A good value airline to Asia – Review of Philippine Airlines Economy

Updated 2019: Philippine Airlines Economy Class is offering good service, food and entertainment, as well as nice cabins on their new planes, at reasonable prices. That makes them good value on trans-pacific routes or across Asia and a good alternative to US carriers and other low-priced Asian airlines! Philippine Airlines has made great strides in service, entertainment and food and was awarded a 4-star rating by SkyTrax. If you have never flown them or not recently, read my Philippine Airlines Economy Class Review to find out the best planes and insider tips for the best experience!

Philippine Airline (PR/PAL) has announced ambitious plans to become a premium, five-star airline and has implemented improvements across the board to achieve that ranking. Last year, they were awarded a 4-star ranking by SkyTrax, moving them above airlines like United, Delta or American Airlines! PAL uses a wide variety of planes, giving you a different experience in economy class depending on the destination and plane used. I will give an overview of economy class, including the differences in hard product, in this review.

Booking/Pre-departure: While you can still buy PAL tickets in person, your best bet is via their web site. In addition to getting generally good fares, it also allows you to manage your booking online. You will NOT be able to check-in online, if you don’t buy the ticket on their web site! The web site is, compared to most Asian discount carriers, reliable and easy to use, but not as fully featured as the European or US competitors. Thankfully, they  are very transparent and you’ll see exactly what you will get with each fare. .
Your baggage allowance varies from nothing to 30kg, depending on your destination. Only the lowest fare class on domestic flights has no check-in bag included, all international tickets have at least 20kg. Make sure to check for your specific itinerary. You are allowed a carry-on luggage of 7kg as well as a personal item. While PAL is relatively lenient with regards to carry-on, they do weigh your check-in luggage and you will have to pay excess luggage fees for overweight bags. They charge $5/kg, so make sure you meet the weight limit or are prepared to pay up!
Online check-in is helpful for domestic flights, less for for international trips, as PAL enforces document checks at the counter, so you’ll have to get into the (shorter) online check-in line at the airport anyway!
While ground staff is generally friendly, they are not well prepared to handle exceptions. If you have to call or ask for changes at the airport, it might take some time and patience to accomplish it!

INSIDER TIP: PAL offers to upgrade to Business Class via a bidding process prior to departure, giving you a chance to fly in more comfort without paying full price! Check out my review of the bidding process – prices are pretty high, so be careful to compare to purchasing business class outright.

Onboard Service & Food: The onboard service is one of the greatest strengths of Philippine Airlines. The staff is generally friendly and trying to provide the best possible experience. I have seen them go out of their way to help customers, especially older passengers or families with kids, and make the flight as easy and as comfortable as possible. Many, including the experienced pursers, genuinely care. On a recent flight, I told the purser passing out water that I really enjoyed my meal, especially the Filipino dried mangoes and chocolates. When I deplaned, she greeted me good bye at the door and gave me a little bag with some extra chocolates and mangoes! You won’t find that kind of personal attention on a US carrier or even with excellent, but more formulaic Singapore Airlines!

The meal service shows some of the most improvement recently. Especially on flights from Manila, the food is excellent and some of the best you’ll find in Economy Class. Most recently, I was served a three-course meal, consisting of a small salad with bread & butter and a very tasty Filipino chicken & rice dish as main course. As mentioned above, the local chocolates and dried mangoes as dessert were my favorites. Philippine Airlines serves soft drinks, wine and beer as complimentary drinks, and follows the meal with extra water, coffee or tea. A top up of your drink of choice is available on request.

Philippine Airlines Economy Meal

On a flight from Bangkok, the food was also a three-course meal that was comparable to other regional carriers, although the noodle dish was not as tasty as the one catered in Manila. An ice-cream was served as dessert. 

Seats: The economy product is different by plane and destination, so I will provide the review based on the planes I’ve been on:

PAL Eco Q400 layoutQ400 (narrow body, turbo prop, domestic): The Bombardier Q400 is a modern turbo prop plane, used for small airports in the Philippines that can’t accommodate larger jets. They are configured in a 2-2 seat layout with a 32inch pitch, which makes them actually more comfortable than some of the larger planes used by both PAL and Cebu Pacific Airlines. While the seats are narrow, there are no middle seats and you have plenty of leg room, The seats are padded comfortably, making for a nice environment for a flight of under 2 hours. There is no entertainment, so bring your own.

 

PAL Eco A321Airbus A320/321: The A320/321 are configured in a 3-3 seat layout. The seats are covered in leather, which seemed clean and sturdy. There is a seat pocket for literature and small personal items. 

The seat pitch on these PAL planes is 30-31 inches, which makes for pretty tight quarters, similar to other Asian low-cost and full-service carriers. If you are over 6ft3 tall like me, you will not have a lot of leg room to work with and might want to pay extra for exit row or bulkhead seats.

Some of the older planes have overhead monitors installed throughout the cabin, but on several flights they were only used for general announcements with no movies or TV shows being shown. The newer A321 I flew recently allow you to stream entertainment to your phone or tablet. You need to download the PAL Player app and can connect via the onboard WiFi once the plane is in the air. You get a good choice of movies, TV and music – good enough for the shorter, regional flights these planes serve!

PAL Eco A330Airbus A330 (old): Philippine Airlines flies two configurations of the Airbus A330. The old one has a high-density configuration. These  A330 have a 3-3-3 economy layout with only a 29in seat pitch, making the seats very narrow with little leg room. It’s not helping that the seats are very slim, with little padding or support. The 3h30min flight from Bangkok to Manila was probably the most I’d want to spend in these seats.

Fortunately, these planes will be re-configured soon, so chances are good you’ll see the configuration below instead!

Airbus A330 (new): Fortunately, these new Airbus A330 are receiving some  of the best seats available in a spacious 2-4-2 layout. The seat pitch is good at 32inch and they all have big 10in video screens as well.
This is a very comfortable Economy Class Cabin and better than what you’ll find on most other airlines, especially considering that these planes serve medium-haul routes of 6-8h.

Airbus A350: Also very good, although a little tighter, are the all-new Airbus A350 used on long-haul flights to Europe or North America. They feature a 3-3-3 layout typical for this plane and a seat pitch of 30-31 inch which is pretty tight. All seats have USB ports and large, personal video screens, so you won’t be bored on those long flights!

Boeing B777: The PAL Economy Class on PAL Eco B777this plane is configured in a 3-4-3 layout with 33 inch pitch and comfortable, well padded seats. They have a cloth cover, which I prefer on long-haul flights as you don’t sweat as much as on leather seats.
It makes for a comfortable flight and, despite the age of the planes, is one of my favorite Philippine Airlines Economy cabins. 

The seats have a video screen in the seat back. Due to its age, it’s a little smaller than on the A350 or A330 and not as bright and clear. The wired controller is below the screen and easy to use.
You get access to a good selection of movies and shows. While not as good a selection in both quality and quantity as other premium Asian carriers, it’s good enough to keep you entertained.

Bottomline: PAL is targeting to become a 5-star airline and they are investing into their planes, food and staff to achieve that. I find the friendly, attentive service to be top-notch and enjoy the food, especially on flights catered in their home base of Manila.
The introduction of streaming entertainment and WiFi on their short-haul planes improves the experience. The widebody planes used on long-haul routes, including the new Airbus A330, A350 and Boeing B777 offer comfortable cabins that make long-haul flights a lot more enjoyable.
Philippine Airlines offers a very competitive Economy Class product on short-haul routes as well as on long-haul routes, especially from North America to Asia. If you haven’t flown Philippine Airlines (ever or in a while), I’d recommend to consider them!


Comments

A good value airline to Asia – Review of Philippine Airlines Economy — 11 Comments

  1. With PAL’s 777 jets serving Los Angeles, it is quite a contrast in comfort and convenience when you end up in a worn-out Airbus. Seats are lumpy and the velcro backs are peeling. Entertainment screens are in bad shape that is, if it is even working at all. Bottom line of paying PR 103/113 passengers: Do not charge the same fare as 777 jets for Airbus flights to and from Los Angeles.

    • I agree – the difference between the B777 and A340 is very big. Sometimes the Airbus is substituted for a B777 on that route and I’d be upset as well! I believe the A340 are being phased out, but I don’t know how long they will be in service…

  2. Please send me some information, about plight to the Philippines. Business Class.

    From Ohio to Manila. Also prices. Sometimes in March last week 2018.

    • PAL doesn’t operate flights to Ohio and does not have code-share partners to Cleveland or other Ohio airports as far as I know.
      If you’d like to fly with PAL, you’d have to book two separate tickets, one with PAL fro San Francisco, LA or Vancouver to Manila and one from your home airport to these gateways. You’d have the risk of missing your connecting flight and loosing your seat.
      I’d recommend to search for alternative airlines serving your home airport to avoid that risk, you can try KAYAK!

  3. For the Toronto to Manila flight, I booked seats on row 31 for the three of us- is there enough leg room to stretch out our legs?

    • PAL typically flies their Boeing B777 on this route, which offers a good 33 inch seat pitch in Economy Class. Row 31 is the bulkhead row, which means you will have nobody reclining into your space, but you won’t be able to stretch your legs due to the bulkhead wall. If you are very tall that might be an issue, for everybody else, these are excellent seats.
      To make sure PAL is flying the B777 for your specific dates, you can check on seatguru.com with your flight number and date!

  4. What can you tell me about Row 61 K which is a bulk head seat I am 5’6 typical Filipino height. But I am however traveling with an ESA dog and my dog is quite big. Will the leg room be enough for an 85lb dog?

    • You didn’t mention the plane you are looking at. Based on the row number, It’s probably an A330 or B777. In both cases, this is an exit row. While those are the most spacious seats in Economy, I do not know whether PAL allows guide dogs in the exit row.
      I suggest you contact Philippine Airlines to discuss with them.

      • SeatGuru is a great resource – just be aware that PAL very frequently swaps out planes, so I would make sure to call when it is as important as in the case of the guide dog…

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