AirAsia Flight Review: Caticlan to Manila (A320)

Author's note: This is the second of two posts related to this trip.  You can read the post from the outbound flight here.

Like all good things, my beach holiday had to come to an end.  One unique thing about this journey is that I am using a different carrier to the Boracay vicinity from the one I used to fly into it.  I have already checked in the night before, purchasing extra legroom seats, and got my mobile boarding card.

View of Boracay beach from my hotel
Image source: hybridace101
I was travelling back to Manila all by myself as the rest of my family left on earlier flights.  

After my morning routing of having breakfast at the hotel's buffet table, I spent the rest of the mid-morning to early afternoon at the hotel.  I did not bother to go outside and have a massage or walk along the sandy beaches despite perfect weather.  It was for two reasons: first because I had a slight headache and second because there was simply no more time.  Lucky for me someone managed to arrange to allow me to stay in one of the hotel rooms until my shuttle back to the airport was ready.  

The staff my hotel were really helpful, warm, and paid attention to detail.  If one had a request, they would come to the room, no questions asked.  At around 1.45 pm, the porters were at the door waiting for me.  A representative from the reception was there to see me off.  I took the shuttle with a family of five and I was glad that I did.  We had a good talk about our recent travels.  It went relatively uneventful but I noticed that the jettyport on the other side was powered up by generator again.  In no time, another shuttle van was waiting to take us for a two-minute drive to the airport.      

CHECK-IN, SECURITY AND TERMINAL EXPLORATION
The first thing I noticed upon entering the terminal was that the flight monitors showed that two AirAsia flights departing (supposedly) 20 minutes away from each other were using the same gate.  I thought that would confuse passengers.  But read further and to know the resolution.

Flight monitors at Caticlan Airport showing two AirAsia flights sharing the same gate
Image source: hybridace101


Just like with other Philippine airports, Caticlan Airport had security checkpoints at the entrance and non-passengers could not enter the building.  The security staff were helpful when I enquired about what items could be placed in hold baggage.    

The queues at check-in were not busy.  However I was a bit puzzled that the priority/bag drop desks were not serving passengers at the time I was there.  I was directed to the regular check-in desk instead once it became available.  Once served, I was done in two minutes.  The agent asked me if I wanted to use a paper boarding card or if I was fine with my mobile boarding card.  I opted for the latter.  It was something worth noting that like Cebu Pacific, AirAsia in the Philippines was embracing the latest technologies.  At least I was confident that the mobile boarding card is not alien in Filipino domestic flights any longer.

AirAsia check-in desk at Caticlan Airport
Image source: hybridace101

After the standard post-bag drop security check, I found myself in a relatively small departure hall.  Still, it had adequate stalls and a fully-functional Starbucks outlet from which to purchase snacks.  I did not bother to purchase anything here given that only cash was accepted due to the lack of full power.  For the most part, I waited at one corner of the departure hall watching some videos.  I did not see the family I was with in the shuttle.  But there were changes in gate assignments: the other AirAsia flight departing 20 minutes before mines was reassigned to a different gate.  At least that alleviated some of the confusion.

Caticlan Airport Airside
Image source: hybridace101

Caticlan Airport Airside
Image source: hybridace101

However, one of the strangest reasons for a flight delay was used: a lack of coaches to ferry passengers from the terminal to the aircraft.  It was strange because this was a planned flight, the ground crew should have the resources ready when it was time for the flight. 

I was lucky to find some foreigners who spoke a language I was learning (I could recognise the words and accents to guess what language it was or where the speakers are from).  They had nothing but praise for the Philippines.  However, the boarding announcements were made so I did not spend too much time with them at the departure hall.

FLIGHT PROPER

Flight number: Z2224
Gate: 4
Scheduled Departure Time: 16:10
Aircraft Registration: RP-C8976

AirAsia A320
Image source: hybridace101

I managed to use the express/priority lane due to my extra legroom seat.  However, the coach I was assigned to had to stop to get some bags loaded.  Also, I wondered what the point was of my express/priority lane when mines was the last bus to let passengers board. 

Upon entry at the aircraft, I felt as if nothing changed from when I last took AirAsia more than a decade ago: bright red seats in front and at the emergency seats, black leather seats everywhere else, and popular boarding music.  Philippines AirAsia has indeed standardised its practices and brand with the parent company.

I was glad that seated right next to me were some of the foreigners I had an earlier chat with.  It gave me an opportunity to continue practising in the language I was learning.  Not too long into the resumed conversation did the flight crew remind us of the responsibilities of those seated next to the emergency exit.  I took that opportunity to ask the crew about the meals and they gave me a definite answer that it was chicken. 

AirAsia A320 red seats
Image source: hybridace101

AirAsia A320 regular seats
Image source: hybridace101

We were on the ground for a while because of awaiting air traffic clearances resulting from the delay I talked about.  The captain was apologetic about it.  At around 5.20-ish pm, we were taking off.

Right after take-off, I was served the meal included in my fare.  I was glad that it was chicken with race, a similar meal to what I ordered when I first took AirAsia.  But the cabin crew gave out a small bottle of water as well.  I enjoyed it and finished it in no time.

Chicken meal with AirAsia
Image source: hybridace101

TIP: In the AirAsia fares that include meals (value pack), you can only pick between a generic vegetarian and non-vegetarian option.  If you want a specific meal, you will need to pay for it separately.  Try to book hold baggage and your chosen specific meals separately if you want the latter.  


For most of the flight, I was playing some videos I downloaded to my phone.  I also found that AirAsia provides free WiFi.  But when I tested it, it did not work.

We spent about a half-hour in descent-and-approach mode.  For most of this time, the cabin lights were dimmed.  Rather than travel through a straight line until close to Manila, we took a detour close to Laguna de Bay.  I figured this was air traffic control's way of telling our pilot that there was a long queue.  It was nothing out of the ordinary but if a pilot makes it to their slot, then that pilot should be given priority. 

ARRIVAL
We landed more than hour behind schedule.  The plane parked at a remote stand and busses were waiting to bus us to Terminal 4.  This marked the first time I would use the facility.  The arrival hall looked fairly modern and polished despite its relatively tiny size.  It took a while for any bag to emerge and even then, baggage handlers may have sent the wrong bags by accident as they had to close the baggage door.  But after nearly 20 minutes after entering the terminal, my bag emerged.

Before I left the terminal, I said my goodbye to the group of foreigners I conversed with.  I was glad to have met them and said that if I visit their country, I would contact them.
Terminal 4 Baggage Claim
Image source: hybridace101
    
RATINGS FOR THIS LEG
These are rated from 1 to 10 with ten being the best score.  This covers aspects of the flight experience that Cebu Pacific and its ground agents are responsible for.
  • Check-in (8/10):  The app allowed mobile boarding cards to be issued so it was a life-saver.  It was easy to retrieve.  It would be helpful though for AirAsia's app developers to try to include a mechanism for the boarding card to be downloaded onto Apple Wallet.  At the airport though, it took a while for me to be served.  I had to be redirected to a regular desk after those on the 'priority' desk were busy doing some paperwork behind.  But once I was served, the process took less than two minutes.       
  • Boarding Process (7/10): I managed to use the priority boarding lane easily.  However, the disappointing part was that I was directed to a bus which did not have the first set of passengers to actually board.
  • Seat Comfort (8/10): It was a fairly standard seat and not one of those slimline seats proliferating in European mainline carriers and LCCs alike.  Tray table was wide enough.  For an exit row, it featured more than sufficient legroom.  However the main let down was the inability to recline the seat. 
  • Cabin Crew (9/10): I hate limited contact with the crew but nonetheless, I found them relatively helpful.
  • Food (9/10): Food was included in my fare.  And I was glad I got the chicken and rice meal.  It tasted delicious.  Despite the 
  • Punctuality (3/10): This was simply a flight that departed and arrived late.  But the lack of busses was a strange reason for it.
  • In-flight entertainment and connectivity (4/10): Given that this was a short flight, the upside was AirAsia offered free wifi.  The bad news was that it was not working.  

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