After almost three year hiatus from Flight-Report.com, I am now back to present you all my latest trip report. Enjoy!
My latest trip brought me back to the UK. This time it was for my sister's graduation day after finishing her post-doctorate degree at a UK university. This will be my second time to London. Back in 2015, I did a few trip reports detailing my first ever plane ride to London and as some of you might remember (if you search for it on Flight-Report archives), the journey to London then was somewhat turned a bit sour due to delays and minor incidents.
So, that bitter sweet experience taught me on planning my second long-haul trip more carefully for the sake of my own convenience - time-wise. Starting my journey from my hometown of Kota Kinabalu (airport code: BKI), I began to scour the internet for return trip to London with ONLY a single stop. I do not wish to repeat the previous 2015 trip with two stops (KUL, DXB) with different set of return tickets.
The 2015 trip delays by Emirates (EK) turned merely 20 hour one-way trip into an extra half-day of airport stay. Whilst EK and DXB are itself have proven themselves they are up there with the best of the best, as someone who hails from a secondary cities which is not yet under the radar of many of the world's leading airlines, making a two-stop journey to London can be exhausting and more time consuming, even if the price is competitive.
So my internet search came out with some results for one stop flight from BKI to LHR. Obvious options are Malaysia Airlines (MH) via KUL, British Airways (BA) via KUL, Singapore Airlines (SQ) via SIN and Royal Brunei (BI) via BWN. I didn’t want to book separate tickets for different legs of the journey of course, that will just add to the risk of domino effect caused by unexpected delay or even flight cancellation. Alas, there used to be a connection via HKG as well using Cathay Dragon (KA)/Cathay Pacific (CX), but the airline ceased operating into BKI several months prior. So that option is out.
After some extensive search, Royal Brunei Airlines (BI) came as my first choice due to cheaper price and quicker journey time to London compared with the immediate competitions. So, I finally decided on booking with BI.
This is not my first trip with Royal Brunei Airlines. The first one was way back in 1996 when I flew in one of their Boeing 757s from KUL to BWN and then to BKI. I remember arriving at Brunei International Airport for the first time and saw only a single airplane, a Fokker 50 - also in old BI colours parked there alone. After three days stay in Brunei, we went back to the airport and found it was hive with activity not just Boeing 757s, but the airline's 767s as well.
Fast forward to today, the first leg of my journey to London requires me to transit at BWN. The rest of my family members already began their trip to London a day earlier, also using BI. I decided to depart a day later as I was originally scheduled to attend an official function related to my work.
My journey started from my house which is just 10 minutes away from BKI's Terminal 1. After locking the house and turned on the external lights, I unlocked my smartphone and booked an e-hailing ride. Within 10 minutes, the ride arrived. It was already 7.30PM. I brought with me only two items, a carry-on bag fit enough to be put under the seat in front of me, and a baggage which was supposed to be placed inside the cargo hold.
7.45PM - Arrived at the departure level of Terminal 1. I immediately looking for information screen to look for BI check-in counter. Upon arriving at the BI's designated check-in desks, I thought "this looks convenient, not so much people lining-up," and poof…suddenly there are scores of people, apparently in a tour group suddenly appearing out of nowhere seemed rushing to get in-line. As I was already in front of the line, I am unsure whether to prioritize these people first as some members of the group were already separated - maybe by my presence there. Anyway, soon enough, there was one empty counter which I immediately reached. So, let the tourist group reunited with the rest of their members in the other counter.
At check-in counter
I was greeted with a nice check-in counter staff who was interested enough to know my intention of going to the UK. I submitted my passport for ID check. I thought he may tried a small chat while doing his task, but apparently he handed down a piece of paper and politely asked me to declare the address while staying in the UK. I was mildly surprised at first, but with a pen I just wrote the address anyway. At the end he said, this is just a precaution to ensure that I intend to do just that - go there and return and not staying there indefinitely.
Baggage allowance was maximum 20KG. Mine was 16KG, although the extra 4KG was actually due to baggage dead weight. So, it was OK.
Departure check-in area was busy that night.
8.00PM - Check-in was done. Without wasting anymore time, I proceeded directly to security check to avoid longer queues - but there were queues anyway. I took out my laptop from my carry-on bag, and for this particular reason I purposely did not wear waist belt, as it would be an added task for me to take it off amidst the crowd and queue.
My boarding passes.
After security check, I then proceeded to passport check which was swift as there were no queue for the Malaysian passport holders. But, there were long queues for foreign passport holders. Instead of going down the escalator to the domestic section of the departure area (which I always familiar with many times), this is my first time taking an international flight directly from BKI. That means, the airport also has separate passenger only area for international flights.
Upon entering the international passengers area, I was astounded by how different it was from the domestic one. There is even another Starbucks here? I thought there is only one at this airport, which is at the arrival section (and where passengers and public can access freely). I felt immediately like an outsider here as there are more international passengers than people like me (I mean locals of course). The number of shops are also greater and seemed to portray of higher quality ones too.
This is my very first time entering the international departure area.
8.30PM - Our boarding was at gate B2. The entrance to the gate's waiting lounge only opened at 9.25pm. So, in the meantime, I watched the world go by.
Plaza Premium Lounge is also available.
A BI A320 just arrived from BWN. For a moment I thought it was our aircraft (upgraded from ATR72)….turned out it was not to be.
9.25PM - The entrance was finally opened. But before that, we had to passed through another layer of security check. That same tour group that I encountered at check-in desk earlier also began to appear queuing up. Despite the built-up, the security check went smoothly.
After proceeding downstairs to the waiting lounge via escalator, there was no sign of the plane yet. While sitting, I managed to observe my fellow passengers - the tour group (Japanese elderlies) who may be on the way home to Japan via BWN, Bruneian citizens whom probably just had brief visit to Kota Kinabalu for leisure, and perhaps other transiting passengers like me for their final trip to London.
9.45PM - The inbound plane arrived from BWN.
Our little aircraft parked next to CZ B738.
10.00PM - Boarding is announced. BI strictly ask passengers to board the aircraft based on their boarding group. In this case, I was in Boarding Group B.
Boarding is strictly by group. I sat there waiting for our group to be called.
No aerobridge was used - too high for an ATR72 anyway. We went down the stairwell, and lining up on the tarmac to our little plane.
There was a few minutes hold-up at the stairwell onto the tarmac to ensure boarding was orderly.
Entering the aircraft. Notice the lack of company logo on the tail.
Managed to capture the CZ B738 going back to Guangzhou after quick turnaround.
I would like to explain a bit more about this flight. This ATR72-600 is actually leased by Royal Brunei Airlines from Malindo Airways, a Malaysia based airline and part of Indonesian based Lion Air Group. Called RBLink, BI intends to expand its connection throughout major towns and cities in Borneo and promote BWN as a hub. Ever since BI phased out their Fokker 50s, their smallest aircraft has been the A320s. But, it is too big for meeting the demand of smaller market of other Borneo cities apart from Kota Kinabalu which has been continuously part of BI's route network since the airline's inception in 1970s. Basically, the ATR72s are Malaysian registered, but wet leased to BI where the crew are trained to meet BI's service standards. To date, RBLink already commence services to Sandakan, Tawau, Kuching, Sibu and Bintulu. In the future, Balikpapan on the Indonesian side of Borneo will also be added. As you all can see in my trip report, even BKI also being added as part of RBLink route network so BI can manage supply and demand more effectively and perhaps optimise their A320s to higher demand routes.
As soon as entering the aircraft, I tend to forget that this is a small regional turboprop airliner, and how small can that be. It was almost a full house. I was seated at 12F. Legroom is sufficient enough for the flight duration of perhaps up to 1 hour. It was not the best legroom. The seats are laid out in 2-2 configuration. But the seat width is tight and perhaps barely comfortable enough up to 1 hour. Longer than that, I would scream for A320s!
Inside the cabin.
Legroom is quite tight, not many spaces too move around.
The safety information card is a reminder that this aircraft is leased from Malindo Air.
There are no in-seat TV screens let alone overhead ones. Before departure, cabin crews did the mandatory safety demonstration.
That BI A320 I saw from the terminal earlier was parked at the remote stand for tomorrow's morning flight back to BWN. Why can't the airline just use this aircraft for us tonight instead?
10.25PM - Soon after, the aircraft pushed back. It was a rather quick turn around, helped largely by its smaller size and near to the end of Runway 02. In just under 5 minutes, we reached Runway 02. Only short amount of airfield was needed for us to get airborne.
10.35PM - Cabin lights were brighten again. Cabin crews quickly went into service mode, handing out complimentary fruit juices in small carton boxes.
Complimentary fruit juice by BI. It was quite good actually.
10.50PM - After crossing above the island of Labuan, we quickly began descent. Cabin crews were again tried as quick as they can picking up used carton boxes from passengers. Cabin lights were then dimmed again for landing.
11.10PM - We touched down at BWN. After exiting the runway, our aircraft was then parked on an open tarmac overlooking the airport.
Exiting the ATR72 was equally challenging. Since I am a taller and bigger guy, I am fine being the last person to exit the aircraft.
Disembarked from the plane.
Upon exiting, instead of walking straight to the terminal building, there was an airport bus waiting for us. I remember after entering and standing inside the bus, there was a fellow passenger that was kind enough to offer a pregnant lady his seat. Very heartwarming gesture.
BWN as viewed from the airport bus. What airline was that behind the company A320?
The trip to the terminal was several hundred metres. As soon as we arrived. I immediately felt a bit lost. There was no clear signage pointing me to the right direction. Gladly, I wasn't the only one who felt a bit lost. There was a young lady on the same flight as me also confused by the direction. But, my instinct told me to just follow everyone else. I was right, in no moment's time we arrived at the entrance to the terminal.
I found out later that this A339neo was actually bound for Dubai. The airline in question is HiFly, and Royal Brunei Airlines leased it to service BWN-DXB route.
That's it guys. Thanks for taking your precious time reading my trip report. Next report will be about my onward journey to London, 14 hours non stop from Brunei!
Personally, my only issue with the flight is that the aircraft is too small for my size :). But it is also understandable that being only merely 100 miles apart, BKI-BWN may actually not always command larger aircrafts. I am not sure whether the route is profitable for BI at all. In the past, the company even occasionally deployed B767s and B777s (later on) for the route. AirAsia tried and tested the route (twice) but eventually relented.
My first international flight out of BKI gave an insight into the side of the airport that I never see prior. Certainly the choice of retail is more interesting and now I know there are two Starbucks at the airport :D. I have no issues with passport checks and security clearance at both airports.