As my favourite destination – my own little happy place – Japan exerts such a strong hold on my imagination that I’ve come to dread every homeward flight. Painful though this 20th in a long line of partings might be, let’s see if my chosen airline can still end the holiday on a high note by delivering a safe and comfortable journey home.
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 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 5057 / NRT-MNL) of a round-trip MNL-NRT-MNL itinerary. Click here to read my review of 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. 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 : Sunday, 06 October 2019
Scheduled departure time : 2125
Actual departure time : 2126
Scheduled arrival time : 0115+1
Actual arrival time : 0046+1
EQUIPMENT AND CABIN
Aircraft : Airbus A321-200 (“A321ceo”)
Manufacturer : Airbus
Registration number : RP-C4111
Passenger capacity : 230, all Economy Class
Cabin configuration (seat maps) : Official Site
Travel class flown : Economy
Here’s a peek at tonight’s aeroplane, parked at NRT T2 and waiting patiently to take us aboard.
Delivered in March 2018, RP-C4111 is one of 5J’s newest aircraft – the first of its seven A321ceo jets to enter service. Although they’ll be gradually supplanted by the latest A321neo model (which began flying with 5J in early 2019), I suspect we’ll see the “ceos” in service for a good few years yet.
I paid a total of PHP 14,871.91 for my round-trip MNL-NRT-MNL ticket, with all fees accounted for. It should be possible to book flights with 5J on this route for even less than that, especially if one happens to snag a bargain fare and/or avoids optional charges such as luggage, seats, and meals.
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, if the option is available, I usually add the tax straightaway when purchasing a ticket online 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, the size of the desired weight limit, and when the allowance is purchased (cheaper at initial booking, more expensive if added later).
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 in total, 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)
All 5J international flights out of the Tōkyō area use Terminal 2 (T2) of Narita International Airport (IATA code: NRT). The airport complex is located east of the city, in neighbouring Chiba Prefecture.
NRT T2 is getting on in years, but a massive renovation is breathing new life into this ageing structure. I’ll write a separate report covering the terminal in due course.
CHECK-IN AND BOARDING
The 5J check-in counters were in zone R of NRT T2’s main hall.
A long queue started forming well before the counters opened. I had already checked in through the 5J website, hoping to save a bit of time by doing so – but it soon dawned on me that many other passengers had the same idea because this was the queue for the exclusive online check-in counters.
It’s like on those days when one resolves to leave home for work earlier than usual, hoping to beat the morning traffic that way … only to find that everyone else has had the same brilliant idea. End result: the rush hour traffic jam merely begins earlier. (Haha.)
Three desks were opened for passengers who had already checked in online. Two were made available for all other passengers, with an extra service counter at the end of the row.
Once that was done, I plowed through security and outbound immigration. The process is automated now with “smart gates” fitted at NRT T2, designed for use even by departing foreigners – so long as they’re holding biometric passports. No immigration officer, no physical stamp; just scan your documents and off you go. Note that inbound immigration is the same as it’s always been, with manned counters at which your fingerprints/photo will be taken and an arrival sticker applied to your passport.
Afterwards, I burned a hole in my wallet buying the obligatory presents for family and colleagues. (One of the saddest parts of any holiday: shopping for stuff you’re not meant to consume yourself. Aaargh.)
In the end, tired and nearly bankrupted by social obligations, I dragged myself over to our waiting gate in T2’s satellite wing. My upcoming post about the terminal will help illustrate the scene better, but in brief: this part of the building was something of a mess due to the ongoing renovation, with unfinished floors and open ceilings and tape barriers and plastic sheets and all the rest. Well, a “mess’ by Japanese standards anyway – even in this state it looked much neater and a darned sight better than some of the airports back home.
Here’s our assigned gate.
Down the ramp we go. The gate was fitted with two aerobridges, but only the forward one was deployed (as one would expect for a relatively small plane).
Now then, let’s have a look at our aircraft from the inside.
CABIN INTERIOR AND SEATING
The current darlings of the 5J herd are its brand-new A321neo jets, which began flying in fresh from the factory just this year. That said, there was a brief period not too long ago when the A321ceo stood in the spotlight, heralding the next phase of 5J’s fleet renewal programme.
On the one hand, the A321ceos – which were meant to tide 5J over until Airbus could start delivering its A321neos (or so I’ve read) – weren’t fitted with the new cabin configuration or cutting-edge engines of their “neo” siblings. On the other hand, they came equipped with several onboard features that weren’t previously installed on 5J aircraft: features that would have debuted with the airline’s A321neos had they been delivered earlier.
Now then, let’s have a look at the passenger cabin. This A321ceo’s fitted with 230 seats in an all-economy layout. Typical budget-airline squeeze around the leg area, but more than adequate for my needs since I’m not a particularly large fellow.
Those who’d like a bit more legroom should consider paying more to reserve an exit row seat, or perhaps a place in the port side of the first row. These next two pictures were taken during a different flight on an identical A321ceo.
Another picture (again from a different flight, but same type of plane) showing the starboard half of the first row. Less legroom than the port side due to the galley bulkhead in front. On the other hand, passengers waiting for their turn at the forward lavatory will tend to cluster over on the other side, so there are advantages and drawbacks to each.
I paid to secure a place in row 3. Close to the front for ease in disembarking. There was another pleasant bonus (though less of an advantage at night when there’s little to see): wingless, engine-free views through the window.
To illustrate, here’s a picture I snapped at MNL T3 after landing. That’s one of 5J’s large Airbus A330-300 jets in a neighbouring berth – not entirely sure which one but probably RP-C3346.
The seats themselves are from the Recaro SL3510 line, the same type employed on 5J’s A321neos. A special netting in the backrest allows for the use of thinner foam layers whilst maintaining adequate support, which translates to a slimmer seat profile. The end result is a little more space for the same amount of pitch.
Something to keep in mind: the seats on this aeroplane do not recline. I’m not just referring to the exit rows, but to all seats. Instead, they come with a predefined 15-degree angle that may or may not bring misery to your backside after a few hours. I’m quite happy with the angle myself – far more comfortable than I’d originally feared – though I shall probably want to avoid sitting in one of these on anything longer than a four-hour flight.
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.
Here’s the tray table. Typical fold-down plastic surface for the most part … but observe the little ridge near the back edge.
That’s meant to keep tablets or smartphones in place whilst propped up against the seat back. It wouldn’t be of much use on 5J planes with reclining seats (such as the A330), since your device might be knocked over if the person in front leans back. But here, with the shell-like seats fixed firmly in place, the angled vertical surface plus the little ridge on the table will make it easier for passengers to fritter away the long hours with a good movie.
And to keep that tablet or mobile phone juiced up, just plug a charging cable into one of the USB power points fitted under the seat.
Here’s a shot of the overhead panel. Note the adjustable air vents (which you won’t find on 5J’s larger A330s).
There are four lavatories if you need them: one at the front, three in the tail.
5J have recently reduced the prices of their pre-ordered food, with in-flight meals now going for PHP 249.00 on initial booking (higher if added later) versus PHP 350.00 previously. I decided to splash out a bit and ordered two courses for each flight – not just out of anticipated hunger, but also for the chance to try out more of the airline’s edible offerings.
As of this writing, each meal comes with a complimentary 230ml bottle of sweet apple-flavoured tea (served slightly chilled). No alternatives are offered. If you’d like something else to drink, you’ll need to order off the buy-on-board menu and pay extra.
Now then, let’s have a look through the menu in question whilst waiting for the meal cart to come round. This version’s just a few days old, having been introduced at the start of October 2019; you can check out the previous menu (phased out at the end of September) in my review of the outbound leg. Some of the standard buy-on-board items haven’t changed, but there are a number of new offerings as well, and you’ll find that the entire pre-ordered meal line’s been completely overhauled.
Side note: when I originally booked my flight, the older menu was still in force, and all 4 meals I selected (2 for each leg) were from that version. About a month before my outbound flight, I received system-generated emails notifying me that the 2 meals for my return flight had been changed due to the menu update. I’d ordered a noodle dish and a beef dish, and the replacements were of a similar type. The emails also said that I could still select alternative meals through the website, though I chose not to do so.
The new menu card states that a limited selection of hot meals will be available for on-board purchase from December 2019. That said, most meals will continue to be available only on pre-order…
…including the two I chose for today’s flight.
First course: chicken yakisoba. Here’s the product description as supplied on 5J’s official website.
Stir-fried soba noodles with savory chicken and crisp vegetables in a sweet and tangy soy-based sauce.
Even in Japan, yakisoba noodles are made from wheat rather than true soba (buckwheat) – so the use of the latter in this dish struck me as a little odd. And whether it was because of the cooking method or the sauce used or some other factor, the noodles were just a bit on the mushy side. They kept breaking apart, refusing to properly wrap themselves around the tines of my fork as I rotated it. The sauce, which was quite good in itself, seemed to clash with the noodles rather than work with them (real soba has a mild yet distinct flavour of its own).
Strangely enough … strangely enough … I loved it. I can imagine that some or most would find the end result a bit strange, so I can’t guarantee that you’ll enjoy it too – but I for one liked this dish. Perhaps because it was different? Perhaps because the combination of the right sauce on the wrong noodles was so illogical that it created its own unique logic? Can’t say, haha. I might order this a second time if it’s still on the menu.
Next course: beef salpicao. Let’s see how 5J described the dish on their website.
Flavorful tender beef chunks seasoned in soy sauce and garlic, served with garlic rice.
Good stuff. The beef was packed with flavour, and the garlic rice was a perfect companion. I wouldn’t mind being served this again on another flight.
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 600.00) is available for purchase. The blanket is also offered separately (PHP 350.00). As for myself, I was quite happy to go without.
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.
The stage was one player short on my last couple of 5J flights, owing to the lack of a menu card. (I suspect they were gradually being pulled out ahead of the new menu’s rollout.) But the whole cast of characters was present on 5J 5057, with a freshly printed menu taking its place alongside the in-flight magazine, safety briefing card, and air sickness bag.
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.
I’ve flown internationally with Cebu Pacific (5J) many times through the years, and on multiple occasions for flights to/from Japan in particular. As a matter of fact, this wasn’t even my first time on this specific 5J service: I reviewed a previous iteration of 5J 5057 almost a year ago.
There are several reasons why I’m happy to keep using 5J, despite the limited service and unbundled options that one must accept as part of the experience. Low fares relative to full-service carriers are a major factor. Their on-time performance isn’t half-bad on this particular set of flights, at least in my personal experience (the worst delay I’ve had to endure was something in the order of 1-2 hours). The late evening departure from NRT of 5J 5057, paired with the midday arrival at NRT of 5J 5054, allows me to maximise my time on the ground even up to the very last day.
And yes, the seats can be a bit tight and meals cost extra and there’s no complimentary alcohol and one has to pay for luggage etc. etc. … but 5J is a budget airline and no-frills service is to be expected. I’m actually glad that the way their booking process is structured allows me to flexibly choose which services I require and discard those I could live without, as well as indicate my preferred size/quantity or other characteristics for those options I do select.
For the right price and the right timetables, I’ll gladly fly with Cebu Pacific again on the MNL-NRT-MNL route.