Date: 24 July 2011 From: Bangkok To: Kuala Lumpur Airline: Malaysia Airlines Cabin: Business Class Seat: 1D Aircraft: Boeing B. 737-800
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I just arrived in Bangkok on SWISS flight LX180 from Zürich. A representative from the airline is expecting me as I get off the plane. She takes my carry-on and bids me to take a seat in some kind of electric golf mobile. After waiting for three further First Class passengers we are whisked away. Our first stop is at the Fast Track immigration counter for passengers whose final destination is Bangkok or who are continuing on a domestic flight. Next stop is the fast track security check at the beginning of the G concourse. I am accompanied through the check, which is very quick – there’s just two of us – and then from there I am taken one floor up to the Malaysia Airlines transfer counter (which is in fact operated by Thai on their behalf). Here I receive a lounge invitation for the Thai Airways Royal Orchid Lounge. To be honest I do find it rather confusing in Bangkok: there’s the Royal Orchid Lounge, the Royal Silk Lounge and finally the Royal First Lounge.
The SWISS representative drops me off in the lounge and bids me a safe onward journey. The lounge is rather nice, but definitely too small for all the passengers it has to accommodate. Furthermore, seating is very tight and not very comfortable.
Eventually I manage to secure a seat by the window. Unfortunately it is only when I try to take a photo that I notice there are these pesky dots all over the window. Who ever comes up with dumb ideas like this? So no pictures in the lounge then.
As the departure time draws nearer, I leave the lounge and head for gate D5, the designated gate for this flight. On my way there I come across a Viking and think it might be an old acquaintance from my trip to Beijing in June. Turns out it wasn’t.
Bangkok uses a closed gate system. When boarding for a flight starts, it means that everybody is made to enter the lounge and then when every passenger has been accounted for, the actual boarding process starts.
For sure the Kebaya the females wear at Malaysia Airlines is elegant and a complement to the female figure. But only one ounce too many round the bum or the waist and you’re in trouble.
Upon entering the aircraft I am rather impressed that MH has in fact a dedicated Business Class cabin on the B 737 with a proper C class seat, as opposed to the European system of just blocking the middle seat in a row of three seats that would otherwise classify and Economy seats.
While we’re still on the ground a welcome drink of either orange juice or guava is offered. I opt for the guava, it brings back fond memories of a trip I did with my sister to Fiji many years ago. We used to drink guava juice every day during out stay in Fiji.
Next cold jasmine scented towels are distributed, together with the menu for the flight.
And then we depart.
As soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew start to prepare the meal service. First of all, they place a real tablecloth on every tray table.
Dinner on this flight consists of:
Green Mango Salad with fresh lettuce, lime and cherry tomato
Bakery Selection with garlic bread
Poached Chicken Breast, with rice, garden vegetables and ginger sauce (my choice)
Stewed Beef with Chili Basil Sauce, with steamed rice and sautéed vegetables
Seafood Ragout with Saffron Cream Sauce, with sautéed fettuccine pasta and vegetables
I go with the chicken. The meal is rather tasty and in fact quite spicy. Not overly so, but you can certainly feel a slight tickle in your throat as the food goes down.
After the meal the tray is cleared away and I ask for a coffee, which is duly brought to me in a big white mug. Usually on planes they insist on giving you these puny little but very elegant cups with enough space for not more than one mouthful of liquid.
The lavatories are checked and cleaned every time after they are used. Obviously by this time I’m really quite impressed with the level of service provided by MH. When I visit the toilet myself I am surprised to see quality cosmetics there at the disposal of the passengers, even for such a short flight of only two hours flying time. The toilet is also decorated with flowers, which is a nice touch.
The flight attendants on this flight are very beautiful, very professional and very friendly. After I came out of the toilet one of them asks me why I’m taking all the pictures. When I explain, she asks me if I want to have my picture taken. To which I reply that I would prefer to take a picture of her and her colleague, a request to which they both agree. What happens next, in my view, shows just how professional these two ladies are: just as I take the picture, a passenger appears from behind the curtain to go to the toilet. Rather that ignoring him for a second while I take the picture, the flight attendants immediately go back into work mode, show the elderly gentleman the way to the toilet and open the door for him. Once that is taken care, of I am able to take the picture. And these are the results:
Shortly thereafter we start our descent. The crew pass through the cabin with more hot jasmine scented towels. By the time we arrive in Kuala Lumpur I am well and truly exhausted. After all I left the previous day and travelled all the way from Athens via Zurich and Bangkok to KL. Fortunately there’s a dedicated arrivals counter at immigration for Business Class passengers, so I’m through in no time. I then head down to the basement to catch the KLIA Ekspres, as they call it, to Kuala Lumpur Sentral. Tickets for the KLIA Ekspres can be purchased online on the railway’s website, the trip into town is 35 Ringgit. During my visit to Kuala Lumpur I stay at the Hilton, which is right opposite the main entrance to the railway station, thus in close proximity to downtown and at the same time only one stop away from the airport.
The next day I continue to Langkawi, also on Malaysia Airlines
I’ve just arrived at Changi’s Terminal 3 on a Singapore Airlines A 380 flight from Zürich. It’s 05h45 in the morning and my onward connection to Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan is not until 13h50. Eight hours to go.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
My onward flight will be leaving from T2. The transfer between T3 and T2 could not be easier. There is a dedicated train which takes less than five minutes to make the journey. As I take a step from the air-conditioned terminal into the air-conditioned train, for just the briefest of moments I get a sensation of the temperature outside. It’s only just gone six but it’s already very hot and humid.
Date: 20. May 2013
To: Bandar Seri Begawan
Aircraft: B 777-200
Airline: Singapore Airlines
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 11A, window, left
All I want to do right now is have a shower. It’s too early and too dark outside anyway to properly make out any of the planes outside. The lounge situation in Changi is a bit confusing. There is a SilverKris Gold Lounge for members travelling in Singapore Airlines’ economy class. And then there is also the SilverKris Lounge for First and Business Class passengers, which, apparently, is the one I am entitled to use today.
When I arrive, the lounge is already quite full. But I’m lucky and don’t have to wait to avail myself of one of the showers. The shower room itself is quite small. I only barely have enough space to open my carry-on to take out a new set of clothes. Shower gel and shampoo are provided, together with a shaving kit, tooth brush and tooth paste.
I’m starting to feel human again. I’m still tired though. For a loss of anything better to do, I find myself a quiet corner and figure I might as well upload my trip report of the previous flight from Zürich. As I write the lounge slowly empties, until eventually there is only a handful of people left.
The food and drink offerings in the lounge are good, with an interesting selection of Western and Asian dishes, both hot and cold. Even so, I can’t really say I like the lounge. First of all, the lack of any natural light makes the place feel rather gloomy. Secondly, the seating options are okay if you’re only in the lounge for a short while. But if, like me, you’re connecting from a long-haul flight, it would be nice to have more comfortable loungers to choose from.
About 90 minutes before departure I have to pack up my things and leave. I’m so exhausted I’m literally having trouble keeping my eyes open. Perhaps if I go for a walk I might wake up again.
So I mosey over to gate F34 from where my flight will be leaving. Changi uses a closed gate concept, with the security check taking place just before you enter the holding pen of the gate area. The gate has just opened. I walk up and down the length of the F pier but eventually decide to call it a day and head through security and into the gate. I take a seat by the window, from where I have excellent views of the ramp and the departing aircraft.
Oops, how embarrassing…I briefly wake up, startled by the sound of my own snoring. I wasn’t actually aware of the fact that you could do that sitting upright. In fact, I wouldn’t have though I’d be able to fall asleep sitting upright in a public place. Just goes to sh…off again. Snoring. The next thing I know I am rudely awakened by the gate agent making an announcement inviting First and Business Class passengers to board the flight. Finally! I make a mental note to book a hotel for my twelve hours layover on the way back. Either that or take a tour of the city.
The cabin on this bird is still in the old configuration. I recognise the First Class seat from five years ago. There are two rows of First Class. The Business Class section is divided in two cabins. I am sitting in seat 11A, which is the first row of the forward cabin. This section has three rows in a 2-3-2 configuration. From what I can tell the second section, on the other side of the galley, also has three rows.
The seat itself is pretty old school, with old-fashioned seat controls that hark back to the late ‘90s. Even so, the seat is very comfortable and although the recline is not fully flat, it still allows for some decent rest – which I’m very much in need of right now.
A few images of the view outside:
One of the crew spots the Air Malta sticker I have on my carry-on. So she follows me to my seat. As she helps me stow my luggage, curiosity gets the better of her and she asks me what Air Malta is. I try to explain to her that it’s the national airline of Malta but draw a blank. We look Malta up in the inflight magazine to find that it isn’t there. So I give up and simply tell her it’s a very small country in the Mediterranean. Later on during the flight, when I’d already forgotten about it, the same flight attendant returns and tells me that the captain actually flew to Malta many years ago, when Singapore Airlines still used to operate to Malta with the B 747-200 in the ‘80s. Blimey, shouldn’t he already be retired by now?
As soon as I am comfortably seated, a male flight attendant arrives with a tray of drinks. I have a glass of orange juice.
Next a female flight attendant brings me the earphones and menu for today’s flight. And then, of course, it’s time for the first hot towel. I’m quite impressed, especially given that the flight time to Brunei is only one hour and 45 minutes.
Eventually the doors close and we push back. It’s a light load today, with only four of the 21 seats in the forward Business Class section occupied.
Taxiing to the active runway:
Once we’re airborne, it takes a while for the fasten seatbelt sign to be turned off. I have a vague recollection of us flying through some turbulence, but I may have been dreaming. But the sound of the food service starting quickly wakes me up again.
The tray arrives with the starter and dessert on it. The starter is marinated shrimps with feta cheese, slices of bell pepper and greens.
Dessert today is something described in the menu as ice jelly with fresh fruit. It comes with the smallest lime I have ever seen. The idea is that you squeeze the lime over the jelly.
The starter is not really very good. First of all the shrimps have a very strong and off-putting smell. The few pieces of feta cheese are okay but the bell peppers are still half frozen.
I choose a slice of garlic bread from the breadbasket, but only remember to take a picture after I’ve already had a bite. Sorry about that.
Eventually the flight attendant arrives with my hot meal. She removes the starter and wishes me a good meal. She also reassures me that if the meal is too spicy I should let her know, they still have something harmless available which I can have if I can’t take the spicy food.
For the main I have the Nasi Uduk. It’s an interesting dish that contains pieces of chicken in some spicy marinade, a fish cake and fried egg with rice cooked in coconut milk. There is also a small tinfoil container with some sort of spicy curry gravy.
The meal is served with a side dish of pickled vegetables.
The meal is quite spicy. During the meal three different flight attendants come to check if I’m alright or if I need some more water, which is of course very considerate of them, although the meal isn’t that hot.
The ice jelly is rather bland. I only have a spoon full to taste and leave the rest. The tray is removed before the coffee service. As on the previous flight, I am quite amazed by how well timed the service is. It’s not at all rushed, but there is no wait either to remove the tray.
I finish the meal with a cup of coffee, which is much better than the one I had on the last flight.
The meal seems to have done wonders to revive me. I’m feeling quite awake again. I suppose it’s also the excitement of visiting a new country. Most of the flight is over the sea. On our way we pass some beautiful looking islands before eventually we reach the Brunei coast.
Brunei itself is very green and lush. From above it doesn’t look very densely populated.
We land and the engines of the mighty triple seven treat us to one last, powerful roar as the reversers open and we slow down on the airport’s single runway.
There’s quite a queue for immigration, but it moves quickly. My suitcase takes a while longer to arrive and for one horrible moment I’m afraid it may not have made it. Eventually though, I finally see it coming round the corner on the conveyor belt. Initially I wonder how on earth I’m supposed to get a hold of it. There are people standing all around the belt, three rows deep. But I needn’t have worried as I get a first impression of the friendliness of the people of Brunei: as my suitcase approaches I try to move to the front to pick it up, but it is to no avail. Fortunately some gentleman up front notices me, picks up the suitcase for me and passes it on to the guy standing right behind him, who then passes it on to me. Thank you very much!
I finally made it. I am in Brunei. Apart from the friendliness and politeness of the people, I am simply amazed by just how clean everything is. I leave you with a few images of Bandar Seri Begawan.
It’s been quite a while since my last post. I’ve been doing quite a bit of flying, mostly on airlines that have already been covered extensively in some of my other trip reports.
But this one ought to be interesting. Today I’m on my way to Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the Sultanate of Negara Brunei Darussalam. Brunei is actually not that easy to get to, particularly from Switzerland. Of course my first choice would have been to fly Royal Air Brunei. They have a direct service from Heathrow. But alas, that flight stops in Dubai in the middle of the night on both the outbound and the inbound flight, which is inconvenient for two reasons: first of all, the interruption of the flight in Dubai means that you don’t really get a full night’s sleep. Secondly, the sector length for both the LHR to DXB and the subsequent DXB to BWN is about six hours each, which isn’t really enough for sleep either. I’m travelling on business, so I decide against this option. I don’t want to arrive feeling like a vegetable. So instead I shall be travelling with Singapore Airlines from Zürich via Singapore. This report covers the outbound leg from Zürich to Singapore.
On the outbound I have a connecting time in Singapore of eight hours. The return is worse still, with a whopping twelve hours layover in Singapore. But still, there are certainly worse airports to have to do a stopover in than Singapore.
On a positive note, the flights between Zürich and Singapore are operated by the A380. She may be ugly as sin, but she’s still quite an amazing bird.
The last time I flew Singapore Airlines was back in 2008. Back then I flew in First Class on the B777-300 from Zürich to Singapore and then onwards in regional First Class, I think it was on a B777-200, to Taipei. I was on a round the world itinerary which eventually also saw me take the Singapore Airlines B747-400 from JFK to Frankfurt, also in First. So I’m rather curious to see how time has treated one of the world’s most prestigious airlines in the intervening years.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
My first stop after I leave my flat is the Confiserie Bachmann on the square outside the station. They make the best pain au chocolat ever, with nice big chunky pieces of chocolate oozing out of everywhere. I think I may have already mentioned the fact in a previous post and so, simply for the sake of completeness, I am including in this post a picture of the delectable item.
And then from there I head across the square, into the station and down to platform seven, from where my train will be leaving. Being a Sunday morning, the train that normally runs on this route has been substituted by what is in fact a short regional train. And to be fair, the load is pretty light.
My only grippe is that the seat is rather hard. By the time we pull into Zürich Airport station 80 minutes later, my backside is feeling seriously worse for ware.
To look outside you’d hardly think we’re already approaching the end of May. We’ve had a few scattered days of sunshine here and there but other than that it’s been quite miserable. At least the low-hanging clouds do look kind of poetic, I guess.
Date: 19. May 2013
Aircraft: A 380
Airline: Singapore Airlines
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 18K, later on moved forward to 17K
Arrival: 05:45, the next day
The airport is surprisingly busy for a Sunday morning when I arrive, with a mix of travellers and Sunday shoppers wandering, seemingly aimlessly, through the terminal.
The Singapore Airlines check-in counters are currently located on the mezzanine level between arrivals and departures of what used to be Terminal B and is now, if I’m not mistaken, Check-in 2. This is only a temporary location for Singapore Airlines while the check-in area one floor up is redesigned and renovated.
I am greeted at the check-in counter by one of my former students, who happens to be working for Swissport until he starts a new job in engineering in a few weeks. While he checks me in we have a little natter and I inquire about how he’s been and what he’s been up to. I figure I must have done a few things right in my job, because the next thing I notice is that he’s actually tagged my check-in luggage with a Suite First Class tag. Thanks for that!
We bid each other farewell and I make my way to security. After that it’s the passport control and then the underground shuttle that runs underneath the apron and runway 28 to the E dock.
I decide to give the Swiss Senator lounge a miss and try out the Panorama lounge at the E dock instead. This is a common purpose lounge which appears to be used by all airlines operating out of the E dock, with the exception of Emirates, who have their own lounge. Subsequently, the place is rather full when I arrive. Figuring it might be a while until I finally get some food on the plane, I help myself to a small plate of pasta and shortly after that it’s already time to head downstairs to the gate where boarding is about to begin.
By now you’re probably wondering why there aren’t any pictures of my ride to Singapore. So here we go (taken from different locations, including the lounge).
The boarding process is a very well organised affair, which is a good thing, seeing as Singapore Airlines recently stopped using the only gate at Zürich equipped with three airbridges.
This means that all Business Class passengers on the upper deck will have to board through the front door on ‘ground level’ and then from there take the stairs one floor up.
One of the male attendants sees me trying to take a picture of the stairs and offers to strike a pose. But before I can actually take the picture, he thinks better of it. Pity.
To be honest, my first impression of the cabin is somewhat underwhelming. It looks slightly worn around the edges. Other than that though, the seat certainly offers a lot of personal space, it’s very wide.
In Business Class there are only overhead bin over the central aisle. The window seats however, have some additional storage space as there are storage bins located by the side of the seat facing the window.
Every seat back is equipped with a set of USB ports as well as a universal electric plug socket that can take the British style plugs as well as the standard Swiss and European ones. Located immediately above that is a small compartment where you can place your glasses.
The general impression of the seat is that obviously a lot of thought was put into the design, it’s more functional than it is elegant. For example: the compartment where you place your glasses is lined with some velvety material to prevent the lenses from scratching.
Other than that, there are two cushions at every seat. I think I’d feel quite lost without them!
The Singapore Airlines crews hardly need an introduction and this flight is no exception. The crew is made up of a racial mix of young men and women, all of them eager to please. It has often been said of the Singapore Airlines crews that they lack warmth or personality. Some have even called them robotic in their mannerisms. On this flight however, this could hardly be farther from the truth. The entire crew are very attentive, service-oriented and very approachable, without however being intrusive. And that kebaya simply complements the female form beautifully…!
Service begins on the ground with a welcome drink. I have something that is apparently a mix of bitter lemon and seven up, and very refreshing it is too. And then after that I receive the first in a whole series of nicely scented, warm refreshing towels.
Push back is on time. With all the rain everything is looking lush and green outside.
Departure is to the south from runway 16, the usual. As we do a final left turn to line up with the runway, I spot this here. It’s used for fire training nowadays.
Seriously, they really don’t build them like they used to in the good old days. I know, perhaps I’m a bit weird that way. Probably if I weren’t I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But: for me an airplane has to have the sound and feel of an airplane. And that’s where the A 380 is a bit of a let down. First of all, it is really quite amazing just how quiet the cabin is. Even when we power up and go hurtling down the runway for take off, the noise in the cabin is at a pleasant level. And there’s not much of a sensation of acceleration either.
Quite surprisingly, Singapore Airlines no longer provide vanity kits on board. Instead, after take-off the crew distribute a pair of eye-shades and slippers. Everything else is available in the toilets, ear plugs need to be requested separately.
The meal service starts with the traditional chicken and beef satay, which really are tasty, even though I think I end up overdosing on the raw onion.
To drink with that I have one of Singapore Airlines’ signature non-alcoholic cocktails, ‘Awaiting the dawn’ I think it’s called. It’s a somewhat unusual combination of tomato juice and pineapple that works surprisingly well.
For the rest of the meal I stick with sparkling water.
The satay are quite tasty, but without a fork or a spoon it’s quite impossible to lop up all of the lovely peanut sauce. After the satay there is a short break while the crew prepare the main service. In the meantime, I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the view.
First the table is set. Every seat is done individually. The starter today is dried beef with pasta salad, lettuce and antipasti, more specifically a spicy pepper filled with cream cheese and an olive filled with an almond.
With that I have a few slices of garlic bread and a Silserli, a typical Swiss type of bread that gets its name from the town of Sils.
The service is well-timed and efficient, without however being hurried or rushed. For the main dish I’m having the Indian spicy chicken with vegetable curry and pilaf rice. It’s quite a spicy dish, with plenty of flavour.
After the meal there is a choice of either vanilla ice cream with a fruit sauce or a passion fruit cheesecake, which I have. The dessert is nothing special really, its only saving grace being that it is made with Agar Agar and not gelatine.
The meal concludes with a selection of cheese, served with crackers, walnuts, dried apricots and grapes. With that I have a glass of port.
Once the meal is over, the crew come to take orders for tea or coffee. I have a peppermint tea, which the flight attendant brings me with a praline. In the meantime I look out the window some more. I never seem to tire of this view!
After the meal I try out the wifi connection. For USD10 you can download up to 10MB of data. You can select for the connection to stop once you have reached you allowance or to just continue billing you in 10 cent steps per 100KB. So I do a bit of surfing, answer some e-mails and What’s App my mum before eventually I decide to take a nap.
A few hours later I awake. It’s still about four hours to go to Singapore, so I switch on the inflight entertainment system. Singapore Airlines has quite an extensive selection of films. I start to watch Skyfall – again. Not so much because I thought the film was that good – twice is enough – but because I just love the opening titles with that song by Adele. I then switch to watching ‘Hotel Transylvania’, which is okay but seriously lacks a decent story line.
THE SECOND SERVICE
By the time that’s over, it’s already time for the second meal service, which begins of course, with the distribution of yet another hot towel, followed by a glass of fresh orange juice.
The meal consists of:
a plate of fresh fruit
a selection from the breadbasket
a selection of hot dishes: I go for the omelette with veal sausages and potatoes
Like Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines will automatically give you a glass of still water to drink with the main dish. In addition, there is more orange juice and a cup of the most god awful coffee I have ever had the misfortune to taste.
Again the service is unhurried and pleasant. Throughout the meal service the mood lighting is set to what I presume to be dawn.
Once the meal service is over and yet another hot towel has been distributed and collected, the lights go out again. It’s now just 68 minutes to arrival in Changi at 05h45 am.
Our arrival into Changi is very atmospheric, really nice. With the engines in idle to slow us down, it’s gone quiet in the cabin. The passengers aren’t saying much either. The dark cabin adds to the mood. Eventually we touch down and within seconds the outer window pane starts to fog up with the humidity.
We arrive at one of the B gates at T3 which is equipped with three airbridges. I thank the crew, bid them farewell and disembark. From here I make my way to T2, from where my connection to Brunei will be leaving.
So what’s the verdict? It’s hard to put into words. Singapore Airlines is certainly up there in the top league of international airlines. Their Business Class cabin is very innovative and comfortable. Combined with the outstanding level of service provided by the cabin crew, the entire experience really is more like what many other airlines offer in First Class nowadays. However, from my recent experiences the same could also be said for Cathay Pacific and ANA – All Nippon Airways. Perhaps it’s just me and all the flying I do has made me blazé. Either that or Singapore Airlines have created an image that in actual fact even they themselves are unable to live up to.