There is a long history of airport development in Manila. Terminal 3 was officially opened in 2008, but has been submerged in political problems and is still not operating at capacity. Terminal 2 was opened in 1999, but it is only used by Philippine Airlines. Terminal 1 is the oldest, opening in 1981. Most international travellers will use Terminal 1 and it is the main topic of this review.
Terminal 1 of Manila Airport is named after Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Junior who was assassinated in 1983, in this place, as he stepped off the plane to return from exile in the United States of America. This was a key event precipitating the fall of the Marcos dictatorship.
On arrival, there is an unusually wide range of desks at passport control. You might find separate desks for returning Philippino workers, local residents, foreign tourists and citizens of ASEAN countries, depending how many officers are on duty. Above all, avoid becoming stuck in large numbers of returning workers. Twenty-seven million passengers used the airport in 2010, putting it in the top 50 in the world, so it can get quite crowded and has been officially ‘over capacity’ since 1991. There is no question that Manila is outdated, overcrowded, and sometimes rather dingy, for a major Asian hub with almost all of the main international airlines stopping there.
Luggage arrives fairly quickly at Manila Airport. There are several opportunities to obtain local currency, first at a desk before passport control, then at several ATMs located behind customs and, for those who prefer a more social experience, a couple of staffed banks are to be found among the machines.
On departure, there are security checks at the main entrance to the airport terminal. This means that anyone not travelling will not be allowed inside the building and will have to say goodbye here. The check-in lines can be long, but not too bothersome. There are a few shops in the check-in area, which offer souvenirs or drinks while you wait. As at many check-ins in older airports, this area is rather dark and dirty, which perhaps encourages you to get checked-in quickly and to move on to the departures hall. There is a departure tax, and there is a conveniently located currency exchange just opposite passport control.
On passing through security, you find yourself in a departures area consisting of a rectangular hall lined with duty free shops and exit corridors leading off to the departures gates. The duty free shops are something of a mixed bag. The prices can be lower than in other countries, but not exceptionally low. There are some bargains to be made on locally produced items, but these are not very exciting.
You need to show your boarding pass to enter the corridors where the airline lounges are located. The lounges at Manila are very small. They have good, but rather limited, food and seating space. At the end of the corridor leading to the gates, you find yourself in a large, quite open ‘carousel’ from which the majority of gates onto the planes are located. There is quite a large seating area here, but it tends to be fairly crowded. Most people end up here relatively early, in part, because it is somewhat lighter and airier than the duty free hall and, also, because it takes a little extra time to arrive here.
Leave plenty of time to take a taxi to Manila airport. It will take at least an hour, unless you are staying very close by. The traffic is appalling at any time of the day and, if you are in the wrong part of the city, it could take much longer than an hour. When arriving, it is best to look for ‘official’ taxis and buy a ticket from the attendant. If you are in a small group, there are also larger taxis, which can prove to be cheaper. You could, instead, take any number of local buses which pass by. The closest major hotel is the Marriott, but there is a huge range of hotels from budget to luxury just a short distance away from the terminal.
Philippinos are amongst the most friendly, positive people in the world, so whether you’re talking to the check-in attendant, staff at the duty free shop or even the customs officer, a smile and willingness to help is always appreciated. It is the people of the Philippines who make up for many of the shortcomings of the airport facilities.
flickr image by Michael Francis McCarthyWrite a Review
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