Terminal Report: Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) T2, Metro Manila, Philippines

Terminal 2 (T2) of Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) was originally designed to serve only domestic flights. However, the great majority of international routes operated by flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PR) are currently based at the terminal’s northern wing. In today’s report, we’ll see what it’s like to fly out of the country from this major gateway – and we’ll gauge whether the building is up to the challenge of hosting flights it was never designed for.

Note: The coverage of this report is limited to international departures from MNL T2. The terminal’s international arrivals zone and domestic wing will not be described in detail. Separate reports covering Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 are also available on this blog.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (“MNL”) and Philippine Airlines (“PR”) using their respective IATA codes.

The information presented is current as of the day I used the airport (22 September 2018). Details may change at any time and without prior notice. Bear in mind that plans are being drawn up for a major terminal reorganisation at MNL, which will see T2 serving only domestic routes (consistent with its original design), although these changes aren’t likely to be introduced wholesale until 2019 or later. Renovation work at T2 is now underway to prepare for the terminal reassignments, and this may impact the passenger experience even before any flights are transferred.

OVERVIEW

Airport name : Ninoy Aquino International Airport (commonly abbreviated as “NAIA”)
IATA code : MNL
ICAO code : RPLL
Country : Philippines
Major city served : Metro Manila
Routes served : International and domestic
Terminals : Four. T1 is purely international, T4 is purely domestic, and T2/T3 are mixed-use. This report is solely focussed on T2, specifically on its international departures zone.
Passenger traffic (total for all terminals) : 42,022,484 (2017) – 44th busiest in the world
Related links : Wikipedia / Flightradar24 / Philippine Airlines
Date of visit : Saturday, 22 September 2018
Flight taken from airport : Philippine Airlines PR426, Manila-Fukuoka (MNL-FUK), scheduled departure 0945
Terminal used : Terminal 2 (T2) – North Wing, international departures

LOCATION

LAND TRANSPORT CONNECTIONS

MNL isn’t served by direct rail links. Road-based transportation is available in the form of buses and taxis, as well as vehicles booked through ride-hailing services (Grab being the dominant player).

Transport company UBE Express operates scheduled bus services between MNL and various points in Greater Manila. Refer to their official website or their Facebook page for current timetables and other announcements. I’ve never taken them myself – schedules and frequencies are quite poor for the route closest to where I live – but they might be a useful option depending on one’s point of origin and the timing of one’s flight.

For travellers going by road, the most straightforward route to/from MNL involves taking the new NAIA Expressway (NAIAX). This elevated toll road links the three largest terminals (T1/T2/T3) to the South Luzon Expressway (SLEX) in the east and the Manila–Cavite Expressway (CAVITEX) in the west, and thence to other points in Greater Manila and beyond.

LANDSIDE ZONE (before immigration/security)

Completed in 1999 according to plans drawn up by the engineering arm of Aéroports de Paris, T2 was originally designed to serve as a purely domestic terminal. With that in mind, it’s easier to understand why this structure seems so ill-suited to the dual role it currently plays, where half of the building is used for domestic routes and the other half – the one we’re currently in – hosts international services.

Which is a shame, really … considering that T2’s soaring, airy architecture is my favourite amongst the four terminals of MNL. We’ll see more of that in my shots of the interior, but it’s apparent even before we walk inside.

There’s a security barrier just inside the entrance – with baggage scanners and walk-through metal detectors – which is typical of airports in the Philippines. Note that this is in addition to, not in place of, the usual pre-departure security checks next to the immigration zone. This means that you’ll need to put your belongings (and yourself) through the scanners twice before you even reach the boarding gates.

Check-in Facilities

At T2, the check-in counters are longitudinally orientated; i.e., ranged in a single line along one edge of the hall. This stands in contrast to the transverse islands one often sees at major airport terminals, including MNL’s larger T3.

Counters 42-61 are in the southern half of the check-in hall…

…whilst counters 62-81 are in the northern half. Bear in mind that at T2, PR flights bound for different destinations often share the same check-in counters, with passengers under various flight numbers mixed into the same queue. Don’t be alarmed if the chap ahead of you says that he’s going to ABC when you’re checking in for XYZ: you’ll be fine as long as you’re at the correct set of counters assigned to serve your flight.

You’ll notice that all counters are marked with the service brand of Philippine Airlines (IATA Code: PR). That’s because T2 is currently used for PR flights only, with all other airlines distributed between MNL’s remaining three terminals. Due to T2’s relatively small size – and the flag carrier’s steady pace of growth – several PR routes are also operated out of T1 or T3; refer to the official website for details.

With limited exceptions, residents of the Philippines must pay a so-called “travel tax” of PHP 1,620 every time they fly out of the country. Some airlines (PR included) offer passengers the option of pre-paying this tax online at the point of booking, and you may find it already included in the price of tickets purchased from local bricks-and-mortar travel agents or PR sales offices. If you’re a resident of the Philippines who is subject to the travel tax and it hasn’t been settled in advance, you’ll need to visit the Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA) counter in your terminal – near the middle of the international wing in T2’s case – and pay what’s owed before the airline can issue your boarding pass. You’ll be given two copies of the tax receipt, one of which is yours to keep; the other copy will be retained by the check-in agent.

Having already paid the travel tax online, I simply headed straight for the counters. Special lanes are available for Business Class and online check-in…

…but I was qualified for neither and had to use the normal Economy Class lanes. Fortunately, I’d arrived early in the morning and there were hardly any queues to speak of.

Other Facilities

Now then, what if we’ve got time to kill and don’t want to head airside just yet? Unfortunately, there’s very little to keep us occupied before immigration.

You’ll find a couple of places peddling merchandise and snacks, probably good enough for a quick bite if you’re not expecting much. There’s also a hole-in-the-wall branch of a major local bank with two separate counters, one for basic banking services and the other for foreign exchange.

Immigration

There are two banks of immigration desks, one at either end of the international wing. Just head for whichever of the two is closer to your check-in counters.

The one shown below (which I used for today’s flight) is at the northern end.

Here’s an image of the departure form (current as of March 2019):

There’s the usual gauntlet of security checks to go through after immigration, and then we’ll finally see ourselves standing in T2’s…

AIRSIDE/RESTRICTED ZONE (after immigration/security)

With a sizeable chunk of time remaining until my scheduled departure, I wandered around to survey T2’s airside facilities.

Shopping and Dining

T2’s relatively narrow footprint holds a limited amount of floor space – which means that only a few shops and dining establishments can be accommodated.

First, let’s poke around the northern end of the international wing. There’s a small collection of duty free shops…

…a booth stocked with simple souvenirs, for anyone not looking to spend much on goods to take home…

…and a couple of food stalls. One can’t really describe them as restaurants, in view of the limited offerings and lack of dining tables. Think more along the lines of snack stands at a sports venue.

There’s only one proper café in this half of the international wing – and even then, I’m applying the term “proper” rather loosely. The food menu consists mostly of prepackaged stuff such as pastries, cold sandwiches, and simple dishes that can be nuked in a microwave.

Next, let’s see what’s available over at the southern end of the international wing.

There’s a counter where passengers can pick up myPAL Roam pocket WiFi routers. Next to that are two shops: one selling locally made cigars; the other stocked with a rather eclectic assortment of merchandise, including books and magazines. Then there’s a hot dog stand, and – just barely visible on the far left – a booth offering prepacked meal trays and other edibles. Not shown here is a small café with what appears to be a separate smoking room (its main sitting area is marked “No Smoking” though); you’ll find it close to the entrance of the Business Class lounge.

A glass door marks the partition between the north and south wings of T2. The south wing is mainly domestic, but Gates 8-11 in that half of the terminal are also used for international flights.

The door is opened at 8:00 AM, after which two additional food options become available – a doughnut stall and a snack stand.

There’s also a booth stocked with PR-branded merchandise, such as model aeroplanes and various knick-knacks.

One thing should be apparent by now: there’s no full-service restaurant in T2’s departures area. But as we’ll see in the next bit, premium passengers and the most loyal of PR fliers needn’t worry about the dearth of dining options.

Airline Lounge

The privileged few with access to PR’s Mabuhay Lounge have a small buffet to feast upon and a range of complimentary beverages to quench their thirst, served in an exclusive haven of comfort set apart from the main boarding area.

The catch? You’ll need to be a Business Class passenger or an upper-tier member of Mabuhay Miles (PR’s frequent-flyer programme) to gain admittance.

The lounge entrance is right next to the boundary between the north and south wings of T2.

I wasn’t a Business Class passenger on this occasion, but I did treat myself to an upgrade on a previous flight. Click here to read the Mabuhay Lounge review that I wrote after the experience.

Now then, here’s a small selection of images from that previous post to help set the scene.

Taken on 01 February 2014.

By the way, this and its equivalent in the domestic wing are T2’s only lounges. Unlike in MNL’s T1 or T3, there are no third-party or pay-per-use lounges in T2. Even the most exclusive of credit cards or lounge memberships will count for absolutely nothing here – nor will cold, hard cash of any amount. (Forget about nipping over to T1/T3 and relaxing in the lounges there before returning to T2 for your flight: it’s generally not possible to change terminals at MNL once you’re airside.)

There’s also a separate lounge available for passengers transiting between PR international flights, but only those with long overnight layovers – 4-5 hours plus, according to one account – will be admitted. I’ve never used it myself but judging from the video I’ve linked to below, it’s a pretty sad affair with outdated furnishings and no buffet; meal vouchers are supplied instead. For a peek at the facility, watch the first part of this video (not mine, so I can’t offer any information beyond what you’ll see there).

Of course, if you’ve got plenty of cash to spare, then do yourself a favour and book Business Class from the start. (^_^)

As for the rest of us, we’ll have to park ourselves elsewhere until the summons for boarding comes crackling through the PA system. Which brings us to the matter of…

Seating and Gate Holding Areas

There’s really nothing special about this aspect of the T2 experience. Parallel rows of ordinary airport chairs, many but not all cushioned. You’ll also come across a few tables furnished with stools and fitted with power outlets.

The holding areas for each gate aren’t specifically segregated from each other, although temporary barriers are put up around areas of seating next to gates used for US-bound flights (since extra security and document checks need to be carried out).

Let’s go on a walkthrough across the terminal to gauge the available options, as well as to appreciate the lofty spaces of this enormous building. I’ve mentioned earlier that amongst MNL’s four terminals, T2’s architecture is my favourite: massive halls flooded with natural light, unobstructed interior views, clean lines, and a simple colour scheme.

NORTH WING (main international departures area)

Most of T2’s international flights dock at gates in this area.

Most boarding gates are similar to the one shown in the next picture, designed for channelling passengers into aircraft via conventional aerobridges. This particular gate, #1, is the one I used for today’s flight, PR426 bound for Fukuoka.

Due to the way T2 is laid out, departing and arriving passengers all use the same long corridor to move between their respective areas of the terminal and the aircraft. Boarding queues are sometimes held up temporarily because arrivals from another flight are passing through, and the corridor must be kept sealed to maintain the secure segregation between those flying in and out.

T2 is also equipped with a bus gate (#4). Here, passengers descend by stairs to tarmac level and board a bus that will shuttle them over to the remote parking stand where their plane is berthed.

I didn’t pass through Gate 4 today, but I did on another PR flight some years ago (also bound for Fukuoka); it was called Gate N3 at the time.

SOUTH WING (international departures annexe, bordering domestic departures)

Beyond the glass-and-steel barrier at the far end of this section is T2’s crowded domestic departures zone. There are large doors built into the glass partition, which presumably means that the immediate area (covering Gates 8-11) can be opened up for the use of domestic passengers if more space is required. At those times, one assumes that the door near the entrance to the Mabuhay Lounge would be closed and locked to keep the domestic and international sides securely segregated.

Other Facilities

There’s a room for nursing mothers at the northern tip of the international wing, together with a shop offering basic massages.

Toilets are located at regular intervals. That said, if one’s assigned gate is in the south wing annexe (Gates 8-11), the toilets physically closest to it are in the domestic zone, thus inaccessible due to the security barrier. A passenger in that area with urgent, er, personal needs would have to stroll back up into the north wing to find the nearest privy.

In addition to the tables with built-in power outlets mentioned earlier, I saw at least two charging stations, one at either end of the north wing. These are shamelessly sponsored set-ups paid for by the country’s two largest mobile service providers.

One of them (first picture) is near the Mabuhay Lounge; the other (second picture) stands a short walk from the massage facility at the opposite end of the wing.

Do bear in mind that T2 isn’t equipped with travelators, whether in the departures area or arrivals. No rest for weary feet in this building, I’m afraid.

OVERALL IMPRESSION

My assessment of T2 can be summarised thus: a modern, well-designed facility shoehorned into a role it wasn’t properly set up for. Regrettably, this translates into a sub-standard experience for passengers travelling overseas. We see this in the terminal’s limited options for dining and shopping, as well as in the dearth of other facilities one might expect to see at a major airport (such as general-access lounges and proper charging stations). The slim pickings wouldn’t be as much of an issue if this were a terminal for domestic travellers only – as originally intended – but international passengers face much longer waiting times and should be provided with better facilities to match.

That said, it can be difficult to justify making significant investments towards improving international operations at T2, given that it’s due to become all-domestic at some point in the next couple of years. The damage that’s being done to PR’s reputation by the poor state of its home terminal can’t be ignored, yet neither can the future changes that threaten to render any expensive renovations instantly obsolete.

But that’s all for PR’s management to contemplate, for politicians to debate, and for pundits to pick over. As a mere end user, all I can say is that T2 does a poor job of being an international terminal … but it manages to do the job anyway. I made it from the street outside to my seat on the plane with health and sanity intact, thirst slaked, stomach filled with a simple breakfast, legs warmed up from an energising stroll across the building. Truth be told, I’m not one to demand much more than that.

If your needs are as basic as mine, then you’re likely to survive T2, and might even find something to appreciate in the experience.

Cheerio.

5 responses to “Terminal Report: Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) T2, Metro Manila, Philippines

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