In 2017, Philippine Airlines completed the refurbishment of 8 single-class Airbus A330s and fitted these with a 309-seater tri-class configuration. While the planes came from the airline’s existing fleet (the single-class equipment used to ply certain domestic routes), the new cabins came with the international destinations in mind. This marked the start of the most recent phase of PAL’s “seat modernization” which as of this writing also include A350s, A321neos and even refurbished 777-300ER. Prior to this, the older Philippine Airlines A330 business class seats were rather unremarkable. I had written in a previous review that the older seats looked like hospital beds due to the color scheme chosen. They were designed earlier in the decade when PAL was trying to compete head-on with budget carriers.
Fortunately, Philippine Airlines eventually steered clear of the semi-budget airline proposition and revamped its products by reshaping the seats in some of its existing fleet. The seats in these tri-class A330s were the first to get the “makeover” and hence kind of served as a blueprint into the future look of the airline’s cabin. When I first heard this development back in 2017, I was pretty excited to check it out and see how Philippine Airlines stacked up against the competition. I had two failed attempts – first in early 2018 and again a couple of months ago – in boarding one of the tri-class A330s due to last minute aircraft changes. But I suppose the third time’s a charm.
I mainly fly with Philippine Airlines on the Singapore – Manila route and there is one flight each day that is serviced by these retrofitted planes (PR507/PR508). Check-in was a breeze. While Philippine Airlines offers online check-in, I could not really do so as my ticket seemed to have been issued manually after I voluntarily downgraded myself on a previous flight.
In Changi Airport, Philippine Airlines uses the SATS Premier Lounge for business class passengers. I’ve been to this lounge a couple of times and while I find the offerings there to be nothing special, I always thought the space-age interiors were rather interesting. They also have “themed” dishes from time to time. I once chanced upon them serving satay and other Singapore specialties during Singapore’s national day period so kudos to the SATS Lounge for effort.
The aircraft arrived around 30 minutes behind schedule due to a late departure from Manila. MNL is facing quite a big problem in congestion so this is a common occurrence especially with Philippine-based carriers. I was once delayed for more than 2 hours precisely due to this but I digress. I’m not complaining about a 30 minute delay.
The business class cabin of the PAL’s tri-class A330s comes with 18 seats which provide for greater privacy than in the past. At first glance, the seat seems to roll up as a shell of its own. Certain seats are more private than others, especially those with the wide armrest facing the aisles. I deliberately chose 1K which is one of the less private seats. If you have previously flown business class with Qantas or SAS on the A330, you might find the Vantage XL seats uncannily familiar. Save for the color scheme, certain elements of these Thompson Aerospace products are exactly the same down to the location of the light and remote. With a seating configuration of 1-2-1, the tri-class A330 marks the first time Philippine Airlines finally offered a business class product with direct aisle access for all seats.
The business class seats come with a seat pitch of 44 inches and a bed length of 78 inches when fully flat. The width, at 23 inches, is also superior compared to the other aircraft types utilized by the airline. I like it that I don’t have to sit at an angle unlike some other airline’s fancy business class product. It is rather straightforward here with the legroom directly in front of me.
By my side, I could spot plenty of storage space to place small items like phones, tablets and other portable gadgets. There are no large drawers here which is fine by me. I normally have no use for those anyway as I tend to place bigger stuff on the overhead cabins. For charging, there is an actual power socket or USB port. There is also a small remote with which one could control the lights or call for assistance. The tray table, which directly slides from the side, is rather compact but is big enough for meal service and for putting one’s laptop for work.
The controls for the seat are relatively intuitive. Pictures show exactly what pressing each button does to the seat. If one still finds the pictures confusing, a detailed instructional manual is found on one of the side pockets where the inflight magazine is also stored. One could adjust the seat into a bed or partial recline. There is even a massage option if one so wishes for something more relaxing. Shortly after taking my seat, I was given my headphones. Mine was not working that well as sound was coming out only from one side.
Philippine Airlines has a functional inflight entertainment system. While the library is by no means as wide as QR or SQ, there is a well-balanced selection of new as well as old movies. Episodes of popular TV shows are rather dated. “Modern Family” for instance was from 3 or 4 seasons ago. Those counting on European art films also won’t find anything similar here but I have to say what this airline offers definitely caters to a great majority of its clientele. I personally prefer to watch light-hearted stuff while on a flight so I ended up re-watching Back to the Future – one of my favorite films of all time. The large 16 inch touch screen is also a plus.
One of the signature drinks of PAL’s business class offering is the banana strawberry smoothie so i always pick it whenever it’s offered. There also used to be a mango smoothie which I actually prefer but I have not seen it in years.
Prior to the start of the meal, I was served champagne. Philippine Airlines uses Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve – always a good choice. There are also a number of interesting drinks in the menu including various wines and even artisanal hot chocolate which caught my eye.
Starters came in the way of Szechuan Chicken. A dish that’s meant to be served cold, mine came with a generous coating of the Szechuan dressing with the spiciness toned down for the international traveler.
I don’t know how to put it but there’s something about aircraft catering and their garlic bread. It is always done well. I tend to choose garlic bread whenever it is available in the bread basket. The catering service of Philippine Airlines does it hot and crispy just as I like it. The friendly flight attendant seemingly read my mind and offered me two slices.
By default, I tend to choose the Filipino option when I fly Philippine Airlines. While I usually prefer their chicken dishes, I saw none among the mains so pork asado roll it was. The pork slices were served in huge chunks and were seasoned with soy sauce and vinegar – the latter giving it a hint of adobo flavor sans the heavy gravy.
For dessert, I was given a choice between Mango Pudding with Mango Burst or Haagen Dazs Ice Cream, I normally choose ice cream but since they only had vanilla or chocolate available (neither one which appealed to me), I decided to have the mango pudding instead. It turned out to be a great decision. Filipinos tend to do mango-based desserts very well and even though I know this was catered out of Singapore, I liked the attention to detail and Filipino flair that came in executing this sweet ending. It was not too cloying and the mango bursts serve to highlight the refreshing flavors of this prized tropical fruit.
After the relatively quick dinner service, I thought to have a quick nap. The fully flat beds of the A330 are just as good for long haul flights. The space is rather snug but not as tight as I thought. As mentioned previously, I like how I don’t have to lie diagonally. The pillow provided was also one of the largest I’ve seen in a business class cabin. One tiny issue is that it gets a bit narrow from the knee down as the space is constrained to the opening right under the entertainment screen. I usually sleep facing up so this is not a problem for me but if you are the type who likes to change sleeping positions every now and then, this may be a bit of a bother.
After more than two decades of flying with Philippine Airlines, this is the first time I can truly say that I am impressed with their hard product. For years, I have always found the food and service admirable but the infrastructure kind of lacking so it’s great to see Philippine Airlines finally addressing one of the last pieces in the puzzle. It is quite evident that the airline is making a big push in improving its rankings and improving the hard product allows it to move a huge step forward in realizing that goal. That being said, there are still some things that need to be solved before it can really move up the ranks. One of the important things to address would be the ground service, specifically the overcrowded Mabuhay Lounge and Manila Airport Terminal 2, as well as the persistent delays which are caused by systemic airport issues rather than something airline specific.
How do you tell if the A330 being utilized by Philippine Airlines is one of the newer tri-class A330s?
There are two ways to tell. When you book the flight, check the seat map and see if the A330’s business class cabin shows a 1-2-1 configuration. If it does, that means you have landed yourself one of the new planes. Second way to tell is that the 8 refurbished A330s carry serial numbers in the RP-C878X series (for example, C8782, C7875, etc).
Best Seats on the Tri-Class A330 Business Class of Philippine Airlines
If you prefer privacy, choose the seats with the armrest / storage area / controls facing the aisle. You can find these seats at the even-numbered rows for window seats and 1G, 2D, 3G, 4D