In my previous flight report, we saw what it’s like to travel with Cebu Pacific from Manila to Tōkyō. Now let’s see if they’ve done just as well on the homeward journey from Japan to the Philippines.
Welcome aboard Cebu Pacific flight 5J 5057.
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, pricing, 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 return leg (5J 5057 / NRT-MNL) of a MNL-NRT-MNL round trip. Click here to read my report on the outbound leg (5J 5054 / MNL-NRT).
For the sake of brevity, I’ve used the airline’s IATA code (5J) throughout this report, instead of the full name “Cebu Pacific”.
Note: All times are local. Please note that Tōkyō, Japan (GMT+9) is one hour ahead of Manila, Philippines (GMT+8).
Airline and flight number : Cebu Pacific (5J) 5057
Route : Tōkyō-Narita, Japan (IATA code: NRT) to Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL)
Date : Saturday, 01 December 2018
Scheduled departure time : 2030
Actual departure time : 2212
Scheduled arrival time : 0100+1
Actual arrival time : 0140+1
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : Airbus A320-200
Manufacturer : Airbus
Registration number : RP-C3266
Passenger capacity : 180, all Economy Class
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site
Travel class flown : Economy
As of this writing, there are 36 Airbus A320-200 planes in the 5J fleet. All are fitted with the same single-class, 180-seat cabin interior (which we’ll have a proper look at later).
The bird I flew in today was RP-C3266, delivered in 2011. Here’s the plane docked at our assigned boarding gate in NRT.
Observe how this 7-year-old jet is covered in the older iteration of 5J’s livery, which is centred on the carrier’s online brand “CEBU PACIFIC AIR.COM”. Needless to say, the superseded decorative scheme placed a rather strong emphasis on the carrier’s LCC model by throwing the spotlight on their website: a piece of self-advertising, as opposed to a statement of identity. Thankfully, they’ve transitioned to a new and quite attractive livery design as part of the run-up to their 20th anniversary in 2016.
As a side note, I’ve just learned that RP-C3266 was involved in an accident more than 4 years ago, veering off the runway at DVO after landing. The damage was subsequently repaired and the aircraft returned to service the following year, and – so far as I could tell – RP-C3266 has had no further mishaps since then. Having said that, I’m not sure how comfortable I would have felt during the flight had I known this fact in advance (cue nervous laughter).
For this particular route, 5J currently operates two round-trip flights: an earlier arrival/departure (usually served by an A330), and a later arrival/departure (which normally uses an A320). To maximise my sightseeing time, I booked the early arrival in NRT plus the later departure – essentially a hybrid round trip that takes one leg from each of the two service runs. I’ve written about the MNL-NRT leg in a separate report, noting that the aircraft arrived slightly ahead of schedule.
Unfortunately, this performance wasn’t repeated on the return leg. RP-3266’s arrival from MNL (as 5J 5056 to NRT) was delayed by over an hour, which consequently held back turnaround for own flight. The final impact was a 40-minute delay on 5J 5057’s arrival at MNL – not massive, to be sure, but an inconvenience all the same and not something I’d easily forgive.
I paid PHP 16,018.53 for the round-trip MNL-NRT-MNL flight, which breaks down as follows:
– Base fare = PHP 8,976.00
– Passenger service charge (PH) = PHP 550.00
– Passenger security fee (JP) = PHP 255.52
– Passenger service charge (JP) = PHP 1,027.01
– Administration fee = PHP 500.00
– Seat selection fee = PHP 460.00
– Travel insurance = PHP 400.00
– Baggage = PHP 1,450.00
– Meals = PHP 700.00
– Travel tax = PHP 1,620.00
– Travel tax handling fee = PHP 80.00
The total price includes the PHP 1,620.00 “Travel Tax” that residents of the Philippines (with certain exceptions) must pay when flying out of the country. Although the tax is mandatory, it doesn’t have to be paid at the point of booking: passengers can settle the tariff at the TIEZA counters in MNL’s international terminals. That said, I’d generally recommend paying the tax right away when purchasing a ticket online (if the airline offers you the option to do so), as this means one less queue to deal with at the airport. Just bear in mind that if you do decide to pre-pay the travel tax, 5J will charge an extra PHP 80.00 as a “handling fee”.
Passengers flying with 5J are not entitled to a complimentary checked baggage allowance. If you’ve got luggage to put in the hold, you’ll need to pay extra for the service.
Three weight allowances are offered: Standard (max 2 pieces totalling 20 kg), Large (max 3 pieces totalling 32 kg), and Extra Large (max 4 pieces totalling 40 kg). A 15 kg tier was also on the menu at the time I booked my ticket, but it appears that this is no longer available.
Rates vary by destination and by how far in advance the allowance is reserved. As of this writing (and subject to change at any time), a 20 kg checked baggage allowance on an MNL-NRT flight starts at PHP 850.00, assuming it’s purchased with the ticket at initial booking. The price goes up to PHP 1,099.00 if it’s added later, 15 days or more before departure. If one waits until 14 days or less ahead of the flight date, the same 20 kg allowance will cost PHP 1,249.
The carry-on allowance is 1 piece weighing no more than 7 kg, plus 1 additional small item such as a handbag or laptop case. There are also limits on the dimensions of each piece of luggage.
For the fine print and other details, read the guidelines for checked luggage and carry-on luggage on 5J’s official website.
All 5J international flights out of the Tōkyō area use Terminal 2 (T2) of Narita International Airport (IATA code: NRT).
Japan might be known for cutting-edge technology and futuristic architecture, but neither of those was much in evidence at T2. In fact, some of the criticisms I levelled against MNL T3 in my previous flight report seem to apply just as well here: sterile, soulless, stringently utilitarian architecture, depressingly bland in almost every respect.
That’s the public zone, anyway. Unlike at MNL T3, things do get better at NRT T2 the deeper one goes into the building.
After the automated people mover that once connected the main body of T2 to the satellite terminal was dismantled in 2013, the quarter-kilometre gap in between was redeveloped into additional retail and relaxation space. Whilst hardly groundbreaking in terms of design or features, the renovated pier is a massive improvement on the cold, boring emptiness of the check-in hall.
Unfortunately, the redevelopment didn’t extend as far as the actual boarding area, which has more in common with the check-in hall where aesthetics are concerned. Only time will tell if this area also gets a much-needed face-lift.
That said, I’m hopeful that what we’ve just seen will gradually spread out into the remainder of the building. (There’s already evidence of ongoing renovation work down in the arrival area, which gives me some cause for optimism.)
At any rate, even the worst parts of NRT struck me as being better maintained and better run than the airport we arrived in afterwards.
A hospital corridor? Regrettably, no. Welcome to MNL’s Terminal 3.
CHECK-IN AND BOARDING
The check-in counters for my flight were in zone R of the main hall. Note that the counters for future flights (even under the same code) might be in a different location.
5J flights are operated as all-economy services, so there are no special lanes for Business Class or mileage programme status holders. Three counters were opened for passengers who had already checked in online, whereas just one counter was available for those checking in on the spot.
During check-in, the counter agent offered to change my pre-selected seat (6F) to an exit row with extra legroom. I declined, preferring to keep my place close to the front of the plane.
Boarding was organised along the usual lines: back of the plane first, moving gradually towards the front rows.
Only one aerobridge was deployed, with all passengers using the forward door. No surprises there, given that we were using a relatively small aircraft.
Bit of a pile-up in the boarding bridge. Again, no surprises there, given the size of our plane. One can easily picture the scene on board at that time, with the single aisle blocked by passengers stuffing bags into the overhead bins and squeezing into their seats.
SEATING AND CABIN INTERIOR
Each of 5J’s Airbus A320-200 aeroplanes has a single-class cabin, with a total of 179 or 180 economy seats. Of course, even in an all-economy cabin, not all seats are equal: 5J charges higher prices for certain seats depending on legroom and their position within the aircraft.
In the case of the A320, and specifically for the MNL-NRT route, 5J charges the following seat selection fees:
– Preferred: Exit row seats – PHP 650.
– Standard Plus: Near the forward exit – PHP 400.
– Standard: All other seats – PHP 230 on initial booking, PHP 280 if added later via the “Manage Booking” page.
I was seated in row 6F, which was about as far forward as I could manage without having to pay a “Standard Plus” fee. Here’s a picture of the area, looking towards the front from my seat.
Pretty decent views, with minimal wing/engine intrusion. At least, the views would have been pretty decent if this were a daytime flight. Given that the sun had long retired for the evening by the time we took off, there was hardly anything visible outside.
But just to illustrate, here’s a rather fuzzy shot of Manila taken moments before landing…
…and another shot taken after we’d docked at MNL T3, with one of 5J’s Airbus A330-300 jets parked nearby.
Let’s turn our thoughts towards the seat. Mine was a typical 5J seat, with approximately 28 inches of pitch.
No serious complaints where comfort is concerned. That said, I’m not a fan of the upholstery, whether in terms of the material (I’ll take fabric over faux leather any day) or the colour scheme (which seems like something straight out of an operating room).
I found both the seat width and leg space adequate for my needs, though I should stress that I’m neither a tall nor particularly wide fellow. Larger folk might find it a bit of a squeeze, and should consider investing in an extra-legroom seat.
RP-C3266 is a little over 7 years old – hardly an antique, though certainly not fresh off the assembly line. That said, the interiors seemed a little less well-maintained than one might expect. Some of this is likely due to the inbound delay, which reduced the time available for turnaround work: food residue on the floor; incomplete or excessive seat pocket contents (mine had no air sickness bag, whereas my neighbour’s had three); minor hiccups of that sort. As for the rest … well, it’s hard to give 5J’s maintenance record an unqualified mark of approval when one is faced with such things as a burned-out ceiling light or badly creased upholstery on what is still a relatively new plane. It’s even harder to excuse these slip-ups when the airline has clearly had time to spare for vandalising, er, “decorating” the interior with banking and real estate advertisements.
Now then, if one is faced with urgent needs of a personal nature, there are 3 lavatories on this A320: one at the front, two all the way at the back.
IN-FLIGHT SERVICE AND AMENITIES
I’m usually provided with a pillow and blanket when flying with a full-service airline on a route of this length. Not today, though: 5J is an LCC and such creature comforts are far beyond scope.
A sleeping kit and 5J-branded blanket are available – if you’re willing to purchase them. As for myself, I was quite happy to go without.
Arrival cards were distributed after take-off.
I can’t really say much more about the onboard service as I tend not to interact much with cabin crew. That said, they seemed polite and efficient in executing their duties.
Normally I’d show a picture of the seat pocket contents here – except that mine wasn’t properly restocked after the aeroplane’s previous flight. But to give you some idea of what one might expect to see, here’s what I dug out of the pocket on my MNL-NRT flight more than a couple of weeks earlier (note that it was on an A330 which explains the heading on the safety card):
Interestingly, there was no menu booklet on that occasion, whereas one was provided on tonight’s service. We’ll have a look at that shortly when we discuss the in-flight meal.
As one might expect of an LCC, 5J won’t serve its passengers anything – not even a beverage – unless they’ve paid for the service. That said, you won’t hear me complaining: there are things one learns to live without (or pay extra for) when flying with a budget carrier.
On the other hand, I was eager to have a taste of 5J’s in-flight offering and decided to pre-book meals for both legs of my journey. With each meal costing PHP 350.00, this raised the price of my ticket by a total of PHP 700.00.
The pre-order menu changes periodically, but here’s a rundown of what was available for my flight (to give some idea of the variety on offer):
– Sandwiches/wraps filled with beef or chicken, PHP 180.00-250.00
– Pastry with a sweet filling, PHP 180.00
– Pasta dishes with seafood toppings, PHP 350.00
– Beef, chicken, and seafood meals with rice, PHP 350.00
Pictures and brief descriptions of all available pre-order meals can be viewed on the official website.
The buy-on-board menu adds a range of snacks and lighter fare. Both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are available for purchase.
My selection from the pre-order menu: beef pares, a Filipino meat stew served with garlic rice.
Pre-ordered rice meals are served with a complimentary beverage (of the airline’s choice, not the passenger’s) – in this case, a 230 ml bottle of sweet apple-flavoured tea.
The beef was delicious: tender, juicy, and bursting with flavour. It was so rich in taste that I found myself longing for more rice to eat it with. I suppose that’s the only suggestion I would make regarding this dish – either increase the quantity of rice served (without reducing the quantity of beef of course!) or offer the option of purchasing additional rice to go with the main course (yes, I’d be happy to pay a reasonable amount for more).
Whilst not large, and my suggestion re: extra portions of rice notwithstanding, the portion size was sufficient to leave me feeling satisfied. Do bear in mind that I’d already consumed something at the airport prior to departure: if my stomach were completely empty then I might be singing a different tune.
I should point out one area of concern, though it has less to do with the meal itself and more with how it was served. You’ll notice in one of the pictures above that the meal package was served on top of a printed paper mat, without the usual plastic tray underneath. Given that these metal containers are microwaved until the food within is piping hot, one can understand why I’m more than a little concerned that these are handed out without any form of insulation to protect the passengers’ hands.
Non-existent, unless you’re generous enough to count the in-flight magazine as “entertainment”. (We’re on a budget carrier, after all.) Let’s move on.
Flying with any airline – regardless of record or reputation – has its attendant risks, but a budget carrier will often merit an extra dose of caution. Whether it’s from cramped conditions on board, or the potentially deceptive nature of the service pricing (with supposedly low base fares rapidly increasing as ancillaries are added), or the possibility of major delays and cancellations, one might easily find cause for concern whilst waiting for an upcoming LCC flight. That said, the careful traveller has no reason to shun these airlines, provided one’s expectations as regards service and reliability are appropriately tempered.
In the case of 5J 5057 – well, let’s just say that my experience didn’t do much to dispel these concerns. The flight was delayed, the aircraft wasn’t properly tidied up, the interiors were festooned with advertising … you get the idea. That said, I’d count none of those as an outright deal-breaker. And one can’t ignore the fact that the previous leg of this round trip managed to exceed my expectations.
All things taken into account, I would consider flying with 5J again on this route if the prices and timetables meet my requirements. I’d look at other options, sure, but 5J will at least have a fighting chance of winning my business again.