This Airport Guide describes what passengers departing on overseas flights can expect at the airside (passengers-only) zone of Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 3.
NOTE: This Airport Guide should be used only as a general reference. Details may change at any moment and without prior notice.
The present guide is concerned specifically with the airside (restricted) area of the international departures wing at Terminal 3 (T3), Ninoy Aquino International Airport (Abbrev.: NAIA / IATA code: MNL) – the main airport serving Greater Manila in the Philippines. For the purposes of this post, “airside” includes border control and all passengers-only sections beyond, up to the boarding gates.
To learn more about Terminal 3’s landside area (i.e., the publicly accessible zone before immigration), please read my separate report documenting what you can expect to see in that part of the building.
For a broader overview of Terminal 3, please click here to navigate back up to my portal post about the entire facility.
To learn more about the airport as a whole, please click here to view my comprehensive guide to MNL.
- Immigration and Security
- General Layout
- Shops and Restaurants (Level 3)
- Lounges (Level 4)
- Seats and Boarding Gates
IMMIGRATION AND SECURITY
As mentioned elsewhere, T3 was originally designed to serve only international flights. The terminal’s haphazard division into international and domestic halves only came about shortly before its 2008 partial opening, and has persisted ever since – although there are concrete plans in place to shift domestic routes over to T2 in the coming years.
Until that happens, it’s eyes on the signs and feet directed towards “International Departures”.
In terms of bare procedures, outbound immigration is fairly standard at T3. Queue up -> present passport and boarding pass (and duly completed departure card if you’re holding a Philippine passport) -> answer questions if asked -> have your picture digitally recorded -> receive stamped passport and boarding pass -> walk through to the security checkpoint.
Be warned: expect long queues when passenger traffic is high. The three-hour recommended lead time for getting to the airport ahead of an international departure should be regarded as an absolute minimum, rather than a comfortable margin. Of course, this might leave you with lots of time to kill airside if the crowds aren’t bad, but that’s far better than a mad rush and a shameful attempt to jump the queue without authorised escorts (as I’ve seen desperate passengers do).
After immigration comes security – the second round of inspection after the initial bag/body scan at the terminal entrances.
One VERY IMPORTANT thing to bear in mind whilst you’re undergoing screening: DON’T CRACK JOKES ABOUT CARRYING A BOMB. It’s not that the staff are lacking in humour; rather, it’s something laid down in local law (read the full decree if interested). Even a simple and seemingly obvious joke about having explosives on your person or in your luggage will land you in very, VERY deep trouble. Travellers high and low – from regular folk to rich businessmen to (on one infamous occasion) a member of the national legislature – have all been detained and questioned due to careless slips of the tongue. The jocular nature of such a remark is no defence, and neither is the absence of an actual bomb upon subsequent inspection. At worst, you’ll face five years in prison and a fine to boot.
Here’s a simplified floor plan of the international departures area, as shown on one of the terminal’s information displays. (Photo originally taken on 12 September 2019; rechecked on 22 January 2020 with no discernible difference observed.)
I should point out that there’s recently been a nationwide crackdown on smoking within buildings (public and private alike), so the little cigarette icons on the map might no longer signify what they’re meant to indicate. Though there was no visible change in the displayed floor plan as of my most recent T3 visit (22 January 2020), I observed at least one of the smoking rooms shuttered and out of service. I can’t say if the same is true for all of T3’s indoor smoking facilities – as a non-smoker I’ve never bothered to ask – but if you need to light up then it may be an idea to make enquiries beforehand … and possibly prepare to abstain for the duration. I’m aware of an authorised smoking area outside the terminal (ask guards/staff for details), but this is of course inaccessible once you’ve gone airside.
SHOPS AND RESTAURANTS (Level 3)
The airside zone of MNL T3 is similar to that of other large airport terminals.
By this I mean that it’s really just a shopping centre with aerobridges bolted to the walls (haha).
You’ll find the usual mix of boutiques peddling luxury goods and more homely shops selling books, souvenirs, and travel necessities. On the left (if you’re walking southwards) is the main duty free shop.
As you move further south, you’ll also begin to encounter cafés and restaurants. There isn’t anything in the way of fine dining hereabouts, so it’s important to manage expectations.
That said, you won’t go hungry unless you’re the pickiest of eaters (or have very specific dietary requirements). And the more expensive cafés should be able to fill the gourmet gap with better cakes, sandwiches, light meals and beverages. In any event, your range of airside vittles at T3 is wider than in either T1 or T2, so dive straight in and happy food hunting.
Note that the options peter out and become more basic the further south you go…
…but you’ll never be more than a short walk away from a shop of some kind. There’s even one near the holding area for the furthest gates at the very tip of the terminal.
Incidentally, if you’re coming from immigration, south is pretty much the only direction you can head towards. Anyone turning north will shortly run into this.
That glass-and-steel partition runs down the centre of the building, from the immigration zone through to the boarding area. The purpose of this temporary barrier is to separate T3’s international and domestic halves – an absurd arrangement that one hopes will end sooner rather than later (once domestic flights have been evicted to T2).
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/dining level of T3’s landside zone (visible through the windows along the upper edge of the picture).
Another snapshot from the same vantage point, looking towards the domestic side of the terminal.
There are toilets at regular intervals – not particularly well-equipped or well-maintained (at least from what I’ve seen of the gents’ facilities) but they’ll do the job. You’ll also find stand-alone dispensers offering free drinking water.
LOUNGES (Level 4)
T3’s lounges are located one level above the boarding area. Follow the signs labelled “Airline Lounges” until you reach a set of lifts and stairs leading up to the next floor.
You’ll find three third-party lounges and two airline-operated facilities here on Level 4. Unless you’re flying with Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific (who run their own spaces) – or enjoy access through them via special arrangements (e.g.; codeshare, alliance programmes) – any entitlement given by your airline will be for one of the third-party lounges.
Turn left from the lift lobby and you’ll find the commercially operated Pacific Club lounge, overlooking the domestic half of the terminal. (As mentioned earlier, the entire lounge floor – including the area above domestic departures – is part of the international zone and only accessible to passengers flying overseas.)
Head right and you’ll pass several lounges in sequence. There’s the Cathay Pacific lounge, operated by the eponymous airline for its passengers and tiered frequent flyers…
…followed by the Silver Kris lounge, run by Singapore Airlines and exclusive to its own premium clients.
Next comes the Skyview Lounge, and further on the PAGSS Lounge, both privately operated facilities.
Detailed reports/reviews are available for the following T3 lounges that I’ve personally used (click on each lounge name to learn more):
SEATS AND BOARDING GATES
The passenger waiting areas and boarding gates are on Level 3, together with the retail and dining facilities.
There’s an appalling lack of variety where seating is concerned, at least outside the airline lounges. Row after row of similarly designed airport chairs, with variations limited to the absence or presence of such elements as cushioning and centre armrests.
Charging points are few and far between, and are inconveniently set up as standalone stations (like the one shown below).
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 the layout employed by Cathay Pacific for its flights.
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.
Full-service airlines – as well as large aircraft employed by any airline, LCCs included – normally dock at gates close to the middle of the terminal building. The boarding piers attached to these gates are fitted with double aerobridges, but they’re not always both deployed (often only one will be in service regardless of aircraft size).
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 narrow-body aircraft docked at Gate 105/106, a pair sitting all the way at the very tip of the terminal.
The gates at this far end are designed for smaller aircraft and are equipped either with just one aerobridge each, or – as in the case of Gate 105/106 – with twin aerobridges that can each be connected to a different plane.
One generally consistent element of T3’s boarding gates (regardless of location or size) is the way in which people are funnelled into planes. At most gates, passengers use a long ramp to descend from the departures floor to the boarding pier, and thence through the aerobridges into their waiting aircraft.
T3’s domestic wing (not covered in this guide) also has a number of bus gates at tarmac level, from which passengers are transported to aircraft waiting at remote parking stands.
Not yet ready to pass through immigration and security? CLICK HERE to read my separate Airport Guide documenting MNL T3’s landside zone (i.e., the public area before border control).