Navigating NAIA - Ninoy Aquino International Airport - Manila airport

If you have been to NAIA, you will likely have figured out a lot of the following. If not, have a read, it might save you all some gray hair, frustration, and most importantly, some missed flights...

Just Been There Art

Look at or buy art inspired by this trip. If you like this trip, but can't go, or you too have just been there, this unique art may rekindle fond memories of your own trip. Click the image for a link to the online store and browse the site for more. Note: you will be leaving this site and connect to the artists site.

Perched - Christine Ong-Dijcks

All art copyright by: Christine Ong-Dijcks

Arriving at NAIA

Your arrival will not differ much from any other airport. Depending on where you fly in from, you will see a big difference in the terminal appearance and style.

Many of the major Asian airlines - for those coming from or connecting through Japan, Taiwan, Korea, etc seem to end up in Terminal 1. This is the oldest terminal and while the main departure hall looks pretty much ok, the arrivals looks a little dated.

Terminal 3 is definitely a bit more up to date, but here you will also have to count on a relatively long queue to get through immigration. Emirates, Turkish, KLM, Quantas seem to all arrive here, as does every Cebu Pacific flight. So if you arrive from the likes of Hong Kong or any other Cebu Pacific international destination you will see T3.

I've found the official MIAA site a bit sparse, so one site to have a look at in terms of arrivals and flight information is this UNOFFICIAL NAIA site. It is riddled with ads, so just stick to the menus. You can also go to the official site, here is the link to what airlines use which terminals.

Main thing to keep in mind... it might take a while to get through immigration... and then to get your bags. In general, I would calculate one hour to somewhere around 90 minutes for the whole thing.

Transferring to Domestic Flights at NAIA

This is where some of the real fun happens. Tip: stop staring at your watch, instead, settle in for a 4-6 hour lay-over and remember that you are already on vacation.

Over the past few years, we have done a few of these, so here are some of the experiences.

Both International into NAIA Terminal 1 and Domestic out of Terminal 2 on Philippine Airlines (PAL)

The big difference between flying PAL and other airlines into T1 is that you will transfer your bags inside T1 and then take the shuttle bus. PAL's website has a handy transfer duration chart here. I would add one hour to the times when coming in from an international flight and taking the bus...

Once landed, you'll go through immigration and then on to claim your bags. You go through customer. Nothing peculiar here. You then drop off your bags at a somewhat random looking area (the "baggage assistance desk"), with a general sense of nervousness as your bags don't seem to go on a belt or anything. You just hand them over. Relax, this is how it works. 

The bags will then somehow make it to your domestic flight, which in general will happen. We've had it succeed about 5 out of our last 6 flights. It just went wrong once, because our inbound flight was late and the connection ended up being too short. We made it, our bags hung around NAIA for a few more hours.

This baggage assistance is btw one good reason to fly PAL, as they allow your international luggage to go domestic. So your 2 huge suitcases can come along with you... handy for the locals.

NAIA Shuttle Bus
The Shuttle Bus - Official Information

Next you get to find the MIAA shuttle bus (official site). In Terminal 1, there is a specific waiting area. Follow signs for Terminal Transfer. In Terminal 1 you should have to go by an attendant standing by a desk asking you what terminal you are going to and asking you for your boarding pass. Importantly, you'll end up in a small waiting area with doors closed onto the curb (and maybe a bus waiting outside).

Importantly, there is no fee! Your boarding pass is the entry ticket. If somewhat is charging you, you are likely at the wrong bus stop! Wander back inside arrivals (if possible) and find the Terminal bus.

The bus route is funky... it seems to drive by Terminal 2, but won't let you off (it somehow picks up people before dropping off). You'll go outside the airport and loop back in to head up the ramp to T2 Departures.

Terminal 2 has two different wings. Once you arrive, find the domestic wing and entrance for Terminal 2. You can just ask the security guards when in doubt, but you'll wander to middle of the building and then to the next wing as the bus seems to stop at international.

That is it... if you don't get yourself wound up AND book enough time for the lay-over this is all pretty simple. Just takes a bit of time.

International into NAIA Terminal 1 on not PAL and Domestic out of Terminal 2 on Philippine Airlines (PAL)

This is essentially exactly the same as if you flew PAL, but you'll shlep your bags with you all the way... No baggage assistance desk for you unless you have some code share flight booked.

Here is what we tend to do. Book a separate flight into Manila, then find a flight on PAL, Cebu Pacific or Air Asia Philippines to get you to your island destination. It is typically cheaper to do that. Or, you have more control over the prices and the classes you fly in. Also, many airlines have code shares to a limited number of destinations in the Philippines.

So, back to where we left off. Do the same as mentioned earlier. Shlep your bag onto the bus (it is quite interesting to see how the bus is loaded with all them bags) and off you go.

Now, many PAL flights leave from Terminal 2, so you take your bags to domestic and check in. This is the other difference of course, you'll have to line up and check in. 

We never had much of an issue with that in terms of time. We did get loads of questions on random baggage items... so, just bring a suitcase or backpack and you are just fine. Just do buy your domestic ticket with enough baggage allowance and weight your bags. We tend to travel light, so a carry on and a normal suitcase do the trick, as the standard domestic weight is 20kg, whereas most Asian airlines allow more for international. Again, if you plan to bring boxes and boxes of stuff, consider PAL.

All in all, this adventure takes probably around 3 hours as the busses seem to go somewhat at random (very 15 minutes seems not to be true. Every hour seems to be closer to reality) and various parts of lining up and going through official proceedings just take time.

International into NAIA Terminal 1 and Domestic out of Terminal 3 on Cebu Pacific

This is essentially exactly the same as the above. You'll just sit in the bus for a bit longer to get to Terminal 3 or they may even find you a different bus. In a recent trip - March 2024 - arriving on a Sunday, this went super fast. Deplane - immigration - baggage - customs - bus from T1 to T3 in about an hour.

Now this was with no traffic outside of the airport, it was a Sunday, it was a morning arrival (around 9:30). But hey, pretty efficient, smooth, and easy.

International into NAIA and out of the same terminal

Best case scenario, and if you can pull this off, it is a lot simpler. Especially terminal 3 seems to be a lot smoother as it is designed a lot later than the other terminals.

Last time we did this in T2 (PAL flights all the way) we did have to do all the bags in International Arrivals, and then walk across (outside) and go through security to get into the domestic side. That is typically a 15 to 30 minute adventure as you are just dependent on the security lines, which are moving fast enough.

Eating while at NAIA

For a country that is into food, or better obsessed with food, the options at NAIA are shockingly bad with Terminal 3 being miles better than Terminal 2. Terminal 3 actually has options inside the terminal...

Inside Terminal 2 it is really just a few coffee shops and some small stalls. Most of the food will be microwaved or is cold. The coffee places are a reasonable bet to get something like a sandwich. If you get one, I would get one that is going into an oven.

So, what to do. Best thing that you can do is to get into a lounge. While the PAL domestic lounge in T2 isn't great it beats all the other options in T2. Btw, the international lounge for PAL is actually quite nice with good food, clean bathrooms, and decent seating options.

One alternative, if you transfer, stop by Jollibee or walk over to the end of the international terminal side (outside) where you will find another Jollibee, Goldilocks (pastries) and a Seattle's Best Coffee. Lastly, there is a Denny's diner at the end of the domestic terminal side (again outside the terminal).

So for T2, eat outside or get lounge access someway.

Terminal 1, same story as T2... a bit dire. Get a lounge pass or hang out at the Starbucks. Sigh.

Departures at NAIA

Most of it is pretty standard. Oubound connections follow the inverse process of the connections already described earlier. Grab bags, find bus stop outside your arrival terminal. Talk to attendant to ensure you are on the right bus (note: T2's bus stop is indeed curbside... i.e. outside... i.e. hot and humid...).

Again, when flying PAL both domestically and internationally, things are a little simpler as your bags go their own way. Reduces the shlepping of bags.

All terminals have similar processes, nothing much different from any other airport.

That's all for now. If you go, remember: RELAX! Be smart when booking the flights, and then just go with the flow. If you need help smile and ask for help. Getting upset won't make the bus go faster... (trust me on this one...).


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