Philippine Airlines: Manila to Sydney Flight Review (Round-Trip)

The Paranoid Traveler goes down under to see how the Centennial Terminal in Manila measures up against Sydney Airport in Australia. Get the low-down on the entire airport experience from check-in to immigration and all points in between and find out how Philippine Airlines stacks up on flights to Australia! 

naia terminal 2
Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
As Philippine Airlines is always my first choice for international travels (usually because it's easier to communicate with Filipino staff), the airline and its dedicated terminal in Manila are almost like home to me. Because of this cozy familiarity, I used to overlook the highlights and shortcomings of travelling with PAL until I was tasked to write a flight review outlining my impressions of our national carrier and the Philippine airport experience as compared with other countries. Fortuitously enough, my assignment came on the night before my trip to Sydney, Australia. "This should be interesting," I thought. So buckle up and let's see what's going down in this comparative analysis with the land down under! 

Getting to the Airport: "I've just arrived at the airport and I'm already beat."

As many travellers to Manila’s Centennial Terminal know, however fresh you step out of your house to get to the airport, the traffic will wear you down especially if you take a taxi. In my case, getting a taxi to the airport was not easy. Some of the taxis that I flagged down zoomed off when they found out my destination, as if I had asked to be driven all the way to Sydney! This made me a generous tipper to the one and only cabbie who agreed to do his job. 

sydney airport link
Image Source: Sydney Morning Herald
Compare that experience to Sydney where an almost-hassle-free 15-minute subway train ride will take passengers between the city centre and the airport! I said ‘almost’ because it is still a hassle to be lugging around check-in baggage more than half my size and weight, a hand-carry and a shoulder bag, while desperately trying to stop them from sliding and bumping into people's behinds. But at least, it's a short and comfortable ride that conveniently stops right inside the airport. How I wish we could do the same with our Manila MRT that currently stops deliberately nowhere near our airports!

I would have brought my car and parked it at the Centennial Terminal for the sake of convenience but since airport management decided to make life more interesting by charging exorbitant fees, I found that it would be more cost-effective to be ripped off by unscrupulous cab drivers instead. The parking lot at the NAIA Centennial Terminal used to be crowded but now passengers can zigzag their way all around it with plenty of yawning spaces to choose from. When I asked the guard and the booth operator how business was doing, they admitted that it suffered after the new rates were implemented. The airport management needs to rethink its policy in order to truly serve the public.

The Waiting Game: "Look, ma, no lines!"

Based on past experience, I was ready to be confronted by long queues everywhere at the Centennial Terminal in Manila but lo and behold, I was always first and the only one in line. The staff behind the check-in and the immigration counters were extraordinarily friendly and helpful. 

sydney immigration queue
Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
In Sydney, the experience was surprisingly different. As soon as we disembarked from the aircraft, a queue at immigration longer than the lines at Piolo Pascual's movies greeted us. There must have been 200 people ahead of us and nothing was moving at all. It took us more than an hour to clear immigration. The wait was so long that I was almost expecting to find my luggage at the unclaimed baggage section. After retrieving baggage in Sydney, the customs line was much quicker and shorter. When I inquired what was holding up the immigration line, all I got was a shrug from an airport official who was as bewildered as I was. “I don’t know.” I have experienced long lines elsewhere but nothing like this---not even in Manila.

The scene at Sydney Airport was different on my return flight back to Manila. The lines were long but they were moving with airport staff hollering and guiding the passengers. It was interesting to note that Sydney Airport had an express lane for its Business Class passengers from check-in all the way through to immigration while preferential service for Business Class passengers at the Centennial Terminal in Manila is limited to the check-in process only as all passengers must fall in line with the rest of the mortals for the remaining procedures. Sydney Airport is indeed giving you your money's worth of preferential treatment.

Size Matters: “Smaller can be better…sometimes”

One great thing about the Centennial Terminal is its small size. No one can get lost at an airport with sporadic kiosks. However, because it is small, it gets boring to wait and it gets excruciating if the flight gets delayed. There is not much to see and do. Wi-fi is available---if only to tease you. You might get a connection but browsing is another matter. Better to bring your own pocket wi-fi. It is great though that it has tables for laptop use as well standing computers. The ladies' room was comfortable to use with staff making sure each cubicle was clean for the next user although they couldn't keep up with how fast people were using up the toilet paper. (Of course, I can only comment on the ladies' room...)

philippine airlines sydney manila
Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
As for Sydney, well, I can't say. Why? Let me tell you what happened to me. My return ticket said that I have an 11:45 a.m. flight so I arrived at the check-in counter at a quarter to nine. That should be enough time to observe things to make this article more interesting, right? Only if the ticket was correct! Turns out that my plane was scheduled to leave at 10:10 a.m. and boarding was about to commence! This explains why the lady behind the counter seemed anxious for me. I reached the gate (which naturally had to be the farthest) without looking like I just finished last on "The Amazing Race." I even managed to observe that there were enough shops to help fill the time (if given the correct flight schedule, that is) and the seats at the boarding gate were comfortable.

Airport Security: “The fear of God…”

That reality TV show, "Border Security" put the fear of God in me as I packed for Sydney. It's a show that minces on nothing to demonstrate how serious the Australian airport staff is. One false declaration can set you back hundreds of dollars as well as lead you to a bout with high blood pressure from the interrogation. Although I have always been honest in my declaration forms, I really made sure that I read each question carefully and answered each one with fear and trembling. Thankfully, I wasn't hassled to open my bag full of Skyflakes, dried mangoes and airline peanuts.

In Manila, I encountered no problem with security checks at the Centennial Terminal but the passenger ahead of me was stopped because the authorities detected a lot of deodorant sprays in his luggage which according to rules are not allowed because they are flammable. The passenger said it was for his daughter who probably had a serious case of BO for her father to be carrying that much. My eavesdropping turned to major concern when I heard that the passenger was going to be on the same flight as I was. I wanted to take charge of the situation and confiscate them. I don't know what happened afterwards as I had no reason to stay in the area but it got me into thinking that if Philippine authorities were as strict as their Sydney counterpart, I think the deodorants would have been seized long before I had the chance to mind other people's business.

A Boring Flight: “Exactly how I like it!”

The most that I can say about my flights was that they were boring and uneventful which is exactly how I want them to be! Take-offs and landings were smooth that I need not hold on to my armrest to stop me from flying off my seat. We departed on time and landed even ahead of schedule but we had to wait longer inside the plane because our designated gates were occupied.

During the Manila to Sydney flight, I slept seven-eighths of the time that I missed dinner and had a quick and forgettable breakfast. Either the seats were that comfortable as I rarely sleep thoroughly mid-air or I was that exhausted that as soon as I buckled in, I was off to dreamland. I guess it helped that it was a late-night flight that my body clock was prepared to go to sleep as well. I just had a couple of rolls and water (as I am not a fan of cold cuts) for breakfast and it was time to put my seat back in landing position.

philippine airlines a340
Copyright Photo: Angelo Agcamaran/PPSG
From Sydney to Manila, I spent most of the time writing and rewriting this review with equally forgettable meal breaks of rolls, fruits, ice cream and a bland seafood rice which I just swallowed en toto just to keep my stomach from grumbling. There were several newspapers and of course, the Mabuhay magazine, to help pass the time. I did bring a couple of books with me but the lights were mostly turned off and I didn’t want to read in dim lights. We were on board one of PAL’s A340-300 aircraft and I tried the in-flight entertainment and found the remote control to be difficult to use until a flight attendant told me to be more patient when clicking as the screen reaction is kind of slow. Turns out my patience would not be rewarded as the selection of “Glee” and unrecognizable films failed to impress me so I just gave up and played Bejeweled on my iPad until my eyes hurt that I could see the gems floating outside my window.

As for the crew service, I can always count on PAL to be accommodating but I must offer kudos to its chief purser who went out of her way upon learning I was given the wrong departure time. I told her that because of the mistake, I missed the chance to get my GST refund. (In Australia, they seal your purchase together with a pink receipt for customs to tear off and keep. If I bring the pink receipt back to Manila, the GST will be charged automatically to my credit card.) I didn’t even ask for her assistance as I didn’t think there was anything that anyone could do but she took the package and came back without the pink receipt assuring me it had been taken care of. She added that she included in her report to management what happened to me and asked if I would want to fill out a complaint form. I said I will fill it out but not to complain as I wanted to commend her for her service.

Baggage Handling: “The carousel wait…”

Because of the long queue at the immigration in Sydney, I was able to retrieve my luggage immediately after. As for the Centennial Terminal, the immigration line experience was satisfactory as all booths were open so it was short and sweet but it was too much to expect a short wait at the carousel especially when we had to share with the London flight that had unloading priority. It took half an hour to finish the London flight and once it was our turn, my luggage was surprisingly and pleasantly one of the first to appear.

ninoy aquino international terminal 2
Copyright Photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN

The Final Judgement

So how did our Centennial Airport measure against Sydney International Airport? Well, IMHO, not bad actually considering we're supposed to be third-world. I don't think it is in any danger of being voted as the world's worst like its aging sister, NAIA Terminal 1. But as in everything, there will always be room for improvement. By the way, Centennial is pronounced as "senTENyal," not "senTINyal." If airport authorities would collect fees each time it is mispronounced, they would have more than enough budget to do away with terminal fees and parking would probably be offered for free!

As for Philippines Airlines, because of the helpful chief purser, I am not ticking PAL off my list. Mistakes do happen, and what is more important is how they are handled. See you again, PAL!


  1. This is something PR needs to improve, on CX I always get a notification SMS 2hrs before the flight, and you can always check your flight information when logging into their website.

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