Opinion: Upfront Payment of Terminal Fees Adds Insult to Injury at the World's Worst Airport

Frankly, I am so dumbfounded about why our government has been unable to elevate the state of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) to world-class standards despite reports consistently ranking it as one of the worst airports in the world. Most of the world’s most celebrated airports are less than four hours away from Manila. In fact, our airport managers do not even need to go outside the country when they can look at our malls. We have so many world-class shopping malls that can be adopted for an airport setting. One of them is just 90 seconds away by chopper. I am confident that some of these officials have visited a world-class airport at least once in their life, especially a mall in the Philippines. 

Image Source: Airport Philippines
Yes, there are efforts to rehabilitate Terminal 1, but I am also talking about all the terminals we have. Toilets are occasionally not working, air-conditioning systems break down, signs are still in wooden planks or printed on plain white paper, and even LCD flight information boards are a rarity in Terminal 3. And even if we get brand new airports in this country, they don’t seem brand new after just a couple of years in operation. This is in contrast with other airports around the world, where they are regularly maintained to make them seem as brand new. The proliferation of popular stores and eateries in a terminal’s airside section only just happened in recent years. Even seamless transport links between the four terminals, as well as a link between the airport complex and the city centre leave plenty to be desired. In relation, the only convenient transport link to the outside world from NAIA for those without their own car or prior arrangements is a yellow taxi, which gets frequent complaints for overcharging or dishonest pricing.

Opinions criticizing the mismanagement of NAIA have surfaced here and there, including one that goes on to say how “Anti-Filipino” NAIA can get. But the way in which a passenger pays for the terminal fee is what I find most insulting. There is no better reminder that we are paying to suffer substandard airport conditions than paying our terminal fees upfront at an airport counter before getting processed at passport control. We pay ₱550 ($12.50 or £7.50) each time we leave for a foreign destination using NAIA. And if you booked your flight online, you even face an additional queue to pay the TIEZA tax of ₱1,620 ($37 or £22.20) before you proceed to your flight’s check-in desk. 

Image Source: Sleeping in Airports
No other airport outside the Philippines that I know of does this. In most cases, foreign airports collect terminal fees, taxes, and other fees when the passengers buy their ticket. In effect, even if passengers are charged, it doesn’t feel as if the passenger is paying for these fees. And yet, they get to enjoy decent airport conditions. I don’t know why NAIA isn’t doing this for international flights, when in fact they already do it for domestic flights.

Allow me to share with you the approximate amount of fees (in US Dollars and British Pounds) that most airports will charge you for using their terminal. To simplify the discussion, we only included charges levied for the use of the terminal itself whenever possible. However, it becomes an interesting story if we decide to add other national aviation-related fees and taxes, as a Filipino passenger will be looking to spend about $50 or £30 worth of taxes and fees when departing the Philippines.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport Manila: $12.50 or £7.50

Image Source: Suddeutsche
Hong Kong Airport: $15.50 or £9.30

Image Source: Declan McCullagh Photography
Singapore Changi Airport: $16 or £9.60

Image Source: Back Row Flier
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport: $21.10 or £12.70 

Image Source: Airport Technology
Tokyo Narita Airport: $20.80 or £12.50

Image Source: WAttention
Los Angeles International Airport: $4.50 or £2.70

Image Credit: Jason Knowles / Inhabitat
Vancouver International Airport: $18.70 or £11.30

Image Source: Vancouver Observer
Dubai International Airport: $20 or £12.10

Image Source: Mountain of Travel Photos
Seoul Incheon Airport: $28.30 or £17

Image Source: Wikimedia
Based on the above terminal fees in airports around the world, the passenger experience is reminiscent of being in a modern shopping mall for a small additional fee compared to NAIA. For just an extra $3-$8, the airport management in other countries can squeeze in so many value-added features. You get concierge-like airport staff, efficient and customer-friendly service, brand-new interior designs, spotless toilets, functioning complementary internet access, eye-pleasing flight information monitors, seamless and extremely convenient connections between flights regardless of your terminal as well as between the airport itself and the city centre, and world-class shopping and dining. I can go on and on pointing out what specific stores, restaurants, lounges, and transport links other airports offer that NAIA does not, but the point is that you get to experience more value-for-money in these other airports.

Indeed, one can argue that the airlines or restaurant and retail owners are responsible for this, but NAIA should provide an atmosphere that will invite and entice major retailers and restaurant chains in the country to set up shop in the airport.

Even Senator Ralph Recto demanded action on how fees need to be spent towards improving the standards at NAIA. He said that "If a mall charges a mere ₱10 for the use of a hotel-like toilet, I can't see why a Filipino travelling abroad who pays ₱550 in terminal fees and ₱1,620 in travel tax should be entitled to less." In fact, when I visit the top shopping malls in the country, I don’t get charged a “user fee” to take the lifts, use their toilets, or enter the department store, and yet I still feel the mall operators are doing a fantastic job at keeping them in perfect condition. In those malls, the only things I pay for are parking, the food I consume, films I watch, and the goods I bring home – all of which are optional.

San Miguel has proposed that a new airport be built. It is believed that the money will come from SMC’s own pocket, not taxpayer coffers. It plans to offer everything one can possibly ask for in a world-class airport, maybe even more. Ramon Ang (RSA) even offered to sell his own shares in our flag-carrier if a conflict of interest may arise. Yet the government still prefers to have it at Sangley. While concerns about prevailing winds directions at the San Miguel proposed site have merit, I believe such reservations regarding SMC’s proposal might reflect something deeper about this government’s reluctance to relinquish control. We gave a state-owned entity, the MIAA a chance to run the show for far too long, yet look how far they have taken the money that we pay them whenever we queue at the designated payment counter in NAIA. It's all been a waste.

However, I see some hope. The airports in Mactan-Cebu and Puerto Princesa are getting makeovers that will hopefully showcase what our airports can achieve. A private consortium will initially manage Mactan-Cebu Airport’s new terminal. In addition, I find Iloilo having the most aesthetically pleasing airport in the country. However, these are not the primary airports that most travellers use when they have to enter the Philippines. It will more often than not be Manila’s NAIA. I believe the expression that “first impressions last” is true especially where airports are concerned. Whilst a good airport won’t automatically turn travellers on to consider the Philippines, I hope they bear in mind that a poor-quality one will most certainly turn them off.

Lest I will repeat what other critics have already said, at the very least, I challenge the MIAA to stop explicitly reminding us that we are paying to use an airport that falls short of world-class standards. By asking us to join a queue and shell out cash amidst the look of a worn-out NAIA, we feel nothing short of insulted.


Philippine Flight Network is spearheading a campaign to encourage the Philippine Government to accept the San Miguel Corporation proposal to construct a new international airport for Metro Manila. Please sign the online petition asking the Philippine Government to act now!


  1. Hay naku,paalisin ang manager na si honrado,trapo sya ng gobyerno.sya ang dahilan sa kahihiyan ng pilipinas! Goverment,action agad now na!

  2. This is one of the largest "scams" being perpetrated by consent of the Philippine government. It is not a secret that corruption runs rampant in the Philippines. Based on the amount collected from fees, there shouldn't an insufficient amount of funds for the maintenance of the facilities. In fact, adjusted for the costs in PhP, there should be a surplus.

    There are only two explanations for this discrepancy:
    (1) gross incompetence in the managing and appropriation of the funds.
    (2) rampant corruption which runs all the way to the top.

    Though both scenarios are probable, the latter is more likely. Passenger numbers at NAIA have increased steadily year after year, therefore the amount of funds collected have also increased. Yet, they can't keep the air conditioners running? It doesn't take a genius to quickly assess that there is something amiss with the arithmetic of 1+1= .27, the culprit(s) are obviously somewhere within the airport system, itself.

    To find the "leak" in the system, one can easily get a NAIA Organization Chart, or "Org-chart", and follow the line from the agents collecting the funds up to wherever it may go. The fact that this is even an issue, and, that this has been going on for quite some time, leads one to believe that those who have the authority to investigate, are also the culprits guilty of perpetrating this scam!

  3. The insult is worse if you're a Filipino. You have to pay the Php1620 "travel tax". A bigger scam!

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but AFAIK, aside from the Philippines and Indonesia, no other country imposes this burden on their travelling citizens.

  4. Why do passengers using NAIA have to pay terminal fees and travel tax for an airport voted "Worst Airport in the World" all these years? Ever wondered where all those money gone?

    1. Terminal fee has always been a NAIA issue, but I'm shocked that very few have complained about the huge huge travel tax for Filipinos

  5. You forgot to mention that for paying the travel tax, passengers pay an additional P200 "processing fee". That is for the paper the receipt is printed on, the ink from the pen they used to write your receipt, pretty much for the trouble you caused them for traveling.

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