It had been less than a year since my uneventful experience on TAAG Angola Airlines, yet I seemed be finding myself flying on yet another airline with questionable safety practices. While TAAG appears to have largely fixed their issues, I’m not sure the same can be said about Cebu Pacific. They have been involved in several incidents within the last few months alone, most of which were relatively harmless landing mishaps. Unlike my trip to Angola, however, the reasons for this weekend getaway were much more straightforward.
Although my summer student exchange trip in Hong Kong had been phenomenal thus far, my roommate and I felt that we needed a weekend getaway from the tedious MTR train rides, lack of personal space, and the general hustle and bustle of any large city. Singapore, Taiwan, and Thailand were considered, but the Philippines was just so inexpensive that we couldn’t resist.
I was obviously the one arranging the trip, and alerted my friend that we were booking flights on blacklisted airlines. His response: “Southwest just had an accident in New York and that Asian airline crashed in San Francisco, so I think it’s the non-blacklisted airlines we should be worried about!”
Without questioning his logic, I proceeded to book our weekend trip before he could have any second thoughts.
Cebu Pacific’s website looks pristine and functions flawlessly. In fact, I would say it’s significantly better than national carrier Philippine Airlines’ site. However, Cebu Pacific is an ULCC, which means that any add-ons cost extra. I was completely fine with that, but when they added a $59 HKD “web administration fee”, I was less than pleased to say the least. Considering this unavoidable fee was not advertised in the original fare, it was completely misleading and I’m sure would be illegal in the USA. Oh well, the Philippines is not the U.S.!
Anyway, seat selection can only be done for a fee so we just left our allotted seats, 18A & 18B, unchanged.
Feeling too hungover to deal with the MTR and Airport Express, we elected for the 50 minute taxi drive to Chep Lap Kok from our university in Sha Tin. The weather was rather terrible, so I was hoping our flight would be unaffected.
Being the first time I had ever departed from HKIA, I was blown away as I walked into the check-in area. This airport had great architecture, many open spaces, and was well-maintained.
There were three check-in desks open for our flight, and we were next in line. It seemed they were having issues at each of the desks, as we waited roughly 15 minutes until a desk freed up. The agent was emotionless, and the check-in process took longer than I would have thought considering we had no bags. She asked to see our return tickets to ensure that we had plans to depart the Philippines. Nonetheless, check-in was completed successfully, and she also informed us that the flight was operating on-time.
5J has such creative boarding passes. Note how she circled the blank “gate” field:
Security and immigration was a breeze, although immigration always seems to take twice as long compared to others thanks to my HK student visa. Our gate was not yet posted on the FIDS, so we hung out by the McDonalds until our gate was announced.
I can’t recall our exact gate of departure, but it was in the 500s. We followed signs towards our gate area, only to find ourselves at an apparent shuttle bus station. I was slightly confused, but it made sense shortly after. Our flight was to depart from that satellite terminal, where the few narrowbodies that fly into HKG operate from.
Our aircraft arrived a little late from MNL, but I was glad to see we’d at least be departing sometime this evening. My expectations for this airline were as low as they could go.
They have a great livery though, there’s no doubt about that.
Boarding began late at about 15 minutes before the scheduled departure time, although I was impressed with how quickly they turned around the aircraft.
Date: 25 July 2013
Airline: Cebu Pacific Air
Flight: 5J 119
Aircraft: Airbus A320-214
Aircraft Registration: RP-C3242
Departure City: Hong Kong, SAR
Departure Airport: Hong Kong International Airport (HKG / VHHH)
Arrival City: Manila, Philippines
Arrival Airport: Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL / RPLL)
Scheduled Departure Time: 7:30 PM
Actual Departure Time: 7:49 PM (19 minutes late)
Scheduled Arrival Time: 8:20 PM
Actual Arrival Time: 8:23 PM (3 minutes late)
Estimated Load Factor: 100%
As I entered the fresh-looking A320, I was in immediate shock. These flight attendants were HOT; easily the most attractive group of cabin crew members I had ever seen. Bonus points for Cebu Pacific right away! Things took a turn for the worse when I quickly realized that Cebu Pacific’s seats were the most uncomfortable, cramped contraptions I have probably ever sat in. It wasn’t just the tiny amount of legroom, but the ergonomics of the seat were absolutely appalling. This was going to be an uncomfortable flight.
Throughout the boarding process, pre-recorded safety announcements were played over the PA.
Even though boarding began late, everyone was seated and ready to go by the time our departure time came around.
However, we pushed back about 20 minutes late without any explanation, and the flight attendants conducted a manual safety demonstration. We then taxied at a painstakingly slow pace to runway 7R where our aircraft performed a rather unspectacular takeoff into the rainy Hong Kong sky.
I noticed the FAs serving meals to select passengers throughout the plane, so I tried to order something from B.O.B. menu. I was told to “wait a minute”, which I thought was kind of weird. I then figured that the passengers being served must have pre-ordered their meals on the internet.
The cabin crew eventually came down the aisle with the cart offering drinks, meals, and snacks for sale. The B.O.B. menu was actually very comprehensive and appealing. They offered hot meals and various types of drinks, which was night and day compared to the crap that is sold on the B.O.B. menus of U.S. carriers.
Only cash was accepted on this flight, which is always somewhat of an inconvenience.
I ordered some type of beef meal, which wasn’t bad at all.
While they lacked some of the refinement of the big Asian players, this Cebu Pacific crew was very friendly in a much more down-to-earth way. The smiles were natural, and they were comfortable conversing with us in English.
The captain announced our descent over the PA in incomprehensible English, and I was interested to see what kind of landing was in store for us. I thought a runway excursion was unlikely because of MNL’s long runway, but that still left the possibility of grazing over the approach lights like another Cebu Pacific flight did just last month. The weather in MNL was perfect, so I figured the chances of a runway undershoot or overshoot were slim. Oh wait…
Cebu Pacific managed to exceed expectations though, and our landing was an incredibly smooth one into Ninoy Aquino airport. We made a swift taxi to Terminal 3, where we were on stand about 3 minutes behind schedule. Not bad!
Of course the jetway was broken, so we exited the aircraft via airstairs, and then climbed back up the jetway stairs. The terminal, considering how new it was, could not have been in a more sorry state. Moving sidewalks were broken, ceiling panels were missing, and it just had a general dilapidated feel to it. Perhaps it was just the arrivals section, but I was not impressed to say the least. With that said, immigration was painless and we were soon on our way to our hotel in Intramurous.
I was actually pretty impressed with Cebu Pacific. Very inexpensive ticket prices, modern aircraft, great cabin crew, and an on-time arrival are hard to beat. These aspects left me pleasantly surprised, however the hidden unavoidable booking fee and the absolutely atrocious seats really detracted from the entire experience. I don’t think being an ULCC really excuses either of those things. I would definitely fly Cebu Pacific on a sub 2-hour flight, but for the sake of my back, I would likely pay a premium to sit in a more comfortable seat on another airline for anything longer than that.
We had two nights to explore Manila, and I was blown away with how friendly the Filipinos were! I don’t think I’ve ever been treated so well by complete strangers in my entire life, and my friend completely agreed. Perhaps I was just accustomed to the Hong Kong locals often avoiding eye contact and making all efforts to steer clear of me, but I was still very surprised.
Additionally, the food was fantastic and the USD goes a LONG way. I am surprised this isn’t a more popular tourist destination, but I for one know I will be back to the Philippines.
Our hotel was situated in Intramurous, which is the historical district of Manila. While it was great for sightseeing during the day, it was quite a hike from Makati, which is where all nightlife and entertainment is located.
These people were frantically asking me to take a photo of them:
Our Hotel, The Bayleaf Intramurous, was incredibly nice for the price we paid.
Thank you for reading, and keep an eye out for my next two Trip Reports!
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