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Was it worth it? FLIGHT TEST: Philippine Airlines NRT - MNL - SYD

Karryon's GAYA AVERY weighs up the cost benefits versus the relative inconvenience of a layover in Manila on a return journey from Tokyo to Sydney. 

Karryon’s GAYA AVERY weighs up the cost benefits versus the relative inconvenience of a layover in Manila on a return journey from Tokyo to Sydney. 

Booking Me doesn’t care too much about Future Me. It cares only about good value. The fact that two-thirds of us would still be recovering from being ill is not a consideration. Booking Me is healthy and hasn’t travelled on a long flight with a child since before the pandemic. I hate Booking Me. 

With family in both the Philippines and Japan we rarely visit one without also visiting the other. It helps that Philippine Airlines often has great multi-stop deals which means that we can do so relatively cheaply. But here’s what I wish Booking Me had known. 

The Philippines is worth two extended stopovers

We only spent three nights in Manila before heading to Japan. If I had my time again, I would have stayed longer on the way over, maybe relaxed on one of the Philippines’ beautiful islands and then flown to Japan. On our return through Manila, I would have stayed a couple of nights in just Manila before flying home. I know this works because this is what we’ve done in the past. 

An island holiday is a nice complement to both Japan’s bigger cities and its rural retreats. And a quick stop in Manila on the way home can ease you into your return via some lovely hotel pools and some quick retail therapy.  

The pool at the Ascott Makati. Who wouldn’t rather be here than waiting for a plane?

The shorter legs don’t come with entertainment

Most eight-year-olds can endure anything when in front of a screen. Our Philippine Airlines flights into and out of Australia were a breeze because of this one simple fact. But when flying from Manila to Tokyo and vice versa on Philippine Airlines, the lack of back-of-seat screens meant that the 4-5 hour flights felt longer than they were. 

We had come equipped with a phone pre-loaded with entertainment but didn’t want to give our daughter this unless absolutely necessary. The Philippine Airlines flights to and from Sydney were aboard an A330-300 in a 2-4-2 configuration. The flights from Manila to Narita and vice versa were aboard a A321ceo in a 3-3 configuration. On the way over, my daughter liked having all of us in the same row and so was happy to just read, play and draw and do a bit of school work. It helped that she had only that short flight to endure rather than coming off another longer flight. 

The Philippine Airlines flight from Sydney to Manila had inflight entertainment.
The much-desired inflight entertainment was missing on shorter legs.

On our return flight, with that longer Philippine Airlines flight still looming, we caved and gave her the phone. It was going to be a long day.

You also have to consider the non-flight transfers

Philippine Airlines flies into both Narita and Haneda. And there’s a big difference between flying into and out of both airports. As airports go, I love both, but Haneda is without question much closer to downtown Tokyo than Narita is. While it’s not hard to get to Narita thanks to the Narita Skyliner Express, it is simply farther away. Not to mention more expensive (though you can use your JR Pass) and seats must be reserved. And then of course you still have to get to or from your hotel which can mean more transfers. 

Our arrival Philippine Airlines flight got us in with just enough time to buy our Skyliner tickets from a person before they closed for the night. But it was late, my daughter was tired and hungry and navigating from Narita to our hotel in Tokyo was not easy for her.

Tack on another (slightly longer) flight and a four-hour layover in Manila and you’ve got our return journey.

Transfers were not straightforward

We got to Narita’s Terminal 2 in plenty of time to explore. Upon check-in, we were told something about our bags being screened in Manila, which we just filed away as something they always say. I double-checked that our bags would be checked all the way through. They were, so we hot-footed it to check out the many dining and shopping options in Narita. 

Upon arrival at Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport, we were all looking forward to relaxing in the Marhaba Lounge in Terminal 1 (our arrival and departure terminal and Philippine Airlines’ ‘home’ terminal).

Having scoped out the terminal on our departure, we thought it best to just chill in a lounge for our extended layover on our return. But first, when our Philippine Airlines flight landed, we were shuttled via bus to the terminal where we had to go through a transfer security screening. It seemed no one was staying in Manila and everyone was transferring through. The one line was long and even the staff were saying it was a lot of transfer passengers. 

Finally through, we made our way to the lounge. Having cooled down on local ice creams and drinks (the lounge was unusually warm, even compared to the rest of the terminal), we waited out the stay in relative comfort. 

When our flight was called we headed to the gate for another security screening. Only before this, on seeing our baggage tags attached to a boarding pass, a member of ground staff said a little surprised, “Oh, you’ve got checked luggage? You need to get that screened.” Boarding had begun and my husband had to go to a different gate downstairs (though not too far) to sight our bags, open them and watch as they were inspected. He then had to close them up and come back upstairs. 

At this point, we had to go through another security check. We were carrying very little and luckily just walked through after bags were scanned, but others had their bags opened and scrutinised (again, some said). 

According to the Philippine Airlines website, this additional security is a “requirement by the government of Australia to ensure the safety and protection of Philippine Airlines passengers in the flight”. There are similar requirements for those flying into Canada and the USA. 

The website makes clear the process of the additional baggage screening and even requests that checked baggage only have temporary seals (so no plastic wrapping). It also advises of the “redundancy security screening and documents check at the designated boarding gate”. This basically means that you can’t buy a bottle of water to take on the plane.

I found this information thanks to Google after the fact. I would have preferred to have been provided with the information from the airline after checking in online perhaps or when prompted to check in online. 

So was flying Philippine Airlines to Japan worth it?

The transfer on our return flight was the biggest issue we had and to be honest it wasn’t that big of an issue. But if we’d instead stayed in Manila for just a couple days it would have been a non-event. 

Staying at one of the many nearby hotels in Newport World Resorts is really easy, but even the more salubrious hotels in Makati are only a short taxi/Grab away. And there is little better than an icy cold green mango shake or San Miguel by the pool. My daughter’s first words when we returned to Manila were to ask why we weren’t staying there. Our response was, we should have.

The writer was not sponsored by Philippine Airlines, and the airline did not review or approve the content before publishing.