Report #9: OD316 - SE Asia's cheapest business class?
This will be my report on flying Malindo Air business class from Kuala Lumpur KUL to Jakarta CGK, a short-haul regional flight within SE Asia.
As I have written on Kuala Lumpur KUL public area and domestic departure quite extensively on some of my previous reports, this report may omit some details found on the other reports.
After one semester of study and another semester of internship, I thought it would be best for me to seek for internship in Jakarta instead of Singapore due to the lower financial risk.
Around two weeks before my flight, I had a bit of argument pushing my case against flying LCCs due to their additional fees and flying on this flight instead. It was proven to be a tough case, and at first the case was closed with the plan to fly on Garuda from Singapore approved, arguably a nice middle ground as I don’t usually despise them nearly as much as some other airlines and it’s convenient enough not to warrant an immediate refusal (even though my rating for them is usually nowhere nearly as good as what others give for them). A few days later when I wanted to book the flight, the price had risen around 40% above the price previously agreed upon and as I reopened the case the plan to fly with Malindo* on economy class was approved (note that one of my parents still didn’t know it would fly from Kuala Lumpur KUL instead of Singapore SIN, which means a > 300 km detour). Foreseeing my large expected checked luggage amount, I then booked business class behind the scene, which was extremely cheap thanks to my online travel agent’s steep discount on top of Malindo’s business class sale.
* Malindo is Lion Air's Malaysian full service subsidiary with its products heavily derived from Batik Air, Lion Air's Indonesian full service subsidiary.
Business class for only under RM300/S$100/US$70 one way for 2 hours flight? All taxes included? Most (if not all) non-Europe regional business class frills included? Never mind the 300-km detour, I’m in!
To couple the all frills, low cost business class experience, I also opted for an international bus from downtown Singapore to Kuala Lumpur which at their promotional fare and using my online bus booking discount costed me less than S$10/US$7.
Admittedly this was not the most efficient way to bring 50 kg of items from Singapore to Jakarta, but here is the itinerary I had: Singapore – Sultan Abu Bakar checkpoint (second Malaysian land checkpoint from Singapore): International bus Sultan Abu Bakar checkpoint – Kuala Lumpur (Berjaya Times Square; a mid-sized mall in Bukit Bintang area): Intercity bus Kuala Lumpur (Berjaya Times Square) – Kuala Lumpur (KL Sentral; integrated transport hub): Private car Kuala Lumpur (KL Sentral) – Sepang (KUL): Airport bus Sepang (KUL) – Tangerang (CGK): Plane Tangerang (CGK) – Jakarta: Private car
Compare with this plan expected by my parents, an extremely simplified form of the plan I took: Singapore (SIN) – Tangerang (CGK): Plane Tangerang (CGK) – Jakarta: Private car
Trip to Kuala Lumpur KUL and check-in
Malindo Air operated all-narrow body planes at the moment with 12 business class seats and economy class for the rest of the plane for its Boeing planes. I opted for seat 2A during web check-in, which opened 60 hours before departure due to some glitches (it should be 48 when entering the data from website, but web check-in as early as 60 hours before departure was possible here: https://wci-prod.sabresonicweb.com/SSW2010/ODC0/checkin.html?execution=e1s1 . Following is the online boarding pass, which was plain, typical of Lion Air group airlines, but functional.
As my flight would depart in late morning, I needed to depart by midnight the day before to ensure a safe trip. One day of stopover is surely preferred, but where time is a grave concern a 12 hours gap between bus departure from Singapore and flight departure from Kuala Lumpur KUL would be perfectly fine for most days.
On the day before at 11 PM, I took a car to the boarding point as I had quite a bit of luggage with me. Afterwards, I went to their office at Golden Mile Tower (not to be confused with Golden Mile Complex) to exchange my mobile ticket with their "proper" ticket.
Here is the "proper" ticket they handed to me. Notice the bus change from the plate upon reaching the Malaysian checkpoint.
Afterwards, I boarded the Singapore-registered bus which would bring me only to the Sultan Abu Bakar checkpoint and turn around to save on entry fee from either country. The bus change was actually not that much of an issue since all belongings must be taken away for entry into Malaysia anyway, even though it may sound slightly confusing. The Singapore-registered bus featured 4-abreast seating which was acceptable for the short hop.
The next Malaysia-registered bus would then bring me to Berjaya Times Square with only a brief lavatory stop and brief stop for passengers alighting at TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan; Kuala Lumpur's intercity bus hub). For my review on TBS, please read my other report here. The bus itself was quite comfortable with 3-abreast seating, further helped by the driver running the service at a rather high speed (at one point my GPS logged the speed at 105 km/h, above the 90 km/h maximum for Malaysian buses on the expressway). Had I knew I could alight at TBS instead of Berjaya Times Square as ticketed, I would have preferred that to save on transport cost.
As I alighted at Berjaya Times Square, I decided to have a quick bite at the 24-hours minimarket in front of the mall. I then bought a drink and a puff, which unfortunately was not curry puff as I had thought from the shape since it was quite sweet. With the monorail only started operating at 6 AM, I then decided to find promotion for a ride-hailing application and used that application to book my ride to KL Sentral. The search was excruciatingly long as my trip was rather short, I opted for the carpooling option (which nobody would want to share due to the weird timing), and worst of all (as my driver would then tell me), I opted to pay by card to increase my loyalty point earning for the application. In the end, however, it was worth it as the trip costed me almost the same as the monorail I would otherwise take and I could still take the 6 AM airport bus from KL Sentral. KL Sentral was still quite quiet at the time as the train services had yet to start.
The airport bus was reasonably priced at RM10/US$2.4 for a nonstop trip from KL Sentral to Kuala Lumpur KUL, and even with two buses per hour the load was still respectable even though it was a morning departure. I decided to sleep on part of the trip and woke up when I reached the Kuala Lumpur KUL bus terminal.
I decided my breakfast at the small eating place inside the Kuala Lumpur KUL bus terminal, which consisted of fried rice, fried egg, and fried (again) chicken accompanied with a glass of iced milk tea. At only RM13/US$3, the place offered one of the best value for money meal in Kuala Lumpur KUL.
After I had my breakfast, I went to one of Malindo's check-in counters to get my boarding pass. There were close to no queue at business class check-in counters while a small queue had formed at the economy class check-in counters, still reasonable to Malaysia's check-in nightmare I saw several weeks ago. They did not offer Malay Mail again, which as I noted on my other trip report was almost disgraceful.
Were they turning my (purple) suitcase into a training material? I noticed during check-in that after I showed my passport, the (purportedly) senior check-in staff told the newer staff that there was no need to check for visa if the country of destination is the same as the passport's country of issuance, which was fine for me, but to have my suitcase not promptly entered to the baggage handling system before I left the counter until I took photo of them was definitely on another level.
My boarding pass came in thick boarding pass stock paper, but I noticed the lack of purple colour on the upper part of boarding pass compared with the boarding pass I had on another flight with them, one cost-saving measure on their side.
Before departure, I checked with them whether I would get lounge access by default, which they said I would get dining voucher instead as they do not have a proper lounge in KLIA yet. It's true that they provide meal voucher instead of lounge voucher, but the meal voucher is also good for entry into one of the two lounges they partner with. The flexibility will be appreciated for those with colleague flying in economy as they can dine using the voucher as well (looking at the outlets, where on heaven could one spend RM30/US$7 on an airport meal for her/himself in Malaysia?), although for a solo traveler access to a better lounge (ex.: Golden Lounge / Plaza Premium Lounge) would appeal more.
Kuala Lumpur KUL main terminal check-in area
One of my colleagues had asked me for help to buy a bottle of a specific brand of mouthwash, so I decided to go to Kuala Lumpur KUL terminal 2 by express train to get her the requested item. The train ride was uneventful, but now that I had the chance to ride it in the morning instead of late night I could feel the train cruising at a relatively high speed.
The train station and the airport also offered The Malaysian Reserve, which was significantly better than Malay Mail.
One of the most important highlights for value-conscious travelers is the supermarket at Kuala Lumpur KUL terminal 2. In addition to carrying normal range of supermarket items, they also cater to travelers' needs such as travel-sized items and even paid cooking service for beef bought from the supermarket (side dishes are also available at an additional cost as well). The prices, while more expensive than a normal supermarket, are reasonable compared to convenience stores. As they are more geared for common travelers, do not expect specialty brands to be there (I could not even find my colleague's mouthwash brand). For a more complete report of Kuala Lumpur KUL terminal 2 public area, read my other report here.
My colleague's mouthwash turned to be a complicated issue as I had already checked two bags and could not check more for the flight but without a tamper-evident bag the mouthwash would surely be confiscated. To make the matter worse, transferring between terminals at Kuala Lumpur KUL are not free, which made the matter more challenging. At the end, the staff at the check-in area devised a plan to retrieve on of my bags manually, bring it to the gate and have me put the bottle into the bag while I would ask the same shop at the airside to put that bottle mouthwash into a tamper-evident bag.
I proceeded to the airside after being fed up with all the fiasco (I even told my colleague I would hedge against my losses had the bottle tossed away by security) through immigration and customs check. Immigration was swift, although the rather wide area made for a long walk to go to ASEAN member countries' passport holder lane, which was empty anyway and closer than the business/first class lane. It was also the first time I encountered customs screening as a departing passenger, which nonetheless was fast.
Kuala Lumpur KUL transit area
With Kuala Lumpur KUL international departure area located higher than the domestic departure area, the place felt more aesthetically pleasant.
As I was planning to go to Sama-Sama Express Lounge and to get the tamper-evident bag for my colleague's mouthwash, I proceeded to the satellite terminal. At that moment, only one people mover was operational due to some reasons.
The people mover was very well past its prime age with even the carpet showing its age.
One of the more famous photos of the satellite terminal is the outside of the boardwalk, which I did not get the chance to cover.
I then proceeded to the Sama-Sama Express Lounge, which is the only airside lounge available by virtue of Malindo's dining voucher. The lounge is located near the far end, so the walking distance is on the longer side.
Lounge test #1: Sama-Sama Express Lounge KLIA
The exterior looked unassuming and even slightly shady, but never mind on that.
I was then welcomed at the reception and upon giving my dining voucher I was let in. The so-called lounge was visible from the outside, which means it totally lacked privacy.
Hot dishes were limited to only five items, all of which are sparsely filled, in addition to an egg station and nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf). An Indian family came and checked for vegetarian options, which the chef mentioned only one of them were vegetarian, which was the fried noodle. On the side of the hot dishes are a handful of bread with a toasting machine. The choices were paltry and unfit for even a contract lounge.
Other dishes include porridge with side dishes (which would also suit with nasi lemak) and a selection of cereal.
Fruit drinks offered consisted of only apple juice and orange cordial. Where fruit juice is a given, putting cordial drink as a cost-saving measure is tantamount to putting oneself to shame.
Fruits, coffee, and tea were also available. Espresso-based drinks seem to be quite popular these days, so the provision of a coffee machine (albeit a basic one) will be appreciated by coffee drinkers. They also made sticks of sugar, which looked nice.
Their selection of dairy products include yogurt inside the sparsely filled display fridge and full-cream and chocolate flavoured milk.
I had nasi lemak with condiments and scrambled egg (not a usual combination since nasi lemak is usually accompanied by hard-boiled or sunny side up egg) for my breakfast. Taste wise it was acceptable even as they looked on the sadder side, although as I already had my fair share of fried rice earlier that morning I opted not to eat too much. I especially liked the scrambled egg as a pairing since the chef cooked it to the point of being slightly runny as it can be challenging to have a runny yolk for sunny side up egg, enhancing the nasi lemak taste.
They also feature business centre, which was limited to two unused iMac computers.
Being uninterested of staying in the lounge, I decided to have a quick shower before leaving. Unlike at Garuda Indonesia and dnata lounges I visited before, amenities were available in the shower room for the users to take instead of having all of them given by the staff. I then entered the shower room, which at first didn't look that bad.
The shower room itself looked underwhelming as it pretty much resembled the common shower room found in my hostel. The fact that the shower room was dry was appreciated, although the small number of user may pretty well explain. The water flow was very good, which I also liked, and they also provided shampoo and soap in dispenser, which was acceptable for a contract lounge.
In the amenity cupboard were a few standard single-use amenities and towels, which were pretty basic.
Lounge test verdict and departure
I then returned to the main terminal as my flight would depart from that terminal. On overall, the lounge was very basic to say the least with very few dishes and lack of privacy, and at RM45/US$11 for paid access I would need to consider it very carefully if I plan to return there again to wait for my next flights from Kuala Lumpur KUL.
Probably my first time watching a Cathay Dragon plane (?)
Kuala Lumpur KUL satellite terminal consists of two publicly accessible floors, but all other lounges are located near the centre of the terminal, making Sama-Sama Express Lounge the most remote lounge in the terminal.
After visiting the lounge and handling my colleague's mouthwash issue, I returned to the main terminal as my flight would depart from there.
My flight as shown on the FIDS.
Various plane models of airlines using the main/satellite are terminal shown. Where is Malindo? Nearby the models were stacks of The Malaysian Reserve and The New York Times, which was appreciated.
I then proceeded into the gate after second screening at the gate and the boarding pass tearing, leaving me only with the smaller right side part. The security in Kuala Lumpur KUL is modeled like Singapore SIN, plus the customs screening. I was one of the earlier to enter the gate, so it was relatively quiet. Malindo did not live up to its promise by not bringing my bag to the gate for me to put the mouthwash as promised, although the problem was solved with the mouthwash receiving its tamper-evident bag
The mouthwash inside the tamper-evident bag.
In the main terminal, international departure gates are simply partitioned domestic departure gates to maximize space usage, as visible from the moving walkway beside the gate.
What I thought to be my plane, but turned out not to be the one I flew with. It was pretty close, though, as Malindo uses only Boeing 737 planes from Kuala Lumpur KUL. By taking a look at the livery, it seems clear that Malindo and Batik are both Lion Air group's hybrid/full service subsidiary.
Boarding the plane was a slightly messy affair as usual with people queuing in one common queue before they were supposed to board. However, as the boarding priority was enforced I was able to cut through the queue and board earlier.
Instead of 9M-LCJ which I took a photo of earlier, I got to board its sister, 9M-LCM.
The flight attendant was not even ready to greet when I entered the plane, probably as the economy passengers had yet to start boarding. The plane was also not equipped with the heavily promoted mobile or Wi-Fi service to my dismay.
Flight: OD316 Plane: 9M-LCM STD/ATD: 11.25/11.47 STA/ATA: 12.30/12.32 Load factor: 75% C (9/12), unknown Y Seat type: Recliner business class (no seat map yet, but should be in 12C 150Y) Details: https://www.flightradar24.com/data/flights/od316
After they saw me waiting to enter the aisle, the flight attendants then welcomed me onboard but did not direct me to my seat. The seat looked quite new and plush, but the middle armrest seemed to be unable to be opened.
At 42" - 45" (depending on which Malindo Air website page is true, check here vs here, they can't even make consistent claim), the seat pitch and width was acceptable for the flight, typical of non-EU regional business class. There were IFE boxes under the seat, but I could not see any IFE screen, which was funny. The seatback pocket was filled with unbranded airsickness bag, safety card, airline magazine, and duty-free catalog.
The wall features some basic pattern, most likely legacy of Batik Air.
Soon, the flight attendant offered a choice of welcome drink, which consisted of apple or orange juice. I decided to take the orange juice as I had enough apple juice in the lounge.
The glass features hexagonal pattern with Lion Air logo, a tribute to the airline group.
Afterwards, newspapers were distributed with only The Star being offered. Nice try, though we already have our share of The Malaysian Reserve and The New York Times provided by the airport. To make the matter worse, nearing the end of the flight the newspapers were taken back by the flight attendant as if they were going to redistribute it to passengers on the return flight.
Other passengers in the business class cabin seem to be more well-heeled than me, who was mainly looking to get a lot of luggage allowance at lower cost, travel in comfort, and as usual, make a nice report out of it (Lion even charged S$30 for every 5kg of excess luggage on Singapore SIN - Jakarta CGK route, making Malindo's offer a steal as I had 36 kg of luggage).
Pillow and blanket was offered, with the pillow bearing Batik Air logo (there have been plans to turn Malindo Air into Batik Air Malaysia, but Malindo's products seem to quite mirror Batik Air)
The plane soon started pushing back from the main terminal to the runway.
Takeoff was quite smooth and a few minutes later the seat belt sign was turned off. I tried the table, which was acceptable in terms of size (although seems to be slightly smaller than KLM's), but the right end tend to shake a bit, rendering it unusable for my laptop so I did not get to work.
Tablecloth was applied on my table, bearing Batik Air brand.
This was a relatively easy flight for the flight attendants as most other business class passengers were sleeping, so the meal service was pretty swift. There were two main choices available, which I selected their rice option. The meal service was given all in one tray as expected on regional flights and delivered by hand by the flight attendant. The honeycomb design was also applied to other serving plates, which was acceptable.
There was no menu provided for the flight, but here are the food and drink options available: - Appetizer: Salad with prepacked balsamic vinegar olive oil dressing - Bread: Roll with whole grain and refined flour roll served with unsalted canola margarine - Main: A choice of spaghetti or cubed chicken breast served in Thai green curry with white rice and sauteed vegetable - Dessert: Cheesecake - Drink (default): Still water with lemon wedge - Drink (additional): Coffee/tea/soft drink/orange "juice"/apple "juice" (which juices were called by the flight attendant as "seasonal fruit juices")/Spritzer brand bottled mineral water (the airline seem to be a dry one) - Snack: packaged mixed nuts The salad was fine as it tasted quite fresh, but from that point things went in a downturn. The main dish although tasted fine have rather small portion in terms of the side dishes and didn't look aesthetically appealing with the curry and sauteed vegetable looked in a rather sad state. The roll with whole grain tasted fine, although the refined flour roll was rather bland and the canola margarine despite tasting fine was borderline insulting as other carriers provide proper butter even in economy class. Cheesecake was on the tougher side and also tasted bland, which I ended up not finishing as I was quite full. The serving plates all bear Lion Air logo, which may further confuse whether the airline is more of Lion Air's subsidiary or Batik Air's sister airline. On overall, the meal was more suitable to be relegated into full service economy class and not yet up to the business class quality expected from its regional competitors such as Singapore and Garuda.
Unlike the serving plates, the cutleries bear Batik Air's logo, which made for a very inconsistent branding. The cutlery felt substantial, as expected in business class, but the margarine knife felt more substantial than the two spoons and fork, which made them feel imbalanced.
During the meal service, the flight attendant remembered my choice for orange "juice" and offered to top it up during the meal as the glass was rather small from the fruit "juice" bottle, which was Tropicana Twister. The drinks are classified as fruit drinks and technically not fruit juices. Serving Marigold orange drink in economy class is one thing, but serving fruit drink instead of proper fruit juice in business class and even having the guts to call them "seasonal fruit juices" was cost-saving on another level, which I could not appreciate even though I understand I was paying almost rock-bottom cheap fare.
View during the cruise. There were some turbulence earlier, so the fasten seat belt sign was on for quite a large part of the flight.
On 9M-LCM which was only less than one year old, no IFE was available as the flight attendant even acknowledged that not all Malindo's planes are equipped with one, which also means no USB or AC charging plugs (one of the purported perks of flying business class is admittedly the access to AC charging plug to charge my phone battery). I was quite interested to look for classical musics as Malindo's website did not even tell the music collection they have, so I was very disappointed with it. I ended up trying to sleep, and I then started the feeling that the seat was a bit on the harder side. While the recline was fine for a short nap, the headrest, one of the seat features I value the most, was uncomfortable to adjust as it could not reach upwards past my back even though I'm only 5' 10". The picture of me below sums the abysmal headrest experience best. Footrest was also slightly flimsy I preferred not to have it instead like the legrest on KLM business class and Scoot premium economy class
Before landing, I had the chance to visit their lavatory. From the water splatter, it could be seen that they did not bother cleaning the lavatory during the flight, something I would not expect in business class. One plus side they have is that the lighting and flush button looked more modern than before, which may be very well attributed to the aircraft being less than one year old.
Out of nowhere, without remembering that I had taken the legroom shot, I decided to take one again with my legs slightly stretched. My leg could barely reach the seat in front of me, which shows Malindo has a respectable seat pitch on their business class.
The plane soon descended to Jakarta CGK and landed acceptably at runway 7R.
Some planes waiting for departure at runway 7L, dominated by Garuda since its planes has traditionally been staying near runway 7L/25R and recently moved all its operations to Jakarta CGK terminal 3, also facing that runway.
Arrival at Jakarta CGK and post-arrival trip
I then proceeded to exit from the gate, which felt as Indonesian as an Indonesian airport could be.
The walk to the immigration was not the shortest, however it was still acceptable.
I then walked across some immigration counters and went to the automated immigration counters (available at only a few Indonesian key gateways), which was seen right beside the Wonderful Indonesia ad. The immigration process took me less than one minute to clear.
With my luggage not yet reaching the carousel, I decided to find a place to sit charge my phone battery to book my trip to the city. Despite the priority tag being affixed to my bag, it did not make it to the carousel the earliest.
Malindo's business class luggage tag didn't look too bright to be noticed, perhaps?
One of the cheaper ways to go to Jakarta from the airport was by taking a carpooling service booked using ride-hailing application, which posed a risk to the livelihood of airport taxi drivers due to the lower fare at most times. As the military personnel was apparently quite strict on that matter in the arrival area (why would they even bring army officers to prevent cars booked from ride-hailing applications from taking their business?), I needed to go to the departure area only to take the car.
Jakarta CGK terminal 3, which looked rather new but quite bland, almost like Surabaya SUB terminal 2 which I covered on my other report. My driver went there as another passenger would board the car from that terminal.
Sama-Sama Express Lounge
Kuala Lumpur - KUL
Jakarta - CGK
Business class for 2-hours flight for only US$70 one-way, all taxes included? Sounds impossible, but with Malindo Air being on of Lion Air group's subsidiaries, affordable fares are (almost) always possible even in the front cabin, bringing business class experience (albeit a lite version one) to the masses. That experience, however, come with one rather important caveat: Malindo, like any other Lion Air group member, can be quite extreme when it comes to cost savings to deliver the experience. The cost saving efforts were quite visible from their offerings, from the rather abysmal contract lounge, the airline being dry, all the way to changing from proper butter to margarine, making them technically business class but with a premium economy offering.
My plan to take Malindo's business class was actually to avail of their generous business class luggage allowance without the steep fare, almost everything else being a nice bonus. Given the permit (the most difficult part), business need, and roughly same price, would I fly with Malindo again to get their business class experience despite the detour to/from Singapore? Most certainly yes - especially if LCCs flying direct to/from Singapore still demand steep ancillary revenue through high additional costs.
Even though the value for money offered was phenomenal, as their offerings are sub par to its regional competitors I could not offer a significantly better rating than on my previous trips with them in economy class.
Some thing done well for the trip: + Very low price (even comparable with economy class on LCCs from Singapore with luggage allowance and meal bought) + Main Kuala Lumpur KUL terminal usage + Acceptable check-in waiting and processing time + Acceptable checked luggage allowance (40 kg, not as good as KLM's 2 pcs x 32 kg but still acceptable for regional flights) + Proper boarding pass stock paper + Acceptable centralised security at Kuala Lumpur KUL + Flexibility on selecting lounge access or dining using the voucher + Good newspaper offering from the airport + Relatively young plane + Acceptable seat pitch and width (standard for 737 business class) + Personalized service from the flight attendant + Acceptable immigration clearance at Jakarta CGK
Things that can be improved: - Lack of decent, reasonably priced Kuala Lumpur KUL airport transfer from downtown - Lack of professionalism among the business class check-in officers (my bag was being used as training material by the business class check-in officers) - Long walk to the priority immigration lanes at Kuala Lumpur KUL - Abysmal lounge at Sama-Sama Express Lounge KLIA - Shady automatic people mover train - Not living up to the promise by the luggage staff (my bag was not brought to the gate as promised without notifying me) - Rather hard seat - Uncomfortable adjustable headrest - Lack of IFE and charging plugs (even on a new - Inconsistent logo usage (should the logo be Batik Air or Lion Air?) - Below average dining option - Shortchanging butter with margarine and fruit juice with fruit drink - Lavatory cleanliness - Jakarta CGK luggage processing
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