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While waiting for the wife to arrive at Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), I decided to go around the terminal again. It had been a while since I had explored the terminal and the delayed arrival of the plane meant I had a lot of time to burn. It seemed too lazy an option to just sit down and have some food and drink at a cafe or restaurant when you can exercise by taking a walk around the terminal.
At the fringes of Level 4 where most of the shops, cafes and restaurants are located, I stumbled upon a newly opened transit lounge. The Wings Transit Lounge is dubbed as the Philippines’ first airport lounge. It opened last May and offers travelers and even well-wishers facilities similar to that of hotels. It is actually a hotel within the airport that gives people the option of a more comfortable rest or sleeping area (accommodations). This can be a good option for people in between flights (transfer passengers) especially those arriving late at night and with long layovers before their connecting flights at the same airport terminal or the other terminals of NAIA.
Dining or work area
Pantry and dining area – the bright lights in the background is from the area across the corridor from the transit lounge that has a great view of the tarmac and runway; parts of NAIA Terminal 3 that have yet to be occupied (and which are prime areas for restaurants or cafes).
Double deck beds at the family room – note also the personal reading lights for each bed.
Another photo of the double deck beds at a family room. I wasn’t able to get photos of their twin and bunk rooms as these were occupied when I went around the transit lounge.
Common toilets and showers for those wanting to freshen up before or after a flight.
Capsules include blinds for some privacy
Here’s one capsule unit with a safety deposit box and reading light.
Room and lounge rates plus rates for other services offered by Wings Transit Lounge
The rates appear to be expensive at first glance but should be considered in the context of convenience. The transit lounge provides services (mainly accommodations) that, although hotels in the area can also provide, are offered right there at the terminal itself. You can google the airport hotels to compare rates. The nearest ones to NAIA Terminal 3 are the Marriott Hotel, Maxim’s Hotel and Remington Hotel.
I participated in a conference held in Puerto Princesa, Palawan last November and both my flights to and from Puerto Princesa were delayed. The first one was delayed by 1 hour. We boarded on time and there were no announcements of delays. However, we sat inside the plane for about an hour including taxiing towards the runway and then waiting in queue before we were cleared for take-off. The pilot was constantly on the PA system though, informing passengers about the cause of the delay, which was airport congestion. This was a reference to the many take-offs and landings (departing and arriving aircraft) being handled by the airport at the time. It seems air traffic control could not cope with the number of aircraft departing and arriving at NAIA even considering the airport had two runways that were operational (We took off using the secondary runway.).
Aircraft taxiing towards NAIA’s main runway in preparation for take-off
I won’t mention specific airlines as I think domestic flights by all airlines have been incurring significant delays and not just recently but among the main possible reasons for delays that can be charged to the airline are the following:
1. Airport congestion – This can refer to either the runway or the passenger terminal. However, for the latter case you can have examples of very congested or crowded terminals of airports that have planes taking off and landing on time. Tagbilaran and Roxas Airports are like that, and Mactan (Cebu) and Bacolod-Silay have passenger terminals that are becoming if not already congested. Thus, airport congestion as a reason for delays must be due to runway operations. A single runway airport will handle fewer flights compared to those with multiple runways. Airport runway design and configuration are influenced by many factors but given any single runway in a major airport like NAIA it is already assumed that these factors are already considered in operation and on a typical day under normal or even favorable conditions, the only other significant factor for runway operations is air traffic control. Air traffic controllers would be responsible for guiding arriving flights and clearing planes for take-off. The number of take-offs and landings will also be significantly affected by how air traffic control “queues” planes in the air and on the ground.
2. Too many flights – Airlines tend to maximize the use of their aircraft and seem to be scheduling more flights that they can handle. This results in the very common “late arrival of turnaround aircraft” reason that airlines announce as the reason for delayed flights. Granted, in many cases this is ultimately due to reason #1, it seems that other airlines that have lesser flights also have less problems of this kind. In fact, I have observed that in many if not most instances, international carriers do not incur as much delays as local carriers and among local carriers there seem to be a unanimous observation on which “planes are always late” these days.
It seems at first that the main issue is not necessarily airlines overbooking their flights since air traffic control and the number of runways can be major factors influencing the number of aircraft that can take-off and land during a particular period. However, one particular airline has a knack for offering a lot of flights that they obviously cannot handle with all the delays and cancellations they have been incurring to the consternation of a lot of travelers. Though I myself use the airline often due to the convenience of their schedules and frequencies, I too have been victimized many times of these delays including one flight to Singapore a couple of years ago when, instead of arriving in time for dinner I ended up arriving home just after midnight.
Recently, there have been calls for the airline and others performing like it to be penalized in order for them to realize how much inconvenience they have brought on to their passengers. I think this is right in order to send a clear message to airlines that safety and service come first before profit. Too many flights, no matter how convenient to the passengers in terms of schedule, is not a substitute for good quality service. Being a budget airline also does not excuse it from what a lot of people have branded as crappy service. This mentality of airlines reminds me only of similar mentality among bus and jeepney operators (land transport) but that’s another story.
Our plane approached Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) from Manila Bay and so I was able to get a good look at Sangley Point from the air. Sangley Point is currently an Philippine Air Force base although last time I checked some general aviation have been transferred from NAIA to Sangley Point to ease congestion at Manila’s gateway. Recently, Sangley Point has been the subject of much discussions regarding the location of a possible replacement for NAIA. The latter has been experiencing much congestion lately as evident from the frequently delayed flights in and out of the airport, which already has 4 passenger terminals. The assessment is that NAIA won’t be able to handle the steadily growing number of flights, passengers and cargo that it is and would be handling. And so, the conclusion was to determine the location of a new airport that would basically serve the National Capital Region in particular and the rest of the country in general. The last is in reference to NAIA being the prime gateway to the country despite other international airports including Cebu-Mactan and Davao.
There is actually another major airport to the north of Metro Manila in what was formerly a U.S. air base in Pampanga province – Clark. Clark International Airport (also known at one point as Diosdado Macapagal International Airport) was once touted to be the Narita to NAIA’s Haneda (an allusion to the two major gateways in the Kanto region of Japan). Plans for Clark included the construction of a modern railway line (the still-born Northrail) that would have connected Metro Manila with Clark. There is already a modern expressway connecting the two in the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) that connects Clark with the rest of Central Luzon. The newest tollway in the country, the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX), has already completed Phase 1 and will ultimately connect Clark with northern Luzon.
Sangley Point is located to the southwest of NAIA in the province of Cavite. Its location is quite strategic being at the mouth of Manila Bay and current developments related to much reclamation work in the coastal cities and towns of Metro Manila and Cavite invites speculation about Sangley Point as a possible site for a future international airport. The examples of Haneda, Kansai and Hong Kong have been mentioned as references or models for Sangley to follow. However, it is not a simple thing considering the need for extensive reclamation in order to have space for a modern airport with multiple runways and passenger terminal(s) that can handle the projected millions of travellers using the airport. There are also environmental concerns here that need to be addressed, which can be evaluated via a comprehensive environmental impact study.
Sangley Point airbase as seen from our landing aircraft
A closer look shows the strip of land that’s pretty much just the runway and a few buildings that serve as terminal and offices.
Whether the proposal for a future international airport at Sangley Point takes off (pun intended) or it is decided that Clark will be the main gateway for what has become a Greater Capital Region (Mega Manila) remains to be seen. There is actually a couple of other proposals put forward before including a site in Bulacan (north of Metro Manila) and at Laguna de Bay (south of Metro Manila). These proposals have basically faded in discussions and only Clark and Sangley Point remain in active consideration. Clark is already there and has a master plan with 3 runways and a huge passenger terminal while Sangley is still basically a concept for the transformation of a small air base and with lots of uncertainties/risks involved especially in implementation. Perhaps what will be for Clark’s advantage and the tipping point is the Bases Conversion and Development Authority’s (BCDA) proposal for a Clark Green City located nearby. The success of this new city is seen partly to be anchored on Clark becoming the main gateway and in tandem with NAIA. In my opinion, this can and would work (and would likely be more cost effective) if the government commits itself to Clark and the required infrastructure to support the airport. This can also help decongesting Metro Manila with a major development in Clark Green City, which is already in the works in as far as BCDA is concerned. As for Sangley, perhaps the question is not whether we can do another Haneda but if we can do it right and within a reasonable time frame given the complexity of the task at hand.
I have been hearing and reading a lot about horrible experiences of various people including friends on airport taxis. All the stories seem to be about getting a taxi at NAIA where airport management has “accredited” one or a few companies to provide airport taxi services. This exclusiveness has clearly become disadvantageous to many passengers who have not previously arranged for someone to pick them up at the airport (e.g., a relative, a friend, his/her company vehicle, or maybe transport service from the hotel where they will be staying). The coupon taxi services, however, is usually the safer bet for those unfamiliar with Metro Manila as regular meter taxis often “prey” on travellers who are not knowledgeable about fares and traffic conditions. Often, one would have to negotiate for fares though there are honest cab drivers who would do their jobs without haggling or demanding for tips.
Allow me to cite a number of examples in international airport terminals abroad and in other Philippine cities where getting a taxi at the airport is relatively straightforward and stress-free:
1. In Singapore’s Changi Airport, you can easily get a cab at any of the terminals. You just get into the queue (if there is any) and get the next available taxi. The drivers do not discriminate among potential passengers and the only question asked is about the destination of the passenger. Sometimes, the driver will ask about a passenger’s preferred route as there are toll roads between Changi and the destination. There are bus and rail services connecting the airport to the rest of the city-state and many passengers also choose these options.
2. In Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, you can also get a taxi at the queue at the basement level. There are airport taxi counters at the lobby as passengers come out of the arrivals but these are the more “exclusive” companies and charge more per vehicle. However, if you are a group comprised of at least 4 people, then it would be cost effective to engage these companies as they can provide a larger vehicle (e.g., van) that can be more comfortable than a regular taxi. This is particularly recommended for people who have a lot of luggage like families. Otherwise, you can take a regular cab at the basement level queue. These are metered taxi but some may negotiate a fixed (and therefore higher) rate. Transfer to another if you don’t agree with the driver.
3. In Cebu’s Mactan Airport, the taxi bay is a just a few minutes walk from the arrival area. There is a queue and a security guard issues a ticket with information on the taxi (license plate number and company) that he gives to the passengers as reference should there be complaints on the driver as well as in cases where some belongings are left in the taxi.
4. In Iloilo, there are many taxis to choose from once you get out of the airport terminal. There are many taxi service counters just outside the arrival area and passengers can engage any of these companies for a ride to the city or other destinations. My Ilonggo friends will definitely recommend Light of Glory as their taxi company of choice. This company is highly regarded for their quality of service that includes honesty among its drivers. You can also contact them to make arrangements for transport between your hotel/accommodations and the airport.
5. In Davao, there is a regular taxis queue just outside the terminal building and the city has a transport enforcement unit that is stricter than most LGUs. This ensures that taxis will likely comply with traffic rules and regulations including the safe conveyance of passengers to/from the airport. These are metered taxis though there will always be taxi drivers who will attempt to negotiate fares or tips with the passengers. This will not be done at the airport as airport or city staff will be on watch at the terminal. Instead, the negotiations are done once the passenger is inside the taxi and leaving the airport.
Of course, in the international airports I mentioned, there is the option of taking the airport express train instead of taking a cab. Both Changi and Suvarnabhumi, for example, have excellent rail connections, and more experienced travelers would probably take these train services over taxis as they are less expensive and allow for shorter travel times (i.e., taxis can be caught in congested roads especially during peak periods).
NAIA desperately needs good options for public transport such as airport limousines or more dependable taxi services. Sadly, getting a taxi in Metro Manila is basically a “hit or miss” affair. There is a 50/50 chance that you will get a good taxi driver so there is an equal chance that you will get a bad one. At the airport, there might be a higher likelihood that one can get a bad taxi if we assume that taxi drivers might be deliberately taking advantage of potential passengers who are not familiar with Metro Manila and its taxis. As mentioned earlier, more experienced travellers would likely have pre-arranged transport between the airport and their destinations. So the coupon taxis would have to do for now and until there are better options for transport including more reliable regular metered taxi services.
Articles came out over the last two weeks about Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 3 finally going on full airport operations with the transfer there of five international airlines from Terminal 1. These airlines are (in alphabetical order) Cathay Pacific, Delta, Emirates, KLM and Singapore Airlines. I’m not really sure about the terminology or how DOTC and NAIA wanted to package their press release but wasn’t Terminal 3 already operational and does “full” really mean it being maximized or optimized?
This area will be full of people as five major international carriers transfer to Terminal 3
Prior to the transfer of the 5 airlines this August, T3 was already hosting international flights, mostly by local carrier Cebu Pacific, which is classified as a low cost carrier (budget airlines). The other major international carrier operating out of T3 was All Nippon Airways (ANA) but the latter had far fewer flights compared to CebPac.
However, my interest in this “full operations” pitch is more on the other facilities of the airport and not really about the check-in and immigration operations that I am sure have enough capacities to deal with the additional airlines, flights and passengers that will be served by T3 (most booths were not utilized considering the airport served significantly fewer international flights and passengers than T1). I am also not concerned about the other features of the airport like its shops and restaurants (a regular user of T3 would make the observation that shops and restaurants have been increasing over the past years). My worry is that the airport will not have enough parking spaces for airport users.
There is already a parking problem at T3, no thanks to poor public transport services (taxi anyone?) and the absence of anything resembling an airport shuttle or express services (e.g., Airport Limousine buses). I have written in the past about the multilevel parking facility at T3 that has not been opened for public use since the terminal became operational years ago. Granted that there might have been issues with the structure itself, authorities should have also addressed the issues while they were at it fixing the myriad problems of the terminal over the past years. Much of T3’s open parking spaces have been occupied by exclusive airport taxis (coupon taxis) and there are people who have made the observation that many of the parked cars are actually those of people gambling in the casinos of a nearby resort hotel complex. The latter story might be a bit difficult to prove unless there is deliberate data collection of some sort but can be true for some vehicles given the cheaper parking rates at the airport.
Until NAIA becomes public transport-friendly and perhaps a airport shuttle services can be provided for the convenience of travelers, parking will remain as an issue for many especially during the peak periods or seasons. And with the NAIA Expressway currently under construction, I would expect the airport terminals to be more accessible to private vehicles in the future via the elevated system, thereby generating more demand for parking. Are there already proposals for the solution to this problem or are authorities again going to be dependent on the private sector for solutions?
I was back at NAIA Terminal 3 to fetch someone who was flying in from Bacolod last Palm Sunday. Going around while waiting for the plane to arrive, I took some photos of the newer shops and restaurants in the terminal. Here they are with a few photos at the waiting area and outside the terminal.
The overnight parking spaces were not yet full. It was a Palm Sunday so I guess many people haven’t taken their vacations yet. I remember fetching the wife one Maundy Thursday morning and the parking lot was just full of vehicles. I had to park at a slot that required some walking to get to the terminal building.
Taxi station at the arrival level of NAIA – only airport accredited taxis are allowed at this station and many, if not most, are not metered (i.e., do not have or use taxi meters). There is a dispatcher at the station and rates are basically higher than regular metered taxis.
There are more shops, restaurants and cafes at Terminal 3. The old ones are still there but noticeable are the newer shops and restaurants when you explore the 3rd level of the terminal.
The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf branch at Terminal 3.
Wendy’s fastfood restaurant.
Shoes on display at one of the older shops at the terminal that offers a lot of different merchandise like luggage and apparel and accessories.
Victoria’s Secret shop opening soon and likely before other international airlines move to Terminal 3 when renovations for Terminal 1 move to full gear.
This Seven Eleven store is relatively new. There’s a Mini Stop store near the escalator to the 3rd level of the terminal.
The Body Shop store.
Not so many people at the Cebu Pacific domestic check-in counters around 8 PM. At this time, most domestic airports in the country are already closed as they are not equipped for night time operations. Thus, there are few flights at this time likely from the handful of modern airports – Cebu, Davao, Iloilo and Bacolod.
Well-wishers meeting arriving passengers at the spacious arrival area concourse.
Signs provide directions to passengers and well-wishers.
Crowds form at the exits to check passengers filing out of the arrival area. International passengers come out from the left while domestic passengers from the right.
There are more foreign exchange counters now at Terminal 3 and this is likely due to the increased number of international flights served by the terminal.
People go out of the terminal at one of the many exits at ground level. However, there are only two entrances to the terminal at the arrival level where security checks are made.
Traffic jams are a common occurrence in most cities. In some they are predictable, usually during peak hours in the morning and the afternoon or evening. These peak periods may range from less than an hour or stretch to a couple or even longer hours depending on the characteristics of the area. In many cases, congested are main corridors (Commonwealth, Ortigas, Marcos Highway, McArthur Highway, SLEX, etc.) leading to or from the city center or central business district (e.g., Makati, Ortigas, Cubao, etc.). In Metro Manila, it can be a corridor connecting CBDs like EDSA or C-5.
Traffic congestion along the northbound side of Circumferential Road 5 seems much worse this December though it is always bad from the late afternoon to late night on weekdays. Congestion is usually worst along the stretch between Bonifacio Global City and Pasig River though it is also usually bad along the stretch from Ortigas Ave. to Eastwood in Quezon City. Traffic along the southbound side is usually bad in the mornings especially in the Pasig area.
Traffic congestion along Tramo on the way to the airport – traffic can really be bad in the vicinity of airports during this season but then the way the terminals of NAIA are situated and the conditions along airport roads also contribute to the congestion. For example, along Tramo in Pasay City you will find a lot of bus terminals and informal settlements. There are tricycles and pedicabs operating in the area, and parked vehicles along the road that reduce capacity. I always wonder what local authorities are doing to address these issues considering NAIA is our prime gateway to the world.
Unfortunately, the Christmas season in the Philippines is perhaps the longest in the world so Christmas traffic starts to build up in September (the first of the ‘ber’ months). Worst are days in December when everyone seems to be at their busiest. Aside from the work being done due to deadlines at the end of the year, there are shopping mall sales and Christmas parties.
So how do we know if December is indeed the busiest month of the year in terms of traffic? What evidence can we show as proof to this long-standing perception that is accepted as fact by many? I was asked these questions in a recent interview but unfortunately, I didn’t have the figures to show that December indeed is the busiest month in terms of traffic. Unfortunately, too, our government agencies do not conduct data collection to determine traffic volumes throughout the year so what you can get from the DPWH is Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT). Perhaps the evidence is with our toll operators, which conduct daily counts through their detectors and their toll booths. The cumulative volume of vehicles per month can be derived from data on tolls collected to validate the notion that December is highest in terms of traffic volumes.
Meanwhile, there might also be video evidence from the cameras installed by the MMDA and other local governments monitoring traffic. Footage taken from January to December can be compared to show which months are the busiest. Taking this to another level, image processing software for traffic are now available or can be developed to determine vehicle volumes from video.
It is reasonable to argue that indeed December is the busiest and we experience more traffic congestion during this month as there are more activities, especially those related to shopping, during this month. Ask anyone on the street and surely they will say that traffic and commuting is worst this time of year but many will also say they aren’t really complaining given the situation of other people (e.g., those affected by the earthquakes in Bohol and Cebu, and those affected by Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan in the Visayas). For many, this is still a season for joy and we generally don’t let traffic get in the way of happiness.
Merry Christmas to all!