The Pre-Flight: Today was the day that IOC would announce the 2020 Summer Olymipic Games host city. News on the street put Tokyo, Mardrid, and Istabnbul as favourite cities to be awarded the 2020 Games. I happened to stay at Keoi Plaza hotel in Shinjuku which is right across Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. One could clearly saw and felt the enthusiasm of Tokyo 2020. I personally wanted Tokyo to win the bid. Later that evening, Tokyo was indeed awarded the 2020 games. This will be the 2nd time for Tokyo to host the summer games. Congratulations, Tokyo!
I took a Narita Limousine Bus service to Narita that departed the hotel at 0750. As the travel time to the airport was around 2 hours, it was recommended we left for the airport 4 hours before. The bus ride was uneventful.
It was around 09:45 when the bus I was on arrived at the airport. Check-in was a breeze for First Class passengers. It so happened that Hasumi-san was again my First Class assistant for my departing flight. She was very happy to see me again. She took me through the security check point. Garuda Indonesia also uses SkyPriority security check-point at NRT for its First and Business class passengers.
After I cleared immigration, she then took me to shop as I needed to buy a some last minute souvenir back home. I said good-bye to Hasumi-san and thanked her again for her courteous service in the front of Delta Sky Club lounge.
In the lounge, I was shown to a specially reserved area for Garuda’s First Class passengers. There were 6 First Class passengers today – 2 for the DPS bound flight and 4 (including me) for the CGK bound flight.
I am very familiar with this lounge as I use it often on my way to the US. It is quite a functional lounge with enough numbers of computer terminal and sitting area. As long as you don’t expect too much from it, you will be fine. The only thing I really like about this lounge is the tarmac and the runway view.
Fast forward, boarding for the CGK bound flight was called. On my way to the gate, I dropped my Canon S-95 on the floor and broke it. From here on, all pictures were taken by my Samsung Note II’s camera. So, I do apologize for a reduced quality of the pictures.
The First Class Flight: Boarding the flight, I was greeted by Budi, the purser in grey suit today.
“Welcome aboard, Mr. GASQKLj!” greeted Sherina as she appeared from the cabin to greet me and then showed me to my seat, 2A. Anggie, the other First Class cabin crew was seen helping 1D and 1G. The purser then came over and also helped me store my carry-on luggage in the crew storage compartment upfront in the galley.
If you need anything from your luggage during the flight, just let me and the crew know and we will get your luggage for yo, Mr. GASQKL, said pursur Budi. Ok, I replied.
Then I turned my attention to my seat and almost immediately I noticed something different.
“Are these?” I blurted out. “Yes. They are, Mr. GASQKL,” Sherina confirmed. “I got a message that you had left these on your flight 2 days ago so we returned them back to you.”
I was so happy to reunite once more with the menu and the amenity kit that I had left on the plane 2 days ago. It was certainly a great little surprise from the crew and also from Garuda. To me, it is truly an example of customer service at its best.
“Mr. GASQKL, thank you for flying First Class with us today. My name is Sherina and I am in charge of the service today. Together with me, there are Anggie, our First Class flight attendant, Komang, our onboard chef and Budi, our purser. We are here to make you enjoy your First Class experience,” Sherina introduced herself and the team to me. “To start, how about champagne for your welcome drink?” “Champagne will be wonderful for now.” ‘We have Billecart-Salmon and Laurent-Perier. Which one do you prefer?” asked Sherina. “Billecart, please”
She went to the galley and very quickly came back to my seat with a bottle of Billecart-Salmon and a small plate of macadamia nut.
“Do you want me to take a picture of you?” asked Sherina as I took the picture of her pouring the Champagne “Nope. I only want to take pictures of the journey and also of you and your colleagues.” “In that case, then we will be famous when you put the pictures up on the internet.” Sherina said jokingly with a few giggles. Sherina surely has a great sense of humor here.
Anggie then came over to welcome me onboard and also to introduced herself to me. She had a pair of slippers ready for me to change into. As done by the crew of the incoming flight, Anggie also laid a red cloth and the pair of slippers on the cloth.
Sherina was back to top up my Champagne and asked, “By the way, is there anything you would like to ask about the seat, Mr. GASQKL?” “I am ok. Thank you.” “Just let me know if you have any question. Oh yes, don’t worry about all the folders and the magazines here now. We will tidy them up for you before take-off. Just for your information, if it is alright with you, we will offer you your pajamas and set up your bed after our lunch service. However, if you want to change earlier and set up your bed earlier, just let us know.”
“I will wait until after lunch. Thanks” ‘Oh yes, we will have a caviar service after take-off. What do you want to drink with that?” asked Sherina. “I think I will continue with the same Champagne.”
The plane then started to push back. The ground engineers were waving good bye at us. Soon afterwards, the cabin was secured for take-off.
The service was in full swing after we had reached the cruising altitude. Anggie came to my seat kneeling down and started to take my lunch order.
“Mr.GASQKL, have you had a chance to look at our menu? What would you like for lunch?” “What do you think? I was looking at both the Japanese set and the European set. Which one is better?” “Both are good. If you want the European meal, I would recommend you go for the smoked salmon as the starter. I like it a lot. For the main, I like both the lamb rack and the smoked duck. The Japanese set is very good. Our Wagyu asparagus is very good,” Anggie suggested. “It is actually very difficult to choose for me. Looks like everything is good but I am leaning towards the Japanese set meal but I like lamb a lot” “If you really like lamb so much, why don’t you go with the Japanese set meal and I also order the lamb for you too. Our chef can do it for you. You are flying First Class anyway, you can order anything on the menu,” said Anggie. “Ok. Just go with what you suggested then.”
Soon after, Angie came over with my Champagne and the caviar service.
“Where is the Kerupuk?” “The chef found out that the Kerupuk is not of good quality today so he decided not to serve the Kerupuk,” replied Anggie apologetically. I later learned from the purser that Kerupuk that they uploaded at NRT had not been fried the right way.
My Champagne was topped up at least twice more by Anggie before I told her that I would like to switch to genmai cha for my beverage with my lunch.
Lunch started about 45 minutes after tabe-off and it took about 1 hour to finish the entire course.
Everything was delicious especially the Wagyu asparagus wraps and the Seabream somen soup. The lamb was tender and good too but not to the level of how I liked the Wagyu asparagus. The dessert was extremely delicious. I just wished the chef had put a bigger scoop of maple ice cream on my desert.
I was so full after the meal service. I told Anggie that I probably should not have had ordered the lamb. She told me not to worry. She said flying made people hungry and that It happened to her all the time. She said she was happy to see that I enjoyed my food so much.
The cabin was then cleared up so we could go to rest. Sherina came over and asked if I would like to change into my pajamas and that if I wanted my seat to convert to bed. I told her I didn’t need the seat to be set up as I was not yet tired. As for the pajamas, I asked if I could just take them home with me. “Of course, you can. Mr. GASQKL,” said Sherina happily. “Do you also need 1 for your wife at home?”
Sherina then also asked for my passport so she could help me with the immigration on board.
Soon, the cabin light was deemed and the mood lighting was up. I decided to watch 1 episode of ‘Modern Family’ on the entertainment system. Sherina came over again and asked if I wanted anything to drink while I was watching the show. I told her I was fine.
After 1 episode of ‘Modern Family’, I decided to go walk around the plane. I was very interested in seeing the new Business Class because I had a flight on Garuda’s Business Class to SYD coming up soon. They just completed their new meal service when I was there which was very similar in terms of presentation to the First Class meal service with fewer selections. It was a full load today in Business Class with all 38 seats occupied. GA has 5 crew + 1 cuisine manager (Garuda’s designator for the onboard chef in C) serving the Business Class section. The cuisine manager in Business Class wears a black color chef uniform instead of a white color uniform like in the First Class.
Going back to my seat, the cabin was glowing under lots of twinkling stars. My friend on the ground somewhere in Sumatra sent me a message and asked me to check the speed of the WiFi.
I then decided to take a nap by reclining the seat in the position that I found most comfortable with a full massage function on. I found this massage mode to be the best one ever on any seat that I had been on.
I fell asleep for a good 1 hour or so. When I woke up, I decided to spend time exploring the IFE system since this one has different interface with the current one onboard Garuda’s owned A330 and B738. The movies library is now up to 70 movies from 58. There is now also a section on food on board and in-flight duty free. As I was browsing the system, Sherina came back and asked if I would like anything to drink. I asked for a mint lime juice which was refreshing.
Sherina then came back with my passport and a special Immigration On Board clearance card that we could use to exit CGK without the need to go through the same procedure on the ground. I noticed that we had just entered the Indonesian airspace somewhere over Kalimantan and we were only about 1 ½ hours from CGK.
Anggie then came over and said they would start the “In Between Fuel” snack service.
“Mr. UMD, are you feeling hungry now?” asked Anggie “I am actually feeling hungry. It is strange because I felt so full before after all the food.” “You see. It’s like what I told you. We get hungry very easily when we are flying. Don’t worry, you can order anything you like,” said Anggie with a big smile.
I was going to order the Indonesia Tekwan soup noodles but 1D and 1G had ordered them. She highly recommended the tempura udon and the New York cheese cake. I went ahead with the Sate plate, the tempura udon, and the fruit plate. “Anything to drink with that?” Anggie asked.
“I will have the Japanese Sencha.”
The Indonesian sate plate was very good. Each with a different sauce as it should be. The beef sate is with a kecap manis and onion sauce, the chicken is with a Maduranese peanut sauce (this is to differentiate from the North Sumatra/Riau Peninsula/ Malaysia and Singapore peanut sauce which is precooked), and the Balinese seafood lemongrass wrapped sate lilit which is already full of flavor by itself. The only problem with the sate plate was that the rice cake was a bit too soggy for me.
The Tempura Udon was indeed very good and the fruit was fresh.
Having cleared `the table, Anggie offered me Wedang Jahe which is an Indonesian style ginger tea purely made of the juice of ginger and sugar. I love ginger tea so I was very quick to agree.
Soon, we were only about 25 minutes before arrival. I went to the toilet to freshen up and when I came back to my seat, I found Anggie had arranged my shoes on the floor for me and of course on top of the ‘red carpet’ as well.
Anggie came over again to secure the cabin for landing. As she was picking up the slippers, she asked if I would like to take them home with me. I said sure because I found them very comfortable. She then put them into the shoe bags and happily gave them to me. Anggie then thanked me for flying with Garuda Indonesia.
Sherlina came around every seat to thank each of us for flying First Class with Garuda Indonesia .
“How were were doing, Mr.GASQKL? Did you enjoy your First Class experience with us?” Sherina asked. “Certainly” “Thank you for flying with us and thank you so much for flying First Class with us,” said Sherina.
Our plane landed at CGK about 10 minutes ahead of our schedule. The plane soon parked at one of the gates in T2E. When we (the First Class passengers) deplaned, we were greeted by 4 First Class assistants (one assistant for each passenger) who were helping us out with our luggage and customs. As I was picked up by my friend at the airport, the Frist Class assistant went with me all the way to the pick-up point. Garuda also has arranged an arrival limousine service to drop us all the way at our home or hotel in Jakarta if we want to.
The wonderful First Class crew from Garuda Indonesia: Anggie in her blue Kebaya, Sherlina in her lavender Kebaya, and Chef Komang in his white chef attire.
Conclusion: By far, this is the best First Class experience I have had with any airlines. Maybe it is because I started the trip not with a very high expectation knowing it is Garuda’s second attempt to re-introduce First Class and that the airline is so new at being premium having just successfully entering the last phase of its Quantum leap transformation program. However, I do hold Garuda up to a very high standard because I am comparing Garuda’s First Class service only to the First Class of one the world’s best, Singapore Airlines. I have been on Singapore Airlines First Class several times and none of them (with the exception of one very special B744 flight from Hongkong) can beat this one in terms of the total First Class experience. Mind you I am yet to experience Singapore Airlines’ Suite class on its A380. Garuda’s First Class seats on its B77W are definitely way better than the current Singapore Airlines’ First Class seats on its B77W.
The challenge is of course whether Garuda can continuously and consistently upkeep this standard of offering which of course includes its safety records. The new Garuda Indonesia is a totally different airline from the old Garuda that we used to know but it is only just building its premium branding. In a lot of countries people will still laugh at you if they hear you are flying with Garuda. In some offices, some managers even curse at their bosses for making them fly with Garuda to Indonesia.
The booking for First Class on the CGK and DPS NRT routes so far seem quite good for the airline. However, the route is still limited to Narita only for now and soon to Sydney. Just like what Kevin Coastner once heard it in ‘Fields of Dreams” – the famous ‘if you build it, they would come’, Garuda will surely be able to lure the Indonesian premium passengers to fly with them if it continues to maintain and build its premium branding like what it has done on its new First Class. I wish Garuda Indonesia a great success.
Delta Air Lines Sky Club (Terminal 1 No. 1 Satellite)
Tokyo - NRT
Jakarta - CGK
The return day flight from NRT to CGK really showcased the strength of Garuda Indonesia First Class. The meal service was the most extensive I had experienced in any F and was also very beautifully and elegantly executed.
All other routines experienced in the flight 2 days before were also repeated flawlessly by the cabin crew. The real 'wow' factor was when the crew returned back to me the amenity kit and the menus that I had left behind on my previous flight.
Garuda's own IFE consisted of up to 80 movies (from new releases to blockbusters to classic to Indonesian) and hundreds of music collections. The reason why the Entertainment continues to score so high was because WIFI was provided for free to all First Class passengers.
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