Dec 082019
 


Woke up feeling a little bit better, and although 9-something seemed like a reasonable time for a flight it meant still getting up earlier than I would have liked. So early, even, that I opened to fortify myself with hotel lounge coffee instead of taking a Grab to Starbucks.

At least it wasn’t a 5 or 6am flight, which would have been miserable now that I was finally almost adjusted to Asia time…just in time to leave!

Philippine Airlines online check-in didn’t work for me, but it was a quick two minute stop by the counter with no queue to get my boarding pass and I was on my way.

Stopped by the lounge which was a bit on the warm and humid side, but did have a reasonable selection of food and drink….and people piling plates several layers deep as if they’d not eaten in weeks. While I suppose that’s possible…

On the plus side, the lounge had huge floor to ceiling windows that spanned both floors so it was super light and almost cheerful inside:

Based on online reviews, I didn’t expect much from Philippine Airlines – it looked like the longhaul product was solid, but lots of reviews of disinterested crews, barely edible food, and shorthaul flights that made domestic US flights look good had me not looking forward. Decided to get to the gate 10 minutes before the boarding time printed on my boarding pass because I expected a scrum, but when I arrived…everyone was already boarded and I was one of the last ones! 45 minutes before departure!

Philippine Airlines flight 592
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (SGN) to Manila, Philippines (MNL)
Depart 09:35, Arrive: 13:20, flight time: 2:45
Airbus A321, Registration RP-C9907, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 188,328
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,880,630

First impressions were quite good. This A321 was very well-maintained, not great seat pitch but with only two empty seats in the cabin one would be next to me, and the seats were overall very comfortable. Especially for such a short flight.

The crew was nothing short of wonderful. Refreshing cool towels on a tray, what tasted like a very sweet tea pre-departure, and a smiling, friendly, and warm-welcoming crew had erased all the negative things I’d been expecting. This had all the foreshadowings of a great flight!

I loved the art on the menus…and the fact there was a menu at all for such a short flight…with three choices!

I love plane-spotting on taxi, but rarely do it since I’ll only take window seats if they come with aisle access. AirBridge Cargo XL oversize!

The three-cup pork for lunch was amazing – if nothing else this trip had fantastic meals on many of my flights. One of the few airline meals that felt both creative, local, and delicious. The champagne was a a nice addition, although sadly the cashews were in a bag. I thought about going all Korean Air, but thought better of it…

Vanilla macadamia ice cream for dessert. Can’t go wrong! I never eat ice cream at home, so it’s always a nice inflight treat for me.

Arrival in Manila was great…until I had to figure out transfers. It had shades of Cairo a week ago written all over it, and I prayed it would not be another two hour experience. Note to self: anything that portends a terminal change in a lesser-developed country is going to be an adventure. Unfortunately, before arriving, I just assumed since it was the same airline it would be the same terminal. Oh how wrong I was…

Eventually I figured out I would need to change terminals. How hard would that be. Surely Philippine Airlines has this down to a science, right?

We had arrived Terminal 2, and when I followed the signs for transfers I eventually ended up at a transfer desk, where the agent had been expecting me as a connecting passenger…and asked me to wait five minutes while he arranged things. Here’s where it began to get interesting.

It was Cairo all over again….he eventually walked me over to immigration…who actually stamped me into the Philippines just as if I was arriving, and the agent kindly escorted me to a waiting room…where I would wait for the bus to Terminal 1.

Terminal 1 is the oldest terminal in Manila, and you would think Philippine Airlines would use the sparkly new Terminal 3 for longhaul flagship routes…but you would be wrong.

Soon, I understood why I’d been stamped into the country: the bus to Terminal 1 was outside immigration and eventually dropped me off….at the front door of the terminal where we had to clear security scans to get into the building, immigration to leave the Philippines again, and eventually security to get into Terminal 1.

All in all, it wasn’t terrible. Maybe 45 minutes to an hour max from the time I got off the plane in Terminal 2 until I was planted in the lounge in Terminal 1. It was a rather sad lounge, used seemingly by most airlines who used the terminal (except Singapore and maybe a couple others?) but it seemed my only choice.

At least they had a cool display of airline models inside…

The food looked a little dicey….so I stuck with a Coke Zero and some sweet rolls. Not glamourous, but I was hoping for a nice long sleep on the next segment…

Went to the gate shortly before boarding, and it was absolutely packed with just about every seat taken. That said, people were being quite orderly with no mad scrum visible, so boarding would hopefully also be nice and orderly.

Soon I was paged to the podium, which is never a good sign when you’re already in the top cabin. Fortunately, they just needed to give me a new printed boarding pass since I had changed my seat in the Philippine Airlines app (to get away from a family with children behaving like wild animals in the lounge….fortunately I saw their boarding passes and where they were sitting so with several empty seats I was able to move as far away from the front of the cabin as possible…. Just a thought…maybe giving your kid coke after coke and multiple ice creams in the lounge prolly doesn’t help with their hyperness.

Philippine Airlines flight 118
Manila, Philippines (MNL) to Toronto, Canada (YYZ)
Depart 16:30, Arrive: 19:00, flight time: 15:50
Airbus A350-900, Registration RP-C3507, Manufactured 2019, Seat 5K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 196,549
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,888,851

With a flight time of 15 hours and 50 minutes, this was going to be a long flight….but fortunately the seats were super comfortable and quite private. This was really all I wanted or expected from the flight, so I was very happy to see it lived up to expectations!

The same gorgeous menus, but this time with four main courses. There were also mid-flight snacks in addition to the arrival meal.

Another friendly and welcoming crew who was chatty without being over the top, and I was looking forward to another great flight. Apparently our plane was known as “The Love Bus” – we’re definitely not on a more “formal” airline like Singapore, but I was loving the Filipino hospitality!

Takeoff….I love the wings of the A350…

Canapés to start were a miss. Bread wasn’t fresh, and the moussey stuff on top made it seem a bit soggy. Made me long for warmed nuts…but hey, champagne makes everything better!

The flight attendant serving my section raved about the french onion soup as a starter, so I had to try it. Unfortunately, it was one step from terrible. No flavour, very few onions, even less cheese, super greasy…and just…blah. Also, first time I think I’ve ever seen bread served in a bowl!

The disappointments up until this point were very quickly forgotten, however. The “gourmet pork sisig” was phenomenal. A wonderful combo of flavours and textures…just a tiny bit spicy, salty, sweet….it was simply outstanding. I actually asked about the possibility of a second serving, but unfortunately it had been very popular.

The cheese was about as expected – reasonable, but not memorable, but dark chocolate ice cream and some red wine….perfect end to a meal that wasn’t anything fancy, but was much better than I had expected.

I was clearly tired – we finished the meal service about 2.5 hours into the flight, and I proceeded to pass out cold…for eight solid hours. By the time I woke up, we were almost entering US airspace. We’d taken a very southern routing today, and I was actually a bit hungry.

I decided to see how the beef burger was, and it was actually reasonably good. Combined with the fruit, it made a rather substantial mid/late flight snack.

Surely, you jest. Good food on Philippine Airlines? I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.

Just a couple hours later, about 90 minutes out of Toronto, breakfast service started (yes, at around 6pm local time) with a glass of orange juice.

Nice big fruit plate with deliciously-ripe mango.

The omelet was no Air Canada omelet, but reasonably good. I think calling it a Denver Omelet, however, was a bit of a stretch. First time I’ve seen an omelet served with risotto instead of potatoes, however.

Washed down with a Filipino craft beer….was was decidedly average.

You know it’s been a long flight when the sun sets right after takeoff….you eat, sleep, eat some more…and then it sets for a second time in the same flight.

We were just a couple hundred feet off the ground and the engines sprang to life…turns out we had “spacing issues and the aircraft in front hadn’t left the runway yet” – this is my THIRD go-around in Toronto this year (and I’ve only had three go-arounds all year) and sixth or seventh overall. Why is this such a problem in Toronto? Well over half of the go-arounds in my nearly 3 million miles flown have been at Toronto – to the point it can’t just be coincidence.

So summing up, Philippine Airlines exceeded my expectations in just about every way. I’d expected a comfortable seat, but almost nothing more. What I got were warm and friendly crews happy to go the extra mile, good to very good food and an experience that rivals almost any business class out there. I’d be very happy to fly them again – despite the more or less useless (to me) miles.

Next up – overnight in Toronto before heading up to the Arctic!!


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