If there had been a point-to-point service from Sandakan (SDK) to Ipoh (IPH), the flight would have taken 2 hrs 45 mins. Instead, I find myself on a 3-legged journey, arriving at my ultimate destination 10 hours later! Not a very big problem, though, if you're travelling in C Class as I was; I was able to use 15,000 of my wife's soon-to-expire Enrich FFP points to get a one-way upgrade...... Thanks, Honey. Wish you were with me (but then, you might grab the C seat and leave me to languish in Y.....). Thinking pleasant thoughts of you during the flight.......
1st LEG: Sandakan (SDK) to Kota Kinabalu (BKI)
Date: 21 Oct 2003
Sheduled ETD: 0820; ETA: 0900 (Flight time: 40 mins)
Published distance: 223 km / 139 miles
Seat No.: 3F (C Class)
The 1st leg of my journey takes me to MH's East Malaysian mini-hub of BKI. This hub connects to East Malaysian towns like SDK, Tawau (TWU), Lahad Datu (LDU), and is also a stopover point for some of MH's flights from KUL to HKG, TPE, Kaohsiung (KHH), AA), Japan">NRT, SEL, MNL, Cebu (CEB), & recently/soon, Guangzhou (CAN), Xiamen (XMN) and the Indonesian cities of Balikpapan (BPN) & Manado (MDC). For those travelling in a westerly direction, BKI is connected to Labuan (LBU), BWN, MZV, MYY, BTU, SBW, KCH and JHB. Australian Airlines also flies here non-stop to/from SYD. Other visitors are BI (Royal Brunei), KA (DragonAir) and of course, AK (Air Asia).
I arrived at SDK Airport at 0720. By local standards, I'm early - many people here arrive to check in about 45 minutes before the flight. I headed for the F/C Class counter, but no one was manning it. Not a problem - at one of the 2 Y Class counters open, there's no one, so I headed for it. Within 2 minutes, the boarding passes for all 3 legs of my journey were issued.
There's no Golden Club Lounge at SDK, so I went upstairs to the viewing gallery, next to the cafeteria. At the staircase landing, I looked back and noticed someone approach the C counter; one of the MH staff present immediately went behind it to take care of him as a second C Class pax joined the queue. The viewing gallery presented the view of an empty parking apron and 2 aerobridges somewhat obstructing the view. Besides the aerobridges, there's enough space for another 3 or 4 aircraft - one of these remote bays (to the right) is utilized by Air Asia - you can see 2 manual staircases idling there. Well, when Malaysia Airports charges you RM85 for the first hour for aerobridges, your response is, well, the no-frills way......
At 0735, a B737-400 (9M-MMJ) lands - SDK Airport is one of the few that makes public announcements when flights arrive, and so a voice comes on air: "Mengumumkan ketibaan pesawat MH2042 dari Kota Kinabalu" - it reaches Gate 2 at 0739, 1 minute earlier than schedule.
I join the mass of humanity in the waiting lounge at 0750. At 0800, the ground staff wheeled a man in his wheelchair to the aircraft, and at 0809, the boarding call was made. Boarding was not very orderly - they didn't do it according to seat nos., and all the pax flocked to the gate. Not a full flight - I estimated about 70 as I sat there waiting for them all to board. Like the other C Class pax, I was among the last to board. F/As May Jet and Jennifer stood near the entrance as they greeted all the pax entering the plane. I handed my jacket to May Jet, who stowed it after slipping my boarding pass into one of the pockets. Soon, F/A Husin appeared with some cold towels, and by the next minute, he had retrieved them all.
I settled into an old-fashioned (read: primitive) C Class seat - no PTV, foldable headrest or lumbar support. The seat pitch (38 in.?) might be the same as Premium Economy on, say, VS. On MH's 747/777s, it'd be something like 45-50 in., and those come with PTVs too. What a difference. And to think that MH uses its 737s to fly to (regional) international destinations like AT Macedonian Airlines (Greece)">IN / WSSS), Singapore">SAT Macedonian Airlines (Greece)">IN, BWN, SGN, HAN, HKG, CEB, DPS, JKT, KHH, TPE, MNL, MES, PNH, HKT, SUB, XMN, RGN. Not too long ago, these were used to fly to DRW, 4 hours away! Surely those C Class travellers are going to feel shortchanged, when other airlines can offer a better product!
Photo © Joe Corrigan
0822 Door closes; no one is occupying the seat next to mine!
0823 Pushback; welcome address by Jennifer, in Bahasa Malaysia and English - her English is good compared to many other MH F/As! Introduces the Captain, Ivan. Followed by safety briefing in B.M., with May Jet doing the visual demo.
0824 Engines start
0827 After the safety briefing, the plane starts to taxi, to Runway 08. Jennifer retrieves the glasses used to serve drinks a bit earlier - mango or pink guava juice. May Jet then appears to take orders for post-take off drinks - asked if I would have sandwiches together with it.
0831 Turn around as we reach the end of the runway. As the engines roar, take off roll begins, lasting about 30 seconds. As we climbed, the outskirts of Sandakan rolled past below, and soon, it's a lot of oil palm plantations underneath.
0836 Seat belt light turned off. May Jet goes to the back of the cabin to draw the curtain that separates Y from C. 2 minutes later, she appears with some table cloths for those of us having snacks together with our drink.
0841 May Jet comes round with our orders. "Real" coffee (not the seemingly instant stuff they serve in Y) and 3 finger sandwiches - 2 of them in wholemeal bread - egg+mayonnaise, chicken, the 3rd one's filling is unknown.
At 0848 Flight Officer Mahnironi (spelling??) comes on air - reports that we're flying over Kudat at the northern tip of Borneo island, and about to change course for BKI. Hey, we're not flying in a straight line from SDK to BKI!! Imagine a triangle - you're supposed to travel a 223 km distance from one point on the base of the triangle to the other point. But what we're doing here is to fly northwest 180 km to the top of the triangle, then fly 140 km southwest!! What's Air Asia going to think of this? And so, at 0849, the plane banked left as we take a SW direction towards BKI. But I'm not complaining - it's not everyday that you get to see the northern part of Borneo island!
0857 May Jet distributes hot towels, a minute after Jennifer announces that we'll be landing soon.
0904 We're flying rather low now, and Pulau Gaya with its squatter colonies appear on the right, with the green sea and floating garbage around it. A faint shadow of our plane on the sea helps me appreciate just how fast we're flying compared to, say, a Ferrari.
0905 Sutera Harbour and its golf course rolls underneath. I try to imagine being on a low-flying bombing mission......
0906 Touchdown, on Runway 20. As we zip past the Terminal 2 apron with thrust reversers roaring, I see a Transmile Air B737-200 parked there, together with an Antonov 38 (of Layang Layang Aviation).
0907 May Jet returns my jacket while we're taxiing towards Terminal 1.
0908 Can see 9M-MMI on the taxiway, about to enter the runway, and 9M-MMQ (both MH B734s), just being pushed back from Gate 3. 2 Fokker F50s, 9M-MGA and 9M-MGI, were at the remote bays next to Gate 6. Another F50 is at the Engineering Division's apron to the far right.
0909 Although there's not a single aircraft at any of the aerobridges, we stop for 1 minute - we've been assigned the gate from which 9M-MMQ had just been pushed back, and since it hadn't started taxiing, well, we had to wait for them!
0910 As 9M-MMQ starts to move, so do we.
0912 Reach Gate 3. Husin stands guard at the drawn curtain at the rear of the C cabin, as we disembark first. Jennifer and May Jet thank us as we walk past them at the door.
Photo of BKI Airport:
Photo © Garry Lewis
AT Macedonian Airlines (Greece)">IN TRANSIT AT KOTA KINABALU (BKI):
Not many pax as I made my way to the Golden Club Lounge at the end of the terminal building near Gate 1 - after all, there are hardly any aircraft here right now. On my way, I stopped at 1 of the 2 duty-free outlets to check on some prices: 10-pack cigarettes still costs RM37, and 1 litre Johnny Walker Black Label whisky still costs RM97 (in Labuan, or perhaps Langkawi, Malaysia's duty-free islands, you could get them for RM28 & 70+ respectively).
The sign outside the Golden Club Lounge advises that their operating hours today are from 0330 to 2030. Less than 10 pax there as I enter, and there are 20 little tables with 4 seats each - so it's easy for me to get a table to myself, facing the TV which is showing CNN. On my way in, I walked past the mini business centre and children's play area. A quick visit to the washroom showed that there's a shower room there - a sign on the wash basin advises that shower amenities are available on request.
Back in the lounge, I went to fix myself something to eat. There's corn flakes + milk, finger sandwiches, baked beans, chicken sausages, and Danish pastries. In the fridge, there's yoghurt (strawberry, vanilla & wild blueberry flavour), orange/mango juice, soya bean milk, (chilled) fruit and soft drinks. At the back of the lounge is a counter where you can order cappucino, mocha, latte and espresso. The ambience and atmosphere was excellent - MAS sure took care of detail - even the washroom had a high class presentation.
2nd LEG: BKI to KUL:
Date: 21 October 2003
Scheduled ETD: 1120, ETA: 1345 (Flight time: 2 hrs 25 mins)
Published distance: 1,636 km / 1,017 miles
Seat No.: 3A (C Class)
At 1110, I reluctantly left the GC Lounge and made my way to Gate 3. Passed Gate 2, where a KA (Dragon Air) A320 was parked - it would depart for HKG as KA60/MH9060. It sure looked much bigger than the MH B737-400 at the next gate, but I remind myself it's mainly because it's higher (with a higher undercarriage) off the ground.
Entered the plane at 1122, and was greeted by F/As Sophia and Cherrie. Handed my jacket to Cherrie, and headed for seat 3A. Enjoyed the sight of the A320 to my left - a 3x a week visitor to BKI.
Photo © M Radzi Desa
1124 Cherrie brought around a tray of orange/guava juice. The latter was refreshing!
1126 Sophia distributed cold towels
1129 An ever-smiling Sophia began taking orders for post-take off drinks. Addressed me by name, but that's probably because she had it on the paper right in front of her! She didn't go out of her way to tell us what's available, and so I said "guava juice".
1132 Door closed. Aerobridge pulled back.
1133 Welcome address by Sophia, in Bahasa Malaysia and English. After her, a Mandarin-speaking F/A delivers a similar message in Mandarin - she sure sounded very fluent - the words just rolled off her tongue. Cherrie distributes the menu for lunch.
1136 Begin taxiing as 2 ground technical crew start their long walk back to the terminal.
1137 Safety briefing, in English. No PTVs, so it's a visual demo, by Cherrie.
1139-1140 Stopped before entering Runway 20. Safety demo is about to come to an end. To the left, in the distance, can see a Fokker F50 approaching - 45 seconds later, it passes about 100 feet above us as it is about to land (in the mid-length part of the runway - the runway sure is long, such that 737s can also land that far into the runway!!)
1141 Entered Runway 02. Stopped for 1 minute - to allow the F50 to get off the runway?
1142 Take off roll begins. We're airborne 40 secs later. The Transmile Air B737-200 and Antonov 38 are still there at the Terminal 2 apron. Soon, it's the green sea that's below us, turning more and more blue as we head further out to sea.
1145 Seat belt light turned off.
1149 Pre-lunch drink served - based on our orders before take off. I had guava juice again! A few minutes later, they served champagne to someone at the front - why didn't the F/As mention what's available when they took orders?
1159 Cherrie appears with table cloths and proceeds to put them over our tables.
Lunch service starts at 1210. From the menu, we have the following:
Appetizer: Roast chicken breast on a bed of vegetable salad (Not bad!!)
Chicken Mediterranean Style prepared in tomato & olive sauce
complemented with Tagliatelle & stir-fried mixed vegetables (I went for this one)
Seafood skewer - Cajun marinated Prawns & Fish flavoured with Barbeque Sauce
accompanied by Steamed rice & stir-fried mixed vegetables
Vegetarian Delight - Braised Soft Tofu with Capsicums & mushrooms
in soy sauce complemented with vegetable fried rice
Bread Selection - i.e. wholemeal roll &/or garlic bread
Dessert: Mango Pudding (More comments on this a bit further down!!!)
From the "usual Y Class cart", they took the meal trays and put the whole set, with metal cutlery, before us...... this had the appearance of Y Class, apart from the round china bowl, proper napkin, salt & pepper shaker. But the dish containing the main course was rectangular - the type you'd get in Y!! Hmmm, I remember in 1986, when I flew C Class in one of their A300s, on a much shorter flight, the F/As actually served the main course on proper round china plates, from a main dish on the cart!!
The F/As then poured a glass of mineral water for each of us. Cherrie then came round with the Bread Selection, which was still warm. The garlic bread was disappointing - rather dry, hard and tasteless, very unlike the ones on a KCH-JHB flight I took in 2000. There were bottles of red/white wine and champagne on the top of the cart, BUT they didn't ask us what we'd like to have with our lunch!!! You know, in Y, at least the F/As would ask "would you like water or juice?" !!! Were the bottles only for show/decoration?
Comments on lunch: I suspect the main course is something that could have been served in Y Class on some of MH's routes - I remember having something like it not too long ago. Ah, the mango pudding - there's 1 word to describe it - CHEAP!!! I reckon it's made from those flavoured agar-agar (jelly) powder that you can get at any supermarket - just put it into hot water, simmer, then cool down, and voila, you have a Business Class dessert!!! [FYI: on my return journey, which was in Y, I had a cake with a blueberry-like filling - much higher standard!!) What happened to simple things like fresh fruit?? So, for those of you who don't know: Business Class on MH's domestic routes aren't anything to shout about. If you're expecting satay or lobster, well, fly on their longer-distance international routes!
No coffee or tea was offered after lunch. Hmmm, did they think they could do away with this just because they had served pre-lunch drinks? Now, in Y, they'd offer coffee/tea at the time they bring you your tray - go figure which class has a higher standard of service!!
1213 First Officer came on air - we're at 31,000 feet and 850 km/h. Actual distance would be 1,710 km, and the flight would take 2 hr 15 mins. The Mandarin-speaker translates his words with apparent ease after he finishes.
1245 A visit to the lavatory - my seat mate, who's quite tall (by Asian standards) at about 5 feet 10 in., just like myself, found that he needed to step into the aisle to let me out. That only goes to confirm how lacking the seat pitch is. Went past the curtain separating the C cabin from the galley/toilet section, and found Cherrie on the crew seat by the door, holding a glass of water. Sophia appeared to be doing some paperwork - it sure wasn't related to our enjoyment and comfort! The F/As have tremendous respect for our privacy and/or our need to be not distracted, so they kept themselves out of our sight behind the curtain for much of the post-lunch part of the flight. Anyway, in the loo, I saw the only difference from the ones in Y is that here, there's cologne, eau de toilette and moisturizing cream.
1248 Flying over a large island - must be Indonesia's Natuna Island. Nice crystal green water near some parts of the coast, elsewhere, it's blue-green, except directly below, which looks like a big rivermouth - for quite a distance out to sea, it's horrendously dark brown. Where this stuff meets the blue/green must be tragic - all that horrible stuff contaminating and all-conquering as it slowly goes further out to sea
1328 Landfall!! We reach the coast of Pahang, on the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia. And then, an amazing sight - coming from the opposite direction, about 1,000 or 3,000 feet below us, and 3-4 miles to our left, an Air Asia B737-300 zips past us, on its way to East Malaysia. The whole thing lasted 3-4 seconds, but it was one helluva sight to behold!!
1341 First Officer comes on air to advise that we're at 13,000 feet, 90 km NE of KLIA
1346 Prepare-to-Land announcement made
1347 Sophia distributed hot towels
1348 Cherrie returns my jacket to me
1352 We've reached the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia - before us is the Straits of Malacca. The plane banks right to line up for approach. Can see Port Dickson with its seaside hotels and power station
1354 Lots of oil palm estates below.....
1357 Touchdown!! As we taxi towards the Main Terminal Building (MTB), I can see 3 AK B733s at the aerobridges, and 1 at the remote bay. 2 MH B734s at gates, and 3 MH A330s at the remote bays opposite the MTB.
1402 Reach Gate B4. As we disembark, caught sight of F/A Charlene Sim, who was guarding the curtain at the back of C Class. She must be the Mandarin-speaker - could even be a Taiwanese; her name tag has some Chinese characters, unlike the others.
1405 After deplaning, we were asked to go up the escalator just as we exit the aerobridge - that leads to the International Level. (If you don't go upstairs, but just go straight on, you'll find yourself in the Domestic Level) Could see a SQ B777-200 at the Satellite Terminal Building in the distance as we go up.
AT Macedonian Airlines (Greece)">IN TRANSIT AT K.L.I.A.
I'm rather surprised MH still operates flights to IPH, considering it's 205km from downtown KL (Kuala Lumpur) to Ipoh by road. If you're a KL resident, it must surely be futile to drive 50 minutes & 60-70 km (in the opposite direction) to KLIA, wait 75 mins between check in and departure, and then fly 40 mins to IPH. Why, in that time, if you had driven, you would have reached Ipoh already!! And it'll cost less than the KUL-IPH fare + taxes, of MYR111. As it is, MH operates only ONE flight to/fro IPH a day, a B734; imagine employing all those ground staff in IPH just for the sake that one flight - no wonder MH's domestic operations are losing heavily (but that's another story). But for the present, I'm grateful MH does have this flight, otherwise I'd have to make my way to downtown KL to catch the coach to Ipoh. I'm getting "seamless" travel all the way to Ipoh, and, importantly, my C Class benefits get extended for one more sector. That calls for a visit to the Golden Club Lounge, the 2nd time in a day, at KLIA...... I can hardly complain!!
With 3.5 hours to kill, I decide to walk, and what better reason than to explore the KLIA Satellite terminal (which is for International flights only)? I'm a domestic pax, but since MH87 originated from an international port, all the pax disembarked into the International terminal. And so, I'm able to roam about in the more interesting/lively International terminal; this would have been impossible had I been on a "pure" domestic flight - another reason why I prefer BKI-KUL flights that originate from an international port.
In the Satellite Terminal Building:
From Gate B4, I made my way to the aerotrain station; soon, I reached the Satellite Building. Walked around, and saw the following foreign aircraft:
KLM Asia B747-400 (PH-BI), Brazil">BFH) "City of Hong Kong", on its way to Manila
Vietnam Airlines A320 (or A319?)
Garuda B737-300 (PK-GGN)
China Airlines B737-800
EVA Air B767-200 (B-16625)
Cathay Pacific (tail only!!) - also codeshared as AA and BA flight.
Visited one of the shops selling chocolates and candy. All the price tags here warn that "Malaysian Duty (is) Not Paid". Eventually, after observing that they don't ask people to produce their (international flight) boarding passes when making a purchase, I settled for some Cote D'Or - sure enough, I got away with it. Not sure if I could do the same at the liquor/tobacco shops, though - didn't try.
As I circle the unnatural-looking "Forest in the Airport", I see the International Terminal's Golden Club Lounge, supposedly the world's biggest F/C Class lounge. A nasty thought crossed my mind, and I find myself making my way there. I wanted to see whether this Golden Club Lounge would admit me, a domestic pax who happens to be inside the International terminal. When I presented my boarding pass, the receptionist replied "Ipoh, sir? You can use the Golden Lounge in the Domestic Terminal." Ah, the answer is No...... so, to save face, I acted ignorant: "You mean there's one over there?"
I soon found myself at the aerotrain station, and then back in the Main Terminal Building. Went down to the immigration counters, showed my Identity Card & boarding pass to the officer at one of the counters to the far right, and was waved through into the Baggage Claim area. Nonchalantly but nervously walked past the Customs area thru the Green Lane (remember I have some contraband chocolates in my bag?), and exited into the Arrival Hall. Almost immediately, I was greeted by someone asking if I wanted a taxi. I'd support these guys, whom the Malaysian Government and Malaysia Airports label "taxi touts", if their fares are cheaper than the Airport Limo concessionaire - but that's another (long) story!! Went to a candy shop in the Arrival Hall - here, I found out that the Cote D'Or that I bought for RM21.90 earlier costs RM22.90. Another item that cost RM26.90 "inside" costs RM28.90 "outside".
Took the escalator up to Level 5, the Departures level, and soon entered the Domestic Departure concourse. From there, I made my way to the Domestic Golden Club Lounge.
At the Golden Club Lounge (Domestic), Main Terminal Building:
I entered at 1605, and made my way to the corner overlooking the wing where the "A" gates are. The view is GREAT - you have an unobstructed view of the Satellite Building, and the "A" gates wing. From here, I can see a Biman Bangladesh A310-300, Merpati (MZ) B737-400, GA B737-400, apart from usuals like AK B737-300s and of course the MH widebody fleet. Only complaint, though, is that with the afternoon sun shining in, that section was rather warm.
Photo © Alexander Kueh
Time for afternoon tea, and I had the following to choose from: Chicken Briyani with white rice/Briyani rice, Danish pastries/muffins with butter/jam, fresh fruits, finger sandwiches, salad, Malay kueh.
At 1620, I saw a EK B777-200 (A6-EMF) taxiing; presumably, it's heading for the Satellite Building. It drew nearer and nearer, and then it turned left towards the Main Terminal! Great! It's coming nearer and nearer as it heads for Gate A2, which is right in front of where I'm seated!! Oh, what a great sight, as the great plane stopped there in full view, at such proximity - it doesn't get any better than this!
3rd LEG: KUL to Ipoh (IPH)
Date: 21 Oct 2003
Scheduled ETD: 1740; ETA: 1820 (Flight time: 40 mins)
Published distance: 166km (More like 215km, now that KUL airport is located about 50 km further south??)
Seat No.: 3F (C Class)
1730 I boarded and was met by Trina. From my seat, I can see 9M-MQO (MH B737-400) to the right at Gate B3.
1733 Trina brings round a tray of orange/guava juice
1736 Khadijah hands out cold towels - Trina collects them a minute later
1739 Trina took orders for mid-flight drinks
1747 The last passengers board, and the door closes immediately. Again, there's no one next to me!
1748 Pushback. Khadijah delivers the welcome address in Bahasa Malaysia and English
1750 Safety demo, with Trina doing the visual demo
1751 Aircraft begins taxiing; we pass 2 MH B734s, 9M-MQH at Gate B11, and 9M-MMV at B15 (remote). In the distance, at the Satelite Terminal, there's a Gulf Air B767-300.
1755 Take off roll - a bit over 30 seconds. As we rise, I can see Putrajaya, ahead. Then the plane banks right, and it's out of sight
1800 Trina brought a big tray and set it before me - on it is a round china plate with 3 finger sandwiches and a napkin into which is wrapped a full set of cutlery - is that needed at all?. The coffee follows soon. Below, I enjoy the view of KL and its southwestern suburbs - numerous houses and buildings and roads. Can see KL Tower in the distance.
1803 Captain K.W. Chan comes on air, and reports that we're at 18,000 feet and 750 km/h. Once again, the coffee tasted good!
1810 The scenery of light green rice paddies for the past 5 minutes gives way to numerous artificial-looking ponds/lakes. The place is full of them!! I guess these are disused tin mines around Ipoh.
1811 After the "landing soon" announcement, Trina comes round with hot towels. There are still numerous ponds below.
1820 Ipoh's suburbs are below us
1823 Touchdown at Sultan Azlan Shah Airport
1825 Taxi into the apron
1826 Walked down to the tarmac
Upon entering the terminal building, I was confronted by (unmanned) immigration counters - that puzzled me. With no baggage to claim, I walked out into the public area, and was greeted by the sight of Jatayu Airlines' (VJ) office. A look at the arrivals/departures board showed that later in the evening, there would be 2 flights to Medan, on VJ and also Merpati (MZ). Ah, that explains the immigration counters; and now I realize that MAS' ground staff in Ipoh don't just handle 1 flight a day!
Went to the taxi booth and paid RM12 for a coupon to get into downtown Ipoh.
Whew! After 10 hours, my journey ended. It had been more than tolerable, but then, I wonder if it would have been so had I been in Y Class. That aside, MH's Business Class on domestic routes on their B737-400s appears to be not much more than Premium Economy; only that your seat is so much wider, and you get to use the Golden Club Lounge. The Lounge itself is up to expectations.
I'm left to reflect on this: that MH's domestic Business Class fares are usually 42% higher than full-fare Economy Class. And the 16 C Class seats on the 734s could well occupy the space taken up by 30 Y Class seats - so, if anything, the C class fares should be at least double the Y Class ones. So, I suspect (partly) because of this, MH is resorting to subtle cost-cutting in domestic C Class. Those guys who gave MH all those "Best Business Class" awards obviously hadn't seen what I've seen!!