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!
When departing from T3, go to arrivals where there is one entrance to the airport. You will still have to put your luggage on a scanner but you will get through that one entrance quicker than the several entrances at the departures level. Once inside, get the lift up to the departures level or the food court above that.
I just transited through Manila airport. On landing, we were shuffled through to a small room – no chance for toilet or drinking water or etc – and told we would need to find out luggage, and identify it. This was after we expected our luggage to be sent straight to our destination (London to Sydney in my case) . I was wondering, what on earth is my luggage doing here in Manila? Everyone was confused. The staff were just hanging around, chatting and playing with their phones. It transpired it wasn’t just our plane, but EVERY transiting passenger. So, this room was slowly filling up with passengers from all flights. Luggage was bring brought in from all the flights, all at once (bit by bit). We were all anxiously looking out for our article of luggage. Everyone feeling hot and irritable in this small room underground with no ventilation. Eventually I spotted my bag, after about 30 minutes. I stepped out of the line, grabbed it, and took it to the inspection table. Two men assessed it. One unzipped it. Then zipped it back up again. No inspection or anything. Stuck a label on the bag. Out I went. I think a lot of people were quietly swearing never to go to Manila airport again. This serves NO function whatsoever – what is supposed to happen to a bag en route? Who or what is going to do something to a bag? This was ‘make work’ at its finest. There were further useless security checks for everyone, my boarding pass was checked 4 times in transit! It should have only been checked once! That is, when I was boarding!! NEVER AGAIN. Partially just because I object to pointless ‘Security theatre’ – stuff that instills a sense of risk and fear and obligation without actually having anything to do with safety or protection of passengers or whatever. Simply inconvenience. I intend to let the airport know they are going to lose heaps of customers, this includes their sovereign services like Phillipines Airlines, becuase no one wants to put up with this shit and there are plenty of other places to transit through
Jen, thanks for stopping by. We always like hearing travel experiences, good, bad, or ugly. Happy Travels.