I tend to give most of my business to budget carriers on regional routes, but I’m happy to upgrade myself to a full-service airline when the prices are right or the schedules suit my preferences. On my latest trip to Korea, I settled on flag carrier Philippine Airlines (IATA Code: PR) and, despite various shortcomings, I’m pleased to say that I was satisfied with the experience.
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, and other details are accurate only for the specific flight reviewed here. This information may not necessarily apply to previous or future flights, even by the same airline under the same route and flight number.
This report covers the outbound leg (MNL-ICN) of a MNL-ICN/PUS-MNL open-jaw journey. My review of the return leg (PUS-MNL) will be published as a separate post.
Airline and flight number : Philippine Airlines (PR) 466
Route : Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL) to Seoul-Incheon, South Korea (IATA code: ICN)
Date : Saturday, 03 June 2017
Scheduled departure time : 0100 (actual 0118)
Scheduled arrival time : 0600 (actual 0600)
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : A321-200
Manufacturer : Airbus
Registration number : RP-C9916
Aircraft age (as of flight date) : 2 years
Passenger capacity : 199 seats in a two-class layout, consisting of 12 business and 187 economy (including 18 premium economy)
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site / SeatGuru
Travel class flown : Economy
PR466 departed from MNL’s Terminal 2, which is used exclusively by this airline.
Despite having just one tenant, Terminal 2 is far too small to comfortably house all flights operated by one of the country’s largest airlines. I remember reading somewhere that it was originally designed to host domestic routes only, with the plans subsequently rejigged to accommodate international flights. I don’t know for certain if that’s true, but the odd layout of the immigration control zone lends credence to the claim. And then there’s the inadequate seating, the small (and awkwardly positioned) business class lounge, the absence of third-party lounges, the single aerobridges, the limited options for dining and shopping and so forth. All things considered, it’s not at all difficult to imagine that international routes were tacked onto this place almost as an afterthought.
Two lanes were set up at the boarding gate. The one on the right was reserved (at least on paper) for Business Class passengers, Premium Economy Class passengers, persons with special needs, and elite-tier members of PR’s loyalty programme. Everyone else was meant to use the one on the left. I was amongst the first passengers through via the cattle class lane so I’m not sure how the rest of the boarding process went, but it appeared that people were being allowed to use both sides regardless of their travel class.
Incidentally, as the plane was taxiing towards the gate after landing in Korea, I managed to grab a quick shot of ICN’s gleaming new Terminal 2 (set to open this October).
I’ve no idea what it looks like on the inside, but I haven’t the slightest shade of doubt that it will be better in virtually every respect than the airport I’d taken off from that morning.
My Budget Economy ticket came with the standard checked luggage allowance of 20 kg each way. As for carry-ons, the rules permitted me one main item of no more than 7 kg, along with two additional small items. For the fine print and other details, read the guidelines on PR’s website here.
I wasn’t able to take proper pictures of the cabin interior on this flight. Thankfully, our Airbus A321-200 was pretty much identical to the birds I’d flown in a few years ago on PR’s MNL-NRT-MNL route, so you can refer to my description and photos of the seats in the two posts I wrote about that experience. Click here to read my outbound flight report (MNL-NRT), during which I was seated in Business Class; click here for the return flight report (NRT-MNL), when I was seated further back in Economy.
As a point of reference, let’s have a look at some of the pictures I took on those earlier trips. The following images show PR’s A321 Business Class, Premium Economy Class, and Economy Class seats, respectively.
On this occasion, I was travelling both ways as an Economy Class passenger. No complaints from me about either the legroom or the seat width, although I should point out that I’m not a particularly large fellow. Taller or wider folk may find it a bit of a squeeze, and might need to consider investing in exit row seats or a class upgrade.
My seat was 48K, right above the wing. Not much of a view, except for the wing itself of course…
…but it’s not a bad place to be in terms of stability. Above the wings or just forward of them is my favourite part of the plane in that regard.
On a not-particularly-long flight of just four hours’ duration – and during a time when I’d really rather be sleeping – I wouldn’t expect or demand much in the way of onboard entertainment. That said, the IFE infrastructure on this particular PR aeroplane leaves so much to be desired that I feel a small rant is warranted.
The A321-200 was one of several ordered under PR’s former leadership, who had rather stupidly decided to “innovate” by dispensing with traditional IFE and moving towards an online system whereby content would be streamed into users’ own devices. As expected, the decision met with a lot of criticism, including from myself. After all, who wants to hold a device aloft at eye level for an entire trip or during mealtimes, and who’d want to go through the trouble of installing PR’s media player app before being able to access the stream?
For the record, I did try PR’s wireless IFE system on a different flight, and all I got for the trouble was a pathetic handful of ancient or unheard-of films (with a few episodes of TV series thrown in). Thanks, but no thanks.
Fortunately, the new management are shifting back to the tried-and-true hard-wired IFE model – beginning this year with some of their A330 aircraft – so one hopes that this dismal state of affairs will be addressed at some point. Assuming that PR’s short and medium-haul fleet won’t get the desired upgrades anytime soon, I’d suggest at least one immediate improvement: seat-back mounts or brackets (preferably equipped with charging ports) that can securely hold passengers’ tablets or smartphones. That would help alleviate the inconvenience and strain of trying to keep one’s device in the right viewing position, especially when one’s hands and the tray table would otherwise be occupied (whilst consuming a meal, for example).
As for reading material, the usual in-flight magazine was supplied in every seat pocket. I didn’t ask for a newspaper, but I’m fairly certain that one would have been made available if requested.
CATERING AND SERVICE
I was half-asleep by the time meal service began, so I only have a vague recollection of the two available menu options. There was a beef dish, that much is certain – it’s what I selected after all – and going by historical averages, I’d wager the other choice was either chicken or fish.
And here we are. The meal as served…
… and with the lid taken off the main course. I’d also been given my choice of beverage by this point, which explains the cup of apple juice in the corner. (There was a reasonably wide selection on offer, including alcoholic drinks for those who cared for something stronger.)
The beef was nothing to write home about, but quite tasty all the same.
Neither of the two main choices was a proper Korean dish, though PR were savvy enough to add a route-appropriate touch to what would otherwise have been an ordinary in-flight meal. In addition to the usual items (a main course, bread and butter, sweet treats for dessert), the tray’s contents included both a small portion of kimchi and a tube of gochujang. Much appreciated on both counts, as I love having a bit of spice in my food.
Incidentally, you’ll notice that we were served not one, but two items for dessert. On top of the usual fruit portion (peach? mango? can’t remember as I was sleepy and the stuff was drowned in syrup anyway), each tray was supplied with a sampler-sized packet of dried pineapple. I didn’t expect much from the stuff at first, but it turned out to be quite good: the desiccation process seemed to have taken some of the edge off the fruit’s characteristic sourness and left a richer, sweeter flavour in its wake.
Having finished my meal, and with no proper IFE to keep me awake, I decided to catch a bit of sleep. Pillows had been laid on each seat prior to boarding, with the usual plastic-wrapped blankets distributed later. (This contrasts with my return PUS-MNL flight, where both pillows and blankets were prepared on each seat before boarding.)
Now then, a few words on the onboard service. PR’s hard product (particularly the seats and IFE) might not be on par with its full-service airline peers, but the performance of their cabin crew has been consistently good across the several times I’ve flown with them on different Japan and Korea routes. Granted, I’m not usually a demanding passenger so my interactions with in-flight personnel tend to be very limited, though I can say in all honesty that they’ve never given me any cause for complaint – even though the airline they work for has done so on various occasions.
PR’s hard product and home airport arrangements have always been something of a let-down, with neither quite up to scratch where full-service airline standards are concerned – and my experience on PR466 saw no improvement on either count. That said, their onboard catering and service were more than satisfactory, and (despite PR’s reputation for delays) this particular flight arrived bang on time.
Incidentally, this was the second time I’d flown with PR to Korea this year, and my impressions of the earlier flight are really not much different. I never bothered to write a report covering that journey, but the fact that I was willing to entrust my holiday with them again so soon is, perhaps, the best indicator of my satisfaction with their performance.
If the prices and schedules are right, I’d gladly fly with them again on this route.