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Flying Garuda Indonesia London Gatwick to Jakarta
When you think of the world’s top airlines, there’s a good chance you don’t think of Garuda Indonesia. It doesn’t have the same brand recognition as some of its Asian competitors – Singapore Airlines or Thai Airways, for instance. For many years it had a bad reputation for safety and was, in fact, banned from European air space between 2007 and 2009.
But since then, Garuda Indonesia has been making a concerted effort to rebuild its image and recent awards speak for themselves. At the latest Skytrax World Airline awards (the industry’s top global benchmark), Garuda Indonesia was rated as the 7th best airline in the world, the 2nd best economy class, in the top 10 for business and first class, and the 2nd best staff for an Asian airline.
The airline now has its sights set firmly on the European market. In March this year, it joined the SkyTeam airline alliance, giving it strong links with the cornerstones of the group – KLM and AirFrance. In May, it launched direct flights from Jakarta to Amsterdam, using the Dutch city as a hub for SkyTeam connections to other European destinations. And on September 8, it began its first London (Gatwick) to Jakarta flight.
I was invited as a guest on this inaugural flight to review the new route and onboard experience. It’s of real interest to me because as well as opening up opportunities for UK passengers to Jakarta, it provides easy connections to popular domestic holiday destinations like Bali. And it is even an option for the popular (and competitive) London – Australia journey.
I’ll go through some of the details of the flight in a second. But my overall impression is that, while the onboard experience is one of the best you could hope for, there are still some issues with the schedules.
Let’s look at the scheduling first. The original plan by Garuda Indonesia was to have a direct route from London to Jakarta but the new arrangements with the SkyTeam alliance means the flight now stops in Amsterdam. Although it is the same seat on the same plane – a Boeing 777-300ER – passengers need to get off at Amsterdam airport and reboard for takeoff about two hours later. This is still the fastest way to get from London to Jakarta but is clearly an annoyance.
The flight takes off from Gatwick in London, while almost all other flights from London to Asia leave from Heathrow. Personally, I quite like Gatwick as an airport and find it easy to get to and navigate – particularly from eastern and southern parts of the city. That may be a factor for some passengers who are based closer to Heathrow, though.
Once onboard, though, the real benefits of a Garuda Indonesia flight become evident. Across all the cabins, the service of the flight attendants is exemplary. There’s a casual professionalism that I always enjoy – friendly but still respectful – that makes you feel welcome.
My seat was in the business class section of the plane so I’ll focus on some of those features now. Firstly, I want to say this is one of the most comfortable flights I have been on and I’ve been fortunate enough to experience plenty of economy and business class cabins. The seat has a 73 inch pitch and converts to a fully-flat bed with a mattress. I found it very easy to get to sleep for the overnight part of the trip and was able to sit back and relax with my feet on the footrest while watching a movie and having a drink. Every business class seat also has direct aisle access, which I feel is quite important.
One of the highlights of the flight was the catering (not something you hear often about airline food!). For each meal that’s served, there are three options – usually Indonesian, Western and Japanese. There are then further choices within some of those cuisines. For dinner, for instance, I chose the Indonesian meal and found it to be absolutely delicious – a fruit salad with peanut sauce to start, followed by a chilli fish soup, roast chicken with rice and vegetables for the main course and steamed banana with coconut ice cream for dessert.
As far as the entertainment goes, I was impressed with the option to watch live news channels throughout the whole flight. There is also a large selection of movies and television shows, although I felt like there weren’t enough new release blockbusters (I tend not to go to the cinema much these days and like to catch up on new movies on flights). There is also wifi available for free in first class and for a fee of about $20 for business and economy passengers. You can pay with a credit card and it is surprisingly fast – a great feature for people with work to do.
For business and first class passengers and SkyTeam priority members, there are some extra features that make the flight more comfortable. There’s the lounge access in London and Amsterdam, priority boarding for the flight and – my favourite – the arrivals lounge at Jakarta airport where you can have a coffee and a shower while somebody collects your luggage for you. On the return flight from Jakarta airport, you can even relax in the lounge while somebody goes and gets your passport stamped by immigration officials!
Overall, Garuda Indonesia has clearly positioned itself in the past few years as one of the best Asian airlines for service and comfort and the results are clear to passengers. Its expansion into the European market is making it an excellent alternative to some of the more established players in this part of the world. My understanding is that it plans to make the London – Jakarta flight direct (and bypass Amsterdam) in the future once it grows its passenger numbers from the UK. Once it does that, it will have a near-perfect option for business passengers to Indonesia and holidaymakers to nearby destinations like Bali.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Garuda Indonesia but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.