Tried & Tested

Cebu Pacific Air A319, economy class

1 Dec 2006 by intern22

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 should have been mothballed a long time ago, but the 25-year-old facility is still very much in business, serving the travelling public as much as its old bones will permit. With manpower export a thriving industry for the Philippines, a new airport is really a necessity that needs to have happened yesterday. (NAIA Terminal 3 was to have opened in 2002, but remains shuttered due to legal wrangling between the government and contractor Piatco and the collapse of a portion of the ceiling a day before Cebu Pacific was to have been the first airline to depart on an international flight. When the facility will ever be finally fit for use is anyone’s guess, although the latest intelligence says 2007.)  

If there is anything complimentary to be said about NAIA T1, it would be the pleasantly bright lighting (except in the check-in hall), the air conditioning cold enough to show off a pashmina and the polite staff.

In the good old days before 9/11, this airport used to be criticised for its plethora of security measures, which are today a matter of course. However, one wonders whether those X-ray machines right smack at the entrance could be located elsewhere to eradicate the long queues that form even before entering the building. (Having to stand outside in the sweltering heat of a Philippine summer is an experience to be avoided at all costs.)  

Passengers proceeding to the counter are informed by a Cebu Pacific ground staff member about the current airport regulation not to bring any liquids, gels or creams on board (and you thought Heathrow was annoying), which leads to a scramble to chuck said items into luggage side pockets. Having arrived one hour before actual check in, I didn’t have to contend with a queue.

Security check is tight with watches, belts and shoes off and everyone undergoing a body search. I noticed a foreigner negotiating the retention of his whisky bottle, although by the scowl on his face, it looked like a losing battle. I was luckier with the small but expensive bottle of mouthwash I forgot to repack – the lady officer waved it through after I offered to open it.

As Cebu Pacific bills itself as a low-cost carrier, there is no lounge to repair to so I made the rounds of the souvenir shops, which didn’t even carry the day’s newspapers. I searched but didn’t find the massage service, which is available at NAIA Centennial Terminal 2 and is an excellent way to pass the time (the therapists are well trained and always work magic on my perennially strained limbs). I decided to make my way down to Gate 1, going through yet another bag search, before settling down to wait for the boarding call.

BOARDING: The procedure started at 1840, even if it was supposed to have happened 30 minutes earlier. This delayed the 1910 departure to 1925.

I had a little argument with the stewardess, who wouldn’t allow me to place my knapsack underneath the seat in front. Why, I ask, was I allowed on the flight from Hongkong to Manila, and not on this sector? If there is anything I hate, it’s inconsistency. I give in, however, after she offered to put it in the overhead rack herself. For that fast vanishing courtesy – and dealing pleasantly but firmly with an obstinate passenger (me) – I award her high marks.

THE SEAT: It’s a 3-3 configuration on this Airbus A319 and the leather seats in aubergine and forest green have a seat pitch of 30 or 31 inches, depending on where you’re sitting, and an incline of six inches, which is so slight you’re not even asked to bring it back to upright position during the meal service. (I must have been terribly knackered that I hardly noticed this shallow incline and was out like a light after strapping myself in.) Armrests are flexible, allowing a stretch out if unoccupied.

THE FLIGHT: After distributing bottles of C2 Green Tea, attendants push the trolley containing beverages and cup noodles among others, down the aisle, peddling these at either US$1 or US$2. Drifting in and out of my nap, I skipped refreshment only to be brought to woozy consciousness later on by the “Bring me…” game portion – a trademark of Cebu Pacific flights – that serves to liven up the cabin atmosphere. I can imagine Sir Richard Branson as the perfect emcee for this gimmick.

ARRIVAL: The pilot made up for the 20-minute departure delay by arriving at Chek Lap Kok 10 minutes earlier than scheduled, a fact cheerfully announced by the flight attendant on the PA system. Thanks to my smart Hongkong ID card – slotted in at specially designed airport turnstiles – I was at the luggage carousel way before my precious belongings saw the light.

VERDICT: A smooth ride enhanced by warm and professional service.

PRICE: US$76 return, excluding taxes, www.cebupacificair.com

Margie T Logarta

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