Beijing, The Sequel: Garuda Indonesia Airbus A330-200 Jakarta – Beijing Economy Class

The newest best way to fly…

Flight: GA890
Aircraft Type: A330-200
Class: Economy Class
Route: Jakarta – Beijing
Flight Time: 6:53
Best For: The best of Southeast Asian hospitality before you arrive into the world
The Crowd: A mix of Chinese holiday goers connecting from Bali, and some Indonesian tourists and business travelers
Routes: This route, and many others to Northeast Asia, form the bread and butter of Garuda’s widebody operation
Best Bits: Everything, really.
Worst Bits: The supper of chocolate bun could have been slightly more substantial.

Garuda Indonesia A330-200 Economy Class Report

I had flown Garuda Indonesia multiple times this year, primarily between Singapore, and Bali and Jakarta – each trip more memorable than the last. However, I still hadn’t experienced Garuda Indonesia on a much longer flight. So, this Singapore – Jakarta – Beijing trip offered me an excellent opportunity to try them out. Garuda Indonesia operates 10 daily flights between Singapore and Jakarta, and just a single daily flight to Beijing. The latter’s frequency offered the flexibility of maximizing my time in Singapore to make the most efficient transfer to Beijing.

On The Ground

Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport (SHIA) appears to be new to this “international-to-international connections” thing, so take note. Once you arrive, consult with the conveniently located Garuda Indonesia transfer desk. Depending on the individual’s character, she may or may not escort you to the escalator leading up to departures. Do not attempt to bypass the transfer desk and attempt the connection yourself, or you’ll be turned back. It may sound complicating, but it really isn’t, and is in fact, more hassle free than many other major airports.

Once at the gate, make sure you have your inbound flight boarding pass, and know that international connecting passengers needn’t pay the departure tax. Be vigilant about these two things, and you’ll be fine.

SHIA may be a masterpiece by Paul Andreu, blending his bold, visionary designs with the elements of Indonesian architecture, but it remains a very basic terminal. Air-conditioning is poor, and while this is somewhat alleviated during the night where outdoor temperatures in Jakarta hover just above 20 deg C to create a very comfortable atmosphere, it is nearly unbearable during the day where the mercury soars to 30 deg C. Some effort has been made to make the place, well, more palatable with cafes and restaurants like Starbucks and Old Town which have their own individual air-conditioning and smoking rooms. However, the terminal remains too functional to a fault. It’s decent for an hour or two’s connection, but I can’t imagine having a longer layover.

Terminal 2E is the home base of Garuda Indonesia’s international flights. The terminal also houses Garuda’s airline partners, including Saudia, Oman Air and most recently, Singapore Airlines. There was a last-minute gate change, which I had already been informed by at the transfer desk earlier (and still forgot). Nevertheless, with Andreu’s compact design, it was a fuss-free, relaxing short stroll to the right gate.

The Cabin

Boarding had already commenced, so I was able to simply just board. As an aviation enthusiast, I’ve always known that the Airbus A330-200 is one of the shorter widebody airliners, having ridden on a Hong Kong Airlines’ example between Hong Kong and Beijing. But it never ceases to amaze me how short the cabin really is once aboard. While you might expect a huge sub-section of the Economy Class cabin followed by another, this one was “human-sized”. The result is an environment which is spacious yet intimate – you get the best of flying a widebody aircraft without the disadvantages of being in one.

The space is further emphasized in Garuda Indonesia’s configuration. The cabin, like the Boeing 737 fleet, is adorned in earthy tones, but the vastness of the cabin inspires a very warm and welcoming environment. It’s almost as if you’ve stepped into an Indonesian kampung – your seat, with a comfortable pillow and soft thick blankets prepared just for you. The Airbus A330s configured with 8-abreast Economy Class, generous 18″ width seats, and 33 to 34″ pitch is absolute luxury for the common man, especially against the competition of long-haul low-cost carriers like AirAsia X, Jetstar and Scoot.

The cabin features mood lighting in Business Class, and a more rudimentary version in Economy Class. Still, the lighting transitions well between bright, light and absolute darkness.

The Entertainment

The Thales entertainment system on the Airbus A330 is similar to the ones available on the Boeing 737s, except that the repertoire is significantly expanded. There are hundreds of films, documentaries, dramas, comedies and games to last everyone. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of classic films in store, including Gone With The Wind, South Pacific and West Side Story. I didn’t watch those, of course. Curiously, the touchscreen based system appears far more responsive and far easier to navigate. There is a detachable remote controller, but it’s ineffectual. Even the sound system too, is significantly superior, with stereo and a strong bass. The communal screens across the cabin display information about the flight – its location on the map, air speed and other miscellaneous information.

An amenity kit stocked with essentials including eye masks and ear buds is also distributed, a rarity on flights of duration like this these days.

The Food

Despite a filling Christmas lunch, by this time (around 9pm local Jakarta time), I was famished. I’m not one to skip meals, but I skipped dinner, and the meal on my inbound flight only served to whet my appetite. I could’ve eaten at the trusty Old Town White Coffee cafe, with their signature white coffee and Malaysian style kaya toast, but I had less than 60 minutes to departure. So, I had to make do with just a ice-cold cup of white coffee, and two cigarettes.

Gone are the days where a 6 to 7-hour flight would get you two meals. Actually, for many airlines, those days never came. Indeed, I remember my ANA flight to Tokyo-Narita many years ago, and they only served a light supper of cocktail sandwiches. These days, even the “snack” service is no longer available. Not Garuda, though. Eager to make an impression, yet still mindful of the difficult market conditions, Garuda Indonesia still provides a “two-meal” service, albeit a light snack for supper, and hot breakfast before landing on the Jakarta – Beijing route.

I thought the service was certainly well thought out – it wasn’t too filling, but sufficient enough to last the night. The beverage choices were most interesting, with the ubiquitous juices, wines and…cold milk and warm milk, which most of the passengers went for. It was sooo…comforting. I wanted seconds, but was quite frankly, a tad embarrassed to do so. In this “private” cabin, I had already acquainted with my fellow travellers. Before lights out, the amenity kits along with the menus and a bottle of mineral water were distributed.

But it was hard to sleep, not because I couldn’t, but because I didn’t want to. The night was clear all across Asia, and the city views were spectacular. From Jakarta and Singapore, to Ho Chi Minh, Danang, Hainan and the Pearl River Delta, the lights, and the expanse was simply breathtaking. I intertwined my window views with various films, of course, and hydrated regularly thanks to the frequent drink runs. If you had access to the aisle (which I didn’t), there were beverages including juices and soft drinks for the taking, as well as a supply of fresh warm water located in the galleys.

Shenzhen Bao’an Airport, and Macau/Zhuhai in the background

As usual, I began nodding off just as the breakfast service was about to start. Served 2 hours before landing, there was a choice of Indonesian and Western. I think as far as everyone goes, everyone, including the Chinese passengers went for the Western version of omelette, eggs and sausages. The description of the Indonesian “beef with rice” simply did not appeal, even among the Chinese. With a hot English Breakfast complementing the meal, it was a great perk-me-up.

In Conclusion

Some airlines adorn the inflight experience with indulgent extravagance, with washroom faucets smeared in 24k gold and branded luxury to impress upon their greatness. Some airlines are about the dimensions – going for the biggest, the widest, the most generous. Others, like Garuda Indonesia isn’t too concerned about going all out, or being the biggest. It doesn’t attempt to redefine the romance of travel. All it does, all it wants to really focus on, is to make sure that the passenger’s inflight experience is a fuss-free, smooth-sailing and relaxing one. And that’s good as well.

The Garuda Indonesia medium-haul experience was miles above anything I’ve flown previously. Service was stellar – there was no attitude, but the crew weren’t mindless robots either. Although this flight was mostly crewed by what appeared to be Indonesian Chinese and Mainland Chinese, the ethnic Indonesian crews stood out with their attempts to communicate important messages in Mandarin as well. All in all, good hardware, excellent software – makes for a damn fine airline.

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