Continuing on from my post yesterday, I mentioned that I would talk about airports in the Philippines. In China, the government has spent billions of dollars upgrading the airport in Beijing and the surrounding airports before the Olympics start. Why is this? Well, aside from the requirements of the IOC, an airport is most people’s first and last impression of a country. A bad experience either leaving or entering a country can color one’s view of a place. In China, most major cities and many minor cities have upgraded their airports in the last five years. Beijing and Shanghai have gleaming new, clean, efficient terminals with minimal queues and relatively polite officials.
What is the situation in the Philippines? Well, there are four major international airports in the country, and a few minor ones. The largest is Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila (NAIA), with the other three being in Cebu, Davao, and Clark. Clark, the old US Air Force base, is primarily used by budget carriers, most prominent of which is Air Asia. There are very ambitious plans to make Clark into the primary gateway into the country. It remains to be seen if these plans ever come to fruition. Davao and Cebu normally receive international traffic from other parts of east Asia. If you are coming from the States, Europe, or Australia, your first impression of the Philippines is most likely going to be at NAIA. There are four terminals at NAIA:
1. Terminal one is International, and if you are flying anyone but PAL, this is where you will arrive. It is around 20 years old, and showing every year of its age. Depressing, dirty, and with few services (DO NOT eat there if you value your belly!) The terminal is operating at well above capacity.
2. Terminal 2 “Centennial” Terminal. This is exclusively for PAL and its domestic arm, Air Philippines. About 10 years old, this terminal is about as clean and hassle-free as airports get here. Queues tend to be relatively short, and the taxi touts are reasonably kept at bay here.
3. Terminal 3. This is, perhaps, one of the biggest…hmmmmmm…..What word am I looking for here?…..MESSES that could befall any city. Initially conceived to be a showpiece for travellers to the Philippines, this project has ended up showing the worst of the country. See, the terminal has been complete for several years now… It has sat there empty. Political infighting, corruption, and general stupidity has surrounded this collossal monstrosity since it was first planned. If you read the whole story, the greed and idiocy surrounding this project will make you ill. It has “technically” opened to some “test” flights this month, with full operation by year-end. We shall see. If, and when, it opens, it should greatly relieve the overcrowding in dingy, depressing, Terminal 1.
4. Domestic Terminal. This structure was built in the 1940’s and is also well over capacity. Mostly outdoors, it reminds me of the airports I used to frequent in Borneo and some of the Caribbean Islands.
Why is all this important to the Philippines? Well, the current impression one receives when landing is not of a tourist paradise, but an impression of a third-world hellhole. Interminable queues, silly rules after landing, taxi touts out the ears, overcrowding… you get the picture. This makes the economy suffer and really gives an unfair and unrealistic impression of the Philippines! I truly hope that the opening of Terminal 3 corrects this situation. I am, by no means, trying to pick on the Philippines or Filipinos. With the natural beauty here and the people, this country has many wonderful things going for it and much to be proud of. I am simply stating that it is a shame that the first impression you receive here is so bad. I have landed at London Heathrow before and believed I was in Nigeria, and had the same experience in Miami and Los Angeles.
I’ll wrap this topic up shortly with Part III and tell you some frequent flyer tips on making travel easier in the Philippines and in general.