Thursday, July 23, 2009

OFWs at NAIA Terminal 3

by Carmelita C. Ballesteros

Dear readers: Please share your observations of international airports and/or any airport in the Philippines, domestic or international, by e-mailing

Terminal 1
Are you ashamed of Terminal 1 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) in Metro Manila? Compared to other international airports, it is dilapidated and shabby. However, it is a functional airport, although its toilets don’t work all the time.

According to Wikipedia, it handled 22 million passengers in 2008.Wasn’t that a feat? Supposedly, it was built to handle only 4.5 million passengers.

The most significant thing about Terminal 1 is its historic value. It was where Ninoy Aquino was assassinated in 1983, moments after he was escorted out of a China Airlines flight by Marcos’ soldiers. So consider it a unique privilege to arrive and depart from such a rare and aging airport. It’s like time travel. On top of that, it’s an airport where a modern-day hero was assassinated.
Terminal 2
It is a little newer and its toilets seem to work all right. It is used exclusively by the Philippine Airlines for all of its domestic and international flights. However, the last time I arrived at Terminal 2 in 2007, I remember a really awful experience.

There were very few trolleys for the passengers’ baggage. I remember that there were at least 500 passengers fighting for about 20 trolleys. My family was worried sick because it took me more than an hour to get out of the airport.

I advised a colleague who was flying to Manila after me, and also flying via Philippine Airlines, not to check in any baggage so that he could get out of the airport fast.
Terminal 3
What about the newest terminal of NAIA? With its tattered reputation of being at the center of legal disputes and charges of corruption, I wanted to find out for myself how Terminal 3 compares with its older siblings.

Having heard that Cebu Pacific uses it exclusively, I used this airline for my trip from Singapore to Manila and back last June. I was pleased that Cebu Pacific already offers day flights. It used to offer flights only on graveyard shifts – late evening, midnight, and wee hours of the morning.

My flight from Singapore to Manila on June 18 was at 10:35 a.m. I flew out of Changi’s Budget Terminal which is miles better than Terminals 1 and 2 of NAIA. My plane touched down at 2:05 p.m. in Manila and I was out of Terminal 3 by 2:45 p.m. It was a breeze!

I was in a hurry to get home, and didn’t look around. The only impression I got was that there were no crowds and the airport was quite cold and quite bare.

Time flew, literally. Two weeks were gone and I had to head back to Singapore on July 1. My flight being at 1:30 p.m., my family dropped me off at Terminal 3 at 10:30 a.m.
Check-in Process
Unlike the annoying, multiple layers of security checks at Terminals 1 and 2, I got the pleasant, but ‘uneasy’ feeling that security at Terminal 3 was lax. I remember only one security check before I queued up to the airline counter check-in.

The Security Profiler Queue

On my way to the airline counter, there was a security profiler from a private agency. He looked only at passengers’ tickets and passports. He was not from POEA, and I wasn’t sure what his ultimate aim was. He didn’t ask to see my OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration) Certificate nor my OEC (Overseas Exit Clearance). Anyway, it took only a few minutes.

The Airline Counter Check-in

There were several flights en route to Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taipei but there was no crowd. The airline counter clerk asked me if I was an OFW. I said yes and offered her my green OEC. She took one sheet from the set of four copies, then returned the remaining three to me.

(By the way, I didn’t need to pay the Philippine travel tax of Php1,620.00 as an OFW privilege. My OEC, which cost me SGD5.50, is the proof that I am a documented OFW. If you are an OFW in Singapore, you must go to the Philippine Embassy on Nassim Road and pay the equivalent of USD25.00 to get an OWWA certificate. Only then will you be allowed to purchase an OEC.

Cebu Pacific, for its part, collects the travel tax from departing non-OFW Filipinos when they buy their airline tickets. Thus, Cebu Pacific has cut down a usually slow and disorderly step from the check-in process of passengers at Terminals 1 and 2.)

On my way to the Immigration Counter, I passed by the booths which collect the terminal fee of Php750.00. I approached the booth for OFWs and gave my OEC to the clerk. She tore off one copy and returned the remaining two to me. I didn’t need to pay anything. Altogether, I was spared from spending Php2,370.00 in exchange for the OEC which cost the equivalent of Php180.00.

Finally, I walked in towards the immigration counter through the terminal fee counter. There were only two immigration counters and there were only three of us international passengers.

The immigration officer waved me through. I was a little disappointed that my transaction was so ordinary and uneventful.

Airport Amenities
I walked farther inside Terminal 3 and had lunch in one of its cafes. It was a 90-peso lunch of rice and chicken. There were pricier choices but I wasn’t interested.

I checked out the wash room, of course. It’s almost as good as Singapore’s. That’s a big improvement.

Was there a duty-free shop? I don’t remember any. For the second time, I noticed that Terminal 3 was quite bare. With nothing to while away my time, I looked for my boarding gate. The clerk ripped off half of my boarding pass using the cover of my passport. Without even looking at me, he waved me in.

There was hardly anybody in the departure lounge. People started streaming in only at 12:45 p.m. After 10 minutes, we were asked to board through a short tube. The plane was probably two-thirds full. We took off promptly at 1:30 p.m. and landed at Changi Airport at 4:40 p.m., 20 minutes ahead of schedule.

Both Cebu Pacific pilots who captained my return flights were great landers. The landing was so soft and gentle that I didn’t feel the landing gears touching the ground at all.

An OFW’s Impression
So what’s the verdict? NAIA Terminal 3 is efficient and Cebu Pacific is using it effectively. OFWs, aside from the submission of the green OEC, are inconspicuous. It means that OFWs at NAIA Terminal 3 are treated decently just like any other passenger, whether Filipino or foreigner.

I sure hope the decent treatment of OFWs remains that way. On a different note, I hope some sprucing up of Terminal 3 will be done to make it look friendlier and more attractive.

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