Report #72: MH3525 - Poor man's private plane
This will be my report on flying on Malaysia Airlines (operated by MASwings) economy class from Lawas LWY to Miri MYY, an ultra short-haul intercity flight within Sarawak state in Malaysia, on board their De Havilland Twin Otter.
Unlike within peninsular Malaysia, there were not that many flights flying between peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (i.e. Sabah and Sarawak states). To make the matter worse, Miri was considered to be the third largest city within the region, so the airport only offered a handful of flights to/from peninsular Malaysia. Land transport was also not a viable option since I needed to pass through 8 (!) immigration checkpoints only to go to Miri, which was in the same state anyway, leaving me with no choice but to fly to LWY and an hour later fly back to MYY for my connecting flight to JHB.
I booked the ticket through the MASwings ticketing counter in MYY on the same morning, which costed me RM119 (~US$30) inclusive of a RM5 (~US$1.25) ticketing office surcharge. In return, I received 84 Asia Miles award miles from my credit card as the transaction was done overseas.
Naturally the earlier flight from MYY was how I got there, so I won't document on how I got here in this review.
After getting a bit of sun, I went back through the departure door.
Near the door was a single check-in counter. When I checked in, I was also offered to switch to the earlier flight, though the prospect of flying with the same crew didn't interest me so I skipped that. Just like before, I had my passport as well as body weight checked on the large scale.
Signage were scattered around the counter, from the mundane ones to the one unique to LWY such as asking for permit to travel even within the state (see the white coloured notice at the lower left part).
I received my boarding pass, which was printed in the usual MH stock paper. Interestingly enough, this time my body weight wasn't entered as a remark like before.
As the next flight was about to depart, meeters and greeters were already all but exist.
I made my way to the departure gate, where I only had my ticket and passport checked but not my bag.
LWY served less than 100 passengers daily, and even then being a rural airport they didn't collect any airport fee, so there was only a manual bag search desk and walkthrough metal detector, both of which were ignored.
Waiting room consisted of only rows of seats in a fortunately air-conditioned room with a couple of power plugs for the entire room. The room (and the entire airport) could be best described as rustic with styles roughly around the 1990s period.
In fact, I even needed to return to the landside to get to the lavatory, but with the airport consisting only of me and the rest of staffs I wasn't asked to clear security again to get in.
The overall process at landside was so fast even when I reached the waiting room the plane that brought me to LWY earlier was still there.
She took off a couple of minutes later, and with that the only spotting opportunity at LWY.
The plane arrived almost 40 minutes prior to the STD, guaranteeing an early departure.
She then parked at the sole parking stand ready to be unloaded.
The last flight from MYY for the day only carried 4 passengers.
Boarding was called 30 minutes before the STD and I was directed to the plane.
The plane for the late afternoon was 9M-SSC, a 6 years old DHT made by Viking Air. Since I didn't check any bag naturally there was no cargo to carry, just me and my backpack.
Plane: 9M-SSC "Kinabatangan"
Load factor: 5% Y (1/19)
Seat type: Standard economy class (emergency exit row aisle seat)
I wasn't welcomed by the flight crews, so I made my way to my seat. Legroom was pretty tight even on the emergency exit row seat.
By tight, I mean this tight - nowhere near the very generous pitch found on 320/737 family's exit row seats.
Seatbelt was ordinary apart from the Viking brand.
There's nothing fancy in the seat pocket - just an airsickness bag and a damaged safety card.
Me on the seat - with nobody else on board, it was time to enjoy the private flying experience.
There was a reading light and air nozzle, though as the cabin wasn't that warm and the air flow was pretty slow it served barely any purpose.
What also screams private is your own view to the cockpit - no permission needed, of course, as the curtain was opened throughout the flight. I was briefed with a couple of safety procedures before departure as there was no safety demo at the ground, but that was as far as it went.
The plane's two engines then started and we had a quick taxi (and by quick I mean less than 1 minute, as the runway was right beside the parking stand).
Takeoff was done shortly afterwards, which was really fast - think of it more like a car accelerating rather than a normal plane taking off)
We started leaving Lawas shortly afterwards.
Our expected flight path for this flight would bring us above Brunei for a good part of the journey - definitely beats making some long detours.
Our climb offered us a glimpse of the South China Sea as well as the hilly terrain on Lawas' wilderness.
Views of an otherwise beautiful sunset over Brunei bay, marred by the crappy window.
In the meanwhile, I admired the empty cabin available for me for this flight.
Was there even anybody around there?
Too bad I couldn't move to different seats to get a different view as the fasten seatbelt sign was on throughout the flight.
There was unfortunately no honey pot at the end of the rainbow.
Flying over Brunei for the second time for this flight alone.
Sunset as we went further down - just like on the previous flight, we continuously descended at a low rate almost right after reaching the cruising altitude to fly faster.
Miri and the South China Sea on one fine sunset.
A couple of minutes after we had passed the airport we started to turn around for the eastbound approach.
Flaps were deployed and our relatively normal attitude turned to a steep downward one.
And by that, I mean that steep.
With a plane this small, you can't help but to feel just how large a normal commercial plane looks like.
After an otherwise uneventful landing, we taxied on the runway for a while before getting into the taxiway.
After a couple of minutes we were finally parked in the parking area for Twin Otters.
One last view of the barely taken care of cabin before I left the plane.
There was no luggage to carry, so naturally they left my plane empty-handed.
Only a couple of hours before I was in the same corridor, yet I was here again.
The corridor led me to this building ….
With AK's 320 in sight, of course.
By this time there was no more flight on DHT, so the additional waiting lounge became eerily empty. I then made my way upstairs to get to the interstitial corridor.
How to board a plane, MYY-style: first you make the people queue at the gate, then queue again at the interstitial corridor before actually getting on board.
Since I was about to connect to the next flight by AK to JHB I went through the "transit hall".
Note how I put "transit hall" because it was nothing but a waiting room extension. Since I was about to fly out from Sarawak, I needed to get to the main immigration counter to the side right after security for my clearance.
This was an pretty fun way to try MASwings' rural air services route. While the service left much to be desired, its novelty was what drew me to the route. In terms of the airports, while both were pretty dated, LWY's efficiency was almost next level due to the number of passenger(s) for the flight. Therefore, while you won't find me flying on this route anytime soon, this was something to try on.