Sunday, September 24, 2006

Clark airport, Pampanga

Clark International Airport is part of the sprawling Clark Ecozone, a former US military airbase in the Philippines vacated by the Americans in 1991, and converted into a wide commercial and industrial zone. It is located in the province of Pampanga, about 100 kms. north of Manila, via North Luzon Expressway (NLEX), Dau exit.

If commuting, one can take Philtranco buses from Pasay and SM Megamall that go direct to Clark Airport. Fare is P350 to/from Pasay, and P300 to/from Megamall. If traveling light, one may also take any north-bound buses that stop at Dau bus terminal. From there, walk a few blocks to the highway, take a jeep to Clark main gate, fare P7.50. From here, there are taxis that can take you to the airport (about 6-8 kms.) at a high price (P150 upwards); some enterprising jeepney drivers will sweet-talk you for P150 to P200. But if you travel light and it’s not raining, just take a regular jeepney from the main gate, pay P9.50 and get off at Clark airport gate. You can walk up to the passenger terminal building for around 400 meters, not far really.

Clark airport hosts a few no-frills airlines – Tiger air (to Singapore), Air Asia (to Kuala Lumpur), Asiana air (to Seoul), Cebu Pacific (to Cebu), other smaller airlines flying to Boracay, other domestic destinations.

The terminal is small, and airport security inspection for departing passengers is simple. You go through body frisks only once and that’s it. But government taxes and fees are not exactly simple and cheap. When I got Air Asia’s promo rate of only P409 one-way for Clark-Kuala Lumpur (excluding taxes by Malaysian and Philippine Governments), that was really cheap. But after checking in for your flight, you have to pay P1,620 travel tax ($32.4 at P50/$), then P350 ($7) terminal fee. At NAIA in Manila, the terminal fee is P550 ($11).

By the way, before I booked my flight for Air Asia, I got 2 price quotations for the Manila-KL-Manila flight: $380 + taxes for Singapore Air (via Singapore) and $400 + taxes for Malaysian Air. I was really grateful to my friend who texted me, “check, cheap!”

There are a few food shops and 1 duty free shop at the departure lounge. If you are flying no-frills airlines like Air Asia, better take some drinks and food there as those airlines offer no free drinks and snacks, not even water, during flights, you have to buy them from the flight stewards.

Coming back to Clark airport from foreign lands, a pestering sight are the Bureau of Customs people: they really open and inspect every luggage as if every arriving passenger is a potential smuggler! Small or big boxes, even small hand-carried items, everything inspected! To me, they seemed like small vultures with government IDs, waiting for an opportunity to harass (and possibly extort money from) some innocent arriving passengers. I asked the Customs guy who opened my luggage, “why do you have to open all luggages and hand-carried bags?”, he replied “Gano’n talaga eh” (“that’s the way it is”). I only shook my head with this typical callous bureaucratic attitude.

If you take Philtranco bus to Manila from Clark airport, be aware that the buses make only 2 stops, in Megamall and Pasay terminals only. In my case, since I have to get off at Quezon Blvd that day, I decided to go to Dau bus terminal and take any of the air-con buses bound for Cubao/Pasay. So I walked again to Clark airport gate, took 2 jeepney rides to Dau, had launch at a fastfood shop before boarding the bus.

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