay as we had to cover the AirSWIFT event at the airport and catch our flight back to El Nido at 3PM.

I was also surprised to see that the departure area is newer and bigger! ANG GANDA NA NIYA! It’s cleaner and much more spacious. The bathroom even had bidets. Caticlan airport is leveling up! I hope other Philippine airports follow suit!

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Caticlan airport’s departure area

The AirSWIFT inaugural event was held at the far end of the airport’s departure area. I didn’t even know events can be done at airports especially busy ones like Caticlan’s. There was a whole set up there – seats, tarps, food, promotional slides, equipment, etc. The event’s audience consisted of management, staff, pilots, flight attendants, esteemed guests, media, and of course other passengers from other flights looking in from the other boarding gates as Filipinos usually do! HAHAHAHA!

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At the event, I talked more with the travel writers and had a few pleasant introductions with some of the AirSWIFT team. I also had a good conversation with Andrew Wolff, the host of the event and a media personality. He talked about his time in Boracay and El Nido and what endeavors he’s been up to. I really learned a lot from him!

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The event kicked off with a showcase of Ati-Atihan dancers lined up at the front where guests can take photos with them. After that, Andrew welcomed everyone and emphasized how amazing it was that we’re finally launching a direct flight between two of the most beautiful vacation spots in the world. This was followed with a prayer, welcoming remarks, and speeches from esteemed officials from AirSWIFT and Caticlan.

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Host of AirSWIFT’s inaugural event at Caticlan airport – Andrew Wolff

The airport manager of Caticlan, Cesar Chong, congratulated AirSWIFT on its historic flight and wished for flight rates to be lowered so that all of Boracay’s 1.5 million annual tourists would get to experience El Nido to which most of the guests laughed.

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Caticlan’s airport manager – Cesar Chong

Mayor Ciceron Cawaling of Caticlan was quick to congratulate the airline and provided a few laughable comments too as this was his first time going to El Nido courtesy of AirSWIFT. He said that if he wasn’t given a free ticket, he joked that he wouldn’t allow the plane to leave Caticlan.

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Caticlan’s mayor – Ciceron Cawaling

He acknowledged the fact that this was a successful feat as the Philippines gets to provide more destinations to tourists from Caticlan. He also said that since AirSWIFT’s flight frequency from Caticlan to El Nido is 4 times a week, he’d love to be in Palawan everyday.

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AirSWIFT’s general manager – Alfonso Javier Reyes

All the speeches were capped off by AirSWIFT’s general manager, Alfonso Javier Reyes. He emphasized in his remarks how AirSWIFT is putting all its efforts to make it easier for tourists to travel to/from destinations in the Philippines. He said that AirSWIFT is all about connections and making it easier for travelers to experience the most beautiful parts of our country in the most convenient way.

They are connecting the top tourist destinations in the Philippines – Manila, Cebu, Caticlan, El Nido, and Batanes (on a charter basis). AirSWIFT will continue to fly to more destinations in the years to come wherein their next focus is flights to Sicogon Island.

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Photo-ops with ribbon and cake cutting with VIPs and officials transpired right after. There was also a short raffle draw where a few lucky people at the event were awarded with complimentary round trip flights. Andrew Wolff closed the ceremony and invited all guests for a buffet lunch (really good!) served at the side of the departure area.

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It was my first media event. More than just covering the media side of it, I also got to observe some of the efforts of the AirSWIFT team behind it. Back in college, I used to head a lot of events/projects and they’re not easy.

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We should always be grateful for events and the factors that lead up to it. We should be grateful for all the hard work everyone has put into this by acknowledging the team and congratulating them on a job well done. More than just the need to do it, I saw the effect of how the team put together the starting mark of something Filipinos and travelers from around the world will benefit for a long time.

We don’t always see the BTS of these kinds of events but we should always acknowledge that these things require a lot of effort and our positive reactions can mean a lot to the team behind it. Always be grateful for teams behind events!

CATICLAN TO EL NIDO

After the event, almost everyone looked tired! Other guests left and the inaugural team along with Caticlan’s government officials were just waiting for the boarding call for the flight back to El Nido.

Imagine having 3 flights in 8 hours with little to no sleep! SOBRANG SAYA! HAHAHAHAHAHA! I really liked my first press trip! It’s definitely an experience I will always remember and be grateful for.

When our flight was called, the Ati-Atihan dancers outside the boarding gates started to play drums and dance! Sobrang saya ng vibe! It was an explosive end to the inaugural event at Caticlan airport. As the passengers gave their boarding passes, each one was handed out an AirSWIFT bag with lots of AirSWIFT merchandise in them!

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We were led again to one of the buses that brought us to the aircraft’s parking area. When we got down, the red carpet with the personnel holding up umbrellas were there again!

Some of them were also preparing for the water cannon or salute, a tradition airlines have during its maiden voyages. I only ever see these kinds of things on TV but to be actually in the airline while it happens was something new! It was just a simple fire truck spewing out water but to an airline company it means a great accomplishment and I was grateful to be a part of it.

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Water Salute! (Photo from Kit Stephen Agad)

The flight from Caticlan back to El Nido took around 45 minutes again. For the first few minutes, I just looked out the window. The view of Boracay Island from above was definitely a breathtaking sight. I always see before and after photos of Boracay on social media and how tourism has extremely commercialized it. While others ponder on the negative side of it, I just try to look at the positive. It was still beautiful. Despite all the buildings, the white beaches framing the island still enamored me. It was still a lovely island.

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We went through the same arrival process when we landed in El Nido. I really liked the airport! Sobrang presko talaga kahit sobrang init! Although I was informed that a new, more modern terminal was being built, I actually prefer the current Lio airport terminal. It speaks highly of our culture and heritage. But the passengers are growing and this airport will not be able to accommodate it anymore but I do hope the overall feel of the new terminal will still be culturally inviting.

THAT ENDS MY FLIGHT PRESS EXPERIENCE WITH AIRSWIFT! More than the experience itself, I’m grateful for all the lessons I learned from all the people I conversed with and the observations I got from the whole experience. This first is definitely one for the ‘This is the Life’ books!

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Watch out for my next article! The inaugural team, along with government officials of Caticlan, went on a Familiarization tour at El Nido Resorts and its surrounding tourist sites! Can’t wait to share that experience! I’ll also share my flight experience from El Nido back to Manila in that article. SOBRANG GANDA SA EL NIDO RESORTS! SOBRANG NAKAKAIYAK AT GRATEFUL NA EXPERIENCE TALAGA!

UPDATE (April 2, 2017): Here’s the write-up of my El Nido Resorts experience, click! 

Next time my friends from abroad ask how they can directly go from El Nido to Caticlan or vice versa, I’d definitely have an answer they won’t be disappointed in! FLY WITH AIRSWIFT!

WITH AIRSWIFT, YOU CAN NOW VISIT THIS…

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Boracay’s Puka Beach (Photo from our Jan 2015 trip)

AND THIS…

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View from Matinloc Shrine in El Nido (Photo from our Nov 2015 trip)

VIA A 45-MINUTE DIRECT FLIGHT!

AIRSWIFT FLIGHT INFO

Flight Route

Frequency

Departure Schedules

Manila to El Nido

Daily 6:30AM, 7:00AM, & 9:55AM

El Nido to Manila

Daily

9:00AM, 4:00PM, & 5:00PM

Cebu to El Nido

Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun

11:15AM & 3:15PM

El Nido to Cebu

Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun

8:55AM & 12:55NN

El Nido to Caticlan

Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun

1:25PM

Caticlan to El Nido Mon/Wed/Fri/Sun

3:00PM

These flight schedules vary seasonally so please check the website for available flights. Since AirSWIFT’s Manila to Batanes routes are chartered flights, visit Wakay Air directly through http://www.bataneswakay.com or inquire at bataneswakay@gmail.com

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BOOK YOUR EL NIDO TO BORACAY DIRECT FLIGHTS TODAY!

Introductory rate for a round trip flight costs ₱6,000 + Terminal Fee. This amount is valid until October 2017 ONLY!

Visit AirSWIFT through http://air-swift.com for more information or inquire at info@air-swift.com!

This is a sponsored write-up. All opinions are inspired my experiences and nothing else.

2 thoughts on “SERIES: Fly Gratefully from EL NIDO to CATICLAN with AirSWIFT

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