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Firefly - LCC Experience And New 73H Jan 2011

Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:23 am

Firefly Trip Report

A slightly change of tone… Going from a luxury boutique airline to a low coast airline offshoot of a major airline in the same trip! Firefly is promoted as your “community” airline, which is a full subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines and has been running mainly short haul and point-to-point routes using ATR-72-500s. It has been using Kuala Lumpur Subang airport for years, and late last year, it has announced a major expansion plan using Boeing 737-800s and started to fly out from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. I see it as a clone of Air Asia using Boeing planes and using KLIA main terminal, instead of the tired looking low cost carrier terminal (LCCT). It promotes the fact that they use the KLIA main terminal and aerobridge for boarding and deplaning. It has just started the KLIA operation on January 15, 2011 and currently flew from KLIA to Kuching and Kota Kinabalu using two Boeing 737-800s. I have read much about the ATR72-500s operation and decided to give this new operation a try. From what I read, this 737 operation is very different from the ATR-72-500 operation. It is leaning towards a low cost model, but I am wiling to say that much have to be done in terms of the actual operation and the schedule is really tight. Turnaround time is still not good enough. There is much to learn and this report will explain a bit why some work needs to be done. However, I definitely prefer Firefly to Air Asia just because of two reasons – no need to deal with LCCT and using aerobridge for boarding and deplaning especially in tropical regions, even though Air Asia A320s are more smartly designed and comfortable. Actually the pure avoidance of LCCT at KLIA is enough reason for me.

Despite I flew RT, the report will focus mostly on the return segment because it is a daytime return flight and I am able to shoot more pictures of Kuching International airport, which is not a common airport discussed here and more aviation friendly than KLIA.

Flight information:
January 25, 2011
FY 630 KUL-KCH Lv2045 Arr2230 Boeing 737-800 Winglet 9M-FFB

January 26, 2011
FY 607 KCH-KUL Lv1400 Arr1540 Boeing 737-800 Winglet 9M-FFB

Firefly has a pretty easy to use website and I am able to pick seats and order meals in advance. It is user friendly. I have not tested the “change” function though since I don’t need to do so on this flight. I also like the fact that it offers a Premium package for additional 98 MYR one way, which include a free hot meal, bottled water, extra legroom seats, baggage allowance and priority baggage delivery, which is a big plus on my book. It will be nicer if it can include priority boarding. I booked my ticket easily and got an e-ticket soon. But please remember to print out your ticket or have your confirmation number ready, as the check-in agents need this information.

I find this experience to be the most disappointed part of the whole firefly experience. Firefly hires its own agents at KLIA or somehow wears firefly uniform, and at Kuching, MH agents conduct the check-in and boarding, except there was a manager type wearing firefly uniform. It is very obvious a MH related operation. In KLIA, Firefly uses Aisle A and there are about five to six agents handling all the check-ins, and in Kuching, only two counters are used for check-in. Due to the late night nature of outbound flight, there was no wait for check-in at KLIA, but the agent could not check me in just typing my name. I had to read him my confirmation number, which I found it unusual. The agent was not particularly friendly or polite. I actually did not feel the “communal” love here. The return check-in from Kuching was even more disappointing as the two MH agents were really slow in processing the check-in especially with bags. They had to manually write down the data, which consumed much time. It was just very un-low fare airline and inefficient operation. The wait was quite long given that there was not really a major line forming. It just took an agent five minutes to process one single passenger with check-in baggage. The current system is definitely inefficient, and the lack of use of technology is also a bit shocking especially in today’s LCC world. Where are the kiosks? How about on line check in or mobile check in? FY needs to develop those features before further expansion!

Check-in at Kuching

Firefly ticketing counter at KCH
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RE: Firefly - LCC Experience And New 73H Jan 2011

Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:26 am

Kuching Airport:
It is a very nice airport with limited international flights and mostly domestic and Singapore operations. The airport was very comfortable with lots of natural light. I really enjoy it!
View of Runway 25/7 from my hotel, Four Points Kuching:

Main Terminal:

Departure hall:

Terminal Inside:

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RE: Firefly - LCC Experience And New 73H Jan 2011

Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:28 am

MH Boeing 737-400 9M-MMS heading to KUL as well as MH 2515

Air Asia A320 9M-AFH heading to Kota Kinabalu

MH Boeing 737-800 9M-MLF heading to Kota Kinabalu and Tokyo Narita

On time:
That is another weak spot. I flew on Jan 25, just the day after the newly expanded schedule was placed with four daily flights to KCH, and three daily flights to BKI using just two aircraft with roughly 30 minutes turnaround time. Things were not running too smoothly and I was annoyed at the lack of “sincere” apology and explanation. However, most passengers took it like a grain of salt and I guess that was just the fact of flying a LCC. I would recommend booking earlier flight during the day. Remember only two aircraft and each aircraft was assigned to BKI and KCH, so you could trace the aircraft movement throughout the day. The schedule was not padded for sure like the US. Nevertheless, KLIA could be busy at peak time and the MH staff was still not used to a speedy turnaround or might be much training was still going on. The schedule was a bit challenging for the first month of operation. My outbound flight was significantly delayed as a chain effect from the second flight of the day from KUL. Headwind was pretty strong which also affected the on time performance from KUL to KCH. The official new departure time was 9:35pm, which was quite unrealistic. The plane did not park at gate till 9:25pm. It took them eighteen minutes before starting to board, and then another twenty minutes to board the plane (not even a full flight), and then we could not takeoff till 10:15pm from R/W32R. I honestly think at least during the first few months, things need to be padded better. First impression is key. The return flight was a bit better and the plane left 25 minutes late, due to late arrival of aircraft, and KCH was less crowded and turnaround time was shorter. Boarding started at 1:57pm (13 minutes after plane was parked), and did not complete till 2:14pm. We pushed back two minutes later and took off at 2:25pm from R/W25. Nevertheless, efficiency and on time are still a bit lacking. So folks, please pad your schedule accordingly.

9M-FFB arriving from KUL

Parked at gate 6:
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RE: Firefly - LCC Experience And New 73H Jan 2011

Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:29 am

Firefly branding:

Flight information:
Really not much to report, as there was no in-flight entertainment system or moving map! The pilot gave basic information and the routing was really straightforward. Outbound flight took an hour and thirty minutes with a cruising attitude of 37,000feet. The return flight was much quicker at one hour and seventeen minutes cruising at 38,000feet. The Boeing 737-800 worked like a shuttle and landing was pretty rough at KCH due to rain.

Well boarding supposed to take place according to row numbers and of course ended up like “everyone board at once”! The agents at KLIA were mostly Firefly own and they tried to maintain the order, and would ask passengers to step aside. However the MH agents at KCH just let everyone board at once, except the family with small children and wheelchair passengers. There was no attempt to form a single file line and it was chaotic. If they should enforce the boarding order, the boarding would take much shorter time.

Well the cabin was rather uninteresting and the blue leather seats are odd looking and did not reflect the vibrant image of the orange brand that Firefly tried to convey. Orange leather seats will be much, but black leather seats with an orange rim will look cool. And hope future new planes would come with the new Sky interior package. And they would use a more vibrant and “fun” upholstery. However these fake leather seats are comfortable to sit on and easy to clean. Could not take any nice pictures, as I had to fight the crowd to board the plane!

Random cabin pictures:

The absolute best is the first row of the DEF side - 2DEF I think - Impressive legroom and among the first to leave the plane:

Best row of the house is Row 17 – the exit row with recline!

Legroom shot – cross section view

Another shot showing tray table and magazine pockets:

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RE: Firefly - LCC Experience And New 73H Jan 2011

Mon Jan 31, 2011 7:31 am

Onboard Service:
Well it is a low cost airline and no entertainment or onboard magazine!
Here are the menu, safety card and Malaysian Airlines disposal bag (not even firefly brand)

Flight attendants were friendlier on the outbound flight despite the lateness but the flight attendants on the return flight, except the leading flight attendant, were rather stressed and did not smile much. However they were all pretty responsive to passengers’ needs and this poor girl has to listen to these three gentlemen complaining about random things, like not getting a window seat (I am like you need to pay for that if a window seat is so important to you. You are flying a LCC and that few extra ringitts won’t break the bank! If you want full service, go take a MH flight! The uniform was quite smart looking though, and all these F/As are young and nicely groomed, which did not happen in the US often.

Here is the menu:

Service sequence goes like this: 20-25 minutes after takeoff – hot meals were served to those who pre-ordered them, as well as sold to those who want a meal. 10-15 minutes later – other beverage and snacks were sold, followed by a clean up 20 minutes later. Then merchandise was sold next. There were announcements before each cart came through. There were four flight attendants working on each flight and two carts were used. Pretty efficient and only cash was accepted for onboard purchase now!

I had the premium package so I had four choices of hot meals to select in advance:

Roasted Chicken Rice on outbound

Malay Fried Rice with Chicken Satay on the return

Bottled waters came with the meal! Nice Firefly branded stuff! Too bad I could not take them due to international transit and I had only carry on bags.

Playing Cards – Rm 5 as souvenirs for myself. No Boeing 737-800 model available yet!

However there was on thing that Firefly needs to work on immediately and it was about the seating. You could call be a snob, but if you wanted me to pay extra for an exit row seats, I expect your staff to strictly reinforce that and only allow those paid for the seats to sit on those rows, not a random whiny passenger. I was really annoyed that random passengers could sweet talk the F/A too allow them to sit in the exit row. That was unacceptable because you charge extra $$$ and that would open a precedent and random people could just plow themselves there. It was unfair to the paying passengers. Since one F/A always stood at the exit row, s/he should check those boarding passes and then special seat cover should placed on those seats and tell passengers that those are extra legroom seat. You could do on board seat upgrade, which I did not mind because they paid for it. However, no freebie should be given out. Yes those regular seats have tight legroom, but it is a LCC and passengers who are tall and want more room, can buy an extra legroom seat like myself.

On the outbound flight, we began descent at 11:24pm and landed on R/W25 at 11:45pm and parked at gate 8 five minutes later. I felt bad for those taking the flight back to KLIA. Being delayed in late hours with no shops around was painful but the load looked quite poor – less than 20 passengers in the waiting room. The return flight began its descent at 3:24pm and landed at R/W32L in KLIA at 3:42pm and we parked at gate A8 eight minutes later. However it was interesting that our plane sat in the tarmac for almost a minute, even though there were literally 10 to 15 people standing under the gate. I presumed training. I did not check bags, but bags seem to come out rather speedily. At KCH, we had to go through immigration so bags were already rolling in the belt when we walked out.

Firefly is definitely an interesting experience and I have to give the ATR-72 and Subang airport a try in the future. However its Boeing 737-800 operation still needs much refinement if it wants to compete with Air Asia. I will work on a better upholstery and more vibrant to reflect the firefly orange brand. Check-in process is unacceptable for a supposedly efficient LCC and kiosks should be introduced from the get-go. Mobile and on line check in are other tools. Of course my minor annoyance was the extra legroom seats situation. Reinforce those seat assignments. Why bother to have it, if you can’t? However able to fly cheap and avoid the LCCT itself is a strong incentive for me to choose Firefly over Air Asia, and I am sure the on time statistics will improve once things smooth out. But Firefly needs to watch out and does not come out with over ambitious schedule because KLIA could be congested at times.

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