If you’re flying into Manila, the capital city of the Philippines, let me give you some safe advice; DON’T. Seriously, if you can reroute your flight to the city of Cebu or even Clark Airport in Pampanga, only a couple of hours north of Manila, it may be worth taking a look at.
That’s because the airport that serving Manila is one of the worst in Asia or even the world for such a major destination. Officially the “Ninoy Aquino International Airport,” it’s even named after a disastrous situation, as the Philippines politician by that name was assassinated on this airport’s tarmac back in 1983.
Landing in NAIA kicks off your stay in the Philippines with crowds, confusion, heat, inefficiency, delays, and sometimes even scams. Nice, huh?
But don’t just take my word for it, as NAIA was named the worst major airport in the entire world from 2011 to 2013, with a crumbling three-decade old infrastructure, no business trying to serve as many travelers as it did, and a Medusa’s nest of traffic-locked roads and highways leading to it.
But the good news is that after years or building, renovation, and revamping its systems, NAIA has come up in the world significantly; it’s now ranked as only the 8th worst airport in Asia.
A Closer Look at the Manila Airport
But to understand Manila’s airport is really to tell a tale of terminals, as the complex is divided into four separate terminals and also an airforce base that share the same runway system. They’re so spread out (and so hard to get from one to another because of traffic) that it’s really been described as four separate metropolitan airports.
So the first thing to do when taking a flight from NAIA is to check your terminal, and then tell your taxi driver over and over until he has it memorized, because going to the wrong terminal can literally cost you an hour or more.
The next thing to do is ALWAYS leave your hotel early to get to the airport – and I mean like 3 hours early for a domestic flight and 4 hours or more for international. If you’re staying in Makati, for instance, it can take you 20 minutes to get to NAIA (like it did for me today), but that’s a super rare occurrence. The vast majority of times, it will take you an hour or even more, and throw in rush hour, rain, or any other delays and it can even be longer. Crazy for just a few miles!
Terminal 1 is also the oldest and by far the worst in the airport complex, and you’ll feel like you’re in a middle-eastern bizarre.
Terminal 2 serves Philippines Airlines for both domestic and international and is pretty modern and well organized.
Most people travel in and out of Terminal 3, which is also a newer structure and up to modern standards. In fact, Terminal 3 handles 4,000 passengers per hour and 13 million per year, directing them to 20 boarding gates from 140 check-in counters.
But be prepared to wait outside just to get into Terminal 3, as there is a queue curbside where you’ll have to show your ticket, passport, and put your bags through a security scanner just to enter the airport and walk to your check-in counter. Those lines can get long and really hot some days!
Terminal 4 is small and for domestic flights where you walk out onto the tarmac.
If you have a connecting flight at NAIA, be really mindful about which terminal you’re coming into and out of, and plan for HOURS to make your connection as you’ll probably have to get a taxi outside.
Good luck and have fun at Manila’s airport! With your help, we can rise to just the 9th worst in Asia!