19 Dec 2003
Photo © TTT
Another trip to KL, another trip on MAS, and I was not complaining. This was an unplanned trip as I needed to rush up in a day’s notice to the Malaysian capital so frenzied bookings over the phone was normal. This is the holiday week leading up to Christmas and New Year, so you can imagine it was no point being out on the wait list.
The weather was definitely not for the fain hearted on that afternoon. It traditionally rains non-stop during the Christmas week in Singapore so this year was no exception.
Check in at Terminal 2 Row 11 for First Class was painless and boarding passes issued within a minute. And up to the viewing gallery, the scenery outside was rather quiet and it was pouring cats and dogs! So much so that photography was definitely not recommended.
Taxiing on the wet ramps that afternoon for take off included the Lion Air MD80, an unidentified F50 (it looked like Riau Airlines but the rain was making it almost impossible to see the titling), KLM 747-400 Cargo in the new livery and a Garuda 737-300. They all took off one after another and immediately disappearing into the clouds after flying pass Concourse F, just to give you all an idea how low the cloud base was that afternoon.
Several Silkair A320s were docked at E1 and E2, with another SIA 777-200 at F31, which was operating a shuttle to KL as well.
The rain was making plane spotting difficult so I decided to proceed to immigration. The immigration officers are now wearing new uniforms. Dark blue tones, looking very much like police officers..
Despite an invitation to the Golden Lounge, I decided to skip it as the lounge is pathetic (for the want of a better word). Walking around the departure hall was more interesting. Since there was nothing much to do, I headed to Gate F42 which was at the extreme end of the concourse, and the journey was completed in about 7 mins from immigration. Phew! Quite a walk, I must say!
The departure lounge was full! Well, at least it looked that like it was, but the load factor on this flight was only about 60% or so. 9M-MKG stood outside among the mess of ground vehicles in the relentless shower. That dirty A330 looked like it needed one too! Fuselage was as dirty as hell with grey patches at every imaginable white.
Boarding was announced at 1710. While there was no call to board by row numbers, it was nevertheless and orderly event. First Class passengers were invited to Board through Bridge A, while the rest of the passengers went through Bridge B.
Flight Stewardess Pooi Leng greeted me with a smile so wide, it would have melted the hardest of hearts.
“Welcome on board!”
Took my boarding pass… “Hello Mr Soh, your seat is here. Not too far, just behind the wall…” and she gestured behind the bulkhead.
I found my way to Seat 1A, just 3 steps away from the door, while another stewardess said hello to me from the other aisle. She then ambered over and took my drink order and asked if I would like to have dinner after take off. Another charmer of a female specimen, Farisha smiled as she disappeared into the forward galley to prepare my usual pink guava juice. That was served to me in a minute and the glass discreetly cleared soon after.
The inflight supervisor for MH 608 was Kamal Singh. A fierce looking Indian man, popped over from the Golden Club cabin from behind me and smiled.
As the rain continued to pour, the boarding process continued and at 1725H, we were still sitting at the gate despite the completion of the process. Or at least I thought it was completed as I saw no other passengers filling in. First Class had another 3 more passengers. So there were 4 of us in a cabin for 12 passengers.
I last flew First Class on the A330 in 2001. Seats are still the same. All fully automated, unfortunately without the moveable headrests and lumbar support that we have all got so used to. Upholstered in the similar orange-pink-golden hues found on the First Class cabins of the 737-400s. Pitch is thankfully wide enough to kick your feet around without hurting anyone in front.
1727: Doors closed and armed.
FO Chng came on and welcomed all on board and introduced the IFS Kamal, and Captain Tan Yew Kim. How unusual for an FO to make welcome announcements, isn’t it?
1735H: Flaps deployed
1736H: Taxi begins.
Pitter-pattering on the windows as we taxied to runway 02R. Towards the end as we held in position for take off, the other end of the airport was totally invisible. Runway lightings were turned on to their maximum intensity too. A small yellow van followed a distance behind us and a SIA 777-200 behind it, presumably to perform the runway imspection after the departure of the latter aircraft.
After holding for an SIA 777-200 and a BA 747-400 to land, we lined up and rumbled down the active platform. Rotation was at 1753 after a 25 sec roll and up we went.
Photo © Bailey
Expectedly, severe chops and buffet immediately greeted us as soon as we entered the clouds. All in all, the seat belt sign was turned off and on several times during the short flight. An announcement was also made that no hot beverages would be served on today’s flight due to the adverse weather.
Levelled at 1758H at FL200. Immediately, Pooi Leng laid the linens on my table in what has to be the fastest dinner service ever. Dinner trays with a bowl of fruits and my glass of guava juice, plus an empty plate was placed on my table.
“Hot savouries, Mr Soh?”
Farisha who appeared out of the galley smiling quickly dished out mini-quiches, spring rolls, and chicken drumlets. It seems like I was the only one eating… I know, what a PIG! The view outside consisted of an over cast scenery for the country side, with many layers accompanied by several mountains of Towering Cumulonimbus (TCu) monsters.
Suddenly, the seatbelt sign pinged on and the Captain came on the PA, “Cabin cew, please strap yourselves in as soon as possible. Thank you.”
Without warning, the A330 suddenly lurched upwards and suddenly down again. This went on for about 3 times before all was normal again. Meanwhile, Farisha and Pooi Leng let out several audible screams in the galley.
Farisha composed herself and came out to continue serving the drinks. I asked if she was ok and she replied that during the turbulence, the were in the midst of securing the galley items when the lurches occurred. This sent the jugs of juices into the air momentarily and the 2 girls managed to grab on to it before they caused any danmage. Such occupational hazards!
Descend commenced at 1810H, which signalled the end of the silent cruise of the A330. The FO came on and apologised for the delay at Changi, which was due to weather and traffic congestion. The bumps then started again as Pooi Leng struggled to clear my trays and the glasses from the rest of the cabin.
Approach was done from the coast, over the palm plantations and a track for runway 32L.
1823H: Flaps deployed
1824: gears lowered
The bumpy descend continued with vortex trails trailing beautifully from the wingtips, and we finally sailed onto terra firma at 1825H. Full reverse thrust was used to stop the aircraft on the extremely wet runway.
Visible aircraft at the satellite terminal was an Iran Air 747SP, 2 MAS 747-400 and a MAS A330-300. The main terminal has 2 MAS 737-400s and that was it. Very quiet so immigration should be quick, or so I thought!
We nosed into Gate C35 at 1832H so priority disembarkation was ensured for First Class. Walking out into the air side terminal, I saw that the holding lounge for C35 was full of passengers for MH 607 bound for Singapore. So the A330 was returning to where I just flew out from.
Arriving at the immigration some 5 mins later after the train ride, the counters were all full. Even the 2 Premier Lanes for First and Business Class passengers were full. Sigh… there were flights arriving on MAS from London, Hongkong, Singapore and Jakarta, as well as a China Eastern flight from Kunming and a Thai Airways from Bangkok. So I took about 45 mins to clear customs.
Overall, this trip was rather exciting with all the weather throwing the aircraft around. The MAS girls were friendly as usual so no complaints in that department. But I just wished that MAS would reinstate their flight frequencies to Singapore. It was drastically cut back during the SARS period and it has remained so.
Check in: 8/10… painless
Departure: 7/10… despite boarding without row numbers, passengers were seated quickly.
Inflight: 8/10… Farisha and Pooi Leng were very friendly and it showed that they loved their jobs.
Catering: 4/10… very, very sad. Greasy fare.
Arrival: 5/10… if Singapore can have customs expedited so quickly, makes you wonder why can’t KLIA do the same. They looked ill-equipped to handle the influx of a few flights arriving at one time. Premier Lane, in this case, was of no use to me as we still took a considerable amount of time.