This is my first trip report so please go easy on me Actually, I’ve been lurking here on A.net for the last ten years, and have read some amazing TRs so I suppose it’s my time to share now. I travel between MNL & YVR every few months, usually on Business Class with CX or JL, with the odd PR flight thrown in for good measure. But it’s been two years since my last PR flight on this route, and I have yet to try their 777-300ER so I decided to fly with them this time. Besides, PR TRs are quite rare on A.net, especially on their “Mabuhay” Business Class, so hopefully I can give you a little insight on the experience. My apologies in advance for the pic quality as I was only using my iPhone.
PR operates from the small Terminal 2 for both their international and domestic flights. The terminal is a V-shape with two wings. The South Wing is for domestic flights with 7 contact gates, while the North Wing is for international flights with 5 contact gates. Both wings are actually the same size, however the international wing has to accommodate widebodies hence the reduced number of gates.
The entire terminal was originally designed for domestic ops only, so the international wing has the feel of a “temporary” terminal, with the terminal fee and immigration counters haphazardly placed in awkward locations on both ends of the check-in lobby. The post-security side also has minimal facilities and amenities, with only one duty free shop and a couple of local fast food outlets. But this being the Philippines, there is ample room for a Christian Bookstore
Anyway… I arrived 3 hours prior to my flight, as one can never predict the line-ups in all of Manila’s terminals. There was a small queue to enter the terminal for luggage pre-screening. I’m surprised no one was checking tickets at the entrance, as only passengers are allowed to enter the terminals in the Philippines (with the exception of Terminal 3 – why this is the case is beyond me).
I lined up at the Mabuhay Business Class counters, both of which had no one in line. Each PR flight has dedicated counters for economy, but there are only two counters to serve C class pax and frequent flyer elites for ALL flights. One counter was already occupied with a large family checking in, while the other one was assisting an elderly couple. I waited for about 5 minutes and was immediately waved by the friendly agent as soon as the older couple was done. I was told that C class was empty, while Y was full – typical on PR flights. I asked to change my seat assignment from 2H to 1G, as I knew looking at the seat map the day prior that 1D was occupied while 1E was not. With an empty C Class, what are the chances that 1E will be taken up? Actually, I preferred 1A or 1C as these are always last to be assigned (PR blocks these seats for airport assignment only after check-in closes), but the agent told me to ask at the lounge after check-in cut off time.
So with boarding pass & lounge invitation issued, off I go to pay the terminal fee of 550 Pesos (reduced from 750 Pesos just a few weeks prior). Next was immigration and the line up was awful! With flights to BKK/DEL & other regional destinations departing within the next hour or two, the wait was long (about 30 minutes). This is where PR fails its premium passengers – the lack of priority lanes for C class pax or FF elite members. I had a chance to chat (or in this case argue) while waiting in line with the PR manager on duty and was told that immigration authorities have control over this and not PR. We all know this is bollocks because PR can pay for a priority lane if they wanted to – after all anything can be bought in the Philippines, especially the government. But I suppose with their financial situation, and the fact the C fares on PR are generally a bargain compared to others, there is no incentive for them to offer a superior premium experience on the ground.
Anyway, with the immigration ordeal over I proceeded to security screening next. No line-up and quite efficient for the Philippines I must say (or inefficient considering the water bottle in my bag went through unnoticed!), with the exception of shoe removal. Why does this country blindly follow the rules and regulations of its former colonial master on the other side of the Pacific when pretty much every other country in the world doesn’t require the removal of shoes anymore? I don’t think it’s due to Cat. 2 because this had been going on long before the downgrade. Oh well, I digress. In a country where common sense isn’t so common, you just go with the flow…
Past security, the gate area is open concept for the five gates. It is quite cramped with not enough seating for everyone because like I said earlier, they had to hastily make room for a duty free shop and some outlets to “make it international”. Also, because flights to the US, Canada & Australia require secondary screening and/or document check, some gates are cordoned off with ropes to create a secure holdroom, making the whole area even more cramped.
With over 2 hours to kill before my flight, I held off on going to the Mabuhay Lounge in favour of people spotting in the gate areas. One thing that annoys me about Philippine airports is the very loud PA system. They make hundreds of announcements about things most people couldn’t care less about, and each is done twice just in case people didn’t hear them the first time. The flight to BKK/DEL was overbooked by 20 pax. They made announcements looking for BKK-bound volunteers to offload in exchange for a complimentary hotel room/meals, 3000 Pesos (USD70) spending money and a confirmed seat the next day. I saw some DEL-bound pax volunteering but were denied as DEL is only served 3 x a week via BKK and the next flight was not for another couple of days.
After a stroll around the gate areas, I headed to the lounge. As far as premium lounges go, this would not be considered one of the better ones. In fact, it’s hardly a lounge, more like an after-thought, with none of the bells & whistles of its Asian brethren. Just a Spartan room with tables, chairs and a few couches. No showers, business centres, etc… But compared to the chaos brewing in the gate areas, I suppose this would be considered a sanctuary. The food offerings were limited: sandwiches, sushi, a hot dish (penne with tomato sauce), and Arroz Caldo (Filipino version of the Chinese congee). I always have Arroz Caldo as a midflight snack when traveling PR on C class, and it’s been quite a while so I decided to have a bowl. It was just as delicious as I recalled. The bar area is small and no top shelf liquor is available – only basic ones. And I don’t understand why they did not have San Miguel Beer, perhaps one of the greatest beers in the world and in my books the best product the country produces! Oh well… I decided to stick with red wine to get me in the mood. I always love going on long haul flights after a couple of glasses.
About 45 minutes before the flight and after check-in cut off, I visited the lounge reception to ask for a seat change to 1A or 1C. The ladies informed me that the flight is overbooked by 15 pax, and they have yet to close check-in. Did a group just book within the last 3 hours? I thought the check-in agent told me C class was empty. Yikes! There goes the empty seat next to me. They asked me to have a seat and will inform me as soon as check-in closes. I had another glass of red wine, and after about five minutes they informed me that check-in had closed, and that both seats were still available. Would I care for a window or aisle seat? I took the window, a call was made to the supervisor to release the seat, and within a few seconds I had my newly-printed boarding pass. I was hoping that there were a few no-shows and that the aisle seat next to me would remain empty. Why would those two seats still remain open then if check-in had already closed? I thank the ladies and left for the gate.
Friday, February 3, 2012
Philippine Airlines Flight PR116
Manila (MNL) – Vancouver (YVR)
Boeing 777-300ER (RP-C7777)
Seat 1A (changed from 2H and 1G)
STD 19:45 ATD 20:18 Gate N5
Wheels up 20:36 Wheels down 15:08
STA 16:00 ATA 15:18 Gate 71
Block Time: 12 hours 15 minutes
Actual Flight Time: 10 hours 32 minutes
I arrived at the gate and went through document check and secondary screening: bags x-rayed (I had already drank my water bottle that passed through the main screening earlier), shoes off and a full pat down. It was already 10 minutes past the scheduled boarding time but boarding had yet to start. The whole gate area was a sea of humanity with no place to sit, and a line had already formed. I asked a security agent if there was a priority lane for C Class pax, and he escorted me directly to the front of the line. As soon as I got there, I saw my fellow C Class pax already waiting and we were immediately motioned by the gate agent to begin boarding prior to him making the PA announcement for everyone else.
Boarding was done through Door 1L only as Terminal 2 only has single bridge gates. I was greeted by two cabin attendants and directed me to my seat. I’m quite familiar with PR’s old recliner seats on the A343, but this is my first time on the new Recaro seats that have been installed on the 744 fleet, and improved further for the 77W. While not as fancy as CX or SQ, the new seat is a big leap in the right direction for PR. The only disappointing aspect is the 2-3-2 configuration, but what the heck? Other airlines like JL, AF & KL have the same configuration, and PR’s legroom and recline is as good as QR’s on the 77L/77W. I may just stick with PR for my MNL/YVR runs now instead of JL, especially that NRT-YVR has now been downgraded to a 763 with those awful recliner seats.
While boarding was underway, hot towels were given, and the pre-departure beverage service was done. On PR, it is usually a choice of water, OJ or a mixed tropical fruit drink. I asked for champagne and the friendly male cabin attendant came back with the whole bottle and poured me a glass. I didn’t notice the label, it’s usually non-vintage anyway and on my previous PR flights it’s usually Piper-Heidsick. But I didn’t really care, just give me bubbles anytime and I’m a happy camper.
Boarding was completed in no time (quite a feat for a fully loaded high density configuration 77W using one door only). In the end, we had 367 seats out of 370 occupied. Not bad for YVR, and considering that this is the 3 x a week terminator flight, not the 4 x a week A343 that continues to Las Vegas. The seat next to me remained empty so I suppose there were no-shows. Across the aisle, 1E & 1G also remained empty so had I stayed there I would still have had an empty seat next to me. However, a ground agent went on board and I overheard her discussing with the purser that there was a double-seating on seat 35C in economy, and that there were no other seats in the back. The purser told her to bring the passenger up front and take 1G. The purser wanted it done as quickly as possible with no fuss so that we could get on our way. Now, I am in no way an elitist (OK I’m lying), but shouldn’t they be looking at the manifest first? There must be a frequent flier elite member there or someone else more deserving. I mean, there is nothing wrong with upgrading, but when you bring someone up front who looked like they just spent a year in a trailer park, then decide to play with their seat to a full recline and sleep while the plane is still on the ground, and when told by the flight attendant not to decided to place their feet on the arm rest….. I felt sorry for the business traveller sitting on 1D and the look of horror on his face said it all.
Anyway, the departure time went by and we hadn’t pushed back yet. The purser announced that baggage loading was yet to be completed. The captain came on the PA and apologized, but promised that we would be arriving ahead of schedule as flying time was a quick 10 hours 45 minutes instead of the scheduled 12 hours 15 minutes due to favourable tailwinds. Amenity kits were then handed out. PR now has Bally kits, but the cosmetics were by Clarins. My champagne was topped up one more time too so I was really happy.
Dinner orders were also taken. I perused through the menu and noticed that there’s a heavy emphasis on Filipino food now. On my previous PR flights, it was mostly Chinese & other Asian influenced. I was disappointed though that the menu items lacked explanation – not for me as I understand Filipino, but for other travellers who may not be familiar with some of the dishes but would probably want to sample them had they known what they are.
Pushback commenced 33 minutes behind schedule and we taxied to Runway 06. There was no line up, quite rare for MNL with its one main runway, and we were soon on our way with ta textbook powerful take-off of a 77W.
Dinner service started as soon as the seatbelt signs were off. The presentation was OK – they could do better with proper salt and pepper shakers – but the taste was just as good as any airline. I’ve had worse on CX especially since their recent cutbacks. However, just like in the lounge, drink selection left something to be desired. I stuck with champagne and switched to red wine after the main course, mostly to accompany my cheese. There was no wine selection, they served only what was loaded onboard, just like a restaurant with only a house wine.
One thing I was disappointed with was dessert. PR used to serve a proper dessert – a choice of a cake slice with fruits, or cheese with fruits - but now they just have a tasting platter of a small mousse cake and some cheese and crackers. I’d rather have a big serving of one or the other. Anyway, ice cream is still available if requested but I did not see it come out of the galley at all.
After dinner, the cabin lights were dimmed and I slept for a solid four hours. As soon as I woke up, we had just crossed the international date line with another 5 hours to go. A cabin attendant saw me awake and asked if I wanted some snacks. I was still full from dinner so I declined. Yes, I declined even my beloved Arroz Caldo. But I asked for a cup of coffee, which was quickly brought to me. I then played around with the IFE system and watched Ocean’s 13 again. Movie selection was good, but I love heist movies and it’s been a while since I’ve seen any of the Ocean series. The TV program selection however was quite limited so that was a little bit of a disappointment, but more than made up for by the music selection.
About 1.5 hours before landing, lights were turned on, and the purser went on the PA to wish us a good morning and inform us that breakfast is about to be served as we had just over 2 hours to go. I thought this was odd since the airshow map clearly stated that we had 1.5 hours to go, but then it could have been a glitch or something. I’m also used to PR waking up pax 4 hours before landing to serve breakfast because the cabin attendants don’t like rushing prior to arrival. Again, this is a step in the right direction, allowing the pax to have as much rest as possible. Breakfast was OK. I chose another Filipino option for my main course.
After breakfast, I took one more time to freshen up in the lavatory. I thought it was odd that we were already making landfall over Vancouver Island and the cabin attendants were still clearing the meals. The captain went on the PA to give as an update on arrival and the weather, and indeed we were about to commence descent. I was starting to think that the service timing of the cabin attendants were off. All of a sudden, there was a rush in the cabin to distribute immigration forms, collect the headsets, etc… In no time, I saw the lower mainland and we were on left downwind for Runway 26R. I could still hear a lot of dishes and trays banging in the galley and we were already turning final. Gears were already down and the cabin attendants were still securing the galley. They were still wearing their service vests as we were over western Richmond, and I overheard the purser complaining to one of her colleagues that she had a miscommunication with the captain about the flight time. So the airshow map was indeed correct.
We were literally crossing the threshold of 26R when the last attendant took her seat and buckled up. Anyway, touchdown was extremely smooth, which is very typical of PR. I don’t know what it is, but Philippine aviation in general places a great emphasis on smooth landings. When I converted my Canadian Pilot License to a Filipino license, I recalled reading on the Philippine Civil Aviation Regulations that pilots can be fined/suspended for rough landings! What the bleep??? Who decides what a rough landing is? On domestic flights around the country, smooth landings are out of the question when you have to land an A320 on a 6,000 ft runway! But I must say, all my international flights with PR have had smooth landings, and this one was no exception.
A quick taxi to the terminal and I gathered my belongings and went to door 2L. PR uses single bridge gates at YVR and I knew that they would be using 2L. I think my fellow pax were expecting 1L, so I was first in line and the first one out the door. There was no line up at immigration, which is a bonus for PR116 as it arrives in the afternoon after all the Asian heavies had long gone. With JL, CX, and PR106, immigration is always jam-packed. As is typical for YVR, bags took forever to come out. The first bags that arrived were non-priority. I’m not sure if this is a MNL or YVR issue. Anyway, the priority bags soon appeared and mine were some of the first to appear. I was out of the terminal in 30 minutes and believe me when I say this is a record for YVR.
Hope you enjoyed reading. Return trip at the end of the week to come!
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