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. This is the second part of this trip report; part one can be found here.
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: EK352
Origin: Dubai International Airport (DXB)
Destination: Kuala Lumpur International (KUL) via Singapore Changi Airport (SIN)Distance: 3818 miles
Scheduled departure time: 09:25
Scheduled flight time: 10 hours 0 minutes
Class of Travel: Economy Class
Dubai Airport has several rush hours each day; when I arrived from MCT it was obvious that I had landed right in the middle of one. Even though it was only six in the morning, every nook and cranny was packed full of tried yet restless travelers. The terminal was just a sea of people: it was horrible.
The central shopping area at DXB was packed even though it was just six in the morning.
The endless sea of people continues.
With all this craziness in the Terminal, I decided to seek refuge in the Marhaba Lounge as quickly as possible - I was simply not ready to brace myself for the masses of people just yet. I have already highlighted the features of this lounge in Part III of my trip report to Muscat, so I will just leave you with some pictures instead.
The exterior of the Marhaba Lounge at DXB.
The entrance to the lounge reminds us that we are in the Middle East.
The impeccably clean bathroom in the Marhaba Lounge.
The well stocked beverage section. (This did have alcohol by the way.)
The selection of cold items available at seven in the morning.
My third breakfast this morning. The pastry was quite good actually.
A shot down the main area of the Marhaba Lounge.
After taking it easy for about one hour, I decided it was time to look around the airport a little. Sadly, with even more people now crowding the terminal building, my experience would not be pleasant. What I really hate about DXB is that there are just not enough seating areas, and people frequently sit and lie anywhere on the floor. This reminds me of some airports in Africa, and is a disgrace to Dubai in my opinion. I really missed Changi Airport!!
At peak times, passengers have no choice but to sit on the floor. All seats are taken.
People, people and more people…
Before proceeding to my gate for boarding, I tried to take some pictures of aircraft at DXB. I did this to take my mind off my crowded surroundings, but it did little to comfort me.
An Iran Air A310-200 taxiing at DXB.
An Emirates A340-300 waiting for departure clearance.
One of the many Emirates 777-300ERs waiting at Gate 20.
At about 8:30, 10 minutes before boarding, and with the flight information screens already showing ‘Final Call’, I started walking towards the Gate for EK352. Personally, I hate Gates 40-50 in Dubai, because they are in a temporary structure at the end of the terminal. Sadly, with my luck, I always seem to depart from these gates. Today was no different with EK352 departing from Gate 45.
Errr…. Houston, we have a problem… (Notice the tire at the back.)
The new Terminal 3 at DXB that will open in August.
As soon as I arrived at Gate 45, I knew that I was in for a miserable flight. The waiting area was packed to the brim and many people had to stand because there were not enough seats. Let me remind you that this was on a Tuesday! How Emirates manages to fill their flights completely on a Tuesday is just beyond me.
The Gate for EK352 today: Gate 45.
The overcrowded waiting area at Gate 45.
At the Gate, the friendly Emirates agent welcomed me to the flight and told me that boarding would commence very soon. True to his word, 10 minutes later, at 8:45, EK352 was ready for boarding.
As soon as boarding was called, the usual rush to the entrance occurred.
A shot down Terminal 3 from the waiting hall at the gate.
Boarding was carried out by zones, but as my boarding pass was issued in Muscat, I did not have a zone. Therefore, after Business Class had boarded, I just decided to board the aircraft; I could not stand the crazy waiting hall any longer. The Emirates agent at the entrance looked at my boarding pass, thought a little, looked and smiled at me, and then let me go.
Unfortunately, my satisfaction of getting past the Emirates agent was short lived. As soon as I walked down the bright green ramp to the waiting buses I reached the back of a long queue.
The long green claustrophobic corridor leading to the buses waiting below.
After waiting in line for more than ten minutes, it was finally my turn to board the bus for yet another long drive to the aircraft. This time the remote stand was on the Southern side of the airfield past the new Terminal 3. As usual, pictures were impossible due to the advertisements on the bus windows. By 9:16 the bus finally pulled up next to the aircraft that would take me to Kuala Lumpur, A6-EBX. Funnily enough, this was the same aircraft that had flown me from KUL-DXB three weeks earlier.
This time, the bus doors were opened promptly and by 9:18, 7 minutes before the scheduled departure, I was onboard EK352.
The massive GE90 engines on this 777-300ER. The person on the right looks so small!
Emirates have one of the largest 777 fleets amongst all airlines. The 777-300ER makes up most of the 777 fleet with 34 aircraft. As Tim Clark said himself, the 777-300ER is the most important aircraft in the medium-long haul Emirates fleet and they serve many destinations around the world in many different configurations. The 777-300ERs that serve Malaysia have a two class high density configuration that can carry up to 427 passengers.
Therefore, my aircraft today, A6-EBX, only had Business and Economy Class. On first inspection, the cabin seemed very nice and it was clean. Sadly A6-EBX, like all Emirates 777’s, has the cramped 3-4-3 configuration in Economy Class. The width of the seats was quite poor and the entire cabin felt slightly overcrowded due to the large number of seats. Thankfully, the ICE IFE system made up for the relatively poor seats, but it too was let down by the fact that the screen in my seat was small.
Photo © Jid Webb
Photo © Ryan Hemmings
This 777-31H/ER had its first flight in February 2007. The aircraft is owned by ILFC who are leasing it to Emirates. The first flight with the airline was in March 2007, so the aircraft is only a little more than one year old.
The view down the rear of A6-EBX.
My ticket for EK352 from DXB to KUL via SIN.
As I boarded EK352 I was welcomed onboard by the male purser of the flight. He directed me towards my isle and I walked through the long 777 cabin to row 37. When I reached my seat I was both surprised and upset at the same time. While my seat had endless legroom, my row had no window at all! Oh well, I guess one cannot have all good things at once…
My seat on EK352: 37B.
My superb legroom. It was even better than in Business Class.
At the beginning of the flight I asked one of the flight attendants whether I could have a quick peek in the cockpit before takeoff or after landing. He said he will ask his supervisor. This was the last time I heard from him for a very long time. The remainder of the boarding procedure took a very long time and many passengers were still not onboard as the 9:25 departure time went by.
The crew soon came around with the menus while the passengers patiently waited for boarding to be completed. At this time sleep got the better of me and I dozed off…
The place where my window should have been.
The view down the cabin as boarding was taking place.
About 30 minutes later I was woken up by the safety video being played. It was now 10:10 and EK352 was just being pushed back. Thankfully the taxi to runway 12R was brisk and at 10:20, 55 minutes past scheduled departure, EK352 took off from Dubai airport.
The view down runway 12R as EK352 lined up for takeoff.
The 777-300ER felt very heavy during takeoff and it climbed at a slow pace. The load on this flight was 100% in Business and 98% in economy, so the aircraft was completely packed. As far as my seat goes, it was very tight. While I am not the skinniest person on the planet, I am not overweight either, but the seat made me feel like I was. The width was horribly tight and the armrest was way too small. My only savior was the incredible legroom. I can only imagine the horrible flight some of the other passengers must have had. In my opinion, this was one of the worst Economy Class seats I had been on in a long time!
The confined Economy Class with the 3-4-3 seating layout.
When EK352 finally reached its cruising altitude, I discovered yet another drawback with my seat: it had very noisy surroundings. With the galley right next to me and the toilets a few meters in front, there was always something going on. I really wished that I could have kept my seat 7A…
The galley that was located just a few meters away.
The heavy trolley traffic around row 37.
About 45 minutes into the flight, breakfast was served. It was very similar to the breakfast I had had on EK867 a few hours before.
The menu showing the continental breakfast on EK352.
The continental breakfast consisting of a muffin, croissant and fruits.
After breakfast I decided to take a little stroll around the aircraft. By now, many passengers had already fallen asleep and the cabin was much quieter. However, as I returned to my seat, I was confronted with something I had never seen before. Four passengers had decided to turn the galley into a little area for praying. While I respect all religions, I am not sure I really liked this public display, even if Emirates is a carrier from a Muslim country. Some passengers looked at the unfolding event in a very concerned manner, but after 10 minutes or so everyone returned back to their seats.
Some of the passengers who participated in the prayer in the galley.
The view out of the emergency exit window as EK352 left the coast of Oman.
I now decided to try to use the impressive ICE system to try to take my mind away from the horrible seats; believe me, it worked! While the screen could not compare to some of the newer SQ offerings, its size was above average. Nonetheless, the choice of movies and television programs was excellent as usual and I could barely decide which of the hundreds of shows I should watch.
The IFE screen with the excellent ICE startpage.
Choices, choices, choices… there are hundreds!
After watching half a movie I fell asleep, only to be woken up by some heavy turbulence over the Indian subcontinent. However, this was only a sign of things to come, as I was going to find out much later. During the entire flight over the Bay of Bengal, EK352 was busy evading one thunderstorm after another and many passengers started to get very sick. All this made for a very uncomfortable experience.
The flight path display clearly showed EK352 flying around bad weather.
Fortunately, two hours before arrival in Singapore it was time for Lunch. With so many passengers being sick, the entire food service was very swift and efficient because very few people were eating. Lunch began with a drink and some savory biscuits.
A Diet Pepsi and some savory biscuits were served first.
I really liked the idea of these nibbles before the main event and it reminded me of the way the service is sometimes carried out in Business Class. Not bad at all in my opinion. Soon after, lunch was ready to be served. I chose the steamed salmon, and the dish did not disappoint. The salad was nice and fresh and the dessert was tasty as well. In fact, it has to be one of my favorite Economy Class meals in recent memory.
The menu on EK352.
The choices for lunch were Thai style chicken or Steamed Salmon.
The lunch tray on EK352.
The tasty steamed salmon with mashed potato. (The menu said buttered pasta!)
During the Lunch service more drinks were offered. By this time, I had lost all sense of time and just ordered a good old beer. I was surprised that Emirates serves Budweiser on this route.
My can of Budweiser. Once again the crew gave me the entire can without me asking!
With a little more than one hour until Singapore, the Lunch trays were collected. When looking at the flight path, I noticed that I was once again flying 33000 feet over my final destination. Why can’t we just have a diversion to PEN??
So close yet so far… It would take me until tomorrow morning to finally reach PEN.
PEN was just under those clouds, yet I would need two flights from SIN to get there.
As day turned to night, the beautiful mood lighting and ‘star filled’ ceiling came into view once again. So far, I have not yet been on any another airline which has had this effect, but I hope they will become more common in the future. The faint blue light and LED studded ceiling created a very peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.
The mood lighting and ‘stars’ on EK352.
The forward economy cabin as we entered the night.
As we passed Kuala Lumpur, the captain announced that our decent into SIN had just begun and he gave some general information about the turnaround in Singapore. He also mentioned that some severe thunderstorms were closing in on the island, but they would not affect our approach.
The cabin was then prepared for arrival and I began another long conversation with the stewardess sitting on the jump seat in front of me. It turned out that she had only been working with Emirates for about two weeks, but she was very professional in my opinion. (In fact, she was probably the nicest member of the crew.)
The blue mood lighting during the approach and landing at SIN.
True to the captain’s word, the approach was very smooth. It was just too bad that I couldn’t see anything outside. Nonetheless, at 21:10, 1 hour and 5 minutes after scheduled arrival, EK352 touched down smoothly on runway 20R. After a short five minute taxi, we arrived at the gate. The turnaround time was just a little more than one hour now, so the delay was not all bad news.
Our neighbors at SIN: A Swiss A340-300, another Emirates 777-300ER and a Qantas 747-400.
During the 1 hour and 10 minute turnaround, passengers had the choice to get off the aircraft or to stay onboard. I decided to stay and watch the turnaround procedure. About 10 minutes after arrival, the cleaning crews descended on the aircraft. This being SIN, they were very efficient.
The cleaning crew during EK352’s stopover in SIN.
Soon after, the catering truck pulled up alongside the aircraft. Again the changing of the equipment was very quick and it seemed like the stopover would actually only be 45 minutes. Little did I know what was to come…
The SATS maintenance crew fixing something in the toilet.
The catering service being carried out just before the new passengers boarded the aircraft.
By 21:50 boarding had already begun and a steady stream of passengers came onto the aircraft. I would say that about 60% of the passengers had left EK352 in SIN, but as this flight was going back to DXB after KUL, the load was again nearly 100% as we pushed back. In the mean time, the weather had deteriorated rapidly and the heavy thunderstorms had arrived. Even so, EK352 pushed back from the gate at 22:20, 5 minutes before scheduled departure.
However, as we taxied down runway 20C, it became clear that we would not be leaving for a while. The rain had intensified and lightning strikes were filling up the sky. The captain soon announced that SIN was closed due to the adverse weather and we would have to wait at least 30 minutes before the runways would be open again.
The rain pouring down the window. This really was an intense tropical shower.
As EK352 waited on the tarmac I continued my conversation with the stewardess in the jump seat in front of me. She said that other airlines had not hired her because she is too short, but Emirates did not mind. She was from Australia and she was really having a great time so far. I thought she was a pleasant individual, so Qantas and Jetstar really missed out on a great stewardess.
After 30 minutes or so, we were informed of another short delay because the thunderstorm had not yet cleared and the crosswinds were too strong. Thankfully, at 23:15, 50 minutes after scheduled departure, EK352 was finally cleared for takeoff. Sadly, the thunderstorm was still quite strong and the roll down the runway was very rough as the pilots fought with the crosswinds. Personally, I was just happy that I was in a brand new 777-300ER.
As we climbed out of SIN, the turbulence subsided, but I noticed that we were going in a southerly direction even though KUL is north of SIN. Sure enough we were making a very large circle in the wrong direction. However, when we flew over Singapore again, the full force of the storm struck the aircraft. There were massive leaps in all directions and all monitors and lights went off as lighting surrounded us. Some passengers began to panic as the engines flared aggressively and the aircraft dropped a few hundred feet. I had flown for thousands of hours in my lifetime, but never had I experienced such severe turbulence over an extended period of time.
Notice the large circle EK352 did below Singapore before flying North.
After 10 minutes of being shaken like beads in a rattle, the severe turbulence had finally decreased in intensity. Believe me, it was a welcome relief. Nevertheless, the flight was still pretty rough, so the seatbelt signs were never turned off and drinks were never served.
The unusual flight path from SIN to KUL.
The remainder of the flight, while being uncomfortable, passed by relatively quickly and EK352 soon lined with runway 14L. The approach felt rather fast and sure enough the landing was very hard. I think the aircraft bounced three times before all wheels were firmly on the ground. EK352 landed in Kuala Lumpur at 00:05, 40 minutes after the scheduled arrival. I was just glad to be back on the ground.
After a short taxi we arrived at the gate and the usual disembarking rush began. Luckily, only about 40% of the passengers were getting off here, so the situation was not as bad as it could have been. As I left the aircraft, I asked the purser if I could take a picture of the cockpit. He rudely declined and told me to disembark. A nice ‘no’ would have been sufficient, but a rude lecture was the last thing I needed at midnight. Unfortunately, I left EK352 with bad memories of Emirates. A pity really, since they had exceeded my expectations throughout much of my journey.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport was very quiet when I arrived. The only aircraft arriving must have been EK352 and many areas looked completely deserted.
A Malaysian Airlines A330-200 at the gate next to us.
The long and empty interior of KLIA at midnight.
After all the delays and the lack of a snack on the final leg of the journey, I worked up some serious appetite. Fortunately, the Burger King in the Satellite Terminal is open 24 hours a day so I decided to eat before collecting my luggage.
The main shopping area in the Satellite Terminal.
My midnight meal. I took some of the food back with me to the hotel.
After enjoying my meal, I proceeded towards the Aerotrain to the main terminal. The station was completely empty and I almost had the train to myself.
The Aerotrain station at the Satellite Terminal.
The platform just before the arrival of the train.
The train journey only took about four minutes and I was soon in the empty main terminal. Funnily enough, I saw a screen showing that only the first bags from EK352 had arrived at the baggage claim area, even though I had eaten an entire meal already. It was also interesting to see that the Bangladesh Biman Airlines flight from Dhaka had already been delayed for 10 hours. A normal occurrence I guess?
The beautiful architecture at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Notice the very delayed Biman Airlines flight above EK352.
The almost empty Aerotrain to the main terminal.
The remainder of my walk to the baggage reclaim was swift and lonely. There were no queues whatsoever at immigration even though only two counters were open. In addition, most shops in the terminal had already closed, so an eerie silence hung over the structure.
The only other souls were two airport employees.
When I arrived at the baggage claim area at 00:50, my bag had still not arrived. This was pretty poor considering that the flight had landed 45 minutes ago and there was hardly any other traffic at the airport. There were also still plenty of other passengers waiting for their luggage.
Belt G was used for EK352 today.
The vast expanse of the baggage claim hall with many passengers from EK352 still waiting for their luggage.
A short while later, my luggage finally arrived safely and I made my way towards the arrivals hall. With EK352 arriving in KUL so late, I would have to wait until tomorrow to fly back to Penang with Malaysian Airlines.
The vast maze of escalators at the arrivals hall.
The deserted curbside at KUL.
I guess all good things must come to an end, and it seemed that my good luck with Emirates abandoned me on this flight. While I was very fortunate to sit at the emergency exit row, the seats were very poor and far behind much of the competition. With only one member of the crew actually trying to put on a smile, the crew was also a disappointment. In particular, the purser was extremely stuck up and impolite. Even though my earlier flights with Emirates were much more positive, I question my loyalty to Emirates on this route. After all, Qatar Airways and Etihad are just around the corner and they, just for starters, have far better seats than Emirates in Economy. While my flight on EK352 was not abysmal, it was below average. In conclusion, based on this flight, I am hesitant to recommend Emirates on this route. There are just too many good competing airlines to choose from instead.
(2.0) Booking: 9.0
(1.0) Check-in: 5.0
(1.0) Airline Airport Facilities: N/A
(0.5) Boarding: 3.0
(2.0) Seat: 4.5
(1.0) Entertainment System: 8.0
(2.0) Crew: 3.5
(2.0) Food and Drink: 8.5
(0.5) Amenity kits and other freebies: N/A
(0.5) Arrival: 5.0
(1.0) On-time performance: 5.0
Overall weighted score: 6.08
Thank you for taking the time to read the second part of this trip report. The final part should be ready soon. As always, any comments and opinions are welcome and much appreciated.