Philippine Airlines: Hong Kong to Manila Flight Review (Economy Class)

Join HybridAce101 on his latest flight adventure aboard a brand new Philippine Airlines Airbus A321 from Hong Kong to Manila.

hong kong ferry terminal
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April 9, 2014 was our final day in Hong Kong.  We spent the past four nights in this city celebrating my parentswedding anniversary and an advance birthday treat for my youngest brother.  Of the six members of the family, half of us travel on one flight while the other half takes a different one.  This is so that in case something unexpected happens to one group, the other half can carry on.  I accompanied my mom and little sister on this trip aboard Philippine Airlines flight PR 311 bound for Manila.


I was looking forward to this return flight to Manila as it was supposed to use an old A330.  Despite its age, the aircraft had two advantages over its newer counterpart.  First, the configuration was 2-4-2, which meant you are a maximum of one seat from the aisle.  Second, it had in-flight entertainment of some sort for all classes.

However, on the night we were to check-in online, I discovered that the aircraft was substituted for a newer A321.  This only meant two things: no in-flight entertainment and more crammed conditions.  We found this out when the seats allocated to us were different from the ones originally allocated to us when we purchased our ticket.


I always make it a point to maximise whatever is left of my trips as I do not know when I will return to the city again.  After having a hearty breakfast, I left the Holiday Inn Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui shortly before 10:00am for Central.  I headed for the Peak Tram and Victoria Peak.  I was supposed to go there yesterday but relatively bad weather forced me to change plans.

avenue of the stars
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Once I got to the Peak Tram, I was greeted by a queue at the ticket desk.  It took me more or less 10 minutes to clear.  It didnt occur to me that an Octopus Card was accepted.  I hadn't topped it up yet since the balance was insufficient to enter anyway.

peak tram hong kong
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TIP 1: If you have an Octopus Card in Hong Kong, you can also use it to pay for a ride at the peak tram.  You will also skip the queues at the ticket desk and head straight for the entrance.. 

The queue for the tram ride itself wasnt bad yet.  I was able to get on the first ride after entering through the paid area.  On the way up to Victoria Peak, I took some photos of the view.  I ended up spending half an hour at the peak.
peak tram hong kong
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As I returned to the bottom, I observed that the queue to ride the tram back up was already completely packed.  Lucky for me that I chose to go there earlier. 

I then made my way to Mong Kok Computer Centre where I purchased a few computer and iPad accessories. 
hong kong shopping
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TIP 2: Hong Kong is already known for shops that sell really affordable goods.  In addition to the famous Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok is a haven for shoppers.  There is also a building dedicated to computer parts.  However, its best to look around at the different merchants before committing yourself to purchase any hi-tech products. It is possible that except for major shops like Fortress or Broadway, you may be able to haggle or bargain the prices even lower. In fact in some cases, the merchant may even offer a 20% discount (possibly a bit more) from the listed price before you request for one. Sham Shui Po is also another good place to look around for consumer electronics.

I headed back to the hotel to find that one of our rooms was almost empty.  My brothers had transferred most of our belongings to the other room.  We had lunch shortly after in a restaurant called Spring Deer. 

We returned back to our hotel after lunch to rest and sort out our things.  I went out again after about an hour and a half.  My first order of business was to send some postcards to friends overseas.  I then tried scouting around for just a few more hi-tech accessories. Unfortunately, I wasnt able to buy any more. But, I was able to buy a shirt from Uniqlo. 

ferry terminal hong kong
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At around 7:20pm, we left our hotel.  We used the Airport Express shuttle bus to take us to Kowloon Station.  It passed by six more hotels on the way. 

holiday inn golden mile hong kong
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TIP 3: If you wish to use the Airport Express Train to/from the airport, and are also staying/have finished staying at a major Hong Kong hotel, you can use their complementary shuttle bus to take you between your hotel and an Airport Express station. You might also be able to do this if you are going to Hongkong Disneyland (via the Tung Chung line, which shares three stations with the Airport Express line, and has tracks virtually parallel to the Airport Express) from your hotel, though it is unlikely to work if you are returning to your hotel.

kowloon station
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In less than a half-hour, we were at the station.  As this was Kowloon Station, we performed our bag drop here instead.  At least for us, we didnt experience any queues here.

kowloon philippine airlines check in
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TIP 4: If you are using the Airport Express and boarding the train from the Hong Kong or Kowloon Station, you may avail of the in-town check-in/bag drop desks.  Most carriers, including Philippine Airlines and Cathay Pacific have this facility: check with your carrier to see if they offer this.  This way you dont have to bring your hold baggage yourself to the airport and queue at the desks there.  To access the check-in/bag drop area, you must purchase your airport express ticket first, and tap your ticket at the reader in the entrance to the bag drop area.

We sorted out some issues that we had with seating.  To my surprise, I was given lounge access.  I dont know why this happened, considering that I wasnt given this same privilege on the outbound flight

hong kong airport terminal 1
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We then headed for the Airport Express Train which came just a few moments after entering the paid area.  It was a comfortable ride to the airport.


Philippine Airlines uses terminal 2 to process its departing passengers.  Although our bag drops were done at Kowloon Station, we decided to use this terminal anyway.  We spent some time looking around to see if there were chocolates or other treats, while consuming our drinks as we could not bring them through security.  After 20 minutes, we headed for passport control and security.  On one or two previous occasions, security screening came first before passport control but this time, HKIA authorities decided to return it to a more conventional approach of clearances.  Queues were extremely short despite only two desks being manned.  We were done in less than five minutes here. 

hong kong airport terminal 1
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TIP 5: It is possible that if you have no bags to drop at the desks anymore, you can use passport control and pre-departure security facilities in either terminal.  However, if you are taking PAL and do not have bags to drop anymore, do use Terminal 2 anyway as queues are much shorter here at night.
philippine airlines lounge hong kong
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I knew that I would have a really short time in the lounge.  It was 9:15pm and the plane wasnt there yet.  Lucky for me, our gate was close to the stores, restaurants and lounges, though it took almost five minutes to find the lounge PAL passengers use.  Before going to the lounge, I bought a treat for some of my friends at a store called Relay (I believe this store originated in France)

philippine airlines lounge hong kong
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When I entered the Plaza Premium Lounge, the first thing I wanted to look for was the food.  I found it slightly difficult to locate as the meals were at the back of the lounge.  They were serving chicken tonight.  However, when I got there it was almost empty.  I thought this was going to be a disappointing lounge experience until the staff topped up the tray.  I enjoyed two servings with rice.  I also got some bread and potato wedges, though I would have wanted to taste some sweets as well, which the lounge lacked.

plaza premium lounge hong kong
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I asked what the flight status was and I found out that the flight would be delayed by half an hour.  Given that this was a rare opportunity to use the lounge, I thought it was a good thing.  I had a few more potato wedges and one more serving of chicken with rice.  However, I was concerned that my companions werent part of the lounge invitation and that they might have been expecting me to return earlier.  I didnt even think they knew the flight was delayed. 

philippine airlines lounge hong kong
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I returned to the gate area at about 9.55pm.  The plane was already there. Less than 10 minutes afterwards, we boarded the aircraft.


I settled into my seat '32H' as passengers were queuing to reach their seat.  It took some time for everyone to get seated.  I was seated in a row with two other passengers. I thought at first that my side of the row was empty until another passenger arrived.

philippine airlines economy class a321
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TIP 6: As much as possible, if there is no boarding order specified, and you are seated in the front of your section, do board last. Likewise, if you are seated in the rear, do board first. This way you won’t have to force your way though the queues, and stand for so long until you reach your seat or aisle. In addition, the queue will move more quickly.

pal regular economy a321
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My suspicion for the aircraft substitution was that less passengers were flying than originally forecast.  I also observed that PR 311 doesnt get filled-up as much as Cathay Pacific 905.  The flight was not full at all. In some ways, it's not really that surprising if you compare the in-flight products offered by Cathay Pacific versus that of Philippine Airlines. The first economy class row wasnt full and neither was business or premium economy.  I didnt bother to check the back but these early observations were sufficient. 

philippine airlines premium economy
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Our flying time was roughly 1 hour and 40 minutes. 

As we were getting ready for take-off, I spotted cabin crew offering iPads to business and premium economy passengers.  Unfortunately economy class passengers werent offered the same, not even to rent. 

Just like on my outbound flight, the safety demonstration was conducted live as the aircraft isn't equipped with video monitors.  They also advised everyone that mobile phones could be used in-flight, except for phone calls.  It took us about 15 minutes to take-off from the time we left the gate.

Once the seat belt sign was switched off, supper was served within 10 minutes.  Of the two options between chicken and beef, I chose chicken.  Fruits were offered for dessert and served at the same time as the main course.  This meant that ice cream was not served anymore.  I found the meal delicious nonetheless, even if I was already stuffed from what I ate in the lounge.  I requested for a second serving of 7-up.  It did take a while and I thought the first cabin crew member that I requested  it from had forgotten so I followed it up with another crew member.  Though a moment later, there were two cans waiting for me and so I returned one of them. 
pal airline meal
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The rest of the flight passed uneventfully.  I spent the rest of the time in my seat and started to work on this flight report as much as possible.  Less than halfway through writing this report, the seatbelt sign was switched on again and we waited for the flight to land. 


Once on the ground, we headed straight for passport control.  As much as possible, we try to be seated close to the front to beat queues at passport control.  Though it took a while for the rest of my companions to catch up with me, queues at passport control werent too bad yet.  Border officers did not even ask for our arrival form.  We cleared it quickly and I headed for baggage claim.

TIP 7: Philippine passport holders who visit another country for a short time no longer need to fill-out the arrival form that is to be presented to border officers at passport control.  They will still need to fill-out a customs form however (one form per household of accompanying family members).   

Our bags were out early too. 

Before heading for customs, we sat down for a while to re-insert my Philippine SIM card into my phone.  It is a habit for me to use local SIM cards rather than roam, especially since I know I will be using mobile internet and making phone calls. 

TIP 8: Especially in this age of mobile internet, it is wiser to get a SIM card specific for the countries you are visiting.  It does cost a bit (you will usually need between 1,000-1,500, with credits included) but the price is minuscule compared to roaming charges you would have incurred by using your sim overseas.  Just make sure to unlockyour mobile phone (costs a bit too but is also an investment), and re-insert your home SIM once you return.

After that, we headed for customs.  They just took our form and we were out in the streets of Manila once again.  And with that another trip has just wrapped-up.


These are rated from 1 to 10 with 10 being the best score.  This covers aspects of the experience that PAL (and its ground agents) are supposed to be responsible for, and focuses on Economy Class. 
  • Check-in (9/10): It was quite quick, no queues. There was a slight glitch with the on-line check-in as one of the passengers didn’t get the seat she wanted. When I cleared it up, staff said that the airport controls these seats. I nonetheless sorted it out. The in-town baggage drop at Kowloon station helped a lot because we didn’t have to bring our big bags ourselves to the airport, and queue up there.
  • Boarding Process (9/10): It was quick and straightforward. What also helped me being tagged as a ‘priority’ passenger (for some mysterious reason). 
  • Seat Comfort (7/10): It is a standard economy class seat. Leg room was a bit tight though I was glad to be seated in an area where only two passengers occupied a block of seats. This tight legroom makes PAL indistinguishable from PALEx. 
  • Lounge (6/10): We were using the Plaza Premium Lounge. I thought I was going to give this a low mark since it was difficult to locate where the food was, and when I did, the tray was almost empty. I also thought that I would just leave the lounge almost right away but it was a good thing the staff at the food counter topped-up the chicken meal and plain rice. Though I wish their food selection was wider because I didn’t get to see any pastries or confections. 
  • Food (8/10): I found the chicken quite delicious even if it presentation was basic. However, I don’t think any other carrier, not even Cathay Pacific provides a full meal to passengers on a Hong Kong-Manila flight. I really think food is where PAL has an edge over Cathay for such sectors. 
  • Cabin Crew (9/10): The crew was quite polite and friendly. 
  • Punctuality (5/10): The flight was delayed by more than 30 minutes. We didn’t take to the air until around 10:45 pm. We managed to make up 15 minutes of time upon arrival. 
  • In-flight Entertainment (0/10): Simply put, PAL didn’t provide any IFE for economy class. They also didn’t even offer iPads for rent to regular economy passengers. Other legacy carriers are already scrambling to install individual IFE on their narrow-bodies whilst PAL decides to think Cebu Pacific is its main competitor, hence a lack of IFE. I can go on and on about arguing how much this lack if IFE reflects an identity crisis PAL projects but I’ll save that for a different post.


One other thing that I wish PAL would consider is to separate business and premium economy passengers. However, I could understand if they did not separate premium economy from regular economy passengers.  Given what I witnessed of the premium economy seats, I was unable to find much incentive to purchase a premium economy seat in the future. Restrictions, mileage accrual, and some other features are nearly identical to regular economy. In addition, I think that a regular economy exit seat may sometimes even offer more legroom than its premium counterpart.

philippine airlines economy
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PAL should just leave the mainline fleet to service long-haul sectors such as North America, Australia and the United Kingom, while letting PAL Express operate the rest if it continues to deploy or substitute bare-bones aircraft such as the A321 on regional routes.  While such a scenario would be undesirable in the sense that PAL would consider Cebu Pacific more of a rival than Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines or even China Airlines, at least it would give passengers a little bit more clarity as to what distinguishes Philippine Airlines from PAL Express. 

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