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AVOID MANILA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

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TRAVEL ADVISORY – AVOID MANILA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

Travelers’ Beware – Traveling Out of the Philippines Is Very Costly and Inconvenient

The Philippines is probably the only country in the world that will gouge you with Airport Terminal Fee or Airport User’s Charge when you take off from any of their airports.

I had the misfortune of having to leave the Philippines originating from Cebu International Airport to Hong Kong with a two-hour layover in Manila. Here is my harrowing tale leaving this corruption-laden country.

Inbound Flight – Hong Kong to Cebu with Cathay Pacific
Outbound Flight – Cebu to Manila then to Hong Kong via Philippine Airlines

CEBU – MANILA

Upon arrival at the Cebu terminal, I was approached by two airport employees in their Barong uniforms offering to assist me in navigating the check-in procedures. They were courteous and helped me through a very simple check-in process. After I received my boarding pass for the Cebu-Manila flight and Transfer Boarding Pass for the Manila – Hong Kong flight, I gave my last P250 to the Filipino handlers. Then I went around the retail shopping area at the airport looking for last minute souvenirs. When I heard from the public address system that boarding into my plane will begin in 5 minutes, I walked towards the gate and I came through a booth in the middle of the hallway leading to the gates with two older women manning the counter. Above the booth bears a sign requiring every passenger to pay a Terminal Fee of P200 Philippine Pesos.

US DOLLAR WELCOME:

I approached the counter and the woman on the left asked me for my boarding pass and stapled the Terminal Fee stub before I can even begin talking. I told them I used up all my Philippine currency and they immediately told me that I can pay in US dollars. I opened my wallet and handed them a $100 dollar bill and they told me they don’t have change. Then I asked if there is an ATM machine or Currency Exchange Counter where I can exchange my US dollar. They said there is none in the airport alluding to me that I just give them my $100 without giving me the change. Meanwhile the line behind me was already backing up and the other lady asked me to step aside. I then told them I have other currencies in small denominations like Hong Kong and Singaporean dollars. The lady on the right told me with a straight face that they only accept Philippine Pesos or US Dollar. At that moment I heard on the public address system that boarding has commenced.

BLATANT EXTORTION:

Why they impose such a fee and payable only in cash at the very end of the boarding process is clearly a way to extort money from unsuspecting travelers. Why can’t they allow the airline companies tack this on to the airline ticket at the time of purchase or have the airline check-in attendant collect this fee at the time of check-in? Why are these Terminal Fee attendants not equipped with enough cash to give back change just like any other retail or hotel desk attendants?

LAST MINUTE REPRIEVE?

Feeling frustrated I glanced at their cash box and I saw different currencies in their respective slots. I then pointed out to one of the slots and told the lady on the right in Cebuano dialect, that how come I saw Hong Kong dollars in their cash box. She then sheepishly answered back that she can accept Hong Kong dollars and started converting the P200 terminal into fee into Hong Kong dollars. She probably mistook me for a Japanese tourist.

IN YOUR FACE SWINDLERS

I paid the lady on the right for the Airport Terminal Fee for myself and my two companions using Hong Kong dollars. Meanwhile I heard on the public address system that final boarding has begun. We hurriedly left the counter and handed our boarding pass to another checker at the end of the hallway checking for the Airport Terminal Fee stub. As we were walking towards the gate of the plane, my companion asked me if I got back the $100 bill I handed down to the lady on the left. At that moment I realized I might have been swindled right in my own face.

The flight from Cebu to Manila was uneventful. As we were about to land in Manila, I was thinking of our flight transfer in Singapore for our trip from Bangkok to Hong Kong via Singapore. It went very seamlessly. Unbeknownst to me, the worst is yet to come.

TRANSFER PROCEDURES FROM HELL:

Our plane landed in Terminal 2, home to Philippine Airlines’ domestic and international operations. When we landed we were ushered to two flights of stairs down and to our right was a sign “Transfer Desk” pointing to a counter with no one manning it except for a man standing in front of it wearing a Barong and instructed passengers from Cebu to take the elevator to the third floor and walk toward the North Terminal. We took the elevator to the 3rd floor and when we got out was a check in area with that big sign again asking for the Airport Terminal Fee. I went to the help desk beside it and asked the person manning the booth if we have to pay the Terminal Fee again when we just came from Cebu and paid the terminal fee. He was not sure and told me to go to the Terminal Fee counter. I asked the Terminal Fee clerk if we have to pay the Terminal Fee again even if we paid it in Cebu en route to Hong Kong and she said “yes” flatly. I could not believe it. As I looked around for an ATM machine, a uniformed person asked me if I just came from Cebu transferring to a flight to Hong Kong. He told me to take the door with an Exit sign at the end of the hall.

NO INTERNAL ACCESS TO NORTH TERMINAL

This was quite confusing to me since as we approached the door, I can clearly see that it was leading to the outside of the Terminal. A uniformed woman was stationed in front of this door and I showed her my Hong Kong bound boarding pass and told her we are transferees from Cebu en route to Hong Kong. She did not say anything except to point to us to take door and said “North Terminal”. During all these time, there were no visible signs to follow leading us to our international gate or the North Terminal for that matter. When we got out I looked to my left and to my right. To my right was a door with uniformed guards and an X-ray machine. I approached one uniformed guard and told her that we need to get into the North Terminal for an international flight to Hong Kong. She then pointed to me a long line outside the terminal which almost backed up towards the sidewalk of the Terminal.

We followed the line and went into another staging area having our carry-on items scanned and have to pass through metal detector again. Then we were in the middle of the check-in area for international flights and in front of me was that sign Terminal Fee P200 again. I glanced around and was happy to see that a bank counter is actually available and open. I went and exchanged P600 pesos worth of Hong Kong dollars. We then proceeded to the Terminal Fee counter and then the person manning it, pointed to us to use either left or the right counters with each having a long line of passengers.

AIRPORT USER FEE PhP750 or US$ 15.50 ONLY

We followed the line and as we got closer we noticed the fee is now different. The sign stated Airport User’s Charge PhP750.00 or US$15.50. I can’t believe we have to pay another fee again. We just visited three other Asian countries with various transfers and we did not have to pay any fee and the process was efficient. I just said to myself just pay it and get out of this country.

NO CHANGE AGAIN

As I was approaching the counter I hesitated for a moment and thought of getting my $100 bill exchanged to Philippine Pesos but I thought they must have a change for three persons at US$15.50 is equal to US$46.50, clearly I thought they should have US$53.50 to give back. Lo and behold, I was wrong again, the lady at the counter told me emphatically to get it exchanged into Philippine Pesos at the bank counter nearby since she has no change. My patience has reached to a boiling point since the line was getting longer and longer. I grudgingly walked towards the bank counter and exchanged my $100 bill to Philippine Pesos, paid the Airport User’s “Extortion” Fee and walked towards the Immigration line area.

CONFUSING LINES

As we walked towards the Immigration inspection area, there were six lines leading to an Immigration counter with an Immigration Officer manning each of the counters and two lines leading to an X-ray machine and a metal detector. Unlike the Immigration counters in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand or any other U.S. cities, as soon as your passport is stamped and allowed you for entry or departure, you will pass by the Immigration officer leading to the gates instead we have to go back and go into another line and have your passport and boarding pass checked by another personnel if it has been stamped, then this person allows you to go through the metal detector and have your carry-on items scanned before you go into the gates for boarding. Another justification for this extra-personnel which is probably a political appointee.

PERSONNEL WITH NO CLUE

As I placed my carry-on items on the conveyor belt for scanning, I cannot help but noticed that the Philippines was the only country that I had just visited that did not require me to take my laptop, camcorder and cell phone out of my carrying case and placed it in a separate container. There were also no dedicated personnel manning the metal detector. You can basically put any un-allowed items together with your keys at the side of the metal detector, slip through the metal detector and pick them up and get through. They only look at you if the metal detector beeps when you go through it. In US airports you have to hand your keys, belts etc to the security personnel before you pass through the metal detector. Not so in the Philippines.

FINAL SCAM

I picked up my carry-on items and headed outside the security check area and a security personnel asked me to stand on the platform so he can frisk me. I found it odd since the metal detector did not beep when I pass through it. He then touched my waist and then patted my front shirt pocket signaling for me to take the contents out. I took the contents out and he saw my Hong Kong dollars. He then asked me “you’re going to Hong Kong?” and I said yes. He then tapped the left front pocket of my pants. I took out the contents of my pant pocket and he saw my left-over Philippine pesos in which he asked if I will be gone for a long time alluding to me that I would not need my Philippine pesos abroad and perhaps give it to him as a tip or whatever. I said I will only be gone for two days and he let me go.

Relieved that I can finally go to my boarding area, I glanced at my other companion and noticed she needed a little help from all the red tape that we had to go through. We walked together out of the security check area and as we approached the final gateway out the security area, another security personnel told us if our carry-on items were manually checked by a line of security personnel standing to our left. I told this person that our carry-on items have been scanned over and over again, do we need to get manually check one more time? She said we have to otherwise she would not let us go. I scanned the security personnel standing and went in front of a younger security personnel busy talking on his cell phone and placed down my carrying case in front of him. He glanced at it, open the zipper, closed it and handed it back to me. I walked back to the same lady who stopped me before and there she was busy chatting with another personnel and let everyone pass by.

The Philippine airport system is a mess. It appears strict but a closer look does not give the passengers assurance that security and screening procedures are properly carried out. There were too many personnel doing redundant procedures and appeared to have no clue on what their objectives are and their respective duties to fulfill their functions.

AIRPORT FACILITIES

Terminal 2 is dubbed “Centennial Terminal” in commemoration of the centennial year of the declaration of Philippine independence opened in 1999 and yet the airport’s facilities look century old. Gate N2 was not as spacious and clean as other airports in other Asian countries I just visited. The bathrooms were small with only two urinals and there were no toilet seat covers in the toilet stalls.

It befuddles me that an airport that imposes an Airport User’s “Extortion” Charge does not have a clean, state of the art facility. The passengers’ lounges are not as spacious compared to Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore. The layout is a joke for passengers transferring from other Philippine airports en route to other countries. What kind of airport design is it that you have to get out of the terminal to catch your next plane?

Who would want to come back to this airport filled with parasites and predators ready to gouge and scam you? I had just visited Thailand’s countryside and while it is not yet up to par to Singapore or Hong Kong, Bangkok’s new airport is rightfully there. Manila’s airport is ghastly behind, poorly managed and with its unjustifiable Airport User’s “Extortion” Fee levied on passengers at the most inconvenient place is a very good reason to avoid this airport and this country.

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