Airport Guide: Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL), Greater Manila, Philippines

Ninoy Aquino International Airport (IATA: MNL / ICAO: RPLL) – commonly referred to as NAIA – is the busiest aviation hub in the Philippines and the principal gateway to its bustling capital, Manila.

This Airport Guide brings together the separate reports I’ve written for MNL’s three international terminals (T1/T2/T3) and adds new, detailed guides covering transportation to/from the airport. T4, which caters to domestic flights, isn’t covered here.

NOTE: This Airport Guide and the separate posts linked to it should be used only for general guidance. Details may change at any moment and without prior notice.

IMPORTANT NOTICE!: This Airport Guide has NOT been updated to reflect changes brought about by the ongoing global health emergency. Because my last visit to MNL took place just before pandemic-related restrictions were introduced, and because of the very fluid situation around travel bans and border checks related to the emergency, I shall make no attempt to describe the changes here. Please refer to the official websites and/or verified social media channels of your origin and destination airports, your airline, the relevant government agencies, and other reliable sources to collect up-to-date information that’s accurate for your specific circumstances.

CONTENTS

OVERVIEW

Airport name : Ninoy Aquino International Airport
Also known as : “NAIA”
IATA code : MNL
ICAO code : RPLL
Country : Philippines
Major city served : Greater Manila
Routes served : International and domestic
Runways : Two
Terminals : Four. T1 is purely international, whereas T2/T3 serve both domestic and international routes. T4 (not covered in this guide) is purely domestic.
Passenger traffic : 47,898,046 (2019)
Official links : Website / Facebook / Twitter
Other links (unofficial) : Wikipedia / Flightradar24 / Sleeping in Airports

LOCATION

To learn more about transportation to and from the airport, please skip ahead to the Access / Transportation section of this guide.

AIRPORT LAYOUT

MNL’s four terminals are all located north of its main runway. Terminal 1 (T1) is used exclusively for international flights. Terminal 2 (T2) and Terminal 3 (T3) – on opposite sides of the secondary runway – each have separate international and domestic sections. Terminal 4 (T4) currently serves only domestic routes, although it did handle a limited number of LCC international flights between May 2013 and August 2015 (source).

© OpenStreetMap contributors

Due to poor planning and inadequate infrastructure, none of the terminals is directly connected to any of the others. There’s no people mover system in place, although an inter-terminal shuttle bus service is available for those who need to move between buildings. In effect, MNL’s four terminals function like completely separate airports, with purely airside connections all but impossible (except in limited cases for Philippine Airlines) and minimum connection times often stretching into hours (e.g., here and here).

As always, it’s best to check directly with your airline to confirm which terminal will be used for your flight – and it’s equally important to arrive at the airport well in advance of departure time. (Three hours ahead is often quoted for international routes; I personally aim for at least four or five.) Because MNL’s terminals are so poorly connected, travelling to the wrong one increases your risk of a missed flight, given the extra time needed to arrange and complete a journey to the correct building.

Plans have been mooted for rationalising terminal operations by making T2 all-domestic and T3 all-international. Although it’s likely that this will happen at some point, and even though piecemeal route transfers have already taken place, no confirmed dates for bulk terminal reassignments have been announced yet.

TERMINAL GUIDES

Click on the images below to learn more about MNL’s three main international terminals. Each box is linked to a separate report with detailed information on building facilities, check-in procedures, and other matters of interest to departing passengers on international flights (accompanied by photographs of each terminal’s interiors).

Note: Although Terminals 2 and 3 each have separate sections for international and domestic routes, only the international sections are covered in these guides.

The all-international Terminal 1 (T1) opened for service in 1982. A major rehabilitation project in the mid-2010s gave it refreshed interiors and improved structural integrity. Nonetheless, T1’s small size doesn’t leave much room for passenger amenities, and long queues – whether at the check-in counters or at inbound immigration – should be expected during peak times.

Inaugurated in 1999 and used exclusively by flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PR), Terminal 2 (T2) was originally designed to host only domestic flights. This explains why the international wing – in the terminal’s northern half – seems unusually cramped and narrow, with very limited options for dining or shopping. It’s anticipated that the building will become all-domestic and non-PR-exclusive at some point in the next few years, but no firm date has been announced for this change.

Terminal 3 (T3) is MNL’s newest and largest terminal. Built from the ground up as a purely international facility, the building was rather haphazardly divided into international and domestic halves when it opened in 2008. Substantial parts of T3 remain incomplete or unused to this day – and even some of the working bits haven’t been properly finished – although its much larger footprint allows the terminal to offer a wider range of passenger amenities than either T1 or T2. Once T2 assumes a purely domestic role (though it’s uncertain when exactly this will take place), it’s expected that all local routes will vacate T3 and leave it to serve only international flights.

ACCESS AND TRANSPORTATION

Click on the boxes below to learn more about the options for travelling to or from MNL.

By and large, the most convenient means of travelling to or from MNL’s terminals is by road-based transport. This guide lays out some of the available options, from buses and taxis to hired vehicles and private cars.

MNL isn’t directly served by trains. However, as described in the guide linked here, indirect train access is possible through several railway stations north of the airport complex.

Walking to MNL isn’t generally recommended, unless it’s from somewhere in the immediate vicinity (such as nearby accommodations). That said, T3 has a major piece of infrastructure designed to allow direct pedestrian access from the nearby hotel and leisure district. Learn more about this option by clicking below.

ALTERNATIVE AIRPORTS

For the Philippines as a whole

Situated in Cebu Province, Mactan–Cebu International Airport (IATA: CEB / ICAO: RPVM) is the second-busiest airport in the Philippines. With the sole exception of MNL, no other aviation hub in the country sees more activity than CEB in terms of passenger throughput (12,662,055 in 2019) and number of international routes served. It also provides connections to many domestic airports, including those serving key tourist magnets like Boracay and Palawan. This makes CEB a viable alternative for visitors seeking to bypass Manila en route to the popular resort islands of the central and southern Philippines. With the recent inauguration of Terminal 2 (international), and with ongoing renovations breathing new life into Terminal 1 (domestic), CEB also offers a more pleasant and better integrated airport experience than the congested, poorly connected terminals of MNL.

For the Greater Manila area

Located about 80 kilometres north of Manila, Clark International Airport (IATA: CRK / ICAO: RPLC) in Pampanga Province serves a relatively small but growing range of domestic and overseas destinations. Travellers heading to/from the northernmost reaches of Greater Manila might consider using CRK in place of MNL, as this would allow them to avoid the city centre’s traffic-choked streets. That said, the absence of a direct rail link to CRK and its distance from Manila – not to mention its fairly limited service network – reduce the airport’s attractiveness as an alternative gateway to the capital, especially for people based in the central and southern portions of the metropolitan area.

10 responses to “Airport Guide: Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL), Greater Manila, Philippines

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