Monday, 4 April 2016

My First Filipino Flying Adventure with Philippines Airlines

Welcome to my 86th airline trip report!

*Aircraft photos are credited to the respective photographers from Airliners.net 


This is an air-to-air shot of the Philippines Airlines Boeing 777-300ER photographed by Paul McCarthy.


Introduction

Stepping into Philippines and flying on a Filipino airline have been in my agenda for many years and finally I found a way to get there but at a price. The airfare from Ho Chi Minh to Manila on both Philippines Airlines and Cebu Pacific are expensive. Strangely Vietnam Airlines doesn't fly to Manila but code share with PR to the capital city. Cebu Pacific's airfare was around U.S$30 cheaper including luggage and meal but the aircraft type used was the A320 which I have flown too many times for my liking, so instead I would fly with Cebu Pacific from Manila to Singapore on the Airbus A330-300 and that would also be my first time experiencing the unpopular 3-3-3 seating configuration. So for this trip to Philippines, there were lots of 'first time'. First visit to Philippines, first visit to Manila, first time on a Filipino airline, first time on Philippines Airlines, first time on Cebu Pacific and first time on a 3-3-3 configured Airbus A330-300. I remember waiting for a period for the airfare to drop but sadly, the price remained as it, U.S$170 for the one way, 2 hours 10 minutes ride. That's the issue when there is lack of competition on this route. I am surprised Vietjetair hasn't attempted to operate there, but looking at it in the bigger picture, it could be due to several reasons such as expensive airport tax, possible poor airport slot (timing), not enough demand to start out this route and other operational reasons.

Brief information of Philippines Airlines 

This airline is the national carrier of Philippines based in Pusay City, Manila. Founded in 1941, this airline has been using this name back then and operates from its main hubs, Ninoy Aquino International Airport of Manila and Mactan-Cebu International Airport of Cebu. It was one of the top airlines in the past, unfortunately international operation had to be downsized and fleet was cut after the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. With the existence of low cost carriers such as Cebu Pacific entering the competition, it makes even harder for this airline to gain domination in the domestic market. Fortunately now, the airline is doing better than before. Operating a mix fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft, the current management is looking to establishing this airline among the top carriers, giving some of them a good run of their money. For now, this airline is not in any airline alliance but it has code shares with the following international carriers: Air Macau, All Nippon Airways, Cathay Pacific, China Airlines, Etihad Airways, Garuda, Gulf Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, PAL Express (Subsadairy), Turkish Airlines, Vietnam Airlines and Westjet. 

This airline has ordered new aircraft such as 30 Airbus A321 NEO (New Engine Option), 6 Airbus A350-900 and has another 2 more Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to be delivered (March 2016). Future does look bright for this airline. 

This airline also has a subsidiary called PAL Express, this airline's existence is due to Cebu Pacific's presence and it gives a much needed competition for the Low Cost segment. 

This is PAL Express's DHC-8-402 Q400 aircraft



Current airline's network 

Domestic destinations


International destinations


Philippines Airlines Old Fleet (Most types)


BAC-1-Eleven


DC-4


Vickers 784D Viscount 


Fokker-F27 


Hawker Siddeley HS-748


DC-3


Fokker 50 


Airbus A300B4 in the airline's old livery


Airbus A300B4 in the airline's current livery 


Airbus A319


Airbus A340-200


Boeing 737-300


Boeing 737-400



Boeing 747-200 (Old livery)


Boeing 747-200 (Current livery)


Boeing 747-400


DC-8


DC-10 (Old livery)


MD-11


Philippines Airlines Current Fleet 

Airbus A320 (10 units)


Airbus A321 (20 units)


Airbus A330-300 (15 units)


Airbus A340-300 (6 units - will be replaced by Airbus A350)


Boeing 777-300ER (6 units)


Airline's website 

The airline's website is quite basic, too much text for my liking, it can be frustrating for some. However, I had no issue doing the booking but an upgrade to its current system would be nice. No mobile application for this airline but there is MyPAL player application (IOS and Android) which you can download and watch movies using the wifi streaming from the aircraft. 


A wall of text if you ask me! 


Filling in the data and making my payment after that, it was done. 


The numbers as you can see the photo below are not arranged in order. For seat number 60 plus, one may be wondering whether is he or she flying on a wide-body. 


My confirmed itinerary


Airline's main page 


Confirmation email 


Online check-in 


Looks similar to Vietnam Airlines' mobile application


I decided to move a couple of rows behind my original seat. 


Have to depend on luck to have at least the middle seat vacant. 





Once important information was filled up and the 'Ok,Continue' button was clicked, the check-in procedure was completed. Easy and Fast! 



During my stay at Ho Chi Minh City, I got to enjoy some good food. Here are some photos of them!


This has to be one of my favourite Vietnamese meals


Had this for breakfast at one of the popular cafes at District 1 










I definitely have to come back more for the wonderful food at Ho Chi Minh City. The prices for them are quite cheap especially the Japanese food. 

Some photos I took along my walk around the districts. 







Residential area 


On the day of departure 

My one week break at Ho Chi Minh City came to an end but I had one more day to go before returning home. My flight to Manila was at 9 plus in the morning but I decided to leave earlier just in case. Always play safe than sorry - that's my belief. Once I left the hotel, I took a cab to the airport , the ride took around 15 minutes. 

At the airport, I made my way to the Philippines Airlines check-in counter and to my disbelief, it wasn't opened. There were fellow passengers already lining up in the queue, and no separate queue for web check-in passengers. The wait took around 20 minutes before the counters were opened. I had to show my itinerary for my next leg and once that was done, my luggage was checked in and boarding pass was issued. 

Only passengers with itinerary are allowed in the departure hall 


Pretty crowded that morning 


Quite a number of flights departing during that period


Waiting patiently for the check-in counters to open 


Got my boarding pass and soon I was on my way to the air side 


The security check queue was long and it took around 20 minutes before I managed to get to the immigration counter which took another 10 minutes. 


I was relieved to be at the air side. 


I was feeling hungry, so I made my way to the food court. 


Sitting area at the food court, and if you are sitting near the window, you can enjoy the view of the tarmac. 


I decided to have Burger King breakfast since there isn't much that interest me during that period.


Caught some interesting traffic at that time.

This is Japan Airlines Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. This aircraft seemed to have hit a problem when it entered the runway for departure, the aircraft exited the runway and ended up parking at a remote stand (I saw this aircraft later on while my aircraft was taxiing to the runway). 


Air Astana's Boeing 757-200 had just arrived. 


RP-C9902 would be taking me to Manila




After breakfast, I made my way to the gate 



My flight was changed to gate 16, just beside gate 15 due to the presence of Vietnamese A321 aircraft at the gate. 


While waiting, you can still roam around the air side, which I prefer. 



My ride: RP-C9902, the 2nd Airbus A321 in Philippines Airlines fleet 




Announcements were made and the staff even told us that Wifi on this aircraft was available and recommended us to download the MyPAL application to enjoy the movies and other entertainment. Do note that you need to download it to be able to to enjoy the movies. Without the application, the functions on the airline's IFE program is limited. 


Flight route: SGN-MNL

Miles: 1,002


My ride: RP-C9902



Date of flight: 16th March 2016
Airline: Philippines Airlines
Flight: PR592
Route: SGN-MNL 
Aircraft: Airbus A321 
Registration: RP-C9902 
Delivered on 16th August 2013
Configuration: C12 W18 Y169
MSN: 5747 
Engines: 2 X IAE V2533 A5
Seat: 65A
Gate: 15 changed to 16
Load: 70% 
Duration: 2 hours 10 mins 
FL: 370
Schedule departure: 0930 
Boarding: 0845
Push back: 0925
Take off: 0955
Schedule arrival: 1315
Actual arrival: 1310
Departure runway: 07L
Arrival runway: 06

Boarding began early and looking at the number of passengers at the gate, I had a feeling it wasn't a full flight and I was right. Lots of vacant seats among the rows near the rear and a few lucky passengers had a few rows to themselves. As for me, I had the seat beside mine remaining vacant, so it wasn't too bad. 

Here are some photos of the cabin! 

No In-Flight Entertainment PTV in all classes but Wifi Streaming is available (Free), you have to download the MyPal application to watch movies and TV shows. 

Business Class (12 seats)

White leather seats remind me of Malindo's J class product 


The seats behind the business class is Premium Economy. This is my first time I am on a 3-class configured Airbus A321. The airfare for these seats is U.S$30 more than the regular seats for my flight.



Pillow is provided for every business class seat. 


Legroom space seems a bit tight for Business Class standard 


Premium Economy (18 seats)

Different seat cover and better legroom space than the normal Economy Class seats 


I don't think all the seats were taken up. 


Normal Economy Class  and Premium Economy Class seats


The senior cabin crew was preparing the flight for departure







Economy Class 

Sitting at the window seat behind the emergency door for both sides give you plenty of legroom space, I recommend the left side. 



This is the best seat in Economy Class (window seat) in my opinion. 



With a flight load of around 60% in Economy Class, there wasn't a need to upgrade to Premium Economy Class. 


The friendly PAL cew smiled for this photo! Some of them knew I was an aviation enthusiast. :)



My seat: 67A. Legroom space is a bit tight but the seat itself is comfortable. With the middle seat vacant, I was able to stretch. If the aisle seat was vacant, I would "converted" this row to my "bed". Well, better luck next time!


Exterior of the aircraft may look plain but the interior is impressive. I like the colours of it, its better than I thought. 





The rear of the Economy Class and the catering trolleys which our meals were stored. 




As you can see how tight the legroom space is. The advantage of having no IFE screen on the back of every seat is that no IFE box to take up part of the precious legroom space. 

The disadvantage is there is no USB charging point and AC power adapter. 


As you can see, the flight wasn't full. 


Philippines Airlines cabin crew were cordial and helpful! I like this set of crew. 


My seat, photographed after the flight 



I was reluctant to leave the aircraft to be honest!




More photos of the Economy Class seat 

Head rest 



Legroom space 


The absence of the IFE TV screen is obvious



Everyone in Economy Class also gets a pillow 



View from my seat 


Photos of the toilet interior 





What's inside the seat pocket? 

Safety card 


Disposal Bag


In-flight magazine 


Airline's boutique magazine 


In-flight Entertainment (Streaming WiFi on your mobile devices)


Connection is quite strong so watching the movie was not a problem, only issue it drains your battery for mobile phone, so its better to use a tablet to watch the movies. The Airbus A321 flies on regional routes so a movie or at the most 2 movies should be enough to cover the length of the flight. 


Without the 'Mypal' application, you can only access the flight map option.


Flight map 


Good selection of movies 


If the flight is short, catch one of the TV shows instead. 


Didn't watch this but is useful for those travelling to and out of affected countries


Audio music 


During announcements, the entertainment system would pause whatever program you are watching or listening to. 


Just taken off 



Because I didn't download the application onto my Ipad, I had to watch the movie on my Iphone. Decent quality and connection is smooth. 




I was able to resume the movie when I exited the application to check the flight's progress. 


Almost there!



In-flight meal 

I had a choice between Fish Rice and Beef noodles, I chose the latter.


As I had breakfast earlier on, I wasn't very hungry. Overall this meal is not bad.


I had a choice between Juice or Water, I chose Apple Juice. 


In-flight experience 

Greeted by the friendly Filipino crew who surprised me by their smiles and friendliness that morning. After my experience with Vietnam Airlines, I wasn't expecting much from this airline, thinking both airlines are quite similar in its own ways. How wrong I was! The purser and her crew were there without any sign of tiredness, greeting every passenger and I was impressed. This good service continued to the end of the flight.

Got to my seat quite early and managed to snap some photos. More seats were taken up and fortunately, the middle seat remained vacant. Once the door was closed, we were welcome on board this flight by the purser before safety demonstration was shown (manually). 

Aircraft was pushed back with engines starting up as per normal before taxiing to our assigned runway. While taxiing, I spotted the Japan Airlines Boeing 787 which was supposed to take off earlier, was at a remote parking lot with the strobe lights on. I guess the aircraft had suffered a technical problem. 

Once our plane took off, our ride to Manila was mostly smooth with some bumps during the take off and cruising. Flight service commerced and announcement on the IFE system was made, it was another routine flight across the South China Sea for the frequent fliers and crew. Cabin crew were cordial and everything was done professionally, you can't ask for a better crew than this. When the crew came to clear the food, they only clear those who finished and told the rest who were still eating to take their time, they would come back later to clear them. This is something some crew from other airline should take note! 

The rest of the flight was uneventful and we made a smooth touch down at Manila Airport. First impression of this airline is definitely positive and I would definitely be flying with this airline again in the near future. 

Window shot photos 

We parked beside Tigerair Airbus A320 which would be heading to Singapore. It was departing not too long after my flight's departure.


Quite a few aircraft in sight and the one that caught my attention is Air Astana's Boeing 757. 



We were pushed back to on of the taxiways before the pilots get the clearance to start the engines and taxi to the active runway. 



Flying Vietnam Airlines Boeing 777-200ER is my next target when I return to Ho Chi Minh. 



This Japan Airlines 787 Dreamliner looked like it was about to push back. The problem it had could have been fixed. 



Passing by some old Russian built turboprops. 





Almost there now, we had to wait for 2 arriving aircraft before being allowed to cross runway 11R to access to the taxiway for runway 11L. 


A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737-800 landing on runway 07R



Crossing the taxiway in between both runways 


Off we go, it was quite bumpy at the initial part of the journey. 




Once we were out of Ho Chi Minh, the weather was better and the seat belt sign was turned off. 




Leaving Vietnam airspace and crossing over the South China Sea. 


Good weather for most parts of it 



It was quite cloudy at Manila and we flew through some clouds but nothing bad. 



Passing by some islands






The sight of Manila became bigger as the plane descended quickly towards the active runway. 


Touched down smoothly and the aircraft took about 10 minutes to reach the gate.


Taxiing past fellow company's Airbus A321 aircraft at Terminal 2. 


Here we are, we parked beside a newer Airbus A321, just a few months old (March 2016)


On arrival at Terminal 2 

The walk from my gate to the immigration hall seemed to take forever. What makes it worse is the poor air conditioning and other passengers disembarking at other gates around the same time as my flight, so you can imagine how long the queue was at the immigration counters. 



Once the stamp was chopped onto my passport, I went to the luggage carousal only to find that 3 flights were sharing the same one. More waiting was required. This is certainly a test of patience!



Fortunately, lady luck must be smiling at me as my luggage came out within 10 minutes. That's not bad considering how many passengers were still waiting for theirs. 

At the arrival hall, I was warned about taking private taxis and according to an advice from a friend, he told me to take the public taxi stand located at the departure hall. Sounds strange? Shouldn't the public taxi counter be located at the arrival hall?



I was warned about taking the coupon taxi. Quite a number came up to me and offered a cheap ride to town, but I declined. It wasn't so crowded at that time, so things was quite manageable in the sense that I can go anywhere without being watched or stopped. 





Some photos of the arrival hall






It was quite hot at that time, so I didn't stay long. I took the cab from the departure hall which took me to the hotel. My experience with this cab driver was probably one of the worst. Why? Car stalled a few times when it stopped, driver switched off the air con during traffic jam, he tried to overcharge me and kept muttering to himself. Next time, I would either use Uber or Grabtaxi app when I am there. 


The Airport Traffic Control 



My videos (Take off and landing)



My rating:

Airline's website: 5/10
Ho Chi Minh City airport experience: 6/10
Check-in staff: 6/10
In-flight service: 8/10
WiFi streaming: 8/10
In-flight meal: 7/10
Cabin interior: 9/10
Cleanliness: 10/10
Seat comfort: 7/10
Punctuality: 10/10
Overall rating: 76/100

Conclusion

My first experience with this airline has exceeded expectation. I was pleasantly surprised with the in-flight products the airline has to offer. Before the flight, I wasn't expecting much. Reading up on past trip reports and hearing from my friends their views on this airline, I kept my expectation low. Never did I expect I would be amazed. Among my flights for this year, this has to be one of the best. Only thing disappointing is the website - a total revamp of it would be great, make it more user-friendly for the passengers. Mobile application for both IOS and Android would be great, other than this, I think the airline has lots to offer to compete against the big boys in the aviation world but there are some things the airline cannot control such as Manila Airport which to be honest falls short of being a top Airport. If money is spent more on improving the terminals, enforcing stricter rules for taxis and introducing a proper bus and train station to connect to the city, more travellers would definitely drop by Manila for a quick visit or transit to other cities. 

Thanks for reading!

You can check out my Cebu Pacific trip report over here.

Cheers,
Charles 

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