PR721 Reviewed

What does PAL have in economy class?

31 January 2014


From Houston, Texas I can't help but ponder why my employer booked me a flight to Manila via London in the United Kingdom? From my experience, it is the least ideal of all places to make flight connections and longer too.

The most ideal would have been from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) or San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport. And that is not even the end of my flight. I'm connecting to Palawan same day.

What's comforting is I'm not paying for the economy fare. It could have been better if I was on Business Class but my company appears to be having some financial difficulties sponsoring my flight, so it seems from the tickets I have.

A week before scheduled departure on January 24, our PR Department handed me a return ticket for a flight to Manila via British Airways (BA).

British Airways is a cool airline. So I thought for a while that BA is flying us to Manila. To my surprise, British Airways does not fly to Manila anymore.

My ticket said that I'll have my flight connections in London via Philippine Airlines (PAL), Asia's first airline.

We left Houston around 9 PM (Central) on board British Airways Boeing 747-400 under flight 196 bound to London's Heathrow Airport and we landed a day later at Terminal 5 about 12 noon time (GMT).

Like what I said previously, Heathrow is the most undesirable airport in the world to make flight connections. At least to the world I know. Terminal 4 and Terminal 5 is never a good mix.

BA makes Terminal 5 its home while PAL stays at Terminal 4 which is considerably far from the likes of Terminal 1, 2, and 3 which just sits adjacent to each other.

I made my way to the terminal across the runway, albeit underground, and that process almost took me one hour to complete the transfer. Incheon or Narita is still the best place for transfer if you ask me.

Terminal 4

By the time I arrived at Terminal 4 five minutes to one, the check-in counter was already open for a five thirty flight to Manila and I proceeded to checked in my luggage. That would have been easier had the company which sponsored my flights secured tickets from airlines with alliance partners. Unfortunately PAL doesn't have one. And this place is filled with "Sky Team" airlines. Makes me wonder about this blogs recent post.

Moving on, before heading back to the secured zone, I took some lunch at a fancied french cafe with a name that has something to do with color red and drown myself with a round of beer.

What is beautiful about Heathrow's Terminal 4 is that it possesses the best view of the airport far better than the rest of all the terminal so after all the security checks I went directly to my favorite place, the terminal's best kept secret near a coffee shop made famous by the British like the Filipinos do to an oversize bee, waiting for the sun to come down while enjoying the view. It was a lovely weather but I saw storm developing up north.

I was enjoying the view when Philippine Airlines Boeing triple seven cross my sight taxiing towards Terminal 4 quarter to four. It must have landed at 27R and it was 30 minutes late. 

Much as I was tempted to let you see the place, the better judgment tells me to let you experience the sights as not to spoil the fun.

There were plenty of vacant gates in front that time that I was confident PAL would dock one of them but then it decided to taxi farther east before turning right until the tail was gone from my sight. It could only mean one thing. More walking to be done. 

But having been at Heathrow several times exiting at various terminals, the walk in Terminal 4 is like a breeze compared to its counterpart across the runway where Emirates jumbo docks.

And much as I would like to stay longer in this area waiting for my flights boarding time, I need to find my plane loss somewhere at the back.

Traffic Numbers

I thought I was arriving a little bit early as their wasn't much passengers around. It was one hour before the flight and boarding should commence 15 minutes from my arrival at the gate. And then the localized thunderstorm brought fourth strong gusty winds and heavy showers causing the loading in the planes belly to stop while workers ran for cover and then boarding times changed from 4:45 to a much later time.

That was the first time a saw a big plane actually moved like dancing to the beat of the howling winds with its feet firmly on the ground.  Of course its designed to fly.

According to PAL website, their Boeing 777-300ER has a seating capacity of 370 passengers, including 42 Business Class.

A small chit chat from the boarding crews gave me insights as to how the flight to Manila has been performing. A good summary of it actually.

They have poor traffic numbers in November, about a third of the planes capacity, a fully booked flight in the whole month of December and a full return flight to the UK until the third week of January.

As for today's flight, its barely a third as it booked 100 passengers for economy class. Its business class however was more than half full with 24 seats taken. I took liberty to count the expats from the Filipinos and they were closed to a fourth numbering about 26 of them. Sad reality for a traffic figures but the loads reflect the seasonal variations of the route. This route faces a possible A340 downgrade in the coming months.

There were also middle-aged Caucasian couples going with us for a holiday, a handful of them. Another one I sat beside was going to Manila for a University lecture about urban development while a younger chap is meeting his Filipina girlfriend who hails in Baguio but resides in Tondo. There was also a young lady from a place north of London heading for Tacloban for some government work. And another one, to my surprise, heading to the land down under. He got his wife in tow and he said his got the best fare deal ever offered by any airline as long as he can remember and he couldn't in his conscience let the opportunity pass. An impromptu holiday at less than a thousand pounds truly is amazing!

Usual Delays 

Boarding was announced around 5:30pm, 45 minutes late from the actual scheduled time, and we waited inside the plane for another 30 minutes due to four missing passengers. Its just crazy when passengers loiter around cafes instead of the holding areas.

Whatever the reason is for not being at the gate on time, I think its about time to fly. The airline was already late for 45 minutes. It could have been less had all passengers been accounted for 15 minutes from boarding. 

Funny, the In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system doesn't work while the plane is at the ground. There was also no headphone given at this stage of flight. So don't bother asking because the flight attendant would not accede to your demands even if you play cute or desirable.

In the meantime, content your time reading and grab the in-flight magazine, "Mabuhay". Because you have no other choice of entertainment if you happen to sit in the middle. It does contain a movie guide with the latest show premiered sometime in October 2013. They do have an extensive library of films, almost a hundred of them, to satisfy your viewing pleasure for the 13 or so hours flight. None interesting except the three movies I plan to watch later, and possibly some soothing music to get me to sleep. And then I realized that this airline has connections to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Darwin few hours later after our arrival in Manila. That explains the presence of the couples heading to Australia.

I also grabbed some Philippine newspapers to browse around, killing some boredom so to speak. The "Philippine Daily Inquirer" and "Philippine Star", are two of the foremost broadsheet in the country, which by the way is already history as it was dated a day before and was brought by the same plane from Manila.

Finally push-back was had at 6:03pm and we are at the active around 6:16pm which is fast because we were just adjacent to the departure runway.

At holding climb altitude 15 minutes from departure, the headsets were given and five minutes later the IFE started working for the entire 13 hours duration of the flight. I must advice you that this IFE will turn off again 30 minutes before landing.

The disembarkation and customs card was distributed 2 minutes after, then at 6:40 GMT dinner was served. Our first of three meals for the duration of the flight. Don't be surprise to find that they don't have menu on board.  So no chance of finding what is there in the kitchen.

According to the flight attendant only business class has this privilege of reading as we are offered only two sets of dishes so no menu service, which is kind of odd because other airlines do notify you of the food choices they have. Even if there are only two. Now the after taste.

The Food and the stuff

Like what I said there were only two food choices for the economy. Since the review is all about the economy class then I should confine myself to the services PAL offers for this flight to Manila.

Choices available are  "Pork Barbeque with rice" and "Beef Kebab with potatoes". That's it.

Having lots of potatoes in the other fight, I settled for the Pork and this is what they have. Beneath the rice are two carrot sticks and some green beans, and the gravy for the barbeque too.

There you have a set of vegetables, protein meat, and some carbohydrates from rice. A complete sumptuous meal for dinner. For the vegetarians, there was always the potato salad with the plump tomato.

Contrary to other review by Matt Wilkie,  I did find the butter in the meal.

And this coke can is sold only in the Philippines. Well, PAL aircraft is an extension of the Philippine territory so technically I'm in the Philippines already.

The Beckeberry's for dessert is however made in the UK and I guess the butter too. I'm not sure about the bread as there is no label on it other than its expiry date. I would definitely say that there are better fresher breads offered by other airlines.

Collection of food trays were unusually fast on this one, possibly due to the fact that we are a third fewer.

The next meal came six hours later at 00:45 GMT. It was actually early morning outside the window as we cruises over Jaipur in India which is kinda strange because were supposed to hover around Russia at this time but it seems PAL is flying a different airways on this route. Could the 75mph tailwind helped?

Prior to breakfast we were given a pair of hot refreshing cloth towelettes or the alcohol laced paper ones to wash our faces and disinfect our hands followed by offers of tea or coffee and I gladly settled for the latter. I was thinking why we were not given similar towelettes before dinner time?

For breakfast we were given again two choices, "Bacon with egg", and "Chicken with rice". I opted for the former and this is what they got. Same dinner bread, fresh fruits, a tasty soft bread with strawberry fillings, and of course the small butter.

I was hoping to try the corned beef with rice but I think they were available the other way around. You can also settle for orange or apple juice if you like but I'm contented with coffee.

Lunch was served over Udon Thani in Thailand just below Vientiane, Laos capital around 5:00 GMT.

Choices for lunch were "Pasta with chicken" and "Stir fry with Beef".

Having no clue as to which is the better meal I ordered Stir fry and this is what they gave me, a delicious butter cookie, a couple of grapes, and the usual bread again with butter.

The stir fry doesn't taste good as it was bland and dry. In the middle was a spicy very hot ketchup. I didn't have a clue of what it is for, whether to mix it with the noodles or not. I could not even understand the taste.

So I settled eating the tenderize beef soaked in soy sauce. This part of the meal is palatable.  

Choice of wine was likewise limited for this economy flight and I got myself soda as well.

And I said previously that soda on board were made in the Philippines. What a mistake it was as this one was made in the UK. There were no other delectable treats afterwards other than this cookie which definitely was made in the UK.

For a Bi-class airline, food is comparatively better and I would gladly rate this airline at 3 on 5 star rating. Which is more like similar to those provided by Skytrax. I would like to think that they need to provide menu to all passengers, like any other airlines do.

In-Flight Entertainment System

I am not a movie buff but I certainly watch movies every now and then. PAL doesn't possess an extensive library but they do have some interesting classics worth watching.

If you are expecting newest movie releases then prepare to be disappointed as they don't have the newest blockbuster movies to see around, like the "Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug", "Wolf of Wall Street", "Mitty" or the "American Hustle" which were still doing runs at cinema.

I did say that I'll settle watching three movies during the flight but in reality I barely managed to
see two of them. Perhaps because my body was tired already moving halfway around the globe in opposite direction.

I did watched RED 2 by Bruce Willis and John Malcovich after dinner before retiring to a nice soothing music by John Williams, Alan Silvestri, and company.

This radio channel offers scintillating movie soundtracks far better than any other airline I know. Perhaps there are others but definitely not this good, sleeping wise.

I did remember they played this channel at embarkation time and it was very pleasant to hear.

Some might not find this kind of music very interesting so the airline managed to load the likes of "Justin Bieber" or British pop sensation "One Direction" to suit ones taste in music.

Another radio station offers the best of 70's which I gladly listened after breakfast and put me back to sleep again.

What you might hear now from today's artist might be a re-make. Sometimes when you thought the music you hear now are brand new when in fact they were hits back.

There are other 12 channels to suit your listening pleasure.

It was already over Thailand airspace that I watched my second movie "About Schmidt" a 2002 comedy drama starring Jack Nicholson, before I realized that I'm not gonna finish this movie which is two hours long. Well, its not exactly new but I did not saw this movie before.

It is indeed a fitting tribute to end this review knowing that perhaps it might make a difference to first time travelers from London to Manila and back. And if this might help in your future travel, there is no OnAir internet services on RP-C7777 and RP-C7776. All the other triple sevens however have it. Its possible that it might be installed in the future.

There is also a nice trip report made on the same day on the opposite direction, PR720 and the amenities PAL offers for Business Class travelers.

Our flight landed at Manila Airport on time at 7:41 GMT and we were at Gate S36 five minutes later.


  1. The review by Matt Wilkie was a Manila to London leg meaning the catering came from Manila where as the flight in this review was catered in London hence the varying meal experience.

  2. Don't you have a news about Philippine Airlines' flight to Haneda?

  3. They did broke the news here a long time ago. You can find it here

    1. I know that news on the web address you specified. But there is a latest news about PAL's plan to Haneda which starts at March 30, 2014. Your web address you specified says that CAB awarded PAL 14 slots to Haneda and no schedule yet.

    2. You can find the schedule at the PAL website. Please do take notice of our disclaimer policy, and Thank You for taking a moment of your time here.

  4. PAL flight to London will be a flight short for two weeks in March beginning the 5th till the 19 where it operates 4 times a week.

  5. Jyst booked this plane so read with interest. I have flown emirates and cathay pacific in the past but at least this is direct and surprisingly cheaper - £550 return leaving in 8 weeks time coming back after easter. We are leaving at 10pm so hopefully asleep for half the flight. I am 6 foot tall si hope for leg room