BACKGROUND Philippine Airlines (PAL) recently took delivery of two B777-300ERs (from an order of six), courtesy of a lease agreement with GE Capital. One is currently deployed to the Manila-Narita route, while the second is used on the Manila-Hong Kong service (flights PR300/301 and PR306/307) until March 16 this year when it will be transferred to the new Manila-Brisbane route.
CHECK IN As PAL still does not offer online check in, I headed for the city check-in terminal at Hong Kong’s International Finance Centre (IFC), dreading that I would find a long queue since it was December 23, traditionally a peak travel day. To my delight there was none. I requested an aisle seat on flight PR307, departing at 1800 and was assigned seat 6C. I was on the train at 1615, which got me to Chek Lap Kok exactly 23 minutes later.
THE LOUNGE Premier customers are invited to use the CNAC lounge opposite the Dragonair Lounge, which is accessed through the escalators near gates 16 and 17. The seating section looking out to the runway is always the first to be filled. The snack buffet’s food selection is quite filling and tasty, especially the sandwiches.
BOARDING Gate 18 is usually assigned to PAL, and it was no different for this trip. Boarding announcements were made in English, Pilipino and Cantonese, and the processing began at 1735, ten minutes behind schedule. My seat was located in the Mabuhay (business) class cabin (pronounced ma-boo-hi, the highest form of greeting in Tagalog), which consists of 42 seats in a 2-3-2 configuration, identified as AC-DEG-HK. The Fiesta (economy) class consists of 328 seats in a 3-4-3 configuration (ABC-DEFG-HJK).
Click here to see the seatplan.
Interiors are a combination of cool blues and tans supposed to conjure images of the long and pristine coastline of the Philippine archipelago. The effect is restful on the eyes.
I had difficulty reaching for the latch of the overhead compartment, which seemed extraordinarily high up, so I had to kick off my sneakers and step on the upholstery. It was the only way I could get it open with no kind stranger – or attendant – volunteering to do it for me.
Drinks of juice and still water were offered as we were settled in.
The late 1830 take off was blamed on a mix up in the loading of cargo, which the captain explained once we were airborne.
THE SEAT PAL chose the German-designed Recaro CL6510, a lie-flat shell model adjustable to a number of positions with a seat pitch of 78 inches and a width of 20 inches. The armrest contains a number of features: the seat control panel on top, the IFE controls on the side and a tray table which emerges from underneath it. Other conveniences include an individual ‘goose neck’ reading light, laptop charging port and USB port for MP3s. Seatbacks are embedded with 15.4 inch TV monitors as well as slots for the in-flight magazine Mabuhay and the Duty-Free catalogue. I felt the magazines would have been more convenient if they had been incorporated into my seat, rather than the back of the seat in front, as picking up or returning them meant one had to stand up each time. A small pouch for holding a bottle of water hung down by the side of the seat. As soon as we were in cruising mode, I fiddled with the seat controls to bring the seat to its full length which, when completed, tilts towards the ground. A footrest stops one from slipping off.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The Mahubay cabin is divided into two sections – the first has 28 seats and the second has 14 – but it is in the former where passengers enjoy the greatest sense of privacy with the galley located behind them. (In fact, that was where the husband of Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and their younger happened to be ensconced with their entourage.)
The second cabin – mine – was sandwiched between two galleys. This created a situation in which the cabin crew had to walk back and forth quickly, increasing the risk of elbow-knocks from trolleys. Choose a window seat, or one not on the aisle, to avoid this.
THE FLIGHT The dinner menu offered a choice of three cuisines: Marinated bangus (milkfish) with adobo butter and garlic (Filipino); Thai green chicken curry with coconut rice (Asian) and pork medallion with apple in sweet sherry onion sauce (Western). Since I knew I would have my fill of Filipino throughout the holidays, I homed in on the Thai dish and wasn’t disappointed. I even received a bonus when one of the flight stewards learned that I was a chicken inasal (marinated grilled chicken) junkie and produced some from I knew not where since it wasn’t on the menu.
The business class beverage list includes Campari, Martini Rosso and Extra Dry Martini among others as well as Piper Heidsieck Brut Champagne, Drambuie and the like.
ARRIVAL The captain said we wouldn’t land at an unreasonable hour, despite the late take-off, and he was as good as his word, gently depositing us on Philippine soil just a little over the one hour and forty minute travel time between Hong Kong and Manila. PAL pilots are famous for their almost imperceptible landing, and ours lived up to the reputation.
VERDICT A product long overdue, it’s a pity only two aircraft will be carrying at the present time. The new interiors were refreshing and helpful in creating a relaxing ambience.
PRICE Year-round web fares for PAL’s Mabuhay class start from HK$4,690 (US$604) not including taxes and surcharges.
Margie T Logarta