Flight Report:  MNL-KIX on Cebu Pacific Flight 5J 828 (14 February 2019)

I haven’t flown recently with Cebu Pacific (5J) on their Ōsaka route, mainly because their evening arrival at Kansai International Airport (KIX) doesn’t dovetail with my preference for daytime landings. But when a hastily planned group holiday pushed me into choosing their awful outbound schedule – since it was the one that worked best for everyone concerned – I sought solace in the hope that other aspects of the experience would make up for the late time slot. Not least of these is the fact that we’d be flying on one of 5J’s shiny new A321 aircraft, which I’ve taken many times on other flights but never with this airline.

Welcome aboard Cebu Pacific flight 5J 828.

Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, pricing, and other details are accurate only for the specific flight reviewed here. This information might not necessarily apply to previous or future flights, even by the same airline under the same route and flight number.

This report covers the first half (5J 828 / MNL-KIX) of a round-trip MNL-KIX-MNL itinerary. A separate review of the return leg (5J 827 / KIX-MNL) will be published in due course.

For the sake of brevity, I’ve used the airline’s IATA code (5J) throughout this report, instead of the full name “Cebu Pacific”.

ROUTE MAP

OVERVIEW

Note: All times are local. Please note that Ōsaka, Japan (GMT+9) is one hour ahead of Manila, Philippines (GMT+8).

FLIGHT DETAILS
Airline and flight number : Cebu Pacific (5J) 828
Route : Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL), to Ōsaka-Kansai, Japan (IATA code: KIX)
Date : Thursday, 14 February 2019
Scheduled departure time : 1505
Actual departure time : 1555
Scheduled arrival time : 2005
Actual arrival time : 1959

EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : Airbus A321-200 (CEO)
Manufacturer : Airbus
Registration number : RP-C4113
Passenger capacity : 230, all Economy Class
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site
Travel class flown : Economy

Here’s RP-C4113 sitting on the tarmac at MNL T3. She’d arrived just a short while earlier as flight 5J 814 from SIN, and we were now boarding her as 5J 828 to KIX.

Let’s zoom in a bit closer. If RP-C4113 looks new, that’s because she is: delivered in April 2018 (making her less than a year old) and sporting the latest version of 5J’s livery.

One more shot now, taken from a window in the aerobridge just moments before I stepped on board. 5J might be an LCC, but I think their current livery is one of the best in the skies.

PRICE

Our reservation was for two people under a single booking reference. Splitting all costs down the middle – with the exception of baggage, since we were sharing a single prepaid allowance (I’ve added the total amount of that below) – the price per person comes to PHP 16,302.93 for the round-trip MNL-KIX-MNL flight. This breaks down as follows:
– Base fare = PHP 7,976.00
– Fuel surcharge = PHP 1,346.00
– Passenger service charge (PH) = PHP 550.00
– Passenger security fee (JP) = PHP 148.98
– Passenger service charge (JP) = PHP 1,311.95
– Administrative fee = PHP 600.00
– Seat selection fee = PHP 500.00
– Travel insurance = PHP 450.00
– Baggage = PHP 1,700.00
– Travel tax = PHP 1,620.00
– Travel tax handling fee = PHP 100.00

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 mandatory, it doesn’t have to be paid at the point of booking: passengers can settle the tax at the TIEZA counters in MNL’s international terminals. That said, I usually add the tax immediately when purchasing a ticket online (if the option is available), because that means one less queue to deal with at the airport. Just bear in mind that if you do decide to pre-pay, 5J will charge an extra PHP 100.00 as a “handling fee”.

BAGGAGE

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 classes 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). Rates vary by destination and by how far in advance the purchase is made. On this particular route, prepaid baggage added immediately at the point of booking is priced per leg as follows (subject to change without notice):
– Standard: PHP 850.00
– Large: PHP 1,400.00
– Extra Large: PHP 2,000.00

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.

AIRPORT

All 5J international flights out of Manila use Terminal 3 (T3) of Ninoy Aquino International Airport (IATA code: MNL) – the largest and busiest airport in the Philippines.

Further details about MNL T3 are available in a separate report covering this terminal. I’ve also written a review covering the Skyview Lounge – one of T3’s airside third-party lounges – where we took refuge from the crowds until it was time to board.

CHECK-IN AND BOARDING

The international check-in counters run by 5J at MNL T3 are often shared between multiple flights bound for different destinations. Expect a fair bit of queuing at peak times.

5J flights are all-economy and their loyalty programme is really just for accumulating points, so there are no separate lanes for premium or tiered passengers. They do offer dedicated “bag drop” counters for those who have already checked in online and only need to hand over their luggage. There’s also a courtesy lane for senior citizens and disabled travellers.

Passport/visa verification is required for international flights, so ALL passengers (checked in online or not, with bags or without) must present themselves at a counter.

My travelling companion and I checked in through the 5J website before setting off for the airport, thereby entitling us to use the special “bag drop” lane. This had a much shorter queue than the general check-in lane nearby, although the pace seemed slower due to issues affecting some passengers ahead of us (excess baggage, etc.).

Then followed the usual long wait in T3’s departures zone, made somewhat more comfortable by using one of the terminal’s lounges.

LCC flights normally use the distant gates along the southeastern finger of T3, a long walk from immigration and security. Our assigned boarding point was Gate 105, one of a pair sitting all the way at the very tip of the terminal.

After enduring a short delay, we were summoned aboard group by group, starting from the back of the plane and moving towards the front. Those sitting in rows 32-40 were invited to board first, followed by 21-31, then 9-20, and finally all the rest.

A single aerobridge was used by all passengers – no surprise as the flight was all-economy and we were using a small plane.

SEATING AND CABIN INTERIOR

The cabin was in fairly good shape, though there were signs of a less-than-thorough approach to maintenance; e.g., dried beverage stains behind the tray table, crumbs on the seat cushion.

Each of 5J’s new Airbus A321-200 (CEO) aeroplanes has a single-class cabin fitted with 230 economy seats. Of course, even in an all-economy cabin, not all seats are equal: 5J charges higher prices for certain places depending on legroom and their position within the aircraft. On this particular route and type of aircraft, seat reservations added immediately at the point of booking are priced per leg as follows (subject to change without notice):
– Premium (row 1-2, 11-12, 27-29): PHP 650.00
– Standard Plus (row 3-10): PHP 400.00
– Standard (all other rows): PHP 230.00

The seats on the bulkhead-free port side of row 1 appear to have the most spacious legroom on this aeroplane. The window seat is disadvantaged due to the interior wall angling inwards as it meets the door frame, but the remaining two places enjoy about as much open space as a market square. (Then again, one should bear in mind that those waiting for their turn to use the forward lavatory will tend to congregate hereabouts.)

Note that the seats on the starboard side of row 1 have the forward galley bulkhead in front of them, although their legroom still looks generous when compared with the standard rows further aft.

Speaking of the standard rows, let’s have a peek at one of them now.

5J’s website claims that the standard seats on their A321 have 28 inches of so-called “seating space”. I’m not certain whether “seating space” is simply seat pitch in 5J’s marketing parlance, but subjectively, I felt that there was enough room for my legs to stay comfortable across the entire flight.

Note that I’m not an especially broad or tall fellow, so larger folk may find these same seats a bit tight.

There were four people in our party, and we’d managed to lock in both window seats (5A/5F) and both aisle seats (5C/5D) in row 5. No passengers selected – or were assigned to – the two middle seats, so we had the entire row to ourselves. (Sweet.)

Here’s a picture of the area, looking towards the front of the cabin.

Our position close to the front of the plane meant that we were amongst the last to board. However, this also meant that we’d be amongst the first to disembark. Sitting in this part of the aeroplane offered one further advantage: a clear, wing-free view out of the window. We’ll have more to say (and see) about the view later.

Nothing on the seat back except the usual tray table and pocket. The tray table is rather small, although it’s possible to slide it forwards by a few inches to create more room in the back.

As a yardstick, let’s have Angry Usagi (my blog’s mascot-in-training) stretch out on the surface. He’s about 28 cm tall, from the tips of his bunny ears to the tips of his bunny toes.

The table might be lacking in size, but it does have an extra feature. Look closely and you’ll observe a small ridge near the back edge – a simple device holder for smartphones or small tablets. 5J won’t provide you with built-in IFE, but on its newest planes they’ll at least make it easier to enjoy whatever digital entertainment you may have brought on board.

And to keep those devices fully juiced up, they’ve even fitted USB power points under the seats.

The remarkably slim profile of these seats might deceive one into thinking that they’re as hard as wooden benches. On the contrary, I found that there was plenty of yield where it was needed most. Both the seat proper and the headrest featured thicker layers of padding than the middle backrest, the resulting firmness of which provided good support for my upper body.

One VERY important thing to bear in mind: the seats on this aeroplane do not recline. Perhaps in anticipation of a backlash, 5J’s onboard announcements describe the seats as optimised for passenger comfort even without the ability to lean back. Whilst opinions will vary – with different physical conditions and characteristics coming into play – the pre-determined angle gets my nod of approval where comfort is concerned.

The armrests can be fully raised, which might interest those hoping to turn empty rows into makeshift beds. Whether the cabin crew will allow them to stretch out in this fashion is another matter.

Now for a shot of the overhead panel.

If one is faced with urgent needs of a personal nature, there are four lavatories to choose from: one in the front, three all the way in the tail. These pictures are of the forward lavatory.

THE VIEW FROM MY WINDOW

I don’t always include this section in flight reports, but – like the jaw-droppingly scenic ICN-PUS flight I boarded less than two weeks earlier – 5J 828 offered some great views from my window seat. Not towards the end, since it was quite dark at that point; the best part was before we even left the runway.

Normal tarmac view at first, with ground support vehicles clustered near our aircraft.

Things started to get interesting as we were yanked out of our berth, past two AirAsia Airbus A320-200 jets parked nearby. The registration number of the one closest to us was partly blocked by its open rear door, but the one further away (whose number became visible after I took this shot) was RP-C8986.

We were eased into position away from the gate, which came into clear view just as an Airbus A320-200 in 5J livery (visible here on the left side) was taking off from Runway 13/31.

Our aeroplane began taxiing towards Runway 06/24 – a long journey traversing almost the full width of the MNL compound. As we swept past the southeastern tip of T3, I spotted one of 5J’s Airbus A330-300 jets berthed at the terminal.

After crossing to the other side of Runway 13/31, we passed the apron of MNL’s Terminal 2: the main hub of flag carrier Philippine Airlines.

Not long afterwards, the sleek lines and classic profile of Terminal 1 finally entered my field of vision. That’s A6-ETQ, one of Etihad’s Boeing 777-300 aircraft, docked at T1’s eastern concourse.

We continued westwards along the taxiway, passing the centre section of T1…

…and eventually rolling past the western concourse, which at that moment was hosting a member of the Saudia fleet. Note the new glass-walled aerobridges installed at this concourse, versus the older steel-walled tubes still in service at the other side of T1.

After some time, we were cleared to take off from Runway 06/24. The best views whilst climbing towards the east from the runway’s western end are probably those on the aircraft’s port side, with the soaring skyscrapers of Makati and Taguig filling one’s window. Alas, it was a mostly low-rise landscape that greeted me on the starboard side.

In due course, the city began to yield to the mountains of Luzon as we flew farther away from MNL.

I stopped taking pictures at around this point, my attention now turned towards relaxing for the journey ahead. I did snap a couple of images after we landed at KIX, including this shot of an AirAsia X Airbus A330-300 parked nearby.

CATERING

Hot meals can’t be purchased on board; they must be pre-ordered online (up to 24 hours before departure). For PHP 350.00, 5J will serve your selected main course and a complimentary beverage of their (not your) choice – in my recent experience, it’s always been a small bottle of chilled sweetened tea.

I chose not to pre-order anything for 5J 828, but you can check out the in-flight meals featured in my reports covering 5J 5054 (MNL-NRT) and 5J 5057 (NRT-MNL) to form an idea of what to expect. As of this writing, both of the meals I selected for those flights are still on the menu.

Even though hot meals aren’t available for onboard purchase, the in-flight menu does offer a selection of snacks and beverages. All with the usual sky-high mark-ups, of course. (The menu card shown here is from a December 2018 flight, but it’s no different from the one used on 5J 828.) Availability isn’t guaranteed, as I discovered when the flight attendant told me that the “Mini Angus Buns” weren’t in stock.

I settled on a “Ham & Cheese Croissant” (PHP 100.00), described in the menu as a “[b]uttery croissant with slices of ham and cheese”.

This is what I was served.

This is not a croissant.

To be fair, the flight attendant did mention the change in composition, and a label on the back of the wrapper did identify this as “HAM & CHEESE BREAD”. I’ve also got no complaint about the product itself: filling, flavourful, delicately moist. That said, it would be best if 5J amended their menu cards straightaway (even a sticker on the affected page will do) as the description and accompanying photograph are no longer accurate.

One of my travelling companions asked for seafood-flavoured Nissin Cup Noodles (PHP 100.00) and bottled water (PHP 40.00). Just the usual supermarket-variety instant soup snack prepared with hot water, except that the price seemed far in excess of supermarket levels.

Across the aisle, another member of our party purchased a “Spinach & Dried Tomatoes with Cheese Bun” (PHP 100.00), with a bottle of lemon-flavoured chilled tea (PHP 60.00) to wash it down. Inflated price aside, she said afterwards that the bun was good.

(Note that this picture was snapped using a different camera, hence the difference in quality and aspect ratio.)

In short: decent variety, satisfactory quality, inflated prices. But where costs are concerned, it’s almost a fact of life that LCCs will charge an arm and a leg for the merest crumb of bread or drop of water. With this in mind, one can’t really fault 5J for acting in harmony with, er, established industry practice. (I should also point out that these prices are only expensive vis-à-vis Philippine retail prices; passengers from developed markets with much higher costs of living might actually think the menu is reasonably priced.)

IN-FLIGHT SERVICE AND AMENITIES

I’m usually provided with a pillow and blanket when travelling to Japan with full-service airlines. Not today, though: 5J is an LCC and such creature comforts are far beyond scope.

A 5J-branded sleeping kit with blanket, eye mask, and inflatable pillow (PHP 600.00) is available for purchase. As for myself, I was quite happy to go without.

Arrival cards and customs declaration forms were distributed en route. The pictures below are of identical documents distributed during another Japan-bound flight.

The cabin crew seemed thoroughly polite and professional. Then again, my interactions with them were almost nonexistent, but I saw or heard nothing that would give cause for serious concern.

SEAT POCKET CONTENTS

Let’s reach into my seat pocket and sort through what’s inside.

Nothing out of the ordinary here: air sickness bag, safety briefing card, buy-on-board menu, in-flight magazine.

IN-FLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT

Non-existent, unless you’re generous enough to count the in-flight magazine as “entertainment”. (We’re on a budget carrier, after all.)

Ah, but come to think of it, there was a spot of live entertainment provided on board. 5J are famous – or infamous, depending on whom you ask – for running so-called “Fun Games” where passengers respond to small challenges in exchange for small prizes. Today’s game was “Love on the Screen”: a short, three-question trivia contest where participants must guess the title of a film or television series based on the clues provided.

OVERALL IMPRESSION

I’ve taken many flights with 5J (as well as other budget carriers) through the years, so I know the limitations of their service and I adjust my expectations accordingly. With that in mind, I was quite satisfied with how they operated 5J 828.

The outbound schedule isn’t one I’d normally choose (evening arrival in Japan, ugh), but I was travelling with other people and we had to settle on an option that worked for everyone. As for the in-flight experience, I was rather pleased with the seats – though at least one member of our party took issue with the fact that they don’t recline. The onboard catering, whilst expensive by local standards, was satisfactory in terms of variety and quality. The fact that we were flying on one of 5J’s newest aeroplanes also added something special to the experience, given my interest in transportation technology.

I’ll gladly fly with 5J again if the prices are right, though perhaps not on this particular outbound leg since the schedule doesn’t suit my preference. They do have a daytime arrival on the Manila-to-Tōkyō run that I’ve taken a couple of times, and this positive experience on the Manila-to-Ōsaka route will only help cement 5J’s position as a competitive option amongst the airlines I search through when planning holidays in Japan.

Cheerio.

6 responses to “Flight Report:  MNL-KIX on Cebu Pacific Flight 5J 828 (14 February 2019)

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