Manila Airport: NAIA 101 – Meeting people

There is very little available to the Googler about Manila Airport. A few forum posts. A blog about sleeping in airports. But there is little helpful information for people in Manila who need to collect a friend or family member. As an expat, being on this side of the airport experience is going to crop up just as much as traversing departures and arrivals as a traveler.

Tiernan arrived in Manila on MH704 Friday afternoon. I took a half day from work to collect him, but how was I to manage it. I don’t have my own car. I read you can drive to the airport waiting area, but you have to pay to park your car (something like PHP30, not sure if that has changed since as it was relevant to my experience). Taxi’s cannot take you to the waiting area and cars are only allowed in arrivals once you have visual confirmation. But I’m getting a head of myself.

I caught a taxi from Makati to NAIA airport. It’s about 15 to 30 min ride depending on when you’re trying to make the trip. The taxi cost PHP180 and I paid an extra PHP20 to use the Skyway because I’m exclusive like that. I recommend the Skyway when traveling to Makati because you get a really lovely view over the city and you don’t have to hop along with everyone else; breathing in the smog.

When I got to the airport it was soon obvious I was not to alight anywhere near arrivals – where I needed to be. Instead I was dropped off at departures and had to walk back down the car ramp to the waiting area. There is a story here, too. In the Philippines going to the airport is a big deal. If someone is going overseas it is generally for work or to make a better life and you can never be sure if you will see said person again – ever. So the process if going to the airport is an extended family deal. EVERYONE is there! For this reason now only traveling passengers are allowed in the airport itself. You say your goodbyes on the narrow platform in the heat.

Arrivals can be just as unpleasant. Airport side, after leaving “customs” you cross the road. To the left and right are air conditioned lounges where you meet your prearranged hotel transport. Even this is a dubious luxury as hotel transport is rarely present when arranged. For example, the NZ Embassy arranged a transfer for me when I first got to Manila. Supposedly there would be a person bearing my name waiting to transport me to my hotel. No such person was there. Instead I had to, at nine o’clock at night, figure my way to a miscellaneous hotel lounge and source my own ride. Luckily I didn’t have to pay for it. The hotel transport cost PHP900 to take me to Makati. Am I digressing again?

Those not so “lucky” to have a hotel collecting them continue passed those rooms, down a ramp, to the passenger waiting area. Another platform vaguely laid own into alphabetical chuncks. Across the road and behind a fence are “the bleachers”. Rows of seats, open air though with fans, where family and friends wait for their loved ones to appear. It has a first floor containing a Jollibee and a row of sari-sari type stores where you can purchase warm water and melted snacks. For the acclimatised it’s not so bad – just get a spot by the fan. But if you’re not used to the heat this aspect of the wait might be challenging for you. It is almost always packed with people. Apparently this harkens back to the days people were allowed in the airport as well. I have been told that when people return to the Philippines gifts were generally given out at the airport. Basically, if you wanted your present you had to be there. Of course it was ridiculous having this many people inside the airport. So they ruined it for everyone. Airport privileges are now restricted to those traveling (and those who can wave diplomatic IDs).

The next challenge is organizing transport once you have found your person. After about half an hour of waiting I had sighted my Tiernan. Well he had sighted me as I had managed to get my VIP status and was allowed on to the passenger platform. You cannot get a public taxi here unless you want to walk (and you probably won’t) out of the airport. An airport arranged taxi is really your only choice. The first person we spoke to said almost PHP800 to Makati. This is too much – especially when considering it cost me PHP200 to get here. We managed to find a guy who would get us one for PHP440. This is a fair compromise. My only advice here is to accept you will pay more when leaving the airport, but don’t pay an exorbitant price. Go for the PHP400 ball park figure. I will say it’s work it. They are roomy and have air conditioning and they will take you right to the door.

And that, friends, is how to meet someone at Manila airport. For the inexperienced traveler it is: leave the airport, cross the road, down the ramp, and you will see people waiting across the road. It might be more complicated than the average airport, but it is navigable. Good luck fellow travelers!

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