Review: Philippine Airlines Airbus A321neo business class (Brisbane-Manila)
Brisbane - Manila
PR222 + PR221
3H + 3K
- Fully-flat beds, despite being a smaller plane
- 100MB of free WiFi
- Not every passenger has direct aisle access
- Entertainment titles are heavily censored
- Excellent service from the cabin crew, who memorised all passenger names
No longer must Brisbane-based travellers jetting to Manila detour via Darwin with Philippine Airlines, with Brisbane's flights now served by the modern Airbus A321neo – a domestic-sized aircraft, but one that can fly further than its predecessor, making non-stop journeys like this one possible.
Despite having a single aisle, business class still makes room for fully-flat beds, which Australian Business Traveller put to the test on a recent return trip between Brisbane and Manila.
- Frequent flyer program: Mabuhay Miles, or credit your flight to the partnered schemes of ANA Mileage Club or Etihad Guest. Travellers who don't fly with Philippine Airlines regularly may find Etihad Guest the best fit, given that Etihad miles can be used to book Virgin Australia flights (starting at just 6,900 miles), and that Etihad Guest accounts can be topped up from some credit card schemes including AMEX Membership Rewards.
- Checked baggage allowance: 35kg, boosted to 45kg for Mabuhay Miles Elite, 65kg for Mabuhay Miles Premier Elite, and 75kg base allowance plus a further 20kg for sports equipment for Mabuhay Miles Million Milers. Just be aware that when departing Manila, your checked bag(s) first need to undergo explosive trace detection nearby the economy class check-in area before they can be accepted, which saw several travellers on this flight sent away from the separate business class check-in zone until that had been completed, as there was no obvious signage for this.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x7kg bag of up to 115cm (weighed at check-in), plus two personal items from a list including handbags, laptops with cases, cameras and more. In practice, I had no issues carrying a standard laptop bag (containing that laptop and camera, among other items) in addition to my standard 7kg wheeled bag.
- Priority airport services: Dedicated business class check-in and boarding lanes at both airports, access to Express Path at Brisbane departures with a flash of the boarding pass, and priority baggage delivery. Despite being Philippine Airlines' home hub, there were no business class fast-track queues at passport control or security screening in Manila, nor were Express cards offered on arrival into Brisbane, but lines at these points were all minimal.
In Brisbane, Philippine Airlines' business class passengers can visit the Qantas Brisbane Lounge by special arrangement: a facility recently expanded with a third storey to help accommodate more travellers during peak times.
Here, you'll find barista-made coffee and breakfast 'dishes of the day' to get you started, along with plenty of natural light, tarmac views (from selected areas), speedy WiFi and charging ports near most seats.
2019 AusBT review: Qantas international business class lounge, Brisbane Airport
(If your Australian journey begins in Sydney, you'll instead visit the Singapore Airlines SilverKris business class lounge, while in Melbourne, the Marhaba Lounge awaits.)
Departing Manila's Terminal 2, the lounge that awaits isn't quite so flash. There's a noodle bar, cocktail counter and buffet dining, but the space could certainly use a refresh:
It was a little busy in the evening prior to the airline's popular Manila-San Francisco and Manila-Los Angeles flights, but became progressively quieter as the night progressed.
Philippine Airlines now offers five return flights between Brisbane and Manila each week: all of which are served by the Airbus A321neo.
Departure and arrival times vary slightly on different days, but on Sundays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, you can expect to leave Brisbane late morning, and reach Manila late afternoon or very early evening aboard flight PR222.
On the return Manila-Brisbane leg as PR221, timings are instead fixed throughout the week, with a scheduled departure at 11:30pm on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, reaching the Queensland capital at 9:20am the next calendar day.
In previous years, Philippine Airlines' Brisbane flights detoured via Darwin in each direction, but moved to a non-stop service in July 2018, when the Airbus A321neo began flying to Brisbane.
Philippine Airlines also now flies the A321neo between Sydney and Manila, with Melbourne served by the airline's larger Airbus A330 jets.
Slippers and Furla amenity kits are provided in each direction, with an Acca Kappa eau de toilette spray joining the more expected contents.
While many Australian travellers are accustomed to boarding large, twin-aisle planes on long international flights – such as the Airbus A330, A350 or A380, or the Boeing 747, 777 or 787, as all fly Down Under – the Airbus A321neo is something different.
It's a newer, smaller, single-aisle plane, but one that can comfortably make the eight-hour journey from Brisbane to Manila as a non-stop flight, offering 12 seats in business class which all convert into fully-flat beds:
Look a little familiar? Regular globetrotters may have encountered this seat on previous travels to the United States, particularly between Los Angeles and New York aboard American Airlines' Airbus A321T flights, selected Delta Boeing 757s or United's Boeing 757s between the same cities, as well as on United's Boeing 787 flights from Australia.
Of course, each airline customises the look and feel of the seat to its liking, and aboard Philippine Airlines' jets, you'll find those three rows of business class in a 2-2 layout, remembering that on these planes, there's a single aisle.
Pillows and blankets are provided on both daytime and night-time flights...
... with the seat folding down to create a fully-flat bed measuring 75 inches/190cms from tip to tail:
A fixed footrest forms the tail end of that bed, although taller travellers will find their foot space at a premium. Although the seat measures at 20 inches wide at the base (tapering to 18 inches around the shoulders), the footrest itself begins at just 12 inches, and quickly reduces to a mere eight inches in width.
Being almost as tall as the seat is long – and with size-11s to squeeze into that tail-end space – I found it tricky to craft a perfect sleeping spot on the overnight flight from Manila to Brisbane, but in the end, did achieve a reasonable 4.5 hours of sleep in a window seat after getting comfortable, and did appreciate the fixed privacy divider present between each seat pair, pictured here from above:
As you'd expect of a 2-2 seating layout, when the aisle-side passenger heads to bed, accessing the aisle from the window requires stepping over that bed. I didn't find this any more difficult than on other planes with a similar layout, although less-flexible travellers may prefer to stick to the aisle for ease of access, as the arm rest can also be lowered to make getting into and out of the seat easier if necessary:
On the daytime leg from Brisbane up to Manila, I opted for an aisle seat, which made it relatively easy to get work done, with the wrap-around shell design of each seat affording some additional privacy to those seated in the rows ahead:
Speaking of work, you'll find international-style AC power outlets down the front of the centre console, joined by a USB charging port (and the headphone jack) up behind your shoulder, in an area that provides enough storage for items like cameras and headphones, with a cut-out for water bottles:
Although not accessible when the seat is upright, reclining the chair reveals an adjustable reading light as well as shortcut keys that make adjusting the bed easier if standing up...
... with the main control panel down to your side, offering individual controls for each part of the seat.
Here's a critical tip for business travellers: if you've stored your laptop bag underneath the footrest in front and you've already made your seat into a bed, do not press the 'upright' button (top left, above) to restore your seat.
This immediately folds down the leg rest, which began to crush my laptop bag directly below. Fortunately, I stopped and reversed the seat before any damage was caused, and instead returned to the upright position by holding down the left-pointing white-coloured arrow to raise the seatback first, before tilting the leg rest down once it was safely away from that area.
To be on the safe side, you might instead prefer to stow your laptop on the fixed tray in front of you, just below the inflight entertainment screen...
... or in this side pocket. It's good for these small devices, although I found that my elbow kept bumping and pulling at the corners of the pre-loaded magazines inside, so I relocated them to the overhead locker: leaving only the safety card and my laptop in that space, which fixed the problem.
Finally, passengers in the first row have an additional shelf space to work with atop their inflight entertainment screens, but as it's not 'officially' a storage area and isn't within easy reach when seated, it's most handy as a temporary place to rest something – when you're unpacking or repacking your bag, for example.
Pyjamas are BYO, and being a single-aisle plane, it was more difficult than usual to change into them before take-off given the stream of passengers flowing through the cabin, but I took advantage of an opening in the line to head forward from the third row.
Settle in with a glass of water, orange juice or Champagne (Louis De Sacy Grand Cru) before take-off...
... and given the late morning departure time from Brisbane, the meal to follow is lunch.
Tasty off-menu canapés begin the service, and indulging in a white wine alongside them gives three options – a Californian Chardonnay, a French blend, or an Australian Riesling-Gewürztraminer.
I'd normally lean towards a bolder vino, but it's rare to spot a Gewürztraminer on an airline wine list as other wine varieties can perform better at altitude. I put it to the test and found it rather drinkable, and no doubt the Riesling blend helped make it so.
Next, an appetiser of Thai chicken and green mango salad, which was beautiful and fresh, and went well with its crispy topping, and garlic bread on the side:
For the main course, a selection from the three dishes below, helpfully labelled as Filipino, Asian or Western on the menu, making it easier to identify the local dish of both origin and destination.
- Filipino option: Barramundi escabeche in a sweet and sour sauce, served with bok choy, pumpkin wedges and steamed rice
- Asian option: Twice-cooked pork belly slices served with kailan, young corn and egg fried rice
- Western option: Beef brisket in red wine sauce, with roasted shallots, peas, cherry tomato and sweet potato mash
Being a Philippine Airlines flight, I went for the Filipino choice. The barramundi was tasty, but the dish itself could have been better-presented.
I skipped the cheese course to follow in favour of dessert: a walnut coffee gateau with chocolate crème anglaise. A single walnut on top would have completed the presentation, but nonetheless, "yum".
I continued with a coffee later in the flight, which can handily be kept over on the cocktail shelf. The menu mentions options like espresso, ristretto and cappuccino on "selected aircraft", although as that doesn't cover the A321neo, I opted for a plain white coffee instead, which arrived with a chocolate.
When work was finished for the day, I switched that out for a Perfect Martini – not how I'd expected it would look, but which provided the promised mix of sweet vermouth, dry vermouth and gin.
Closer to landing in Manila, a second, single-tray meal service offers a fresh fruit bowl, breads from the basket, and a choice between a turkey sandwich or an antipasto plate.
I went for the latter, comprised of spiced chicken breast, smoked salmon flakes, a herbed cream cheese quenelle, celeriac salad, grilled zucchini and roasted capsicum, which gave plenty of opportunities for mixing and matching to experiment with different flavours, without being so substantial as to ruin my appetite for dinner later that evening.
Fast-forward to the flight home from Manila to Brisbane, and dinner is served after take-off – but with a local departure time of 11:30pm (that's 1:30am Brisbane time), I skipped that service and went straight to bed. After all, I'd eaten dinner on the ground, and as a general rule (and my #1 tip for business travellers), I avoid eating food just because "it's there", unless I'm actually hungry.
Read: Six tips for staying trim when travelling on business
Passengers connecting from destinations further afield may of course appreciate having that option – in which case, the meal tempts with an appetiser of Ensaladang Pako (fiddlehead fern with salad greens, vegetables and smoked duck slices), followed by a choice of main course:
- Filipino option: Coco cream prawns in fresh turmeric sauce, with sautéed kailan and crab fat fried rice
- Asian option: Grilled beef short rib in a spicy honey tamarind barbeque sauce, with pickled cauliflower, bok choy and soy fried rice
- Western option: Chicken with mushroom in black truffle cream sauce, with vegetables and buttered orzo pasta
Cheese follows, as does dessert – a pudding with caramelised bananas.
Breakfast is then served from two hours prior to landing. I'd given my meal preference at the beginning of the flight but slept through until 40 minutes before touch-down, although the crew were still happy to serve my meal then: a deli plate offering ham and smoked salmon with cheddar cheese, blue pepato, black olive, a cherry tomato and a potato-carrot salad, served aside fruit, bread, and water.
It was a refreshing way to begin the day – the alternative being a salmon and spinach omelette – and I appreciated being able to rest for as long as possible, particularly as it took me a while to get to sleep at the beginning of the journey.
Entertainment & Service
A fixed 15.5-inch HD entertainment screen sits in front of each passenger, with over-ear headphones supplied. The sound quality was reasonable, although the set wasn't noise-cancelling, so I reverted to my own pair.
The range of content was adequate with 148 movies to choose from, joined by a library of TV shows, music tracks and the customary moving map, but all the entertainment content was heavily censored.
Beyond the expected swear words being dubbed out, that censorship also muted less-offensive words and phrases like "hell", "damn" and "screw you". When trying to watch an episode of Suits, for example, the show became so unwatchable I thought I'd broken my headphone adaptor, until I realised that every sentence had been made 'child-friendly'!
The system itself has a remote control with a laptop-like trackpad and on-screen mouse in place of the more traditional directional buttons, although I found touching the screen to be the easiest and fastest way to navigate.
Inflight WiFi is also complimentary in business class, with 100MB vouchers distributed after take-off and further access charged at a very reasonable US$5 per 100MB.
Service-wise, crew on both flights were friendly, attentive, and prompt, without being too familiar – or equally, too distant or unapproachable.
Staff had also memorised the names of every business class passenger prior to take-off, and then used their name in every interaction. This was most noticeable at the end of the flight, where the purser farewelled each passenger by name as they walked past: something you're lucky to notice in first class, let alone business.
While the absence of universal direct aisle access is noticeable on these eight-hour flights, Philippine Airlines' business class fares are often half the price of other airlines on comparable flights, such as a return business class ticket from Australia to Asia for circa $2,500: and at that price point, the overall business class experience presents terrific value.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Manila as a guest of Philippine Airlines, Brisbane Airport Corporation and Fairmont Makati, Manila.
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Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer
01 Nov 2016
Total posts 130
Nice review Chris. Just recently saw that they are flying the A321 neo to Sydney as well. Didn't realize that they had the range to fly to Sydney.
24 Apr 2012
Total posts 2506
Yes, when Brisbane-Manila launched, it was the world's longest commercial A321neo route: then Sydney-Manila nudged that just a little bit further.
20 Jan 2017
Total posts 46
Enjoyed the review Chris. Would definitely want to be up that end of the plane for 8 hours in a narrowbody.
Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards
08 Jul 2014
Total posts 60
Superbly detailed review, Chris, as always. The catering looks very appetising, but your tip that one should only eat on board when hungry is good advice - I've stopped having 'supper' on night-flights to Australia from the USA (having eaten in the lounge earlier), and arrive feeling much better rested than previously. As for beverages . . . how much vermouth was in that martini?! Churchill would have had some choice words for it, I'm sure!
Malaysia Airlines - Enrich
01 Jun 2015
Total posts 30
This is indeed a very good Business Class from a narrow body fleet. I love this PAL seats and colour. Service looks flawless and beautifully presented. I hope other international airlines like Silk Air, Malindo, Malaysia Airlines or GARUDA Indonesia will replicate PAL fleet and style. I'm happy to board this fleet anytime.
20 May 2015
Total posts 583
I'll be taking these flights in a few weeks so the review is very helpful!
It seems to me that PAL are really developing quite positively.
11 Jun 2019
Total posts 1
Thanks for the review, I'm flying this route at the end of the month after using the 721 from London, guess I'll be disturbed if the passenger in the window seat has a weak bladder
01 May 2018
Total posts 4
Chris, an exceptionally detailed review. PAL's Business Class is a good product and the A321neo seems to maintain the standards as enjoyed on the twin aisle wide body aircraft. As a Philippine resident I have used PAL for over 35 years and they have improved immensely and continue to do so. I only wish the Terminal 2 and outbound security could be better. Yes, the lounge is tired and desperately needs a make-over but once on board regardless of class, the efficiency and attentiveness of the cabin crew shines. Meals are adequate and fresh. I have flown an A3231neo to Sydney in Economy and was surprised Frequencies are good although I avoid the very early morning Sydney departures on some days. Presently PAL have reverted to using their A330s for Sydney and offer Premium Economy which I really enjoy. 24 seats in the cabin. Often deals can be had and seat requests are honored which always helps when traveling a lot. I'm sure Philippine Airlines will go from strength to strength.
31 Jan 2013
Total posts 42
I'd be interested to know how steady the flight was. I fear the greater use of single aisle aircraft on midhaul routes as smaller aircraft tend to rock and roll more in turbulence. So given the choice of an single aisle versus a nice big Airbus or Boeing widebody, I'll take the latter every time.
05 Jul 2022
Total posts 2
Thank you for your review, Chris.
I am sharing here my suboptimal recent experience with PAL business MEL-MNL-JFK return with technical stop in YVR on the way back last month (late June 2022):
Business class seats are broken, airline does not maintain or repair faulty seats.
We (2 passengers) had both a horrible experience with our seats deflating, so that we had a horizontal metal bar pushing hard against out against our mid thoracic spines on this 16 hour flight!
Exactly the same happened on the return leg on different business class seats.
Each time the crew was trying hard to improve the situation with blankets, but it was still a painful experience. Business class was full, so no option to move seats. However, even if there were free seats to move to, I overheard several other passengers experiencing exactly the same problem…
During the stopover in Vancouver a technical crew came on board, attended to my seat and showed me how to take the seat cover off and manually blow air into the seat (yes, with my mouth), which I had to do 3 times during the flight back from JFK after Vancouver.
The business class seat is actually a really good product (on A350-900, same like i.e. Qantas) with air cushioned seat that should be adjustable, but the airline simply doesn’t maintain or repair it. It is such a shame, but it reflects the overall chaotic and suboptimal operation of this airline.
On boarding the MEL-MNL (different business seats) leg I immediately noticed that my remote control was broken with exposed wires and it is only after I insisted that they put a sticker over the wires to conceal them (the plane was still on the ground in Melbourne).
Seat on the MEL-MNL-MEL ok, but tiny footwells (A330-300).
During each transit in Manila we had to wait for our suitcases to be found and open them for security inspection, almost missing our return flight back to Melbourne because they had difficulty finding our luggage. That is a normal procedure, when transiting in Manila.
I’m not going to even go into the catering, other than to say that “they are trying”.
IFE was mediocre.
I have not received an answer to my complaint, despite repeated emails.
To sum it up:
Horrible airline, zero customer service!
While the tickets seem cheaper compared to other airlines, they are in fact terrible value for money…