[Click above for the video review.]
- Flight: PR115
- Route: SFO-MNL
- Equipment: Airbus A34-300 (ex-IB)
- Cabin: Business Class
- Seat: 4H, 4K
Even though I recently reviewed Philippine Airlines’ (PAL) business class on some of their intra-asia routes, it’s been a long time since I last flew PAL on a long haul flight. Actually if memory serves me, the last time was when I was 12 years old on PR104 from Manila to San Francisco. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to flying long haul with them again after all these years. I happened to come across a good fare between San Francisco and Hong Kong via Manila on PAL and booked it at the last minute.
During certain peak months, PAL operates 2 flights to Manila from San Francisco. Flight PR105 is on their newer Boeing 777-300ER fleet, while the flight we were on was flight PR115, which is operated by an ex-Iberia A340-300. PAL’s A340s are slated to be retired soon and are slowly being replaced by the A330 and A350, so the avgeek in me decided to try out the product before it goes away.
Our flight was scheduled to depart at 12:45am, while the 777 flight was scheduled only 10 minutes before us at 12:35am. We arrived at the airport at 10:30pm to give ourselves enough time for check-in and security formalities, and we also wanted to checkout PAL’s Mabuhay Lounge at SFO.
There was a long backup of cars as we approached the international terminal at SFO, as several trans-pacific flights were scheduled to depart all around the same time. Tip: If you don’t mind walking a little, you can get dropped off on the other end of the international terminal (G) to avoid the congestion. Since PAL scheduled two widebody planes to depart within 10 minutes of each other, you can imagine the economy class queue at the check-in counters were massive. The business class queue wasn’t too bad, though. We waited for about 5 minutes before we were helped by Nelda, a friendly check-in agent.
Nelda swiped our passports and printed our boarding passes all the way to Hong Kong. We were advised that flights from the US now arrive at NAIA Terminal 1 and we will need to approach the transfer desk and take a shuttle bus to Terminal 2 to catch our connection. She also asked if we had any check-in baggage, which we answered “no” to. She seemed baffled and asked us why we didn’t have anything to check. I just answered that we travel light.
As some of you might know, a lot of Filipinos flying to the Philippines often bring pasalubong or presents to their loved-ones back home. Filipinos are also known for having big (and extended) families in the Philippines, which means a lot of presents to bring home. Many Filipino passengers opt to bring two 20″ x 20″ x 20″ balikbayan boxes instead of luggage to check in order to maximize on weight and space.
With our boarding passes in hand, we headed for airport security which had a HUGE line. Thankfully since PAL now participates in the TSA-Precheck program. There was a separate line for Precheck and we didn’t have to wait long to get through.
After clearing security, we turned left and followed the signs to the Mabuhay Lounge which is one level above departures.
Upon arriving at the lounge, a friendly lounge attendant checked us in and allowed us entry into the… Standing Room Only lounge! The Mabuhay lounge is probably the smallest lounge we’ve been to at SFO. The lounge felt very claustrophobic and virtually all the seats were taken.
Since we couldn’t take a seat, we decided to check out their buffet spread to find some assorted sandwiches, BBQ chicken wings, meatballs, and smoked salmon on sliced baguette. There were also some chips, fruit cups, and chocolate cupcakes on the spread. To the side was a beverage cooler with a selection of canned sodas, juices, and a few bottled beers. The back wall of the food area was a self-serve bar with about a dozen liquor selection and a soup warmer, in which they were serving clam chowder at the time. There was also a microwave, a coffee pot, and instant cup noodles were available. The spread was decent enough compared to some US carrier lounges, but none of the food offerings looked appealing to me at the time so I just took a bottle water.
Eventually, a couple of seats opened up and we sat down for about an hour or so while waiting for boarding to be announced. We also bumped into one of my good friends and chatted a bit.
Some people say that PAL means “Plane Always Late”, and unfortunately both PAL flights this evening were delayed. Boarding was announced around 12:25am for a new departure time of 1:15am, while PR104 (the earlier flight on the 777) was delayed for about an hour at 1:30am.
We started our walk to gate A4, which was only a 5 minute walk from the lounge.
I decided to take a few shots of the 2 PAL widebodies right next to each other before taking the escalator down to the gate area.
Boarding promptly started as we arrived at the gate. Business Class and Mabuhay Miles elite members had priority access and we were boarded by no other than Nelda, our friendly check-in agent. She even asked if we were able to find the lounge, and we nodded.
We entered the plane via door 1L, and were greeted by Racquel, the purser on this flight. We were directed to cross the galley and turn right into the main business class cabin.
PAL has 34 business class seats on the A340-300, which are configured in a 2-2-2 configuration.
We were seated in 4H and 4K, the last row of seats in the main business class cabin.
there is also a mini business class cabin with 2 additional rows of seats behind the galley.
Waiting at our seats were a full size pillow, duvet, amenity kit, slippers, and business class menu.
Sadly there isn’t much storage around the seat other than the seat pocket and the narrow side groove under the center arm rest. This plane being an ex-Iberia plane had an old IFE sytem installed, which was not operational. Instead, the crew distributed iPad Minis and some cheap flimsy headset to all business class passengers (I used my own). There were about a dozen or so new Hollywood movies, and a few classics. Local, Asian, and American TV shows, music, and a handful of games were also loaded onto the iPad. You can also stream the same media content via WiFi when connecting to the myPAL access point using your smartphone. Sadly, no in-flight internet access was available on this flight.
After stowing our carry ons and settling in, a male flight attendant offered us pre-departure beverages and hot towels.
A few minutes later, Athena the other flight attendant working our aisle introduced herself. She then took our drinks and meal orders and asked if we would like to be woken up for the pre-landing meal service, in which we answered yes to.
Boarding was complete around 1:15am and the doors were closed soon after. The Captain soon made his announcements on the PA system and gave us a flight time of 13 hours and 25 minutes to Manila. We left the gate promptly at 1:18am making our flight 33 minutes behind scheduled.
During taxi, Racquel the flight purser addressed us by name and introduced herself. She gave us an updated arrival time of about 6:20am local time and thanked us for flying with them. We had a long taxi to the end of runway 28R and took off at 1:58am. Since this was an A340, we had a long takeoff roll and gradual climb.
Supper Meal Service
The initial ascent was mostly smooth and 10 minutes after takeoff, the seatbelt sign was turned off and the cabin crew sprung into action. Athena came by with a tray of amuse bouche. Then a few minutes later, she returned with the champagne bottle and flutes and proceeded to hand pour the champagne at our tables.
About 15 minutes later, the meal service started with white linen being placed on our tables, and the table settings came soon after.
For starters, I ordered the cream of tomato soup with chickpeas. It was served piping hot, and it was delicious.
My companion ordered the smoked salmon salad with scallops. I had a few bites of it, and it was pretty good.
For my main entrée, I ordered the Filipino pork adobo with brown rice. The meat was surprisingly tender and the rice was cooked well. It was very flavorful, although I wished they gave me a little more meat.
Meanwhile, my companion ordered the alimango (crab) cakes with chili sauce and rice.
For dessert, we both had a cup of Häagen-Dazs ice cream. My companion and I were betting that the ice cream would be hard as a brick, as we’ve had on some flights. We were both proven wrong as the ice cream was perfectly scoopable.
The Lav and Bed
At this point, I was already exhausted so I visited the lavatory to freshen up before bed.
The business class lavatory was really nothing to write home about. It was small, though it had some basic amenities like a L’Occitane handwash, lotion, and mouthwash.
I went back to my seat and converted it into a bed. The bed was angled flat, but thankfully the angle was only slight and I didn’t slide down. The full size pillow had good support and the duvet was very good quality. It actually reminded me of Qatar Airways’ new duvet.
I slept for a good 7 hours and woke up with about 3 hours before landing in Manila. I took a peek outside to watch the sunrise.
Pre-landing (breakfast) Meal Service
2 hours before landing, the cabin lights were turned on and the meal service started.
The crew started with a hot towel service.
Then came the drink cart, in which we ordered apple and orange juice. I also picked up a few snacks from the snack basket near the galley.
Soon Athena came by to set our tables. Warm breads were also offered and I chose the banana nut bread.
The meal started with a choice of cheese and cold cuts or assorted fruits. We chose the fruits.
We were also offered tea or coffee, and I happily obliged.
For the main, I ordered the beef tenderloin kabobs with rice and egg (tapsilog).
My companion opted for the bangus (milkfish) with java rice and scrambled eggs (bansilog).
I’m not sure if I’m just biased since I’m Filipino, but I thought both of the meals were delicious and very filling.
The Captain soon announced our initial descent into Manila and mentioned that there’s some congestion on the ground, so we would be in a holding pattern for another 20 minutes.
The cabin crew started their pre-arrival preparations and asked if we needed anything else. The iPads were also collected soon after.
Racquel came by again, addressed us by name, and thanked us for flying Philippine Airlines.
20 minutes later, were on our final approach and had a smooth landing in Manila.
We taxied for a few minutes before arriving at Terminal 1 (the old terminal building).
Deplaning only took a few minutes and we were in the terminal soon after.
Transit in Manila
Upon disembarking, we looked for the transit desk which is right before immigration.
We approached the desk and a friendly agent assisted us. We mentioned that we just arrived on PR115 and that were transiting to another Philippine Airlines flight. The agent asked for our continuing boarding passes and asked us to take a seat.
We were soon escorted through transit security. Our luggage were x-rayed and we had to go through another metal detector, then we walked up some stairs up to the departure level. Our escort walked us over to the end of the concourse where we took another escalator down, and then another to the bus gates.
We boarded the bus and it was a good 5-10 minute ride over to NAIA Terminal 2.
We soon entered the terminal building and approached the transit desk right by the entrance for our gate assignments. We went up a flight of stairs, and we were back in the departure area.
We walked over to the Mabuhay Lounge to enjoy a cup of PAL’s arroz caldo and get ready for our next flight.
The total transit time from NAIA Terminal 1 to terminal 2 was about 40 minutes, so give yourself enough time for transit formalities. I was actually dreading having to transit in Manila, but it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. It actually felt more like transiting through London’s Heathrow Airport, just a lot less efficient.
Overall I thought Philippine Airlines excelled in the soft product and catering department. The in-flight service was very good. The Philippine Airlines cabin crew weren’t as polished compared to crews from the likes of Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific, but the service was warm, attentive, and we felt that the crew were very eager to please. I loved that meal trays were not used for the meal service, and instead the dishes were placed on directly on the white linen.
The food quality and taste was also superb. I was happy to see that they had a Western, Asian, and Filipino selection for each of the meals. The portions could use some work, as the pork adobo I ordered on the first meal literally had only 3 small pieces of pork in it…pretty skimpy.
Now for the hard product:
Seat comfort, privacy, and storage on PAL’s aging Airbus A340 was pretty bad. While there was plenty of legroom to stretch out, the angled flat seat isn’t the best to sleep on especially for a 13 hour flight. There is almost zero privacy, except for a small divider in between the seats. The lack of storage area also meant we had to constantly get up to open the overhead bins to get our stuff. There were also no air vents on this plane. The installed IFE monitor and remote on the seat were both non-operational (as expected). The iPad solution was OK, but the cheap and flimsy headphones they gave out was probably the worst headphones I’ve used in business class.
As I mentioned above, PAL is retiring their A340s soon and replacing them with a much modern fleet, so seat comfort and in-flight amenities should get better soon. We actually had a much better hard product experience on the return flight on PAL’s Boeing 777-300ER (stay tuned for the trip report).
The full size pillow and thick duvet were very nice and made sleeping a lot more bearable on the angle flat seat. The L’Occitane amenity kit and slippers were also a nice touch…no pajamas though ;).
I think this is where PAL needs work. The check-in experience was friendly, quick and non-eventful, except if you’re flying in economy and have to go through the very long queue. The Mabuhay Lounge at SFO is in dire need of an overhaul. The lounge felt cramped and needs a better seating arrangement. It was too crowded and there was literally nowhere to sit when we arrived. The bathrooms are all single stall and there were always people lined up by the food area to use the bathroom.
Food selection at the lounge was OK, but could use more hot food items considering PAL operates 2 flights at SFO every other day. And why serve clam chowder when you can serve PAL’s signature Arroz Caldo at the lounge?
PAL They should take a few cues from CX and check their lounge just down the hall.
Our flight was slightly delayed, but boarding procedures were efficient and we were able to board quickly.
Transfer in Manila took a while as MNL airport was scattered and inefficient. We were lucky we had 4 hours to connect in Manila so we weren’t worried, but I can imagine those with much shorter connection times would not be as as fortunate.
Would I fly PAL again? Absolutely! They have a long ways to go to catch up to their Asian and Middle Eastern competitors, but I can totally see the potential for them to excel in the business. They were just upgraded by Skytrax to be a 4 star airline, so things are looking up. I’d like to personally thank Athena and Racquel for taking good care of us during the flight.
Keep it up, PAL, keep it up!
(Note: As with all trip reports on travelingfoody.com, this flight was not subsidized by the airline. All flights and accommodations were paid for by us.)