Review: Philippine Airlines A321 Business Class

Filed Under: Other Airlines

For the return portion of my trip to North America I decided to book Philippine Airlines. The airline is trying to reinvent themselves, and they have new A350s with an excellent business class product.

I had flown the airline once before in 777 business class when they used to operate a New York to Vancouver flight, but was looking forward to flying them on a true long haul flight.

Suffice to say that this was a journey of highs and lows. In the next installment I’ll even be giving Philippine Airlines’ Manila Airport operation a very special award, because wow…

Booking Philippine Airlines Business Class

Philippine Airlines doesn’t belong to one of the major global alliances, though fortunately they do have reasonable paid business class fares between many markets. In particular, they seem to have excellent fares out of Taipei, which worked great for this trip.

I managed to book the following for ~1,200USD one-way, with the first segment on the A321, and the second segment on the A350-900:

01/29 PR891 Taipei to Manila departing 9:40AM arriving 12:05PM [Business]
01/29 PR118 Manila to Toronto departing 4:30PM arriving 7:00PM [Business]

While Philippine Airlines doesn’t belong to one of the global alliances, they do have a partnership with All Nippon Airways Mileage Club, so I was able to credit my miles there. However, given the reasonable paid rates, paying cash seemed to be a bette value than redeeming miles.

Philippine Airlines used to have a frequent flyer partnership with Etihad Guest, though that has been cut in the meantime.

Philippine Airlines Business Class A321 Review

My Philippine Airlines flight to Manila was departing from gate A1, at the far end of the concourse, and about a 10 minute walk from the lounge.

Philippine Airlines departure gate Taipei

The gates in Taipei are one level down from the main concourse, and the Starlux Airlines flight to Penang was boarding a couple of gates over — hah!


Philippine Airlines departure gate Taipei

My boarding pass indicated that boarding was due to start at 8:55AM, and sure enough, that’s exactly when it started. 45 minutes before departure sure is early for boarding a narrow body plane!

Philippine Airlines 891
Taipei (TPE) – Manila (MNL)
Wednesday, January 29
Depart: 9:40AM
Arrive: 12:05PM
Duration: 2hr25min
Aircraft: Airbus A321
Seat: 3K (Business Class)

At the forward door I was greeted with “mabuhays” from two friendly flight attendants, and proceeded into the business class cabin. I didn’t come into this flight with particularly high expectations, but was impressed by how fresh and well maintained the cabin felt, in spite of the plane being five years old.

Philippine Airlines has 12 business class seats on the A321, spread across three rows in a 2-2 configuration.

Philippine Airlines A321 business class


Philippine Airlines A321 business class


Philippine Airlines business class seats A321

The real estate for these seats was almost identical to what you’d find in domestic first class in the US. Seat pitch was 37″, so these seats were comfy. I assigned myself seat 3K, the window seat on the right side in the last row.


Philippine Airlines business class seats A321

I also glanced into the economy cabin — there’s no proper bulkhead or partition between business class and economy, but rather there are just curtains.

There were 187 economy seats, and the first three rows are extra legroom economy, with 34″ of pitch.

Philippine Airlines A321 economy cabin


Philippine Airlines A321 economy cabin

Anyway, back at my seat there was a manual seat recline button to the right side of the seat. The only thing that reclined was the back of the seat, as there was no footrest or anything.


Philippine Airlines business class seat recline

The tray table folded out from the far armrest, and could also be folded over in half.


Philippine Airlines business class tray table

Underneath the center armrest were two 110v outlets.


Philippine Airlines business class power outlets

There was also a USB outlet along the center console.


Philippine Airlines business class USB outlet

The Philippine Airlines A321 had individual air nozzles at each seat.


Philippine Airlines business class overhead console

Waiting at each seat upon boarding was a pillow and blanket.


Philippine Airlines business class pillow & blanket

A minute after settling in, Mario came by to introduce himself as the flight attendant who would be working business class. He offered me a pre-departure drink, with the choice of green tea, a mixed berry juice, orange juice, or water. I selected the mixed berry juice, which was tasty.

Philippine Airlines business class pre-departure drink

About 10 minutes later I was offered a menu for the flight.


Philippine Airlines business class menu

A few minutes after that I was offered a warm towel on a small tray — cute presentation!


Philippine Airlines business class warm towel

The flight was mostly full, except in business class, where only six of the seats were taken. I had a pair of seats to myself, so that certainly makes the journey even more comfortable.

About 30 minutes after boarding Mario came by to take my meal order. He asked what I wanted to drink with my meal, and if I wanted coffee or tea after the meal. He then collected the menu.

While minor, I don’t like when airlines collect the menu right after taking meal orders. That’s partly because I like to sometimes be able to reference what I’m eating, and also because there’s a drink list in the menu, and if you want to order something else it helps to be able to reference that.

At 9:30AM the main cabin door closed, at which point purser Eileen made her welcome aboard announcement. She informed us of our flight time of 1hr50min, and our cruising altitude of 34,000 feet.

During this announcement she read what I guess is Philippine Airlines’ slogan nowadays — “Philippine Airlines, the heart of the Filipino.” At this point the crew standing in the aisle bowed and held their hands over their hearts.

Okay, so that’s a cute touch, but throughout the course of my travel day on Philippine Airlines I heard that exact announcement no fewer than a dozen times, including from pilots and gate agents, with varying levels of sincerity

I get that Philippine Airlines seems really committed to this, but maybe less is more in some ways? And that’s especially true in Manila, where the slogan should be “Philippine Airlines’ Manila ground experience — the heart of Satan.”

Anyway…

At 9:35AM we began our pushback, as an AirAsia A320 pulled into the gate next to us. Around this time a manual safety demonstration was performed.

AirAsia A320 Taipei Airport

At 9:40AM we began our taxi, and at 9:45AM we were cleared for takeoff on runway 5L.

Taking off from Taipei

We had a quick takeoff roll, and five minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was turned off.

View after takeoff from Taipei


View after takeoff from Taipei

At this point the crew proceeded to close all the window shades in business class, which seemed unnecessary to me on a short daytime flight?

About 10 minutes after takeoff landing cards were passed out for the Philippines — goodness, that’s a lot of paperwork. I confirmed with the crew that I needed to fill this out even though I was connecting to Toronto, and they confirmed that I did.

Landing forms for the Philippines

15 minutes after takeoff the captain made his welcome aboard announcement, and informed us that we should be landing at around 11:40AM.

The meal service started about five minutes after that. The menu read as follows:

The drink list read as follows:

First tablecloths were brought out, along with drinks and a nut and wasabi snack mix. I just had a glass of still water to drink.

Philippine Airlines business class meal — snack mix and drink

35 minutes after takeoff I was presented with a meal tray. This had the appetizer, consisting of tossed kani with mustard, potato salad, and lettuce. I was also offered a selection of bread, and chose some garlic bread and a multigrain roll.


Philippine Airlines business class meal — starter & bread


Philippine Airlines business class meal — starter

About 10 minutes after that the hot main course was brought out. I chose the chicken slices in rich coco-cream curry sauce served with asparagus, red peppers, and steamed rice. Personally I thought the chicken wasn’t good at all (it was tasteless and chewy), but otherwise the dish was fine.


Philippine Airlines business class meal

Once the main course was cleared, Mario passed through the cabin with either strawberry, chocolate, or vanilla ice cream from Haagen-Dazs. I selected the vanilla ice cream.


Philippine Airlines business class meal — dessert

However, I looked at the menu at this point, and noticed the purple yam and almond milk pudding option for dessert, which I was never offered. I asked Mario about this, and he told me they were out. Oh well.

I had a cup of coffee at the conclusion of the meal.


Philippine Airlines business class meal — coffee

After the meal I checked out the lavatory at the front of the cabin, which was well maintained.


Philippine Airlines business class lavatory A321


Philippine Airlines business class lavatory amenities

I spent the rest of the flight working on my laptop. Philippine Airlines A321s don’t have personal televisions or even drop down screens, though they do have streaming entertainment, though I wasn’t able to connect with my iPhone.

At 11:05AM the captain announced that we were 120 miles from Manila, and would be landing at 11:40AM.

At 11:25AM the seatbelt sign was turned on. I opened the window shade and enjoyed the views approaching Manila, as it has probably been a decade since I’ve been to the Philippines.

View approaching Manila


View approaching Manila


View approaching Manila


View approaching Manila

We touched down in Manila at 11:35AM, and from there had a five minute taxi to our arrival gate.

Final approach to Manila

We pulled into a gate next to a Philippine Airlines’ A350. For a moment I wondered if that would be my plane to Toronto. Hah, I quickly learned the joke was on me.

Philippine Airlines A350 Manila Airport

As we deplaned I had a nice view of the A321 that I just flew from Taipei.


Philippine Airlines A321 Manila Airport

Philippine Airlines Business Class Bottom Line

Overall I was impressed by Philippine Airlines’ A321 business class — the cabin felt modern, seats were comfortable, there were power ports at each business class seat, and service was friendly.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by the food, but otherwise Philippine Airlines exceeded my expectations.

If you’ve flown Philippine Airlines’ A321 business class, what was your experience like?

Comments
  1. Looks like a decent product.
    I’ve flown PAL on domestic flights in premium economy (no business class on their A320’s) and wasn’t impressed at all. Especially the snack I was given was awful and made me sick.

  2. PAL BC was a cheap option to Guam some time back but I decided not to fly them as they fly a narrow body, and the airline is unaligned. Flying airlines not part of an alliance always feels like a loss to me, even if the price is significantly less than the aligned alternatives.
    In the end I picked Korean, who uses wide bodies to Guam.

  3. Hello Ben. Based on the info on ANA website, I thought only some of the ANA/PR codeshare routes are eligible for ANA mileage credit? Thanks!

  4. Oh the joys of Manila airport. The only airport in the world that I got shat on by a bird. INSIDE the airport.

    It seems amazing to me that they Govt. has not invested infrastructure money into a new airport. What a train wreck it is currently.

  5. @Stuart – I saw that happen to someone else in JFK T5 once! Not to take away from Manila, of course.

  6. Just flew through MNL twice for the first time this month. Out of 150+ unique airports I’ve been to, I think that may take the cake as the worst one. I’ve been to “worse” but they were at least smaller in size.

    I mean I have to PAY to transfer terminals? And the only ATM is broken? Overcrowding with no open seats everywhere I went. Terminal looked like it was made of plywood. On trying to get from T4 to T1, I saw literally 10 shuttle buses pass going for T3. I had to complain loudly to a security person in order for him to order a bus to go to T1 (despite me being a paying customer!). I asked a prior bus where he was going AFTER T3 and he said the garage (rolleyes).

    To be fair I think I was at the worst terminals (1 and 4). Terminal 3 is newer and I’m guessing much nicer.

  7. I feel sorry for PAL. They are doing an admirable job, trying their best to be mentioned in the same breath as the Eva Airs, ANAs and Singapore Airlines of the world, but probably will never be because of horrid ground experiences in MNL.
    It probably won’t happen in the near future but if Philippines builds up Clark Airport and build a good express shuttle to the City center, that will very much help PAL (and really make the traffic situation in the metro area better as well)

  8. It’s really a shame how terrible MNL is. PR is a solid airline but the MNL ground experience is a headache. If you go to Cebu, they have a new, modern international airport that puts MNL to shame. Unfortunately, since most travelers connect through MNL, they get a bad impression of both the airline and country.

  9. for the bit when you’re talking about the a350 next to you, do you mean plane to Toronto instead of Manila

  10. A crap airline thru a crap airport. Only airport I’ve seen worse than LAX.

    Try Swift Air and Cebu pacific. PAX is awful.

  11. PA is a solid airline and their long haul service on A350 is exceptional. However, the ground experience at MNL airport is horrible horrible horrible! I told myself no matter how good the deal PA offers, I would never fly with them again because going through that chaotic, useless airport is a complete nightmare. Never ever again!

  12. Hahahaha can’t wait to see you roast MNL, truly nightmare. Oh, and it’s to YYZ so a terminal change is required, nightmare^2. (Otherwise for a same-terminal change I believe you don’t need to do those paperwork).

    I remembered when I flew their A321 between HKG and MNL they provided business customers with iPads as a substitute to PTV, looks like that they have discontinued this?

  13. However bad the airport is, it’s definitely better than Khartoum International.
    The check-in line (if its long like most of the time) literally stretches passengers wait outside in the parking lot!!

  14. where the slogan should be “Philippine Airlines’ Manila ground experience — the heart of Satan.”… Hmm, i wonder what made you think that?

  15. Just an FYI, some cuisines in Asia on purposely have tough pieces of chicken for some dishes. In my market, I sell a lot of “tough chicken” or “chewy chicken”(word for word translation from Khmer).

  16. I have flown business and economy on more than 200 PAL flights.
    A320/321 business class is like you say – as good as first class USA domestic flight but they hace service instead of a banana and chips. Great on a short intra Asia flight.
    The beef would have been more tender lol.

  17. PAL is a tough decision given the reasonable pricing of business class. I’ve flown twice in the last 6 months from SFO through MnL and seen some pretty strange things. The short A321 flights from MnL to and from my destinations of KL and BKk were just like your experience though I was given an iPad for entertainment which was activated at 10k feet.
    The ground experience was at times surreal and a little concerning with ground staff demanding I hand over my passport to expedite transfer. Figuring out how to get to the pickup point really required assistance.
    No doubt that the lounge in T2 is pretty awful with probably the smallest restroom possible for a business class lounge.
    My biggest complaint about PAL is their seats on the flights between SFO and MNl. They are about the most uncomfortable business class seats I have had (granted I have not been on Air India and having read that review will never do so). Narrow, not close to flat, confusing controls that just don’t allow me to get a configuration I like, they remind me of some old 767 domestic seats that AA used. But for $3195 UsD RT to KL its a pretty darn good price and is a true cost benefit decision.

  18. The good news is the government is unveiling a new airport not too far from NAIA. Unsolicited bids for other airports (like the San Miguel) and expansion of existing ones like CRK are also in the pipeline. It may take a while but once built and fully-operational it should address the concerns you pointed.

  19. Heart of satan? Seems over ,,maybe the author have it,,anaways a new world class airport is under construction now near manila and its comparable or more modern than any airport anywhere,else

  20. We arrived in Manila T1 on JAL (what a treat) and then transferred to T2 for the PAL Business class flight to Puerto Princesa (local business class).

    I have already said what a horrid experience the transfer was and the PAL lounge in T2 is absolute crap. My wife left her jacket in the lounge because of the horrid long delay but it was never “found”.

    The Business class flight to Puerto Princesa was awful. 2 hour delay. They offered a meal and a beer. Thanks.

  21. There is no doubt that Philippine Airlines has improved recently and I would choose to use them for my twice yearly visits (from the UK) to see my relatives in Manila were it not for one thing….cost! Even though the route is not direct and therefore a few hours longer, Singapore Airlines offer better customer service and are significantly cheaper between LHR and MNL so I choose them every time.
    I should also add that seats and wines aside, there wasn’t much to differentiate the PR business class in this review from the SQ economy class, particularly the meal.

  22. Just starting work on a new airport at Bulacan about an hour north of NAIA depending on traffic, I wonder how many airlines will transfer their operations to this airport? Hopefully the new skyways freeway will help alleviate any traffic hold ups. Have flown Pal J class to Australia from T2 on an A320 overnight flight, good seats and meals. J lounge T2 crowded and only finger food available.

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