Air Asia Flight Review: Manila to Tacloban (Round-Trip)

Finally! I am going to Tacloban on an airline I have never flown with before---Air Asia and I am flying out of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 4 post-renovation for the first time. This should be interesting.

ninoy aquino airport terminal 4
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 There wasn’t a lot of people at the entrance….

naia terminal 4
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 …because everybody else was inside.

ninoy aquino airport terminal 4
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The last time I was at NAIA 4 was more than five years ago and I remembered it to be dark and looking very much its age. I was therefore glad to see that the renovation wasn’t just hype. NAIA 4 looks very clean, spacious, and well-lit.

manila old domestic airport
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The check-in process was quick as I was already web checked-in and just had to check in my luggage at the baggage drop where I was the only one in queue.

ninoy aquino airport terminal 4
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Hordes of people were inside the lounge that it probably took my friends and me half an hour to find available seats even after one flight had already boarded. It was almost like a game of musical chairs as to who could get to the seats fastest once they were vacated.

manila terminal 4
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Boarding commenced on time.

air asia philippines a320
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air asia zest cabin crew
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I usually book myself a front seat but this time, I let Air Asia pick out my seat and they assigned me one at the back. It was the first time I had boarded a plane from the back and saw that there was also a very friendly and happy crew checking our boarding passes as well.

air asia philippines cabin
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
air asia philippines cabin
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air asia meals
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As much as I can help it, I never order on-board meals because my taste buds go through agony with airline meals so I always eat before the flight or bring my own food. In this case, my friend prepared a grilled chicken sandwich for us. But looking at the menu, I think I wouldn’t have minded ordering the chicken rice or the nasi lemak---if they arrived as filling and delicious as they looked in the pictures.

air asia philippines safety demo
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I think this is the very first time I’ve seen safety instructions in Filipino.

Taxiing was kind of wobbly like the wheels were trying to find their stability but the rest of the flight was comfortable except for brief and mild turbulence upon reaching our destination.

air asia flight review
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
As soon as we landed and the seat belt sign was turned off, we all stood up facing the front until we heard the door open from the back giving us, the rear passengers, another exit option. We made an almost synchronized about-face.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
As much as all the passengers were in a hurry to leave the plane, most were milling around it for a selfie after getting off.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I guess that’s time better spent than waiting for your luggage to come out.

tacloban airport
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Mine took 10 minutes to come out.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
As soon as we stepped out of the airport, men with umbrellas were competing for our attention, screaming “Taxi! Taxi!” like paparazzi. I yelled that I wanted a tricycle thinking it would be cheaper but my group of three was being charged P150 for a fifteen-minute drive to our hotel. The taxi was just fifty pesos more so we opted for it instead. It was amusing how friendly these men were even if we didn’t hire them. As we waited for our driver to get his taxi, the men were pointing us to a cooler place to wait. One even shared his umbrella with me saying, “Ang init! Ang init!” (It’s hot! It’s hot!) I laughed while thanking him but I had to decline the Imelda Marcos treatment. Incidentally, Imelda Marcos hails from Tacloban.

BYE, TACLOBAN!

Eventually, it was time to leave Tacloban. Our taxi driver whom we hired when we arrived in Tacloban later became our tour guide and personal comedian. We were thinking of going to the airport early but he shouted, “Masisira beauty ninyo!” (Literally: “your beauty would be ruined” but it’s more of a vernacular and funny way of saying that it’s not a good idea.) He said we wouldn’t be able to do anything before the counters open and it would just be a waste of our time. We didn’t get what he was trying to say. My friends and I were willing to wait anyway but he insisted on taking us to Robinson’s Mall instead and he picked us up when the counters opened. We relented and had our lunch there. (I highly recommend Jo’s Chicken Inasal at the food court for being so generous with their servings. Each meal comes with two huge cups of rice!)

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 When we arrived at the airport, it wasn’t surprising to see a long line at the entrance.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 I thought the people there were just waiting to be let in.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Turns out that the entrance was the “lobby” of sorts. No one, and absolutely no one, was allowed entry before the counters were ready to check in passengers. That was what our tour guide was warning us about earlier. Our flight was scheduled to fly at 1:20pm and we were telling him that it was okay for us to be at the airport as early as 10:00am but the airport authorities were strict about letting people in before the check-in time. Good thing we took his advice and spent our waiting time at an air-conditioned mall.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
I eventually went up to the front of the line to ask if we could already be allowed inside because we were web checked-in. Negative.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
As soon as I entered inside, I understood the rationale behind the policy. The check-in area was small, crowded, cramped and very hot. I inquired about a bag drop counter and was told that I had to line up at the one regular line as there was no web check-in counter. The wait wasn’t that long actually. It was just the high temperature that made it seem longer. My face was probably all shiny with perspiration. My face towel was almost drenched by the time it was my turn.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
This fan at the Air Asia counter did little to ease the discomfort as you had to stand in front of it to experience relief.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 I hope the increased terminal fees collected will help improve the facility.

air asia tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
While waiting for my turn, the man in front of me kept going back and forth from his spot to the self-service machine which had a “closed” sign above it but someone was still using it.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 Beside the check-in counter was a makeshift office.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The air-conditioned, spacious and well-lit departure gate lounge was a stark contrast to the crowded, hot and poorly-lit check-in area like it was almost an oasis.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The second I stepped inside it, I heaved a huge sigh of relief especially after feeling the breeze of air-conditioning touching my face. I guess my reaction was much bigger than I intended, which caused some people to turn their heads and look at me. “Move along, people….nothing to see here…”

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
The perimeters of the lounge were occupied by the usual food and souvenir stalls.

tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
tacloban airport
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 Soon enough, it was time to board the plane.

air asia tacloban
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Although boarding was on time, our actual departure was twenty minutes late due to the “sequencing of our time of arrival.”

air asia philippines
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We boarded almost as soon as the incoming Manila passengers were done exiting which probably explains the litter.

air asia cabin
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air asia a320 philippines
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Earlier, I mentioned it was my first time to fly Air Asia but it wasn’t my first time to ride the Airbus 320. But somehow this one felt more cramped and the seats were too straight and stiff for me.

The flight was uneventful although a bit funny. Before we took off, a woman stood in the middle of the plane calling out for her husband who was assigned a seat several rows down. For all to hear, she was telling him that he could sit next to her as she was alone in her entire row. She kept repeating herself but the husband remained unidentifiable. He neither stood up nor answered---at all.

air asia zest
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
Upon landing, we all stood up with some of us facing the back door expecting it to open but this time, we could only exit through the front door.

manila airport terminal 4
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
 There was a short five-minute walk from the plane to the baggage claim area.

ninoy aquino airport terminal 4
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
naia terminal 4
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
ninoy aquino airport terminal 4
Copyright photo: The Paranoid Traveler/PFN
My luggage came out last of the batch with an approximately twenty-minute waiting time.

So, will I fly Air Asia again? It may not be my first priority but it’s now entered my list of options for price comparison.

---THE PARANOID TRAVELER----

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