Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Trip Report: Malaysia Airlines, Sydney to Jakarta via Kuala Lumpur (Oct 2013)

Malaysia Airlines - Sydney to Jakarta via Kuala Lumpur
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

Note: this trip occurred in October 2013, before the disappearance of MH370 and the tragedy of MH17.  My thoughts and wishes go out to the families of those flights 

Malaysia Airlines is a small but important player in the aviation market, but it has struggled.  From its base at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, it competes with low-cost carrier Air Asia - so Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has to figure out whether it wants to be a full-service airline, a LCC, or a hybrid of both.  I believe Malaysia Airlines has found a balance - medium service availability with a lower costs- but not sure how profitable that balance will be maintained. 

In terms of the Asia-Pacific market, Malaysia Airlines is one of the more affordable full-service airlines if you consider Singapore Airlines, Qantas, and Cathay its competition.  While I may not put Malaysia Airlines in that same category, it is these airlines that Malaysia is competing with - and winning with a lower airfare.  

I was flying from Australia to Jakarta and looked around to find an inexpensive alternative.  There are many LCCs flying from Australia, but they fly to Bali (where I did not want to go) and the other airlines seemed very costly.  It came down to a choice between Malaysia Airlines (via KUL) or direct on Garuda Indonesia (with its upgraded service, I now consider as competition to Malaysia Airlines).   I choose Malaysian based on their past experience and dedication to service...I was not wrong in my choice.

I had booked my trip through an online site as they were offering a better price than the Malaysia Airlines site.  Even then, I could go online and choose my seats and update my information - this is something I appreciate as not all airlines allow this and this is something extremely customer-friendly and focused. 

I was booked on MH134 which departs Brisbane (BNE) at 11:20pm and arrives at Kuala Lumpur (KUL) at 5:50am.  I was already in BNE from an earlier flight so when boarding opened up 9:00pm, I was ready and in-line.  Check-in was easy and efficient, and MAS is very generous in allowing one bag up to 30kg per passenger.  After going through security and immigration I proceeded to the gate and waited for the boarding to commence.  The plane was already at the gate, as MH134 is the return flight with the originating flight arriving into BNE at 7L50pm.  Boarding commenced around 10:50pm and all passengers boarded the plane.

The interior:  The plane looked relatively brand new and was a very modern and updated Airbus A333, with 250 seats and a seat pitch of 34 and width of 17 - it was very nice and spacious and suitable for the 8hr 30min flight.  The seats itself were slim and comfortable enough for the duration of the flight.  Seat amenities included a game controller, AC power and USB connecting ports, a foot rest, and as well as an IFE.  Each seatback included an IFE and the IFE was touchscreen as well as worked with the remote.  

The IFE on Malaysian was very nice and up to date.  They had a lot of new and interesting movies to choose from, along with TV shows, music, games, and features on the company.  In my opinion, Emirates provides the best IFE so they are the standard to which I compare other airlines to --- and in that regard Malaysia does not stack up; however, when comparing them to other carriers such as Etihad or Qantas then I believe Malaysian wins.  Their IFE's were more up-to-date, had a wider selection, and had a more interesting selection than some of the other 'bigger carriers' and for that they get high marks.

The food: Since this was an evening flight, about an hour after we took off the airline started its dinner service.  The food on Malaysian is good, with nice portions and decent flavor.  After dinner, drinks, tea and coffee were served, the lights were dimmed so passengers could rest as the flight continued.  During this period, the FA's came around multiple times to provide water to the passengers.  About an hour or so prior to decent into KUL, a small snack plus drinks were served.  The snack was all that appetizing and was very small but a nice gesture from Malaysian.

the model planes at KUL
Transition: We were scheduled to land at KUL at 5:50am and we landed on time and taxied to our gate.   In our flight, the passengers were split down the middle with half connecting to other flights and half spending time in Malaysia.  KUL has a main terminal and a satellite terminal (and from what I can detect, most wide-body planes use the satellite terminal and short-body planes use the main terminal).  The two terminals are connected by a train (which was an improvement as in 2007 there were only buses and no trains) - those with connections got off at the main terminal while those collecting bags had one more stop.  The main terminal at KUL is very large and has some great plane-viewing windows.  There is a lot of duty-free available and some food options, although the food options were some-what limited.  There is free-wifi in the airport, but the service and reception was spotty and depended on where you were.  Since it was about 6am and I had been travelling all day, I was tired so I went to my gate where they had nice big couch/benches on which you could lay out and rest (I saw a lot of people sleeping on them.)  On the couches near my gate, the wifi was not good but if I moved two or three gates down the wifi service improved.   I was connecting in KUL to my next flight to Jakarta, which was scheduled to leave at 7:50am - which means that gate to gate I had about 2 hours transit (less if you consider taxi time, transfer to gates, and security and boarding for my next flight).  The connection time did not seem tight, but rather perfect for the early morning.

the seats on Malaysia (Boeing 737)
Connections: My next flight was MH713 on a Boeing 737 and is one of the many daily flights Malaysian has to Jakarta.  Our scheduled departure time was 7:50am and we boarded on time and even though the flight was generally full, I had the entire row to myself (very nice).  There were many FA's on board serving the passengers, and all of them were friendly and had a smile on their face.  The flight time to Jakarta is 2hr 15mins and it was overall a comfortable seat.  Even though the plane looked older, inside it had been refurbished and updated with leather seats.  Each seat also had its own IFE, which was a nice addition.  The options were not as wide as what was available on longer flights, but still had enough of a wide selection to easily pass the flight time and it was a nice addition on this short flight.  Shortly after take-off drinks and meals were served.  Since it was early in the morning, breakfast was served and there was a choice of either western or Malay/Indonesian.  'When in Rome, do as the Romans' as the saying goes so as I was going to Indonesia I chose the Indonesian options.  The food was generally quite good and the best part was that because people have different spice preferences, the spices were presented in a separate container which you could add to your liking (a nice touch).  The meals were cleared, drinks along with tea and coffee were offered, and the passengers were left to enjoy the remaining portion of the flight.  We were scheduled to land at 8:50am and we landed on time and had a short taxi to the gate.  Immigration and visa on arrival were cleared easily and then I proceeded to the luggage area --- this is where I did have some problems.  

CGK - where you get your luggage
Apparently only one of my bags made it onto the Jakarta flight while in transit in Malaysia.  I am not sure how only one bag shows up and the other does not, but that is what happened - and it seemed to happen to a lot of people who had regular (i.e. less than 3 hours) transit times in KUL.  There was a group of 7 of us who did not get some or all of their luggage when we landed.  When we went to the claims office, we were told that the luggage was still in KUL and had already been put on the next flight to Jakarta - which was scheduled to land in 3 hours.  Not receiving my luggage has happened before, but normally when my luggage does arrive the airline will transport it directly to where I am staying and I do not need to wait at the airport.  I assumed this would happen this time as well so I provided the address of where I was staying --- a hotel near downtown and from the airport to downtown is about 30-45 minutes without traffic -- however I was told that it would just be easier if I waited at the airport for my luggage and then just took it with me.  I asked that, instead of me waiting 3 hours in the arrivals hall (prior to clearing customs and exiting) if they could just send my bags -- they said 'it would just be easier to wait'; so I waited.

Luggage Hall @ CGK
Jakarta Airport:  The arrivals hall (where you get your luggage) at CGK or Soekarno-Hatta International Airport has some facilities for passengers - but not a lot.  There were no food options available in this section, but there was a technology store available where you could purchase SIMs.  Since I needed to do this anyway, I took the opportunity to get the SIM here - NOTE: I always get a cheap, pre-paid SIM wherever I go as its easier if I need to make any local calls, and I can give the number out to friends and family who can use calling cards to call me.  Most countries also have it to where you can use the SIM to check your mail so that is also convenient.  After waiting for 3 hours, the next flight from KUL eventually landed and I received my luggage.

CGK main area
I returned about 4 days -- my flight from Jakarta was very early in the morning at 4:40am so I spent the previous evening on the other side of the airport.  On this side - the Departure side - there are plenty of luggage carts available.  They also have many food options available as well, but these are not open all night.  Almost all of the businesses closed around midnight - including restaurants and kiosks.  There is a pay lounge which had AC and was quieter, but the food did not look all that appetizing (you basically paid for quiet, less people, and some AC).  What was lacking were power points - I found one on the far side of the terminal next to the administrative offices - and places to sit/lounge.  The area prior to going through security and checking in is not very big, yet there are tons of people.  They have about 8 wood benches/loungers there in which you could spread out, if you like sleeping on wood and want to fight for your space; it was not a comfortable place to rest.  My flight was scheduled to take off at 4:40am and we departed on time and landed in KUL at 7:40am.  Again, I had 2 hours to transit as my next flight departed at 9:45am (this is a daily flight Malaysia has from Brisbane that departs KUL at 9:45am, arrives into Brisbane at 7:50pm and departs at 11:20pm back to KUL).                                   

Conclusion: Overall, despite my luggage incident, I enjoyed my experience with Malaysia Airlines.  They provided nice, clean airlines with decent leg space, good amenities, decent food, an easy to use and navigate site, and on board it was a great service that got me to my destination without spending a lot of money -- and that is where I see the problem for Malaysia. They are trying to be a full-service airline - to compete with Qantas, Singapore, and Cathay - at reduced fares to compete with the LCC's - Air Asia, Scoot, Tiger, and Cebu.  Malaysia needs to figure out who they want to be -- as I stated earlier the majority of the passengers of my flight were transit passengers as Malaysia provide a good service at a decent price; but the question is for how long can they have this 'hybrid' model of full-service and discounted prices.  

Would I fly Malaysia again? Definitely!
How does their service compare? Not as good as Singapore or Cathay (and both SIN and HKG are better airports) but I thought this was better than Virgin Australia or Qantas or Air Asia

How do their fares compare?  They are more economical than Singapore, Cathay, Qantas, and Virgin Australia but not as cheap as AirAsia -- however they fly more places and KUL is nicer than KLIA!

Happy flying! 

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