Before continuing with my usual field reports, let’s jump ahead and review some flights that I’ve taken recently. First on the table is the latest experience: a round-trip journey on Philippine Airlines (PR) between Manila (MNL) and Fukuoka (FUK).
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, and other details are accurate only for the specific flights reviewed here. This information may not necessarily apply to previous or future flights, even by the same airline under the same route and flight number.
This was a round-trip award ticket, redeemed in exchange for 27,000 Mabuhay Miles under PR’s frequent flyer programme. An additional PHP 3,035.00 was paid to cover taxes and other charges, summarised as follows:
Travel tax = 1,620.00
Airport service charge = 550.00
Other = 361.00
Ticketing service charge = 504.00
OUTBOUND FLIGHT: MANILA TO FUKUOKA
Airline and flight number : Philippine Airlines (PR) 426
Route : Manila to Fukuoka (MNL-FUK)
Date : Monday, 23 March 2015
Scheduled departure time : 0945 (actual 1029)
Scheduled arrival time : 1425 (actual 1356)
Equipment : A320-200. Seat maps are available on PR’s official site and on SeatGuru.
Travel class : Economy
Except for a number of domestic routes operated by its low-cost subsidiary (based in Terminal 3), most Philippine Airlines flights depart from Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 2, which is used exclusively by this airline. Despite the single-user arrangement, Terminal 2 – which was originally designed to host domestic routes only – was clearly far too small to comfortably house all flights run by one of the country’s largest airlines, as made evident by long queues at check-in, inadequate seating, and almost laughably limited options for shopping and dining.
The building’s limited capacity was highlighted even more during boarding. Instead of marching into the aircraft on a standard aerobridge, the passengers on my flight were shuttled by bus from the gate to the isolated parking spot where our bird stood waiting. (Most flights assigned to Terminal 2 do make use of aerobridges, so the bus gates are probably intended to handle the overflow.)
Don’t be fooled by the sight of the near-empty bus cabin: my flight was far from empty. I was the first chap through the gate and managed to board the shuttle before the rest of the crowd packed themselves in.
PR’s A320-200 was equipped with 12 Mabuhay Class seats in its forward business section…
…followed by 144 Fiesta Class seats in the economy cabin further behind. These seats were pretty much all the same, except that the ones closer to the front were labelled “Forward Seats” and sold at a premium for passengers who want the convenience of getting off the plane ahead of the back rows.
Exit row seats with bigger legroom were also available – at a price of course.
In my case, I was happy to take a standard seat at no extra cost, and the legroom was perfectly adequate for me. The only disadvantage was the location next to the wing, which did obscure the view somewhat.
Now for a wider shot of the cabin, showing the small LCD screens that would automatically fold in and out of the ceiling when activated by the crew.
And speaking of LCD screens, let’s have a look at the aircraft’s…
The business class seats on our bird were equipped with individual seat-back monitors, but those of us in cattle class had to share the overhead monitors we saw earlier, which meant that economy passengers had no control over what was being shown. A single movie played during the flight (with audio accessed through headphones), but I wasn’t interested in the day’s selection and simply relaxed in silence.
Or ate away the time, which brings us to…
Service and Catering
PR’s catering might not be on the same level as other top-of-the-line carriers in my part of the world, but it’s still a full-service airline – which of course means complimentary meals and beverages. When I booked my award ticket, I asked for a vegetarian meal … not because I practise vegetarianism (I love meat as much as the next chap) but partly to experience a bit of variety.
Of course, one of the privileges of ordering a special meal is being served ahead of everyone else, which was why I was brought the following tray long before the cart started rolling down the aisle.
Let’s take those wrappers off for a closer look.
I have no idea exactly what the main dish was, but it appeared to be some kind of spinach-based stir fry with mushrooms on the side, served with a block of polenta robed in tomato sauce. Flavour- and texture-wise, it was rather unremarkable, even bland – an extra dash of salt and perhaps a hint of Tabasco sauce in the polenta (and over everything else) would have made things better. I did enjoy the light, clean-tasting coleslaw and orange salad, and the dessert consisting of bite-sized pineapple chunks was both sweet and refreshing.
I took a glance at what the rest of the passengers were served. Didn’t get a very good look, but those sitting near me seemed to be enjoying their food, which was nicely presented in Japanese-style bentō trays (no surprise considering our destination).
After the passengers were served their food, a flight attendant went on a drink round with a pot of hot green tea in hand, pouring out cupfuls of the steaming beverage for any who desired it. Nothing special, but a good finish to the meal.
A few days (and one glorious holiday in Kyūshū) later, I was in Fukuoka Airport waiting to board my flight home. Let’s have a look at that leg.
RETURN FLIGHT: FUKUOKA TO MANILA
Airline and flight number : Philippine Airlines (PR) 425
Route : Fukuoka to Manila (FUK-MNL)
Date : Saturday, 28 March 2015
Scheduled departure time : 1525 (actual 1541)
Scheduled arrival time : 1800 (actual 1815)
Equipment : A321-200. Seat maps are available on PR’s official site and on SeatGuru.
Travel class : Economy
Fukuoka Airport‘s international terminal was clean and efficient, per Japanese standards – but there were few options for shopping and even fewer for eating. Indeed, after the immigration counters, there were almost as many (or should I say as few) choices as Terminal 2 back in Manila. I was hoping to enjoy a farewell dose of my favourite Hakata-style ramen (a speciality of Fukuoka) before the flight, but in the end my hunger had to be satisfied with some cold store-bought sushi and a bottle of water.
At least the boarding arrangements were somewhat better than for my outbound flight. After lounging around on comfortable seats in the small but well-kept departure area…
…we entered the plane in the sheltered comfort of an aerobridge. No airstairs to climb here!
Seating / In-flight Entertainment
The cabin equipment of this A321-200 was pretty much identical to the one I flew in on another trip to Japan last year (see here and here), so I won’t repeat the details already set out in those previous flight reports. Let’s jump ahead to…
Service and Catering
Same as on my outbound flight, the vegetarian meal I’d requested at the time of booking was served ahead of the regular menu.
Another mystery vegetable dish, harder to identify than the one I ate on the last leg … some kind of yellow mush with chopped up plant material accompanied by vegetables and a dab of tomato sauce. Polenta on the side as well, though shaped into two cylindrical loaves this time rather than in the form of a sliced block as earlier. A little more flavourful than the previous meal, but still quite dull overall, and I didn’t enjoy the salad or the fruit bowl as much as before.
Oh, and that whitish paste in the small plastic tub next to the roll? It’s supposed to be margarine, but had the look and consistency of lard (with none of the flavour). I spread it on my bread anyway, but I suppose I could have done without it.
Hot green tea was also offered after the meal.
Not exactly a memorable experience, but I’m quite satisfied on the whole – and the service I received was certainly far more complete than one might expect on the budget airlines I often fly with. The fact that almost the entire fare was paid for using frequent flyer miles (making the trip dirt-cheap overall) does help gloss over some of the negative points I experienced.
But would I pay full price to fly with PR again between my corner of the world and Japan? Possibly. The schedules of this full-service airline tend to be better than its budget competitors, they fly to more cities in Japan – great for planning open-jaw trips – and the little things that one needs to pay extra for on an LCC (baggage, meals, even water) are complimentary on their planes. I’ll stick to LCCs for low-cost holidays, but PR isn’t a bad option when the purse strings aren’t tied too tightly.
Of course, when it comes to redeeming my credit card-linked reward miles, PR offers a far better rate of exchange than other frequent flyer programmes that cover this route. So if we’re talking award flights then no question about it: since PR offers the best mileage for my miles, I’d fly with them again.