Terminal Report: Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) T3, Metro Manila, Philippines

Terminal 3 (T3) is the newest and largest of the four terminals at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL). That said, its partly unfinished state and the appropriation of nearly half the entire building for domestic flights continue to hobble efforts aimed at raising the quality of its operations to global standards. In this report, we’ll build a picture of what passengers departing on international flights can expect when they pass through this facility.

IMPORTANT NOTE (added 01 February 2020): This report has been superseded and will no longer be updated. Please navigate to my brand-new Airport Guide covering NAIA Terminal 3, which also contains links to separate guides for the landside and airside zones of the building.

Note: For the sake of brevity, I’ll refer to Ninoy Aquino International Airport (“MNL”) throughout this post using its three-letter IATA code. Terminal 3 (“T3”) will also be referred to in abbreviated fashion.

The coverage of this report is limited to the international departures area of MNL T3. Separate reports covering Terminal 1 (departures) / Terminal 1 (arrivals) and Terminal 2 are also available on this blog.

This report draws mainly on my own experience as a passenger taking flights out of T3. The information presented here will be updated after each flight I take. Facilities, check-in procedures, flight schedules and other details may change at any time without prior notice.

Please be aware that plans are being drawn up for a major terminal reorganisation at MNL, which will see T3 serving only international routes (consistent with its original design). However, no firm date for when this will take effect has been announced.

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 T3, and more specifically on its international departures zone.
Passenger traffic (total for all terminals) : 45,082,544 (2018)
Related links : Wikipedia / Flightradar24 / Sleeping in Airports
Report originally prepared after flight taken on : Thursday, 14 February 2019
Report updated after flights taken on : Tuesday, 26 March 2019 / Thursday, 12 September 2019 / Saturday, 28 September 2019

LOCATION

LAND TRANSPORT CONNECTIONS

MNL isn’t served by trains. (Note that the railway stations mentioned in this Wikipedia article are too far away to be of any use to most passengers, and are in any case served by commuter trains not designed for people hauling luggage around.) There are long-term plans to build a Line 9 subway station at T3, but that’s not expected to materialise for several years yet.

By Road (bus, taxi, car)

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.

There’s a long-term multi-level parking (MLP) facility at the south-eastern end of T3, directly connected to the terminal. Keep going along the elevated access road that runs past the departures-level entrance doors, then turn right before you reach the end, following the lanes marked “MLP ENTRY ONLY”.

Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of the tariff board, but to illustrate from direct experience (September 2019): we entered the MLP at 03:47 on a Thursday morning, flew out on a short overseas holiday, then retrieved our car and left at 13:43 Sunday afternoon. We were charged a total of PHP 1,050.00 for the 81 hour, 55 minute duration – “regular fee” of PHP 150.00 and “overnight fee” of PHP 900.00. This is consistent with various sources I’ve read that give rates of PHP 300.00 for 24-hour blocks and a minimum charge of PHP 40.00 for the first 3 hours, with PHP 15.00 levied for every hour beyond these fixed charges. Needless to say, parking rates may change anytime without prior notice.

Pedestrian Access

Now if you’re staying in one of the numerous hotels located in the Resorts World area – directly across the road from T3 – another mode of transport comes into play: your feet. Bridging the gap between T3 and the leisure district is the so-called Runway Manila, a 220-metre pedestrian overpass built right above and across the busy highway.

The overpass is fully enclosed, and it’s fitted with travelators that cover a good part of its length (specifically in the sloped sections rising up from T3 to the footbridge itself).

Here’s Runway Manila as seen from NAIAX, looking south-east. T3 is on the right, the leisure district on the left.

Another view of Runway Manila, this time looking north-west. T3 is on the left, the leisure district on the right.

On the airport side, Runway Manila is connected directly to the T3 building. (Note that there’s a security barrier with baggage/body scanners at the entrance if you’re walking into the terminal from the bridge.) On the other side, it’s not physically linked to any structure as of the moment, but it’s an easy enough walk from there to the different hotels nearby.

Here’s a video (not mine!) showing what it’s like to use Runway Manila, starting from the airport side.

Right, that’s access/transport sorted. Let’s go inside.

LANDSIDE ZONE (before immigration/security)

T3 is the largest and newest of MNL’s four terminals. Construction began in 1997, with the work completed in … well, that’s a tough sentence to close, since T3 was never properly finished in the first place. The structure was substantially complete even before it started handling a limited number of flights in 2008, although the unresolved legal issues dogging the project up to that point prevented stakeholders from realising its full potential. Additional work brought the terminal into a more-or-less operational state by 2014, at which point several airlines shifted their international flights there from the heavily overtaxed T1.

Now “operational” is one thing. “Finished”, “completed”, “up-to-standard” – another matter entirely. And in my view, T3 doesn’t quite merit any of those adjectives at this point.

But let’s try to get a better picture from within the terminal.

There’s a security barrier at every entrance, 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.

The area on the fringes of the check-in lobby can be accessed by the general public, but the central area – where the counters are located – is for passengers only. You’ll be asked to present your travel documents before the guards let you through into that part of the main hall.

And here we are.

Bear in mind that things can get very crowded around here, as the next picture demonstrates.

Even here in the best-looking part of the terminal, there are many things that observant travellers might take issue with. The awful lighting, the inconsistent signage, the bland paintwork, the cheap-looking fittings … I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea.

Now then, let’s get ourselves checked in.

Check-in Facilities

The check-in counters for domestic flights are in the northern half of the main hall (towards the right if you’re coming in from kerbside), whilst international counters are in the southern section.

Check-in procedures and counter arrangements will vary depending on the carrier. Let’s look at two examples, a budget carrier and a full-service airline.

Homegrown LCC Cebu Pacific (IATA Code: 5J) offers only one class of service on all aircraft, so there are no separate lanes for Business Class passengers. 5J does offer a dedicated “bag drop counter” for those who have already checked in online and only need to hand over their luggage.

Note that passport/visa verification is required for international flights. This means that passengers who have already checked in before coming to the airport still need to approach a counter, whether or not they’ve got bags to drop off.

In contrast, full-service carrier Emirates (IATA Code: EK) reserves a separate lane for premium passengers, set apart from the usual Economy and online-check-in counters.

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 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. 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 international counters in T3’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.

Shopping and Dining

If you plan to linger in T3’s public area for any extended period of time, the level overlooking the main hall has a range of dining and retail options for you to choose from. There’s also a paid lounge up there that offers sleep and relaxation space.

Just don’t expect much. This area has all the atmosphere and refinement of a slightly run-down shopping mall. Like the rest of T3, it’s still partly unfinished so you may notice a number of sealed-off areas and empty spaces.

The retail area is accessible to the general public, as opposed to the central part of the check-in hall below (which can be entered only by departing passengers).

Immigration

With check-in formalities all sorted out, it’s time to pass through immigration and security.

T3’s passport control zone is fitted with a long bank of immigration desks. Many of those desks are currently idle, as they’re on the domestic side of the terminal. All international passengers must compete for the booths that are in use, which can lead to crowding at peak times (exacerbated by poor queuing arrangements).

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

There’s the usual gauntlet of security checks to go through after immigration, and then we’ll finally see ourselves standing in T3’s…

AIRSIDE/RESTRICTED ZONE (after immigration/security)

The airside zone of MNL T3 is similar to that of other large airport terminals, in that it’s really just a shopping centre with aerobridges bolted to the walls.

Here’s a simplified floor plan of the international departures area, as shown on one of the terminal’s information displays (photograph taken on 12 September 2019).

Sadly, due to T3’s complicated history, the interiors were never properly finished. In terms of design, this building’s innards look more like those of a half-abandoned hospital than those of a high-end mall.

You’ll observe a glass-and-steel partition running down the centre of the building, from the immigration zone through to the boarding area. The purpose of this barrier is to divide T3 into international and domestic halves – an absurd arrangement, given that it was designed and built from the ground up as a purely international terminal. Plans for a major realignment at MNL are now being developed, which will eventually see T2 turned all-domestic and T3 all-international (consistent with their respective original designs).

Here’s the barrier as seen from the lounge floor, one level above. I was standing above the domestic side of the building when I snapped this picture, made possible by the fact that most of the lounge floor is considered part of the international side and only accessible from it. Across the void from where I’m standing is the retail level of T3’s landside/public zone (visible through the windows along the upper edge of the picture).

Another snapshot from the same vantage point, looking towards the domestic side.

Airline Lounges

The airline lounges are located one level above the boarding area. Follow the signs until you reach a set of lifts and stairs leading up to the next floor.

Click here to read a separate report I’ve written about the Skyview Lounge, one of T3’s third-party lounges.

Seating and Gate Holding Areas

There’s an appalling lack of variety at T3 where seating is concerned. Row after row of bland airport chairs – some with centre armrests, some without; some cushioned, some not; otherwise all exactly the same.

Unless you’re perched right next to one of T3’s poorly designed standalone charging stations, such as these (sponsored by competing local telecommunications firms)…

…you won’t be able to charge electronic devices whilst seated. Tables are nowhere to be found – other than in dining establishments and lounges – so using a portable computer or consuming a meal might pose something of a challenge.

Blandly uniform the seats might be, but the holding areas next to the boarding gates are a tossed salad of configurations. Some are arranged to create segregated spaces for different cabin classes, such as at the gate I used for a Cathay Pacific (IATA Code: CX) flight in 2018.

There are also restricted holding areas, which are utilised mainly for US-bound flights that require more stringent security. These sections are screened off from the rest of the terminal by glass-and-steel walls (like the one on the right side of the following picture). Access is regulated by an extra checkpoint equipped with metal detectors and baggage scanners.

LCC flights normally use the distant gates along the the southeastern finger of T3, a long walk from immigration and security. For example, I’ve regularly boarded 5J narrow-body aircraft docked at Gate 105/106, a pair sitting all the way at the very tip of the terminal.

I struggle to convince myself that this is an airport’s pre-departure holding area, not the waiting room of a hospital. Come to think of it, even the service booth looks like the reception desk at a medical clinic.

Instead of escalators (as I’ve seen at other airports), passengers use a long ramp at most gates to descend from the departures floor to the boarding bridge.

T3’s domestic wing (not covered in this report) also has a number of bus gates at tarmac level, from which passengers are bussed to aircraft waiting at remote parking stands.

OVERALL IMPRESSION

T3 may be the newest and largest of MNL’s three international terminals, but those two words are the only positive-sounding superlatives I’d use to describe this building. The barely-finished interiors are a disgrace, with no architectural merit whatsoever (save perhaps for the monumental check-in hall) and sorely lacking in such basic appointments as proper charging stations, balanced lighting, consistent signage, or an appropriate mix of seating options.

Granted, some of these shortcomings might eventually be addressed once the terminal is reconfigured to serve international routes only. To limit the impact on operations, a phased renovation could be attempted after domestic flights have vacated all of the valuable real estate that they shouldn’t be using in the first place. It’s also easy to see how even a few cosmetic improvements – such as ceiling panels, polished stone cladding, and carpeted floors near the boarding gates – could significantly improve the building’s aesthetic appeal.

Cheerio.

IMPORTANT NOTE (added 01 February 2020): This report has been superseded and will no longer be updated. Please navigate to my brand-new Airport Guide covering NAIA Terminal 3, which also contains links to separate guides for the landside and airside zones of the building.

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