Hi again! This is a continuation of my trip to London onboard Royal Brunei Airlines. Below is the 2nd leg of my journey. Check out my first report here.
1) BWN-LHR is third longest commercial flight route to London. 2) You can say that this is a kind of long haul island hopping (from Borneo to Great Britain) 3) V8-DLA is the first 787 ever to be delivered to any South East Asian airline.
AT BRUNEI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (BWN)
Since I already checked-in all the way to London, I proceeded immediately to departure area of BWN as the transit gap is 1 hour only. But, I had to passed through a security check. Like previously in BKI, I passed through security without problem.
Despite its small size, the overall airport ambience made me feel cosy.
This is my first visit inside Brunei International Airport (BWN) since 1996. Obviously, the airport has been through some significant changes. The most obvious one is the addition of a new main terminal building. Upon entering the waiting lounge, I immediately remember the basic structure of the original airport that still stands today as it was back in 1996, albeit heavily renovated. It is this centralized waiting lounge where there is a free-standing symmetrical domed roof that will remind me of BWN.
This is the original section of BWN in existence since the airport's completion back in 1970s. Note the spiral staircase which leads to the washroom, located below the main passenger only area.
Looking for further info about my flight to London. Note that the Bahasa Melayu (Malay language) signages are written in Arabic based script called Jawi.
What I like about BWN is that despite its small size, the ambience is calming with extensive use of neutral colours (white walls) and almost the entire floor area is carpeted too. Reminds me very much of Changi Airport. There are several shops available although I didn't survey them in detail.
Some of the duty free shops available in BWN.
Interestingly, washrooms are located below the main passenger area and access is via spiral staircases. I never seen this in other airports. In my opinion, this layout can free up spaces at the main passenger areas for more productive uses.
11.15PM - After brief visit to the washroom, it was a relatively short steps away to Gate 5 where the London bound flight was assigned to. But we still had to queue so the gate agent could verify everyone's boarding passes before we took our seats in the Gate 5 lounge. While queuing, I managed to see our pilots (all four of them) in full uniform politely cutting our line straight into the aircraft.
At Gate 5
I took a seat at the Gate 5 waiting lounge. With nothing much to do, I observed the surroundings, watching other passengers got their boarding passes verified and try to make out their nationalities. There were British citizens, perhaps Australians too, Bruneians of course and there were also Philippine nationals. I also watched curiously on the silent TV screens promoting Brunei tourism products and businesses which are installed above the waiting lounge to pass my time while waiting for announcement.
11.50PM - As I was expecting to enter into Gate 5 aerobridge, suddenly one of the gate agents went into Gate 4 counter and starting to announce, without speaker at everyone starting with Boarding Group A and B, "Anyone in Group A and B please proceed here!" pointing the respective passengers to her position at Gate 4.
I am still not sure why suddenly we entered the aircraft through Gate 4 instead although we ended up inside the aircraft anyway though the same corridor as Gate 5. Again, BI is strict on insisting anyone to board by their boarding group as shown on their boarding passes. I was in the last boarding group - Boarding Group C.
Our plane that night was registered V8-DLA - BI's oldest of its five fleets of B787-8 Dreamliner. The first time I saw this particular plane was almost six years ago when the then newly delivered aircraft briefly visited BKI back in 2013 as part of its promotional service. I can't believe I finally went onboard this aircraft almost six years later!
INSIDE THE AIRCRAFT
12.00AM - Just before I entered the aircraft, I promised myself to touch the aircraft external skin just to have a feel of its composite fuselage. I did but only a quick touch. I am not sure if it feels like plastic or metal to me, or perhaps since it is already coated with standard BI paint coat, maybe what I feel is just a coat of paint! We were greeted by one of the cabin crews standing at the entrance. I showed my boarding pass and then he pointed the direction to my seat.
Blurred image of economy cabin as I walked towards my seat. The economy class seats are laid out in 3-3-3 configuration except at the final two rows which are in 2-3-2 configuration.
My seat at 51A - third last row of the economy class cabin.
I purposely booked my seat at 51A after brief study on the seating layout of this aircraft. Since I travelled alone, I need some level of privacy but at the same time need direct access to outside view (preferring window seat). I was initially interested in either seats 52A/K or 53 A/K because of the 2-3-2 configuration, but I found out that despite being window seats, there is a gap between the seats and the windows. But, in reality after witnessing the seats myself, the distance is not that 'far' as I thought. It was an arms length though, and one probably needs to stretch out their head to view the window.
Legroom is so much better in this aircraft. There is enough space to stretch my legs almost all the way under the seat in front of me. Blankets and pillows are provided in each seat. As I settled into my seat, boarding was almost done. And soon I realized that besides me, there was no one sitting at my immediate row. And that means I can have the three seats all to myself! A welcome bonus of the flight! My next move was to review the available entertainment option. Each seat is provided with personal TV screen. Let's see what's in store for the 14 hour non-stop journey!
BI's official entertainment option is called IMPIAN (literally means 'the dream' in Bahasa Melayu). Two languages are available, either English or Malay.
Movies and Dramas section
I browsed the Hollywood section, hoping to continue watching a movie I had to stopped mid-through several months ago, but it was not in the list. Anyway, the movie selections are decent, incomparable to the likes of Emirates.
There is no handheld remote control provided in each economy seat. This is a touch screen. The touch sensitivity is quite responsive and almost iPad like. There is no lag or continuous loading.
Everyone started entertaining themselves even before the aircraft leaving the gate.
Long journey ahead to London Heathrow - we were still on the ground!
Cabin crews went across the aisle handing out complimentary mono-jack earphones. I recommend anyone to just bring their own piece of two-jack headset as the touchscreen is also equipped with two-pin stereo plugs and a USB plug.
I have to say that the sound quality for this complimentary one by BI is just 50% even if the volume is maxed out. There is also a three-pin plug for charging your smartphones or laptops. It is located beneath the seat.
12.15AM - We should be taking off by now, but there was a slight delay. The crew did a welcoming announcement, saying the flight will take about 14 hours and will be arriving in LHR approximately on time despite the slight delay. Then, cabin crews were instructed to locked and armed all doors. Before safety video was shown, BI also showed a special travel prayer video for Muslim passengers.
Safety video specifically tailored for B787-8 Dreamliner.
TAKE-OFF & CRUISE
12.30PM - Soon it was a short taxiway ride to take off at Runway 03. It was already past midnight, the surrounding area seems so quiet, I think we were the last flight that night. At Runway 03, the Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines roared into life. The humming sound of those RR engines when these started spooling were unmistakable. It took us almost 1 minute to get airborne.
Then the throttle pulled back a bit as we made a low pass above the suburban areas of Bandar Seri Begawan, before we climbed higher passed the low-lying clouds. Then upon entering the South China Sea, the engines roared again to reach initial cruising altitude.
(Following times will be in GMT)
I already set my smartwatch and smartphone clocks to GMT time zone before takeoff so I can keep track of arrival time at LHR and reduce jetlag as much as possible. Since this was a night flight, there was nothing much to see. I tried watching a movie but eventually in no mood. So, I had a nap.
5.10PM - As I was about to sleep soundly with my head against the window, I was suddenly woken up by one of the cabin crews. It is time for dinner (or supper?).
Cabin crew: "Excuse me sir, would you like either ginger beef with rice or chicken lasagna?"
Me: "Lasagna please."
Cabin crew: "Would you like any drinks, coffee or tea?"
Me: "Tea but without sugar please."
Cabin crew: Giving me tea (but I didn't expect him to put some milk in it. Was expecting plain tea.)
It was still a long way to go.
My meal consisted of chicken lasagna, a muffin, a pack of chocolate bar in biscuit sandwich (which I find delectable) and plain water - along with my milk tea.
The lasagna tasted pretty OK, although the bottom of it didn’t cooked al dente enough.
The chocolate bar sandwich was very good! I need to find this brand in the supermarket!
5.30PM - I literally wiped clean my meal as I did not want to get starved for the next 10 hours plus. I crumpled the aluminum packet nicely to free-up my meal tray space. Then I put the used meal tray to the tray table in the adjacent middle seat (since no other passengers sitting immediately in my row) and I closed mine.
After meal, I entertained myself by playing some crossword puzzles as I was not bothered to watch any movies or dramas. This game was actually quite fun and challenging.
After several minutes of crossword puzzles, I started to mellow again. I turned off the screen and then slept for about for 4 hours.
10.00PM - I woke up, turned on the screen to see our location. We were crossing northern India.
Over northern India.
Cities and towns of northern India seemed to be obscured by low clouds.
Since I already sat for too long, I went to the lavatory to freshen up. Then, instead of going back to my seat, I stood up near the rear door to stretch out. A cabin crew was nice enough to offer me something. I opt for plain water. There were also snacks (salted peanuts, chips and those delectable chocolate bars I mentioned earlier) on display at the rear galley for passengers to munch on between meals.
I had the opportunity to talk to two of the cabin crews. One of them has been working with BI for 20 years, and another one was 20 years old and just started working. I asked whether there are bunk beds for crew rest in this aircraft. The crew member said there is none installed in the Dreamliner for cabin crews, except for pilots only. The cabin crews instead get their rest in the reserved business class seats with curtains on. It was costly for the airline to install the bunk beds for all the crews. I can’t say that I have to agree with the crew or the airline decision. After small chat, I headed back to my seat. Then another round of intermittent sleep and crossword puzzles.
2.00AM - I woke up again and turned to the screen for location update. We were just crossing the Caspian Sea, and into Russian airspace.
Still 4 hours away from LHR.
Instead of sleeping or playing another round of crossword puzzles, I opted for music - classical to be precise. Went browsing the selection and found some Russian classics. Since we were already above Russia, I played some of the Russian classics available such as Tchaikovsky. I listened to the classics while peeking the window outside trying to guess the bright lights of Russian cities and towns below - is that Rostov-on-Don?
At this hour, perhaps the residents down on the ground only heard us as one of the many low humming high altitude commercial jets flew east-west over their heads. Since its winter, I could imagine the temperature down there must be freezing. We clearly avoided two countries - Iran and Ukraine. Although a straight route could have taken us above these areas. But as we all know, recent geopolitical circumstances prevent us from doing so.
3.30AM - We crossed into Belarus, then Poland. It was time to change music. Low clouds prevent me from seeing Warsaw. This time I opted for some other classics.
4.00AM - Into German airspace, the sky cleared and right at the moment, Berlin came into view. The 3 million plus inhabitants of this city is clearly united in single bright metropolis. As we crossed north central Europe, classics including Gabriel Faure': Pavane, Op. 50 played out through my earphone. It was a symbolic mood. But then, the ride was also getting bumpier.
Main cabin light was slowly brighten, as a polite way of telling everyone that breakfast is almost ready.
The ride was rather bumpy. As if our plane was kicked at all sides like a punching bag. I looked out the window and the early morning sky was crystal clear, with crescent moon trailing us from behind. But the majestic flexed wings of our Dreamliner clearly bore the brunt of the clear air turbulence as it swung up and down to lessen the turbulence effect on our cabin. I also saw a hint of dawn although it was still largely dark.
Breakfast was served. I didn't remember the other option though.
Breakfast consisted of chicken rendang with rice (and a bit of acar (pickled vegetable) ), a croissant with butter, cut fruits and plain water - along with milk coffee. Fresh towelette was also provided. Eating was challenging in the bumpy weather. But I still managed to finished off everything.
Blurry photo as a proof that the plane was shaking.
DESCENT & LANDING
5.00AM - The pilot made an announcement via the PA system. He informed us that the clear air turbulence was due to the strong south-westerly winds. He assured us we will arrive at LHR on-time but explained to us that incoming traffic would be busy that morning.
I looked at the window and we soon entered Netherlands airspace. Low clouds hover over Rotterdam, Europe's busiest port. I tried focusing my eyes through small openings in the clouds if I could see large ships. After quick Netherlands crossing, we entered the North Sea.
Above the North Sea.
6.00AM - As we exited Netherlands, we began our descent from our final cruising altitude of 40,000 feet. The bumpy ride we had for about three hours suddenly stopped. The descent was gentle as we made our way into LHR. We slowly entered English coast. Lights from urban centres of England began to appear before us as the plane gently glides over southeast England. I could already see morning rush hours by the hordes of vehicles on one of UK's many motorways.
6.30AM - We then stopped descending as we reached Greater London. It was a surreal view. As we slowly flew over the city, I could see the vast expanse of this metropolis laid out before my eyes. I could see other planes hovered above the dawn skies of London like bees waiting their turn for arriving at their nest. The skylines of Canary Wharf stood out like crystal palaces greeting us from below.
Above Greater London.
As many of us know, it wasn't a straightforward approach and landing. We made three loops above Greater London before finally get the clearance to land at Runway 27L. After the final holding pattern, our plane's Rolls Royce Trent 1000 engines began humming gently as we glided towards the runway.
6.45AM - We touched down at LHR's runway 27L. We exited the runway towards our gate at the adjacent Terminal 4. After reaching the gate, I had peek through the window and saw several planes lined up for landing at Runway 27L. Very busy morning!
We parked next to Etihad's A380.
AT LONDON HEATHROW AIRPORT TERMINAL 4 (LHR - T4)
7.00AM - We disembarked from the aircraft, and went straight to the passport control. As some of you may know, LHR know has two types of passport control lanes - one is a fast-track lane for designated countries where the passport holders of the nationalities concerned only have to use e-gates (meaning no immigration officer). While another one is just a conventional lane where everybody else must queue for their passports and visas to be verified and stamped by immigration officers on duty.
Unfortunately, my country is not eligible for the fast-track lane. There was obviously long queue at the conventional passport control. Heathrow airport ground staffs tried their best to hasten the flow by guiding passengers and opening up any bottlenecks. While there were also queues at the fast-track lane adjacent to us, the queue was soon gone.
I queued for approximately 20-30 minutes (can't really remember but I slowly walked towards the counters). Any passengers that were in groups like families or in tour/student groups were given priority. So, a lone traveller like me has to be patient.
Finally my turned came.
LHR staff: "Please proceed to counter 29."
Me: quickly went to the counter where a serious looking immigration officer waited. I handed my passport to him.
Officer: He verified my passport and then asked me this question, "What is your purpose of coming to the UK?"
Me: I tried to explain it as clear as possible, but somehow my tongue stuck, "I, I…". Then I nervously repeated my sentence, "I am actually going to attend my sister's graduation at Coventry."
Officer: "Oh, convocation ceremony. Do you bring your bells and whistles?"
Me: Dumb look on my face, "Sorry?"
Officer: "Bells and whistles," while he made the spinning hand gesture indicating celebratory mood.
Me: I said to him in smile, "Oh, no sir."
Officer: With a smile on his face he handed me back my passport.
That was a huge relieve!
I proceeded immediately to get my baggage from the luggage reclaim section. But, I didn’t notice my baggage. As I walk through some of the baggage, I finally saw mine already being taken out by someone from the conveyor belt and was put on the floor. Was it done because someone mistake mine as his/hers or was it purposely done to prevent blockages in the conveyor? Anyway, after that I exited towards arrival area of Terminal 4 for my next journey.
Welcome to London Heathrow Airport - Terminal 4!
That's it for now and thank you for reading my trip report!
Bonus : Click here display hide
My sister's graduation ceremony was a success. We are all proud of her achievement!
After the ceremony, we had a few days left to explore around England. We rented a car and drove to Cambridge and Windsor. But the weather had not been very welcoming. The English winter is cold, bleak and for the rest of our time in England, seemed like the entire Great Britain was shrouded in fog - day and night. The sky was very overcast. But then, this is part of the experience, right?
Driving along a straight road somewhere in West Midlands.
Windsor Castle - this nearly millennia old fortress is now one of the official residences of the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom. Seemed like the Queen was not in residence when we visited, if the flagless pole is anything to judge by.
The town of Windsor during foggy dusk. I didn't realised until now that the town itself is quite near the approach path of incoming flights into Heathrow Airport. I honestly quite bothered by the constant presence and noises of aircrafts passing over the town area. Is the Queen really bothered as well like me when she is in residence?
Back at Coventry for a nice steak dinner before heading back to London.
It was very foggy and cold morning at Coventry and perhaps the rest of England.
We had a one night stay in London before returning to Malaysia. I took this opportunity to visit additional places nearby our hotel. I gave Buckingham Palace and Oxford Street a miss though as I already visited these places in the previous trip.
Delightful looking Georgian and Victorian age buildings at Bayswater area where these structures have become expensive private homes, hotels or serviced apartments.
Since my family went shopping, I decided to head for nearby Hyde Park and visiting Kensington Palace.
The statue of Queen Victoria at the east face of the Kensington Palace complex. She spent her younger days in the palace until her enthronement as Queen at the age of 18 in 1837.
Kensington Palace is one of the official residences of the British Royal Family. Princess Diana lived here until her untimely and tragic death in 1997. Her eldest son, Prince William and his wife and children still live here. The palace itself comprises several separate apartments. Unlike Buckingham Palace, a part of Kensington Palace can be directly access by the public where there is a cafe and gift shop. If you have spare money (note: $++), you can even rent an apartment here for few days.
Facing towards the south face of the palace complex is the statue of William of Orange - the only Dutch aristocrat that had ever ascended the English throne as William III of England. He shared his power with his English wife, Mary II of England.
Royal Brunei Airlines
Bandar Seri Begawan - BWN
London - LHR
I am quite satisfied with the whole inflight experience. I have to admit that the product offered by BI is not as sophisticated as the likes of SQ, EK, QR or even MH. I disembarked from the plane feeling rather refreshed and not as tiring. Was it because of the Dreamliner's revolutionary technology (higher cabin pressure compared with older planes) or is it just my thought?
Meals were quite satisfactory and I have no complaint. However, I would like to point out that BI is a dry airline. But, there many plenty of available airline options available for Kangaroo route. So, it is up to anyone to choose.
Entertainment options are decent as well and not in the likes of major carriers like SQ or EK. I would like to point out that there is no Wi-Fi connection which I think is a bit pity. I think the airline should consider installing one in the future.
Connection through BWN is a breeze. Sure it is small, but that is the beauty of small airports. It is easily navigable and your legs will not get easily tired. I think smaller airports are always better than larger ones, convenience wise.
Heathrow - it is big of course, but I still like airports with many terminals rather than airports with single large terminal with long walking distance to the gates (talking about KUL). When I think about LHR, the first thing that comes to my mind is that it is a hotbed for plane spotters.
Would I like to consider taking BI again? I would not hesitate to. The flight time and duration from A to Z is convenient if it is done right. But, the challenge is that BI is a small player in a sea of carriers operating on Kangaroo routes. Its long haul destinations are limited and not extensive. But then any airline will face challenges anyway and its interesting on how BI deals with it.
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