(Previously published. Updated and corrected to stay aligned with what the airlines are doing here in the Philippines)
Here’s a subject that comes up time and time again. What’s the deal with the airport or airports in Manila? We can help here at the old PhilFAQS info center but first of all we have to define a couple things.
First of all, for our purposes here, we will define and "airport" as one contiguous plot of ground that has one or more runways where aircraft land and take off and one or more terminals where people board or deplane from aircraft.
Does this seem a little too simplistic to you? Well, sorry if it does but I have seen more problems with this definition and people arguing over what constitutes and airport than you can imagine over the past 10 years or so … so defining the foundations of the discussion can’t really hurt.
Based on our definition here there is only one airport within Metro Manila and that is Ninoy Aquino International Airport
(Filipino: Paliparang Pandaigdig ng Ninoy Aquino) or NAIA (IATA: MNL, ICAO: RPLL), also known as Manila International Airport.
In common parlance here this entire place is typically referred to as "na e ah". Unlike many terms for airlines elsewhere, one doesn’t refer to it a "N","A","I","A",taxi drivers and others will just give you a blank stare. “Na e ah” it is.
Confusion often crops up due to the fact that there are 4 completely separate and independent terminals
on NAIA and you’d be well advised to know which one does what before you hail a cab and say "airport, please".
Also commonly known as the "International Terminal". This is the largest of the terminals in use and serves International flights operated by all airlines with one important exception. Philippine Airlines (PAL) (not to be confused with Air Philippines).
If you fly into NAIA on any airline except PAL you will have to change terminals on the ground to fly out to any other Philippine cities. This can be quite a hassle. Think through your connections before you chose an itinerary based strictly on price.
Also known as the PAL terminal. This building is for Philippine Airlines flight only … no other airlines use it … and it serves all Philippine Airline’s flight, international and domestic. It’s well-known I am no big friend of PAL, I often avoid them, but if you are flying to some city aside from Manila it may be well worth your while to explore booking the whole trip on PAL … simply because you won’t have to transfer to another terminal.
Terminal Three: This is now a part of NAIA that moves it up into a world-class airport. The building is modern and spacious. There is parking right in front. The security procedures flow smoothly, you are even allowed to enter the terminal when picking up an arriving passenger, and having flown in and out several times I can attest the systems work pretty smoothly.
This is also now sometimes called “Terminal 4 on some airline listings.) This is an older, but recently renovated building which is adequate for the current Domestic workload. assigned there,
It is several miles by road from any of the other terminals. I thought this terminal would be closed up by now, but several airlines, Zest Airways and Air Philippines and some other small lines are still using it.
If you are getting a taxi to the airport and the driver doesn’t ask you, "What airline", better make sure you know which terminal you need. If you were sched8uled for a flight from Terminal 3 and you sit back while the driver takes you to Terminal 1, where he is undoubtedly familiar with taking foreigners, you are liable to have a hard time catching your flight.
This map should help you keep it all straight:
View Manila Terminals in a larger map
One last bit of knowledge to complicate the situation. A number of discount airlines are using Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA). This airport … with only one terminal (so far) .. is named after the previous president’s father, a Philippine president in his own right, and is located on the former USAF Clark AB, about 50 miles north of Manila.
There is a LOT of construction going on at DMIA right now and a great deal of Manila’s passenger traffic my transition there in the future. If you zoom out on the map, you can see Clark’s location.
The confusion factor again comes about because these airlines frequently list their flights as to or from Manila! It would be a long taxi ride to get from DMIA to NAIA so make sure, before you book that you and the airline are talking about the same "Manila".