WEDNESDAY 26 NOVEMBER 2003.
MH 0007 HR / EGLL), United Kingdom">LHR - KUL. STOP LANGKAWI (LGK)
BOEING 747-4H6 9M-MPP "PUTRAJAYA".
DEPARTURE 2100HR GMT (SCHEDULED)
Photo © Philippe noret
My odyssey on this day started in Cardiff. I planned to take an early bus to Heathrow T3 so that I could go into central London for a bit prior to my flight, which was due to depart at 2100HR. I had thus booked a seat on the National Express 0640HR bus to the airport and planned to wake up at 0500HR. Alas, I stayed up very late packing and only went to sleep at 0300HR! Needless to say I ended up sleeping through 0500HR, only being awakened by the taxi driver at 0600HR (the time I had booked). I scurried to get ready but, alas, he left! I was in a dilemma - 0615HR, no taxi and a bus leaving in 25 minutes. I calmly called the taxi company and apologised for my tardiness and they sent him back. When he arrived I got on board and headed to the bus station at Wood Street. On arrival the bus was already there, taking on passengers. I paid the driver quickly then boarded the bus for the three (3) hour journey to Heathrow, albeit through some nasty weather.
On arrival I caught the Tube to the city and did a little walking around as well as getting some last vital items. I returned to T3 at 1720HR and headed for the Malaysia Airlines counters, where I would wait for my two (2) friends with whom I would travel to come - they planned to come at 1830HR. While there I met a Malaysian friend of mine who was flying home on the same flight and had already checked in, so we chatted for nearly an hour until I went to find the others. When they arrived we checked in together, which was a breeze. I was assigned seat 36A, the others had 36B and C.
Our next stepwas to pay attentionm to our stomachs and find some food, so we elected to have Harry Ramsden's. Now, that outlet really defined "slow food" - it took ages! Overall we spent 20 minutes waiting for the fish and chips and by the time we finished eating it, the time was 1925HR. Now, we had to clear security and I wanted to get some film in duty-free so we made our way to the security check point, only to find an agonizingly long and slow-moving line. After another 20 minutes there I scurried into the shop to get the film while the others went to look for the gate information. Unfortunately, the flight was on its final call and so I had to forego the film and run on to gate 56 (I think, it's not even recorded on the boarding pass and I did not write it down, such was the hurry). The rush also meant that I did not immediately see the number of the aircraft - the seating area by the gate had no windows.
After getting to the gate area the flight was called for boarding at 1955HR. MH used 2 jetways to board the 747-400, one to the front for the First and Business Class passengers and one just aft for the Economy Class passengers. Additionally the flight boarded by rows, with those sitting in rows most aft boarded first. As I went through the jetway I glimpsed the name of the plane, "Putrajaya". Putrajaya is the new city being developed to become the administrative capital of Malaysia, thus leaving Kuala Lumpur as the financial and commercial capital. This sort of decentralized development has been quite common in developing nations of late and is part of Malaysia's aim to become a First World nation by 2020.
On entering the plane the flight attendants greeted each passenger and showed the way to the respective seat. As I boarded I asked one of the flight attendants the number of the plane and got the answer - 9M-MPP plus the name "Putrajaya". Now, I thought I heard -MBB and believed I saw MBB on the fuselage during the stop in Langkawi but I have not seen that number in the database or my registration list book, so I stand corrected. As for the interior, the plane was spotlessly clean and had 10-abreast seating (3-4-3) with seats in blue, purple, green and salmon upholstery. The carpets were deep blue. Each seat had a PTV and a coat hook and a control for the IFE, which doubled as a video game controller, in the armrest from where it could be ejected by pushing a button. As Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim society, there were also Islamic prayer booklets in racks on the walls by the galleys. Overall, the plane looked magnificent.
I took up my window seat 36A, next to the giant port wing. Gradually all the other passengers came on board – there were about 100 people in total on the flight. The crew came around bringing warmed towels for wiping our hands and the menus, then the Captain greeted the passengers in Bahasa and English. The pushback started at 2103HR by which time the safety briefing was being broadcast on the PTV screens. After this was completed, the four giant Pratt & Whitney PW4056 engines were started. There were a few other planes around, including another MH 747-400 which was operating a 2200HR flight non-stop to KUL, an SAS MD80 (another one, LN-RMT departed just before my flight) and a Turkish 737-800.
The jumbo then taxied out towards runway 27 Left for take-off, passing a JAL 777-200. It then turned onto 27L and the four engines were turned on full throttle, giving a mighty thrust to the plane and a powerful “push-back” sensation. The plane was airborne at 2123HR (or 0523HR Malaysia time). And my journey was underway. Because of the difficulties encountered with crossing so many time zones on the way to Malaysia, the various events on the journey will be given according to GMT until arrival in LGK, from whereupon Malaysia time will be used. On the return flight GMT will be used after take-off as that flight was non-stop to HR / EGLL), United Kingdom">LHR.
The plane soared through clear English skies, initially heading westwards then turning to the east to fly over the coastline and the North Sea. Glasses of water were then served by the crew. The flight continued over The Netherlands but turbulence supervened and the “Fasten Seat Belts” sign was switched on for the first of 3 times during the flight. While the food and drinks service continued despite the sign, no hot beverages could be served. Dinner was served at 2300HR and featured a choice of fish and chicken – I had the fish. Wine was served with the meal – I had red wine. By this time the plane was overflying Germany and, although the sign was switched off after a short while, it was switched back on after further turbulence over Germany and remained on while the plane flew over Poland and the Ukraine.
As for the IFE, Malaysia Airlines offers a huge choice with 12 music channels, several movies and news channels and video games, including interactive chess which one can play against the computer or another passenger. I played against the computer several times (and lost every time). While my friends preferred to watch the movies I was happier with the games and looking at the interactive map showing the plane’s location along the way. The map had an added bonus in providing regular directional and distance references to Mecca, again catering for the Muslim passengers who face Mecca to pray. Alas, the music channels did not work very well for a good part of the flight.
The flight continued over the Ukraine and the cloud cover finally cleared, along a glimpse of some cities along the way. Nonetheless there remained some clear air turbulence and the sign was only switched off when the plane headed over the Black Sea towards the Russian Federation. Once over Russia though the turbulence returned, prompting the signs to go back on for another 20 or so minutes. The cabin crew brought the duty free trolley but I did not buy anything.
By now many of the other passengers were getting ready to sleep and most of the window shades were drawn. A flight attendant invited me to use row 58, seats A-C to sleep (she had actually earlier asked me if I were comfortable in my original seat, I guess because I am tall). Nonetheless I continued to gaze outside, looking for sunlight, which eventually came at 0200HR when the plane was over Turkmenistan, having passed over the Caspian Sea (world’s largest lake) and part of Kazakhstan. My glimpses were very brief as the cabin was now dark and I did not want to disturb the other passengers. The flight-path went over the length of Turkmenistan which largely featured rolling hills and a few towns.
With sleep gradually catching up, I napped off and on between glimpses. One view I will never forget is that of Afghanistan, which presented a dramatic landscape of very rugged hills with spectacularly high mountain ranges capped with snow and very little infrastructure of any sort. That sort of vista provides one with the reason Afghanistan has been very difficult to conquer over many hundreds of years and why it has always been a rather isolated nation.
My next glimpse was of the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, which was also hilly. At 0300HR I finally fell asleep for a while with only a few short glimpses of India in between. At 0600HR I woke up properly to see the east coast of India pass by beneath the plane, which then continued over the world’s largest bay, Bay of Bengal.
Breakfast (or more properly lunch) was then served. I chose beef along with my regular red wine. As with the dinner it was very sumptuous and filling. I then had 2 cups of tea. The plane flew past the Andaman Islands, which are controlled by India and then headed towards Phuket in Thailand. Since I was on the port side of the aircraft I did not see Phuket itself but got a view of part of the coast of Thailand itself.
At 0810HR GMT the 747 started descending for Pulau Langkawi, the one intermediate stop for this flight. Langkawi is a resort island which has now started to receive 2 weekly flights from HR / EGLL), United Kingdom">LHR, as has the island of Penang further south. Both Malaysian islands have seen an upsurge in tourism in large part due to people avoiding Bali after the 2002 tragedy there. While it is good to see Malaysia doing well one must share a thought for the people of Bali who have lost so many loved ones and also their livelihoods with the collapse of the tourist market there. To its credit, though, Langkawi is hilly with beautiful beaches and offshore reefs, all visible from the plane as it lined up with runway 03. The landing occurred at 1625HR Malaysia time (0825 HR GMT).
The plane then parked on the ramp and the passengers headed to LGK disembarked. Initially the in –transit passengers like myself were asked to remain on-board but, as the Captain advised that the plane would be there for 2 hours having arrived early from HR / EGLL), United Kingdom">LHR, we were allowed to go to the in-transit lounge of the airport. At 1645HR I thus got off the jumbo for the first time. There was only one other plane at the airport, a Silk Air A319 9V-SBB from SIN. The terminal is relatively small and has two seating areas, one for domestic flights and one for international services. The lounge featured seats, a TV and a small refreshments stall.
The Silk Air plane soon left and an Air Asia 737-300, 9M-AAG, arrived from KUL. It soon took up its passenger load for the return to KUL in true low-cost carrier style. Not long after that, at 1810HR, flight MH 0007 was called again and so I boarded “Putrajaya” again, returning to seat 36A. Another passenger took some pictures of the plane and the “Welcome to Langkawi” sign, which was written in Bahasa and English. A security guard started clapping (possibly at her) but all the same she finished and nothing more transpired. Once on-board the safety briefing was issued via the PTVs and the aircraft soon taxied out to runway 21. With the hills in the centre of the island, all the planes landed from the sea end on runway 03 and departed towards it on runway 21. The plane took off at 1847HR, attracting a number of spectators at the perimeter fence. It just goes to show that the 747 still has that awesome ability to turn heads more than 30 years after it first flew.
The plane then turned towards the south for the hour long flight to KUL. There was no IFE except for the map as the headsets had been removed. Orange juice was served by the crew as the one refreshment on this sector. Darkness soon descended and, as the plane approached KUL, it flew through a storm with bright lightning flashes all around. The plane then turned inland towards KUL, leaving the storm churning away over the Strait of Malacca (the world’s longest strait, separating West Malaysia from Sumatra in Indonesia). The plane landed at a wet KUL at 1943HR (or 1143HR GMT) on runway 32 Left and my flight was over after 14 hours and 23 minutes, some 12 hours of which were spent aloft at a maximum altitude of 41 000 feet and a maximum speed of about 600 mph (960 kph).
The plane taxied to the stand, passing several MH 737-400s (including 9M-MQE and MQH) as well as Air Asia 737-300s. The airport, although huge, seemed almost empty with little bustle and no other airline’s planes present. After disembarking the 3 of us walked through the terminal to the immigration desks. The airport is certainly a world away from HR / EGLL), United Kingdom">LHR – clean, spacious, modern and very airy with all the glass. The processing at immigration was also quick and after collecting our bags we made our way to the city centre by taxi.
WEDNESDAY 3 DECEMBER 2003.
MH 0004 / VS 0504 KUL-HR / EGLL), United Kingdom">LHR NONSTOP
BOEING 747- 4H6 9M-MPE “KANGAR” (C/N 25702).
DEPARTURE TIME 1110HR. MALAYSIA TIME (SCHEDULED).
Photo © M Radzi Desa
The short but action-packed trip to Malaysia was soon at an end. I enjoyed it fully – Malaysia is really a fabulous country offering such a wide range of cuisines – Malay, Indian and Chinese – not to mention good shopping and lots of nightlife. It is rapidly developing and it seems to be on a good course to achieve Developed World status soon. Certainly I would like to visit Langkawi for a proper holiday there so, well, watch this space…
All the same it was back to the airport by taxi for the flight to HR / EGLL), United Kingdom">LHR, the second of the day (one departed at 0900HR). On arrival at the airport at 0800HR (the first thing that we all noted was the size of the control tower – the largest in the world) we checked in and got our seats – I got seat 45C, the others having gotten 45A and B. A short stroll about the facility followed and then we headed downstairs to passport control. Too late, I noticed that there were signs leading to the viewing deck but c’est la vie. After filtering through it was time to ride the Aerotrain to the satellite international terminal from where the flight would depart. The 5 minute train journey provided a panoramic view of the facility, with many MH planes around as well as several others. The planes seen included:
MH 747 – 4H6 9M-MPO
MH A330 9M-MKZ
MH 777 – 2H6ER 9M-MRK
Garuda 737-400 PK- GWV
Merpati 727-100 PK- MBW
Once over there I walked around a bit, taking in the views of the airfield. An Iran Air 747SP 86, EP-IAD was parked at a remote stand while a Saudi Arabian 747-168B, HZ-AII was at a gate. I also saw a Cathay Pacific A330-300, B-HLH and MH 747-4H6’s 9M-MPE, MPF and MPQ – MPE being the plane for the flight. Further away were 747s of Nippon Air Cargo, MAS Cargo and KLM Cargo. Most notably I noticed an Indian Airlines A320 with the double-bogey main undercarriage (it was the only airline to take this option) but it was taxying so I did not get its registration. After a bit of browsing in the shops (good stuff but somewhat expensive) and admiring the encapsulated forest, it was time to head for gate C36.
After the check there I had a seat for a short while. The boarding then started at 1045HR, again using 2 jetways. There were even fewer people on this flight than on the outward one and within a short while one of the flight attendants offered us each a row of seats. That was great as I again had a window (44A) as well as 3 seats should I have needed to stretch out and sleep. Although I did not sleep, I did use the IFE of one seat to listen to music and view the flight map while using that of my own seat to try to beat the computer at chess (again without any success).
The push-back was at 1107HR, just 2 minutes after MH 777-2H6 ER 9M-MRO arrived at another gate. Again the towels were brought out and the safety instructions announced. At 1112HR the plane began to taxi towards runway 32R, just behind a company 777-2H6ER, 9M-MRJ and with a company 737-4H6 9M-MQL following. As the Triple Seven took off the roar of its monster engines could be heard within the 747’s cabin. Shortly afterwards “Kangar” made its way down the runway, taking off at 1118HR (or 0318HR GMT, which will be used subsequently).
The IFE started soon after take-off but again some of the music channels were problem-plagued. The menus were distributed after take-off, followed by orange juice and water – I had the juice. In the meantime the plane had flown towards the Malaysian coast and trekked along it – it was bright and sunny and so visibility was good but large clouds hovered over the Strait and Sumatra (itself just visible at times). The journey continued northwards towards Penang and Langkawi and then Phuket. Lunch was served as the plane flew over this Thai paradise island at 0407HR, which looked really beautiful. The prawns were all taken, leaving just vegetarian lasagne and chicken as choices. I had the lasagne which was quite good and was also a first – the first time I had eaten vegetarian on a flight. As usual I had red wine followed by tea – what was not so usual was the ice-cream they served as dessert. Malaysia Airlines is truly great!
The cabin crew were again excellent and provided a steady supply of orange juice at roughly hourly intervals throughout the flight. When the duty free trolley came around I decided to buy a model plane and thus got a Herpa 777-200 in Malaysian colours at 1:500 scale. They did not have any 747s in stock… and I thus have my first 1:500 model, all the rest being 1:400.
The flight essentially followed the same route as the outbound flight in reverse. As it was now daytime I was able to view virtually everywhere the plane passed. After Phuket the plane headed over the Bay of Bengal, passing the Andaman Islands and then India itself. India presented a variety of landscapes – from flat countryside to some spectacular mountain ranges and rivers including the Ganges. Above all the many railway lines running between the towns and villages could be seen easily as the midday sun illuminated them, making them appear as thin silver wisps on the countryside. With relatively few major roads visible India is still clearly highly dependent on its railways – a testament to the British who built the system in the first place and the many millions of employees who keep the system going.
The border between India and Pakistan appeared as a huge gash in the landscape. Pakistan appeared quite rugged in many areas with some scattered villages and terraced areas used for cultivation. On to Afghanistan – but heavy cloud cover obscured the view over most of the way. I did see a few of the snow-capped peaks mentioned earlier but the clouds dominated. At this time (0915HR GMT) I grew hungry and brought out a piece of Malaysian cake from my bag. The flight attendant, seeing (and/or smelling) it, almost immediately brought out a snack tray for me with crackers, cheese and peanuts. Now how is that for service!
The flight continued over Turkmenistan – where the clouds finally abated – then Kazakhstan and over the Caspian Sea to Russia. Alas, the clouds came back over Russia and on into the Ukraine. Even so at times the land was visible and the highly planned settlements there contrasted from the scattered clusters of settlement in the Indian subcontinent. On 2 occasions other planes passed the flight at lower flight levels. Dinner was served at 1355HR with the plane over Poland – I had beef. I tried to keep a menu so that the range of choices could be shared but they wanted it back.
Poland was under cloud, as were Germany and The Netherlands. As the plane flew over Western Europe the airways were decidedly busier than elsewhere and several other planes could be seen flying past the jumbo. The plane finally started its descent into HR / EGLL), United Kingdom">LHR at 1553HR. By 1610HR the plane was in a stack waiting to land at the congested airport with an MD80 behind and several other planes making their way into the thick cloud. Finally, after half an hour the jumbo headed eastwards and descended to land on runway 9L at 1643HR. HR / EGLL), United Kingdom">LHR was very wet and crowded – the MD80 that followed the 747 in turned out to be SAS and several Aer Lingus, JAL, PIA, BA and other planes were around.
The flight was thus over after 13 hours and 25 minutes, having reached a maximum altitude of 38 000 feet and speed of about 550 mph – generally it seemed as though the winds meant a slower return flight than the outbound. Above all, the testament to the 747’s excellent ride came from the fact that not once during the entire flight was the fasten seat belt sign switched on until the landing. The plane was very smooth and one felt really safe aboard it. No wonder the 747 has remained a favourite among many for all these years.
Once off the 747 at T3 I walked the mile to the Immigration, got back my suitcase and proceeded to the bus station for my return coach. Alas, I had to wait for 2 hours for the 1905HR bus as the 1715 one (which I hoped to get on) was full. The journey was in miserable weather – such a contrast to warm Malaysia.
In conclusion, this was a great trip. Malaysia Airlines is truly world-class and I give them full marks for service, on-time performance, cleanliness and in-flight entertainment. I would thus happily recommend Malaysia and its national airline to anybody. Keep up the good work!