In this review we will check out the PAGSS Business Lounge in Terminal 1 of Manila Airport.
After a great flight in Singapore Airlines‘ great regional business class product on its Boeing 787 and a short overnight hotel stay in Manila, it was time to continue my long way home.
It took some 20 to 30 minutes by Uber to reach Terminal 1 of Manila Airport from which my China Airlines flight to Taipei would depart.
Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport, or just NAIA as it is called by its acronym in everyday speech by the locals, is one of the worst airports in the entire world.
Particularly NAIA’s Terminal 1 – the oldest of the airport – is an absolutely hellhole. Already during my last visit about a decade ago I had an extremely bad impression of the terminal, and back then in my backpacking days I was certainly more accustomed to general squalor.
What I would see on this visit was at least as shocking as NAIA’s Terminal 1 certainly did not age well in those ten years. By all means, the whole Manila Airport experience was even worse this time.
This was partly because of a Xiamen Air runway incident a few days before which resulted in dozens of flight cancellations and thousands of stranded passengers, making the airport an ever greater mess than it already was before.
When I entered NAIA Terminal 1, it seemed that the thousands of stranded passengers were still sitting all around the check-in area. Generally speaking, Terminal 1 of Manila Airport is already the most crowded and shambolic of all, but this time the situation was twice as worse.
With the sole exception of the old South Terminal at Jeddah Airport, I have never seen such crowds and such a mess at any airport in my life – and that includes plenty of airports in Africa or in the quirkier ex-Soviet countries.
Check-in at NAIA generally opens three hours before each flight and I even arrived a bit earlier than that. It was certainly not pleasant to have to wait even longer, but at the same time it turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Although the check-in desk numbers were not yet shown on the departure board, I did notice some check-in agents moving some China Airlines branded signs and boxes around to a couple of check-in desks, so I immediately went there to be the first in the queue.
It was a good decision as at the moment the check-in desks were announced there was a mad rush towards the lines, with seemingly no-one giving a damn about queuing etiquette, let alone respecting the dedicated line for business class and Sky Priority.
Being in front of the queue certainly helped to speed things up. If I would not have been so proactive and waited for five minutes there would have been several dozen people in front of me.
And while the queue seemed to move extremely slow, I was fortunately checked in rather quickly and could make my way to passport control and security.
Due to the surprising absence of queues here I was airside within minutes. Also here NAIA Terminal 1 feels like you are stepping some four decades back in time.
Even though the crowds here were not as horrible as in the check-in area, all seats and even all the space against the terminal walls were occupied by (sleeping) people.
PAGSS Lounge entrance requirements
Although I was flying in economy class today, my Flying Blue platinum status fortunately got me complimentary access to one of the Manila Airport lounges.
China Airlines officially uses the PAGSS Top Lounge at Gate 2, although there is apparently also a ‘PAGSS Premium Lounge’ near Gate 7 which you might be able to use. In case you were wondering, PAGSS is an abbreviation of Philippine Airport Ground Support Solutions.
Besides business class passengers and frequent flyer elites, the PAGSS Lounge can also be accessed with a lounge membership card such as Priority Pass or by paying a walk-in fare of around 25 to 30 USD if you don’t qualify for free lounge entry.
When I entered the lounge it was already quite crowded but fortunately there were still a few seats available. Most of the seats in the PAGSS Business Lounge are rather standard chairs and sofas standing around some low tables, although there are also a couple of high top chairs at the window.
The décor of the PAGSS Lounge is nothing to write home about as it just seemed to be a random mishmash of furniture. On the plus side, the lounge did however had some natural light shining in from the windows, although there view is to the airport exterior and not to the tarmac.
I was happy that I managed to grab a seat in the lounge as soon after the space got absolutely jam-packed. Even though it made the lounge rather noisy and chaotic, it was still better than sitting in the airport terminal itself.
As I didn’t eat breakfast in my hotel, I was quite hungry by the time I arrived at the PAGSS Lounge. Unfortunately, the food spread wasn’t the most extensive and it surely didn’t look very appealing at all.
The only hot option available was some pasta – which seemed to be very popular with the folks in the lounge but which wasn’t the most appetising looking if you ask me. To add to insult the sign labelled the dish as “penne”, which it was decidedly not as it looked more like a rather badly made fettuccine.
It wasn’t the only food labelling in the PAGSS Lounge which raised some eyebrows. Some disgustingly dry cakes were literally labelled “food for the Gods”.
Unless the PAGSS Lounge is run by a bunch of radical atheist cooks being ironic it’s a huge misnomer which says a lot about the poor food quality.
The only things which were remotely edible were some dodgy looking meat pastries and the bakpau buns.
When it comes to non-alcoholic beverages the selection at the PAGSS Lounge is acceptable, as all popular soft drinks and some different juices are available.
The coffee was of acceptable enough quality as well.
The same cannot be said of the booze selection. The only wine available was a sickly sweet Spanish red which I’m sure would retail for less than a dollar. When it comes to liqueurs, the selection of alcohol was equally poor.
When it comes to beer the only available option was San Miguel light, which basically means there is nothing drinkable available (light beers really are the worst American invention ever).
Other lounge facilities
One redeeming factor of the PAGSS Lounge was that the WiFi internet connection was fast and reliable, making the business lounge a decent place to work or catch up on emails.
A quiet and comfortable place to work it is certainly not – but then again, nothing in Terminal 1 of Manila Airport is.
There were no toilets inside the lounge so you had to make use of the public facilities in the terminal. There are no showers at the PAGSS Lounge either.
The PAGSS Top Lounge is a subpar business lounge with an unremarkable décor and general lack of facilities. The food and beverage offering at the lounge is rather poor and the lounge tends to overcrowd quickly.
The only saving grace of the PAGSS lounge is the decent WiFi internet and the fact that Terminal 1 of Manila Airport is such a hellhole that it makes this business lounge looks comparatively good.
If you have a choice of airline, by all means opt for one which does fly out one of the other terminals of Manila Airport as it will make your experience much better!
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Journey to Java‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Review: Wizz Air Bucharest to Rome Ciampino (Airbus A321)
2. Half a Day in Rome: A Walk Around the Eternal City
3. Review: Casa Alitalia Lounge ‘Piazza di Spagna’ Rome Fiumicino Airport
4. Review: Saudia Business Class Rome to Riyadh (Airbus A320)
5. Review: Saudia Alfursan Business Lounge Riyadh Airport
6. Review: Saudia Business Class Riyadh to Jakarta (Boeing 777-300)
7. Review: The Hermitage, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel, Jakarta, Indonesia
8. A Day in Jakarta: Exploring Indonesia’s Bustling Capital City
9. Review: Garuda Indonesia Domestic Business Lounge Jakarta Airport
10. Review: Garuda Indonesia Business Class Jakarta to Yogyakarta (Boeing 737-800)
11. Review: The Phoenix Hotel Yogyakarta – Mgallery By Sofitel
12. A Magical Sunrise Visit to Borobudur Temple
13. A Visit to the Great Hindu Temple Complex of Prambanan
14. Review: Yogyakarta to Surabaya (Indonesia) by Train
15. Review: Majapahit Hotel, Surabaya, Indonesia
16. A Day in Surabaya: Exploring Indonesia’s Second Biggest City
17. Review: Concordia Premier Lounge Surabaya Airport
18: Review: Singapore Airlines Business Class Surabaya to Singapore (Airbus A330-300)
19. A Short Singapore Stopover: Into the City or Stay at the Airport?
20. Review: SilverKris Lounge Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 2
21. Review: Singapore Airlines Business Class Singapore to Manila (Boeing 787-10)
22. Review: PAGSS Business Lounge Manila Airport Terminal 1 (current chapter)
23. Review: China Airlines Economy Class Manila to Taipei (Airbus A330-300)
24. Review: China Airlines Business Lounge Taipei Airport Terminal 1
25. Review: China Airlines Economy Class Taipei to Rome (Airbus A350)
26. Review: TAROM economy class Rome to Bucharest (Boeing 737-700)