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Discover heart-warming tales and anecdotes from the beating heart of the airline.


A Behind-the-Scenes look at the Diamond Princess mission.



Purser Gloria and her team joined other PAL leaders for their pre-flight briefing.



Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, and Silang are names forever etched in the minds of many Filipinos. They are the names of trailblazers who heeded the call of duty in their time, heroes who became symbols of courage and patriotism.


In the 21st Century, the COVID-19 crisis produced its own modern-day version of heroes who took great personal risks to serve those in need. 


When travel ground to a standstill in 2020, Filipinos found themselves stranded in foreign lands, cut off from their families as the deadly disease raged on around them. A month before the global lockdown in March, this was the frightening reality for over 400 Filipinos who were trapped on board the cruise ship Diamond Princess, serving as crew members when the coronavirus ripped through the ship’s passengers while docked at the Japanese port of Yokohama.



Philippine Airlines took on the massive task of mounting two rescue flights to Tokyo to bring home stranded Filipinos. There were as yet no surefire health protocols at that time, no vaccines or protections other than PPE outfits and standard disinfectants. The risks were real, but several PAL pilots and cabin crew members stepped up to volunteer for the mission out of a sense of duty to their countrymen in distress.


Prior to their departure for Tokyo, the PAL crew took all the necessary precautions and were briefed extensively for their mission.



PAL dispatched one Airbus A330 and one A321CEO to Tokyo Haneda on February 25, 2020. In command of the A321CEO flying as PR8421 was Captain Romeo Donayre, joined by Flight Purser Rufino Tan. On the A330 flying as PR8423 was Flight Purser Monique Gloria. Today, three years after the flight, Donayre, Tan and Gloria look back on that singular mission, their memories still sharp and vivid.


Capt. Donayre volunteered despite the uncertainty, not knowing if he would be exposed to the full effect of COVID. Along with his fellow pilots Captain Larry Malpaya and First Officer Willex Amelliam, he faced the challenge head-on: “Someone needs to take the first step, and I chose to be that person. I feel proud to have been among the first few pilots who embarked on the journey of the unknown.”



A proven formula: PAL in partnership with the government during a crisis.



Pursers Tan and Gloria likewise volunteered wholeheartedly after receiving a call asking them to join the flight.

Purser Gloria understood that PAL had a moral obligation to Filipinos, if not to the world, to operate the rescue flights: “Why would I volunteer for such a risky mission? Remember, there were no vaccines yet and the cure was still at an experimental stage.” For her, it was a matter of faith. “First, I believed in Philippine Airlines. I know for a fact that my company will take all necessary precautions to make sure that I and the rest of my colleagues will be safe as we take on this challenge. Before, during and after.”

Gloria was genuinely worried for the stranded seafarers and other Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). Her own father was an OFW back in the 1970s, and she had strong recollections of herself crying while hugging her father’s leg at the airport. “Our OFWs are near and dear to my heart,” said Gloria, with deep gratitude. “They sacrifice life and limb and are considered our modern-day heroes – the backbone of our society.”

For Purser Gloria, then, the Tokyo rescue mission was an homage, not only to her father but to the countless Filipinos working overseas.


To ensure maximum safety, the cabin crew wore protective gear all day.



The mission required extensive preparation. Purser Tan recalled, “We were briefed a day before the flight on what to expect, what to do and what to wear during the flight. All safety measures were taken. We were taught how to wear hazmat suits, gloves, and masks! We were even given diapers to wear, for we expected to be wearing the hazmat suit for a very long time.” To boost his health and strengthen his resistance, Tan took a lot of vitamins to boost his health.


In the passenger cabin on D-Day, Purser Tan was joined by Cabin Service Manager Bettina Fernandez, Chinese Interpreters Eric Chan, Mikel Villamora, and Sherlyn Chen, Flight Steward Aldric Boncay and Flight Attendant Kata Lainez. Two representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs were also on board to assist the Filipino seafarers with their documents.


The rescue flights took on 445 Filipino seafarers – 312 on PR 8423 and 143 on PR 8421 – who were finally released from their long shipboard ordeal on the Diamond Princess.  Based on the PAL team’s account, the passengers boarded the flights in a spirit of great anticipation, all eager and excited to go home and reunite with their loved ones.


I felt their relief,” said Purser Gloria. “Imagine the torture they experienced at being stranded at sea, not knowing when they can come home.” She saw tears of joy in the eyes of some, knowing that they would finally be home and would join their families soon.


PR8421 arrived in Clark, Pampanga with 143 people onboard the Airbus A321. Earlier, PR8423 carried 312 passengers aboard a widebody A330 aircraft.



The journey from Haneda to Clark International Airport would be a short four-hour hop, but the returning OFWs would still be required to spend additional days on quarantine after arriving in Pampanga.  The PAL crew, as well, would take the extra precaution of going on isolation for more than a week after the flights.


The PAL crew serving on board PR 8421 and PR8423 experienced both the highs and the lows of a demanding mission, but they remained steadfast in performing their duties. And they responded in the most human of ways – with compassion amid the fear and uncertainty.


They unanimously expressed their pride in the work they did. Purser Tan said, “I feel so proud to be part of this repatriation flight. It was of great service to our country and to the Filipino people! And I am proud to be part of Philippine Airlines!” He felt kinship with other frontliners who served with distinction. “I can say that our job as cabin crew is one of the most important jobs during the pandemic and can be considered as front liners like doctors and nurses!”


Capt. Donayre adds, “As a young captain of Philippine Airlines, of course, I felt that sense of accomplishment. Aviation plays an important role as an air bridge for one's journey home."


Purser Gloria agreed, “I felt so proud to be part of Philippine Airlines as we made history. I knew then that PAL could do more. That PAL will do more! Bringing our kababayans home was just the tip of the iceberg!” 


Indeed, the Diamond Princess mission was only the first of hundreds more repatriation flights that PAL would mount over the next three years from cities in five continents around the world. As long as overseas Filipinos needed to fly home, their flag carrier was there to make that homecoming possible.


When asked if they saw themselves as heroes, the PAL crew members sheepishly said no. However, they all shared that they felt able to keep on going because of their passion for their work, their love of flying, and their readiness to serve their country.




All in a day's work. Despite the uncomfortable gear and the long duty hours, they persevered in order to serve their fellow “Kababayans”




Like many of their fellow PAL colleagues who volunteered for other flights and duties during the global pandemic, they fought their fears and remained resilient. Courage was their armor.


While no monuments will be erected and no streets will be named in their honor, the crew of the PAL Diamond Princess missions made a huge impact on their 'kababayans' who flew home in their care. We honor them and all other valiant men and women who responded with a heart of service to the call of their motherland.