Beijing, The Sequel: Garuda Indonesia Boeing 737-800 Singapore – Jakarta Economy Class

The sequel to my autumn 2011 visit to Beijing.

Flight: GA835
Aircraft Type: B737-800
Class: Economy Class
Route: Singapore – Jakarta
Flight Time: 1:25
Best For: A great impression of Indonesia, before arriving into Indonesia
The Crowd: A mix of Singaporean holiday goers and business travelers
Routes: Garuda’s network is nearly exclusively Asia Pacific, but it has a lone flight to London via Amsterdam
Frequent Flyer Programme: Garuda Frequent Flyer. SkyTeam worships status, once they give it to you.
Best Bits: The service is excellent, both in terms of hard and soft products.
Worst Bits: I hate to say it, but Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport continues to be Garuda’s Achilles’ heel.

Garuda Indonesia B737-800 Economy Class Report

Having decided that I’d be spending my holidays in China, Garuda Indonesia came up as a compelling option. As a bargain hunter (but rarely resorting to low-cost), there were unimaginably shorter journeys on China Southern and China Eastern. However, my flights with Garuda Indonesia this year had been impressive. It would be about a three-hour backtrack via Jakarta, but it was only on Garuda that I knew I’d be well taken care of, and well rested in time for my early morning arrival in Beijing. This journey would also offer me a glimpse into Garuda’s br
ead-and-butter widebody medium-haul flights.

On The Ground:

I arrived early mid-morning into Changi to check-in – my company had organized a Christmas lunch to fit around my departure.

Singapore’s Changi Airport has worn multiple accolades for its infinite facilities. It is also sufficiently connected with various public transport options including several public bus services from the city and the suburbs, a local subway line, and taxis. Terminal 3 is too large, with too many underused open spaces. It’s fairly well appointed landside with sufficient shopping and food options. But the real hive of commercial activity is buried at the base of the terminal, away from passengers’ eyes.

With now 10 daily flights between Singapore and Jakarta, and several dailies to Surabaya and Denpasar, early check-in and bag drops are available on Garuda Indonesia virtually around-the-clock. Garuda Indonesia offers online check-in for passengers ex SIN only 12-hours before departure, but nevertheless I’ve done it, and quickly dropped my bags at the bag drop counter. The agent could have displayed less skepticism when I replied that my final destination was “Beijing”, but aside from that minor triviality, the check-in process was quick.

Garuda flights appear to be permanently fixed at Terminal 3’s Concourse A South gates, and this was no exception. I had done some planespotting at Terminals 1 and 2, so when I arrived at the gates, I was able to board the aircraft almost immediately.

The Cabin

Boarding commenced with SkyTeam Elite and Elite Plus members, and Business Class passengers, quickly followed by Economy Class passengers called in batches progressively from the rear to the front. Unlike Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines, Garuda’s cabin crew wear a contemporary interpretation of the sarong kerbaya, but it retains a strong traditional silhouette.

The cabin itself, which I’ve mentioned before, is adorned in earthy tones, with the seats subtly bearing Indonesian motifs. The result is a very modern yet respectful, warm and welcoming cabin.

The cabin features mood lighting, thanks to the Boeing Sky Interior, but in practice, the colors and effects only come to play during the transition of cabin from light to dark, and vice versa for takeoff and landing. It helps to create an intimate and sophisticated interior, and softens the narrowbody feel of the Boeing 737 cabin.

The seats themselves are sufficiently comfortable for the regional hops that these aircraft ply. With audio-video on demand (AVOD) in every seat, and comfortable ergonomic seats, it’s a relaxing ride. It’s a deep contrast with the competition, where slimline leather seats and lack of inflight entertainment dominate the Southeast Asian skies.

The Entertainment

The entertainment system on the B737s is sufficient for the short hops that Garuda Indonesia uses them on. It’s fairly responsive, and is relatively easy to navigate. There are in-seatrest controls, but virtually every function can be utilized by way of the touchscreen.

The Food

Food, particularly Indonesian cuisine, has always been Garuda’s strongest suit, and this flight was probably no different. Once we were all settled in, the obligatory orange juice was passed out – a symbol of luxury and generosity in today’s world where cutbacks and depreciation is the norm.

However, with a long journey still ahead, I opted a main course that is a little blander than what I would normally. The fried noodles did its job, but I wouldn’t say it was fantastic, particularly after a sumptuous Christmas lunch stocked with luscious tender turkey, decadent sweet chocolate truffles and other indulgent treats. Despite the short flight, crews managed to get several drink runs up and down the aisle – I even had a second helping of tea.

In Conclusion

Skytrax may not be the most dependable airline award, but Garuda Indonesia has improved leaps and bounds, from an airline whose attention to safety had been questioned and criticized, to an airline delivering premium services – even to the masses – on a level far beyond its competitors. Certainly, the airline’s main hub remains a thorny issue, but once Garuda Indonesia’s new home in Terminal 3 is complete, the circle will be complete.

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