My Personal Experience In Travelling To Manila During The Pandemic
A few weeks ago, I finally made the decision to go home after my father was hospitalised for an urgent operation. I know the world remains unstable and perhaps it was and still is not the best time to go home, but I know that I needed to see my parents sooner than later or I may not be able to forgive myself easily should anything happen to either of them, God forbid. I guess the universe was on my side during this journey because everything went smoothly as far as I am concerned.
I would normally book my plane ticket directly from the airline, however on this occasion, I decided to use a travel agent as my flight was urgent and the only flights I could find online were business class. As much as I wanted to travel on business class (one day), this was not the right time. Mabuhay Travel was helpful in booking my flight and was very accommodating until after my transaction was completed. I still have reservations in using travel agents, so I would try my best to avoid them in the future.
Personally, my trip to Manila was not bad at all. I did my own research and made sure that all required documents were available in time for my departure, especially because I didn't have much time to prepare. As soon as I received my e-ticket, I booked an accredited quarantine hotel for 6 days via agoda.com. These two requirements are of course mandatory as well as the following:
1. Covid Vaccine Pass
- I downloaded the NHS app (not the NHS Covid app) to obtain my Covid Vaccine Pass. I did this first before anything else because I wasn't sure how long it would take for them to send it. The application was easy and the pass came after 24 hours. You can retrieve the result via the app.
2. Traze App
- I am unsure if this is a mandatory requirement for other airlines but Etihad Airways required a screenshot of the app to verify my flight. Traze App is simply an app that uses a QR code for contact tracing in the Philippines. Registration is self-explanatory and it only takes a few minutes to complete.
3. Negative Covid-19 PCR Test Result
- A Covid 19 PCR test result that is valid within 72 hours of arrival in Manila is mandatory. Just to be sure, I had a swab at work two days before my flight and again, booked an express swab with Randox Health 24 hours before my flight. At £65, it was well worth it as the result came back within 2 hours on the same day. They also have different locations across the country so you can choose the location that is convenient for you.
4. One Health Pass
- All international travellers are required to have the Bureau of Quarantine's One Health Pass QR Code. You may be denied entry to the Philippines if you don't have this pass. Essentially, you will have to register your personal information, residence details in the Philippines, vaccine information, Covid PCR Test result, travel history, exposure history and clinical information. After I completed the registration, I was provided with a QR code. I took a screen shot of my QR code (and saved it in my phone), however I saw other travellers at the airport with a paper copy as well. Once the QR code was generated, I clicked a link at the bottom that took me to the Philippine Airport Diagnostic Laboratory (PADLAB) website. I assumed that this was the booking of my Covid PCR swab test on day 5 of my quarantine. I was asked to provide my One Health Pass QR Code even before boarding at the Abu Dhabi airport.
Other online information advises to complete the One Health Pass in two stages, however I completed my registration in one go to save time at the airport. Each traveller, including children must have their own One Health Pass. I only managed to complete my One Health Pass registration the day before my flight because I had to wait for my PCR Test Result. This is required to be uploaded as well as the Covid Pass (or vaccine certificate as others call it).
Etihad Airways also required me to complete the Case Investigation Form before my flight, however, there is also a paper copy provided on the plane before arrival to Manila, alongside the arrival card and the Bureau of Customs declaration form that you usually complete before landing.
As I am not a dual citizen, I used my British Passport under the Balikbayan program. I'm glad that I didn't stress at applying for a dual citizenship because they accepted my old Filipino passport that expired in 2008. I also brought my birth certificate as a back up which they didn't even ask for.
By the way, before my flight, I also bought a travel insurance with insurefor.com as recommended by my travel agent. I chose the basic cover for £75.
Arrival at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport was seamless in my experience. A mandatory temperature check was conducted as a protocol however, we were scanned from afar and we didn't have to stop for it. I was directed to what I can only assume as the verification point. I was asked to provide my QR code and my Covid Pass. It was a quick check and then I went straight to Immigration where I was asked to present my Filipino passport. I wasn't asked any questions, but the Immigration Officer made a comment that my passport has expired a long time ago to which I just smiled. With no further questions asked, I went ahead to the hotel verification check area. I was asked to present my hotel booking confirmation and my One Health Pass QR Code. After which, I was instructed to collect my luggage. I passed by the Bureau of Customs but I wasn't asked to provide the completed customs declaration form as they did before. I made my way to the arrivals area where I was asked to present my QR code for the last time. At the terminal exit were a bunch of Coast Guards who readily helped me to locate the hotel driver that I pre-booked. I think you can also book your own taxi at the airport, but I chose an airport pick up via my hotel to save time and energy. :)
To be honest, I felt safe during the whole journey. I had a pleasant trip because everyone was so very helpful. The constant presence of the Philippine Coast Guards at the NAIA airport and their assistance was very reassuring. The airport was in my opinion compliant with COVID 19 protocols. When I arrived, the use of face shields was no longer mandatory, but some passengers still chose to wear them.
I didn't have a PCR test at the airport like what other people assume- because I came from a yellow country. You are automatically booked for a PCR Test on the 5th day of your hotel quarantine via the One Health Pass. However, I still called PADLAB on my 3rd day of quarantine to confirm that my test has been booked, and I'm glad I did because they needed my hotel room number and my mode of payment. As I write this blog, I just had my Covid swab test for P2500. You can pay either cash or card. I was informed that results can be available in less than 24 hours, so fingers crossed.
Also, as per ABS-CBN news, there is a plan to shorten the quarantine period of travellers arriving from countries on the Yellow list to only 3 days by December. So yes, hopefully things are really starting to get better.
I am thankful that I had a good experience in this journey. I hope that this blog will somehow reassure those who are also planning to go back home during this time.