Hi guys. This is my first trip report on A.Net, and after thinking long and hard about what to write (because I have a very long backlog of reports to make), I decided to write about my short trip to Singapore on Philippine Airlines, arguably because there's a dearth of reports on my country's national airline. For those of you who follow trip reports on FlyerTalk, I'm one of those guys known for extremely long, detailed reports, and I intend to do the same here. (As a bonus, I'll be cross-posting my reports as well between the two sites.
Anyway, I am exceedingly grateful that I was able to fly PAL
before the brouhaha that has since beset the airline after it outsourced some company departments on October 1: since then, the PAL
Employees Association (PALEA) went (and is still) on strike, PAL
flights are split between Terminals 2 and 3 at MNL
(riding on 2P
, which is not unionized) and the airline is not operating at "full" capacity. Just recently, PALEA blockaded the PAL
Inflight Center, shutting down (for now) in-flight shopping and proper in-flight catering. However, this is also particularly memorable since it has been a while since I've last flown PAL
: the last time I flew the national carrier of the Philippines was in 2009, and very rarely do I fly them international to boot.
In the last two years since I've flown PR
, the airline had undergone several changes to keep them solvent. Many of these changes are visible on their "prestige" routes such as those to the U.S. (the refurbishment of the 747s, the introduction of the 77Ws to YVR
), are visible online (the Econolight experiment and its replacement "Fiesta Saver" fares, more frequent seat sales), or are visible in-flight ("One on One" catering, monetized exit and bulkhead row seating). But have these changes trickled down to a route such as MNL
? This is something I'd like to find out, and I guess now I figure: what better way to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of Asia's first airline by writing a report on them here?
The reason why I was headed to Singapore was because last May, I have received word that I got accepted for an Erasmus Mundus scholarship to the University of Warsaw in Warsaw, Poland, and of course, that is the story of how I ended up where I am right now. Of course, studying requires one to obtain a visa: because Poland has no embassy in the Philippines (an anomaly since the Philippines has an embassy in Poland), Filipinos who require Polish visas have to go to Kuala Lumpur to get their visas, and so I had to take it upon myself and my family to get my butt there so I can get to Warsaw by mid-September.
Unfortunately, Poland (like the rest of the EU) does not allow shipping applications in by mail, so I had to go to Kuala Lumpur personally. In mid-August, I flew CX
for the first time, headed to KUL
so I may apply for my visa (I promise to write a report on this in due time, but let me write this first :P). Luckily for me, my aunt and her family moved back to Singapore after eight months in Dubai, so I finally had a place to stay without burning holes in my parents' pockets for a ho(s)tel in KL
. But still, I had no ticket: I could have redeemed DL
miles so I can fly 3K, but they require bookings to be done at least two weeks in advance, and I only had around a week to book a flight. Fortunately, my parents agreed to pay for the trip.
A precondition of my travel was that the ticket had to be flexible: because the Polish Embassy's consular section is only open on Monday, Tuesday and Friday, I had to make sure that I can rebook my ticket easily without paying penalties in the event that the visa wasn't out yet. After poring over several airlines, it boiled down to 3K and PR
was too expensive (although they have attractive fares ex-MNL
when timed correctly), while 2P
had restrictions on available fares at the time. 3K and PR
were the cheapest airlines which met this precondition: fares were around $230 for 3K and $280 for PR
, and I was sure to book with 3K until I decided that for $50 more, I can get food and fly in a big plane, so I might as well book with PR
. Luckily, my parents consented (again), and so I booked myself on PR
, departing on August 26 and returning August 31.
In short order, I was able to generate an itinerary like this:
; departing 0615, arriving 0955
, departing 1940, arriving 2215
On August 23, I received an e-mail from the Embassy indicating that I may now get my visa, and so I was relieved that I'll be there while I'm still in Singapore, not needing to extend my itinerary any further. I booked myself on the last available "superior night class" seat on the train between Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur (I'll take a city bus up to Johor Bahru from Singapore) on August 29, and I bought a bus ticket for a midday bus going back to Singapore, which arrives at Novena Square at around 9:30 pm.
The day afterward, I picked up my (plane) ticket at the PAL
ticketing office in Cubao, near my house.
I belatedly realized however that there was a midnight flight on September 1, and so I asked for my ticket to be changed since I wanted my relatives to spend more time with me before I go home. The agent informed me that I have to pay a rebooking fee, but I told her that I called the service center the night before and I was told that I'll pay nothing if I change any part of my booking other than the fare difference. She goes and asks her supervisor, and luckily, I was rebooked on the flight that I wanted since I asked for a change in the reservation within 24 hours from booking. It led to an itinerary that looks like this:
, departing 0615, arriving 0955
, departing 0015, arriving 0350
After fixing everything and leaving the ticketing office, I was on my way to Singapore.
I. Pre-Departure: MNL-SIN
Because this flight was so early in the morning, I decided to stay with my grandmother for the night, who lives near the airport, and my grandmother's driver brought me over to Terminal 2 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at around 3:30 am. (Yes, I do not believe NAIA deserves the title of "Worst Airport in the World" according to Sleeping in Airports.)
Although I was there a full three hours before my flight was scheduled to leave, the North Wing (for international flights) remained closed and people were waiting outside in order to enter the terminal and check in. I was very surprised: how can an airline with early-morning flights keep the terminal closed? I ask the guard what time the terminal will open, and he said the North Wing will open at around 4:00 am. True enough, the North Wing opened at around 4:00 am. (The South Wing, which handles domestic flights, is open since there are flights which leave as early as 4:30 am.)
II. Pre-flight: PR 511, MNL-SIN
The North Wing did open its doors to passengers at 4:00 am, but the check-in counters were still closed, and so passengers were left to wander around the check-in area. Not a very pretty sight as the only open set of counters were the travel tax counters.
As you can see, PAL
had rearranged their check-in lines so that each counter has its own individual line. I don't know why they changed over from the old zig-zag arrangement, though. The old arrangement looked neater, though, although at least this time, there will be less people pushing and shoving their way towards the front of the line (as what happened to me before).
Anyway, as the check-in counters were closed, passengers were left guessing which counters to go to since there were also people bound for ICN
looking for their queues. Since the flight to ICN
was leaving first, the first queues to open were for passengers bound for ICN
, opening to the left side of the counters where people pay travel tax. The counters for SIN
, meanwhile, opened on the right side, and check-in for both cities opened at around 4:30 am.
There was a brief brouhaha as the line for people checking in for my flight was split into two, and people (myself included) were jumping back and forth between lines, but luckily people found their way into the right lines, and I stayed put in front of Counter 51, where I ultimately checked in for the flight.
Seat 40-K. Not bad: I like window seats on morning flights.
At NAIA Terminal 2, the terminal fee and immigration areas are located on the far right of the North Wing, one behind the other. Naturally, owing to the original design of the terminal as being intended for domestic flights only, the immigration area is much smaller than the one at Terminal 1, and even more so than the one at Terminal 3. Unsurprisingly enough, the Bureau of Immigration decided to put up a poster of themselves. I wonder how well this deters tourists from thinking that they are "supposedly" corrupt. (N.B.: I've had nothing but good experiences with the BI
, so don't start getting ideas, okay?
After immigration and the final security check, I was finally at the pre-departure area. PR
103 from LAX
had just arrived, and so there was a very long queue of wheelchair-bound elderly passengers (many of whom were Filipinos holding American passports, as I noticed) who had to take the elevator down to arrivals. Since NAIA-2 has a separate corridor for arriving passengers without provisions for elevators, people who need to use elevators to go downstairs have to go through here. A very interesting sight at 5:00 am, if I may say.
The North Wing is pretty quiet this morning.
Because the gate was still closed, I decided to wait it out at the laptop station in the middle of the North Wing. As always, the Wi-Fi at NAIA-2 still hasn't been fixed, but there's a bunch of new HP
touchscreen computers which have Internet access. But because two of the computers were non-operational and one had no Internet, only two computers were functional, and there were a bunch of people waiting to use them.
The flight, however, was delayed. I was able to have a baozi for breakfast before boarding started at 6:30 am, where a queue was formed immediately after the announcement was made. It seemed that people were ready to pounce at the closest opportunity they got. Luckily, i found myself in the middle of the line. (And as you can see, NAIA-2 finally has a new FIDS!
The gate agent takes my boarding pass, returns the stub to me, and I was on my way onboard another PR
Airbus A330: RP
-C3335. Beside it was RP
-C7471 which flew PR
103, decked out with the PAL
70th anniversary sticker. Sweet.
III. In-flight: PR 511
Philippine Airlines Flight PR 511
Manila (Ninoy Aquino International Airport; MNL/RPLL)-Singapore (Changi Airport; SIN/WSSS)
Airbus A330-300, RP-C3335
Seat 40-K (window, right side)
ETD 0615 (actual 0700) / ETA 0955 (actual 1030)
The first thing that greets me upon entry into the plane were two things: the first were cheerful (and somewhat senior, but there were also a couple of younger ones) PR
flight attendants, and karaoke boarding music. Of course, as boarding continued, I finally made it to my seat, decked out with the new headrest cover that was first used on PAL
's 77Ws, beside my favorite plane.
Boarding was prompt, but apparently even pushback was delayed owing to two factors: the first was the late arrival of food and other supplies from the PAL
Inflight Center (located in another part of the airport) and the weather in Singapore. During this time, I was able to nag my phone company to turn my roaming on since for some reason the facility via text isn't working. Luckily, although the delay was pretty bad, we were able to push back as soon as the last passengers were on board. The new PAL
safety video also came out (here
), which if I may say is significantly better than their old one (here
), but I'm still disappointed that they did not come out with a version in Filipino.
Anyway, the plane finally leaves the gate and we were on our way. As I mentioned in the thread about mobile phone use on-board, the person beside me was eagerly waiting for some text message, perhaps from his family. I kept my mouth shut, but I was saying to myself that by now his
phone should be off.
So finally, after a long delay, we were finally in the air. However, poor visibility was the event of the day: bad weather did not produce very good views.
The plane must be packed today.
At around 8:30, breakfast was being served as Thor
was playing on the IFE, and I chose the fish curry with egg and fried rice, as well as my usual apple juice. That red mug would later be filled with hot tea.
At least for me, PAL
's catering did not disappoint again. The curry was delicious and not too spicy, just the way I like it. The mamon from Red Ribbon was still soft and moist (but not warm) as if it came straight from the store, and the little fruit bowl still tasted fresh. It's sad though that right now, because of the blockade on the PAL
Inflight Center, people don't get to enjoy the same in-flight service: for example, people sitting in Mabuhay Class do not get served wine because of the blockade, and people get their food in boxes instead of proper trays.
Later on, I went to the lavatory, and snapped up this shot of myself. (Yes, now you know what I look like!
The sky seems to get better as we were flying over the South China Sea, but got worse as we were approaching Singapore. As the plane was landing, it started to rain. Sad, but this is the weather that (partially) delayed the flight, so what can we do?
As the plane was running (no pun intended) down the runway, RP
-C3195, a Cebu Pacific A319, was preparing to return to the Philippines. Most probably it was headed to MNL
, but it could also be headed for CRK
Finally, after a long flight (and an apology from the crew for the delay), the plane parks beside VT
-EDD, an Air India A320. If I remember the FIDS correctly, it was headed for DEL
In the meantime, people start standing up, preparing to leave the plane.
The crew wish all their passengers off and finally, after a very pleasant flight, I was back in Singapore.
IV. Arrival in Singapore
Although it has been only a year since I used Terminal 2 at SIN
, owing to the meticulousness of its maintenance, the terminal does not look old at all. It even proudly announces that it's Terminal 2!
There were no other planes parked beside RP
-C3335, and much of the area where the plane parked was empty.
People were crowding out at immigration, but the lines were fast, and soon enough I got my aunt's (very heavy) suitcase. (My suitcase meanwhile became my carry-on, and my backpack became a computer bag.)
Soon enough, I was headed down towards Changi Airport MRT
Station, and towards the city, where I was to take the MRT
, and then the bus, to my aunt's house (condominium) in Holland Village.
V. BONUS! Side trip to Kuala Lumpur
Singapore was largely uneventful: my aunt was not feeling well during my stay, so I had to help her out with settling in again and keeping an eye on my very rambunctious cousins. Aside from lunches, dinners and bouts at the mall, plus meeting a friend of mine who was there for studies, nothing really happened, so instead of blabbing on about what happened in Singapore, I will throw in a bonus report: Singapore-Kuala Lumpur by train!
(The bus ride was actually very uneventful, so for brevity's sake I'll leave it out, but if you guys want me to write something about it I can most certainly do that.
Trains in Singapore are operated by Keretapi Tanah Melayu (KTM
), the Malaysian rail operator, and trains go to Singapore three times a day. More trains used to come by, including two shuttle services between Singapore and Johor Bahru, but with the closure of the Tanjong Pagar railway station in mid-2011 (which is very saddening, because the station is very nice), all trains have since moved to Woodlands (up north, and only a kilometer south of Johor Bahru across the Strait of Johor), and shuttle services have since ended.
Anyway, a weird KTM
practice is the use of a 1:1 exchange rate between the Singapore dollar and the ringgit. Fares to KL
from Singapore and Johor Bahru are virtually the same, with one major difference: if in Johor Bahru a ticket is RM
39, that same ticket is S$39 coming from Singapore. So obviously, I decided to take the train from Johor Bahru, and on the evening of August 28 I took two buses from my aunt's house across the border into Malaysia.
The train was leaving at 11:55 pm, and so I was there a full two hours early with virtually nothing to do as a lot of places at JB
Sentral were already closed or closing. Of course, the arrival hall was very big, and people were waiting in the well-ventilated waiting area for trains.
Here's my train ticket.
Like my flight into Singapore, the train arrived late from Woodlands (albeit much more so), and so boarding started late. At least boarding was quick, and like the people waiting in MNL
to board PR
511, people lined up very, very quickly to board the train downstairs.
For consistency's sake, I shall add the trip information below.
Keretapi Tanah Melayu Train 24 (Senandung Sutera)
Johor Bahru (Johor Bahru Sentral)-Kuala Lumpur (Kuala Lumpur Sentral, XKL)
Coach M7, Bed 37 (top bunk)
ETD 2355 (actual 0105 +1) / ETA 0630 +1 (actual 0805 +1)
Unlike in the Philippines, where our trains are utterly horrifying (until recently, that is), KTM
Antarabandar (intercity) trains are actually quite nice. Very sleek on the outside too.
As you can see, there were top and bottom bunks in superior night class (in China, these are hard sleepers). Lots of room too for both the top and bottom bunks, but while there's a lot of room for your legs, plus a place to put your shoes, there's not a lot of ceiling room in the top bunk. Well, I have to make do: I may not like it, but I'll be sleeping for most of the journey, right?
Finally, the train leaves and we are on the way to Kuala Lumpur. The night train is not non-stop: it does make several stops along the way, like at Kempas Baru in Johor.
Seven hours later, the train finally pulls into KL
Sentral. The station's size can't possibly compare to the size of Manila's main train station, Tutuban, which is only around 1/4 the size of KL
After taking a very nice shower at the station's shower rooms (only RM
5), I had a nice breakfast of kaya toast and teh tarik, and I was on my way to the Polish Embassy.
After getting the visa at the Embassy (I apparently arrived just as the consular section was opening), I got to stroll around Suria KLCC again and Pavilion Kuala Lumpur before going to the bus stop where I would be boarding my bus back to Singapore. Although faster than the train (and on-time, too), aside from some nice views on Malaysian highways and a stop at two rest stops, the journey was largely uneventful despite going on what is arguably Southeast Asia's best highway network.
TO BE CONTINUED.
[Edited 2011-11-06 13:10:46]