This trip report concludes the journey that I took from Auckland to Phnom Penh in my last trip report:
Auckland To Phnom Penh: Long Haul, Low Cost (by HKGfan Jan 22 2012 in Trip Reports)
After a good three months spent in Asia, it was time to return to New Zealand for my second year of university. As mentioned in the last TR, I had booked this whole trip on LCCs, taking Air Asia X out of NZ and Jetstar back. Routes within Asia were also booked on Air Asia. Doing the trip this way brought the cost down to 1600 NZD for the return trip.
For this return leg, I had planned to take AK from CCU to KUL, spend the night there, then fly AK to SIN before finally catching 3K to Auckland:
However, in mid-January I received an email from Jetstar which simply said, “here is your itinerary”. It would appear that they were simply re-sending it, but upon closer inspection I realised that it listed my SIN-AKL flight as on the 20th of February. I was shocked, because I had booked for the 19th. Calling the JQ office revealed that they had cancelled the 19th flight and moved me to the 20th. I was very surprised that they did not properly inform me of this – they should have described the change instead of just sending a new itinerary. Had I not noticed the subtle change in ticket dates, I could have arrived on the 19th to find no flight operating for another 24 hours!
This also forced a change to my plans for getting to Singapore. I was booked to arrive there at noon on the 19th, leaving a days’ wait in Singapore. After considering the options, I decided to cancel the KUL-SIN flight, and instead travel overland to Singapore with an overnight stop at Malacca, Malaysia.
18 February 2012
Air Asia AK 1242
Kolkata (CCU) – Kuala Lumpur LCCT (KUL)
Airbus A320, 9M-AHX
Scheduled: 1705-2335 (3h 30m)
The convenient departure time of 5 AM was a welcome relief from the early morning wakeups required by my earlier flights! I took a taxi to the airport, which was an hour’s journey due to the ridiculous state of Calcutta’s traffic.
A word about CCU airport. The international terminal, built in 1975, is certainly showing its age. The small size of the terminal and inept facilities can perhaps be responsible for the low number of international carriers servicing the airport. Lufthansa’s thrice weekly to Frankfurt – the airport’s last non-Asian destination – is ending next month. Hanian airlines of China started a new route to Calcutta from Shenzhen, only to pull out four flights later due to lack of demand. Meanwhile, the domestic terminal is bursting at the seams with the recent surge in domestic traffic, to the extent that AI’s ATR services now operate from the international terminal instead. The experience of passing through CCU internationally is truly memorable. It will not last however, as a fancy new terminal is due to open soon.
It was perhaps no surprise, then, that my flight was the only international one for the afternoon. An AI service to Agartala was the only other flight, and the Kingfisher service to Dhaka was cancelled as the airline faces continually financial difficulty.
Let me walk you through the terminal. Begin by having your boarding pass and passport checked by security at the entrance to the checkin area.
Then have your luggage x-rayed by large machines, one for each airline. An integrated scanning system is but something to look forward to.
After this, wait for check-in. At CCU, the check-in desks are permanently claimed by the airlines, with all branding adorning them.
For some reason, the check-in process for this flight required no computers. The attendant simply ticked my name off the passenger manifest, and produced pre-printed baggage tags and boarding passes. I wonder if this system is normal for Air Asia at CCU – or were the computers simply down?
After check-in, proceed for immigration checks. I can remember the days when these desks were manned by impatient middle-aged officers that grunted and slapped your passport on the desk. Today? There were no queues, and the attendant was quick and efficient. A significant improvement!
Proceeding immigration, you travel up the escalator to security.
Security begins as the usual chore – laptops out of bags, etc – but here in India travellers are spared from removing belt and shoes. Upon frisking, the talkative security guard had the following conversation with me:
Hello sir, which is your state?
Me (confused): Uh, sorry, whats that – my street?
Sir, your state, your country
Me: ah! New Zealand.
You play cricket!
Me: ah, I enjoy watching it!
He smiled and stamped me off. It’s not every day that you talk to a security guard! By the way, telling someone in India that you are from NZ will often begin a conversation about cricket
After security, the traveller is presented with the gate area. The singular use of the word ‘gate’ is correct – CCU has but one departure gate, through which travellers board the aircraft via air stairs or the single aerobridge.
The area is crowded with seats – the big bulky kind that are nonetheless comfortable. Images of Bengali sightseeing attractions adorn the walls, while TV screens broadcast cricket and other programmes. Duty free shopping is limited to a clothing store, a bookshop, and a beverage stall.
I had an hour before boarding, leaving an hour’s wait. A dirty window provided some tarmac action.
Time to visit the bathroom – euggh!
Finally, at 1630, the aircraft arrived from KUL.
It was 9M-AHX, an A320-200 that entered service with AK in March 2010. The plane is equipped with ETOPS.
Photo © Vivek Manvi
Photo © Sri Ramani Kugathasan
Boarding was finally announced at 1645. For a period after 9/11, there were secondary security checks in the aerobridge, but this is no more.
The cabin, as usual for Air Asia, appeared clean and inviting. My seat, 6A, allows you to sit as close to the front of the plane as possible without occupying the more expensive ‘hot seats’. Legroom was tight, as usual for me due to my height.
The cabin filled to about a 90% load. By 1720, we finally pushed back for departure. Passed lots of domestic traffic while taxiing.
Take off was quick from runway 01R.
Hazy conditions at CCU meant that the view diminished only a few meters above the ground.
Dinner time. The crew came around with the pre-booked meals before selling the rest. I had booked the roast chicken which tasted great.
After dinner, there was little to do. Cabin lights were dimmed and some slept. I settled with reading a book. The crew did two more runs with the food for purchase, accepting payment in Rupees and Ringgits.
We finally descended and landed at KUL at 2330. There was little activity at the airport at that time, with many MH 777s and 747s parked on the tarmac. We pulled into a parking gate for the LCCT.
At KUL’s LCC terminal, passengers leave the aircraft through airstairs and then walk to the terminal via covered walkways.
Air Asia X’s A330s
Immigration was a breeze as there were heaps of desks open. The LCCT terminal may be very basic and aesthetically unattractive, but it is also very efficient. I was out of the airport in a matter of minutes.
I was booked at the Tune hotel for that night. The Tune Hotels are a low cost brand of hotels, and have one at a walking distance to the LCCT airport. However, I had luggage with me and so decided to wait for the shuttle bus. The trip cost 1 Ringgit.
The hotel rooms are really small, but are clean and comfortable. A great transit option.
The next morning I took the airport train to KL Sentral station to catch my train to Malacca. The system is fast and efficient.
This was followed by a comfortable two hour journey on the Singapore-bound train. The seats were spacious and comfortable, albeit a bit old. I think I would actually prefer to travel for 6 hours to Singapore in this comfortable train, instead of taking a generic, unexceptional flight on Air Asia!
I had an overnight stay in Malacca which was a fascinating town to visit. Malacca was an important trading town for the Portuguese, Dutch and British, and has many old buildings and historical attractions.
Remains of Portuguese Fort
Remains of Dutch Church
Next morning I took an early morning bus to Singapore. The ride took about four hours and offered some interesting views of the countryside. There are huge immigration complexes on either side of the border which you have to take your luggage through. My bag was thoroughly searched by Singaporean customs.
Upon arriving in Singapore I had a quick look around the riverfront area. What an amazing city!
Then took the MRT to the airport, a really convenient connection as you arrive just under the terminals.
SIN has been covered in heaps of TRs already, so I’ll just put up a few pics.
20 February 2012
Jetstar 3K 401 (Operated by Jetstar Asia)
Singapore (SIN) – Auckland (AKL)
Airbus A330, VH-EBQ
Scheduled: 1700 - 1005 (10h 30m)
Check-in was in Terminal 1. There were only 3 desks open for both this flight and one to Beijing, but thankfully I was allowed to use a business class desk so didn’t have to wait long.
Immigration was swift and soon I was airside. I love the big windows and views of the tarmac – at other airports such as BKK the view isn’t as good.
Proceeded for security at the gate. My aircraft to take me to Auckland today was VH-EBQ, an aircraft barely a year old.
Photo © John Richard Thomson
Photo © George Canciani
The wait at the gate was about 20 minutes but there were enough seats for everyone. The free internet access is a great facility to have as well.
Boarding was announced for business class and those with children, then for those seated at the back of the plane. Two aerobridge entrances were used, for business and economy class.
Was welcomed on board by the crew. Upon entering the cabin I was struck by the new seating and by the presence of PTVs. This was something I was certainly not expecting so was nice to see.
Sorry the pics are a bit blurry.
Legroom was decent. In all, the seat was a lot more comfortable than that of Air Asia X which I took in November. The seats have more padding, and there was more width as the seat layout was 2-4-2 instead of 3-3-3. PTVs were also obviously an added bonus.
The crew did the safety demonstration manually, despite it also being shown on the PTVs. We took off and were soon headed over Indonesia. The PTVs could be activated by paying 15 AUD by credit card, but as I had pre-booked mine at booking it worked automatically. There was a large variation of movies and music available, as well as games and the facility to connect devices via USB. Control was by touching the screen, as well as volume controls in the armrest. There was also a charging plug under the seat. All in all very impressive for an LCC, and certainly more than I had expected.
Thirty minutes after take-off the meal service began. As I had pre-ordered online, I was served first. The meal was chicken with rice and came with a soft drink/tea/coffee/juice included.
The meal tasted fine and the inclusion of the drink in the deal gave it the edge over AirAsia X (who just give a small bottle of water).
Food was then sold to the remaining customers. The flight was ‘cashless’ and products could only be paid by credit card. This was a bit of a shame as I was hoping to spend my remaining Singapore dollars. There was also a water dispenser in the middle of the cabin that produced free water.
The flight progressed and cabin lights were dimmed. I watched two movies, after which we were airborne above the Northern Territory of Australia.
Suddenly, the FA came over the loudspeaker saying “if there is a doctor or medical practitioner on board, please make themselves known to the cabin crew”. I could see the attendants clustered near a seat several rows ahead of me, and then the pilot came to review the situation. I wondered how serious the sickness was - would be have a diversion into Darwin? However nothing more was said and I think they let the passenger rest on 4 empty seats.
As the flight continued into Queensland I fell asleep, only to wake up as we reached the Tasman Sea. The usual bad turbulence occurred, after which the crew began the second meal service. It was breakfast this time, and I had my meal with coffee.
Soon after the meal we were descending into AKL. Once we flew under the clouds, the bright blue Manuaku harbour came into view.
We touched down on Runway 05R.
Taxiing to the terminal, I was fortunate to see the new NZ ‘All Black’ livery on two aircraft – the A320 and B777-300 ZK-OKQ, which was only delivered last month.
By contrast there were also NZ’s old 747s, sitting unused.
When we stopped at the gate, everyone jumped up at the overhead lockers in the usual fashion. However, the FAs then announced “please sit down, the Quarantine officers are coming on-board to inspect the aircraft”. Everyone sat in bated breath to see what this would entail. A good four minutes later, with nothing having happened, the FA announced, “the officers have decided not to board the aircraft today. Thank you”. Don’t know what that was all about!
Upon exiting the aircraft you walk down a corridor with large views of the apron. A recording of birdsong was played in the background.
At immigration I used the new ‘smart gate’ for NZ and Australian e-passports. You have to insert your passport into the machine, collect a ticket, then put that ticket in a gate machine. If the picture it takes of you matches up with your passport photo then you are free to pass through. Doing this gets you through very quickly!
However, any time made at immigration was lost at baggage claim because it took a good 15 minutes for my bag to come through.
After this is Customs inspection. NZ is very strict about biosecurity – all food must be declared and previously, all bags were X-rayed. However, I was let through without an X ray, I think this is only possible for New Zealanders that answered ‘no’ to all the questions.
After customs you are presented with an embracing arrival area that has recently been redeveloped.
But there was no one there for me to meet. Outside is the departure point for the ‘Airbus’, a direct Airport-city bus that runs every 10 minutes. This is a very efficient and quick way to get to town, although at $16 one way it is quite pricey. I was home in half an hour.
Overall I had two comfortable and efficient trips on this journey. Air Asia on the short haul are efficient and cheap which is a perfect combination for an LCC. Jetstar did poorly in