Changi and Budget Terminals

We flew out of Changi International Airport in Singapore to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. Somehow, airport experiences never change. There’s always something that happens that really works your nerves. It wasn’t anything serious though. Well, not too serious. After the horrible experience we had at NAIA in Manila, nothing will ever seem that bad.

When we first walked into the airport we went straight to the check in line. We thought about relaxing for a while first, after running all over Singapore taking care of our cats and not getting much sleep the night before. We decided we could do that after we checked in though. That way we wouldn’t have anything to worry about. We made the right choice too! About ten minutes later a flood of people showed up and got in line behind us. So, we were good and happy with ourselves.

Unfortunately, the girl servicing our line was either new or bad at her job, because by the time we finished checking in, twice as many people 2nd line had gone through. Also, just before we got to the counter, a third line was opened and people that came in at least 30 minutes after us rushed to the front and were checked in ahead of us. On the upside, we were given the seats we selected when we booked the flight. A few months ago, on our last trip to the Philippines, we flew Cebu Pacific and when we got to the counter they refused to give us our seats. We wound up flying at opposite ends of the airplane. It was a really aggravating experience, and is the reason why we chose Tiger Airways over Cebu. In fact, we won’t be flying Cebu anymore, unless there’s just absolutely no other choice.

That’s right! We flew Tiger Airways out of the “Budget Terminal” at Changi. Every time I walk in there I feel like I’ve just walked into a Super Walmart or a Sam’s Club, but it’s very clean and the check-in process actually seems shorter there. There are a few downsides to flying out of the Budget Terminal, like a smaller selection of shops, no seats in the departure gate area, and having to walk across the tarmac and up a flight of stairs to get on the plane, but when it saves you 600 SGD, is it really that bad? On a flight that’s only 3 hours long, does it really matter how comfortable the airplane is? I’d rather have the extra money to spend. I wanted to take a few photos of the Budget Terminal but taking pictures at an airport seems to be one of those unspoken “no-no”s.

Our flight was fairly uneventful. We did have a group of idiots sitting in front of us though. In the row in front of us there were 3 guys. There were two more sitting to our right. They were all part of the same group and during the entire 3 hour flight they were laughing and giggling like a group of 10 year old boys that had just caught their first glimpse of boobs. At least one of them was drinking, and they were passing around a bag of free peanuts like it was a rare delicacy. I wonder if these guys had ever been on a plane before? They had to have been right? How else would they have gotten to Singapore? These guys were partying it up like they were flying first class on the best airline available. Oh well. At least they didn’t smell bad.

The noise they were making made it hard to get any rest during the flight so we were relieved when the plane finally started its descent at Clark Air Base.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Manila, Philippines

NAIA has to be the worst airport I’ve ever been in and I’ll tell you why.

The physical appearance of the airport itself is a joke. From my experience, the airport is the first impression a traveler gets of the place he’s going, and if Manila wants to promote the image of a modernizing, world-class city, it’s doing a poor job of it. The paint on and in the building is faded and stained. The carpets are worn, and in some places the flooring is actually concrete slabs. My first impression was that it appeared to be a cross between a Sam’s Club and a well used, worn out car insurance office. The whole place seemed to be dirty too, to varying degrees. I was definitely not impressed.

The airport is very crowded. The airport itself is small, considering that it’s an international airport and the hub of air travel in the Philippines. This over-crowding is apparent as soon as you approach the building. The taxi drop off area is a mess of traffic and pedestrians that seems much more dangerous than it should be. The exterior standing area of the airport has a small sidewalk that is typically packed with waiting travelers. In addition there was a mob of Filipinos waiting for processing at the Overseas Foreign Worker office adjacent to the front entrance. This crowd of people seemed to spill out onto the street more often than not and consumed the majority of the waiting area. That brings me to another point. There is only ONE entrance! ONE door! All passengers are required to pass through a metal detector and have their baggage scanned at this entry point. That in itself is an admirable effort to keep the airport safe, but why is there only one? Why not two or three? Wouldn’t that make more sense, considering the amount of traffic the airport receives? Wouldn’t that improve travel time and customer satisfaction?

The employees in this airport are incompetent. Outside the airport there is an employee walking around demanding that people move closer to the entrance, even though there is nowhere to move to, since the area is packed full. It’s as if he doens’t bother to look or think about it before asking people to move. At the scanner by the door there is no form of baggage control. One of my wife’s bags was stolen from the scanner area before she was even able to make it through the metal detector. In Singapore, at Changi International, baggage is put in a numbered tray and you’re given a numbered placard to turn in for your baggage after being scanned. This ensures that the correct person gets the correct baggage. No such luck or system at NAIA. My wife’s stolen bag led us to the discovery of further incompetence on the part of airport staff. We proceeded to the information desk and asked if anyone had turned in a backpack. We didn’t expect that anyone would of course, but they made an announcement over the intercom. We didn’t have time to wait around so my wife asked if she could have the phone number for the information desk so she could call back at a later time to see if the bag had turned up. The airport personnel at the information desk DID NOT KNOW THE NUMBER FOR THEIR OWN DESK! How can someone who works at an information desk not even know their own phone number? It seems ironic, and blatantly stupid. It also displays a lack of training and customer care. I suppose the problem with that is that for most travelers there isn’t really a choice when it comes to using that airport. That shouldn’t create an atmosphere where employees don’t care about the customers though. It’s a poor reflection of the airport, the city and the country.

There is a terminal usage fee that must be paid prior to entering the departure gate areas. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t fees of that sort normally included in the price of a plane ticket? Aren’t the airlines that utilize NAIA paying fees already to do business at that terminal? Why is there an additional fee travelers are required to pay prior to being able to leave the country? I’ve never seen anything like this at another airport. I got the impression that it was just another way for NAIA to dig into people’s wallets. Also, where are these extra fees going? If it’s a terminal usage fee, shouldn’t the fees collected be used to improve the terminal? Then why does it look like crap? The terminal usage fee is 18 USD and while that may not seem like a lot to some travelers, I feel that it’s an unnecessary waste of my hard earned cash.

If I had a choice, I wouldn’t use NAIA again. Unfortunately, there aren’t multiple terminals to choose from, which is the case in most areas. My wife submitted a complaint letter to the airport but never heard back from them. I wasn’t really surprised. It would be nice if those in charge of NAIA would take an active interest in the quality of their facilities and the quality of customer service their employees are providing.

Oh, and one other thing to note… NAIA doesn’t even have its own homepage. In this day and age that’s surprising and sad. The hyperlink at the top sends you to the NAIA wiki page.