This is a review of Philippine Airlines Manila to London flights. There are no reviews online that I can find so I thought I’d document our trip. The direct Manila to London Heathrow service started early November. It is now mid December and I am in the air. By the end of this review I will of landed in the UK.
The plane is empty (maybe a fifth full). I’m sure some people are wondering how the Philippine Airlines (PAL) MNL to HTR direct service compares to the Middle Eastern airlines like Qatar, Etihad and Emirates. The price is lower at the moment with PAL, the travel time shorter, and there is no stop half way in the UAE. So the big questions I will try to answer are: 1) is the PAL service as good as the other airlines 2) is a direct flight the better option and 3) can I cope with such a long direct flight?
Booking on the Philippine Airlines Website
Booking the flight through the Philippine Airlines website wasn’t as easy as elsewhere. The site looks 5-10 years old and doesn’t have the fluidity and features of modern websites. We weren’t able to choose seats even though we were shown a seating diagram. We called at a later date and were able to choose seats on the phone.
The main problem with booking online was that they accepted the order, then changed their mind and refused to take the payment, even though my credit card had authorised the transaction. This meant a while on the phone waiting to speak to someone. They couldn’t help and just said we’d have to try again after 24 hours.
The flights were advertised as 12 1/2 hours, with the MNL to HTR leg longer at 13 hours and 55 minutes. However after booking we were informed that an extra 90 minutes or so would be added onto each flight. Then when on board they changed the flying time to London to 15 hours and 40 minutes. The flight landed well over an hour late so it worked out a 16 hour flight. This resulted in us missing our connecting flight. My experience with long haul in the past has been on time generally, with the airlines making up any lost time by putting their foot on the gas. It felt like PAL flew as economically as possible.
The Manila Airport Experience
Manila airport’s international Terminal 1 is not somewhere I enjoy. In fact it may be one of the worst terminals I have been to. So I was delighted on the day of departure when I realised we were leaving from Terminal 2. It is nothing special but there were no crowds, enough space and we got through queues fairly quickly.
In-flight we immediately noticed the seat quality. First (or business) class seating looked nothing like the seats on the Middle Eastern airlines, a major downturn in quality on PAL, although these seats cost just $500 extra each. Then through to economy class and the seats looked very “pokey”. However once we sat down I thought they were comfortable enough. I couldn’t say if there is a difference in comfort between these and the ones on other airlines, but they do look worse.
Everything seems to be ultra-budget on this plane. The velcro is coming apart on the back of the seats. The TV screens are barely watchable, although better in darkness. The headphones are unusable (thankfully we had our own to plug in- standard ones will work). Despite being 16 hours we were not offered the accessory bag other airlines give with a disposable toothbrush in. We had been expecting at least a toothbrush, so were left with rather unpleasant tasting mouths by the end.
Breakfast was simple and filled the gap in our stomachs. I found it odd there was no butter or jam for the bread rolls though. The food was as basic as food can get with very greasy rice and meat, a cheap slice of sponge cake and a few pieces of tinned fruit. Lunch was a little better although the bread was still dry. Dinner/snack was very poor and of course included a dry bread roll. A far cry from lamb chops then jam and clotted cream scones on Qatar Airways.
In flight entertainment featured the afore-mentioned poor quality screens. I gave up after one film and used my iPad. The selection of films was OK, a few of good oldies (I’m not too bothered about getting the newest releases). If you have no other entertainment options the screens will just about do, as long as the cabin lights are closed. You must take your own earphones though as the headphones provided are too quiet.
I had read that these were supposed to be fairly new Boeing 777 planes. Ours didn’t seem new, my guess is 5 years old judging by the wear and tear on the seats and grime along the arm rests.
It sounds like lots of negative but we were actually very happy with our flight. This is probably due mainly to the fact that there were so few other passengers on board. This allowed us plenty of space to roam around and claim a row of 4 seats to sleep on. I think having been stuck in that row in between other people on a full plane for so long would of been a nightmare. FYI we booked seats 53a and 53c which is a two and excellent for a couple. The only downside is that you are next to the toilet so you will notice the smell when someone does a number two (ventilation seems to be out from the bathroom and into the cabin).
Overall we were happy but not blown away. The Middle Eastern Airlines did very well because they had special service, from superior dining on Qatar to the cool cabin lights on Etihad. PAL has not made an effort to stand out so I doubt word of mouth will spread in the same way. This service will be popular with OFWs (Filipino overseas foreign workers) and anyone else if PAL can keep the fares £50+ below the Middle Eastern airlines.
Will we fly again on this service?
We have a return flight from London to Manila next month so I will post an update if there is anything new. In future I would probably base my decision to book on seat availability and price. If we can get the two seater again I would be happy even on a full plane. But I doubt I would risk being stuck in between two people for almost 16 hours. The flight delay caused a major inconvenience and more expense too, so that more than cancelled out the cheaper flight prices. If the prices were similar I would choose Etihad or Qatar as they don’t penny pinch at every corner.
To answer some of the original questions:
1) is the PAL service as good as the other airlines? Philippine Airlines is nowhere near as good as the likes of Qatar, Etihad and Emirates.
2) is a direct flight the better option? The jury is still out as our plane was empty. On a full plane if I had a good sleeping pill I’d take the direct flight.
3) can I cope with such a long direct flight? It was fine for us with so much space to enjoy. A 16 hour direct flight on a full plane will be another story.
UPDATE late January 2014:
Philippine Airlines London to Manila Flight Review
Cheaper than flights with other airlines on my travel dates
No stopover in the UAE (so less jet lag and hassle)
Poor food compared to the UAE airlines
Poor service in general e.g. barely usable headphones
Delays on both legs for me
The flight began with a 1 hour delay at Heathrow (LHR). This is a similar delay I experienced in the opposite direction. Long haul flight delays are new to me. Ordinarily flights have run on time for me in the past with airlines like Qatar, Etihad, Emirates and Singapore Airlines.
The delay was a reminder that Philippine Airlines (PAL) is not in the same league ad the others. This seems to be a view shared by others as the flight was again very quiet, perhaps a quarter full of passengers. On such a long flight this was great as I was able to move to a row of 4 seats for the duration.
Flying time from LHR to MNL was 13 hours and 30 mins. Two and a half hours less than the opposite direction due to winds.
The flight set off at around 6.30pm so we were soon served dinner. Again the standard was below par, although I was pleased to see the addition of butter this time for the bread roll. The starter was a small, bland potato salad, my main was beef stew with inedible potatoes which had not been cooked properly, dessert was a bitter sweet concoction which was only worth a single spoonful.
We were offered complimentary drinks including red wine. The staff were a mixed bunch, some were very helpful but one or two seemed like they were uninterested.
Is this flight recommended?
When it is cheaper than the rest and there is enough room to use 4 seats as a bed- a big yes. The delays make booking connecting flights impossible though within a reasonable amount of time. The sub-standard food is good enough to get something in your stomach but I can’t see many people being happy with it.
A friend in London asked if the flight was worth taking. After revealing that her dates were £200+ more expensive than the rest, and hearing my criticisms, she decided to stick with the UAE airlines. Fair enough as a future flight may be far busier which would be rather uncomfortable for the 13.5 hours (and 16 hours on the MNL to LHR leg).
On a happier side note about our trip
Our trip to the UK was great. We stayed with family and then went to the Lake District for a romantic getaway. We booked a lovely holiday cottage with Unique Holiday Cottages. It was certainly the highlight of our trip and unlike Philippine Airlines, Unique Holiday Cottages is a company we can fully recommend. We paid more than a standard hotel, but you get what you pay for in this world. In retrospect I think it was good to get the cheaper flight with PAL and then splurge on a few nights better accommodation whilst actually on holiday.