Welcome to another of my short hop between Singapore and Malaysia, this time featuring a different airline and aircraft, and in fact a different departing airport as well. I had some errands to run in Kuala Lumpur(KL) on weekday and spotted a cheap fare on Firefly which ply the coveted airport of SZB, the preferred airport to KL for businessmen. Akin to say London City Airport and Heathrow or LaGuardia NY and JFK, Subang - SZB (not Kuala Lumpur - SZB) as the airport is correctly know, is much closer to downtown KL compared to KUL.
The aforementioned fare went for S$ 55 one way (around US$35), instead of the normal fare of over S$200 per way. For a 1hr, 350km ride that;s a huge difference.
Fast forward to departure day, a quick ride from the city centre and we are into SZB.
SZB was carrying the IATA code of KUL until the opening of the new airport almost 50 miles from down town in 1998, in conjunction with Malaysia hosting the 1998 Commonwealth Games. Only one part of the 3 terminal setup remains currently and it is only opened for turboprop operation owing to noise pollution regulations.
Firefly is a regional member for the "infamous" Malaysia Airlines who operates a fleet of 11 ATR 72-600 aircraft for short hops.
Human interaction is on the trend of being obsolete.
However, thankfully, they are still present should you need it. Security scans first before you approach the manual check-in counter. FY offers 1 free baggage for check-in of up to 20 kg in weight and 7 kg carry onboard. Essentially it operates with the same structure as MH, a legacy full service carrier.
SZB is a really small airport, with 1 terminal and 6 walk up gates, no aerobridges. Only 2 airlines operate regular service from SZB, FY and Malindo Air, OD. It takes a maximum of 20 minutes to cover the entire airport and it is studded full with small stalls selling lots of nonsense.
A quick view of the tarmac from one of the restaurants at SZB.
Changing nappies is only allowed for ladies here.
The stalls do obscure the signage for boarding area somewhat. Eventually, I figured out the correct direction.
Boarding area is common for international flights.
Boarding was called at 14.30 and onwards to my first turboprop experience. Priority boarding was enforced and MH elites as well as preferred seats passengers were called forward first.
One great benefit of a walk-up boarding is getting the opportunity to soak up the atmosphere on the tarmac and getting really close to the aircraft. However i bet the feeling wouldn't be the same should the weather throw in surprises.
The aircraft was hot and stuffy as we boarded. I am thinking that such aircraft do not have APUs hence the lack of air conditioning while the engines were off. Seats towards the rear of the aircraft, 3 rows in total were labelled as preferred seats, and commanded a price premium. However all seats have the same pitch and width which I don't think is any more than 30". They were really tight and narrow.
Boarding was completed in 15 minutes and by 14.45 we were good to go. The props were let loose and finally some cool air to soothe the scorching heat. Great to have individual air vents too.
The FAs did a manual safety demonstration and announced a flight time of 1 hour 30 minutes, half and hour longer than jets on the same route. Taxi was quick and we made our way towards the end of the runway and did a rolling take-off. SZB's runways are more than 12,000ft long and could accommodate a 744 should the need arise. SZB shares a runway with the Royal Malaysian Air Force, hence the amount of military jets observed during take-off.
Initial climb was rather steep and we settled at a cruising altitude of around 17,000ft. Service commenced as soon as the belts were allowed to let loose, starting with beverages. Coffee or tea were offered with orange juice, water or soy bean milk. Refreshments were offered with a choice of a slice of banana cake, curry puffs (empenadas stuffed with a curry filling) and peanuts. Quite decent for the hour and a half hop.
I settled in for the rest of the flight, catching forty winks in between service and descent. Changi airport was not facing congestion as we approach and was given a direct landing path into runway 02L. Typical scenes ships and the construction of the new Terminal 5 graced the descent as we came into land.
We pulled into a remote gate near Terminal 2 as the aircraft was too small to dock into the conventional aerogates and would be denying a larger aircraft a docking spot, wasting precious real estate and resources. Great views of the large jumbos surrounded us as we disembarked. A pax bus was already at the gate to welcome us as we pulled in and we were dropped off near the checkpoints of Terminal 2.
Subang - SZB
Singapore - SIN
A quick jaunt on the ATR 72 gave me a first taste of turboprops. Not as noisy as I thought they would be, but definitely not comfortable enough to be on flights longer than this. FY proved that a small aircraft need not necessary limit services provided and delivered standards expected of a legacy full service carrier. Still the most convenient way to fly between KL and Singapore and would definitely be the shortest in total travelling time. Only if the price is right all the time.
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