My wife B, four year old son Alex and I have flown Scoot from Sydney to Singapore then AirAsia to Penang and Kuching in Malaysia. Now it's time to strike out and see a new country, Taiwan, one we've never visited before (although it's actual status is the subject of debate which I'm not going to get into here).
During the planning stages I had us flying from Kuching to Kuala Lumpur and on to Taipei with AirAsia or more likely to Singapore with Tiger and Taipei with Jetstar Asia. Basically, this meant overnighting in one of those cities with the added expense of accommodation and transport. Then I found a routing with Malaysia Airlines going "straight" to Taipei. Okay, they aren't considered a low cost airline, but the price was highly competitive with the other options and it meant we'd be "saving" one day.
You see, the more I read about Taiwan, the more excited I was to visit.
Even better, the routing and aircraft offered a bit of interest for an avnut. From Kuching we would fly on Malaysia Airlines' regional service MASWings up to Kota Kinabalu in Sabah with a brief stopover in Bintalu, seeing even more of Malaysia than expected. The MASWings flights would be on ATR72-500s, so we would have a bit of turboprop action as well.
They wouldn't be our first ATR72s in Malaysia, as we flew with FireFly from Kuantan to Singapore back in 2009. I've also ridden a Virgin Australia ATR72-500 between Sydney and Canberra.
I couldn't find any MASWings trip reports on airliners.net (though I don't trust the search), so this might be the first! So I'm dedicating this report to Palmjet, whose love of regional flights is an inspiration.
How would we find Malaysia Airlines after our somewhat controversial last experience with them? They weren't particularly bad experiences, just not indicative of a supposedly five star airline. Then again, our only short-haul flight with MH was pretty good. From BKI we would be flying on a MH 738 to Taipei. I was hoping that it would be one of their new ones with seatback screens. A little luxury would be nice.
Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.
After saying goodbye to Mother-in-Law and friend, who had an early flight back to Kuala Lumpur and then Sydney, we spent the morning at the Sarawak Museum and Indian Bazaar. Then we had to race back to the hotel to collect our luggage and head off to the airport. Despite being the middle of the day traffic was slow in parts due to Malaysian schools having two separate sessions a day.
The rush turned out to be unnecessary, as there was plenty of time to check in and pass through security, with landside being pretty empty. Prior to lining up the queue to check in we had to first pass our big luggage through an x-ray machine. The MAS check in agent didn't seem particularly friendly, but we got our boarding passes soon enough and checked in our luggage.
Landside at Kuching Airport was quite pleasant, with sweets stalls, a toy shop (we didn't let Alex in there), tropical reef fish tanks and duty free. Working out which gate to go through to reach airside was confusing. Not only do the Malaysian Borneo states have a separate immigration system to Peninsula Malaysia, but also to each other. As our first destination was Bintulu, still in Sarawak, we had to go through the intra-Sarawak gate and the accompanying security screening.
Our gate was at the far end of the terminal, past the duty free, local products and food shops. We waited a while on the rows of seats, watching other passengers board Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia jets, a military transport land and taxi to the hanger opposite the terminal. Our flight seemed to be filling up fast, judging from the numbers seated nearby.
|Alex is a big fan of vending machines. Hopefully nothing smelling like the pictured Rafflesia inside.|
ETD: 14:00 (local)
ETA: 16:35 (local)
Boarding was via stairs and the rear door of the ATR. When I had booked online I had selected seats in row 7, but our boarding passes said row 1. Soon after we sat down B and Alex, sitting in seats 1A and B, were approached by Christine, one of the two flight attendants and the one stationed at the front of the aircraft.
"I'm sorry sir, but we will have to move you."
I realised that the front row was an exit row, and kids weren't allowed. Damn you Malaysia Airlines! Once again you stuff up our seating! Yes, on that last sequence of trips as well MH had managed to split our family up. I was fuming with the supposedly amazing airline for lacking any intelligence. Fortunately, the very friendly and smiley Christine, with the help of another passenger, rearranged things so that B and Alex were sitting behind me in row 2 (B demanded to sit with him) and the swapped passenger sat in 1A. Also fortunate, despite every other seat being filled, he and I had the front rows to ourselves, while Christine took a fold down seat in the aisle facing towards the rear.
|Jump seat folded up|
|40 years of Malaysian Hype...err...Hospitality|
Now we were all settled in I was surprised to see a tiny screen fold down from beneath the luggage compartments and display the safety demonstration. This was something I'd never seen in a turboprop before!
After the demonstration the screens stowed themselves again. As we taxi out I can see a old Caribou aircraft parked in the distance, a MASCargo A332 and an AirAsia A320 moving to take off before us.
|Caribou in the background|
The ATR doesn't seem to require a whole lot of runway to get airborne and we are soon rising above the tarmac and heading northwards.
|The airport terminal, looking almost empty|
|Business aviation - decided to take the "bus" today|
|Into the clouds|
Of all the flights on this trip, this is the one I had dreamed the most about. There was something romantic about cruising above puffy tropical clouds over jungles and sea. And it was, though the skies were a bit hazier and greyer than I imagined, while below the odd lazy brown river snaked through a jungle often obscured by cloud.. The cabin was quite comfortable, pretty jet like really, and Alex soon fell asleep.
|Rows 1 and 2|
Reasonably fresh, though somewhat sparsely filled, egg and cucumber sandwiches were served, along with apple or orange juice. The tiny screens then dropped down again and I thought we might get some entertainment. Nope, it's advertising time! Did you know that KFC vouchers make a great gift for lovers or business associates? Ads over, the screen disappeared again.
|It tasted better than it looked.|
|Hazy clouds and river|
|It was grey|
Cloudy skies make for bumpy skies, so it wasn't quite as dreamlike as I imagined. As we began our descent into Bintulu the clouds cleared and the sun shone upon the landscape below. It was then that damage wrought on the landscape by logging and the monoculture of palm oil plantations became clearer, compared with the rich diversity of the jungle. Just the difference between the tall jungle trees and the squat palms was interesting enough in itself. The green land was cracked by the scars of roads.
|Rivers and jungle|
|The edge of the jungle|