Budget airline Cebu Pacific (5J) did a splendid job – at least by LCC standards – on our outbound flight from Manila to Taipei. In today’s post, we’ll see if they managed to deliver the same level of performance on our homeward joruney.
Welcome aboard Cebu Pacific flight 5J 313.
Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, pricing, and other details are accurate only for the specific flight reviewed here. This information might not hold true for previous or future flights, even by the same airline under the same route and flight number.
This report covers the return leg (5J 313 / TPE-MNL) of a round-trip MNL-TPE-MNL itinerary. Click here to read a separate review covering the outbound flight (5J 312 / MNL-TPE).
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. There is no time difference between Taipei, Taiwan and Manila, Philippines (both GMT+8).
Airline and flight number : Cebu Pacific (5J) 313
Route : Taipei, Taiwan (IATA code: TPE) to Manila, Philippines (IATA code: MNL)
Date : Sunday, 15 September 2019
Scheduled departure time : 1040
Actual departure time : 1053
Scheduled arrival time : 1315
Actual arrival time : 1242
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : Airbus A321-200 (“A321ceo”)
Manufacturer : Airbus
Registration number : RP-C4115
Passenger capacity : 230, all Economy Class
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site
Travel class flown : Economy
I couldn’t get a decent picture of our bird at TPE, though I did manage this shot showing the rear of the plane.
To help flesh things out a bit, I’ll add pictures of another 5J A321ceo – RP-C4113 – that we boarded for a Japan-bound flight back in February.
At less than 1.5 years old (delivered in June 2018), RP-C4115 is one of 5J’s newest aircraft. That said, this and the six other 5J A321ceos are probably the last current-generation Airbus planes to enter service with this carrier. As of this writing, they’ve already taken delivery of their first few A321neo and A320neo aeroplanes, featuring new engines and dense cabin layouts that pack in more seats than their predecessor models. One of the brand-new A321neos was assigned to our outbound MNL-TPE flight, 5J 312; click here to read my report covering that leg.
Our reservation was for five people under a single booking reference. Splitting the total price evenly yields an average of PHP 7,730.25 per person, with all fees accounted for. It should be possible to book round-trip MNL-TPE flights with 5J for even less than that, especially if one happens to lock in a promotional fare and/or avoids optional charges such as luggage and seats.
The total price above includes the PHP 1,620.00 individual “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 per person 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. Prices will vary depending on the route, when the allowance is purchased (cheaper at initial booking and more expensive if added later), and – of course – the desired weight limit.
Bear in mind that each baggage allowance is also subject to piece restrictions. The larger the weight class, the more pieces you can check in. For example, only two pieces of luggage (weighing no more than 20 kg in total) can be checked in at the 20 kg tier. If you’ve got three bags weighing just 10 kg put together, you still won’t be able to check in all three if a 20 kg tier is what you’ve purchased.
For the fine print and other details, read the guidelines for checked luggage and carry-on luggage on 5J’s official website.
AT THE AIRPORT (BEFORE DEPARTURE)
5J’s Taipei operations are based at Terminal 1 (T1) of Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport (IATA code: TPE).
Further details about TPE T1 are available in a separate report.
CHECK-IN AND BOARDING
Like other 5J flights, 5J 313 was an all-economy service. No special lanes for premium passengers were set up either at the check-in counters or the boarding gates.
A couple of desks and a separate lane were reserved for the exclusive use of passengers who had already checked in online.
We were summoned aboard in blocks of rows, starting from the back of the plane and moving towards the front. Passengers with special needs (including the elderly) were asked to board first.
A single aerobridge was used by all passengers – no surprise as the flight was all-economy and we were using a small plane.
CABIN INTERIOR AND SEATING
Each of 5J’s new Airbus A321ceo aeroplanes has a single-class cabin fitted with 230 economy seats. Of course, even in an all-economy cabin, not all seats are equal: the airline charges higher prices for certain places depending on legroom and their position within the aircraft.
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 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.)
The seats on the starboard side of row 1 also command a premium price, but might be a little less attractive to some because of the forward galley bulkhead.
Those considering one of the exit-row seats can look forward to plenty of space. Just bear in mind that the usual caveats apply: higher cost to reserve, no floor storage, and the responsibility (not to be taken lightly!) of assisting the crew in the event of an emergency.
The standard rows are standard-issue budget-airline narrow. This has never been a problem for me – but then again, I’m not an especially broad or tall fellow. Larger folk may find these same seats uncomfortably tight.
The slim profile of these Recaro SL3510 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. A special netting used in the SL3510’s backrest allows for the use of thinner foam layers whilst maintaining adequate support, which means a slimmer seat outline – hence a little more space for the same amount of pitch.
One VERY important thing to bear in mind: the seats on this aeroplane do not recline. (I’m not just referring to the exit rows, but to all seats.) Now I realise that opinions will vary, with different physical conditions and characteristics coming into play; indeed I’ve personally flown 5J with someone who objected to the lack of adjustable recline. That said, where I’m concerned, the predefined 15-degree angle of the Recaro SL3510 offered just the right amount of comfort.
One other thing. 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.
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 behind.
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 holder for smartphones or small tablets. 5J won’t provide you with built-in IFE, but on their A321 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. Here’s a picture of the outlets fitted on another 5J A321ceo (taken during a previous flight).
We paid to reserve places in row 15, one of the standard rows just forward of the wing. Here’s what the view was like from my window seat.
It was also possible to angle my phone camera just enough to take unobstructed shots, which served me well when I did my usual bit of planespotting. For example, here we have the ruined hulk of B-5498, the Boeing 737-800 involved in the Xiamen Airlines Flight 8667 crash landing at MNL in August 2018. Note how the registration number and Xiamen Airlines marks have been scrubbed off.
And here’s RP-C3343, an Airbus A330-300 – the largest type of aircraft currently in service with 5J. Incidentally, I’ve already taken a flight in that particular aeroplane, although it was dressed in 5J’s older colours at the time. (Glad to see it sporting the airline’s new livery.)
Now for two wider shots of the cabin. I took the first during boarding (from row 1), the second whilst planted in my seat (at row 15).
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.
At roughly 2.5 hours on paper – and less than 2 hours in reality – the TPE-MNL journey was short enough for me to decide against purchasing a hot meal. That said, 5J have recently dropped the prices of their pre-ordered meals (from PHP 350 to PHP 249 on initial booking, higher if added later) so tucking into one of those shouldn’t make too much of a dent in one’s travel budget.
In any event, if you’ve elected not to pre-order a hot meal, there’s a selection of snacks and beverages to choose from when buying on board. Note that a new menu was introduced in October 2019 (due to be featured in an upcoming flight report), so many of the items in the previous version shown below are no longer available.
Also bear in mind that a number of choices (including most of the hot meals) offered by 5J can’t be purchased on board; advance orders are necessary for these. That said, the airline’s new menu card – not the previous edition in these pictures – states that a limited selection of hot meals will be available for in-flight purchase starting this December.
In the end, I realised that I should have pre-ordered something after all – if only because I didn’t bother to eat much at the airport before departure and felt rather famished by the time we were on board. With hot meals unavailable for on-the-spot purchase, I assembled my own light meal from the choices on offer.
My selections: bread stuffed with chili con carne-style corned beef (PHP 100), an orange-flavoured beverage (PHP 70), and some ube coconut macaroons for dessert (PHP 100).
A little expensive, sure, but one can’t expect to see ground prices listed in an LCC’s buy-on-board menu. In any event, the beef-stuffed bread (which I’d already tasted on our previous flight) and the sweet macaroons were both delicious, so count me as a happy diner.
IN-FLIGHT SERVICE AND AMENITIES
I’m usually provided with a pillow and blanket when flying internationally 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) is available for purchase; the blanket is also offered separately (PHP 350). As for myself, I was quite happy to go without.
Arrival cards for Manila were distributed during the flight, but only those holding foreign passports were required to complete them.
The cabin crew seemed thoroughly polite and professional. Then again, my interactions with them were almost nonexistent (apart from ordering food), 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.
The usual cast of suspects. In-flight magazine, safety briefing card, air sickness bag, and … hmm, where’s the onboard menu?
There wasn’t one in my seat, or in the seats next to mine. I then asked a flight attendant if I might have a look through the menu so that I could order some food, but she was unable to locate a copy (at least in the several rows ahead of ours that she checked). Since a new menu was due to be rolled out shortly, I suspect that cards withdrawn due to wear and tear – or perhaps pilfered by passengers – were simply not being replaced.
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.
Budget airlines have a spotty reputation where service, equipment, and punctuality are concerned. Nonetheless, I’m aware that the reduced fares charged by these carriers come with certain limitations, so I manage my expectations accordingly. I’m pleased to report that 5J 313 was able to meet or exceed those expectations by delivering decent onboard service, transporting us on a relatively new aircraft, and – most importantly – getting us home on time.
With the right price and the right timetable, I’ll gladly fly with 5J again on this route.