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Old Jul 14, 09, 9:51 am   #1
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(No) Bombs on Asia's Sunniest: MNL-CEB-NRT-CEB-MNL on PR

Hi guys. This is my first trip report here on FT, and after reading everything here (and on A.Net as well), I just had to jump right in! I really hope you don’t mind both the length and the intermittent blurry pictures. This particular TR, which I hold close in my heart for reasons other than being my first, highlights a recent trip to Tokyo to close my summer vacation, following a routing similar to the pre-1994 Philippine Airlines Flight 434 which, although non-existent today, still somewhat lives on in the day-to-day operations of Asia’s first airline. Please be advised that this is an extremely long TR (with 208 pictures and text which takes up 37 pages of space when typed on Word, a testament to my love for detail), so do bear with me here.

Anyway, time to move on to the TR proper. Hope you enjoy!


Sometime in April, my stepmom heard of a Philippine Airlines seat promo from a friend of hers, and tells me afterward so that I can book her on a flight to Tokyo for a business trip. The promo, called “The Real Deal”, offered tickets to Tokyo for as low as $162 inclusive of taxes (except Philippine travel tax), which are a steal compared to the $600 plus 20,000 miles she and my dad each paid to travel to Tokyo on Northwest, or the $430 (tax exclusive) they normally have to shell out when flying PAL. There was a catch to the promo though: you can only avail of the promo when flying from Cebu, unlike all the other fares in the promo, which you can only avail when flying out of Manila (some destinations, like Seoul and Xiamen, were not covered by the promo). My dad hears of the promo and figures that it would be a good way for us to spend a meaningful vacation before the start of classes, and for us to spend more time together as a family.

The “Real Deal”, however, quickly turned into a nightmare. Due to PAL limiting the duration of the promo only to April 29 and 30, their website was quickly overloaded with thousands (some say tens, or even hundreds, of thousands) of people wanting to avail fares as low as $8 to Hong Kong to as high as $488 to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas or Vancouver (excluding taxes). Their telephone lines were jammed to the brim, with many customers unable to call PAL’s customer service hotline in Manila, forcing others to call their customer service hotlines in Cebu and Davao, where it was reportedly less jammed. If you were lucky enough to be connected to their hotline in Manila, you would have to wait as long as three hours just to be able to speak with a PAL customer service agent. Their ticketing offices were filled with people, some even spilling out into the street (as was the case for their ticketing office in Quezon City), just so their bookings can be processed due to the unusually high incidence of failed bookings. The unfolding chaos meanwhile found its place in the national media, where PAL was forced to defend itself against a tsunami of complaints from both customers and even travel agencies (who complained about being shortchanged by the promo) against the promo’s shortcomings.

I know the story too well (and I was even quoted by the Manila Standard Today, a local newspaper, for a remark on another forum which caught their attention). Having arrived at 2:00 pm on April 30 at their ticketing office in Makati City, I thought I would have been able to process our failed bookings (I have tried booking over fifteen times over the last 24 hours, all to no avail) by the time the ticketing office closed at 5:00 pm. However, while I was issued number 5478, they were still serving customer 5049! A friend of mine whose parents were going to Shanghai went there at 9:00 am, only to be processed at around 3:30 pm (she was number 5070). The ensuing chaos (and increasing inability of PAL ticketing agents to handle the growing number of disgruntled customers) forced the ticketing office to handle claims well into 7:00 pm (our booking failed completely, so I had to rebook our complete itinerary), and for PAL to “extend” (meaning honor and continue to resolve all failed Real Deal bookings) the promo until 10:00 pm on Labor Day, May 1. I returned the following day to confirm the booking, and I came out about an hour later with tickets in hand. I felt bad though about the schedule: we were supposed to travel together on June 2 and return on June 9, but instead we had to settle for a split itinerary, with me returning to Cebu on June 9, and my dad and sister on June 11. My stepmom, sadly, couldn’t join us for medical reasons. Luckily though, I was able to book for our tickets to Cebu and back online (I would return to Manila on June 9, while my dad and sister would return on Independence Day, June 12), so I just asked for the tickets to be printed on PAL stock while I was at the ticketing office.

The tickets cost only $182 each for CEB-NRT-CEB, which are a steal on this route (PAL charges $506 for a normal roundtrip ticket between Cebu and Tokyo). A different promo meanwhile allowed us to get tickets to Cebu and back for only P1000 (around $18). The total cost of the itinerary per person was P10,567 (around $210) including taxes, which is a definite bargain, as tickets to Tokyo can go as high as $700+ (exclusive of taxes, on JAL) in economy. Though it comes with a boatload of restrictions (no Mabuhay Miles accrual, no rebooking, no cancellations, no change of itinerary, maximum stay of 8 days, etc.), for us budget-conscious Filipino travelers, we could care less.

It’s been eight years since I have last flown PAL (2001, on MNL-CEB-MNL), and this trip (booking pains notwithstanding) will make or break my belief that PAL will be able to rejoin the ranks of the world’s great airlines. I have sent their management two long e-mails in the past about possible improvements to their customer service, and it is their assuring replies that continue to let me believe in PAL being able to excel in what they do best despite me having flown their main rival to the United States, Northwest Airlines, for the last eight years. I just hope their replies will prove me right, and this is their examination.

I. Pre-departure: MNL-CEB-NRT

In the Philippines, it’s kind of unusual for airlines to permit passengers to obtain boarding passes for other passengers on their behalf without them being physically present at the check-in counter, let alone the entire terminal. It’s a practice that confounds me, but one that a lot of people seemingly take advantage of.

I left the house with the driver at 2:50 am, our entire set of checked luggage (and my carry-on luggage) in tow to Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 2. Traffic going to the airport was quite light, typical of early-morning traffic flows in Manila, which led me getting there at around 3:20 am. Unlike my dad, who is known for his tardiness for almost every occasion, I am very punctual when it comes to traveling, so I had to urge my driver to go faster, even in the early Manila rain (the rainy season came about 2-3 weeks early this year).

MNL’s Centennial Terminal, as it is aptly named, feels different from what I remembered it to be eight years ago. In contrast to the never-ending chaos that characterized the terminal’s initial years of operation, NAIA-2 today seems more organized and orderly. The new landscaping and addition of canopy roofing seems to have also brought out the simple modernity that the terminal exudes. On the outside, it feels like a very down-to-earth structure: built to function the way that it’s supposed to be without too much architectural excess.

II. Pre-flight: PR 843, MNL-CEB

The check-in area of the terminal’s south wing, where all of Philippine Airlines’ domestic flights are serviced, is very busy upon my entry. After completing the preliminary security check, I proceeded to the check-in counters assigned to our flight. I was third to be served, and second in my line, when I fell in line.

An older woman who was flying to Davao tried to push ahead of me when I was next in line to be served. Luckily, the guard, who answered her query pertaining to which check-in counters are for her flight, was able to stop her. The guard then told me to proceed to counter 11.

Counter 11 incidentally is the check-in counter for PAL group bookings, although the check-in agent accepted me. I find it quite weird though that all the counter agents in our area (and probably in the other side too, as well as in all the NAIA terminals) are male. The agent, sadly, seemed listless and bored when he checked me in.

I tried requesting for through check-in to Tokyo, although he told me that he couldn’t do it since the authorities in Cebu refused to allow it since it gives people an excuse to bypass paying Philippine travel tax there (which was already paid for in this booking). Since I don’t think I’ll be able to get through check-in to Tokyo through bargaining with the agent, I tried bargaining for bulkhead seats instead. This time, he says that the only available bulkhead seats are located at the last section of the plane, and they are in the middle section. Since my dad prefers the increased legroom of bulkhead seats, I requested that seat for him and one beside him for my sister. I, on the other hand, requested for a window seat. Although we got our preferred seats, it did come at a cost: I ended up being six rows behind my dad and sister. While they were in 61-D and 61-E, I ended up in 67-K.

I proceeded to load the luggage onto the weighing machine, which carted them off to be checked and loaded onto our plane afterward. The agent then issued our boarding passes, and instructed me to proceed to the terminal fee counter, then afterwards to gate S1. Before proceeding there, I rushed the boarding passes to the driver, who I told to quickly return home to pick up the rest of my family before boarding begins at 4:00 am.

After giving the boarding passes, I turned around and went towards the terminal fee counter. However, the FIDS caught my attention, and I decided to photograph it. The system used in Terminal 2 is the exact same system used in Terminal 3, although the larger main FIDS for the terminal was out of operation.

I then went to the terminal fee counter, where I paid P200 to the agent. She stapled the terminal fee coupon onto my boarding pass, subsequently stamping it. She then instructed me to proceed to the final security checkpoint behind her.

The security checkpoint required that all passengers take out all metallic objects (and shoes) from their person, so I removed all the concerned items and placed it into the scanner. Although I passed the inspection, I wished that I did not wear my favorite Converse high-cut sneakers to the airport (as I usually do) since they are such a hassle to put on. Add on to that the length of my jeans (at 34 inches, they are longer than the length of my legs, so I had to fold them inward) and it quickly became a recipe for disaster: the folds were no longer holding after a good deal of walking through the terminal. Next time, I'll keep an ample supply of bobby pins on my person at all times.

The main concourse seemed quite busy at such an early time in the day: PAL flights to cities all over the Philippines are docked at their gates, but only flights to Cebu, Davao and Bacolod were leaving within the next hour. All the other flights, like this particular A320 bound for Zamboanga (with the sequential flight number 123), won’t leave until later in the day (around 6:00 am, if I remember correctly).

Laptop and mobile phone charging stations did not exist in 2001, so I was surprised to see them here.

I did some walking through the terminal and I noticed that the faulty FIDS was not limited to just the check-in area. It seems that the entire terminal’s FIDS was down: the monitors which would normally display flight information were off, with PAL staff resorting to the use of a manual placard system in order to display flight information. One particular gate with an A330 bound for Davao used paper instead of a plastic placard in order to display the required information.

I don’t have a picture of it because of the double glass (and a set of stairs separating it), but apparently the north wing, where all of PAL’s international flights are based, seemed eerily devoid of passengers.

I decided to head towards the laptop station to begin this report when I passed by gate S4. S4 is the only hardstand gate at the domestic wing, and unlike the other gates, faces inward instead of out. I can see stairs jutting downward from the door.

The laptop station is not far from S4, so I plugged my laptop in and began writing this TR.

A woman headed for General Santos who needed to charge her mobile phone asked around the laptop station for an adaptor since her charger uses a British-style plug. I promptly offered her my adaptor and proceeded back to work. Luckily, the charging station is right in front of the laptop station.

Terminal 2 supposedly has Wi-Fi installed, but I was unable to access the Internet after a few rounds of trying. A lady beside me told me that I can get 30 minutes free on the Airborne Access network being offered by one of the concessionaires (I think Delifrance) in the terminal, but I had to register. I decided not to use the Internet anymore and just continue on writing the TR.

At 4:00 am, boarding was called for PR 843, my flight to Cebu. When I stood up, the woman who I lent my adaptor to hesitated and thought that she needed to return my adaptor, but I told her that I wasn’t planning to leave just yet. Mysteriously, PAL boarding announcements for this flight came at a somewhat rapid-fired pace: boarding for priority passengers, Mabuhay Class passengers and passengers in my section were all called within three minutes of each other. It was when they called the passengers in rows 32-48 were being called that I decided to proceed to the gate. She then promptly returned the adaptor to me and quickly proceeded to gate S1.

I gave my boarding pass to the agent at the gate, although I told her that I needed to wait for my father and sister before I can board. She took the stub and allowed me to sit down to wait, although I decided to just walk around until they arrive. Around ten minutes later, I saw them in the distance, walking towards the gate, and so I meet up with them. They proceeded to submit their boarding passes and we went inside the plane together.

Last edited by Akiestar; Jul 16, 09 at 5:21 am
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Old Jul 14, 09, 9:54 am   #2
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III. In-flight: PR 843

Philippine Airlines Flight PR 843
Manila (Ninoy Aquino International; MNL/RPLL)-Cebu City (Mactan-Cebu International; CEB/RPVM)
Airbus A330-300, RP-C3337
Seat 67-K (Economy window, back section)
ETD 0440 / ETA 0555

The aircraft was already quite full when we boarded, so I quickly loaded my laptop into the overhead compartment and my backpack under my seat. The person beside me got off his seat so I can enter mine, and then fell quickly back to sleep. He wasn’t much of a talker, for one, so I just listened to PAL’s interesting choice of boarding music: karaoke-style instrumentals of popular old songs. It reminded me of graduation practice (and graduation itself) two months ago.

The seat pitch on PAL’s A330s, which incidentally was the last aircraft I rode with them back in 2001, accommodated my now-grown legs well. The seat as well felt very comfortable for an economy class seat.

Two PAL aircraft, one A320 and their flagship 747, were within sight as I looked out the window when we pushed back.

Most of the planes which were taking off at the time we were leaving were PAL planes and as we took off, three 747s: one Cathay Pacific, two Northwest (one painted in Delta colors), were parked at Terminal 1. Terminal 3 had a few Cebu Pacific planes, but it was too dark to tell whether they were A319s or A320s, or both.

Just a few minutes after take-off, the flight attendants began distributing major local newspapers to passengers throughout the cabin. I got a copy of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Immediately after distributing newspapers, the in-flight entertainment service began. They were showing a TV show (not sure which one it was), but no headphones were distributed throughout the entire flight. Maybe this flight fell through the cracks, since PAL doesn’t normally show entertainment in Fiesta Class on domestic flights. Although I could use my earphones to listen in on the in-flight entertainment, they would only work with my left ear since PAL headphone jacks require two prongs. Seeing no other recourse, I decided to just listen to my iPod. As that began, the person beside me moved to the vacant seat beside another person (I think a friend of his) two rows back. The vacated seat would remain vacant for the rest of the flight.

The meal and beverage service began as well. The crew on this flight was efficient and professional, although they came off being not as friendly and warm (but just as hospitable) as the crews I'd encounter on later flights. I think that’s a justification for PAL allowing older F/As to fly trans-Pacific and long regional routes (like flights to Japan and Australia), since the older F/As, as far as I know, came off as being much more hospitable, friendly and warm than the younger ones. Domestic flights, at least for the younger F/As, are supposed to be their training ground to reach that level of service, for which PAL is known for.

Unlike in previous years where PAL gave baked products (like ensaymada when I first flew with them in 1995 or Goldilocks cake in later years as I’ve heard) and juice on their domestic flights, the flight attendants instead distributed peanuts, cookies and a cup of water to every passenger. A bit too much cost-cutting from a legacy carrier, if you ask me, but since I’ll be enjoying a full breakfast later anyway on my flight to Tokyo, I didn’t mind it at all. A male flight attendant saw me attempt to take a picture of my meal using my mobile phone (since the other camera was in my bag) and advised me to put away the phone. I protested, informing him that it was in flight mode, but he said that it should be off even in flight mode. Normally I’d follow right off the bat, but knowing that in previous years, using my phone in flight mode had no adverse reaction on any flight that I took, and in consideration of antiquated Philippine safety regulations, both nationally and at PAL (“…compact disc players must be turned off for the duration of the flight as these may interfere with the aircraft systems”, even though a lot of passengers use their CD and MP3 players, iPods included, in-flight without protest from the flight attendants anyway), I turned it off to accede to his request, but intermittently turned it on to take pictures like this one.

I quickly consumed the cookies and peanuts before returning to playing a game of Tap Tap Revenge 2. It was on this flight that I got a perfect streak (554 taps) on “Come On, Get Higher” by Matt Nathanson.

As the sun rose, I took out my phone, turned it on again and began taking pictures.

I felt like PAL needed to be tested on how clean their lavatories are, so I went to the lavatory at the back of the plane. Overall, their lavatory is clean, but passengers are supposed to throw their garbage into the trash can, not on top of it.

I was bored, so I felt like camwhoring a bit.

The aircraft was not completely full, but the load factor was around 85-90%. A lot of people for one were sitting in the back of the plane.

As I looked out of the window, I noticed that we were flying over Bantayan Island. There were a chain of islands not too far from the main island, and they formed a very interesting arc shape.

Somewhere in the distance, I noticed that we were flying over Bantayan Airport. It’s so nice to see that the runway is now paved.

As we began our final descent into Cebu, an automated announcement was made prompting passengers to prepare for landing. During that automated announcement, the announcer (whose voice happens to be the same as the one as the lady in the safety video) used the words “sinturong pangkaligtasan” instead of “seat belt” when she was announcing in Filipino. I remarked to myself: “Finally, PAL used the translation of ‘seatbelt’,” as it was the only time I have ever heard the term be used on any of their in-flight announcements. Though all scheduled-service passenger airlines in the Philippines are guilty of this, PAL is particularly guilty for its egregious use of Taglish, or mixed Tagalog-English slang, in its in-flight announcements.

Soon afterward, we were flying over mainland Cebu, and Cebu City was in the distance. It seems that buildings built on the runway side facing the sea will hamper any future runway expansion efforts unless the government relocates them.

The landing was a bit bumpy, but quite smooth. There was much forward force coming from the brakes, but not much recoil.

The Airbus A330 soon parked, and everyone started vacating the cabin. When empty, PAL’s seats on their A330s look very warm and cozy, and they actually feel that way too!

As I was leaving, I suddenly remembered that PAL was using an Airbus A330 for their flight to Tokyo. There were two A330s parked at the airport at the time, so I asked the flight attendant if she knew which plane we were going to use. She says that this aircraft will be used later for international service, and since Tokyo is currently the only destination served from Cebu on PAL, I was surprised to hear that we will be using the exact same plane going there.

Leaving the aircraft, I decided to say goodbye to RP-C3337, for now.

Last edited by Akiestar; Jul 14, 09 at 10:52 am
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Old Jul 14, 09, 10:00 am   #3
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IV. Arrival in Cebu/Pre-departure: PR 434, CEB-NRT

Originally, Philippine Airlines Flight 434 flew from Manila to Tokyo via Cebu. On December 11, 1994, as a prelude to the ill-fated Project Bojinka, Ramzi Yousef, flying under the pseudonym “Armaldo Forlani” (I think he meant Italian lawmaker Arnaldo Forlani), placed a bomb under seat 26-K on PR 434’s first leg to Cebu. That seat on older 747s would be immediately above the aircraft’s center fuel tank, but in this case, the ex-SAS 747-200 which PAL was operating on this flight was two seats in front of the intended target. When the bomb exploded on its way to Tokyo, 24-year old Haruki Ikegami, who was on his first trip abroad, died as the bomb under his seat exploded, cutting his body in half. Luckily, the plane landed in Naha, Okinawa safely, and no one else (aside from Ikegami) died.

Reading about PR 434, I would believe that since the aircraft being used now on this route was an Airbus A330, no other aircraft would continue onward to Tokyo after landing in Cebu from Manila. Apparently, the answer given to me by the flight attendant proved that I was completely wrong. It seems that although PR 434 is a Cebu-Tokyo flight, the aircraft on which it operates on still flies using the old routing of PR 434. Then it dawned upon me: I would name this TR after the unfortunate incident, only with a little twist to reflect that nothing really went wrong.

Having landed in Cebu, and since we were unable to avail of through check-in at Manila, we claimed our bags at baggage claim. Luckily, as we arrived at baggage claim, our bags were already out, and I had all three of our bags within the next five minutes. Baggage handling in Cebu must be efficient!

After claiming our bags, we make our way past the simple arrivals hall to connect to our flight. Although my dad suggested that we had to go out of the airport and go back in, I pointed out that there was a sign leading to connecting flights.

To return to the departure hall, one must either take the stairs or the elevator. Since we had our bags, it was logical that we take the elevator. However, the elevator was so small that it took quite a lot of effort to get the baggage cart in so that we can connect. When we made it to the second floor, it took quite a lot of effort this time to get the cart out of the elevator. After getting it out, we proceeded to the international check-in area.

Compared to the domestic check-in area, the international check-in area was not very busy, and because there was only one international flight departing within the next hour (our flight), most of the area was inaccessible. Counters beyond the travel tax counter closest to the PAL and Cebu Pacific counters were cordoned off. As in Manila, all the check-in agents here are male.

We soon fall in line to check in for our flight to Cebu. When we reached the counter, the agent processed our luggage and issued us our boarding passes. Midway through that process, however, another agent, Billy Magale, came out and monitored what the agent was doing. Amusingly, the agent knew me by name, aware of the two e-mails I sent PAL management. I started talking to him about why I sent those e-mails, which freaked out my sister. She thinks aviation is a geeky hobby. Don’t know with her.

She tried to bring my dad to the counter, but I followed her instead to my dad. She was complaining to him about how geeky my conversation was with the agent. Surprisingly, the agent went to us. Tito (Uncle) Billy, as I now have to call him, is apparently a friend of my dad, both at PAL and personally. He was surprised to see him, seeing as they haven’t seen each other in a while. It was here that my dad, aware of the fact that our plane is the exact same one we flew in from Manila, tried to ask for our old seats. Tito Billy informed my dad that out of the 260 seats on an Airbus A330, only ninety would be filled, and one in Mabuhay Class, so we were free to change our seats as much as we pleased, save for business class. So much for sitting in business class, I suppose, even if I really wanted to.

Tito Billy re-issued our boarding passes with roughly the same seats as we had on our flight from Manila, except that my boarding pass on this flight gave me seat 61-D, which was my dad’s seat. My dad tried bargaining to allow us into the Mabuhay Lounge, which he agreed to. They exchanged phone numbers afterward, my dad surprised that he changed his.

After a brief passport inspection, paying departure tax (P550, the same as in Manila when I add the P200 domestic departure tax I paid earlier), completing immigration and a final security check, we were led to the international Mabuhay Lounge. Incidentally, since we were the only flight out at that time from the international boarding area, Gate 3, the other international gate, was empty.

The Mabuhay Lounge in Cebu appears to be very different from the one I remembered eight years ago (although admittedly, that lounge was domestic, not international, but I’d presume they’d look somewhat the same). Aesthetically, it looks similar to the new Mabuhay Lounge in Iloilo, but somewhat larger. For most of the time we were there, only two other people were inside, until a family showed up around thirty minutes before we started boarding. Sadly, the TV was broken, with two black bars running vertically across the screen. However, it was still showing a CNN interview with President Obama when I entered.

Unlike the lounge in Iloilo though (which I had the pleasure of viewing pictures of its interior online), this one had a lot more food. There was a bread platter…

…a pastry platter…

…a fruit platter…

…and PAL’s famous arroz caldo, which I had for breakfast.

The refrigerator was well-stocked with alcoholic beverages, Pepsi products, Virgin Cola, juices and milk. I took the opportunity to drink milk here, since we rarely buy milk in Manila, as well as apple juice, which for me is customary on every international flight. In addition to the arroz caldo, I also had pandesal (Filipino bread), ensaymada (a Filipino pastry), sliced mangoes and some melon.

After eating, I took the opportunity to look around the lounge. Surprisingly for a PAL lounge, they have copies of Korean Air’s in-flight magazine, Morning Calm, as well as the latest copy of Mabuhay, PAL’s in-flight magazine, which we did not have on the flight to Manila. They also had a business center and massaging chairs.

My sister was in the middle of using the computer when boarding for our flight was announced. We left the lounge, said goodbye to Tito Billy (who went back into the lounge around twenty minutes before we were about to board, chatting with the lounge receptionist) and went to our gate.

Unlike in Manila, the windows at Mactan-Cebu International Airport (except at the corridor where the gates are stationed) have those annoying little dots which ruined your pictures when taken up close. The VIP lounge built for the ASEAN Summit in Cebu back in 2006 was beside our gate, but I couldn’t take a picture because of the dots.

Last edited by Akiestar; Jul 17, 09 at 7:34 pm
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Old Jul 14, 09, 10:03 am   #4
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V. In-flight: PR 434

Philippine Airlines Flight PR 434
Cebu City (Mactan-Cebu International; CEB/RPVM)-Tokyo (Narita International; NRT/RJAA)
Airbus A330-300, RP-C3337
Seat 61-D (Economy aisle, back section), changed to 33-A (Economy window, front section)
ETD 0740 / ETA 1325

When we boarded the aircraft, a flight attendant greeted us at the door and led us to our seats. Like in our flight to Cebu, the boarding music was, once again, karaoke-style instrumentals of popular old songs. Since the plane had a relatively light load, I decided to take seat 33-A instead. The flight attendant in our section, one of PAL’s older ones, led me to my seat.

Although it was the same aircraft, the seats this time had pillows, blankets and a copy of Mabuhay in the seat pocket. On our flight from Manila, the seat pocket only had the safety instruction card, and nothing else.

After around 20 minutes, we began pushback and takeoff. PAL played its infamous safety video, although the video used on Japan-bound flights runs differently from that used on all its other flights. For one, it didn’t remind passengers to throw their garbage in the trash can instead of the toilet, or to use the step board if they can’t reach the overhead compartment, or (oddly) to not smoke during the flight, or (even more oddly) to fasten your seatbelt during the flight while seated. Meanwhile, I did a little spotting in my seat, finding a Cebu Pacific ATR72 and a PAL Express Q400 side by side as we were taxiing.

Soon we took off, and our plane was bound on its five-hour journey to Tokyo.

I think this is Leyte, but I’m not sure.

The flight attendants began distributing newspapers (I got another copy of the Inquirer since I didn’t finish reading it on the flight to Cebu), and then afterward began distributing immigration, customs and health declaration forms for Japan. Both the in-flight meal and entertainment services started shortly after distribution of entry forms. While the screens were showing advertisements for PAL’s Mabuhay Miles program and Swingaround tour packages before showing the only feature presentation on this flight, Doctor Doolittle 3, the flight attendants started distributing our meals. Similar to the ANA system, PAL doesn’t distribute menus on Fiesta Class, but instead shows passengers a card with pictures of their meal choices. I chose the chicken longanisa (Filipino sausages) and egg omelet over a beef-and-rice dish.

Sausages and eggs may be common breakfast fare for me, but it felt different as I was eating the food served. For an airline breakfast, it actually tasted quite good! Save for the dried mangoes, which I brought with me to Japan, I was able to finish everything, which I do not normally do when eating plane food. There was only one thing that I did not like: the egg omelet was too oily. Oh well.

True to what the agents told me during check-in, the plane would be mostly empty. Most of those on the flight occupied the window seats, although some occupied the center seats. Some other people, meanwhile, took an entire row for themselves and slept.

After breakfast, I got to fit in a good reading of the Inquirer and Mabuhay (a nice in-flight magazine, though I prefer the more in-depth Northwest WorldTraveller), listen to a bunch of songs on my iPod and a few good games of Tap Tap Revenge 2 (trust me, the game never gets old). I also managed to get a little sleep, though I usually never sleep while flying, regardless of what time I wake up in the morning, or how long the flight is. This one proved to be more of the exception than the rule (I was up since 8 am the previous day, so why wouldn’t I sleep?).

I decided to re-inspect the lavatory, and I found that the people in Cebu do an excellent job of cleaning aircraft from top to bottom.

Unlike on Northwest, PAL lavatories have a bottle of cologne, soap and moisturizer stocked beside the sink. I forgot though what that green bottle is (I think perfume).

When I returned to my seat, I decided to take a few shots of PAL’s airshow.

Soon, Japan’s Pacific coastline was visible.

At around this time, PAL started showing airport information for Tokyo. Amusingly, the airshow was showing a diagram of Terminal 1, even though PAL flights operate out of Terminal 2.

Like in Manila, Narita International Airport has a nearby golf course.

After a few minutes, we landed at Narita. The landing though was somewhat bumpier than the one in Cebu. In the maze of its runways, I found one of those houses whose land had not yet been expropriated by Japanese authorities.

It seems that Terminal 1 is expanding its apron.

There was a row of Japan Airlines planes parked at the main building of Terminal 2 as we turned to park at our gate.

As the plane parked at the gate, the airshow began showing PAL’s thank you slide.

The cabin emptied quite quickly, though I went to the back of the cabin and met up with my dad and sister. We all left together, but just before we leave the aircraft, I just had to take a picture of a very narrow aisle which can be bothersome for some passengers.

Last edited by Akiestar; Jul 14, 09 at 10:00 pm
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Old Jul 14, 09, 10:08 am   #5
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VI. Arrival in Tokyo

We finally exit the aircraft and proceed through the satellite. Along the path of the hallway and the moving walkway, there were a bunch of displays, each showcasing a different material.

We reached the shuttle station not long thereafter and boarded the shuttle to the main building.

There was another row of JAL planes parked at the main building, one of the being the Oneworld 747-400.

Just before the quarantine counters, there was a diorama welcoming passengers to Japan.

Quarantine and immigration proceeded quite well, and soon enough, we went down to baggage claim and customs. The baggage claim area reminds me of the one in NAIA Terminal 3 (which I have never been to). After completing that and customs, we exit and head out to the arrival hall.

My dad’s friends were picking us up, so while we waited for them, we went outside to the area where vehicles pick up passengers.

Soon afterward, his friend, Tita (Aunt) Christy, arrives, and we board their car to Tokyo. They were parked near the construction area for the Narita Rapid Railway, which I can’t wait to ride come 2010.

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Old Jul 14, 09, 10:16 am   #6
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VII. Tokyo

Having finally gotten out of the airport for the first time, I was mesmerized by the sheer beauty of the Japanese capital. I've been wondering for the last seven years what lay beyond those airport walls and now I'm finally seeing them with my own eyes! Because I spent a week there, and because I fear this TR will get way too long, I'll just post pictures of the places we went to.

Our first stop was Shisui, where we had lunch at a service station on the Higashi-Kanto Expressway.

This is Akabane, a district of Kita, where we have a house (more appropriately, an apartment or, even more appropriately in the Japanese context, a “mansion”).

Our apartment is near the La La Arcade. This is where the mass shooting-of-civilians scene in the 2004 movie remake of Devilman (disliked by many for its disloyalty to the manga which it is supposedly based on, though I like the movie) was shot, if I remember correctly (or it looks like it; please correct me if I'm wrong).

Wednesday involved settling down and a brief drive through Tokyo. Our first stop in the city was Yodabishi Akiba in Akihabara, where Bic Camera, an electronics store, occupies much of the building's floor space (a reason why the Bic Camera floors are known as Yodabishi Camera). My dad was looking for a new computer for the clinic, and he found one: an eMachines machine (no pun intended).

On Thursday, we boarded the JR train and went back to Akihabara to buy the new computer.

Yes, bringing the computer home all the way to Akabane was a chore indeed.

On a rainy Friday, we took the Yamanote Line to Shimbashi, where my dad bought some cosmetics for my stepmom's clinic, Shibuya (sadly, we did not see the famous crosswalk) and Ikspiari in Tokyo Disneyland.

I felt like I was music heaven. Sadly though, reality hit me after the cost of a CD proved to be around double that of an equivalent copy in the Philippines.

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Old Jul 14, 09, 10:23 am   #7
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My dad injured his foot that Friday, so Saturday gave me the opportunity to go around Akabane and for both me and my sister to visit my dad's friend, Tita (Aunt) Christy, in Kasai, a district of Edogawa, via the Tokyo Subway.

Saturday is affectionately known as "Sushi Day".

We also got to go to Donki (Don Quixote, a bargain-basement store) in Edogawa, as well as visit the Asakusa Shrine and Shinjuku.

My sister thinks hosts (ホスト) are scary.

We didn't really do anything on Sunday except go out to the local Pepper Lunch in Akabane for dinner. Although Pepper Lunch opened in the Philippines last year, this is the first time I have ever had Pepper Lunch, whether there or here in Japan. Might I say that it was really, really delicious.

On our way home, we passed by a musician performing at the park immediately in front of Akabane station. He actually sounded good, though I wish I understood what he was saying, since he was singing only in Japanese.

On Monday (my last day), we met up with Tita Christy at the house and went to the Tokyo Tower (and two of its museums).

The more I look at Tokyo’s skyline, the more it reminds me of Manila. Manila for a metropolitan area is very dense, the way Tokyo looks like from above and afar.

After enjoying the tower’s sights, we went to two of the three museums which form the base of the Tokyo Tower.

Yes, my sister was trying to eat the rice cake on display at the Guinness World Records museum.

Later in the day, we went back again to Shinjuku, where I got a pair of new Vans at ABC-Mart (you'll see them later in this TR), as well as to enjoy a nice bowl of ramen which we had at a place not too far from there.

For the final stop of this trip, we went to Ikebukuro, where I was supposed to buy a train ticket to the airport.

Someday, I hope to be back to see all these wonderful sights once again. Maybe during my mid-year break in October, or perhaps Christmas (though my parents aren’t too fond of snow and the winter cold).
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Old Jul 14, 09, 10:29 am   #8
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VII. Pre-departure: NRT-CEB-MNL

Tokyo is such a beautiful city, and I didn’t want to leave it. If I had the option of changing my booking so that I’d leave on June 11 instead of June 9, I would. However, since classes are set to begin, and since the conditions on the Real Deal ticket specifically mention that changes to the itinerary are prohibited, I had no choice but to go back to Manila on the 9th, even if I didn't want to (I could, however, change my arrival date in Manila on the domestic leg for P600, but I wouldn’t want to stay in Cebu for two whole days by myself). Even scarier is that this is the first time I’d be travelling all by myself (no sister, no unaccompanied minor program, nada).

Unlike on the flights going to Tokyo, I was up by around 8 am, since the flight leaves at 2:30 anyway. After a good mopping of our kitchen and living room floors and taking a bath, I went out and bought my dad’s noodles (which were to be brought back to Manila) and a carton of milk for them. Seeing as that I had no more time left (I finished those errands by 10:30), I quickly said goodbye to my dad and his friend’s friend (Suzuki-san) and left for the airport, where I had to take a final picture of the La La Arcade.

My dad agreed that I take the train going to the airport, so in the days leading to June 9, I had to negotiate with him which train I had to take. I wanted to take the Narita Express (N’EX), which leaves out of either Ikebukuro (the closest) or Shinjuku, but my dad wanted me instead to take the Keisei Skyliner, which leaves out of Nippori (Ueno was out of the question) since it costs less (1,920 yen for the Skyliner versus 3,110 yen for N’EX). In the end, the Skyliner won, and I boarded the train from Akabane.

At Akabane station, I bought a ticket to Nippori and quickly proceeded to the platform of the train going there (the Keihin-Tohoku Line), all my baggage in tow. However, by the time I got to the station, I already missed the 10:45 Skyliner to the airport. Deciding to take the next one at 11:25, I waited for the next train to Nippori. However, it seemed that all the trains at the time I was there were rapid service trains, all of which would bypass Nippori. I missed two trains waiting for a local service, but having realized that all the trains were rapid service, and having realized later that I could go to Nippori via the Yamanote Line at Tabata (which I knew, but seemingly forgot in this case), I boarded the next train.

The transfer at Tabata was quick, and around 5-7 minutes later, I was at Nippori. The Keisei side, which was the side I was going to, was visibly being renovated as I made my way to the Skyliner ticket machine. I bought a ticket and proceeded to the gate. However, seeing that it was my first time to use a non-JR or Tokyo Metro train, I ended up inserting the ticket incorrectly into the barrier, and I had to get assistance from the guard. The guard told me that since I was transferring from JR, I had to insert my JR ticket along with my Skyliner ticket so that I can enter. Having done what he said, I went down to the platform.

Before the train arrived, I bought a new set of facial masks (since I left mine at home in Akabane) and a souvenir: a Skyliner piggy bank (convenient for storing all the yen coins that I have which, as a result of this trip, were a lot). Soon afterward, the Skyliner arrived, and I boarded as I made my way to the airport.

The Skyliner is arguably the closest thing I can consider to a long-distance train that I have ridden on. The cabin was comfortable, with a wide footrest and a very generous pitch, as well as recline. Yes, I am wearing the new Vans on the way home.

On the way to the airport, we passed by a lot of towns, some of which were solely served by Keisei.

I bought myself a bottle of Pepsi NEX (the closest thing to Pepsi MAX in the Philippines, and an allusion to N’EX) at the vending machine available between the fourth and fifth cabin, which was where I was staying.

The tray table said that it should not be used while the chairs are turned. I had no idea how to turn Skyliner chairs around to face each other until I saw a latch at foot level.

The houses seem to get ever larger as you leave central Tokyo.

Soon enough, we would be leaving Tokyo and entering Chiba Prefecture. There were a lot of rice fields in Chiba on the way to the airport…

…and interestingly, a Dutch windmill.

We passed by Shisui again, only this time, I get to see the town, instead of just a service station on the expressway.

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Old Jul 14, 09, 10:31 am   #9
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We had a brief stop at Keisei Narita Station so passengers can board, although I don’t think anyone did board in the time we were there. Beyond the station were the town of Narita and even more rice fields before we went underground to Airport Terminal 2 Station.

Finally, the Skyliner arrives at Airport Terminal 2 Station. I will surely miss this seat.

I head up to the departure hall of Terminal 2, through stairs, a security check and a set of escalators to the departure hall. On the way up, I passed by a lot of airline signs, pointing the way to their respective terminals.

This one, meanwhile, reminded me of the old setup of NAIA-1.

VII. Pre-flight: PR 433, NRT-CEB

The check-in hall is very expansive at NRT Terminal 2, and arguably the biggest I have ever been into. Finding the right check-in counter seemed like a difficult task due to its size, but luckily there was a display indicating which counters each airline was set up at. PAL’s check-in counters were at section A, a fairly long walk from where the displays are located (at the center, and A was to the left of the display).

Narita’s FIDS was full of flights today.

I found section A, and lo and behold, PR 433 was on its final check-in call. The Skyliner is fast, but it doesn’t make up for me being late.

I fall in line at the PAL counters and was called by the agent at counter A7. This time, the agents were female, and unusually, they were JAL agents facilitating the check-in of PAL passengers. For an airline which serves four cities in Japan from the Philippines (NRT, KIX, NGO and FUK), and with Japan being one of PAL’s largest markets, I would have expected PAL agents to facilitate check-in than JAL ones, though if JAL agents handled check-in for all airlines at Terminal 2, then I'd really understand.

Like in Manila, I asked if I can be checked in all the way to Manila, and surprisingly, I was. While they were checking me in for my flight to Manila, I loaded my bag in the weighing machine and another agent tagged my bag with a “connection” tag (on JAL stock). Afterwards, the baggage claim tag was slapped on, my bag carted off and my boarding passes issued (also on JAL stock).

Unlike in Manila, the agents in Tokyo will try their best to accommodate your request, no excuses attached. It was from this experience that led me to see whether or not the argument of the check-in agent in Manila that Cebu airport authorities don’t like through check-in will really hold water. More on that later, though.

I wanted to take a look at the observation deck, but it would veer me way off-course, and my camera only had limited shots left, so I went instead to the departure hall. After completing a security check and immigration, I was finally at the departure hall.

Terminal 2 seemed very bright and expansive, though it had the ambiance of an American airport terminal. It somewhat reminds me of PIT or MSP, but it was in a league all its own.

For one, the departure hall FIDS says it all. My flight apparently will be docked at Gate 92, at the satellite.

This is the only airport that I have been to where dayrooms and showers are available to the general public (for a fee).

NRT, like SIN, would be a luxury shopper’s paradise.

It seems that all the luxury shopping would be confined to the main building. There was a map anchored to one of the support columns, and I was surprised to see names like BVLGARI, Hermes, Burberry and Ferragamo (stores which I did not run into) at the main building, but none at the satellite.

I did a bit of exploring in the shopping area and bought a cell phone charm for my cousin at a small store beside the big Akihabara store. Other than reminding me of Tokyo’s electronics district, that was the first time I’ve seen big-name electronics being sold inside an airport terminal (and I mean cameras, home appliances, computers and the like). The shopping overload got boring though, so I decided to take the shuttle to the satellite. I ran into the famous Seiko wall clock display while taking the escalator.

Narita is probably not that busy at around 1 pm, evidenced by a nearly empty shuttle train.

Last edited by Akiestar; Jul 20, 09 at 9:10 pm
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Old Jul 14, 09, 10:35 am   #10
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I did run into a few planes though in the shuttle. There was JA619J, a JAL 767-300…

…and N775AN, an American Airlines 777-200ER.

While at the satellite, I noticed that PR 434 had not yet docked, and the gate seemed quite empty, with only a few passengers sitting down. Boarding anyway would not begin until around 2 pm, so I went around and did some spotting.

There was a JAL 747-400 parked at Gate 91…

…and JA737J, a JAL 777-300ER, taxiing near our gate.

Back at Gate 91, there was a Northwest 757 taxiing, but I couldn’t take a picture. I decided to visit one of the shops to buy a pen, since I realized that I didn’t have one. It seems that in Japan, there will be Kit-Kat flavors which I will never run into at home.

I decided to continue spotting, and in a fortunate twist of fate, I saw N854NW, a Northwest A330-200.

Not too long afterward, B-6345, a China Eastern A321, showed up on the taxiway.

Immediately behind it was JA717A, an ANA 777-200ER which just landed from Shanghai.

Further away from the terminal building was one of two JAL 777-300s painted in the Oneworld livery…

…and a 747-400 parked at the main building.

I bought a Snickers bar at the nearby store, and decided to continue writing this TR. The airport has Wi-Fi, but you have to pay 600 yen to use it (I have no credit card), or have one of those paid memberships. Around a few minutes later, boarding commenced, surprisingly with the same agents at check-in facilitating boarding. I submitted my boarding pass and went down to the gate, taking a beautiful picture of RP-C3331, the A330 to be used on this flight.

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Old Jul 14, 09, 10:39 am   #11
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VIII. In-flight: PR 433

Philippine Airlines Flight PR 433
Tokyo (Narita International; NRT/RJAA)-Cebu City (Mactan-Cebu International; CEB/RPVM)
Airbus A330-300, RP-C3331
Seat 74-A (Economy window, back section)
ETD 1430 / ETA 1830

Unlike the flights to Japan, no boarding music was being played when I entered the cabin. I was greeted by the flight attendants and they pointed the direction to my seat, once again, at the back of the cabin. Another flight attendant, one of PAL’s older ones who incidentally looks like one of my aunts (but unlike my aunt, she had a very beautiful accent when speaking in English), led me to my seat. Like the flights to Tokyo, the seat beside me was empty.

I wasn’t surprised to find that on flights to the Philippines from Japan, PAL would advertise a home delivery service for Philippine mangoes and pineapples, both of which are very popular there (and very expensive too; I was shocked to find out that a single mango at Denny's cost almost 300 yen).

Not too long after settling down in my seat, the cabin doors were closed and we began taxiing to the runway. Shortly after we pushed back and began our taxi, the ground staff waved goodbye and bowed.

There were quite a lot of things to see as the plane was taxiing. It seems that not one, but two houses exist on the airport grounds.

A JAL 747-400 was taxiing behind us.

An Air Canada 777-300ER had just landed on the runway we were about to take off of, but it was moving too fast for me to take a meaningful picture. Instead, I got an ANA 747-400.

When we began taking off, I was able to take a picture of a bunch of Northwest 747s (one in Delta colors), A330s and a single 757, as well as a Continental 737, on the tarmac of Terminal 1.

The takeoff was a bit shaky, with the panel holding the drop-down CRT, the projector screen and the projector all shaking side-to-side as we sped into the air. The plane passed by a lot of farms and small towns in Chiba Prefecture before finally entering the Pacific Ocean and leaving Japan.

The in-flight entertainment service began shortly after we began flying over the Pacific Ocean, beginning with the distribution of newspapers (I got the Inquirer again), then both a preview and the actual feature presentation of He’s Just Not (That) Into You. Unlike on the flights to Japan, where they advertised PAL’s Mabuhay Miles and Swingaround tour packages first before moving to the feature presentation, they jumped straight into the movie.

The in-flight meal service, however, was another story. Because of the turbulence we were experiencing as we exited Japan, the distribution of meals had to be suspended twice, although no meals were distributed (on the second time the service was suspended, the carts were already at the front of the cabin). Better safe than sorry, I’d say.

I overheard from other passengers that the two meal choices were roast beef and Japanese fish, but since the meal service began at the front of the cabin, they ran out of fish meals by the time they got to the back section, and everyone else had to be served beef. I didn’t mind since I wanted the beef anyway, but there was one Filipina passenger who demanded fish. She relented and had beef instead because they were seriously out of fish. I think this means that next time, they should either stock more fish, or have meal distribution done simultaneously in both parts of the economy cabin.

Before I actually got my meal, one of the younger flight attendants asked me what I wanted to drink. Since I saw a Japanese passenger be served a full can of Virgin Cola, I asked for a 7-Up. She gave me the cup, but incidentally not the can. Shortly after, the older F/A who led me to my seat earlier said that they ran out of Japanese fish (even though I knew beforehand) and that I had to get the roast beef.

The meal was not particularly special, since I remember being served this a few years back on Northwest (save for the dessert, and mashed potatoes took place of the rice), but like the breakfast I was served on PR 434, I ate everything offered on the tray. It helped that I did not have lunch in Tokyo before entering the plane. While we were eating, the flight attendants began closing the cabin windows, arguably, in the words of the purser, “for a better view of the in-flight entertainment”.

What did change my perception of the lunch experience was that the F/As also started offering packets of peanuts to passengers, allowing us to take as many as we wanted. I took two. Later, they began offering glasses of juice and soda. As is the custom, I took a glass of apple juice. That was not offered on the inbound flight.

After the meal service ended, I reclined my seat and proceeded to listen to my iPod (I finished nine of fourteen tracks on For Whom the Rock Rolls by TOTALFAT, a Japanese punk rock band to which I was introduced to at ABC-Mart). However, I had to go to the lavatory, so it was really unfortunate that the fasten seatbelt sign had to be switched on again because of turbulence. I got up since I really had to go, but the F/A told me to sit down. Sometime after the plane stabilized, she approached me and said that I can move to the back if I had to go, but I said I’ll stay put. She did mention that the sign may be on for a good forty minutes or more, but I can wait. While waiting, I opened the window and noticed an unusual cloud formation over the sea.

When the fasten seatbelt sign was turned off, I went for a quick trip to the lavatory. The A(H1N1) scare in both Japan and the Philippines (we apparently now have the most cases in Southeast Asia) meant that I had to wear a mask for most of this flight.

The green bottle went missing from PAL’s lavatory offerings, too.

I also got my computer and continued writing this TR from where I left off at the airport.

Near the end of He’s Just Not (That) Into You, the flight attendants began distributing another round of drinks, this time being full cans of soft drinks. I really miss ginger ale (we don’t have it in the Philippines), so I got that. Since I was using the tray in front of me, the flight attendant put down the one beside me so that I would have a place to place the drink. I’d consider it compensation for not being given the full can of 7-Up earlier.

It seems that on this flight, Flights of Fancy (the official name of PAL’s IFE) had a much more varied offering than on the flight to Tokyo. Between the advertisements for a property development company owned by PAL chairman Lucio Tan and a jazz rendition of PAL’s trademark “Love at Thirty Thousand Feet” with accompanying video showcasing its production by renowned Filipino jazz musicians, the following programs were shown in-flight:

* He's Just Not (That) Into You (in-flight movie)
* Just for Laughs
* WSJ Tech Watch
* How I Met Your Mother

I don’t even get that much entertainment on my Northwest flights between Japan and Manila (one movie and Northwest’s Currents entertainment program). For a four-hour flight on an airline whose planes have no individual video monitors in economy save on two 747-400s (the next 747, RP-C7472, will have individual monitors by end-July, according to a poster on PinoyExchange, a local forum), it felt like a lot of entertainment. I didn’t like though how the in-flight audio channels for video programming weren’t working well, perhaps due to the turbulence. All the other audio channels, on the other hand, worked perfectly, though it took quite a lot of guesswork to figure out which channels were which since the Flights of Fancy guide was not printed in the June issue of Mabuhay, for reasons unbeknownst to me (I knew right from the bat though that channel 3 is the Filipino music channel and channel 14 is the Japanese music channel). The headphones, on the other hand, are much better than those offered by Northwest (Northwest headphones in economy have a notorious habit of pulling my hair, so I either ask for World Business Class headphones or use earphones in-flight).

Earlier, immigration and customs forms for the Philippines were distributed, but I filled up the information incorrectly, so I asked for a new set of forms. This is arguably the only time I have ever received forms in a sleeve, more so a sleeve advertising Tanduay rum (distilled by a company also owned by Lucio Tan) on the front cover. This may change as new government-issued forms are set to be released to general circulation, replacing the current, airline council-issued forms which, as a matter of fact, are perhaps the only set of forms in the world that are supported by advertising.

The in-flight entertainment ended somewhere near Taiwan as we entered Philippine airspace, and the flight attendants began collecting the headphones used on the flight. We were also asked by the purser to open the cabin windows as well. By this time, PAL began showing its airshow again, and this time, they used the correct airport diagram.

As you can see, loads on this flight were light, though it seemed that there were somewhat more passengers on this flight than on PR 434. The Japanese must now be really travel-averse due to the spread of swine flu. Earlier during the flight, the Japanese man who received a full can of Virgin Cola made a bed out of the empty seats in his row’s center section.

The clouds did not make for a good view of the islands we were flying over, but I can clearly see us flying over Samar…

…then Leyte…

…and, as we were on our final approach to Cebu City, the Camotes Islands, which politically are part of the province of Cebu.

I did notice that as the plane was landing, there was also ample space on the other side of the airport terminal (the side facing the town of Cordoba) in addition to the vast expanse on the side facing the sea. It will really make do for any expansion of the terminal.

The landing went smoothly, despite the shaking of the panel which contained the drop-down CRT and the occasional bump as we sped down the runway. During taxi, I noticed that this airport too had a golf course for the soldiers based at Benito Ebuen Air Base (I’m not sure if it is open to the public like the one in Villamor).
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Old Jul 14, 09, 10:40 am   #12
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We docked at Gate 3, the other international gate, while a Qatar Airways A330 bound for Doha was parked at Gate 2.

Oddly, Econolight, PAL’s no-frills economy class product, is not offered on this flight (Econolight is not offered on trans-Pacific, Japan, Korea, Australia, Guam and Xiamen flights), but the sticker was there anyway. It must have slipped through the cracks when PR 843 became PR 434.

Arguably, out of all the flights I have ever been on (on any airline), this one has the best flight attendant I have ever met: the one who looked like my aunt. I tried to take a picture of her, but not only did my camera’s memory card run out of available space, she was also changing her shoes (she said I “caught” her). She asked if I would be staying in Cebu, and I said I’d be transiting here en route to Manila. Apparently, some of the F/As on PR 433 would later be on the last two flights to Manila: one younger flight attendant was assigned to serve on PR 864, the second-to-last flight bound for Manila). I never really got the chance to congratulate her and thank her for a job well done, but I’ll always remember that flight attendant. It pained me when she said goodbye, and even more so as I left the plane.

IX. Arrival in Cebu/Pre-flight: PR 866, CEB-MNL

Upon reaching the gate corridor, I noticed that there were two ways to reach the arrivals area from the gate. I tried taking the door closest to me, but apparently it was closed, so I walked down the corridor to the other set of stairs near Gate 2.

The quarantine inspection area was crowded, and there were only two quarantine officers available, occupying a single cubicle. There was a long line of arriving PR 433 passengers before it split into two, but only one thermal scanner was used to scan all passengers. I promptly submitted my health declaration form to the quarantine officer. Since I checked a box indicating I went to a hospital, he asked if I was a nurse. I said no and I mentioned that I was a student, noting that I only went to the hospital (and no further than the hospital reception area) with a member of the clinic staff to see whether or not we could obtain crutches for my dad. Fortunately, I was cleared to proceed to passport control.

After getting my passports stamped (the immigration officer asked why I had two passports, and I told him that I was a dual citizen of both the Philippines and the United States), I went to baggage claim. A PAL agent earlier asked which passengers on our flight were transiting to Manila, and a lot of passengers, myself included, raised our hands. At baggage claim, I noticed that my bag was already off the baggage carousel. I tried to get my bag, but the agent told me to wait for the other passengers connecting to Manila, inspecting the boarding passes and tickets of those who were connecting. It turns out that out of the twenty-or-so people who raised their hands indicating connections to Manila, only three (myself and two guys travelling together) had boarding passes for Manila-bound flights issued in Tokyo. Everyone else, though connecting to Manila, had to check in at Cebu.

When we completed customs, the agent directed us to connections. Again, I felt traumatized by the very small elevator. The two travelling buddies loaded their cart into the elevator, with the agent following them inside afterwards. Meanwhile, I used the stairs, since I only had one small suitcase to check in, and arrived at the hallway connecting the international and domestic check-in areas. I was actually about to fall in line at the PAL domestic check-in counter when the check-in agent told me to stop and follow him to an empty counter where our bags were placed on the conveyor.

As transiting passengers, we had the luxury of not paying the P200 terminal fee in Cebu. Neither the PAL agent nor the woman staffing the booth ordered us to pay the fee, and it seemed that people didn’t really care about us paying, since our check-in was done in Tokyo anyway. Well, so much for the flimsy excuse of the check-in agent in Manila refusing to check me in all the way to Tokyo at the beginning of this trip. Even if the Mactan-Cebu International Airport Authority is complaining about losing part of their revenue stream, they should be happy people are willing to transit through their airport, if any at all.

We breezed through the security check and eventually made it to the departure area, with the agent handing me my boarding pass. However, I had to give a little gift to Tito Billy (who happened to be the agent’s supervisor) from my dad, so he brought me to his office, which was empty. Instead, he told me to give it to his secretary instead. Kindly enough, the security personnel allowed me to bypass the security check since I was screened earlier, after I gave the box of Japanese cookies to Tito Billy’s secretary to be given to him. I wonder what he’ll say to me if I write to PAL again and I stop by CEB.

The domestic departure area of Mactan-Cebu International Airport, though architecturally dated (the airport, built in the brutalist style, reminds me of NAIA-1), is fairly modest, with lots of chairs to choose from. There are a few stores to choose from, though definitely not as extensive as in NRT, and a single television in the main departure area. The only downside was that it was not as inviting as it would be in the daytime, since the lighting made it appear to be darker than usual. It was a blessing though to see that it wasn’t full, since only a few flights (the last two flights of both PAL and Cebu Pacific, as well as a Zest Airways flight, all bound for Manila, were scheduled to leave anyway.

The FIDS used here at CEB is apparently the same as that in NAIA-1.

Gate 4, the gate where our flight was set to depart from, was still handling PR 864, the other PAL flight to Manila.

With over two hours to spare, I went around the departure area, taking pictures along the way. Like in some other major Philippine airports (ILO, BCD and DVO to name a few), Marlboro is the sponsor of the smoking lounge here.

Somewhere down the hall was the Mabuhay Lounge which, after taking a quick peek, only had one passenger inside. Not only was it somewhat smaller than the international Mabuhay Lounge, but the TV worked perfectly here as well. At least I proved myself right this time: the lounges did look the same. From the outside, the lounge certainly looks different from what it did in 2001 (in 2001, the domestic Mabuhay Lounge in CEB had a 34-inch CRT television, no couches and bare beige walls).

Beside the Mabuhay Lounge was a computer station sponsored by Smart Communications, where there is free Internet access. The connection was slow at times, but it was worth it. I did notice though that they use Wi-Fi, so I went out of the computer station and continued exploring around the terminal until most of the passengers on PR 864 had already boarded. By that time, there already was a free outlet near the gate.

Unlike in Manila, Cebu has free, working Wi-Fi, sponsored by both Smart and Airborne Access, although there was a timer which indicated how long I was on. I was able to use Facebook and Yahoo! Messenger, check my mail and continue writing this TR. The connection did get cut around once or twice, but I didn’t mind at all, since if it does cut, I can always switch to the backup network. The Wi-Fi though was much faster than the connection at the computer station.

Around thirty minutes into using the computer, the gate agent began boarding passengers for PR 866. The boarding calls were done in rapid-fire sequence, with full boarding being called in around 90 seconds, much faster than in Manila (though certainly not like in Tokyo). I gave my boarding pass to the agent, but he had problems tearing off the coupon from the main boarding pass. He was able to tear it off after a while, but contrary to standard practice, I was handed the main boarding pass rather than the coupon, and I began to approach the Airbus A320 that would bring me home.

X. In-flight: PR 866

Philippine Airlines Flight PR 866
Cebu City (Mactan-Cebu International; CEB/RPVM)-Manila (Ninoy Aquino International; MNL/RPLL)
Airbus A320-200, RP-C3230
Seat 18-A (Economy window)
ETD 2035 / ETA 2155 (actual 2130)

A male flight attendant (I think one of those who was on PR 433, but I can’t be sure since I haven’t seen him) greeted us as us passengers made our way to the back. As I crossed the Mabuhay Class cabin, I quickly realized that this was one of the older (but not ancient; in PAL’s case, their A320s have three different types of seats) A320s with the seats reminiscent of the ones on their A330s: seats that I have not been able to sit on since 2001. The seats in Fiesta Class, meanwhile, had the same floral-pattern seat covers as those in their A340s. Like the wavy seats on their A330s, the A320 cabin felt warm and inviting, if not a bit crowded from the sheer number of passengers trying to load their bags onto the overhead bins. It took me quite a while just to get to my seat, having to negotiate aisle space with a bunch of other passengers. Although the seat immediately beside me was empty, there was a passenger who occupied 18-C. Like the guy who sat beside me on PR 843, he wasn’t much of a talker, and he was busy reading his copy of the Philippine Star.

The seat pitch on the A320 was okay. It appeared to be narrower than on the A330, but it was just as comfortable. I miss the footrests though on PAL’s widebody aircraft.

Although this particular A320 has drop-down LCD monitors, they were not used for the entire duration of the flight. As we pushed back, the flight attendants performed a manual safety demonstration, something that I have not seen from PAL in a very long time (which was way back in 1996, on a Fokker 50 bound for Manila from Marinduque). Not too long after they completed their demonstration, we took off for our hour-long flight to Manila.

Since this was the last PAL flight out of Cebu, no newspapers were distributed in-flight. Instead, the in-flight meal service began, and unlike the “breakfast” I had going to Cebu, my “dinner” was a bit more substantive: salted crackers, peanuts and a glass of water. I do wish though that they'd reintroduce the ensaymada, or at least the cake, on their domestic flights.

The crew was very efficient and professional on this flight, though I must say that they were a bit prone to talking to each other too much during the meal service.

My “dinner” didn’t feel like it was enough though, so I added the Snickers bar I bought in Tokyo earlier to the mix.

The rest of the flight was generally uneventful. After having “dinner”, I was able to finish the remaining five tracks of For Whom the Rock Rolls (which is a very good album despite the somewhat mangled English), play three songs on Tap Tap Revenge 2 (“Come On, Get Higher”, “Bite to Break Skin” by Senses Fail and “If Tragedy’s Appealing, then Disaster’s an Addiction” by Moneen) and take a quick glance at my recently-arranged class schedule for my first semester at the Ateneo de Manila University on an application I installed on my iPod a few weeks ago before beginning our final descent into Manila. That was fast!

Arguably the landing was the smoothest out of all the four flights I’ve been on the last week. It was also on this flight that the actual time of arrival was mentioned in the announcement (exactly 9:30 pm), so I was surprised to hear that we arrived 25 minutes early. After the initial landing announcement, a second announcement was made for passengers connecting to other PAL flights. Surprisingly enough, the purser used the intermittently-heard 1997 tagline, “Asia’s Sunniest”, in her closing, and it was indeed pleasant to hear it once again. That was the only time I’ve ever heard the tagline used on this particular trip.

Deplaning took quite a while since people quickly began filling the aisle even if the doors were still closed. However, as more people exited the plane, the faster the movement became. For posterity’s sake (and since the last time I rode an A320 was with Northwest on DTW-LAX and LAX-MEM), I just had to take a picture of my seat which, though not as comfortable as the A330 seat, made do just perfectly for a one-hour hop.

I certainly won’t be seeing this or any other PAL cabin for a while.

Akiestar is offline   Reply With Quote
Old Jul 14, 09, 10:43 am   #13
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XI. Arrival in Manila

I was greeted goodbye by the same male flight attendant who greeted me earlier entering the plane, and as I exited the aircraft and made my way to baggage claim, I ran into a lot of planes that I never really got the chance to see in a very long time until now, like this Airbus A340.

There was also another A330 beside us, an A320 and an A319.

They say that PAL was the first airline in the world to operate the complete line-up of new-generation Airbus aircraft (A320, A330 and A340), so that contiguous line of five aircraft would prove that statement right.

The baggage claim area, like the airport departure areas, wasn’t particularly busy. In fact, the departure areas were virtually empty, perhaps because no PAL flights fly late at night. Only three arriving domestic flights were going to be accommodated at that time: our flight and flights from Davao and Iloilo. The baggage carousel signs though sport a new feature: capiz-shell windows. A nice Filipino touch, if you ask me, though I’m betting it’s only temporary: Independence Day was just around the corner.

My bag was the fourth to come out onto the baggage carousel, though unlike in Cebu and Tokyo, it took quite a while to come out (actually, in Tokyo, my bag, along with my dad’s and sister’s, were on a cart being hauled to the baggage carousel where our bags were supposed to be retrieved). I quickly got my bag and proceeded to the arrival hall.

Earlier, I ran into this sign indicating that this terminal was built using Japanese ODA. The baggage claim area in Cebu sports a similar, though more worn, sign. You can truly say that East meets West in this terminal (French-designed, Japanese-funded).

Unlike in Tokyo (but like in Cebu), the arrival hall was open, and if you were intending to transfer, you have to take the elevator back to the departure hall. I don’t find it particularly problematic, though if you’re not used to the oftentimes searing Philippine heat, you may want to return to the baggage claim area to cool down.

Philippine flags were lined up on the airport support columns as I noticed the terminal’s landscaping. It’s simple, but visually pleasant.

There were a bunch of FXs (share taxis) lined up at the parking lot.

For the final picture of this trip, I took a picture of the larger garden, which looks just as pleasant as the smaller one. Soon, the car picking me up arrived, and I was on my way home.


The epilogue is arguably the hardest part to write, and it took me quite a while to think of what I wanted to say about this experience. However, having learned a lot of lessons over the last six days, I finally figured out what to say.

If you gloss over the Skytrax reviews for Philippine Airlines, while there are a bunch of positive reviews, a good majority of them are quite negative. I didn’t know whether or not I am a naïve traveller who has no appreciation for the finer things in commercial aviation, or whether or not I’m giving too much undue credit to PAL. However, I found my experience on PAL to be overwhelmingly positive, with very few hitches in-flight. They say PAL has old seats in a dingy, dirty cabin, but I found those seats to be very comfortable and the cabin to be very clean (though the passengers tend to be very messy) and bright. They say PAL has old flight attendants, but I found those “old” F/As to be some of the best ones I have ever met in all my years of flying. They say PAL has mediocre airport lounges, but I found my experience in their new Mabuhay Lounge to be far from it (though perhaps still not as good as other lounges that I have seen). They say PAL has no potential to be back among heavyweights SQ, TG or CX, but I can clearly see the potential before my eyes: an airline using what they have and making the most out of it, utilizing the greatest resource any airline can ever have: its people, and taking modernization one step at a time in a landmark showcase of prudency that was the result of PAL’s devastating 1998 bankruptcy.

Sometimes, it affords to be humble than to be boastful, to be simple than to be garish, to be practical than to be extravagant. It may be that we as passengers sometimes demand too much of our airlines, or are sometimes unable to see the simpler things in life, decrying and branding airlines as “cheap” and “horrible” for things such as a lack of personal video monitors or small airport lounges, and forgetting to look at the smaller, more intricate details. There were people who believed those Skytrax reviews and had preconceived biases against PAL, only to be proven otherwise when they got the chance to fly with them. Though I do not wish to exculpate PAL of any responsibility for poor customer service (as what I and perhaps others got to experience first-hand), this should serve as a lesson for them: that while we must work within our means, we must still use our means to bring out the best, and not the worst, in us. That arguably is one of the hardest lessons PAL has to learn.

Overall, I guess you can say that PAL is an airline that is really deserving of praise, even if there are sticking points that prevent it from reaping such praises from more reputable bodies, and even more praise from me. I trusted with all my heart that PAL will be able to excel in what it does, and I was proven correct by all measures. Hopefully in the future, I will have the opportunity to fly with them again, and experience once again the warmth of my country’s flag carrier (and perhaps enjoy their expanded Flights of Fancy offering on their refurbished 747s). Truly, Philippine Airlines, with all certainty, is Asia’s sunniest, and I hope it will be able to regain its place once again among Asia’s great airlines.

I hope you enjoyed this trip report, and once again, thank you for reading. For future reference, my next three trips are as follows:

* July 31-August 2: MNL-SIN-MNL on Cebu Pacific
* August 19: MNL-CEB-MNL on Zest Airways and Philippine Airlines
* September 5: MNL-CEB-ILO-MNL on Philippine Airlines and Air Philippines

Just as a brief closing, the following cameras were used on this trip, and will most likely be used in future TRs:

* Sony Ericsson K800i
* Canon EOS 350D
* Fujifilm FinePix F250d (not used in this TR)

Last edited by Akiestar; Jul 14, 09 at 10:17 pm
Akiestar is offline   Reply With Quote
Old Jul 14, 09, 1:01 pm   #14
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Home: Arlington, VA; Home airports: IAD/DCA/BWI
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Posts: 4,087
Thanks for sharing your experiences! Filipinos know how to search for bargains for sure.

That area in Japan with a green cover (La La Arcade) looked pretty cool!

- Pat
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Old Jul 14, 09, 1:42 pm   #15
Join Date: Nov 1999
Location: Los Angeles, CA, USA
Posts: 4,523
WOW, that was one heck of a trip report.

Thanks for sharing.

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