Route: Hong Kong – International (Chek Lap Kok) – Denpasar / Bali - Ngurah Rai International
Airline: Garuda Indonesia
Flight Number: GA857
Aircraft: Airbus A330-343
Seat: 8K (Business Class)
Distance: 2270 miles
Duration: 4hrs 40mins
We arrived just before 1pm thanks to one the Peninsula’s Phantoms, and were met by an airport representative who put our luggage on a cart and wheeled us over to Garuda’s check-in area.
Somewhat embarrassingly it wasn’t even open yet so we thanked him and waited….and waited…A small line had formed at the Economy desks but we were the only ones at Sky Priority. It was now just over 2hrs 30mins until departure and I pulled up the Garuda app on my phone to see if there was something I should know. The first thing to flash up was a note that the DPS Airport was now open following its 12hr closure due to Mount Agung activity. My initial thought was our flight had been cancelled or was severely delayed but a quick check of the Fightradar24 app indicated our inbound flight was 90mins from HKG. Phew! Just after closing the app a crew of agents showed up with a baggage cart that was festooned with all the required things to staff their desks and within a few minutes the monitors were on and we were waved forward.
We were quickly over to security and exit immigration although our boarding passes didn’t seem to scan properly which wasn’t very promising! In the scale of HKG it wasn’t far to the Skyteam lounge by gate 15, handy for our departure but was largely unimpressive…
After fifteen minutes we upped sticks for the American Express Centurion lounge further down the terminal. The superior cocktails (thanks to the mixologist from PDT), food and views winning out. We even got to see our A330 land and taxi in which was a reassuring sight given our minor check-in “scare”!
We had taken the train to the American Express lounge but it only runs one way in departures so it was a lengthy walk back to gate 19, which was literally the furthest gate from the Centurion lounge! Boarding still seemed to be on time and we hovered away back from the gate until it became apparent they were wanting Business Class and Sky Priority eligible passengers to form a line by the podium. This of course caused the Economy line to form and quickly snake far back towards the other gates.
A little after the anticipated boarding time of 3.15pm we headed down the lengthy jetbridge and used the Business Class jetbridge to board the aircraft. We were warmly greeted onboard and shown to our seats with headphones, menus and amenity kits all primed for us.
Pre-departure drinks were offered almost instantly and whilst my champagne (2005 Castelnau Millesime) was prepared I went to change in the toilet at the back of the cabin. Amazingly only a couple of minutes after I had got back to my champagne and cool, scented towel it was announced boarding was complete. Dual jetbridges really aren’t just vanity for premium passengers! The Business Class cabin was sparsely populated with maybe half of those in the front cabin taken, and none in the smaller rear cabin. Most of those in the front were an Australian family group.
The jetbridge retracted at 3.50pm with newspapers offered shortly thereafter. Drinks orders were taken and we actually pushed back at just after 4pm. It was a lengthy taxi out past the control tower out to 25L for departure.
From takeoff we had a great view of the still unopened HK-Zhuhai –Macau Bridge before turning southwards for Indonesia. The seatbelt sign was off remarkably quickly and within 20mins of taking off we had new full glasses of champagne with lamb amuse bouches to hand.
There was some light chop so the seatbelt sign was put back on and I looked through IFE offerings. They were perfectly fine for a shorter flight such as this although certainly not the most extensive I’ve seen. I settled for an old favourite, Catch Me If You Can, which seems very appropriate when airborne.
A tray of snacks was brought around with a choice of nutrigrain type bars, nuts or seaweed flavoured Lays potato chips, the latter of which I couldn’t not try! Rather good they were too…
The mood lighting was brought up as the main cabin lights were dimmed for cruise, even though outside it was still rather light.
The meal service proper began just over an hour and a half into the flight, starting with Lumpiah with vegetable, crab meat and boiled egg peanut and sweet soya sauce.
Then of the three Asian options I went for Chicken serundeng with turmeric rice, bacem tempeh, pecel vegetable and chilli sambal.
Dessert wasn’t quite as Asian as the rest with a salted caramel chocolate tart wedge, and those of you with a keen eye will note that the wooden tray had been removed after the main course, and of course hot drinks were offered with the dessert.
Whilst all this was going on there was a regular offering of drinks top ups, but not wanting to stagger up to Indonesian immigration or worse, in a wheelchair, I pared back my Castelnau consumption somewhat with it being more heavily skewed to the water side of things…
Light chop punctuated most of the rest of the flight as the sky rapidly darkened and by 7.30pm, some 3hrs after departure it was completely dark so I filled out the Indonesian customs form under the overhead light.
Without the distraction of food the large Australian family group that comprised most of the cabin spent most of the remainder of the flight up and about talking with one another. Thankfully turning up the volume on my music drowned them out for most of the time the seatbelt sign was off.
With around 300 miles to run, about half way between Borneo and the island of Bali itself, I started to pack things up and ready myself for landing, changing back into my street clothes, and after exactly 4hrs in the air, with 120 miles to go the descent into DPS began.
Scented towels were handed out as we passed through FL250 on the way down and once the cabin was secured each of the crew took a station at the front of each aisle and bowed before taking their seats.
We landed on the peninsula that is runway 09 at just after 9pm, taxiing up to gate 20 shortly thereafter. A rather exotic array of aircraft were out to welcome us, widebodies from the Middle East included!
The walk to immigration wasn’t too bad and with the new airport and no need for visa on arrival the short line was processed quickly. Baggage claim was pretty busy thanks to a flurry of arrivals from Australia but our bags were amongst the first off our flight. Customs only had a couple of people checking the forms and with everyone funneling out of baggage claim it was a bit of a crush, but in the end it only took a couple of minutes until we were through and out to our driver for the trip to the nearby hotel for the night.
Route: Denpasar / Bali - Ngurah Rai International - Hong Kong – International (Chek Lap Kok)
Airline: Garuda Indonesia
Flight Number: GA856
Aircraft: Airbus A330-343
Seat: 6A (Business Class)
Distance: 2260 miles
Duration: 4hrs 52mins
Our final night in Bali was at the Conrad, a 15 minute drive across the Gulf of Benoa toll road from the airport. We pulled up at the International Terminal not far off 3hrs before departure and the first order of business was to have all our bags scanned, this pre-check in security bringing out the worst in people. Ankles falling victim to baggage carts, people pretending they were with a group ahead and forcing people out the way, you get the idea…
Almost adjacent to the security check I saw a Sky Priority desk for Garuda but the agent somehow guessed we were on the Hong Kong flight and directed us to the Premium Check-In Area a short distance away.
Despite the seating, within the wood paneled area, the agent checked us in at a standing desk and with onward travel from Hong Kong verified through a check of my phone boarding passes were handed over and we were directed over to security and through the Millimeter Wave Detector. Although there was no priority line there was only one other person ahead of us and that bottleneck of sorts meant that immigration had no line either.
The new terminal layout was almost inspired by Gatwick South’s terminal with a long, inefficient winding path through shops until things opened up and the lounges on the upper level were visible. Garuda’s lounge was divided into separate First and Business Class sides which surprised me as I wasn’t aware GA even had any routes with First Class to DPS. The wife and I were the first passengers in the lounge which was fairly well equipped for its size, with a live cooking station and plenty of hot and cold options, plus over at the far end in a little alcove were seats with foot massagers.
Amusingly, the television was playing a re-run of a Premier League match from the end of December. We didn’t have the lounge to ourselves for long as a family group decided to join us, and in the process take over most of the lounge requisitioning seats in the sitting area and also taking up a few tables in the dining area. The toilets were under maintenance so were directed to the First Class side which was pretty similar to that of the Business Class side except for a couple of tables that were set up for some sort of preflight dining.
Our flight was due to depart from Gate 8, almost all the way at the end of the concourse and with the lounge quite full and us being a little bored we ambled down to the gate. As we showed up the dot matrix printer was working overtime indicated that boarding couldn’t be too far away from commencing and so we hovered back away from the boarding lanes. Right on time for boarding a man held up a large laminated “Business Class” sign and started ringing a bicycle bell over and over. Certainly one of the more interesting ways I’d been summoned to the gate and the few of us that were flying in the front cabin formed a line for a few seconds before the gate agent started scanning boarding passes.
The seats on this A330 were the B/E Super Diamond variety and my wife and I had selected window seats one in front of eachother. Menus, water bottles and amenity kits were at the seat already and I grabbed my various things for the flight before throwing my bag in the overhead locker.
Champagne or orange juice were offered and the warm towels were brought over too, coincidentally by one of the same FAs that operated our HKG-DPS flight, although if she remembered us she wasn’t showing it. The family group joined us and comprised most of the passengers onboard, making the rest of us feel like we were crashing their party by chatting really loudly and clanking champagne glasses across the cabin and the like. Despite this dual jetbridges ensured a relatively calm boarding process and once again boarding was wrapped up really quickly with the jetbridge retracting within fifteen minutes.
The threshold of 09 was not too far away but took a while due to a combination of several departures and the shared runway for a few arrivals. With those hold ups out of the way we were in the air just after 10am, any views of the island obscured by the thick cloud. However, once emerged from that cloud we were in for a real treat. For the duration of our visit to the Bali our departure was somewhat threatened by eruptions of Mount Agung and sure enough right as we emerged from the cloud we were treated to a view of the mountain, replete with fresh eruption!
I thought our view was pretty great but it was about to get even better as we climbed and turned to the north for a close flypast, almost to sightseeing levels. It appeared my wife and I were the only ones on our side of the Business cabin to notice as everyone else had their windowshades down.
After around twenty minutes aloft our drinks were brought out along with the canapés, plus our meal orders were taken noting that service would begin around 11.30am. I had no issues with the service happening at a more appropriate hour for lunch, despite our early start to the day.
I decided to watch the rather terrible Geostorm off the IFE with view to the fact I could fall asleep or not pay much attention to it and the meal service did provide a welcome distraction to the film!
The meals on this flight weren’t nearly as good or interesting as the previous one which was slightly disappointing and the crew seemed a little more vacant than before too, particularly after the meal service.
Smoked salmon with mixed lettuce and balsamic dressing:
Meatloaf wellington with gravy sauce, roasted baby potato with herb glazed carrot, zucchini and snow peas:
Bread and butter pudding:
When the meal was over I looked at our progress and the light chop that had forced the seatbelt sign on during the meal service made more sense when I saw the rather winding flightpath, particular north of Borneo.
Either way we had just over an hour to go until arrival into Hong Kong so I just listened to some of my music and reclined a little further.
With 40mins to go the guys up front announced that our ride down into HKG could be rather choppy and so I started to put my things away and ready myself for arrival.
Coming from Indonesia the flight attendants then walked the cabin with the insecticide spray which was rather heavy and stayed in the air for a while.
We were to arrive from the west and so enjoyed another great view of the new bridge as we descended onto 07L. Our taxi in was quite lengthy as we pulled up onto gate 23, the opposite side of the terminal, however, this was quite convenient for us as we were heading to Macau and this put us close to the transfer desks for the ferry. The ferry system is pretty good in that you purchase a ticket upon arrival and show your baggage receipt with no need to clear immigration or customs in Hong Kong. They then fetch your bag and put it on the boat, and when your tickets are checked before heading out to the SkyPier it indicates whether or not your bags have made it. We were well within the typical limit for bags but the Cotai Water Jet ticket representative was confident our bags would make it as she could see they were tagged Sky Priority and we came in on a nearby gate. Sure enough the bags were OK’d and away we went off to Macau.
Overall a really excellent option. As noted the flights were less than half the price of Cathay Pacific and usually there’s a reason you’re paying so much less. Sure the lounges would have been better on CX at Hong Kong but overall I couldn’t really fault Garuda and would certainly fly them again. Widebody aircraft with longhaul seating and full meal service plus excellent cabin crew. I’ll take it.