Garuda Indonesia service between Jakarta and Bali, and a 737-800 suprise

Jakarta, being the capital city of Indonesia, is perhaps the financial and political centre of the country. However for tourism, it is Bali which brings in the crowds. Since I was due to attend a relative’s wedding in Bali, a venue which has been a popular destination for hosting nuptial ceremonies and honeymoons, I had the chance to take the domestic service between Jakarta and Bali. Bali’s location on an island off the eastern coast of Java meant that it is best accessed via a close to 2 hour plane journey from Jakarta or a much shorter 45 minute journey from Surabaya. These 2 large cities provide the best connections to Denpasar, which is the main city in the island of Bali. Being pleased with my recent flying experiences with Garuda Indonesia, I decided to fly this route with them. I only took photos of the trip to Bali using my iPhone but on the return trip decided to document it with my DSLR due to the surprising aircraft provided.

GA406 Jakarta Soekarno Hatta CGK – Denpasar Ngurah Rai DPS
21 Oct 2010
Scheduled ETD/ETA: 1120-1405
Actual Time of Departure/Arrival: 1155-1428
B737-400 PK-GWN
Seat No: 10F

Having taken the flight direct from Bandar Lampung TKG, I had been issued boarding pass for the CGK-DPS routing though I had to make a check on the boarding gate from the Garuda Indonesia transit counter upon arrival at Soekarno-Hatta. One of the reason I stick with Garuda Indonesia for domestic flights is that they use the International Terminal 2 which is much more comfortable while transiting and has more seating and lounge choices for passengers. From arrival to boarding, Terminal 2 has what it takes to be on par for a standard international airport in a developing country. Just don’t expect world-beating standards of HKIA or Changi. I got the boarding gate for my flight at the transit counter which had little people in the morning, before heading to browse some magazines at the airport bookstore managed by Periplus and having a cup of coffee at Starbucks. After that, I proceeded to the Mandiri Lounge, thinking of accessing the internet there but was disappointed by the large crowds and the pathetic internet connection which I wasn’t able to even connect to. Internet infrastructure is still lacking in public places in Indonesia. I met up with my cousin and uncle who are boarding the same flight as mine and they were seated a few seats in front of me, as I opted for the emergency seat row.

The time for boarding arrived and even though I have been given the boarding gate, passengers should always check their boarding gates due to the erratic change in boarding gates which means that sometimes the gate specified in the boarding pass and the information screen doesn’t always match. Beats me why, but most of the time trust the data in the boarding pass or the information screen indicating the flights before the walkway to the gates. Upon reaching our waiting area, there was still some wait due to the late arrival of aircraft which indicates a slight delay. Fortunately, the delay was short and we soon boarded the plane and the plane pull-backed at around 1140, passing by a 747 which is undergoing a paint job and seems to be deployed for Haj flights, as well as a Saudi Arabian 747 parked on the tarmac near the Haj Terminal. The Garuda Indonesia 747 is an ex-Pullmantur Air Boeing 747 with the registration plate of EC-KXN and the red livery with the white circle can still be seen on the plane, although the Garuda insignia has replaced the logo.

The flight today is operated by the old 737-400 which makes up the backbone of Garuda’s fleet though many of these small planes are being phased out gradually in favour of the new 737-800s. Sadly, I wouldn’t be sitting on those planes with seemingly-oversized winglets. Seats at the Emergency Exit row on the 737-400 was indeed spacious and had lots of legroom. It was a nearly full flight on this route even with several flights being operated by Garuda. That is before discounting the number of airlines in Indonesia which operates this route daily. Due to the hot weather, the cabin was hot which meant that perhaps there was a last minute change of aircraft for us since this plane could have been parked out at the tarmac previously. Finally the plane took off at around 11.55 am local time and the flight attendant soon got around to serving passengers. Children on the flight received some activity kit which had a jigsaw puzzle, and I thought it was a nice touch, having had received some of these in-flight long time ago. I had always thought these were gone due to the extensive cost-cutting within the airline industry.

Shortly after take off, lunch service was started by the flight attendants. For this 2-hour domestic flight, only one choice of main course was served in the Economy Cabin. However, it was a very tasty fish fillet seared with cumin, chillies and onions. Lunch was served with a small side serving of mixed veggies. There was also a small platter of pineapple cake for dessert. Amongst the variety of choice of beverages available, I ordered a cup of orange juice. Passengers also had the choice of beers including Bintang Beer, one of the most famous beer of Indonesia. Flight attendant also returned to serve a second beverage service with choices of tea or coffee. Slight turbulence occurred but service continued which was odd since usually such service get suspended during mid-air turbulence. The cloudy skies over Central Java meant that turbulence continued over some time. After the nice lunch, I took some time to read the in-flight magazines and a book which I had brought along for the plane journey.

The slight turbulence happened again during the plane’s descent which lasted for about 2 minutes. Though even with this event, no fasten seat belt sign was activated which I thought was funny considering the fact that plane was on descent and turbulence in mid-air warranted that passengers stay in their seats with their seat belt fastened. Fortunately, no further drama occurred and we landed safely at Ngurah Rai Airport at 2.28 pm Eastern Indonesian time which is 1 hour ahead of the time in Jakarta. It was a very cloudy weekend in Bali and there were scattered showers and thunderstorms, though on the evening of the wedding, the weather fortunately cleared and I really enjoyed my time in Bali, meeting up with cousins, nephews and nieces.

Arriving at Ngurah Rai in Bali
Conrad Soft Toy Monkey
Wedding Chapel at Conrad in Nusa Dua, Bali
Wedding Bears in the Suite
Catamaran by the Beach at the Conrad Bali

GA405 Denpasar Ngurah Rai DPS – Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta
23 Oct 2010
Scheduled ETD/ETA: 1345-1430
Actual Time of Departure/Arrival: 1424-1445
B737-800 PK-GFH
Seat No: 25F

Check in at the Domestic Terminal of Ngurah Rai Airport

With an initial planned departure at 1.45 pm in the afternoon, I had a hearty brunch in the hotel before departing for the airport at 11.50 pm. We had enough time to check in our bags as it was a domestic flight and get some gifts from the local specialty stores in the domestic airport at Bali. There are a variety of nice snacks and tasty treats that can only be found in Bali for visitors who would like to purchase authentic products from this island paradise. Other than that, there isn’t much to see in the check-in area for the domestic terminal and it seems in need of a major refurbishment. We headed to the main terminal and decided from going into the lounge due to the short time before we were expected to board. Instead we got some food to eat from the waiting area, which is basically a large square shaped room with shops and cafetarias around the perimeter and the central section while boarding gates are located at the corners. The volume of flights leaving that day meant the place was packed and there was barely enough space for all to sit down. As luck would have it, our plane was delayed again and this time due to late arrival of the plane. However by 2.06 pm, we began boarding and I was pleased to note that today we would be taking the 737-800.

GA405 operated by a 737-800 heading to Jakarta
Winglets of the 737-800 sporting new liveries of Garuda Indonesia

Boarding was via staircase, which was expected since no aerobridge were provided for all domestic flights as far as I can see. Naturally there was a rush when boarding was called and it is really inconvenient for passengers carrying bulky hand luggage since one needs to go down a staircase from the terminal before walking towards the plane. Due to our relatively late arrival at the airport and not having done online check-in (not that Garuda has it for flights out of Bali, I think), or requested any seat through Garuda’s toll-free line, I still manage to get a window seat, albeit at the back of the plane. My first impression of entering the plane was what a good job Garuda Indonesia did with the clean and fresh interiors. The economy class cabin was decked out in earthy tones and all were fitted with new in-flight entertainment system. Seats were comfortable and seemed to have more space. Viewing out of the window, one gets to see the oversized winglets fitted out on these planes which also sported the modern and sharp liveries of Garuda Indonesia.

Interior cabin of Garuda’s new 737-800

The row of modern liveries spotted at Ngurah Rai that day from the plane really showed the invigorated fleet offering of Garuda Indonesia and positions the national carrier to its rightful place. Turning back to the personal in-flight entertainment screen, I was pleased at its size and in addition the welcome screen that greeted every passengers with background images showing the paradise that can be found across the archipelago instead of the pollution and chaos that defines Jakarta and Indonesia in general.

Welcome screen with the terraced rice fields of Indonesia in the background

Besides the welcome screen, I also noticed the new safety information card, and a catalogue featuring Indonesian handicrafts. Garuda Indonesia is doing good by promoting investment and tourism into the country as well as defining the true cultural core of this archipelago nation. With the personal IFE onboard, there was also a separate in-flight entertainment booklet with Toy Story 3 being featured in the main cover. Having had watched this excellent animation a few months ago, I took a shot of the booklet as well.

Safety Information Card for Garuda’s 737-800 fleet

It wasn’t long before the plane made its way towards the runway and proceeded for take off at 2.24 pm, indicating a delay of close to 40 minutes. The pilot made a circle around and treated passengers on my side to an aerial view of the Nusa Dua resort area in Bali. The Nusa Dua area which is relatively close to the airport is occupied mainly by upscale resorts like the Conrad and Westin covering large resort complexes across flat lands, and in my opinion, is the district in Bali with the least character. Personally, I prefer the Seminyak, Kuta and Ubud area, or for really wonderful ocean views, resorts in the Uluwatu/Jimbaran Bay area. After reaching cruising altitude, there wasn’t much else to see outside of the window due to the monsoon season in Indonesia which meant cloudy, grey skies. Thankfully, there was little turbulence during the flight and lunch was served quickly by the flight attendants. Lunch today was fish served with fish curry which was good and tasty as well though I had prefer the food served during my flight to Denpasar. The meal came with Keropok or Shrimp Crackers on the sides as well as a black glutinous rice pudding for dessert.

In-flight Meal with Keropok

The meal was satisfying enough since I had a heavy breakfast at the hotel and also had some snacks while waiting to board at the airport. Service in the full flight was good and really on par with some of the regional airlines like Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific. One feature I really liked about Garuda Indonesia is how they put the aircraft registration on the wings, which means that passengers on the window get to know the registration of the plane they are on even while mid-air.

Aerial View of Nusa Dua

As we passed by Central Java, the sky began to clear and I got down to some reading on my book as well as relax on the rest of the journey. About 15 minutes later, the plane began its descent and landed at Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta at around 2.45 pm Jakarta time which is one hour later that Bali’s time. The revitalized fleet of Garuda’s 737-800 was really impressively furnished and it really makes sense to perhaps re-consider Garuda Indonesia once again for my travels out of Indonesia. And given their large number of 737-800 right now, even their domestic service could be served by these new planes which would definitely trump the other local LCC competitors with their old 737s.

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