QANTAS, First Class – Airbus A 380: Singapore to Sydney

Transfer in Changi

I step off the SWISS flight from Zürich at 17h20. Apparently, we are running fifteen minutes late. On the scale of events though, after a twelve hour flight that seems rather unimportant. My connection with QANTAS to Sydney will be departing from Terminal 1 at 19h30. There is a young lady holding up a sign with my name as I exit the airbridge. I approach her and she gives me instructions how to get to Terminal 1. She also tells me the gate will be D46.

So I catch the Skytrain from the station opposite my arrival gate. The journey only takes a few minutes.

Once I reach Terminal 1, I follow the signs for the QANTAS First Class lounge, which is separate from the Business Class lounge.

QANTAS First Class lounge Singapore

The lounge is quite busy, so I do not have any good opportunities to take any photos. It is quite a spacious lounge, with a fairly large dining area.

There are also showers available in the lounge.

Just before 19h00 I decide to leave and make my way to D46. There is a queue forming outside the lounge as I leave, which I consider a good sign, because it means my aircraft has arrived as QF2 from Heathrow.

Boarding

The security check takes place at the gate and there is a separate queue for First and Business Class passengers. Our A 380 is in the process of being turned around for the onward journey to Sydney.

Boarding should have started at 19h00. However, 19h30 comes and goes and there are still no signs of activity. The ground crew make an announcement to inform passengers that boarding will not start until 20h30. By this time I urgently need to take a leak, so I decide to exit the gate area because there are no loos behind the security checkpoint.

I go for a walkabout and return at around 20h20, again going through security to enter the gate area. At 20h30, another announcement is made to inform us that one of the high loaders for the cargo accidentally drove into the aircraft when it arrived. The Singaporean civil aviation authorities and a team from Airbus support are trying to determine if the aircraft is still airworthy. So the departure time is moved back to 22h30, and passengers in First and Business Class are advised to return to their respective lounges.

By this time I am starting to feel hungry again, so I figure I might as well eat in the lounge and then skip the meal on the plane. I can highly recommend the shrimp wontons in chilli and ginger oil.

I return to the gate at 22h20 and go through security a third time. Just as I enter the gate area, the crew announce that the aircraft is finally ready for boarding. As it turns out, I am the first passenger in the First Class cabin to board, which gives me ample opportunity to take photos.

The seat & cabin

The QANTAS First Class seat is the strangest thing I have ever seen. I really do not get what they were trying to achieve with this seat. There are fourteen seats in a 1 + 1 + 1 configuration. In the take-off position, the seat faces forward. However, to recline or extend the seat into a bed, it turns about 45 degrees towards the windows. There just seems to be a lot of unnecessarily wasted space. And you sit far away from the windows.

There is no storage space for a larger item such as a laptop. There are two small drawers, but one of those is already being used to stow the earphones. The USB port is also located in a strange position.

You also feel quite exposed in the seat. There is a screen that can be raised for more privacy, but it is not really all that effective.

The First Class cabin is located on the lower level between the L1 and L2 doors. Behind it is the galley and then the Economy Class cabin.

The service

There are four crew working the First Class cabin. They are friendly and very Australian. Martin comes to introduce himself and wishes me a pleasant flight. He brings me a glass of sparkling water and a plate with a caviar canapé and a cracker with baba ghanoush, which seems like rather an odd combination.

Next his colleague brings me the vanity kit, slippers and pajamas.

And then the menu. Not a single refreshing towel is offered during the entire flight.

The meal

Catering on QANTAS is something that I have always found quite odd. I just do not get it. I am never quite sure what the concept for the meal service is supposed to be, which also makes it difficult to know exactly what and how to order. I am still full from the wontons anyway, so I tell the crew to make my bed up immediately after take-off. I will not be having dinner, but I want to be woken for breakfast.

In the middle of the night I wake up feeling a bit hungry. So I make my way to the galley and ask if there might be any snacks available, to which one of the female cabin crew suggests the chocolate cake with pears. I also check the inflight map, which shows that we are running four hours late.

The second service

Two hours out of Sydney, I ask for a coffee, apple juice and breakfast. Apparently you can order food à la carte. Nonetheless, it takes the crew a whole hour after bringing me the drinks to start laying the table for breakfast.

I order a Birchermüsli and toast. The first thing that strikes me is that for QANTAS a Birchermüsli means something very different to what it means in Switzerland. What I get is a bowl of dry müsli with a large dollop of yoghurt. The only problem is that the yoghurt hardly has enough liquid for the müsli to soak up, so it is rather a dry affair.

The other thing that strikes me is that the crew ask me what I would like with my toast. I say marmalade, and that is exactly what I get. On SWISS I got a whole dish with four different preserves to choose from.

At the suggestion of the crew I also decide to try the breakfast brioche. And what a mistake that turns out to be. It is basically a brioche bun with a hash brown, egg, tomato chutney and bacon in it. I can hear my arteries clogging up just looking at it…

Arrival

The weather in Sydney is dreadful. It is windy and raining. As a result, there is a bit of a delay for our arrival. By the time we touch down, we are already more than four hours behind schedule.

We pull up to our stand and the captain comes on the PA to ask all passengers to remain seated. Apparently, one of the passengers developed Covid symptoms during the flight, and now they need to be checked before anybody is allowed to disembark. Eventually we wait for forty minutes before we are allowed off the plane, by this time nearly five hours late.

The good news is that we are so late that the early morning queue at immigration has already died down. But that is about as far as my luck goes. For reasons that are not explained, it then takes another whole hour for the first suitcases to arrive on the belt, and another twenty minutes for my suitcase to arrive.

Conclusion

It really is difficult to know what to say about this flight. Sure, the delays were not really the fault of the airline, and I think all passengers appreciated that the crew wanted the damage checked before we got airborne. Other than that though, I found the whole First Class experience on QANTAS seriously underwhelming. Their only saving grace were the friendly crew. The seat was just plain weird and the food offerings were sparce and more like an average Business Class product you would get on other airlines.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Zürich to Singapore

Transfer in Zürich

With six hours to kill before my flight to Singapore, I decide not to head for the First Class lounge straight away. It is a lovely day outside, so I might as well make the best of it.

The Circle is a complex of offices and shops located land side, right behind the bus terminal. Access to The Circle is either at ground level or through a tunnel that connects it to the terminal buildings. Apparently, the tunnel has become a bit of a thing with the young and terminally hip Tik Tok and Insta community. As a result, do not be surprised to find a group of young people blocking most of the tunnel and trying to capture photos of themselves that they can post and that, at least they think, will secure their future social media fame and fortune…

The Circle has been modelled after the Niederdörfli, which is part of the old town of Zürich. Behind the buildings is a small, artificial hillock covered in thick forest. It is quite nice, and if it were not for the distant noise of the aircraft and the Autobahn, you might easily forget that you are in fact in the back yard of a major transport hub.

Check-in

Two hours later I figure I might as well head back into the terminal. I mean, I have a lot of investigating to do for this blog before my departure to Singapore.

My first stop is the First Class check-in area, just to make sure that the itinerary has not changed in the meantime. The young lady confirms that I am all good and then escorts me to the escalators leading up the the First Class lounge.

The SWISS First Class lounge on the A pier

Access to the First Class lounge is via the escalators to the left of the Edelweiss Bar in Terminal A or Check-in 1. I head up the stairs, where I am welcomed by a friendly middle-aged woman. She scans my boarding pass and inquires if I would like to go straight across to the E pier, or if I would rather wait here. I tell her I would prefer to go immediately, so she puts my name down for the shuttle in fifteen minutes and invites me to head through security in the meantime.

The lounge above Terminal A is fairly large. The design is very typical for Switzerland, I think. It is more comfortable than ostentatious.

I take a seat and immediately a young man comes to ask me if there is anything I would like to drink. I decline and tell him I will not be staying long.

First Class shuttle to the E pier

At 18h40 I head one floor up and walk down the long corridor to the departure point for the First Class shuttle to the E pier. I am the only one making the journey at this time. The driver takes me downstairs to clear immigration, and then we head out my ride to the E pier.

SWISS has these dedicated, purpose built mini vans to take passengers across, and they really are very funky. Basically, they look like a small version of a SWISS First Class cabin, complete with lamps and wood furnishings.

SWISS First Class day rooms on the E pier

The driver accompanies me up to the third floor with the lift, which ejects me in front of reception of the First Class lounge. SWISS has a limited number of day rooms available in the lounge. The receptionist informs me that “St. Moritz” is still available if I am interested. Of course I am!

The day rooms are brilliant. They are fairly small. There is no room for a desk or anything. However, each room has a comfortable double bed and a nice toilet and shower.

The view from the window is not too shabby either. But make sure to close the curtains before taking a shower, as the deck in front of the window is accessible from the lounge.

I manage to get a few hours of sleep. After a refreshing shower I decide to head out and investigate the lounge. It is fairly quiet today.

The SWISS First Class lounge on the E pier

There is no buffet service in the lounge. However, there is a large dining area and the staff are happy to also serve food on the deck outside.

My bird to Singapore is the B 777 parked next to the A 340-300.

No idea what this squirt is doing here…

I order the smoked salmon tatar with toast, which is quite tasty. Meanwhile, the evening bank has rolled on, returning the SWISS short-haul fleet home for the night. It is quite spectacular to watch, with the full moon and the mountains in the background.

Boarding

At 22h00 I head downstairs for the document check ahead of boarding. By this time the shops have already started shutting down for the night.

As I pass the gate, the gate agents tells me I will need to put on a mask for the duration of the flight as per regulation of the Singaporean authorities.

The cabin & seat

I step aboard the aircraft through the L2 door and make my way through the Stübli to the First Class cabin. I am seated on 1A. Eight out of eight seats are occupied tonight.

At my seat there is already a 50cl bottle of water and a voucher for 50Mb of complimentary wifi usage.

Once I am settled, the crew bring me the menu and the pajamas. A vanity kit and slippers are already at my seat.

The seat is wide, spacious and offers a lot of storage space that I think I must have missed on my last trip on the A 340 to Dubai. The cupboard has two hangers and two compartments to store smaller items and shoes.

There is also a small reading lamp that gives off pleasant, warm light in the dark.

The cupboard serves a second purpose to close off the seat from the aisle for more privacy. There is also a small divider that is operated electrically and which extends from the side of the seat. All in all, it is not a bad solution. The point of having these enclosed cabins is not really to have more privacy, but to prevent being disturbed in your sleep by crew and people passing by your seat.

The service

There are two crew working the First Class cabin, and both of them are excellent hosts. The service starts on the ground with the distribution of icy cold oshibori, which are highly welcomed – because although the aircon is running, the aircraft is still warm from standing around in the sun all day.

The meal

While we are still on the ground I am brought a glass of orange juice and an amuse bouche of flûtes from Sprüngli and a green tomato coulis with red tomato mousse. It is very refreshing.

Once we are airborne and the crew is released and the service begins. I am very much impressed that they actually manage to pull off the full meal service within less than two hours after take-off and without making the service seem rushed.

Starter: asparagus salad…

…and salmon trout with cucumber and trout mousse. Both of the starters are excellent. The salad leaves have managed not to go all limp in the heat, and the trout mousse is exceptional. It has a lovely smokey taste and a smooth, velvety texture.

Soup: gazpacho with shaved almonds. The soup is also very good, and has a strong dose of garlic – which at least I like very much. Not so sure about my fellow passengers though…

Main course: veal with morel jus and onion chutney, asparagus, and cheese polenta. I have no idea what compelled me to try this dish. I normally do not eat meat much, and certainly not very often on a plane. Whatever it was, I am glad I did because this dish is lovely. The polenta is rich and creamy and the meat has managed to stay juicy but without being bloody.

Cheese: a selection of cheese from the region around Lake Lucerne. Served with mustard chutney, grapes and fig bread. The blue one was a bit too salty for my liking, but the others were rather nice.

Dessert: chocolate pie. Oh my god, for a moment there I am not quite sure I will survive this dessert. It is very good, but it is also amazingly sweet and so, so rich.

Once the meal is done, I change into my pajamas and ask for the bed to be made up. I manage to sleep for a solid seven hours.

Second service

As soon as the cabin crew notice I am awake they come to ask me if I would like coffee. The young lady working the First Class cabin brings me the coffee and tells me that for one horrible moment she thought the coffee machine – the most important piece of equipment even before the engines in her view – may have gone US. But luckily she managed to get it going again.

She then ask me if I am having breakfast. There is no menu, so I challenge her to surprise me. Which she and her colleague take to mean I will try a bit of everything!

With breakfast done, I’m feeling fit to burst. Thank goodness we only have about one more hour to run to Singapore, where I can get off the plane and walk off some of all this lovely food.

Arrival in Singapore

The approach into Singapore is very scenic and takes us right past the waterfront and Changi airport, before we then make a wide 180 degree turn to line up and land.

As we pull onto our stand, the cleaning crew are already expecting us. I am guessing it is very humid, because they look as though they are trying to move as little as possible.

Conclusion

This experience with SWISS was a very pleasant surprise. I think it also proved, yet again, that the crew can make or break a flight in First Class. The crew working this flight were friendly and engaged with the passengers in a pleasant and effortless way that made you feel welcome – as though they were happy to have you with them. The lounge in Zürich was also very nice and the day rooms were just brilliant.

Of course, those of you who regularly read this blog may be wondering how SWISS compared to Air France. The answer is, I think I could not really say – mainly because their products are very different. The Air France service in La Première is elegant, polished and very grand – or just really very French. For example, when you order a drink in La Première, they will always serve it to you from a silver tray, whereas at SWISS they would just bring you a glass from the galley, without a tray. It is a minor thing and not really all that important. On the other hand, I found the service on SWISS a lot more personable.

Garuda Indonesia, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Jakarta to London

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Introduction

Three days before my flight back to London, I receive an e-mail from the Garuda First Class concierge asking me a) what I had in mind for the complimentary pick-up, b) if I had any specific dietary requirements they should know about and c) what size pyjama I take. That more or less sets the tone for my flight back home and the end of what has been a truly relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable vacation…

Getting to the Airport

I leave the FM7 Hotel at 09h30. This morning the traffic is much thicker and for some unearthly reason we find ourselves taking backroads through some small village. The journey to the airport takes twenty minutes to complete.

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Before we depart from the hotel, the driver hands me a refreshing towel and a bottle of still water.

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Check-in

We pull up to Terminal 3, where I am already being expected by the First Class ground crew. I step out of the car and a young lady greets me by name. She welcomes me to the flight, while a young man takes my luggage out of the booth. The young lady then escorts me to the dedicated First Class check-in area and invites me to take a seat while she checks me in and tags my suitcase.

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Once that’s done, she accompanies me through security and immigration. There is a dedicated lane for First Class passengers for security and behind that, we head straight for the counter for holders of diplomatic passports – which of course speeds things up considerably…

The Garuda First Class Lounge

And then form there we head for the First Class lounge on the mezzanine level. The place is deserted when I arrive. The lounge is a nice size, although it seems a bit large now, given that currently Garuda’s flight to London is the only with a First Class service and even that only operates three times a week.

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I take a seat in the lounge and am brought yet another refreshing towel, followed by some still water, a plate of fresh fruit and the menu for the lounge. There is no buffet in the First Class lounge, so food can only be ordered from the staff. I go with the Gnocchi Neapolitana, which is very good.

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Boarding

At around 11h45 the gate agent comes to inform me that the flight is now in the final stages of boarding. It’s time to leave. At the lounge’s reception area all the staff are lined up to say goodbye and wish me a pleasant trip.

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We breeze through the boarding gate and take the left aisle down to the airbridge for First Class passengers only. Here too there are ground staff in the First Class uniform wishing me a pleasant flight. I step on board. The ground attendant hands me over to the purser – who also greets me by name – then says goodbye and wishes me a safe journey. One of the First Class cabin crew then shows me to my seat on 2K.

The Cabin

Garuda’s First Class cabin is really quite amazing. Every seat is enclosed in a sort of mini-suite, with sliding doors that can be closed for more privacy. Apart from that, the cabin and seat have a very elegant appearance and are kept in rich, dark colours.

There is plenty of storage space, including a closet with two hangers that is wide enough for me to hang my clothes in once I change into the pyjamas.

The seat is very comfortable and the sliding doors certainly give the you the feeling of being in your own suite. It’s not just that the sliding doors will give you more privacy. I also think you are disturbed a lot less when you rest because you really don’t notice at all when somebody passes by your seat.

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The Crew

As I already mentioned, the crew are expecting me at the door as I step on board. By the way, the curtain to Business is closed during boarding, which is just a minor detail but something I really like.

Amenities

There are a whole lot of goodies expecting me at my seat:

  1. the food and drinks menus for the flight,
  2. noise cancelling earphones,
  3. a vanity kit,
  4. two pillows,
  5. a set of stationary with a pen,
  6. the pyjamas.
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As soon as I take my seat, one of the cabin crew comes to offer me a welcome drink. A few moments later she returns with a scented hot towel, a glass of the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé and a small ramekin of warm macadamia nuts.

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The flight time is announced at 14 hours and 15 minutes. Brilliant! All the more time to enjoy Garuda’s First Class service!

The crew on this flight are truly excellent. They’re personable, charming and very friendly. They make passengers feel at ease in a way that seems very natural.

The amenity kit is of no particular brand. It contains:

  1. a brush,
  2. earplugs,
  3. lip balm,
  4. eyeshades,
  5. a dental set,
  6. two Payot branded creams.

What strikes me about the vanity kit is that the content is of less good quality than the one I was given in Business Class on the Melbourne to Jakarta leg of this trip. The toothbrush for example, is rather small and more like a kid’s tooth brush (although adult size toothbrushes are available in the lavatory).

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The pyjama is black and not of any particular brand. It’s comfortable enough but be warned, the cut is rather tight. I’m wearing an XL and the pants still make me look like a primo ballerino…

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In contrast, the slippers are excellent. They’re solid and very comfortable. There’s a bit of an awkward moment when the cabin crew bring me the slippers, because they insist on helping you take off your shoes and kneel before you to do so, which is something most Europeans are probably not so used to.

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The Meal

Orders for the meal are taken before we push back.

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The Caviar Service

The meal service begins with the caviar service, which is served with warm blinis, crème fraîche and shrimp crackers. And more of the champagne.

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The First Course

For the first course, I go with the chicken musakhan roll, served with a beetroot relish and garlic sauce. I have no idea what the brown powder dusted on the rolls is, but it’s certainly fragrant, with a subtle hint of citrus.

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The Soup

Next comes the pumpkin soup with enoki mushroom and crème fraîche. The soup is served with toasted bread. Perhaps the soup might have been a tad warmer. But other than that, it’s a very hearty soup with a strong underlying flavour of celery.

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the grilled beef sirloin. This is served with a thyme jus, asparagus, mushrooms and grilled cherry tomatoes. It should also have had a potato soufflé, which I request to have swapped for the truffle ravioli, which are excellent. The meat is good too, it’s cooked just right and has a nice charcoal flavour.

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The Cheese

And then I have the cheese board and crackers. There is no information about what cheese it is – I’m guessing some sort of camembert, a cheddar and maybe a Roquefort.

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Dessert

And then, for dessert I have the chocolate lava with vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit. The lava also could have spent some more time in the oven. But other than that, you can’t really go wrong with anything that contains warm melted chocolate, can you?

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And just in case I’m still hungry, the cabin attendant brings me two shortbread biscuits with the cappuccino. And that concludes the meal service. And I feel totally gorged!

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After the meal, one of the flight attendants makes up my bed for me to sleep. The duvet I’m given is amazingly fluffy and the pillows are nice and comfortable. There’s also a thick mattress on the seat for greater comfort. With the doors closed, the suite feels very intimate and cosy.

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The Inflight Snack

At some point during the flight I wake up and ask for a noodle soup and a drink. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever had a decanted Diet Coke!

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And then I go off to sleep again.

The Second Service

I awake about two hours out of London. Just in time for the second meal service. There is a whole list of items to choose from, the second service consists of a starter, a main course and a dessert.

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The First Course

To start I have the cream of asparagus with a dumpling and fresh asparagus. This dish is excellent. The soup has a velvety texture and the different flavours are very finely balanced.

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The Main Course

For the main course I go with the seabass in a turmeric pickle sauce and potato croquettes, baby pak choy and vegetables. When I order the fish, I notice a slight hesitation from the flight attendant, and I can’t help but feel that she’s trying to dissuade me from having it. Once I tuck in, I realise why: because what I thought were green beans are in fact small and really vicious green chillies that nearly blow the top of my head off! My friend, the valiant M. always says he doesn’t get how I can eat very spicy food and enjoy it, but this is too much even for me! Other than that though, the fish is moist and the sauce is flavourful and tangy.

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The Fruit

For dessert I have the plate of fruit, which includes two slices of Guava and manages to quench the fire burning in my mouth!

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And then to conclude, I have mint tea, served with two sticks of Valrhona chocolate.

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I really must say, the quality and quantity of the food served in Garuda’s First Class is quite impressive. The tableware is attractive and the presentation of the dishes shows a lot of attention to detail. My other friend, the tall, blond M. has a stomach that is a bottomless pit. I really don’t know where the guy puts it all. But I’m sure he would have had a whale of a time on this flight!

Arrival

By the time the second service ends, we’re already nearing the top of descent. It’s just gone eight in the evening and traffic in Heathrow is calm. As the flight draws to an end, one of the cabin crew takes my vanity kit, slippers and pyjamas and places them in a Garuda First Class branded bag for me to take with me.

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We land in an easterly direction without even having to hold, and then very slowly taxi to our gate at Terminal 3. When eventually we reach our stand, only the airbridge for the L2 door is attached because the police are there to meet our flight. Apparently they’re looking for one particular passenger. Once he is removed from the flight, we’re free to disembark. It’s really quite embarrassing how the cabin crew request all the Business Class passengers to step aside to allow me and the other three First Class passengers to disembark first.

There is a representative from Garuda holding a sign up with my name as I step off the plane. He welcomes me to London and then escorts me through immigration, assists me with my bag and takes me through customs. Once we’re landside again, he gives me instructions on how to get to Terminal 5, where I’ll be spending the night, before sending me on my way.

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Conclusion

I’m wondering where Garuda is going with its First Class product right now. Personally, I think this was one of the best First Class experiences I’ve had in a long time that was truly deserving of the term first class. The hard product is excellent and the crews on the ground and in the air obviously made an enormous effort to provide passengers with a service that is refined and polished. But it just seems like an awful lot of effort for just the one route with a service that doesn’t even operate daily to Heathrow.

But apart from that, I think Garuda Indonesia offers a good and solid product, both in Business Class and in First. Admittedly, I do think they could significantly improve the experience on the ground for passengers not travelling in First. I understand that the two domestic flights I did were delayed due to the severe weather that the airline has no influence over, and perhaps it goes without saying in Indonesia that all you can do in such cases is to sit and wait for it to pass. Even so, I think it wouldn’t hurt Garuda to communicate more proactively in cases of irregularity – and with that I don’t mean having a gate agent yelling at the top of her voice in Bahasia only.

I sincerely wish Garuda the best of luck for the future. And I hope their new CEO will succeed in maintaining the high standard of service and professionalism that I experienced and enjoyed on all my flights with the airline so far.

Would I choose Garuda again? Definitely!