henkybaby From Netherlands, joined May 2008, 593 posts, RR: 4 Posted (3 years 1 month 4 weeks 1 day ago) and read 11101 times:
MERPATI TO TIMOR-LESTE
# Its Merpati and it flies when it wants to, flies when it wants to... #
A quick TR about my visit to the country of Timor-Leste from Bali on Merpati.
Within my company I am always looking for new and interesting jobs and since they are few and far between you sometimes have to make them happen yourself. One of the things I like is to work for IGOs or NGOs and preferably directly within the developing countries themselves. This time a friend of mine pointed out there were some interesting opportunities in Timor-Leste and since I was already in the neighbourhood I convinced our management to let me go check it out. I would be working together with the World Food Programme to investigate how to improve supply chain management for local rice distribution. It is always great to visit locations like this For one because you can actually see what is going on and secondly because the people working in this areas (World Bank, UN, etc) are always very entertaining, full of stories and well educated.
It was kinda difficult to buy the ticket. My contacts in Dili had informed me that the standard rate was US$ 350 for a return. No matter what travel agency I contacted they all came back with strange quotes varying from $451 to $700. Merpati on Bali itself wanted $551 to begin with and they also told me I had to pay in cash because they did not accept credit cards. Yeah, right. I eventually had my contacts in Dili book me the ticket there and when I picked it up at DPS I could (of course) pay with a credit card. The ticket itself was rather a flimsy printout which was hardly readable, but at least it was now mine.
I had another 10 days or so on Bali before I had to leave for Dili. I enjoyed myself in Ubud and Sanur. The last bit was especially nice since I stayed at the Hyatt there for the umpteenth time and since I am now a Diamond member of their reward programme I was upgraded to the Regency Suite. Totally unexpected and extremely pleasant. Best suite I stayed in ever.
The weather on Bali was a bit weird for the time of year. Normally in September the weather is perfectly fine with plenty of sunshine and maybe an occasional burst of rain. This time however the day started with rain, cleared up at 9, stayed clear till about 3 or 4 PM than became overcast and at night it started raining again. They told me it had been like that all summer.
Seat 11E (economy)
Dep: 10:25 (actual 11:55)
Arr: 13:15 (actual 14:45)
I arrived at the airport about 90 minutes before my flight was planned to leave since I had heard that Merpati still has to achieve one on time departure in its entire existence. This time would be no exception. Check in went rather smoothly. They don't do seat assignments by computer but by sticker sheets. I asked for an exit seat and the lady gave me 11E. I told her that this wasn't an extra legroom seat (like I requested) but that seat 12F (still on the sticker sheet) was. She remained adamant that 11E was an exit seat and therefore had extra legroom. I wasn't in the mood to argue given that it was only a 100 minute flight.
I hurried upstairs expecting a line where you have to pay departure tax and at passport control but there was nobody there at all. I was airside in 3 minutes. This meant a 60 minute wait plus whatever delay and without a lounge. I bought some whisky as a present for my hosts and headed to gate 9, the bus gate to see how we were doing.
The Merpati people kept claiming that the flight would be on time until 30 minutes before departure when they finally admitted that the plane was not even at the airport yet. At least one hour delay. No sooner had I settled myself in a restaurant to enjoy a nice cup of tea and a movie or the announcer called for my flight and that it was now boarding. What that meant (or so I found out later) is that you can pass security into the departure lounge where they let us wait for another hour before boarding really started. So far Merpati was living up to my expectations. At least it gave me some time to provide you with an impression of the traffic at DPS.
The flight was absolutely 100% booked. It must be a profitable route for Merpati. I squeezed into my seat and hoped for the best. Merpati does not have the best rep in the world. Seat pitch was ridiculous but I would be ok. I was going to a beautiful and unique place.
We soon went for our taxi to the end of the runway and took off almost immediately.
I tried to settle in as best as I could for the flight. It wasn't easy. The in-flight magazine did not provide much distraction either.
The most surprising part of the flight was the catering. It was absolutely excellent. They served drinks very quickly and we got a box of food that contained some of the best chow I have eaten on many an airline lately, even including business and first. BA: Merpati's Y class catering is better than your J food!
It may not look much, but it was delicious. I watched two episodes of Weeds on my iPod before we landed at the very bumpy runway of Dili airport. My friend - who used to run the airport - told me that one time the flight had a burst tire on landing and the pilot simply took off with the tire still flat since they could not fix it there anyway. It made for an even bumpier takeoff he told me. We disembarked rather quickly but I needed a visa on arrival and that takes a while. There was a line of about 15 people in front of me and that took 30 to 40 minutes. Meanwhile all the expats and UN staffers had formed lines in front of the passport check. We had to follow suit and in total it took about 60 to 80 minutes to clear one 737. Bit much...
Timor-Leste itself was fantastic. Although a lot of bad things happened there not so long ago it feels like Bali avant la letre. Pure, beautiful and nice people. At least in the more 'touristy' parts of Dili. In the districts you can see why this place is also a powder keg. It was very rewarding to do some useful stuff here and I enjoyed seeing how much progress WFP had already made in rice distribution. I will limit myself to some visual impressions of the island though.
Having a beer
Our local transport
Rice, rice and more rice
A lot of beauty too
The people we do it for
After a very rewarding and productive week it was time for me to leave. I certainly hope (and expect) to be back!
Yes, you have seen it correctly. This was actually the first Merpati flight ever to leave on time and even arrive early.
The morning of my departure I still had quite a busy schedule. Some of my contacts had warned me that even though DIL hardly has any flights you still need to be there 2 hours before departure or they offload you. Given the load factor on the inbound I did not want to take any risks. My worries were unfounded however. I was there in plenty of time. No exit seats left anymore so I settled for 7D. I forgot to fill out my departure card as well as pay the $10 departure tax so I must have looked very stupid to the customs official. After taking care of everything I went through security to the departure lounge. For future reference: don't! Leave that to the last possible minute. In the departure lounge you can buy tax free alcohol but that is it. You can't even buy a can of coke...
This being Timor-Leste you can see some stuff you won't see elsewhere.
The departure lounge soon filled up. A surprised roar went through the place when the Merpati flight landed on time. Thank goodness we would not have to spend hours and hours here, which is not uncommon.
It is out there, somewhere...
Boarding started about 40 minutes after the flight had landed.
The flight was once again very full but my row (7) remained empty. I was already anticipating stretching my legs when a family of 5 arrived late and settled in around me. After some negotiation I could convince to sit in such a manner that they all sat together and I had 7E/F to myself. No window on this row, but I still managed some shots.
Having heard the stories I was now much more aware of the sound of potholes whilst accelerating along the runway. No problems however.
We made a quick turn back to the West and I had a nice view of the island.
Once again a very good meal was served very quickly and they made several drink rounds. All in all the crew on both flights was great.
This is the last pic I managed before my battery died.
The flight went smoothly and I was back in my beloved Bali about 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Once again VOA and customs was a breeze. It took maybe 15 minutes. I headed of to my hotel to finalize my end reports and I flew back to NL about 5 days later.
Merpati made a very positive impression and I would not hesitate to fly them again. For national flights I would not be so sure though. Their international planes are much safer, or so I have been told. Timor-Leste made an incredible impression however. I really want to go back. If you ever get the chance: do it! Plenty of opportunity there as well.
I hope you enjoyed reading this report and feedback is always appreciated.
airbuseric From Netherlands, joined Jan 2005, 4125 posts, RR: 51 Reply 2, posted (3 years 1 month 4 weeks 16 hours ago) and read 10358 times:
as always I enjoy your tripreports here. This one is nothing different to that. An exotic route and airline, for sure a good read for me!
Shame to see 2x B737 on your flights. A Fokker 28 or 100, or one of the props would've been fun too don't you agree? But you state that their international planes would be more safe/better condition? I assume the 737's are counted as ' international ' ?
It seems your job continues to show you the best sides of life as well the great effort you can achieve in such regions. People, of any kind, would be so happy to see the UN/WFP guys coming to offer help. I think their responses would be heart filling.
For some private reasons I can't fly out to DPS next week, had to cancel my trip and postponed to 2011 ...
Please don't hesitate to tell us about your upcoming trips. I'm looking forward to it!
"The whole world steps aside for the man who knows where he is going"
Is that meant to be sung to the tune of "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to ??"
Quoting henkybaby (Thread starter): My contacts in Dili had informed me that the standard rate was US$ 350 for a return. No matter what travel agency I contacted they all came back with strange quotes varying from $451 to $700. Merpati on Bali itself wanted $551 to begin with and they also told me I had to pay in cash because they did not accept credit cards.
What could cause such crazy variations? Is somebody playing some funnybusiness?
Quoting henkybaby (Thread starter): They served drinks very quickly and we got a box of food that contained some of the best chow I have eaten on many an airline lately, even including business and first. BA: Merpati's Y class catering is better than your J food!
Fascinating how Y catering can be superior when done right, how can fish something and chicken something be better than fancypants cuisine from high tech kitchens?
Thanks a lot for the pics from Timor Leste too, hope the future is bright there.
henkybaby From Netherlands, joined May 2008, 593 posts, RR: 4 Reply 4, posted (3 years 1 month 4 weeks 14 hours ago) and read 10168 times:
Well, thanks for the deletion of the insult at my address I guess, but I don't mind a healthy debate.. Thanks to the people supporting me who got deleted in the process as well. I appreciate you took the time to read the TR and reply.
Well, I must admit that Merpati was the first airline I ever felt nervous flying on. I did not mind so much that they only used their newest 737's on international routes. They have very old 737s too and they definitely look different.
Quoting airbuseric (Reply 2): For some private reasons I can't fly out to DPS next week, had to cancel my trip and postponed to 2011 ...
Such a shame! Bali is by far my favorite destination in the world. The weather is a bit strange at the moment though. Hopefully that will have corrected itself by the time you visit.
Quoting sr117 (Reply 3): Is that meant to be sung to the tune of "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to ??"
Indeed. Sing it with me now...
Quoting sr117 (Reply 3): What could cause such crazy variations? Is somebody playing some funnybusiness?
Far be it from me to speculate but it felt like they were trying to skim a little of the top.
akhmad From Netherlands, joined Sep 2005, 2421 posts, RR: 53 Reply 6, posted (3 years 1 month 4 weeks 7 hours ago) and read 9710 times:
I experienced a dejà vu when I read your trip with Merpati from Bali. I was visiting the island in August and went to Ubud as well.
It has been six years ago since I flew Merpati from Jakarta to Bandung on board of their CN-235. Good to know Merpati still maintains the full service on board. The meal you had on board looked delicious. Just from curiosity, were you offered any meal choice?
The 737-300 cabin interior looks well maintained. I like the blue coloured seats.
Thanks for sharing and I must say, you have got an honoured job being a part of World Food Programme.
RamblinMan From United States of America, joined Oct 2010, 1107 posts, RR: 1 Reply 8, posted (3 years 1 month 4 weeks 7 hours ago) and read 9651 times:
Thanks for sharing this! I flew this airline ex-DPS into Bima and return from Labuan Bajo a couple years back on ATRs. I didn't even know they had a 737... not that I want to try it, that seat pitch looks awful!!!
Incidentally, both my flights were pretty much on time... guess I was lucky!
Quoting henkybaby (Thread starter): Some of my contacts had warned me that even though DIL hardly has any flights you still need to be there 2 hours before departure or they offload you.
Is this some kind of joke the locals play on foreigners? They told me that, too... and I was at the airport in LB a solid hour before they even opened the check-in!
AlexEU From Serbia, joined Oct 2007, 1793 posts, RR: 2 Reply 9, posted (3 years 1 month 4 weeks 3 hours ago) and read 9410 times:
Hi, nice and exotic trip report!
I expected a lighter aircraft than 737. Whats the demand for Dili-Bali flights? I guess Jakarta-Dili would be a better option. I hear Singapore-Dili flights are always full. But it's strange that there are no flights to Kupang.
RamblinMan From United States of America, joined Oct 2010, 1107 posts, RR: 1 Reply 10, posted (3 years 1 month 4 weeks 2 hours ago) and read 9348 times:
Quoting AlexEU (Reply 9): Whats the demand for Dili-Bali flights?
I was rather surprised, given it's reputation as a leisure destination, how much of a regional hub DPS actually is.
Make no mistake, though, Bali is extremely touristy... so much so that I didn't really care for it. Affordable, though.
WhereToNext From United States of America, joined Jul 2010, 96 posts, RR: 0 Reply 11, posted (3 years 1 month 3 weeks 6 days 22 hours ago) and read 9177 times:
Thanks for an amazing trip report to an even more awesome destination. There can't be many Timor-Leste report trips in the database, that's for sure!
Quoting henkybaby (Thread starter): Timor-Leste itself was fantastic. Although a lot of bad things happened there not so long ago it feels like Bali avant la letre. Pure, beautiful and nice people. At least in the more 'touristy' parts of Dili.
It's nice to see that Dili is recovering a little after years of unrest and the mess that was their independence. I'm pleasantly surprised by the seemingly high demand there is for air service to and from the capital.
Thanks again for the awesome report. It was definitely worth the read!
henkybaby From Netherlands, joined May 2008, 593 posts, RR: 4 Reply 12, posted (3 years 1 month 3 weeks 6 days 13 hours ago) and read 8853 times:
Thanks for the response guys. Quoting on my mobile does not really work well so allow me to answer some inquiries without it.
The meals were indeed delicious but there was no choice. You were simply offered a cardboard box and that was it. Not that I was complaining mind you. I did not expect any food at all.
It may also be worthwhile noting that you basically have 2 Merpatis. One flying domestic (disaster) and one flying the few international routes with newer planes which are also better maintained to meet safety requirements. I would have had more of an issue flying them domestic, I must admit.
The DPS-DIL is almost always booked solid. That is because there is a large expat contingency on Timor-Leste (UN and all kinds of NGOs, large diving community, etc) and only 3 ways to get there. You fly either from DPS, SIN or Darwin. DPS is by far the cheapest flight ($350 against $700+) so that route is chosen most. Singapore is popular too since it was wet leased by Silkair to Timorair. They now only dry lease the plane though, I believe.
That popularity is also the reason for checking in 2 hours before. Check in was open and I was by no means the first to check in. The flights is oversold quite often. Maybe elsewhere it is a way to get you into the airport early so you will spend some money in the local shops/restaurants and bars. Quite clever really...
I agree that Bali is becoming very touristy again. It is now definitely back to the 'before the bombs' status. That means you will have to be more careful about where you stay, but you can still find very good places to stay that give you that wonderful Bali-feeling. It remains one of my favorite destinations although I can see why people don't agree.
Timor-Leste seems to be doing quite well. They have found immense oil & LNG reserves so they are basically a rich country and will go through very rapid development. With the LNG plant now being built onshore instead of floating a large problem for the government is resolved. The people wanted the plant onshore because they feel (somewhat justifiably) that Australia and all the others are stealing their wealth. I can't wait to go back there and hopefully keep visiting over the next 10 years to see how the country is developing.
RamblinMan From United States of America, joined Oct 2010, 1107 posts, RR: 1 Reply 15, posted (3 years 1 month 3 weeks 3 days 5 hours ago) and read 8002 times:
Quoting henkybaby (Reply 12): I would have had more of an issue flying them domestic, I must admit.
Aw, come on, it's fun to live dangerously! When we landed in Bima, we came in high and fast, plowed into the runway and then braked HARD. We came to a full stop, then turned left off the runway. I was looking out the right window and estimated we had stopped no more than 20 meters from where pavement ended and water began!
When we reached the terminal, I chuckled to realize that our arrival was THE daily flight at Bima. After the plane loaded up to return to DPS, the terminal shut down for the day!
cadamosto From Portugal, joined Jul 2010, 44 posts, RR: 0 Reply 17, posted (3 years 1 month 1 week 5 days 9 hours ago) and read 7141 times:
I've flown this route a dozen times in the last 4 years, and the plane was always full or close to that. A very high LF for sure.
The other option, the Silkair SIN-DIL, is much more convenient (when you go from or to Europe), but the fares are terribly high (more than double the MZ ones). The couple of times I flown with them last year, the plane was half empty. They intended to rise from 2x weekly to 3x,April 2010, but gave up.
Quoting BAViscount (Reply 1): What on earth was the dessert?? It looks like a pickled rose!!
The jelly dessert looks weird (sometimes green or blue), tastes awfully.
Genius12 From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2007, 191 posts, RR: 2 Reply 19, posted (3 years 1 month 1 day 10 hours ago) and read 6586 times:
Interesting report henkybaby, thanks for sharing. Reports featuring less well-known airlines are getting rarer! Whilst the food certainly looks more than adequate, I don't think I'd want to fly with Merpati any time soon!
reifel From Germany, joined Feb 2005, 1264 posts, RR: 1 Reply 23, posted (3 years 1 month 9 hours ago) and read 6222 times:
Excellent report! When I was back in Indonesia 1 year ago on vacation I planned to fly to Timor Leste as well, but flights with Merpati where terribly expensive ( I guess it must be their most profitable route) and going by Land would mean no possibilty to get a visa on arrival and even more problematic: No way to get a visa on arrival at the boarder for getting back to Indonesia. Not fancy to be stuck in Timor because it would take ages to get a visa from the Indonesian embassy in Dili and miss my flight to Europe I finally cancelled all those plans.
I then tried to get on a Merpati flight from DPS to CGK, but you can only pay online if you have an indonesian credit card, which I don't. I had to go to the airport to pay there and issue my ticket, but the ticketing office was already closed. Finally settled with Batavia.