Monday, January 27, 2014

Philippine Airlines: Manila to London Flight Review (Business Class)


Manila to London Heathrow is one of Philippine Airlines' newest and revitalised routes. It made its debut on the fourth of November 2013 after a 15-year absence from Europe.

philippine airlines manila to london
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
We were actually supposed to take Cathay Pacific until a friend referred a promo fare to my mom in December where Philippine Airlines was selling Business Class tickets between Manila and London for only $350 (£230) plus taxes and surcharges round-trip. Adding taxes, the total bill per person amounted to over $1,000 (£600). So we decided to take it anyway.
What made this upcoming flight exciting was that Philippine Airlines was flying its flagship Boeing 777-300ER aircraft on the route. This meant that it was configured with the most modern Business Class in the Philippine Airlines fleet.

PRE-AIRPORT FORMALITIES

I heard rumours that despite bargain basement prices in both Business and Economy class, the load factors weren't looking good. To confirm my suspicions, I went to the Philippine Airlines website and did a ‘mock booking’ to inspect what seats were available. I also did this for other dates and in general, the flight barely had a hundred seats sold.

On the date of web check-in, I found that Business Class was wide open with only a little over a third of Business Class seats allocated. But there was a big surprise: Philippine Airlines' computer systems actually allowed the issuance of mobile boarding passes. These would be emailed to the passenger's email address. Nonetheless, we printed a copy of the boarding card just in case.

In the process of checking in, I selected a seat on the left side of the cabin to facilitate boarding.

AIRPORT MATTERS

Check-in was rather uneventful but I would wish that they would replace those placards with monitors. I found the policy for those who performed web check-in to print their boarding cards out useless as we were issued new boarding cards by gate staff anyway.
The queues at passport control were moderate but moved somewhat fast anyway.

TIP: Even if you are a Filipino passport holder, you will be asked about your profession at departure.

pal mabuhay lounge
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
After a quick security check, we then headed for the Mabuhay Lounge for around 20 minutes. I was last in the Mabuhay Lounge five years ago. 

philippine airlines mabuhay lounge
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Between then and now, it has been refurbished to have a more elegant feel to it with mostly white and mahogany. The computers were a bonus but unfortunately, the internet on the iMacs was not working.

pal mabuhay lounge
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Since I didn't have breakfast on my way to the airport, I decided to eat some eggs, bread and pastries.

pal mabuhay lounge
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Then it was boarding time. Upon arrival at the gate, my suspicions of the load factor might have been confirmed as the number of passengers queueing was barely enough to fill an A320. However, we couldn't be too sure as we joined the queue 10 minutes before it was scheduled to close. The gate staff was helpful in pointing us to the queue for Mabuhay Class passengers.

manila airport terminal 2
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
The aircraft allocated to the flight was familiar to me. It carried the registration, RP-C7777. Four years ago, that was the same aircraft I used for PR300 and so far it is the only Boeing 77W I flew on in the PAL fleet.

ON BOARD

The flight attendants in our section were quite attentive to detail. During the pre-flight refreshments, they served me milk and a hot towel. 

pal mabuhay class
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
They also took my order too, which I will discuss in a later paragraph, and addressed me by my surname. 

pal mabuhay class
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Despite monitoring the number of passengers and finding only a handful of them queueing to board, the front Business Class section had a reasonable number of passengers with less than 10 seats in the front section not taken. After the seat belt sign was switched off, I decided to try the recline feature. It actually didn't feel like it was slanted. It was just right for me. Window shades were immediately placed down.

pal london to manila flight
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
As for the in-flight entertainment, it was a fully functional audio-video on-demand platform. However, the in-house in-flight entertainment selection was relatively limited compared to what other carriers offered. Nonetheless, the USB port allowed me to play some music from my own collection. It also had a universal AC adapter to charge one’s laptop.

TIP: You can actually do this yourself by having a USB memory stick and having music files in the MP3 format. The USB port can also charge certain devices, particularly smartphones so use it if you need to allocate the AC adapter for your laptop.

In addition, there was no WiFi installed yet on this aircraft unlike the newer 777s. It made communicating live on the ground a bit difficult but it saved me the hassle of coughing-up $40 (£25).

pal london to manila flights
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Breakfast was one of the best I have had in quite a while. It was a full-course meal of fruits, bread and tenderloin steak with egg, potatoes and broccoli. They allowed you to take your time and would not rush to give you the next course until you were finished with what you had.

philippine airlines food
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Two hours into the flight, the cabin lights were dimmed further. At that time, it was already past midnight UK time and in an attempt to facilitate adjustment into that time zone, I figured that it was time to try my best to get some shut eye. Before that, I changed into night clothes and stayed in that for more than 10 hours. 

pal in-flight entertainment
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
The rear Business Class section composed of two rows was relatively open with only 2-3 other passengers occupying it. The seat reclined quite well but I had difficulty getting a full sleep after around 2.5 hours in spite of the fact that the area I was in had only 2 Business Class seats and the seat beside me was unoccupied except for the pillows which worked out quite well. 

pal mabuhay class
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Around halfway into the flight, it was time to make sleeping less of a priority though I reclined the seat into as many positions as possible to help me get comfortable. The crew later served the second meal, which was akin to lunch. Similar to breakfast, I had beef tenderloin. They also informed me that I was a bit late in waking-up for the meal compared with the other passengers but they served me anyway. I also did away with the appetisers that I don't normally delve into anyway. I virtually wiped out the entire dish, going to show just how much I enjoy beef meals and this was by no means the last meal for the flight. To literally sweeten the meal, I opted to have ice cream for my dessert.

philippine airlines in-flight meal
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Another interesting thing that is worth noting is the actual route taken by the flight. Most long haul flights from the far east will fly over the ex-Soviet Union. However, PAL has not yet secured full fly-over rights yet. As a result, the flight was forced to go through Indochina before heading northward through the Indian Subcontinent, Iran and Turkey. This would also explain why the flight is longer in duration similar to a Hong Kong-New York flight.

pal IFE
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
From time to time and upon the request of some friends back on the ground, I took a peek at the Economy Class cabin to check the loads. Despite what the seating charts from a few days earlier suggested, there were far more passengers occupying the economy seats than originally expected.

philippine airlines london to manila flight
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
 It was likely more than 200 from what I originally expected to be just a little over 50 passengers. What was even more surprising was the discovery that a lot of the passengers occupying the seats were British. This could suggest that Philippine Airlines may have potential with the UK market but that is just my opinion.

pal boeing 777 economy class
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
During the second half of the flight, I brought my newly-repaired iPad out and watched some of the shows loaded on there rather than enjoy the PAL in-flight entertainment. As we were nearing our final meal, I changed back into the clothes I wore to board the flight. The last meal I selected was a Korean beef meal. It was served with fruits and salad. Like the first two meals, I found it scrumptious. 

airline food
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
After the meal, it was time to just relax and enjoy the view, as well as having a final peek at economy class. 

pal london heathrow
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
Portions of the final 35 minutes of the flight were slightly bumpy and the weather was a mild 54 degrees. Skies were also getting darker in the middle of the afternoon, which reminded us that it was still winter in the UK. 
pal boeing 777 business class
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
The descent and final approach took some time as we took several turns circling over the London Heathrow area. We touched down at Heathrow Airport at approximately 3:00pm UK time. It took another 5-10 minutes to reach our gate. As we exited the plane, the flight attendants wished us well using our last names. They also promptly informed passengers who were on tight connecting British Airways flights to proceed to Terminal 5 immediately. 

philippine airlines heathrow airport
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN

POST-FLIGHT

It took another 5-10 minutes to reach passport control. Fortunately, as we were Business Class passengers, we were invited to use the fast track lane. Immigration clearance was done in five minutes for me and my folks. We spotted our bags rather quickly but got slightly confused as to where the customs and exit was.

TIP: If you are travelling on business class to London Heathrow, just retain your boarding card and present it to staff at the fast track lane to allow access to the shortened queues.

We finally left the airport using the Heathrow Express Train. As we arrived in Terminal 4, we had to take a shuttle train and connect at Heathrow Central for the main train, which serves Terminals 1 and 3. We later arrived at Paddington Station as it was getting dark.

FINAL RATINGS

(Rated between 1-5 with five being the highest score)
  • Check-In (3/5): Whilst this was not a major issue for us since we had bags to check-in anyway, I have to say that the policy to require all passengers to proceed to a special counter for document verification is pointless. What is even more pointless is them instructing us to print our own boarding cards since they printed out ones for us anyway. Also, PAL inadvertently issues mobile boarding cards so they should work to promote this feature and work with local authorities in NAIA to honour it.
  • Lounge (4/5): Well-maintained with new computers. Elegant colour schemes to match lounges of other global airlines. But internet on the iMacs was not functioning at all. Also, it would have been better if they offered cereals in the buffet bar, which is also a standard refreshment offering in other premium lounges.
  • Boarding Process (4.5/5): The airport staff pointed us to the correct queue. 
  • Seat (4.5/5): Let's be clear that these seats would probably be tagged world-class had they been in use a decade ago. In the last ten years, other carriers have gone to great lengths to offer other features such as greater functional personal space such as closets for hand luggage and coat storage. In this aspect, PAL falls short. However, I liked that the seats felt like a bed and I didn't have any issues or feelings that it slanted uncomfortably. The difficulty I experienced sleeping was due to the incorrect timing for my body clock. PAL should also expedite the installation of WiFi into this aircraft to offer a more consistent experience with its other Boeing 777 aircraft in the fleet.
  • Food (5/5): Simply, it was all delicious and served systematically. Unlike Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines' flights that last at least 13 hours, you get a third meal with Philippine Airlines. It was tagged as a light snack but it was just as filling as the ‘main meals.’ 
  • Cabin Crew (5/5): Without even requesting assistance, the crew anticipate ever need whether it was water or hangers for your clothes. They always did their best to help you with anything. They were polite all throughout and even remember your last name. They also didn’t even mind my personal requests to change seats or peek at the economy class section. 
  • In-flight Entertainment (2/5): Audio-Video On-Demand had full functionality but the albums and films that were in-house numbered just a few dozen. This is compared to the hundreds of hours you get on Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, or Emirates. The highlight for me was the provision for playing your MP3 files but now competitors are upgrading to extend this provision to films in a passenger’s personal collection.
Author's Note: This review is most appropriate for passengers considering flying in Philippine Airlines' Business Class. 

Story and Photos By HybridAce101

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18 comments :

  1. Thanks for the detailed review. I am thinking to take the same flight and found it very helpful. Happy flying!

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  2. I thought I was reading a report I would have written about my flight with Philippine Airlines using the same type of aircraft from Manila to Toronto last October. I liked the experience.

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  3. Thanks for the review. Does anyone know if that Business Class promo is still available? If you book on PAL's web site it costs around US$3,000. Where can you get that $1,000 fare from?

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    Replies
    1. always visit their website to find out there newest promo.

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    2. As I mentioned, this business class promo was never available on the PAL website, it was only marketed through travel agents.

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  4. sir just always check the website often cuz they where giving promo anytime.

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  5. Thanks for the review.

    I would like to point out that seat maps in airline websites are very very inaccurate. Not all ticketed passengers reserve seats in advance. You may be able to see an empty cabin in the online booking tool, and find out that it's overbooked when you're at the check-in desk.

    Having said that, while I fly PR from time to time, I find the J seats and service to be a disappoint. Especially compared to the excellent products of Cathay, Qatar, SQ, Malaysia Airlines, and practically all airlines in the region. The angled lie flat seats has no place in 2014 - especially since there's enough space to make it fully flat. The food in PR J (and Y) is consistently horrible - the caterer should be fired, IMHO.

    But of course, the price is right. You get what you pay for. Will probably fly PR again, for this reason.

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    Replies
    1. A friend of mine has just come back from London after having flown business class. He said the seats on these PAL aircraft are full flat-bed (horizontal), which is so much better than the old angled seats.

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    2. Thanks for the feedback Chris.
      I follow PAL pretty closely, and have never heard of any retro-fit for the 777 J cabin, or that the seats were converted to fully flat (it requires more than just a hardware tweak...).
      Would appreciate it if anyone can confirm if PAL now has fully-flat beds on (some) of the 777 planes...

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  6. I travel business class regularly with PAL and like the new lounge layout but why is it so cold in there?

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  7. What a high class airline! Travelling around the world is the dream of every people. Quality is what people are looking for. The higher the price, the better the service.

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  8. I flew Manila > London in Economy on December 16 and London > Manila in Business on December 23. As an aside I'm a Mabuhay Elite member, live in Tokyo and General Santos City and fly Tokyo > Manila every month.

    The flight to London was empty and frankly I'm glad I didn't waste my money on a Business Class ticket. I, and every other Economy Class passenger, was able to grab an empty row of seats to stretch-out and sleep. Good because there is no way I would want to do that 15-hour 45-minute flight in Economy if it was full!

    The return London > Manila was sold-out in Economy so I bought an upgrade at Heathrow. PAL shares Cathay Pacific's Lounge at Heathrow and it is FABULOUS! Of course I could have used it anyway (because of my Mabuhay Elite status) even if I hadn't bought the upgrade to Business.
    PAL's Business Class is really an "economy-Business Class" and does not compete with the Business Classes offered by Thai, etc. Thai etc. have modern "cubicle-style" Business Class seats whereas PAL has the 1980s-style Business Class seats. Thai etc. have premium wine selections whereas PAL has "nameless" wine selections. PAL does have amazing Business Class food though, maybe because it's prepared at Heathrow by Cathay Pacific chefs(?). anyway this was some of the best food I have ever had in an airplane, better than Thai A380 First Class!

    Assuming PAL doesn't stop the route I will fly Manila > London > Manila again this December and will buy Economy but buy an upgrade to Business at the airport if Economy is full.

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  9. This year I'm planning to go to Philippines. Nice review.

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  10. How much does it cost for an upgrade to Business Class at the airport? (Approximately in percentage to the cost of the economy).

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    Replies
    1. A one-way upgrade is about $500 (£290) for long-hauls. A one-way ticket on this instance is $600-800 (£350-470) so you're looking at almost 60-85% of the cost of a one-way.

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  11. The facilities offered on the business class of Phillipine Airlines appear truly top notch. You have shared some splendid photographs in this blog. I loved your blog and also the way you have elaborated every single fact about the journey, the flight and the airport. The food also appears tempting.

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  12. i did the return trip on 18 dec 2013 to see my gf.i give the flight out and back 100 %

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    Replies
    1. Unfortunately not everyone may be as lucky as you, especially those who travelled since last week on this flight as it was an A343 that was used.

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