Good Advice Tried and Tested

Malaysia Airlines B737-400 Economy

04/10/2012

BACKGROUND Recent upgrading at Kota Kinabalu International Airport has prompted Malaysia Airlines (MAS) to begin direct flights between “KK” and northeast Asian destinations such as Hong Kong, China, Japan and South Korea, as well as to Perth, Australia. The new Terminal 1 features MAS’s new Golden Lounge for international and domestic customers, 12 aerobridges and nine open bays. The runway has been extended to handle a B747. From four million passengers yearly, the terminal is now expected to handle nine million passengers.

CHECK-IN From the Sutera Harbour Resort it was a quick 15-minute drive to the airport, but since I had an invite to enjoy the MAS Golden Lounge before my flight at 1145, I opted to arrive at 0930. Not having checked in online the night before, I went to one of several self check-in booths to perform the process and secure a boarding pass. This happened without a hitch. I then went to the drop-bag counter to deposit my suitcases.

My native mat, however, was considered “oversized luggage” and I was told to take it to an area indicated by a sign saying “oversized luggage”. I followed the clerk’s directions but only found an x-ray machine and no MAS personnel. Returning to complain to the employee I was told “just leave it at the lift near the scanner and my colleague will pick it up”. Despite my comments that the mat was in danger of falling into the wrong hands, I was firmly told: “Don’t worry. It will be okay.” I had no choice and walked away resigning myself to the chance I wouldn’t find it waiting for me in Hong Kong.

THE LOUNGE The MAS Golden Lounge is located near gates 6 and 7. I arrived to find the facility empty of any other passengers. The main room exuded a plush but cosy feel with several seating clusters, with the food counter on one side and a work section on the other. There were washrooms, a baby changing room and prayer room for Muslim travellers. I checked out the food counter and found a full breakfast of fried eggs and sausages waiting. I then decided to check my email and secured the password for free wifi from the receptionist. At 1100, I walked to gate 4 and took the escalator down to the departure area.

BOARDING I passed through the business class cabin with its fire engine red seats to reach economy class. My seat was 5D, a bulkhead location next to the aisle. I was lucky to find seats E and F unoccupied.

THE SEAT The aircraft on this route was the old but reliable single-aisle Boeing B737-400, which MAS is beginning to send into retirement, replacing with the state-of-the-art B737-800. Be warned that the carnival colours of the livery can be at first disconcerting, but one does get used to it – at least I did. Since there was no IFE available, the flight attendants personally demonstrated the safety procedures. With the journey only about two hours and 35 minutes, I survived the lack of movies by napping and reading the in-flight magazine.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE Row 5 boasts comfortable enough legroom, but it’s quite a walk to the washrooms at the very back of the economy cabin. Rows 11 and 12 consist of only two seats on either side of the aisle, but these are the emergency exit rows and occupants are expected to assist during a crisis.

THE FLIGHT The pilot warned us about some turbulence along the way, and he was right. Thankfully it happened after the meal service, otherwise I wouldn’t have enjoyed the very tasty chicken rendang (although the prawn salad was disappointing and the chocolate cake quite dry).

ARRIVAL We landed at 1415, earlier than the scheduled 1430. As I pulled my suitcase from the baggage claim, I noticed an attendant extracting an odd-shaped bundle from the carousel and placing it on the floor. It was my mat, which had arrived without going astray.

VERDICT Kota Kinabalu Airport’s new Terminal 1 is impressive, and with more regional connections will greatly boost tourism to one of Malaysia’s most interesting destinations. We hope MAS will upgrade the aircraft serving the destination sooner rather than later.

FACT FILE

PLANE TYPE B737-400

SEAT CONFIGURATION 3-3 economy, 2-2 business class

SEAT PITCH 30-31in/76.2-78.7cm

SEAT WIDTH 17.3in/ 43.9cm

PRICE Internet rates for a one-way ticket in November start from RM$209 (US$69), including taxes

CONTACT www.malaysiaairlines.com

Margie T Logarta