Airline review: Philippine Airlines business class, Sydney to Manila

THE ROUTE

Sydney to Manila

THE AIRCRAFT

Airbus A330-300

LOYALTY SCHEME

Mabuhay Miles (mabuhay is a Filipino greeting) earn points for Philippine Airlines (PAL) flights or hotels at PAL destinations only.

CLASS

Mabuhay (PAL's business class)

DURATION

7 hours, 45 mins

FREQUENCY

Daily from Sydney and Melbourne

THE SEAT

The business cabin has 18 seats, in three rows, in a 1-2-1 configuration, plus two extra window seats. I'm in 4D. The seats are spacious, with a width of 23 inches (58 centimetres) and a pitch of 44 inches (112cm) which extends into a 78 inch (198cm) flat bed. The controls don't demand a degree in engineering to operate and just about everything - including the headset plug-in and remote control - is where you'd logically expect it to be.

Sadly, I don't realise my seat comes with an adjustable air-cushion system and a lumbar massager until I disembark. Nor do I realise the business seats have an additional shoulder-to-waist strap that has to be fastened to your lap belt before take-off and landing.

ENTERTAINMENT

The touch-screen monitor is a generous 18.5 inch (47cm) model, and there are more than 300 hours of inflight entertainment options from which to choose. I finally catch up with Mary Poppins Returns and Liam Neeson's thriller, Cold Pursuit. A personal gripe: not enough documentaries.

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CHECKING-IN

It's always easier when you're flying business class, even when you've arrived only 75 minutes before your dawn flight. In Sydney, PAL uses the Singapore Airlines business lounge, where there's just enough time to have a fruit bowl, tomato juice, coffee and a champagne before our flight is called.

BAGGAGE

For Mabuhay class passengers, 35 kilograms checked in, plus 7kg of carry on luggage.

COMFORT

I'm in the middle row, next to a man talking, before takeoff, to his partner in the UK, without using headphones. "Sorry, darling, did I wake you up? I must have sat on my mobile phone," he says.

An easy mistake. And certainly not reason enough to raise the dividing screen between us. Oh, wait, there isn't one.

But after take-off, he continues to use his phone - still without headphones - to listen to the Gallagher brothers swear profusely at each other in an Oasis documentary. Eventually I point out the whole cabin can hear their obscenities.

This is not the airline's fault, of course, and he falls asleep soon afterwards, snoring contentedly. But where's a Wonderwall when you need one?

SERVICE

The respected, Australian-based AirLineRatings website declares PAL "the most improved airline of 2019", citing its "new generation fuel-efficient aircraft equipped with the latest cabins". And the airline - now ranked four-star - has ambitions to join the five-star elite by the end of 2020. Much of that will depend on its cabin crew. The staff in this business cabin are charming and efficient, but perhaps not pro-active enough to be rated top-grade.

FOOD

Since this is a 6am flight, we're served breakfast: a fruit plate followed by a deli bowl of pastrami, prosciutto, chevre, cheddar, grapes and carrots.

For the hot dish I choose a classic Filipino adobo (in this case chicken, marinated in soy, spices and vinegar) served with steamed rice, an eggplant tortilla and cherry tomatoes. The alternatives are Cantonese-style BBQ pork or US-style corned beef hash and sausages.

Pre-landing, I choose the antipasto: chicken breast, smoked salmon, cream cheese quenelle, celeriac salad, grilled zucchini and roasted capsicum.

ONE MORE THING

There's a sign saying there is free Wi-Fi in business class, which can be activated after take-off, but this particular plane hasn't yet been fitted with Wi-Fi.

THE VERDICT

I am impressed. PAL proudly proclaims itself "a four-star airline"and is well placed to aim for five.

OUR SCORE OUT OF FIVE

★★★★

Steve Meacham was a guest of Philippine Airlines and the Philippines Department of Tourism.

See also: World's best airline for 2019 named as Qantas soars into top 10

See also: The worst part of flying is the idiots at the baggage carousel

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