Thursday, January 19, 2017

Cebu to Ho Chi Minh: Dodging the Storm, Wings Transit Lounge and Manila Airport (NAIA) Logistical Challenges

One of the worst nightmares of a traveller is going through bad weather.

I have learned about the impending storm in the Philippines from my friend Pie. Their whole family from her husband’s side were going to Hong Kong and Macau after Christmas so they were obsessively monitoring the weather news. I became a little bit worried because the storm is supposed to hit on the 24th, a day before Christmas and will leave the country on the 26th. This is going to be a Merry Stormy Christmas I thought and our flight to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam via Manila is on the 26th at 22:00 hours. A bit too close for comfort methinks.

Mactan airport

We flew with a huge Airbus plane from Cebu to Manila with Philippine Airlines (PAL).

Stressing out will do no good really so I tried to stay positive. Cebu was not really affected of the storm. We only experienced grey clouds and scattered rain showers. On the day of our flight, I heard from the news that the storm has finally left the jurisdiction of the Philippines. This was in the afternoon and our flight is scheduled in the evening.

We arrived at the Mactan Cebu International Airport early as planned. We are flying with Philippine Airlines (PAL) at 22:00 to Manila landing at NAIA terminal 2 and we will have a red-eye 5-6 hours layover before flying the next day early at 06:50 to Ho Chi Minh City. Because of this we have booked a family room at the Wings Transit Lounge at NAIA terminal 3 where we can rest and sleep. Sadly, there is no direct flight to Vietnam from Cebu.

NAIA is acronym for Ninoy Aquino Interntional Airport which is the Manila International Airport. The airport has 4 terminals with terminal 2 and 3 often used for international flights.

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At the PAL airport check-in we saw DELAYED signs across the counters. The woman at the counter told us that they have just started resuming flights for the day, and well, it is almost 21:00 in the evening! The storm has crippled many airports in the Philippines and have stranded passengers over the special holidays. Such a bummer for those leaving last minute to join family. It usually takes an airport several hours to fix the flight delays, with the hope of course that the storm did not leave any damage at all.

She said that our flight at 22:00 will be delayed because the plane is still in Manila. So I reckon 1.5 to 2 hours delay which is doable but tricky for us. Then her face lighted up and suggested that there is a flight about to leave now (the 18:00 delayed flight) that we can take if we want to, but then this means we have to hurry up as they are now boarding. We right away said yes. It is a good thing that the airport in Cebu is small, because the gate is literally around the corner.

We thought we got lucky to be leaving earlier than planned and docking the possible delay of 2+ hours.

Christmas decorations at the Mactan Cebu International Airport.

We were the last ones to board the flight Cebu to Manila with PAL.

Even though we have a layover in Manila we checked in our bags straight to Ho Chi Minh City. This was a very good decision as we were spared from the picking, lugging and re-checking in the bags in Manila. Philippine Airlines (PAL) has a free checked-in baggage allowance of 30 kilos per person. On top of that you can bring a carry-on (1 small luggage and an bag or accessory).

As we were about to land in Manila, the pilot went on air to inform everyone that we were on a long queue of requesting permission to land. Then he came back to say we were now 5th on the queue list. Then he came back again saying the same thing, and the same thing. There really was no movement and it was frustrating to know that we were stuck in a sort of loop. An air loop. Eventually we landed but the whole exercise took more than an hour.

The nice thing though that the PAL stewardesses did for the overtime was to go up and down the galley and serve drinks.

My sister and I in the plane. We thought it would be best to document this delay with our tired we-can't-wait-to-get-out-of-this-plane faces. It is 23:00 hours here, just an hour before midnight.

Everyone was thankful we finally landed, but then the pilot came back on air again informing us that we are waiting for bay parking. We thought that this could be handled within just a matter of minutes, but the minutes turned into half an hour, and then into an hour. We were trapped. Everyone in the plane was very tired by now and just itching to get out of this humongous flying machine. I can sense the frustration levels of the passengers brewing up but everyone naturally understood the situation. Acts of nature are cases no one has control with. It will always take hours for airports to resume delayed operations and smoothen out the chaos the storm has left. Well, after 1.5 hours waiting on the tarmac, we were finally assigned to a bay parking. Hallelujah!

All in all, our 50 minute flight took almost 4 hours.

Still, we thought we were lucky to have dodged the storm and the longer than 4 hours delay. Had we not taken the 21:00 Cebu to Manila flight (which was the 18:00 delayed flight) we might have had a big chance of missing our 06:50 Manila flight to Ho Chi Minh. Or I will have 2 very harassed senior citizens without any sleep and rest. The latter is more important to us because of their health.

NAIA 2 chaos

The midnight chaos at NAIA terminal 2. I took this picture quickly as I searched for the shuttle bus to NAIA terminal 3.

From NAIA terminal 2 (the exclusive PAL airport) we took the shuttle bus to NAIA terminal 3 to the Wings Transit Lounge. Unfortunately, there are no lounge and sleeping facilities at NAIA 2. There was a transfer and information desk but the queue was very intimidating so I resorted to asking around where the shuttle buses were located.

We arrived at the Wings Transit Lounge just before 02:00 and quickly settled inside the family room to rest.

The family room is good for 4 people and the standard pricing is ₱3,200 (€60) for a maximum of 7 hours. They also offer other types of rooms, some massage services and just the lounge access. I believe they allow 3-5 hours stay for a special price. Prices are inclusive of food which are light snacks and drinks. It is also a shared toilet and shower arrangement here which I do not mind at all if its just for a few hours. Reservations are highly recommended but you will have to pay in advance. You can also walk in here and inquire anytime.

The woman at the Wings Transit Lounger counter should smile more often and be more nicer and accommodating. She seems to have had a very bad day.

Wings Transit
Wings Transit

The family room. I was very tired and it can be seen in the quality of this picture.

Wings Transit

The eating area of the Wings Transit Lounge.

Now this is our logistical challenge and annoyance.

We were flying with PAL which flies only at NAIA terminal 2. The Wings Transit Lounge is situated at NAIA terminal 3. There really is no fast and easy connection between the 2 terminals except for the shuttle buses that go every 20-30 minutes. This long waiting time is just not acceptable. Half an hour to wait for a shuttle bus? If it was not a chaos at the airport because of the storm, that it is midnight and that I have 2 elderly parents with me, I would have taken a cab.

Suggestion to NAIA: Please add more buses so that shuttle services go at a more frequent interval.

The shuttle buses also worked exclusively for specific airlines which I find utterly ridiculous. They double check your flights as well to make sure you have the right to avail of the shuttle service. All these pointless exclusivity and restrictions are just absurd. Why can’t they not have 1 shuttle bus operation between the 2 terminals?

I hope they address these critical issues regarding the shuttle bus service because it is really confusing, time-consuming, inefficient and irritating for passengers. The best scenario is that they build an airtram/skyway between the 2 terminals soon.

This logistical issue just added a lot of drama on top of the storm delay for us. But still, we were glad that we were able to rest, albeit for only 2 short hours at the transit lounge. This meant a lot for the senior citizens.

This is our gate for our Manila to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam flight at 06:50 at NAIA 2. It looks like many of these people have camped the night over here.

Here are some Manila plane views as we fly over the large metropolis en-route to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I hope you enjoy the sprawling views.

I am now geographically challenged and cannot really identify the places where these are in Manila.


Our Manila to Ho Chi Minh flight went smooth as planned. There was no drama. We landed on time. You can see here the plane views just before landing at the Tan Son Nhat International airport: Arriving Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and Plane Views

Stick around for our Vietnam travel tips and experiences.

Travel Period: December 2016
Destination: Cebu to Manila (Pasay), Philippines

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

All pictures were taken by a point and shoot pocket camera or a smartphone.

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