This Airport Guide describes what passengers departing on overseas flights can expect to see and do in the airside (passengers-only) zone of Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 3.
Post last updated from first- or second-hand experience : 16 June 2022 (based on a 03 June 2022 departure)
Post last updated/reviewed using other information : 01 April 2023
NOTE: This Airport Guide should only be used for general planning and reference purposes. Details may change at any moment and without prior notice.
In this post, we’ll explore the airside (restricted) area of the international departures wing at Terminal 3 (T3), Ninoy Aquino International Airport (common abbreviation: “NAIA” / IATA code: MNL) – the main airport serving Greater Manila in the Philippines. For our purposes, “airside” includes border control and all passengers-only sections beyond, up to the boarding gates.
If you’re looking for information on Terminal 3’s domestic wing, please click here to access my guide covering that section of the facility.
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.
If you’re interested in Terminal 3 arrivals, click on this link to read my guide covering what passengers from overseas will encounter when entering the country.
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)
- Smoking Areas
- Seats and Boarding Gates
- Pandemic-Related Measures
IMMIGRATION AND SECURITY
MNL T3 was originally designed to serve only international flights. The supposedly “temporary” split into international and domestic halves came about shortly before its 2008 partial opening, although there are plans to shift domestic routes over to T2 in the coming years.
Until that happens, keep your eyes on the signs and your feet directed towards “International Departures”.
Outbound border control is fairly straightforward – that is, if you’re a leisure traveller. Unless anything regarding your trip warrants closer inspection, the process generally runs thus for ordinary holidaymakers:
- Complete a departure card. There are desks just outside the entrance to the immigration zone with blank forms that you can use (sample form shown below).
- Join the correct queue. There are separate counters for Philippine and foreign passport holders.
- Present your travel documents to the immigration officer. Most people will only need to submit their passport, boarding pass, and departure card.
- Have your picture digitally recorded.
- Answer questions if asked, which may or may not happen.
- Receive your duly stamped passport and boarding pass.
- Proceed to the security checkpoint.
If you’re travelling overseas for employment, or if you’re a first-time traveller with a hitherto unused passport (which might raise human trafficking concerns), or if other special circumstances exist, additional documents may need to be presented and the interrogation could take longer.
***UPDATE: In a press release dated 31 March 2023 (source), the Bureau of Immigration announced that paper departure cards will be phased out by 01 May 2023. Departing passengers must instead register their details on the government’s Electronic Travel Declaration System – the same website currently used by arriving travellers – within 72 hours (but not less than 3 hours) before their scheduled flight time.***
After immigration comes security screening. The official website of the Office for Transportation Security sets out detailed guidance on what’s permitted in baggage (checked or carry-on).
One VERY IMPORTANT thing to bear in mind whilst undergoing security inspection: DON’T CRACK JOKES ABOUT CARRYING A BOMB. Even a seemingly obvious joke about having explosives on your person or in your luggage will land you in very, VERY deep trouble. 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. DON’T DO IT.
Here’s a rather imprecise floor plan of the international departures area as shown on one of T3’s information displays. (Photo originally taken on 12 September 2019; rechecked in person on 22 January 2020 and against a video filmed in 2022 with no substantial difference observed.)
Use this with caution as the shops, restaurants, corridors and boarding gates are not drawn to accurate scale, although their placement on the map is more or less correct.
SHOPS AND RESTAURANTS (Level 3)
The airside zone of MNL T3 is similar to the departures areas you’ll see in other large airport terminals. In essence, it’s a shopping centre with aerobridges bolted to the walls.
Keep in mind that even though more than a decade has passed since it opened, the terminal remains partially unfinished. This explains the lack of fit-and-polish in its appointments, as well as the walled-up sections and blocked corridors you might encounter as you walk around.
The main duty free outlet remains in service, although several other shops have had to cease trading due to the pandemic.
As you move south, you’ll begin to encounter cafés and restaurants. There isn’t anything in the way of fine dining hereabouts, but you’re likely to find a suitable place unless you have very specific dietary requirements. Most of T3’s food service establishments are concentrated in the high-ceilinged central hall next to the duty free shops, with the options becoming fewer and more basic – reduced to snack stalls or convenience stores – the farther south you go towards the boarding gates.
I might add that if you’re coming from immigration/security, south is 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 barrier is to separate T3’s international and domestic halves – a “temporary” arrangement (given that this building was designed to be all-international) that has persisted into an effectively permanent division.
Toilets can be found at regular intervals across the length of the terminal building.
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.
There are three third-party/commercial lounges and two airline-operated lounges up here on Level 4.
Turn left from the lifts and you’ll find the commercially operated Pacific Club lounge, overlooking the domestic half of the terminal. (The entire lounge floor – including the area directly above domestic departures – is part of the international zone and only accessible to passengers flying overseas.) [Note: At least one source states that the Pacific Club lounge is now “permanently closed”.]
Head right and you’ll pass several lounges in sequence. First, there’s the Cathay Pacific lounge (which reopened on 29 March 2023 after an extended pandemic-era closure), operated by the Hong Kong-based airline for its passengers and tiered frequent flyers. Next door is the Silver Kris lounge, run by Singapore Airlines and exclusive to its own premium clients.
The remaining two lounges are commercially run facilities. There’s the Marhaba Lounge – formerly known as the “Skyview Lounge” – and further down the hall is the PAGSS Lounge. Both are contracted to serve certain airlines, but also accept walk-in guests for a fee.
Detailed reports/reviews are available for the following T3 lounges that I’ve personally used (click on each lounge name to learn more):
- Cathay Pacific Lounge
- Marhaba Lounge (the former “Skyview Lounge”)
- PAGSS Lounge
I can’t offer comprehensive advice on smoking rooms at T3 – as a non-smoker I’ve never sought them out myself – but I did notice two such facilities whilst prowling across the airside zone. Both were in operation when I last visited the terminal (on 03 June 2022), but do note the caveats indicated below.
In the general departures area on Level 3, I observed an IQOS-branded vaping room near the start of the long corridor leading towards the southern gates. Caveat: (1) Guests must be 21 or older to enter. (2) Conventional smoking is prohibited (only vapes are allowed).
Up on Level 4, there’s a small smoking room nestled deep within the PAGSS Lounge. Caveat: (1) You’ll need to have access entitlement for this particular lounge, either from your airline (Business Class etc.) or as a paying guest. (2) Inform lounge staff before using the room as it must be sanitised between uses. (3) The room can only be used by 2 people at a time. (4) There’s a 15-minute limit per use. (5) Food and beverages are not permitted in the smoking room.
SEATS AND BOARDING GATES
The passenger waiting areas and boarding gates are all on Level 3, together with retail and dining.
Over by the gates, there’s a depressing lack of variety where seating is concerned. Row after row of near-identical airport chairs, placed in awkward configurations that restrict personal space and movement.
Charging points are few and far between. Those that do exist are inconveniently set up as standalone stations (like the one shown below) rather than being fitted into or next to the seats.
Tables are nowhere to be found – other than in dining establishments and lounges – so using a portable computer or consuming a meal might pose a challenge.
T3 also has a number of restricted holding areas, 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 deployed together (typically only one will be in service regardless of aircraft size).
LCC flights often use the distant gates along the the south-eastern finger of T3, a very 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.
If your assigned boarding point is in one of these remote corners of T3, you’ll want to make use of the (painfully few) moving walkways whenever possible.
The gates at the far end are designed for smaller planes and are equipped either with a single aerobridge or – as in the case of Gate 105/106 – with twin aerobridges that can each be connected to a different aircraft.
One consistent element of T3’s larger gates 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, then through an aerobridge into their waiting aircraft.
T3’s domestic wing (covered in a separate guide) also has a number of bus gates at tarmac level, from which passengers are transported to aircraft waiting at remote parking stands.
The wearing of face masks remains mandatory on all forms of public transport (whether by land, sea, or air) throughout the Philippines. Executive Order No. 7 (dated 28 October 2022) sets out the current requirements in respect of public health protocols throughout the Philippines. Passengers are not obliged to use masks in airport terminals, but are required to wear them aboard flights departing from (or flying within) the country. Enforcement varies depending on the airline.
Do note that whilst mask wearing is no longer obligatory in most settings – except in public transportation, medical facilities, and other sensitive locations – many locals still don masks both indoors and outdoors. Private establishments might also impose stricter requirements within their own premises and ask all patrons to put on a mask before entering.
Physical distancing (or “social distancing”) remains recommended, but is not rigorously enforced in practice.
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).
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