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

Join HybridAce101 as he takes you on a trip in Business Class aboard Philippine Airlines Flight PR721 from London's Heathrow Airport to Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila on a Boeing 777-300ER aircraft...

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PRE-AIRPORT ACTIVITIES

It was Monday, February 17, 2014 and after more than three weeks of being outside the Philippines and travelling across three countries in the European Union, it was time to say farewell to a place which I have called home for the better part of the past year.

london millennium bridge
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I started my departure day by continuing what I did the previous afternoon: taking a tour of key London sights one final time as I would not know when I would be returning to this great city. The previous day I was able to cover Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament while St. Paul’s Cathedral and Trafalgar Square were covered today.

TIP 1: If you are travelling around London using public transport, consider getting an Oyster card. For a £5 (US$8.25)-deposit and any top-up in denominations of £5, you get access to London’s extensive public transport. This includes the tube, famous red buses and national rail services that serve points within central London and/or its suburbs. Moreover, it is much cheaper to use an oyster card than buy a paper ticket as a single ride on the Oyster Card costs as little as £2.20 (US$3.65) whereas the same kind of journey costs £4.50 (US$7.45) on a traditional paper ticket. Also, spending for the day is capped at £7 (US$11.55) if you travel entirely during off-peak hours or £8.40 (US$13.90) for travel any time if you plan to stay in Central London, hence you won’t get charged more after taking your fourth ride. At the end of your time in London, you can return the card at any London Tube/Transport ticket office to get the £5 deposit back.

london trafalgar square
Copyright Photo: HybridAce101/PFN
At 10:30am, I made my way back to the hotel to help my mom do some last minute packing and rest knowing that a long flight was ahead of us. Although we had a return Heathrow Express train ticket, the number of bags we carried and our experience of travelling by train in continental Europe was exhausting enough for my mom to opt for using a mini-cab instead.

TIP 2: Railway stations in continental Europe, particularly in Italy and France, generally do not have baggage trolleys whereas they are provided for in the United Kingdom at the entrance of major stations or the platforms. If you have a £1 or €1 coin deposit, you can get a trolley. You can get your coin back by simply returning the trolley to a designated return point.

TIP 3: While cabs in London are known to be notoriously expensive, you can hire a mini-cab in advance, even 15 minutes before your journey. By doing so, you can save 20-30% off the cost of hailing a regular London cab on the spot. However, beware that mini-cabs usually only accept cash.

Our mini-cab arrived 10 minutes ahead of schedule and check-out at our hotel was smooth. On the way to Heathrow Airport, the driver exchanged stories with us about his experiences living in Britain. In just 35 minutes, we arrived at London Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 4.

PRE-AIRPORT FORMALITIES

Rather than proceed to the check-in desk, our first port-of-call was the VAT (value added tax) refund desk. It was on the first floor of the terminal. It took us about 25 minutes to sort all the paperwork out after my mom’s shopping.

TIP 4: If you are not a resident of the 28-member European Union (EU) and have extensively shopped in the territory, you can claim at least part of the VAT back on the goods you purchased. The goods have to be exported out of the EU within a certain amount of time though. There is a minimum spend (which varies per EU member-state) but you can pool all purchases you made at a single merchant within one day. To claim your tax refund, begin by requesting for a VAT refund voucher at the till when paying for your goods. Have your passport, home address and credit card ready. In some cases, you can have the option to ‘advance’ the refund in cash at a VAT refund office in the city after the purchase but you must give a credit card as a guarantee. Please keep all the VAT vouchers and present them along with all your bags to the VAT refund desk for processing at the airport that you will use to depart the European Union. You can have the VAT refunded to a credit card and it is usually cheaper to do it this way.

We then repacked our bags to minimize the number of items that would go in the hold. This took another 15 minutes.

Finally, it was check-in time. The queue was quite empty though we learned from staff that Business Class was busier this time around. Even though we printed our own boarding card the night before, the staff printed a new boarding card for us anyway.

philippine airlines london to manila
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We were invited to use the dedicated security lanes as we were Business Class passengers. Despite this, some of our bags had further screening as we forgot that there were liquids inside one of them (though nothing was confiscated).

philippine airlines london to manila
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 Not a lot of passengers were waiting so it wasn’t much of a hassle. Unfortunately we were unable to find trolleys for our cabin bags. So this made it a little bit burdensome for us. We then had to buy a shoulder bag at duty free for my dad as we were unable to find the said bag in Milan.

malaysia airlines lounge heathrow
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We then headed for the lounge. Philippine Airlines uses Malaysia Airlines' lounge. We spent about 40 minutes here. It wasn’t too crowded. Food choices were reasonable. I had hainanese chicken, some rice and pastries. Candies were also in abundant supply. I had my meal at the bar tables.

malaysia airlines lounge
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Right across us was our aircraft. Our gate was right below the lounge but it still took about 4-5 minutes to reach with all the bags we had to carry. The internet in the lounge was working well and one of the terminals even had a printer. We had a nice chat with some of the staff sitting at the lounge, some of whom were Filipino.

ON BOARD

DISCLAIMER: I allocated most of the flight to sleeping so I didn’t have much time to toy around with the equipment unlike the previous report.


philippine airlines london to manila
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It was eventually time to board. What was surprising (or perhaps not, if we put this in the context of my travels) was that the flight actually departed within less than an hour of its scheduled departure time. Historically, Philippine Airlines' flights involving London haven’t been known for their punctuality, but from my experience and for some weird reason, flights that are set to take me back to Manila are relatively punctual (a sign maybe?). PR721 was no exception. The push back took some time to get under way as a result of prolonged loading of cargo. Nonetheless, this was going to be a much shorter flight of 13 hours and 10 minutes.
philippine airlines business class
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As usual, the flight attendants took our order before we got under way and we were served hot towels. As previously mentioned by check-in staff, we observed that PR721’s Business Class section was quite full. Each block of seats (2-3-2 in Business Class) had at least one passenger occupying it. There were mostly 3-4 passengers per row and sometimes even more. But here is the interesting part: the block of seats right next to us was not reclining at all, so the passengers who were originally seated there had to be reseated at the rear of the Business Class section. As nobody was occupying it, I took advantage of it by putting some of my stuff on the seat right across me. The USB port was also functioning there for me to charge one of my devices without me having to crowd my own seat. Luckily enough for us, our seats were just fine.

philippine airlines meal
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For my first meal, I had beef tenderloin in sauce. Usually, I am not a fan of appetizers. But for those of you who are, you will be very impressed with Philippine Airlines if you decide to go all the way. The meal I had was up to Philippine Airlines' standards though I was not looking forward to finishing the mashed potatoes as I discovered bits of onions in them. However, we got Haagen Dazs for dessert which was a very nice treat.

philippine airlines meal
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After the meal service, I changed into night clothes and attempted to get to sleep. It was a little difficult for me to feel sleepy during most of the first half of the flight.

In the middle of the flight, a cabin attendant asked if I was hungry enough to eat the next meal. I wasn’t hungry but wanted to take advantage of the meal and I ordered the chicken meal. As usual, I enjoyed it very much.

To kill the time, I found myself playing Tetris which was installed in the flight’s In-Flight Entertainment system. It became more challenging as we created more lines and cleared others. It was one of the few things in the IFE that I actually enjoyed.

 This flight utilised RP-C7776, the second Boeing 777-300ER to be delivered to Philippine Airlines. This meant that there was no WiFi available for the duration of the flight. iPads didn’t appear to be offered either.

With only five and a half hours left in the flight, I finally felt like sleeping. It wasn’t until less than two hours before landing that I felt awake enough to enjoy what remained. I changed into my outdoor clothes with a different shirt in anticipation of the expected change in climate upon landing.

philippine airlines breakfast
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For the ‘breakfast’ meal, I decided to have the omelette and bacon meal. In addition, my choice of drink was hot chocolate that was accompanied by muffins and a croissant. It was a lovely meal to have.

philippine airlines meal
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After the meal, I loaded my USB into the IFE system to enjoy some music. I had been listening to it continuously for a few minutes when an announcement from the flight deck revealed that we were going to land 50 minutes ahead (that’s right, ahead) of schedule. Descent and approach was fairly uneventful.

Once we landed, we had to pause for 20 minutes on the tarmac until the gate allocated for our flight was ready to receive us.

POST-FLIGHT

As we disembarked, we were handed our landing cards. I wondered why these weren’t given to us at our point of departure. It would have surely saved us much time. We had to go aside for a moment to complete the forms while grabbing our passports to help us. Fortunately, the queue wasn’t long and the flight arrived early otherwise it would have shortened our temper.

After passport control, baggage claim and customs, we simply handed our form and was on our way to the car awaiting us concluding yet another trip aboard Philippine Airlines to Europe.

FINAL RATINGS

(Rated between 1-5 with 5 being the highest score)
  • Check-in (4/5): It was quite quick and straightforward. But just like in my previous trip report, I found it pointless that they ask us to print our boarding cards when they print new ones for us anyway.
  • Lounge (4/5): Good choice of partnering with Malaysia Airlines. The computers, WiFi and TV were functioning without a hitch. Adequate seating for Philippine Airlines' Business Class passengers though I am not sure if it would fit all of Malaysia's Business Class passengers when an A380 is utilized on a London-Kuala Lumpur flight. Also, the meal and pastry selection, whilst adequate, could be a bit wider. The bar staff was very helpful and easy to talk to.
  • Boarding process (4.5/5): It was quick and straightforward.
  • Seat (4.5/5): Just as in my previous post, the seat felt like a bed when reclined. But PAL should seriously consider providing greater functional personal space such as closets for hand luggage and coat storage.
  • Food (5/5): Like in previous occasions, despite me not being a fan of appetizers, the food was delicious and served systematically. The third meal with PAL was a bonus even as flight time on this segment became a bit more comparable to Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific. I appreciate that they were served whenever the crew felt it was convenient for us to receive it.
  • Cabin Crew (5/5): The crew anticipated every need and was available whenever we requested something.
  • In-flight Entertainment (2/5): Despite not having enough time to enjoy the IFE due to my preference for sleeping, I still think that the selections are inadequate. Nearly none of the audio selections suited me which forced me to use my own USB stick for music alternatives. But the Tetris game was a great classic to play. On a personal note, I am not sure if Flappy Bird should be installed but it can sure make a really long flight seem short. They should have WiFi installed on the older 777 aircraft since it has been nearly a year since they introduced or hinted that WiFi would be made available especially given that they only have six Boeing 777 aircraft to install the feature on.
  • Punctuality (4.5/5): It is a good thing Philippine Airlines is working to improve punctuality on its routes. However, I hope this becomes more consistent and not merely a coincidental occurrence on my return flights back to the Philippines. The flight would have gotten a perfect score had it left dead on time (or within 15 minutes) but what mattered most is that it arrived way ahead of schedule.
ADDITIONAL FEEDBACK

The actual route PAL took didn’t differ dramatically from the flight I was aboard headed to London. It went through southern Belgium and southeast Europe before heading into Iran, then Pakistan and India, before heading further south via Indochina and eventually towards the Philippines. If they can do this in 13 hours and 10 minutes, imagine if they had Russian overflight rights. They could reduce journeys to more or less be comparable with Cathay Pacific and Singapore Air flights between London and their respective hubs. I hope PAL can expedite the negotiation of overflight rights. This would sure win over business passengers.

Secondly, I have to take issue with the fact that landing cards were not given to us in advance. This has been fairly routine of PAL to do. In fact, on our flight to LHR, the gate staff gave UK landing cards to us before we even boarded. If this was a full flight or a full arrival hall, it may have been chaotic as passengers had nowhere to fill the forms out. I have to give the benefit of the doubt to cabin crew that they were not given copies of this by the ground staff.

Author's Note: This review is most appropriate for passengers considering flying in Philippine Airlines' Business Class.

Story and Photos By HybridAce101

7 comments:

  1. Could I ask a couple of questions?

    1. How much did you pay for the flight, and did you buy it direct from PAL or via a travel agent?

    2. Were the Business Class seats fully flat bed (horizontal), or were they still inclined at an angle when fully reclined?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1. We paid approximately US$1,100 (or £700) return for this. Obviously this came with massive restrictions and at an introductory time. To do this you had to arrange it with a travel agent.

      2. There was a slight angle but it nonetheless felt like a bed.

      Delete
    2. Thanks. I have a friend who got the same excellent deal at that price through an agent last December. Sadly I don't think that promo is available any longer. A roundtrip Business Class ticket in now around US$3,000. I certainly wouldn't pay that much on PAL.

      Delete
  2. Did you fly with a PAL Boing 777 or Airbus A340-300?

    ReplyDelete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
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