I found myself doing something irrational, from a financial point of view, that is. Here I was, traveling on Company business, and yet deliberately forgoing my entitlement to claim for the airfare. You see, let’s just say my company had become “budget conscious” in recent years, and therefore there’s an unspoken/unwritten rule that employees should travel on Air Asia unless AK doesn’t cover that route. By flying on MAS I would have to fork out my own money, for I wouldn’t dare submit a claim for MYR437 + 36 (fuel surcharge) versus Air Asia’s MYR169.99 + 20 (fuel surcharge). But you’ll soon see there’s some reason for such irrationality.
One of the things that would emerge from the recent "upheaval" at MAS, following Idris Jala’s appointment as CEO, is a rather drastic rationalization of MAS domestic routes & flights. At the time I made the booking, full details were not yet known, BUT the following statement in a press release circa 19 March 2006 led to my irrational action:
“Meanwhile, effective 15 May 2006, as part of its continued efforts to enhance KLIA as a regional hub, Malaysia Airlines will realign some of its weekly Kuala Lumpur/Kota Kinabalu/Tokyo, Tokyo/Kota Kinabalu/Kuala Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur/Kota Kinabalu/Osaka services to operate direct between KLIA and the Japanese cities. This move is also expected to further improve connectivity between Malaysia Airlines’ international and domestic network.”
What the, hey, that means far fewer B777s or A330s flying between BKI and KUL!! (They didn’t say the ICN/BKI/KUL (using A330) routing would be “realigned”, though, nor was there any mention of the fate of the "pure domestic" MH2617 on Mon, Wed and Sat using A332, so, that’ll mean at most there’ll be only 5 widebody flights per week left between BKI & KUL, down from 10). Even then, I anticipate the remaining widebody flights will either be dropped or downgraded to B734. But definitely no more B777s.
After considering my travel plans for the next 3-4 years, I figured out I wouldn’t be on a B777 anytime soon, and so, (as mentioned quite a few times in previous trip reports) being such a great appreciator of the B777 (esp. those that are the "domestic leg" of international flights, like NRT/BKI/KUL, since their standard of inflight service is superior to "pure domestic"), I concluded I couldn’t afford to miss this opportunity, even though it’s at my own cost, esp. since it’ll be a “farewell trip”. In fact, and especially with MAS abolishing their Supersaver fares (50% off full fare) around 20 March 06, it looks like future trips to KUL would be on Air Asia. The Red Curtain is slowly but surely descending on us………
Flight No.: MH81
Date: 30 March 2006
Aircraft: B777-200 (9M-MRN)
From: Kota Kinabalu (BKI) To: Kuala Lumpur (KUL)
Published distance: 1,014 miles or 1,632 km
Scheduled departure/arrival: 1930-2200
Fare paid: MYR437 + fuel surcharge 36 (MYR 15 only, up to 19/3/2006)
Class: Economy (Y)
1824 I had been sitting inside the departure concourse for almost 2 hours, when the B777 from Narita landed. During that time, the monotony was broken by numerous announcements over the PA system - MAS passengers on various flights were summoned BY NAME to go to their gates for IMMEDIATE BOARDING. 2 ways to look at this: either we have lots of inconsiderate stragglers here, or the Kota Kinabalu Airport MAS ground crew service is so good that you'd get a personalised reminder........ Apart from the monotony of MAs B737-400s, there was a Royal Brunei A319 (VB-RBR) coming in.
1830 9M-MRN parks at Gate 1. From where I was seated, even in the fading sunset, I had a great unobstructed view of its right side.
1840 Cargo hold door opened. (10 mins after docking??? Is that slow or what?) Meanwhile, lots of disembarking (quite a number were on transit to KUL) pax walked past me.
1905 Boarding call made; but even as we queued, for about 5 minutes, the gate agents closed the gate and didn't process the pax in the queue. Maybe something wasn't ready. Deduct one point here, please.
1911 I enter the most "homely" of aircraft cabins thru Door 1L. Greeted by the sight of the First Class seats, aha, this bird hasn't been refurbished yet, and so anyone who wants to fly F Class on MH's B777 still has a chance, before the F Class is consigned to history. As I walked past Door 2R, a FA was decking a trolley with lots of glasses and "front end" drinks like pink guava juice, etc. Sorry, none for me.....
1912 Settled into seat 35J. Add half a bonus point for the pillow and blanket lying on the seat......
1943 The cabin is nearly full by now. First Officer Richie (or was it Vishi, or Rishi???) comes on air to tell us we're 7 mins behind schedule, and are waiting for the last pax to board. A number of Japanese FAs were on this flight, all of them female. Most of the announcements (made in Malay and English) were translated into Japanese by them.
1945 An order is made for cabin crew to check and arm all doors.
1946 Pushback. I tried changing the mode on the IFE control panel from "AUD" (audio) to "VID" (video), and hey presto, the screen in front of me turned on. Turned to Channel 12, which would show the flight data and info. No earphones are available on this flight segment, so, the only "entertainment" on this flight are the IFE games, or the flight data.
1947 Safety video screened. The first parts of it showed that a B747-400 cabin was being used to film the action. After that a B777 cabin was seen.
1950 Begin taxiing
1952 Safety demo ends
1953 Lined up at one end of the runway, ready for take off. One minute was spent burning up some precious fuel.
1954 Take off roll begins, and lasted for about 25 seconds. The IFE system foul up then took place at the wrongest (give credit to me if this word ever makes its way into everyday use of English) of times, and the LCD screen went blank. Fortunately, I happened to almost immediately check the IFE control panel, and it showed that I'm now in "AUD" mode. Quickly switched it back into "VID" mode, to Channel 12, but when the screen came back to life, it was too late to see what our takeoff speed might have been. All I know is that about 60 seconds after takeoff, the speed was 301 km/h (187 mph).
1956 325 km/h (202 mph); 3,077 feet altitude
1958 485 km/h (301 mph); 4,435 ft
1959 518 km/h (322 mph). 30 seconds later, it's 555 km/h (345 mph)
2000 611 km/h (380 mph)
2001 629 km/h (391 mph); 10,023 ft. The cabin crew swing into action when the seat belt lights were turned off
2002 670 km/h (416 mph); 14,075 ft; 2 degrees C outside
2004 714 km/h (444 mph); 18,000 ft; -6 deg C outside
2005 740 km/h (460 mph); 21,500 ft; -12 deg C
2006 776 km/h (482 mph); 24,500 ft
2007 790 km/h (491 mph); 25,500 ft; -20 deg C
2008 819 km/h (509 mph); 27,500 ft
2009 850 km/h (528 mph); 29,500 ft; -30 deg C. A bit of turbulence!!
2010 866 km/h (538 mph); 31,000 ft
2011 883 km/h (549 mph); 32,500 ft
2013 901 km/h (560 mph); 34,000 ft. A meal cart rolls past, and the FAs served the kids first before moving on.
2014 919 km/h (571 mph); 35,000 ft; -44 deg C
2015 914 km/h (568 mph); 36,500 ft
2016 916 km/h (569 mph); 38,000 ft; -52 deg C
2017 929 km/h (577 mph); 39,000 ft. We reach cruising altitude. It's -54 deg C outside
2020 The hot meal service begins as we encounter some turbulence. But those FAs are so calm....... Maybe I should learn something from them in relation to my fear of turbulence........ First Officer comes on air to tell us we're cruising at 39,000 feet, at 850 km/h (528 mph). But at just around that time, the screen showed it's 916 km/h (569 mph)!!!! The FO advised that due to "converging winds" we may encounter some turbulence. I admire the ability of the Japanese FA to memorise and from there translate 2 or 3 minutes of his speech!!
2022 918 km/h (570 mph)
2024 924 km/h (571 mph)
2030 The meal cart reaches me. The Japanese FA mistook me for a Japanese. On offer are as follows:
Appetizer: Potato Salad with slice (a thin one, while we're at it) of salmon
Main course: Fried fish slices in tomato-based gravy and noodles OR Chicken (curry??) and rice
Others: Warm roll and butter (Add half a bonus point for the warmth, if you please)
Dessert: Ugh, it's back to the days of Tajuddin, eh? Yes, a yellow-coloured slab of JELLY!!!
Mineral water cuplet
Coffee or tea
Proper metal cutlery was used, unlike plastic on "pure domestic" flights.
No sooner had she placed the tray on my table, than the turbulence started again. Darn, it always happens at mealtimes! The coffee swirled menacingly in my cup, threatening to breach the embankment and tsunamise all around it. Now I understand why FAs seem to always fill drinks up to 2/3 full. But for now, the half bonus point awarded for the blanket/pillow (see 1912 above) was well deserved, for here I was, draped in the blanket, not having to worry about my shirt getting black coffee stains!
Appetizer was good, but the taste of the noodles, ugh. The (Japanese lady) pax sitting next to me was unimpressed, and only consumed the mineral water.
2050 919 km/h (571 mph). The FAs begin retrieving trays.
2051 933 km/h (580 mph)
2107 942 km/h (585 mph). We have flown past Indonesia's Natuna Islands
2109 955 km/h (593 mph)
2110 957 km/h (595 mph). The FAs had retreated to the galleys, but were responsive whenever anyone needed something.
2119 946 km/h (588 mph)
2122 950 km/h (590 mph)
2125 951 km/h (591 mph)
2129 950 km/h (590 mph)
2130 922 km/h (573 mph)
2131 888 km/h (552 mph); 38,500 ft. Engines are noticeably quieter as we begin descent off the Pahang coast.
2133 898 km/h (558 mph); 36,000 ft
2134 937 km/h (582 mph); 34,000 ft. We are now flying over land, having crossed the Pahang coast
2135 942 km/h (585 mph); 31,500 ft. Turbulence again; there's a feeling of rapid descent right now.
2136 875 km/h (544 mph); 26,500 ft
2137 855 km/h (531 mph); 23,500 ft
2138 830 km/h (516 mph); 22,500 ft
2140 684 km/h (425 mph); 18,000 tf
2141 631 km/h (392 mph)
2142 Announcement that we'll be landing soon made. It then goes on to warn that drug traffiking is a very serious offence in Malaysia, and that on conviction MAY result in capital punishment (no more use of the words "death penalty", I see). Advised everyone to read carefully the warning on the immigration form (which contains the warning of the "D" word)
2143 628 km/h (390 mph); 14,615 ft
2144 616 km/h (383 mph); 13,806 ft
2145 594 km/h (369 mph); 9,930 ft. Wow, that must have been some steep descent!
2146 586 km/h (364 mph); 9,091 ft
2148 439 km/h (273 mph); 6,373 ft
2149 446 km/h (277 mph)
2150 436 km/h (271 mph); 4,478 ft
2151 423 km/h (263 mph); 3,740 ft
2152 At this point, the flight data screening started to be interrupted by those pesky ads of a few of Kuala Lumpur's famous landmarks.
2153 290 km/h (180 mph); 2,489 ft. The engines are really quiet now. 30 seconds later, it's 283 km/h (176 mph) and 2,508 ft.
2154 Once again, the IFE system foul up happened, and the screen went blank. Thanks to recently-acquired experience, I quickly switched it back into "VID" mode, Channel 12. [See what happened at 1954]
2155 243 km/h (151 mph); 934 ft. We're on final approach
2156 243 km/h (151 mph); 531 ft. Those pesky ads (see 2152 above) meant that I have no more data after this.
2157 Touchdown!!! And what a marvelous one, too. Have you ever had a touchdown that's so smooth it’s almost like just a little "thud", and no more? So unlike those B734s, with their bumpy landings and after that, the feeling that the plane is threatening to veer off that straight line that runs down the runway, and the pilots struggling to keep it on that straight middle line!!!! And even as we raced down the runway, there was no sound of the engines roaring as thrust reversers are applied! I repeat, no sound of engines roaring! Maybe someone might be able to comment on whether it's possible to not use thrust reversers, or maybe the engines are so quiet it couldn't be heard? (I do note that a minute or so before touchdown, our speed was 243 km/h, which is rather much slower than the "usual" 300 km/h or so)). Hooray, and bonus points all round, if you please........
It was then that I noticed that the 2 seats in front of me were still in the full recline position. Aha, no FA had bothered to perform any check on this!! Deduct half a point here, if you please.......
Aircraft at Satellite Building as we taxiied past were a SQ B777-200 and a Yemenia A330-200. We reached Gate A4 at the Main Terminal Building at 2201, and despite pushback at BKI at 1946 (delayed by 15 mins), we arrived at KUL virtually on time.
Gate A4 used to be Air Asia territory until so very recently. The riff-raff (see my next trip report, which is on Air Asia, to understand why I'm in no mood to be politically correct) have since moved out, causing the Main Terminal Building to become underutilised. So maybe that's why we didn't dock at the Satellite Building.
After disembarking, I boarded an aerotrain to get to the Satellite Building to do a little bit of "duty-free" shopping, but it's not for liquor or cigarettes, and so the outlet's staff didn't ask to see my passport and boarding pass. When I reached the baggage claim, it was around 2240, and I was surprised to see no one at the carousel; in fact, the carousel had stopped running. I always thought baggage would be slow in coming out, but I guess since we didn't park at the Satellite Building, that's how it got to be so fast. My baggage was nowhere to be seen, and I was directed to the "unclaimed" baggage office, where, to my enormous relief, it was found.
As I emerged into the Arrival Hall, I noticed a few policemen within the cordoned off area - they are there to curb those pesky taxi touts who are alleged to be unsafe drivers, use unsafe vehicles, who give a negative first impression to foreign tourists, etc. etc. Not only them; there was an article in that day's newspaper in which the government warned touts from hotel/tour operator counters nearby to cease their touting. As I walked past a smartly-dressed gentlemen, I heard the word "taxi?"; a few metres ahead, another one asked me "taxi COUPON?". Blxxdy hell, they cleared out all those touts, only for the blxxdy AIRPORT LIMO TOUTS to begin their touting activities. Apparently the no-touting rule doesn't apply to Airport Limo!!!!! I headed for the Express Rail Link, in my conscious effort to help minimise the needless consumption of fuel. Let's see when the Malaysian Prime Minister will begin to tackle this Airport Limo monopoly........