I didn't have my notepad with me this time as my wife & I were travelling together with our nearly 2 year old daughter, so, everything below is from memory, and isn't as detailed as my other trip reports........
PART ONE: TO KUALA LUMPUR
Flight no.: MH 51
From: Kota Kinabalu (BKI) To: Kuala Lumpur (KUL)
Published Distance: 1,632 km, or 1,014 miles
Date: 19 Aug 2005
A/C type: B777-200
ETD: 1710, ETA: 1940 Actual flying time is usually around 2 hrs 15 mins.
Fare paid - self: half of MYR689 (MH's YEE30 excursion return fare - Class: Y)
Fare paid - wife: zero, instead, half of 25,000 of my Enrich FFP points! (Class: T)
Fare paid - daughter: MYR44 (infant fare; no separate seat)
Fuel surcharges paid: ZERO, as I had taken delivery of the tickets before 1 May '05, the date of imposition of surcharge Would have been MYR15 per pax (USD4 for a 1,014 mile sector - is that cheap or what?)
Seat no.: 35C
Deliberately chose this flight out of the many that ply the BKI-KUL route, give me a widebody over the B734 any day!! This one happened to the "domestic" leg of an international flight, which originated from Osaka-Kansai, i.e. KIX-BKI-KUL, and so, the standard of inflight service would be higher than that of "pure" domestic flights.
Sure enough, the first things we saw that were to our liking were the pillow and blanket on every seat as we boarded. And this on a 2.5 hours flight! Very useful for helping get our baby asleep - those of you who have travelled with infants on your lap will understand this!!! This wouldn't have been available on "pure" domestic flights. No inflight entertainment provided, though, except for the video games. Ah, now I noticed the lumbar support button, which I hadn't noticed in my 2 previous MH B777 flights.
A few Japanese stewardesses were on this plane, and they made the announcements in Japanese, which would have been very useful to the many Japanese pax bound for KUL. Screening of the safety briefing was in English (it wasn't loud enough), and I did notice that the video footage of the cabin interior was that of a B747-400, if the overhead stowage bins are anything to go by.
Flight was full, but the last row, seats 41A & C, were empty. I was later to find out that the words "Crew Seat" had been scribbled onto their head mats (or whatever that doohickey is called). It was soon after takeoff, and F/A Shanti, who noticed that I appeared to be looking for empty seats as she was walking by, very kindly offered them to me on seeing my toddler daughter on my wife's lap.
After a service of pre-poured OJ came dinner time. Again, the standard is higher than that of MH's "pure" domestic flights:-
Appetiser: salad with shrimps in thousand island dressing [NONE in pure domestic flts.]
Main course: Fish slices with noodles or Curry chicken with rice
Dessert: Chocolate mousse cake
Others: Warm bread roll + butter [NONE in pure domestic flts.]
Drinks: Red or White wine [NONE in pure domestic flts.], coffee/tea/OJ/Carlsberg beer
Proper metal cutlery was provided, unlike the plastic ones in pure domestic.
Such is the pitch (34 in.) on MH's B777 compared to their B734 (31 in., I think), that my wife was actually able to have her dinner while cradling our fast-asleep-in-near-horizontal-position (that's where the pillows came in handy!!) daughter across her lap. And what a wonder an extra inch of seat width can produce!
The LCD screen showed that we cruised at 37,000 feet, and if I recall correctly, takeoff speed was around 320 km/h or 200 mph. Cruising speed varied between 870 and 920 km/h, I think. Flight was smooth, and was a great contrast to the one I had taken a few hours ago on a B734 (no trip report for that one, as it was only 40 minutes long) - on that one, the air turbulence as the plane flew into the clouds was BAD - in addition to the regular shaking, at one point the plane suddenly dropped, say, 50 feet, causing some pax to scream. (More comment on air turbulence later.) So, the smooth flying on this flight was a much welcome relief.
It was almost sunset when we reached the coast of Peninsular Malaysia, that would be around 1900. Still, the F/As were kept busy serving drinks/beer/peanuts. The fare paid had been worth it, what an experience, flying in a widebody, esp. my favourite widebody. Air Asia, WITHOUT any
widebodies, is simply less attractive.
About half an hour after landfall, it was time to land. We approached from the north: banked to the left and faced SSE. Soon, to the left, Putrajaya came into view. The touchdown seemed a bit hard/bumpy for such a large aircraft, but at least there wasn't the usual dread of an almost-guaranteed bumpy touchdown when flying their B734s!
After the usual taxiing, we reached the (Satellite) terminal, but stopped short of the gate for some 2-3 minutes, engines still running. Announcement from the flight deck was that the gate wasn't ready yet (perhaps nobody was manning the aerobridge???). Hello, at crude oil prices nearing USD70 per barrel, MAS had just burnt some more very expensive fuel......... Malaysia Airports need to buck up here. Really. Not the first time this kind of thing has happened.
The aerotrain to the Main Terminal was PACKED, it seemed lots of pax from Iran had just arrived (I had seen an Iran Air B747-200 parked somewhere while taxiing). Proceeded past the Immigration counters, showing our identity cards and boarding passes to prove we were domestic pax. After retrieving baggage, we emerged from the Arrival Hall - this time the area immediately outside the Arrivals doors had been cordoned off. One suspects it's a (futile) attempt by the authorities to keep out the taxi touts. But they're still there, discreetly
asking if you "Taxi?" as soon as you walk out of the cordoned off area. But, hey, if I needed a taxi, I'd go for these touts indeed - I simply don't support the existing system of the KLIA Limo concessionaire!!!!
PART TWO: BACK TO KOTA KINABALU
Flight no.: MH 50
From: Kuala Lumpur (KUL) To: Kota Kinabalu (BKI)
Published Distance: 1,632 km, or 1,014 miles
Date: 27 Aug 2005
A/C type: B777-200
ETD: 2115, ETA: 2350 Actual flying time is usually around 2 hrs 15 mins.
Fare paid - self: another half of MYR689 (MH's YEE30 excursion return fare - Class: Y)
Fare paid - wife: zero, instead, another half of 25,000 of my Enrich FFP points! (Class: T)
Fare paid - daughter: MYR44 (infant fare; no separate seat)
For my return trip, I again deliberately chose the B777, even though the timing of the flight is such that I'd have to fork out money for one night's hotel in BKI, before catching the next morning's flight to Sandakan, my final destination. Again, this one is the "domestic" leg of an international flight, which is bound for Osaka-Kansai, i.e. KUL-BKI-KIX.
Arrived at KLIA at around 1830, and there was hardly any queue for check in, maybe because there are few domestic flights remaining that evening. Did some price inspection after check-in: a box of Cote D'Or chocolates (376 grammes) costs MYR31.90 in the public, non-duty-free area, while in the duty-free Departure area, it's MYR29.90. But at some supermarkets in KL, like Cold Storage, the equivalent costs as low as MYR27.92, and that's non-duty-free!!!!! Hmmmm.
As there was not much else to do, we proceeded to the Domestic departure area, and after a brief security check (they didn't ask for our identification documents!), we were in. Made our way to the place where you cross over to the International Departures area (as our flight was departing from the Satellite Terminal (Gate C2), which is for international flts.) Here, we were stuck in a queue, as only one Immigration counter was open. The 1st and 2nd person in queue were apparently from Bangladesh or India, and maybe because of this, rather unfairly, the officer took quite a long time examining their documents, much to the annoyance of the 3rd guy (a Malaysian) in the Q (I was right behind him). Suddenly, there was a loud altercation between this 3rd guy and the officer (didn't notice how it started, but maybe this 3rd guy might have asked the officer to hurry up).
[the following are not exact wordings]
Officer: ..... the queue is over here, not there....... [in fact, this may be what sparked off the altercation]
3rd Guy: yeah, but there's a (big round) pillar in front (of your counter), so how do people know (which side of the pillar the Q is supposed to be on)?
Officer: don't argue with me, OK? Wait for your turn.....
[3rd Guy continues to talk back, something about being in the Q so long, only one counter open, and also saying he'd want to know this officer's name, presumably to lodge a complaint? Officer replies something like "yah, you can have my name", but stopped short of announcing it]
Officer: don't argue with me, do you understand ME?
3rd Guy: of course I understand YOU, otherwise how can we (be having this exchange)???????
[some more exchange, then it stops. The 3rd Guy is now first in the Q.]
I was wondering what's going to happen when his turn comes, but at that moment, another officer came to the next counter, and announced, "Malaysian IC/passport". And this 3rd Guy immediately fled to the new counter, but as he left in triumph after being cleared to proceed, he couldn't resist firing a parting shot, something like "so sad, man" or was it "so sad with people like you around"? But he didn't get the officer's name, I don't think........
Slightly amusing. Maybe the presence of 2 French tourists in the Q made the officer restrain himself, otherwise who knows whether it would have been the Ugly Malaysian Civil Servant on display?????? Maybe.
From the aerotrain to the Satellite Terminal, we saw a Lufthansa A340-500 (judging by the shape/size of its engines compared to the -300 series). A JL B777 was also there somewhere.
Inside the Satellite Terminal, we visited the candy shops; one of them was together with liquor and tobacco. What I noticed was that the cashier would ask for passports & boarding passes for those who purchase liquor/tobacco, but in our case, since we only bought chocolates, no travel documents were demanded. If they had, we would not have qualified to buy at all, as we simply
weren't international pax!!
Starbucks was next, and immediately noticed the higher prices compared to downtown KL. A large ice blended cafe mocha costs MYR14.50, compared to MYR12.50 downtown. Not very many seats at this outlet, but we did manage to get one next to the window, with full view of the parking apron, and in particular, our B777 parked at C2. Next to it was a Saudi Arabian Airlines
B747-400, which pushed back around 2040 hrs. Soon after, a SQ B777 arrived and took over its place.
When we reached Gate C2 at around 2100, it was nearly empty as the boarding call had already been made. It was a great feeling again to be on the 777. Again, the flight was almost full, but the guy in across the aisle from me was lucky, nobody occupied the seat next to him. As for us, we had a great view of the SQ 777 to our right.
Departure was delayed by about 10-15 mins, and could have been due to a group of tourists (from Japan???) boarding a little late. That's ok, I'll have more time to "savour" the atmosphere on the 777, or so I thought. (I was later to find this flight NOT particularly enjoyable, although it's NOT MAS' FAULT. Read on).
So, pushback was at around 2130, and we took off at around 200 mph (320 km/h). Below, as we rose in a northerly direction, Putrajaya and its colourful lights rolled past, its wide boulevard standing out, while my toddler daughter appreciatively remarked something to the effect of "worms" when she saw all those illuminated highways piercing into pitch darkness. Banking to the right, we headed towards BKI.
Again, the pillows/blankets provided to every pax were most useful, and soon, my daughter fell asleep across my wife's lap, soon after pre-poured OJ was served. Then it was supper time, and of course, the standard was higher than that of MH's "pure" domestic flights:
Appetiser: red and yellow capsicum salad with mushrooms
Main course: Beef (Stroganoff?) with pasta, or ginger chicken with rice
Others: wholemeal bread roll + butter
Dessert: doohickey/whatchamacallit - sorry, don't quite know how to describe it, but that cake-like thing sure was not bad.
Drinks: no sign of the red/white wine this time. But the guy across the aisle from me was served a whole can of (Carlsberg) beer, and again some time later during the flight.
Meal service started from the rear of the cabin for the rear section of Y Class. Prior to the meal service, they served the little kids first - a good idea - perhaps so that parents will be "free" to help "feed" them. The Japanese stewardess mistook me for a Japanese, and so a stream of Japanese flowed as she presented the meal options to me. That's ok....
I sensed the F/As seemed to be very keen to quickly retrieve the trays of those who had finished their meals. But they were discreet about it. It was around this time that the "fasten seat belt" light went on, and the Captain himself announced that we should all stay seated, with belts fastened. And not for no reason - we were getting into quite a bit of air turbulence. Somewhere between Sibu and Bintulu, I noticed the flight path as shown on the screen had changed a bit: the plane had turned right and then after a short distance, turned left again to continue in the original direction. To avoid major turbulence? Uh-oh, memories of me in a B734 that dropped 50(?) feet 8 days ago came flooding back, and I fully understood why some people fear flying. But looking back, the turbulence was quite normal, I had been through
that kind of thing before. Not as bad as 8 days earlier.
I didn't get to enjoy the rest of the flight after supper, because of the on-off turbulence, I often found myself placing a restraining arm over my fast-asleep daughter, in case she got tossed out of her mum's hands in a bad-case scenario. The worst thing about the turbulence is the sound effects. While it was dark outside, one can rightly imagine those wings "bending" and "swaying" as the plane is struggling along - the problem is that I seemed to hear some
"whoop-whoop" sound, as though they were the sound of such swaying of wings. Or was it my imagination? The sound effect from within the cabin was no better - it was rather distressing to hear the sound of interior cabin parts (e.g. galleys) that are not fitted together tightly, knocking against each other during the sudden jarring caused by the turbulence. I had to reassure myself mentally - the plane's got lots of LIFT, what more at 550 mph!! It's not going
to suddenly fall out of the sky!!!!! Repeat: it's got LIFT!!!!!! And as for all that swaying of wings, hey, the plane's built to withstand it!!!!!!!
And so we continued on, and at some stage, the situation improved, and the seat belt light was actually switched off once, although not for long. The "crisis" over, everyone settled back into their usual routine, and the guy across the aisle from me did some inflight shopping, which I thought wasn't possible on the domestic leg of an international flight. Browsing through the inflight shopping catalogue (available in every seat pocket) he asked the stewardess for one of those leather wallets, and taking delivery of it, he immediately ripped it out of its packing, destroying the latter, perhaps so that, should he be searched by Customs at BKI, there's no evidence that he bought it inflight?
Then, with perhaps 25 minutes to go, it came back on, and the Captain ordered all (including cabin crew) to be seated, and specifically, to NOT use the toilets (no prizes for guessing some of the very inconvenient consequences of disobeying such an order!!). We might have started descending, and the turbulence was here again, this time apparently worse. We were expected to land at around 2345, but at around 2340, an announcement from the flight deck informed us that the control tower at BKI had advised that it was raining heavily at BKI airport, and visibility wasn't good. We would therefore circle the airport for around 10 minutes, waiting for the situation to improve.
So, we started the circling at 3,700 feet, ground speed around 375 km/h. Slowly, bit by bit, we descended to 2,800 feet, with speed dropping to around 290 km/h. There were thick clouds at one part of our circular flight path, and each time we went through it, the terror of the turbulence repeated itself, followed then by a reassuring calm. At one stage, we appeared to be approaching the runway, as I recognised the lights on the coast to be of some places that you'd see when you're on final approach. But the plane banked again to the left, and we circled again. A minute or 2 later, the First Officer came on air to tell us we had indeed aborted an approach; however, the situation had improved, and will be making another final approach soon.
And so, at around 0005, after spending ages circling, we made the final approach. Ground speed increased to over 300 km/h as the engines were turned up briefly. The lights of Lok Kawi, Petagas, Kepayan as we descended were most reassuring, and we probably touched down (smoothly) at 0010. The touchdown spot was perhaps somewhere not far before the halfway point of the runway (judging by the fact that we were still airborne as we flew past the terminal building, which is situated at one end of the runway), and this appears to be very common for almost all aircraft landing at BKI. I wonder why? Shouldn't a big aircraft like the 777 land with more runway length for it to decelerate, esp. since it's a wet runway?
And so we taxiied to Gate No. 1. At the remote parking bay next to Gate 6 was an Asiana plane (B767, if I'm not mistaken) - I understand it's a charter flight, apparently some Korean tourists had arrived not long before. At Gate 5 was a Royal Brunei B757, apparently parking overnight. Pax bound for Osaka-Kansai were given the option of disembarking or staying on board.
Cabin Crew Service: 9/10
Aircraft: 10/10 - I'm biased towards the 777!!
Food & drinks: 8/10
Other inflight amenities: 9/10
Overall Value: 8/10 - would have been 10/10 if the 50%-off Supersaver Fares had been available on the domestic leg of international flights! It would then have been MYR438 vs MYR689