FIRST IMPRESSIONS: It’s always advisable to check in early at Manila’s NAIA Centennial Terminal 2 – devoted exclusively to Philippine Airlines (PAL) and sister carrier Air Philippines – as one never knows if the queues for entering the departure hall, which is off limits to non-passengers, will be long or fast moving due to the antiquated security machines. This Tuesday afternoon the line was thankfully decent with only three passengers ahead of me. At the counter, I requested a window seat and was given 12A on the upper deck of the Boeing B747-400 used on this PR432 service to Narita International.
After passing immigration, one has to clear yet another security gauntlet, this time removing shoes, belts and watches – and, if you did not heed warnings about packing liquids, gels, perfumes and aerosol cans in carry-ons, surrendering these to the authorities. Body searches are made as well.
The PAL executive lounge is located opposite Gate 1, which is on the furthermost right side of the airside section. Due to leave from Gate 4, I made a mental note to watch the clock. The lounge, which is divided into two areas, was nearly fully occupied, but I found an empty table near the workstations and settled down with a cup of coffee. A friend, whom I spotted nearby working on her laptop, informed me Wi-Fi was available but the user ID and password were needed before sign-on was allowed. These were available from the reception staff. Even before boarding for my flight was announced, I started walking to my gate 10 minutes prior to the 1.55pm queue time.
BOARDING: Dawn, followed by Alice, introduced themselves once I was seated in the Mabuhay Class, telling me to call on them if I needed anything during the journey. After welcome drinks were served, Dawn began taking meal orders. Our 2.40pm departure had to be delayed, the pilot announced, because of the usual “missing passenger”, adding that the journey would take three hours and 40 minutes with some turbulence predicted. A stewardess translated his message into Pilipino. We finally pushed off at 3.15pm and took to the air at 3.34pm.
THE SEAT: PAL recently announced a refleeting programme of its narrow-bodied inventory, which will see 20 members of the Airbus A320 family being introduced into the PAL network over the next six years. These will be deployed on domestic points and some Asian destinations. But for my flight today, it was still the good old Jumbo, and since no major cabin overhaul had taken place since the ’90s, the seats and their features were familiar terrain: on my right armrest were the seat position buttons, personal control unit and bulky 10-inch TV monitor; on my left was the tray table. Seat pitch is 50 inches and width is 20 inches. As the flight was under eight hours, no amenity kits were handed out.
THE FLIGHT: There was a good selection of reading material, including Nihonggo publications. I asked and was supplied with Philippine newspapers and TIME and Newsweek magazines. I opted for the Japanese meal, which came promptly after reaching cruising level. First was the Zenzai appetizer of grilled salmon with miso paste and egg roll, then the Sunomono vinegared dish and buckwheat soba noodles and finally, the simmered flatfish with ginger sauce – all very crisp and fresh. The coffee, courtesy of the popular Figaro bistro in Manila, was a great wake-me-upper. It’s interesting to note the restaurant purchases its coffee grounds direct from the farmers themselves, doing away with middleman fees and bringing prices down.
PAL’s film selection on medium and long-haul flights is always pretty up-to-date, and I re-watched Casino Royale, enjoying the unforgettable opening and card-game scenes all over again.
ARRIVAL: We arrived in Tokyo just before 8pm, which wasn’t too late despite the delayed lift off. The queues at immigration – notorious for being slow moving at times –?were manned by alert and conscientious marshalls, and so there were no problems. With the clockwork schedule of the airport limousine bus, I was at the TCAT city check centre before 10pm and in my Mandarin Oriental guestroom by 10.30pm.
VERDICT: With numerous carriers sprucing up their products both in the air and on the ground, PAL definitely needs to embark on a major refreshment exercise sooner than later. The cabin crew’s uniforms also need to be changed. (I’ve always thought the colour taupe didn’t really reflect the lively spirit of this fiesta-crazy archipelago.) The service, however, lived up to the well-known Filipino reputation for hospitality and warmth, and the inflight cuisine was pleasing to the palate.
PRICE: A Manila-Tokyo return fare costs from US$950, www.philippineair.com
Margie T Logarta