When preparing for this review, we had planned to use the headline “I flew Philippine Airlines Business Class to Australia for A$836”. While that statement stands true and is still a great deal considering the typically high cash fares of Australian international Business seats, the evolving chaos on my journey meant that title no longer seemed fit.
Don’t get me wrong, the in-flight portion of this trip was amazing. Both flights had a fantastic crew, generous food and drink, a good selection of inflight entertainment and comfortable seating.
On the other hand, the ground service was by far the worst I have ever experienced. That’s coming from someone who works at an airport and understands that delays happen and staff shortages are a daily concern. My issue was with Philippine Airlines’ appalling communication and staff simply ignoring passengers.
In this post:
- How I Booked This Flight
- The Chaos Begins: Checking In At Kuala Lumpur
- Philippine Airlines A321 Business: Kuala Lumpur To Manila
- Arriving In Manila
- Too Much Of A Hassle
- Checking In At Century Park Hotel
- Day Two: Hotel Quarantine
- Back To The Manila Airport
- Boarding At Manila
- Philippine Airlines A330 Business: Manila to Sydney
- Arriving In Sydney
- Summing Up: my take
How I Booked This Flight
As a travel addict, I spend an unhealthy amount of time searching for the best flight deals. At this point, it’s pretty much a requirement for employment at Flight Hacks.
Back in April, I was searching Google Flights and discovered Philippine Airlines was offering cheap Business Class fares from Asia to Australia. The loophole was that while Manila to Sydney was selling for at least A$3,500 in Business, you could start your journey in Kuala Lumpur, fly to Manila, and then jump on the exact same Manila to Sydney flight for a total of A$836 one-way. Return flights were even cheaper in each direction at A$1,200-A$1,300 for a round-trip booking.
Similar deals could be found with other Southeast Asian departure points, and many of these are still wide open for booking.
Tip: Check out our comprehensive guide to Finding Cheap Flights On Google Flights!
The Chaos Begins: Checking In At Kuala Lumpur
I arrived fashionably early for a scheduled 1:10 pm departure. After locating the appropriate check-in desk, I must look Australian as a friendly Philippine Airlines representative approached me asking if I am continuing to Sydney. She informs me of a ‘schedule change’ that involved a 22-hour delay, meaning the airline would sort out accommodation for me in either Kuala Lumpur or Manila. At this stage, I was feeling good about a free Philippine holiday.
By midday, a group of around thirty passengers were in the same situation and had gathered at the service desk, waiting for someone to tell us if we would travel to Manila or not. With just an hour until departure, and check-in now closed it was clear we wouldn’t be travelling anywhere today.
But, at the last second, we were informed that we would continue to Manila as planned, where Philippine Airlines would organise accommodation before an ADHOC flight to Sydney the following day. I was checked in 35-minutes before departure and told to take my bag to oversize as the regular belt was now closed. Following this was a quick train ride to the KLIA Satellite building and a nice jog to the gate which was held open for disrupted passengers.
Philippine Airlines A321 Business: Kuala Lumpur To Manila
I took my place in 3K, a window seat onboard the Airbus A321 that would take me across to Philippine Airlines’ hub.
I catch a lucky break with no seat neighbour considering the 2-2 layout, and am offered a welcome glass of Louis De Sacy Grand Cru champagne. I also request some water following my mad dash to the gate, and am pleased to receive a choice of hot or cold towel before departure.
The old recliners are wide and plush, basic but comfortable. A small cocktail table extends from each side of the centre armrest, with USB power provided below.
Legroom is likened to an Economy Class exit row, and the recline isn’t anything to write home about. There is no IFE screen, disappointing on a 4-hour international flight, but an appropriate selection of entertainment can be accessed through the myPAL app.
Once we were in the air, the wonderful crew promptly offered a garden salad with chicken and bread. The drinks selection was plentiful, but I chose to continue with champagne.
Shortly afterwards, mains were served. For me, it was beef brisket, served with mash and vegetables. To finish was an apricot dessert of some sort, with tea and coffee to follow.
For a short four-hour flight, Philippine Airlines’ meal service left nothing to be desired. The crew were attentive, friendly and genuinely happy to be onboard.
Arriving In Manila
We touched down in Manila bang on schedule at 5:10 pm, and having received zero information about our overnight transit, I proceeded towards immigration in the hope of collecting my suitcase and working out a suitable hotel for the night. Along with others on the delayed service, I was told to go back the way I came and find the transfer desk where hotel bookings had been arranged. This is where the real problems started.
The transfer desk was already quite busy, and despite being one of the first off the plane, it took a solid hour to get to the front of the line. Here, I counted seven staff, with two being somewhat helpful towards passengers and the other five waiting for their shift to end.
The lack of communication was simply appalling. At no point were we told any detail surrounding the nature of the delay, when we could access checked luggage, where we would sleep tonight or when we would depart the airport for our hotel. All communication was spread like high school rumours throughout the now 48 stranded passengers.
Just before 8 pm, there had been no announcement, food or water. At the same time, I had asked for some water, the staff member received a call on her personal mobile. Without hesitation she answered the call, putting her finger up to hush me. Following the call she replied, “What did you want?” while my mouth was wide open in shock at just how rude the staff were. Thankfully, I was able to get a bottle of water – mmm dinner is served.
Too Much Of A Hassle
The time was now 10:51 pm, 5 hours and 41 minutes after landing in Manila, and we had all been packed onto a bus which was apparently headed to a hotel. Although, I wouldn’t have known this if I didn’t pester the staff before getting onboard.
But, by far my favourite interaction for the evening was on the way to the bus, as we passed our checked baggage that was stacked up next to the arrivals carousel. Chasing after the staff member who was not in the slightest keen to acknowledge my existence, I asked if we could collect our bags. I kid you not, he said “Don’t worry about them, it is too much of a hassle,” – wow.
Checking In At Century Park Hotel
The drive took about 40-minutes with traffic before we arrived at the Century Park Hotel in Metro Manila. At check-in hotel staff assigned rooms, and gave each guest a dinner voucher for what was now a midnight feast, as well as access to the breakfast and lunch buffet for the following day. This was the minimum expected after asking if we would be able to venture into Manila.
We were instructed to remain within the hotel at all times, and only within our rooms or the hotel restaurant. This was enforced with both airline and immigration staff at the hotel entrance and ground floor lifts recording our movements.
The room was well sized but showing its age with an incredibly firm bed. At this point, I was too tired to care and fell asleep quite easily.
Day Two: Hotel Quarantine
Apart from breakfast, lunch and complaining about Philippine Airlines with other standard passengers, there wasn’t much to do during the day. We weren’t allowed access to the hotel pool, and leaving the property to explore Manila was strictly enforced. I’m not sure why this was the case but didn’t bother asking as I knew it would be a waste of my time.
Back To The Manila Airport
To my surprise, the bus turned up as promised at 5 pm and after checking everyone was onboard as we headed back to the airport. Interestingly we were dropped off and cleared via arrivals immigration, before heading back to the dreaded transfer desk.
It’s worth mentioning that there was no priority check-in, lounge access, screening or boarding throughout the entire journey. In fact, I was last in line as the staff forgot to print my boarding pass, instead telling me to go to the gate and get it printed there. If you work at an airport, you’ll know that entering the international sterile area without a boarding pass is a huge no-go.
After security checks, we were taken into this dark and tiny dungeon with no explanation. I assume there was some sort of checked baggage screening here, as other passengers found their checked luggage scattered throughout. Alas, mine was nowhere to be found but on enquiry, the staff said “It’s probably on the plane”. Indeed I knew that my luggage was most certainly not on the plane.
Tip: get luggage tracking and compensation from Blue Ribbon Bags; $5 will get you $1,000 worth of cover even when the service tracks and delivers your bag after 96h!
Boarding At Manila
Boarding was a complete cluster. Apart from being delayed 50-minutes without any announcement, there was no sense of structure. At this point, I had decided Philippine Airlines staff could not organise a chicken burger at KFC.
There was a dedicated priority line, which I was in being anxious to finally get back to the land of plenty. With an entire Airbus A330 worth of passengers squeezed into the small gate area, there was soon no room to line up and instead it was a first-in best-dressed affair. I honestly don’t know how they could have done a worse job here.
Philippine Airlines A330 Business: Manila to Sydney
Once onboard, the transformation of service was astounding. I received a warm welcome and was shown to my seat by Kara, the onboard leader. She offered a choice of Orange or Four Seasons juice, alongside a hot or cold towel.
The Business Class cabin caters for up to 18 passengers in a 1-2-1 layout. It’s the same Thompson Vantage XL seat that is used by Qantas, and much loved for good reason. Excluding the colour scheme, some elements are exactly the same down to the location of the light and remote.
I was parked at the back in 5A, a window seat that is situated closer to the aisle. Even numbered window seats are your best bet for maximum privacy.
By my side was plenty of storage for my phone, laptop, headphones and other portable gadgets. You can charge up with a universal power socket and USB port, located next to the small remote with which you could operate various seat or screen controls.
The main seat control panel is also found here, with intuitive controls to manipulate your seat. Pictures show exactly what pressing each button will do and while simple to operate, I found this to offer less control over each surface.
The tray table, which slides directly from the side console, is large enough for meal service and getting some work done. If you need to get out while the tray is deployed, the aisle armrest drops for easy access.
An amenity pillow, blanket and amenity kit was found at each seat. Inside an eye mask, socks and slippers, toothbrush and toothpaste, hand lotion and cologne were found. Basic headphones are provided.
Shortly after departure, the crew offered a drinks service with my choice the Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay. This was served alongside cashew nuts.
Dining orders had already been taken on the ground, with main options of Grilled Chicken with Fried Rice, Grilled Salmon with Potato Mash or Braised Pork Belly. I had selected the pork, which first came with a fresh salad and bread rolls.
Dessert was a choice of ice cream, fresh fruit or cheese and crackers. As a sweet tooth, I had to go with ice cream.
Philippine Airlines has a functional inflight entertainment system. While the library wasn’t as wide as other carriers, there is a well-balanced selection to keep most passengers entertained onboard.
I felt pretty refreshed after a solid few hours of sleep, thanks to the comfortable and wide seat in bed mode. After a coffee and some fresh fruit, it’s time for a breakfast of cold cuts as the omelette option went quickly.
Arriving In Sydney
After boarding late we land in Sydney 43 minutes past the rescheduled arrival time. Immigration clearance is super fast thanks to automatic processing via SmartGates and I now hope for speedy luggage collection in order to make my domestic flight. I wish I was as skilled as other travellers, but for longer trips checked luggage is hard to avoid.
Long story short, staffing issues at Sydney delayed our baggage until two hours after arrival, meaning I missed my domestic connection and was forced to rebook at my own expense. Philippine Airlines outsources to DNATA in Sydney, and while their staff were fantastic, I was not able to get this expense covered by the airline (Just one reason we love our AMEX Platinum Cards that come with travel insurance). Once hour three was achieved, I filed a missing bag claim.
Fast forward six days and I get a call to say my suitcase has been found and would be shipped to Australia “soon”. At the time of writing, eleven days after arrival, I am yet to receive any update or get through to staff on the phone.
Summing Up: my take
With this being the lowest scoring Flight Hacks review, I feel it prudent to explain how I have rated this flight.
- Ground Experience (2/20): I’m sure you can work out this score.
- Lounge (0/20): Although provided, I was unable to access the lounge due to pointless delays in both Kuala Lumpur and Manila.
- Seat & Cabin (17/20): A321 cabin showed its age but was perfectly comfortable and the A330 hard product was fantastic.
- Crew & Service (10/20): The attitude and service from the ground staff was appalling, although inflight service was top-notch, hence half marks here
- Food & Beverage (17/20): Fresh and tasty onboard selection to cater for all travellers.