The following trip report features my return flights from Muscat to Penang. The trip report on the flights to Oman can be found here: Penang - Kuala Lumpur, Kuala Lumpur - Dubai, Dubai - Muscat. After three wonderful weeks in the incredibly hot Muscat (it was often more than 55°C!!) it was time to head back Penang, Malaysia.
To travel from one city to another often sounds much easier than it really is in practice. The journey one must undertake is usually far more complicated and troublesome than it should ever have been, but what can one do? As slaves of the so called ‘hub and spoke’ system, we have to mould our journeys to the flights available, even if this calls for a ridiculous number of transits. Unsurprisingly, my routing from Muscat to Penang was no different: Four flights, three different aircraft, five airports and a travel time of more than 29 hours. The following report tells the story of the cumbersome journey from Seeb International Airport (MCT) to Penang International Airport (PEN).
This trip will also be an interesting comparison between the Emirates Business and Economy Class products, because my flights to Oman with Emirates were in Business and the return journey is in Economy. Believe me, the difference is immense! So please grab a coffee (or a beer, depending on what time of the day you are reading this report) and enjoy the long journey.
General Flight Overview
Airline: Emirates Airlines (EK)
Flight number: EK 867
Origin: Seeb International Airport (MCT)
Destination: Dubai International Airport (DXB)
Distance: 217 miles
Scheduled departure time: 05:00
Scheduled flight time: 0 hours 55 minutes
Class of Travel: Economy Class
Seeb International Airport (MCT), which is now being renamed Muscat International Airport, is the largest airport in Oman. It is situated 20 kilometers away from the main residential area in Muscat and it is surrounded by barren desert landscape. When compared to some of the other major airports in the region, such as Dubai, Seeb feels like a rural airstrip. Many of the facilities also seem quite run-down and they are in desperate need of some renovation. Thankfully, a new Terminal building is already under construction.
The drop-off area at Seeb International Airport.
I arrived at the airport at about 3:00am, an ungodly hour. The curbside was deserted at this time of the day, yet there were still three flights departing within the next two hours. While walking into the departures hall, constant thoughts of my soft bed at home were played in mind as if they were in repeat mode.
The calm area outside the departures hall at MCT.
The entrance leading into the check-in hall.
After a quick primary security check, which was manned by rude staff, the Emirates check-in desks were already in sight. The departures hall, with its light walls and polished floors, had a lifeless and clinical atmosphere. Only the Emirates and Etihad check-in areas showed some signs of life with queues of about five people.
The departures hall at MCT. It reminded me of a large hospital.
The Emirates check-in area at MCT.
The entire check-in process seemed rather random and disorganized. There were no priority desks for Business Class passengers and people were queuing in one line at two counters at once. I also had to ‘kindly remind’ one or two people not to cut line, but after waiting for about 10 minutes it was my turn to check-in.
I ended up checking-in at counter 10.
The check-in process was a mixed bag. The agent at the desk acted as if he was new and he did not really know what to do yet. Nonetheless, he was polite and after some time he asked whether my final destination was KUL. I told him that he was correct and then proceeded to ask about my seats. (This is where things began to get confusing.)
At first he said that the aircrafts were all fully booked, but experience told me that this could not be the case. Soon after, the Emirates supervisor caught an eye of my struggling check-in agent and he came over to help him. The supervisor was very unfriendly at first, talking down to me aggressively. I was not impressed. However, his attitude changed when I asked for the registration of today’s aircraft; he must have been pleasantly surprised at my interest in aviation. All of a sudden, he started smiling as he told me to wait while he ‘processed’ my ticket.
After making a few phone calls and shouting at another check-in agent, he came back to me with my new boarding passes. He now referred to me by last name and wished me a wonderful journey with Emirates. It turns out that he moved some passengers away from the bulkhead window seats and put me in their place. That’s not so bad after all.
As I was checking-in, the lines at the counters became much longer. (Maybe because I took so long!)
Without further ado I went through immigration and the secondary security check. There were no queues at either point and the Oman Air Lounge was just a few steps away.
The entrance to the Oman Air Lounge at MCT.
The Oman Air Lounge is the only airline lounge at MCT. All airlines use this lounge and Middle Eastern platinum American Express card holders can also gain access for free (which is how I got in). While the lounge was small, it had a distinctly Middle Eastern ambiance: from the palm tree in the middle and plush leather couches to the arches on the ceiling.
The palm tree at the center of the Oman air Lounge.
The large plush couches and arches on the ceiling.
Initially, I almost had the entire lounge to myself. It was quite and the couches were very comfortable. I really liked the old authentic feel in the lounge; it was like a blast from the past.
My seating area in the Oman Air lounge at MCT.
Old meets new: The nostalgic seats meet the Plasma TV on the wall.
The lounge had all the amenities one could ever need. There was free wireless internet, a little bar and some very nice toilets. The food was also not bad at all. Especially the Arabian lamb wrap was very tasty, even though it was four o’clock in the morning. This being the Middle East, there were no alcoholic drinks, but the selection of other beverages was also impressive.
The food and beverage section behind the palm tree.
The small bar with the food section on the left hand side.
The food and beverage section of the Oman Air lounge.
My small breakfast at four in the morning.
At 4:15 I left the Oman Air lounge to explore the small terminal at Seeb before boarding. At this time of the day, only a few shops were open and there were hardly any people at all. Thankfully, boarding was called soon after, as there was absolutely nothing to for me to do outside the lounge.
One of the few open duty free shops at MCT.
The almost abandoned terminal building.
When I arrived at Gate 7, boarding had already commenced and there was only a short queue. A friendly Emirates agent checked my ticket and gestured towards the already overloaded bus that would take me to the aircraft. The journey seemed never-ending as the passengers were cramped into the bus like sardines in a can. It was just a horrible drive. Seeb International Airport currently has no aerobridges, so all passengers are bused to their respective aircrafts. Luckily, this will change with the construction of the new terminal.
The gate for EK867 today: Gate 7.
There was only a short queue for boarding at Gate 7.
The overloaded bus that took me to the waiting Airbus A330-200.
Adding insult to injury, the bus driver then waited for about 10 minutes in front of the aircraft before opening the doors. Many passengers were quietly complaining to themselves, as we all waited patiently for something to happen. It was an agonizing wait. Finally, at 4:30 the doors were opened and I could finally board the plane. I was onboard EK867 at 4:32, 28 minutes before scheduled departure.
The Rolls Royce Trent 700 Engine of this Airbus A330-200.
The beautifully shaped frontal section of A6-EAA.
A view down to the rear of A6-EAA.
Emirates currently have 29 Airbus A330-200 in service and it is the smallest aircraft in its passenger fleet. The aircraft is the backbone of the Emirates’s short haul fleet, but it also serves several medium haul destinations in Europe, Asia and Africa. The A330-200s that serve Oman can have, depending on demand, a two class or a three class configuration. Today, EK867 was in a two class configuration.
My aircraft today, A6-EAA, could seat 278 passengers in its two class configuration. On first inspection, the cabin stilled seemed average and it could have been a little cleaner. The IFE was not ICE, but since this was such a short flight, I was not really bothered.
Photo © Konstantin von Wedelstaedt
Photo © Stewart Andrew
This Airbus A330-243 had its maiden flight in August 2000. The aircraft is owned by Emirates who bought it brand new. The first flight with the airline was December 2000, so the aircraft is more than seven years old.
Side view of A6-EAA as she arrived at DXB.
My boarding pass for EK867 from MCT to DXB.
At the top of the stairway a female Emirates flight attendant welcomed me onboard and pointed towards my isle. I was one of the first passengers onboard and several crew members wished me good morning as I proceeded to my seat, 25J.
The empty cabin of the A330-200 as I boarded.
My seat on EK867: 25J.
As I came to my seat I noticed that one of the newspaper trays was parked directly in front of it. I am not sure if this is normal, but I could barely squeeze into 25J without pushing the cart into the other boarding passengers on the isle.
The newspaper cart parked in front of me.
My legroom: Well, initially, there was none…
The remainder of the boarding procedure proceeded quickly and without incident. At 4:55, 5 minutes before scheduled departure, the doors were closed and the engines were started. As soon as this occurred, the stupid newspaper tray was finally removed, greatly improving my legroom. The seat itself was not bad either. It was much better than the Emirates Economy seats on the 777’s which are in the 3-4-3 configuration. Nonetheless, I am very sure, that the fact this was a bulkhead seat improved the level of comfort immensely.
My improved legroom after the newspaper cart was removed.
At MCT, aircraft can often just taxi out of their remote stands without needing to be pushed back and today was no different. The safety video was shown quickly and we had already reached the entrance to runway 26 by the time it had finished.
After a short wait, the powerful Trent 700 engines roared to life and we blasted down the runway at rapid speed. The load for today’s flight was light, about 40% in Business and 50% in Economy, which might explain the blistering takeoff. At 5:02, 2 minutes behind scheduled departure, EK867 took off from runway 26 and turned towards the North West.
The beautiful colors of the dawn as Ek867 took off from runway 26.
The A330-200 climbed rapidly and the seat belt sign came off very quickly. As we pierced through the thick layer of dust that blanketed Muscat, the stunning sunrise revealed itself.
The different tones of purple and violet were just magnificent.
Soon after, the sun majestically rose over the eastern horizon.
About 15 minutes into the flight, breakfast was served. It consisted of a turkey sandwich, a small chocolate muffin and some fruits. While none of the items were anything special, the food was not bad considering this was only a 55 minutes flight. A quick drink service offering coffee and tea was also carried out. I ordered a Diet Coke, which came soon after in the form of a cup with ice and an entire can. Impressive.
The breakfast tray on EK867. Not bad for such a short flight.
After the breakfast service was completed, the scenery outside started changing in spectacular fashion. The layer of dust, the mountains and the sun combined to provide some very scenic shots.
The dust covered mountains between Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
The sun piercing through the dust over the mountains.
Only the tallest peaks could penetrate the thick layer of dust covering the land.
Sadly the wonderful display outside would not last very long. About 30 minutes after takeoff EK867 started its quick descent into DXB. It did not take long for the speed brakes to be deployed and we soon flew back into the increasingly thick layer of dust below.
The deployment of the speed brakes marked the end of the scenic segment of the flight.
As the aircraft was prepared for landing, an attractive and friendly flight attendant took her place on the jump seat in front of me. It turned out she was from South Africa and had worked for Emirates for under a year. She was very down-to-earth and I had a really good conversation with her as EK867 lined up with runway 12L. It turns out that she is likely to be one of the first crew members to serve the new A380 in August - however she did not seem too pleased about this prospect.
Even as the landing gear was extended, the view outside showed no signs of the ground. Only as we were less than 500 feet high, Dubai finally came into view.
The first signs of Dubai as EK867 was about to land on runway 12L.
The airport finally came into view shortly before touchdown.
At 5:53, 2 minutes before scheduled arrival, EK867 touched down on runway 12L. The dust was so thick that I could barely identify the terminal building only a few meters away.
Touchdown: Notice the faint terminal building in the background.
After a five minute taxi, EK867 pulled into a remote stand at the northern end of the airfield. The stewardess in front of me joked that this was the furthest possible remote stand from the Terminal, and as the incredibly long bus ride would soon prove, she was spot on.
The buses were already waiting for us at the remote stand when we arrived.
The rather civilized disembarkation of EK867.
The old Business Class seats on this Emirates A330-200.
The buses were already waiting when we arrived and they filled quickly. Sadly, the journey back to the terminal would not be as swift. We must have taken at least 20 minutes to drive back to the transit area and once again picture taking was out of the question due to the stupid advertisements on the outside of the bus windows. The drive passed by as if it were in slow motion.
Welcome to Dubai Airport again: This is Emirates territory.
After the horrible bus ride, I was welcomed to DXB by the overcrowded transit security area. It is about time they finished Terminal 3! After waiting more than 20 minutes in the long lines and having to bear with all the noise as well as the rudeness of some passengers who could not resist cutting the queue, I was finally inside the Terminal building at DXB.
The crowded transit security area at DXB.
Welcome to Dubai Airport… again…
I now had a little more than three hours until my onward flight to Kuala Lumpur, but my time in Dubai and the flight from DXB-KUL will be featured in Part II of this trip report.
This flight on Emirates was very average. While the aircraft and the crew were not bad at all, but the ground handling at both MCT and DXB left much to be desired. Nonetheless, I am once again happy to say that the Emirates crew was very open and friendly, which contradicts many things I have read in the past. In addition, the quality of their Economy product for such a short flight was also above average. I just hope that they will try to keep the experience passengers have on the ground at the same level as their service in the air.
(2.0) Booking: 9.0
(1.0) Check-in: 5.0
(1.0) Airline Airport Facilities: 7.5
(0.5) Boarding: 3.0
(2.0) Seat: 8.0
(1.0) Entertainment System: 6.0
(2.0) Crew: 8.0
(2.0) Food and Drink: 7.5
(0.5) Amenity kits and other freebies: N/A
(0.5) Arrival: 1.0
(1.0) On-time performance: 9.0
Overall weighted score: 7.27
Thank you for taking the time to read the first part of this trip report. The next part should be ready soon. As always, any comments and opinions are welcome and much appreciated.
[Edited 2008-07-18 07:24:14]