You guessed it, here's another trip report by Ryan for your reading pleasure (he's really on a roll here)
Ryan's penchant for details never fails to amaze me.
Those familiar with KLIA will have no problem grasping what the first few paragraphs are all about.
Without further ado, I present to you the report...
Malaysia Airlines MH 1142, KUL – PEN, 737-400 (9M-MQH), Golden Club Class
This is the continuation of my journey from SIN – KUL on SQ 116 F Class (a trip report posted earlier).
My ride to KUL from Pantai in KL City began at 1000H. I catered extra time for jams in order to make it for my 1215H departure. Funny how jams were always visible in the city no matter what time of the day! Were they ever clear of it? Anyhow, the almost 1 hr taxi ride came to an end uneventfully. Once past the Nilai exit, KLIA in Sepang majestically rose above the trees in the distance – what a sight! Truly an airport in the jungle!
Malaysia Airlines has common check in desks separated into First and Golden Club Class, for domestic and international. Check in for my Penang-bound flight at the Golden Club counter was quick (A smile would have been good though!) and I was surprised that “Enrich Gold” was scribbled onto my baggage tag by the check in agent, even though I wasn’t one (I am just a “normal” Enrich member, MAS’ FFP). But I was given a priority tag so who is complaining? KLIA was quiet for that time of the day with very little international flights departing. In fact, I would say that the airport was almost empty! The large expanse of area made the emptiness more acute.
Domestic flights depart from the main terminal on the A and B concourses. International flights share half the gates on these two concourses (in addition to the satellite terminal) but the pax enter the departure gate holding area from separate controlled entrances one floor above on the mezzanine level. A clever way to combine facilities unlike most major airports where domestic and international flights normally depart from different terminals (like SYD – urgh!). Hence, this does away with the need for transfer buses or unnecessary long walks, as in the case of the old KL International Airport in Subang. The remaining half of the gates is solely for domestic departures with open gate holding areas and can only be accessed on the domestic level.
The entrance to the domestic departure gates is hidden at the two extreme corners of the main departure level. This is unlike the swanky entrance to international departures and immigration, which you can hardly miss. In fact, the “Domestic Departures” entrance is so low-key that you could miss it if you do not follow the signs. You could even mistake it for a checkpoint for airport employee access!
Unlike international departures, security checks for domestic flights are done just before access to A and B concourses, and not at the individual departure gate. Facilities are rather scarce on this level. Other than a small café and the MAS Golden Lounge, there is nothing much to see or do. There isn't even a spot to look at planes due to the way the concourse is built. The windows facing the main apron belong to departure gate holding areas so you could only see the planes from a distance along the common corridor.
The entrance to the MAS Golden Lounge is not as “drama-mama”
as the one at the international satellite terminal – no still water ponds, no big and wide reception area… In fact, if there weren’t a sign outside, you wouldn’t even think this was an entrance to an airline lounge. I guess the gold metal lettering “GOLDEN LOUNGE” on the wall is not enough, there is another mobile sign that has an arrow pointing towards the door that says “DOMESTIC GOLDEN LOUNGE”. The nondescript glass door leads you down a long corridor that brings you to the reception area. Significantly smaller than the international one, the domestic lounge is justifiably smaller, looking at the low-traffic frequency and aircraft used – mainly 737-400s. First and Golden Club pax share the same lounge (I wonder if there was even a First Class service on domestic routes?). Similarly decorated like all Golden Lounges, the white walls and pine wood panels brighten the lounge with the help of continuous floor to ceiling windows, very Ikea-like. There were only 3 domestic flights departing that afternoon, all 737-400s to Langkawi, Kota Kinabalu and Penang. Thus, the lounges had only 3 other persons in it and they were all on my flight. I guess there is only one location to spot planes on the domestic level and this is it. I took a seat at the end of the lounge that had an unobstructed view of both A concourse and the international satellite terminal. B concourse was blocked by Aerotrain tracks but I managed to catch a glimpse of a MAS A330 tail parked there.
*Yawn* There was hardly any aircraft movements. In a distance at the satellite terminal parked a Gulf Air A340 on a transit from Bahrain to Jakarta. A Royal Brunei 767-300 taxied for takeoff bound for Bandar Seri Begawan. Looking over to the A concourse, there were only 2 MAS 737-400s.
Since there was no apron action, I started to munch on the snack offerings. I found the same old “hot savouries” which I am sure they were going to serve on board later! The thick carpet drowned any noise within except for the soft mutterings of a CNN newscaster from a TV at the corner.
Boarding at gate A09 followed soon after. The 737-400 seemed to be lightly loaded because I did not see many people at the holding area. The First Class cabin was designated to be Golden Club Class today. Unlike SQ, MAS uses the same seat headrest cover for all classes so there was no need to change it. I settled down in seat 2F and immediately noticed the seat’s peach colored fabric was old and faded. The cabin walls look old and the yellowish fluorescent lighting made the environment dark even in daylight. My order for lunch was taken after the smiling stewardess served me my pre-takeoff drink.
“Good afternoon Mr. Soh. Would you like some refreshments after takeoff? We will be serving crumbed prawns and hot savories today.” True enough, more hot savories similar to the ones found in the lounge.
I nodded at the stewardess and wondered if MAS was ever going to change the menu for First and Club Class on short sectors? But I should not complain because US domestic airlines do not even serve food on a 45-min sector. If you are lucky, you would get a packet of pretzels and a cup full of ice with two drops of coke!
“Selamat sejahtera dan selamat datang tuan tuan dan puan puan, ke Penerbagan Malaysia pesawat MH1142 ke Pulau Pinang…”
Announcements on domestic flights are only made in Bahasa Melayu so I wondered what about those Caucasian tourists? My window was badly scratched from the outside so that dashed my hopes of taking any photographs without messing up the auto focus on my camera.
There was no delay in lining up the aircraft. Takeoff clearance must have been issued almost immediately because the aircraft started to roll even before we were straightened out on the runway. I caught sight of the Sepang Formula One circuit as we got airborne into the cloudy skies. Initially a little bumpy, the baby Boeing stabilized as soon as we flew above the overcast to our assigned cruising altitude. As there was only 4 pax in the cabin, the stewardess laid out the linen and served refreshments at a leisurely pace. Guava juice and a bowl of fruits accompanied the savories, which was prepared in the galley and served individually to the pax on warm plates! Nice touch! The same smiling stewardess walked by a few times to top up my glass. Wonderful service for a short sector. The coast of Peninsular Malaysia was occasionally visible through several breaks in the clouds beneath.
Flight time from KUL – PEN is 55mins. Shortly after the trays were cleared, we began our descend for Penang International Airport (PEN). Many layers of thin clouds blocked out the sun and mainland Malaysia was visible in the distance as we flew further out into the Straits of Malacca. Penang Island appeared through the hazy skies and so did the Penang Bridge. The bridge concerned is Asia’s second longest bridge after the Tsing Ma Bridge in Hongkong. Before the bridge was opened in the mid-eighties, the only way to get to Penang if you were driving was via a car-ferry service from Butterworth.
As we descended further, I spotted the airport’s lone runway, which looked so short from where we were! Approaching the airport from the south, normal in January due to northerly winds, a line of white beach was visible just before the runway threshold. Landing, though not as scenic as Phuket or Langkawi, afforded a bird’s eye view of the southern part of this slow-moving island. Further north along the eastern coast of Penang, Georgetown (the island’s compact city center), was visible through the haze no doubt demarcated by the tallest building Komtar Towers. A further slight turn to the right lined our aircraft with the runway. This time, gears were lowered and flaps extended further for the final approach.
Full reverse thrusts were deployed in an attempt to slow the aircraft as we roared along the runway upon landing.
“Tuan tuan dan puan puan, selamat datang ke Pulau Pinang…”
Ah… the romantic charms of the “Pearl of the Orient”, as Penang is often referred to! The small airport has Javanese-inspired arched roof designs which has been there since they opened their doors many decades ago. This timeless design has survived through the ages and still looks good today. As we turned onto the taxiway, I noticed many wooden houses and even a school with students visible within classrooms, built right up to the airport boundary. Immediately west of the airport was mountainous terrain.
The small airport terminal had several aerobridges and further south, is the cargo terminal where a giant China Airlines 747-200F parked. Noticed I used the word “giant” because the 747 looked so big next to the small terminal building. Another CAL 737-800, docked at an aerobridge, probably just arrived from Taipei. Other than that, there were no other aircraft at the airport.
The recently renovated Penang International Airport looks splendid within. The rectangular terminal reminds me a little of Brisbane International (BNE), but on a slightly smaller scale. Concept of the airport is similar to BNE – one main terminal with two finger piers extending parallel to the compound from both corners. And the piers are always growing longer and longer as time progresses. PEN is one of the international gateways of Malaysia, together with Kuching (KCH), Kota Kinabalu (BKI), Kuala Lumpur (KUL), Langkawi (LGK) and Johor Bahru (JHB)… I think, provided the sector between JHB – Bali (DPS) is still operating.
The new arrival level is located on the ground level, as opposed to the first level in the past. This freed up more space for more duty free shops in the departure hall! My luggage was the first one out on the carousel no doubt due to the priority tag. I took an airport limousine and began my 3-day “chill-time” in the Batu Ferringhi beach area, the second part of my holiday!
Look out for the reports of my return journey PEN – KUL on MH, and KUL – SIN on SQ…
There's always a better way to fly...