Singapore - Kuala Lumpur
Seat 3A (First Class, redemption ticket)
I started this journey rather early in the day, as I wanted to try taking the train from the suburb I lived in – Jurong, which is situated from the other side of the Singapore Island. I like to call it “the edge of existence” because there are no more residential areas beyond. I found it rather cumbersome trying to navigate through the station lugging my baggage and the train I was in had no facilities to store them. Still, it is a relatively cheap way to get to the airport and it cost a fraction of my normal cab fare.
I disembarked from the train into a seriously spacious station at Changi Airport that still smelled very new. Indeed, it took the Singapore government all this time to extend the train service line to the airport since it opened in 1981.
Since I arrived at the airport very early before my scheduled departure time of 1320H, a lady at Row 11 rudely said, “Hello, we not open yet ah! Come back at eleven ten.”
I wonder who offended her? I had an empty stomach and felt too weak for a snide retort so I decided to let it go. I spent the next hour or so lounging around the viewing gallery and the traffic movements outside said little of the comparison with the traffic volumes in Narita. The usual suspects stood outside like an MAS 737-400 at gate F30, wait a minute… a colorful 757-200 of Cebu Pacific just sneaked past on her return flight to Ninoy Aquino - Manila! What an exquisite looking aircraft!
Photo © Tsung Tsen Tsan
After that splash of vibrancy, the boring SIA colours dominated the rest of the duration. An SIA 772 (9V-SVL) taxied to Gate E3 still looking resplendently shiny after a long haul. I noticed it still has the bluish engine tips. Another Fed Ex MD 11 ambled along with a Cathay Pacific 773 rumbling off to the skies in the background. 2 SIA A310s (9V-STD and 9V-STQ) sat silently at F32 and E2 respectively, contemplating their after lives when their retirement from SIA is called for very shortly.
I returned to Row 11 at 1110H and found that they were still closed. Check in personnel (all one of them) nonchalantly slipped into his desk at 1130H and began the proceedings. I was asked for my seat preference and I replied that I had Seat 4A reserved for me by the MAS office. I was rewarded with a quizzical look from Hamzah as he told me that that seat was already taken but offered 3A instead. And he also said that this flight was “free seating”. What the hell is he talking about? I concluded that this was a fine example of the fantastic ground service of Malaysia Airlines in action.
Fortunately he didn't forget my Golden Lounge invitation.
I headed for the immigration afterwards and proceeded to the open air viewing gallery for the smokers. Heading outside for a fag, the scene on the tarmac was pretty much SIA dominated. But the MAS 737 was gone but there were a few additional SIA 744 Megatops that was positioning themselves for long hauls to London (code share with Virgin Atlantic) and Frankfurt (code share with Lufthansa).
2 Silkair A320s now joined the party as a Royal Brunei 757-200 departed for Bandar Seri Begawan.
I decided to run up to the lounge for a quick bite before coming back down again.
Gate F30 was empty for a while before MH 649 made an appearance at 1245H, operated by a clean looking 737-400 (9M-MML) that had a transit in Singapore from Kuching. Entering the departure holding area, I had a glimpse of my fellow passengers that consisted of a crying infant (Oh my God… and a loud Japanese man yelling into his mobile phone. The sunny skies outside also gave way to angry and dark rolling storm clouds, rather characteristically normal for this time of the year. While the cleaning crew rushed to ready the flight, “Days of Our Lives” on TV entertained us as we sat waiting in the comfy confines. Yawn… Like sand through the hourglass, these… are the days of our lives.
The call to board was announced at 1315H. While all rushed to the gate, there was no call for First Class passengers (they were invited to board at their own leisure) or boarding by row numbers. Probably because it was a small plane, there was no need for it. I knew that there was going to be a human jam in the plane so I took my time and spent a bit more time in the lounge typing this report on my laptop.
True enough, even as I wasted some time in the lounge, there was still a jam within the aerobridge. While I was queuing up to board, I thought I saw the Malaysian singer / actor M. Nasir standing next to me.
The Leading Steward, Kamal, welcomed me on board. I settled into my seat 3A pretty quickly despite the human jam. A hot towel and a pre-takeoff drink (guava juice, as usual) order was taken and served promptly by another stewardess, Christine Tan. 9M-MML has the new interiors but still retained the old overhead buttons and reading lamps.
1320H came and went but the boarding continued. Looks like we were delayed but there were no announcements regarding this. This incident was just a start of what was to be an eventful journey of delays.
Nevertheless, we pushed back at 1335H as my empty glass and towel was collected discreetly by Cristine.. First Class was almost full except for 4 seats, which were visibly empty inclusind the one next to me. A young boy shrieked over in Economy Class proudly pointing out to his parents that he saw M. Nasir. Looks like my suspicions were right then!
Manual safety demonstrations followed while we taxied for rwy 20R behind a EVA 747-400 Combi, Silkair A319 and a SIA 777-200 (9V-SQD). While the heavies took off before us, there was another wait for wake turbulence separation before finally powering off at 1340H.
Photo © Paul Arnold
The dark and stormy skies did not help smoothen the initial phase of the flight. We immediately hit some rather severe jolts as we climbed into the fierce and fiery Cumulonimbus clouds. As the jolts and buffet continued, a continuous “swooshing” sound was heard in various pitches that seem to echo throughout the cabin. The airframe was also shuddering alarmingly when suddenly, a few bins popped open dislodging its contents onto the passenger in 1C. Screams were heard from the Economy cabin behind the bulkhead. All these happened to the tune of “Let It Snow” softly playing in the background, which I thought was rather interesting.
The turbulence played itself out once we got out of the clouds and stabilized over Johor Bahru. Christine got out of her crew seat behind the galley to check on the passenger if he was all right. Once the cabin was straightened, refreshments were handed out but I declined any, still full from my lunch at the lounge.
Our captain today was quite modest about flight updates so there was not much I could find out. Descend manifested itself at 1405H while Captain Narinder came on to tell us that we would be landing 5 mins late. The weather in KLIA was “fine” and a surface temperature of 31 deg Celsius. Service items were quickly cleared while Kamal made arrival announcements.
I suddenly realized that I did not have any disembarkation card with me but the friendly Christine later handed it to me. Trying to fill up the card during the bumpy approach was a challenge. A very, very hard landing on rwy 32L – in fact, I think the aircraft bounced once as we touched down, ended the rough journey at 1435H. Not a very smooth flight overall.
We taxied for disembarkation at Gate A6, but there was just one final glitch – there wasn’t a aerobridge controller! Sigh, the captain then announced that Malaysian Airports was in charged of the aerobridges and Malaysia Airlines had no control over what was happening. So he thanked us for our “kind understanding”. We finally disembarked from the aircraft at 1450H after a 10 min wait.
KLIA was busy with arriving passengers on KLM, Gulf Air and Garuda so the immigration had their hands full. Lines stretched all over the place it got a little confusing as to where the lines led to. I saw a “Premier Lane” reserved for First and Business Class passengers only so I headed that way. Unfortunately, the airline had forgot to give me my Premier Card in Singapore so the immigration officer refused to serve me. I tried pleading and even showed her my boarding pass that proved that I was indeed a First Class passenger. But she kept mumbling “Card! Card! Card!” that in the end, I gave up and joined the sea of humanity.
I saw what I assumed was a male supervisor milling about the lines and promptly explained the situation to him. After taking a glimpse at my boarding pass, he directed me back to the Premier Lane. Sneering at the immigration officer, I told her that this was all very unnecessary if only she looked at my boarding pass. Before I could continue, she slammed my passport of the counter and waved me off. How rude!
After that hoo-ha, my baggage was thankfully going in circles at Carousel A because I was expecting it to be lost after the last few unlucky encounters. I managed to get myself on the express train to town, called the KLIA Express. As advertised, it got me to KL City in 28mins. However, due to the traffic jams, I only made it to the hotel at 1700H.
So this is the start of my Xmas holidays in Kuala Lumpur. Look out for my return trip report!
Check in: 3/10... rude check in staff and what happened to my pre-assigned seat?
Departure: 6/10... Lack of control for the boarding of the 737.
In flight service: 9/10... Impeccable once again
Arrival: 3/10... the Premier Lane screw up soured things for me.
Overall: this journey with Malaysia Airlines scored 52.5%. It comes to show just how a perfect flight can be marred by bad ground handling.