Kuala Lumpur 21 – 24 August 2006
We recently made a trip to Kuala Lumpur, combining a necessary visit to the Thai embassy for a new visa with some leisure time in the Malaysian capital. During my last visa run to Singapore I only got a single entry tourist visa, so this time I was hoping to be more lucky and get two or three entries. This would also be my first ‘real’ visit to Malaysia, as previously I had only been at Penang’s airport and very briefly in Johor Bahru, just across the border from Singapore.
Lufthansa is one of the airlines operating on the Bangkok-Kuala Lumpur route and offers lower fares than Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines on this onward flight from Frankfurt. Other carriers are Gulf Air, Indian Airlines and Air Asia. While Air Asia was probably cheaper, the German airline’s low fare and the fact that the flight is operated by a 747-400 instead of a 737 made it much more attractive. And I could earn some extra miles for my KrisFlyer account.
Lufthansa’s normal return fare for this flight is 5000 baht, excluding taxes and surcharges. However, for two passengers travelling together, the Bangkok office offers a special fare of 4085 baht each. But this can’t be booked online. Following their directions, I sent an email to the ticketing office in Bangkok with the passenger names and flight dates, and my credit card details. Two days later I got a call from them saying that the flights were confirmed, but I had to present myself at the city office or airport counter to sign for the payment. As we don’t live in Bangkok and it’s a two-hour drive, the advantage of a lower ticket price was minimised by the expenses for fuel and road tolls for this trip. Nowhere on Lufthansa’s website does it state that this reservation can’t be handled as a normal online booking (where you don’t have to sign for payment). I wonder what happens when someone living far away from Bangkok books these tickets?
Lufthansa has four flights per week from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, while the other three flights per week coming from Frankfurt continue to Ho Chi Minh City. These flights used to be operated by the A340-600 and as I haven’t flown on that type yet I was hoping to get the opportunity. Not that I am complaining about the ride on a 744 though…
Anyway, all was arranged now and we were looking forward to this short trip to yet another new city in the region. On Monday the 21st we left our house at eleven, and after a short stop for some last minute shopping, a snack and fuel we arrived at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport at 13.30. I suddenly realised that this might be my last trip from Don Muang; if everything goes according to plan, the new Suvarnabhumi Airport should be fully operational as from September 28th. I am looking forward to its opening. It looks very nice and it is 30 minutes less to drive from our house.
We proceeded to the Lufthansa check-in counters, where we received the boarding passes in a couple of minutes. Economy class was only half full and we got seats 41 H and K: one window, one aisle, while the middle seat was blocked.
Then it was on to pay the airport tax, through immigration and some shopping before walking to our gate number 55. The gate opposite ours was for Finnair’s flight to Singapore. The MD-11 looked very worn out, with the paint peeling off from the top half of the fuselage, including the letters from ‘Finnair’. Not very good advertising, in my opinion.
The aircraft still has a football nose. Time to take it off maybe?
21 AUG 06 – Flight LH782 BKK-KUL
Boeing 747-400 D-ABTC
1505 - 1805
Our flight boarded in time and we settled down in our seats for the two hour flight. Lufthansa has no PTV’s, which is a shame and would be a main reason not to choose them for a long-haul flight. But it of course didn’t matter for this short hop. The cabin was very hot and only started to cool down after the engines were started and the aircraft pushed back. We taxied to runway 21R and were quickly airborne.
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Downtown Bangkok as seen climbing out after take-off from RWY 21R
The cabin crew was not too friendly on this flight. Despite greeting them with ‘Gutentag’, almost none of them acknowledged it, let alone replied. Also during the flight they didn’t seem to be able to be a bit more enthusiastic. The only stewardess that seemed to enjoy working was the Thai one.
Upon reaching our cruising altitude of 41,000 feet, lunch was served. Or actually more a snack. It consisted of a box with a little bread roll with a slice of cheese and cold chicken, a banana cake, dried mango, potato salad and water. I had an orange juice as well. This meal was very meagre compared to what you would get on a two hour flight with Thai Airways, Malaysia Airlines or Singapore Airlines. My partner was right by saying that the potato salad wasn’t as it should be – the potato was raw. Not only is it almost non-edible, it can be dangerous as well. We reported this to the purser, she concluded the same herself and said she would write a report on it. I happen to know the operations manager of LSG Skychefs in Bangkok, so I will send him an email too.
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During the flight, the screens attached to the ceiling throughout the cabin first showed news, followed by some Disney cartoons. During descent the in-flight information on speed, altitude etc. was showed. The descent was steep and fast, using the speed brakes continuously from 20,000 feet till final approach. We flew a left downwind and approached Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) from the south.
During approach, I was astonished to witness a serious safety breach. A woman at the other side of the plane, in row 40, was lying flat over the three seats all the way till after touchdown. She had no seatbelt on, and her blind was down. I don’t know whether the flight attendant had told her to sit up and fasten her seat belt during the cabin preparation or not. This woman only woke up after touchdown. In any case, this was a clear case of a non-secured cabin…
We left the plane, made our way through the ultramodern terminal and took the shuttle train from the satellite building to the main terminal. Baggage collection went swiftly, I changed some money and picked up our rental car for the drive to Kuala Lumpur. The airport has a very good train link with downtown called the KLIA Ekspres. We decided however to rent a car to be more independent, also bearing in mind that we wanted to do some spotting around the airport later on. There is an excellent road network around KL, although it gets a bit confusing upon entering the urban area for a first-timer here. We ended up at the central station (which is also the last stop of the KLIA Ekspres) and after some effort finally found our hotel. Although we were kind of lost, we never call it that: we were merely doing some extra sightseeing.
The next two days were spent going to the Thai embassy, some city sightseeing (mostly from the comfort of our rental car) and shopping. There are a huge number of shopping malls in KL, and we visited the newly opened Times Square. This is a huge complex containing ten (10!) floors of shops and food outlets. And, believe it or not, there is an indoor fair with a rollercoaster. I know that Dubai is extravagant, but never expected something like this in KL too. I just hope they got their structural calculations right with the vibrations that thing causes…
The impressive Petronas Towers, linked by a walkway on the 41st floor
On our last day we checked out of the hotel and drove to KLIA to do some spotting. First we went into the terminal to have a bite to eat. The signs say that there is a viewing area on level 5, which is the departures hall. As far as I know, there is no viewing gallery as such and I think that they mean the view of Runway 14R’s threshold which you have through the glass in the check-in area. We then got into the car to drive around the airport premises towards the new LCC terminal, looking for good spotting locations along the way. All Air Asia flights operate from this dedicated terminal and I was surprised to see that most flights were now operated by A320’s. We then followed the perimeter road, along the cargo aprons and Runway 14R/32L to another known spotting location, near the meteorological station, only to find out that this runway was being maintained and all traffic was handled on 14L/32R. So we took the same road back, this time looking for the observation hill. Once we found it, there was a sign saying ‘No Entry’ and half a barricade. We decided to go up anyway, just like some others there. The hill offers a very good overview of the eastern runway and the gate areas. Although traffic is less and not as diverse as in Bangkok, for example, I did take pictures of some interesting aircraft such as the Air Asia A320 in Manchester United colours and an A330 of Yemenia Airways. And of course a whole series of MAS aircraft to add to my collection. Feeling the urge to get some nice landing shots, we made our way towards the threshold of runway 14L/32R in the hope to find a good location. We turned into an unpaved track under the railroad bridge and found a great spot for taking final approach shots, where we stayed until we saw our plane come in from Bangkok.
We then handed in the rental car and proceeded to check-in, which was done quickly. Just as on the flight to KUL, we got the same three seats in row 41. We went through immigration, took the shuttle train to the satellite terminal and spent the time till boarding with shopping and having a snack. I think KLIA is a great airport and I was surprised by the low prices of food and beverages: I had a delicious portion of satay for a mere RM 10 (2 euros), and earlier we had a meal at the Burger King in the arrivals hall which was cheaper than in any normal BK in Thailand. The only thing I missed there was free internet access. I found an ‘island’ with four computers which were intended to provide free internet, but they were all disconnected. I suppose the business class lounges offer free access, but hey, we’re not all that rich…
24 AUG 06 – Flight LH783 KUL-BKK
Boeing 747-400 D-ABTC
2130 - 2230
The plane taking us back to Bangkok tonight was the same one that brought us to KL.
We were at our gate at 20.45 and boarding started in time. There were only about 60 passengers in economy class for the flight to Bangkok. We did have a delay because of the single runway operation, and were airborne at 21.55. The crew on this flight was much friendlier, and the food better. This time we got a snack box containing a little bread roll with a slice of cheese and cold chicken, apple pie, dried mango, noodles, a tomato and water. I had an orange juice as well.
The flight itself was uneventful apart from some turbulence en-route, but during the approach into Bangkok we had to hold for a minute or fifteen due to heavy traffic, according to the captain. I saw some lightning flashes during finals, and the landing was a bit hard. Hoping that our suitcase would be offloaded here instead of being sent to Frankfurt, we got off the plane and made our way through immigration, were relieved when the bag appeared on the belt and jumped into the car for the drive home.
To sum it all up: the flights with Lufthansa were pleasant and much better than the cramped ride on an A320 on our last trip, to Singapore and back. Kuala Lumpur International Airport definitely conquered a place in the top of my preferred airports list, and I found KL itself to be a great and very interesting city – very different to what I thought would be a bit of a dull capital. I also liked the many different cultures and the vibrancy of it. I would certainly recommend a visit to Kuala Lumpur, or Malaysia in general, to anyone considering it.