Boeing 737-400 Seat 19C
Load Factor: 85%
Photo © K.L.Yim
I left the Four Seasons in Downtown Singapore at 8:30am for the 11:05am flight in a prearranged maxi-cab. I was traveling with eight others so we had extra time. Unfortunately this flight was going to be in economy . On short flights I do about half and half economy and first class. I would have loved to get the opportunity to see Malaysia Airlines at its best in the first class cabin. But when you are traveling on someone else's dime, it doesn¡¦t matter. This was to be my first time on this airline, and likely one of the only times ever since I don¡¦t travel to this part of the world very often and MH doesn't have the most extensive route network.
We arrived at the airport shortly after 9:30am after having to deal with very little traffic on this Sunday morning. I looked up at the departure television monitor to see what counter we had to go to. At Singapore you check in for your specific flight at a dedicated ticket counter. It is a lot easier than the US mess of everyone crowding at a specific airline¡¦s counter. The nine of us are the only ones there for the flight, so we checkin with our assorted passports (3 American, 6 Indian) and are given boarding passes and immigration/customs forms. I walk over to a post and start filling mine out as the rest check in. I then ask myself "why am I bending over a stupid post to fill out this card?" I walk over to some chairs and fill it out properly. Next came immigration. I had arrived in Singapore the morning before at 5:30am and now was leaving again. I gave my departures card and passport and was quickly on my way into the duty free mall. Singapore¡¦s airport really feels more like an upscale mall than airport in parts. It has every name brand and upscale designer imaginable. I needed a new belt, so I went shopping for myself after getting gifts for my sister and her boyfriend that I will be seeing when I go off with them to New Zealand for Christmas (hopefully trying out the new Virgin inspired business class seats). I realize that there is nothing cheap in this airport and splurge. I think the gifts and belt ended up costing far more than the actual flight itself. But rarely do I have time to waste in an upscale shopping area, so it was a justified splurge.
I then wandered around a little bit. I would have loved to visit the Raffles lounge, but unfortunately we weren¡¦t flying Singapore Airlines. I am Star Gold, but the person making the reservations decided that Malaysia Airlines was better. Of course what would you fly if given the choice? A Singapore Airlines 772 or a Malaysia Airlines 734? I think the choice is obvious. But it was ok since Malaysia is a great airline and they were a new carrier for me. I then proceeded to the gate.
In Singapore all of the security is at the gate. It is much nicer this way. You go and get scanned and get your boarding card taken and then proceed into a glassed off holding room. This works very well for all of the flights going everywhere in the world. There were so many 777s, 747s and A330s around, and there was our little 734 waiting for us in the rain.
While in the holding area I saw that there was a free internet terminal. I quickly walked over there and snagged a computer for 15 minutes so that I could check my email, which had built up since I had been away from a computer for three days. After the email escape, I sat down only to hear boarding called. I was in the first group (rows 16 and higher). This is unusual for me since I am so used to sitting up front with United in Economy Plus or in first class. As I got to the door, there was a lady checking the already ripped boarding passes. She actually made a man sitting in row 8 wait for his row to be called. I wish more airlines actually enforced their policies. Usually boarding is a messy herd of people that just don't care what rows are called. People did get on this plane rather quickly. I was happy to see how orderly it was.
Picture (of the back of a beautiful FA ) After Boarding is Completed
After boarding the flight attendants did the safety demo. One plopped all of her junk rather rudely on my tray table while doing so. It was a little annoying at first, but I had only seen an oxygen mask up close once before when they had accidentally deployed on an Asiana 744 during landing at SEA. But I didn't really mind starring directly at the 20 something year old FA in her tight uniform. There were four flight attendants on today's flight. I was quite surprised since I am so used to 737s with minimum crew meaning that a plane like this one with 128 seats should only have three FAs.
We push back right on time for our short 1hr minute flight to Penang. We had a rather short taxi to whatever runway that they were using. I wasn't paying that much attention since I was in an aisle seat (not my choosing!) and could not see out the window.
Takeoff was quick for the little 737 (it is amazing how small you think a 737 is when you compare it to the rest of the widebodies that fly even short routes in Asia. In the United States a 737 is considered a big plane since it is bigger than an RJ). We made a rather steep climb. It was a little turbulent as we were going through some convective weather. It always seems to be on the verge of raining and stormy in the tropics around Singapore. At about 10,000 feet off went the seatbelt sign anyway. It was still rather bumpy and I felt that it probably should have been left on. The pilots in the United States seem to leave it on almost until cruise.
In Flight Shortly After Take Off
The flight attendants got up and started their service. While one was walking by I nearly tripped her with my foot in the aisle. I am 5'11'' and the seat pitch in economy was dreadful. The only way I could sit normally was if I emptied the seat pocket of its contents so I could have an extra inch of knee room. I noticed that all I had to do was glance at a Flight Attendant and he or she would stop what they were doing and ask if I needed anything. I was quite impressed at the level of service. I am used to the stare of "Don't look at me" or "Please don't ask me for anything" anytime I look at a flight attendant in the United States. Things were truly different here.
As I was dwelling on that, the kid in the window seat in the row I was in was given a tray of food. He asked if it was a special meal or something like that and the flight attendant responded by saying that they always serve meals to the kids first. I was aghast. Not at the politeness of not making kids wait, but rather by the fact that we were being served lunch on a flight of just 373 miles. Then came the cart down the aisle. Quickly followed by another one that stopped at my row. With the four flight attendants on today¡¦s flight, they were able to serve a meal very quickly. I was given my food and was offered tea, coffee or orange juice to accompany it.
The meal was decent. The vegetable was something like an onion and was over done and rather disgusting. The chicken and rice were fine. I was so happy and surprised to be getting food at all. I ate up and just as I finished up we began our decent. The captain made some announcement, but the volume on the PA was too low. I hate it when this happens. I always like to hear what is going on, and it is a shame when the captain puts the effort in to talk to us, yet you can't hear it.
The descent was pretty smooth. The weather in Penang was somewhat nicer than in Singapore. As we were going down, I was dying for some outside shots. I couldn't write a trip report with only cabin pics, so I passed my camera to the boy in the window seat to take a couple shots of the beach and landing. Here is what he came up with, which is pretty good.
Landing was hard. It wasn¡¦t as smooth as I was used to, but it got the job done. After an announcement from the flight attendants, we were almost at the gate. The airport in Penang is quite nice. It is rather new and has 14 jetways which is wonderful for a tropical island airport.
It was a long wait as everyone was getting their stuff out of the bins. But eventually I made it out. I walked quickly to separate myself from the group a little bit so that I wouldn't have to go through immigration in the crowd. I knew they wouldn't hassle me much with an American passport, so I made it through quickly. There was no line when I got there. Apparently Malaysia feels that it is their duty to adequately staff their immigration counter. I then walk up to get my bag. I checked it in because I didn¡¦t know whether Malaysia is accepting of the big rollaboard suitcases like the American carriers are. Most airlines in the rest of the world are a lot more strict. I knew I would be waiting anyway since the group I was traveling with had checked their stuff as they weren't the seasoned traveler quick in quick out minimize airport transit time types. But eventually we made it out with the officials just waving all of us through customs. There was a screw up with our ground transportation, but we eventually boarded some vans for the 1 hour drive to the Bayview Beach Resort, which is a nice four star resort, but definitely not as good as the five star Four Seasons that we had just left from.
No need to get into the detail, perfect 10s in every category
Though more seat pitch and widebodies would have been even better
737-400 Seat 8D
Load Factor: 20%
Photo © JKSC
After two nights two nights it was time to go back to Singapore. There were only three of us headed back to Singapore. The rest were going by bus to Kuala Lumpur, which everyone referred to as KL, but when I hear the letters KL I think KLM (yes I am an uber aviation geek, but that's ok because if you think about it you are too since you are reading a story about someone else¡¦s traveling experience in your free time on a wonderful timewaster called Airliners.net). I did not envy them on their five hour bus ride. Our van took us to the airport in just 45 minutes on this Tuesday morning. We left at 10:30 for our 1:15 flight, which was probably way too early, but we wanted to be careful.
Penang Airport Before Security
I bought a couple of postcards and then walked down to check in. There was a short line at each counter, but I only waited a few minutes. I then realized that you have to get your bags scanned at an X-Ray before you can check them in. What surprises me is that they only put a sticker over one of your zippers. It would be very easy to just put banned item in your bag after they scan it. I don't think this extra security provides any protection other than a false feeling of comfort. I checked in this time for real and got my boarding pass. 8D. Damn, another aisle seat. I asked the lady at the check in counter for a window and she replied by saying that both 8E and 8F were open, so I could stretch out on the plane and take whichever I wanted.
I then went through immigration again. This whole immigration when you exit can be annoying. I prefer how the US does it by requiring the airlines to just provide the passport information. Anyways immigration wasn¡¦t any problem and then I went through security. This was simple too. No line and nice agents that spoke English to me. I appreciated how most of the people involved with hospitality spoke English in Malaysia. Of course it isn¡¦t as good as in Singapore where English is the national language, but it did make traveling easier unlike when I was in Thailand and it felt like no one could speak proper English, but this might have been because this was a beach resort and there were a lot of Australians and Kiwis. I looked around the duty free shops, but there really wasn't there interesting, which was good because I didn't feel like spending more money.
Shops in Penang's Airport
I went and sat next to the empty gate waiting for our flight. I had 45 minutes to kill before boarding so I kind of stared blankly and got out a book. Just then a woman comes up to me and asks if I would do a survey with her. I usually say no as I find these kind of things annoying, but she looked nice, so I said yes. She was with the tourism department and worked for the government. She asked the basic questions of why I was there, what I did and if I liked it. Overall it seems like Malaysia is a very friendly country that welcomes visitors in all aspects. The service was always top notch in the hotel, restaurants and airplanes. It makes me want to go back, but the whole 11 hour time zone change and 24 hours of flying aren¡¦t that appealing. Mexico is a lot closer. Anyways after she left I did some quality staring at the wall and out the window. But there was nothing much to see with this airport having about one plane take off every 30 minutes. Finally boarding time approached and I noticed how empty it was. I counted 22 people. A nice light load for our flight.
A Nice Little 734 Waiting for us
Boarding was just one call this time. There weren't that many people, so it served no purpose going by rows. There was also only a single person in the 16 seat first class cabin. I made my way back to my row and settled in. I took the aisle seat for boarding, but moved over for takeoff so I could look out that little one square foot piece of glass that is more entertaining than any movie screen. The safety demo was done and we pushed back a few minutes early. I didn't write times down like normal because I was relaxed after a couple rather care free days on a deserted beach.
Cabin Just Prior to Takeoff
We taxied over to the single active runway for take off. This one was even faster than before. It was probably because the plane was nearly empty and only had a light load for the flight to Singapore. Though the few passengers that were on the plane did check in a lot of luggage. It seems that everyone goes to Penang to buy electronics and other goods and fly them back to wherever these people come from. I took some shots of the beautiful scenery as we made our way off.
Climbing Out of Penang
An Overview of Penang's Airport
After 10,000ft the seat belt sign went off and a flight attendant quickly closed the blue curtain to the first class cabin. Next came the meals. This time we were served chicken with noodles and vegetables instead of rice and onion like thing. The meat did not taste all that great, but it was fresh and moist. There was also a sponge cake that was not sweetened like American cakes. I had some coffee to hopefully stir me awake. All of the cutlery was plastic which made cutting the chicken pieces difficulty, but what do you expect in economy nowadays?
I sat back and enjoyed the flight as they tell you to. I read my book (today's reading selection was Plum Island by Nelson Demille which is a good biohazard thriller by an awesome author). I kind of zoned in and out while we were flying. I had to sit a bit sideways so that I did not have to bend my knees up. MH's website advertises 34'' pitch, but my knees feel that it couldn¡¦t have been more than 30'' or 31''. My tray was collected and we then began our descent.
I got up to use the lav as we were hitting some light chop. It wasn't too bad and the seatbelt light stayed off throughout much of the descent. I had to go to the back because they fasten the curtain in the front to tell you that the regular folks in coach are not welcomed in the front part of the plane. I saw the flight attendants busily cleaning up and they all seemed happy and friendly. Much different that they typical grumpiness you hear out of American Galleys about pay cuts and furloughs. On the way back to my seat I snapped this picture, I apologize for the quality, but I didn't want to stand still and take a photo as doing that attracts more attention that I wanted.
I then settled down for the rest of the descent. It was cloudy in Singapore so I didn¡¦t take any photos of landing or descent. We were in and out of clouds and it got a little bumpy. But ever since I earned my pilot¡¦s license, turbulence on jetliners is nothing to me. An instance when my instructor purposely flew our Cessna 172 into pretty bad turbulence and took his hand off the wheel for a few minutes to show how planes can fly right through turbulence on their own cured me of any anxiety that I used to have.
We made another bumpy landing on a damp runway in Singapore. The taxi time was very long on our way to the gate. It seemed like we took forever. But we still made it on time. I was one of the first off and made my way out to the terminal. Next was Singapore¡¦s Immigration and customs. I have quite a few stamps in my passport from this trip! Then I got into a chauffered Mercedes E-Class for the trip back to the Four Seasons Hotel.
Perfect 10s again, no need to explain
Malaysia Airlines is a great carrier. Seeing the extra perks that they offer really makes me appreciate them over what US carriers have degenerated into. Cost is number one in the US, but Malaysia still offered some great service. I have no idea what the price was, but the service was better on this economy flight than domestic first class in the United States. I understand why they are a quality approved airline! Good service is extremely important in that part of the world. We will see if this maintains as Air Asia continues to expand.
Thanks for reading. I apologize for bad grammar and the quality of some of the pictures, but I am not a good photographer. If you want to see bigger sizes let me know, but I shrunk them so that those on a modem won¡¦t get bogged down as they are rather slow loading. Please give me your feedback even if you have little to say as it all helps me write better reports. The ORD-EWR-SIN-EWR-ORD trip will be out shortly when I find a few hours to sit down and write it and after my fingers feel better again after typing this 3500 word essay. I hope you enjoyed it!