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Highlights of AirAsia flight AK5271 Senai > Kuala Lumpur August 16, 2010

Posted by hafizbam in Flight Review, Overseas Travels.
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AirAsia logo

Airline: AirAsia (AK)
Date: Tuesday, 05 May 2009
Route: Senai Sultan Ismail (JHB) > Kuala Lumpur International (KUL)
Aircraft: A320-200
Registration: 9M-AHS
Seat: 21D
Departure Gate: 4

Scheduled Departure Time: 0925 LT
Actual Departure Time: 1005 LT
Scheduled Arrival Time: 1010 LT
Actual Arrival Time: 1050 LT
Flight Duration: 0H 45Min

As my friends and I wanted to experience a different way of getting to Kuala Lumpur, we opted to fly into the Malaysian capital instead of taking the traditional coach. Even though there are many options available to us from Changi Airport (Singapore Airlines/Silkair/Malaysia Airlines, Firefly, Tiger Airways, Jetstar Asia and AirAsia all fly this busy route), we opted to try something different and much cheaper – by flying out of Senai Airport in Johor Bahru instead and landing in Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

Booking

Naturally, we opted for AirAsia which was then offering seats for only RM9! That worked out to only a maximum of S$25 including taxes, which was quite a steal. Booking our tickets online was simple and systematic and was completed with no hiccups. This included having the option to select seats, pre-order meals as well as buying tickets for the bus ride out of KLIA’s Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT). The downside from flying with AirAsia out of Senai though is the limited number of flights per day – only one morning and one afternoon flight. Getting there from Singapore is also a hassle for those with luggages, but it was not a problem with us as we only had a backpack each.

Getting to the airport

Clearing the immigration and customs at Woodlands and Sultan Iskandar checkpoints was a breeze since it was an early Tuesday morning. We then took SBS Transit 170 direct to Larkin bus terminal where we transferred to GML Line’s G1 service to Senai Airport. While there are other options to get to the airport, including the Senai Airport Express bus by Causeway Link from the Kotaraya Terminal City Lounge, we opted for GML for a more local experience. Initially, we feared not reaching the airport on time due to traffic jams encountered enroute but to our relief, the journey was not as long as expected, taking only an hour end-to-end.

GML Line A1

The GML Line A1 bus at Senai Airport

Interior of GML bus

The bus interior was rather well-maintained for an old bus.

Senai Sultan Ismail International Airport

Sultan Ismail International Airport, or commonly referred to as just Senai Airport, has a straightforward rectangular layout with adequate directional signs which are easy to understand. As we still had time before check-in counters open, we decided to have breakfast at Marrybrown. For a rather small airport, there are quite a number of shops to pass your time away. There’s even ongoing construction works for an upcoming airport shopping mall – part of the grand Iskandar masterplan to transform southern Johor into a successful economic hub worthy of rivalling Singapore. There are separate queues for domestic and international flights, though there’s hardly any scheduled international flights calling at the airport ever since Malaysia Airlines embarked on a strict cost-cutting programme.

Senai Airport

Shops lining up the entire length of the terminal building.

There are not as many shops in the departure transit hall, but the whole length of the terminal building provided for an excellent unobstructed location for aircraft spotting and photography. The only problem was that there’s hardly any aircraft there!

While waiting for boarding to commence, it was announced that our flight will be delayed by 40 minutes. As we had taken into account any possibility of a flight delay, we were not adversely affected by the longer waiting time. Afterall, we chose to fly on a low cost carrier and wasn’t expecting much, so it was good enough the flight was not cancelled!

The aircraft finally pulled into the gate and boarding using an aerobridge commenced swiftly after passengers from the previous flight have disembarked, illustrating the extremely quick turnaround time for the aircraft. I was suprised we didn’t have to board the plane using the stairs as expected from the budget airline.

The aircraft

The aircraft taxiing to the boarding gate after a short hop from the capital.

The aircraft

The baby Airbus about to unload its passengers from Kuala Lumpur.

Sultan Ismail International Airport

Sultan Ismail International Airport

The flight

As the plane taxiied to the runway, the flight attendants carried out a manual safety demonstration accompanied by excellent English. Not bad. Takeoff was smooth and the cabin crew began selling food and drinks shortly after. Those who had pre-booked their meals online were served first, but I was actually surprised that they actually bothered to as it has been indicated on the website that the flight is not even an hour long! Surely they can just wait a little longer for the cheaper meals they can get at the airport? I’ve heard of praises for AirAsia’s catering so probably that’s the reason. In any case, the flight was too short to justify a hot meal so that shall go into my to-do list the next time I fly with them.

But what I wanted to witness most was how the flight attendants carry out the usual routine for such a short flight. And boy, did they not disappoint. Everything was done quickly but professionally and always with a smile. They didn’t appear to be rushing despite the time constraints. I guess they must have mastered this all too familiar routine!

View of cabin from seat 21D

View of cabin from seat 21D

Note the empty advertisement slots.

Close-up of the AirAsia logo engraving at the back of every seat.

Seat pocket contents

The inflight magazine, supermarket receipt-like boarding pass and inflight F&B & duty free merchandise catalogue.

Once the food sales were done, the stewardesses immediately walked down the aisle a second time for the duty-free merchandise, ranging from the usual perfumes to AirAsia’s exclusives such as aircraft models. This was followed by the collection of trash by a flight attendant walking down the aisle with the typical black trash bag in hand. And before once that was done, we had to prepare for landing. This has got to be my shortest flight ever!

View

Good morning Malaysia

Landing was smooth but the aircraft had to taxi for quite a while to get to the LCCT, passing by the airport’s cargo centre enroute.

Passing by KLIA's cargo centre and a Malaysia Airlines Cargo Boeing 747.

Entering the land of AirAsia

KLIA Low Cost Carrier Terminal

We finally disembarked – in true low cost style by climbing down the stairs onto the tarmac and then walking over to the terminal building. Strictly no aerobridges here. It would be quite a scene if it happens to be raining heavily (even though umbrellas are provided)!

View of cabin during disembarkation.

I simply like how they painted the engines!

One of the many AirAsia birds parked all over the place!

The LCCT building itself is way bigger than Singapore’s Budget Terminal which pales badly in comparison. Singapore’s Tiger Airways flying from Changi also utilise the LCCT. Shops and restaurants in the public area are plentiful, ranging from the common McDonald’s and Marrybrown fast-food restaurants to even watch boutiques! And the crowds are a testament to the success of the LCCT in revolutionising air travel in Malaysia.

Tune Hotel

The LCCT even has its own budget Tune Hotel!

As we had booked tickets through AirAsia’s website for the Skybus shuttle bus connecting us from the LCCT to the main KL Sentral transport hub, we proceeded to the “bus terminal” at one end of the terminal building where the bus was waiting for its next departure. The journey took us about an hour or so but comfort was minimal as the airconditioning seemed to have broken down.

Skybus shuttle

The shuttle bus service to KL Sentral by Skybus

Conclusion

Overall, my experience on this short flight with AirAsia is a positive one. The staff were friendly and despite having to rush through their normal routine within the short span of time in the air, still managed to put up a smile all the way. Since it was such a short flight, nobody really took issue with the legroom so I shall leave that for a longer flight. This is definitely a good and cheaper alternative for those who do not mind travelling to Senai Airport. Besides Kuala Lumpur, AirAsia flies to other points in Malaysia such as Penang, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu from Senai. I would certainly not mind trying one of their longer flights in future!

SBP Review: Suasana Edaran TopClass December 31, 2009

Posted by hafizbam in Bus, Express Coach.
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Suasana Edaran's KCH6 - a Scania K124EB with SKS bodywork.

Suasana Edaran's KCH6 - a Scania K124EB with SKS bodywork.

Date: Friday, 25 December 2009
Route: Singapore (ParkRoyal Hotel) -> Kuala Lumpur (Puduraya Terminal)
Bus: KCH6, Scania K124EB
Seat: 9B

Scheduled Departure Time: 0830 H
Actual Departure Time: 0820 H
Scheduled Arrival Time: 1300 H
Actual Arrival Time: 1500 H

I was scouring around for the most reasonably priced coach service between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur to get a group of friends over to the Malaysian capital city on Christmas Day. One that offers slightly greater comfort than the typical 40+ seaters but not too expensive such as the high-end Transtar First Class Solitaire, whose tickets were going for an exhorbitant S$93 one-way! That was in early November this year.

Unluckily for me, most of the coach operators already had their mid-range priced coach classes nearly fully booked and what was left were only bits of empty seats here and there.  Hardly suitable for booking tickets for a group of eight! That was until I came across the website of Suasana Edaran, a Malaysian-owned coach company running routes on the high demand Kuala Lumpur – Seremban, Kuala Lumpur – Penang and Kuala Lumpur – Singapore routes. I tried checking for seat availability using their online booking system but to my dismay, it was still not up and running. I find this rather unacceptable since they have been promoting it ever since their website was up and running more than a year ago when they started doing business here!

Suasana Edaran's Singapore ticket sales office cum waiting lounge at ParkRoyal Hotel shopping arcade.

Suasana Edaran's Singapore ticket sales office cum waiting lounge at ParkRoyal Hotel shopping arcade.

Naturally I was forced to call them up but was glad to find out that they still have plenty of seats left! Not wanting to drag any longer, I made my way down to their ticket sales office at ParkRoyal Hotel shopping arcade (which is just behind the 24-hour Mustafa Centre in Little India). Imagine my surprise when I found out that not only do they still have many seats left, they were also running a promotion which saw their typical S$45 one-way tickets being sold at a much cheaper S$38!

Tempted by their discounts, I booked eight tickets for the 0830H trip leaving Singapore on Christmas Day and the 1400H trip leaving Pasarakyat Terminal in Kuala Lumpur two days later. I chose the back seats on the upper deck for the trip up north, and went for the front seats for the trip back. Even though I had to withdraw my money from the nearest DBS Bank ATM at the new City Square shopping mall across the road in order to pay them up (yes, they do not accept payments by card), I left the ticket sales office a satisfied customer.

However, due to changes in plans, my friends and I decided that the 1400H departure back to Singapore was a bit too early. So I called up Suasana Edaran and asked if it was possible to change my return trip departure timing. I was happy that my request can be acceded to, and at absolutely no extra cost! Similar processes with other coach companies such as Transtar would have cost me quite a substantial amount, and that is if I can even make changes to my itinerary in the first place. When I came down to the sales office to make the ticket exchange, I was pleasantly surprised to see my new return trip tickets already prepared beforehand and sealed in an envelope. Now that is what I call professionalism and efficiency!

KCH6 pending departure from ParkRoyal Hotel.

KCH6 pending departure from ParkRoyal Hotel.

Moving on to Christmas Day itself, my friends and I reached ParkRoyal Hotel well before 0800 hours but found ourselves locked out as the shopping arcade itself wasn’t opened yet. We waited outside with the other coach passengers before the doors were opened slightly after 0800 hours and settled down in their spacious ticket sales office cum waiting lounge which was well stocked with magazines and beverages to keep us occupied. We were called to board the bus at about 0815 hours and the fully-loaded coach departed early at 0820 hours. Shortly after, the female bus attendant handed each of us a bottle of mineral water and announced in English that we were reaching the immigration checkpoints, as well as what we should bring along with us. This was very helpful for first-timers and foreigners on the bus.

However, the joy was short-lived as my worst fears started surfacing – the Christmas Day traffic jams at both the Tuas and Sultan Abu Bakar immigration checkpoints. That itself took us nearly 2 full hours to clear but I realised that the jams were not so much because of the high volume of cars, but because of just one officer regulating the flow of travel coaches into the Sultan Abu Bakar complex to prevent massive human congestion. Smart move, but still too time consuming. Add to the fact that there were a number of Indian nationals on our bus and immigration clearance took longer than usual.

Interior view of the upper deck of the coach from the rear.

Interior view of the upper deck of the coach from the rear.

Interior view of the upper deck of the coach from the front.

Interior view of the upper deck of the coach from the front.

Our bus, a Scania K124EB registered as KCH6, carried on only after the last passenger cleared immigration checks at 1130 hours. It then made a short stop at the first Rest & Service area just after the first toll plaza, following which the bus attendant started serving us food packed in clear containers. It turned out to be the very familiar Nasi Lemak, complete with a fried chicken wing, sambal and cucumber; and which tasted good. I suspected the food was collected from one of the stalls at the rest stop. The driver drove at a slower speed for the next half an hour, which is a good gesture allowing us to eat without much of the humps and bumps of the road. The attendant then returned to collect the containers and any other rubbish we may have, and the bus began to pick up speed. The attendant also proceeded to give each of us a headphone to accompany the personal entertainment system.

Nasi Lemak served just after JB immigration.

Nasi Lemak served just after JB immigration.

Fried chicken wing taking the place of the fish, yummy!

Fried chicken wing taking the place of the fish, yummy!

The personal entertainment system (consisting of a 7.2 inch LCD screen) which was not switched on in Singapore due to local rules and regulations, started playing four English and Malay movies simultaneously. While there was a game console slotted at the back of each seat, I did not have any use for it as I could not find any games. However, my friend sitting on the last row behind me was already engrossed in his game of chinese chess. A little inconsistency there. As I did not have much sleep the night before, I decided to forgo watching the movies and instead go into slumber after charging my camera batteries using the power socket close to the floor.

The comfortable grey-coloured fabric seats have a wider pitch than those found on the economy class seats onboard most airplanes. However, the recline control was still manually operated, as compared to automatic buttons on most newer double-decker coaches. The wide seats in a 2+1 configuration also means the aisle is a bit squeezy, making it difficult for the attendant to walk up and down while serving the passengers. However they do not seem to have much problems with it probably due to experience.

The individual personal entertainment system. Pity the lack of choices.

The individual personal entertainment system. Pity the lack of choices.

I was woken up by the bus attendant announcing that the bus was stopping for a 15-minute toilet break halfway into the journey. I took this opportunity to snap a couple of photos of the bus, which promptly continued its remaining journey on time. I also enquired with the bus attendant on the drop-off locations in Kuala Lumpur and was told it would make two stops – one at Puduraya Terminal before ending its trip at Pasarakyat Terminal. We decided to alight at Puduraya as it was nearer to our hotel. I also realised that some passengers were served coffee in styrofoam cups stamped with the Suasana Edaran logo. I might have not been approached as I was fast asleep but I didn’t mind as I did not like the idea of spilling coffee on myself as the cup was not covered.

View of the Suasana Edaran TopClass coach from the rear.

View of the Suasana Edaran TopClass coach from the rear.

Two more hours into the journey and the Petronas Twin Towers came into view, signalling that we were reaching our destination soon. However, I was surprised when the bus pulled in to the Pasarakyat Terminal first. After majority of the passengers alighted, I double checked with the bus attendant who also seemed perplexed as to why the driver did not stop by at the Puduraya Terminal first. As it turned out, some of the passengers had already made agreements by mouth to the counter staff back in Singapore to be dropped off at Puduraya Terminal, which is more accessible and centrally-located than Pasarakyat. However, this was not recorded in the namelist given to the driver, which stated that everyone’s destinaton was Pasarakyat. However, he eventually gave in and those heading for Puduraya re-boarded the bus. All in all, the whole journey took six and a half hours, which was two hours behind schedule thanks to the delay at the immigration checkpoints.

————————————————–

Date: Sunday, 27 December 2009
Route: Kuala Lumpur (Pasarakyat Terminal) ->Singapore (ParkRoyal Hotel)
Bus: Scania K124EB
Seat: 9B

Scheduled Departure Time: 2200 H
Actual Departure Time: 2200 H
Scheduled Arrival Time: 0230 H
Actual Arrival Time: 0240 H

Fast forward to the night of 27th December. We checked in at Suasana Edaran’s office at Pasarakyat Terminal which is within walking distance from the well-known Berjaya Times Square shopping mall. The bus was already there when we reached at 2130H and we immediately loaded up our luggages before visitng the toilet. It was only then I realised my tickets were for seats at the back of the upper deck instead of the front seats which I had requested. But considering that we had made a last minute change, any seat is a good seat and I sat in the same seat on the second last row next to the emergency exit. The bus departed exactly at 2200H and as per standard, the female bus attendant started giving out bottles of mineral water and headphones for the entertainment system.

View of the coach's interior at night with the nice lighting.

View of the coach's interior at night with the nice lighting.

I tried out the automatic massaging function this time round. While the whole thing worked fine, the effect of the massage felt more like the kind of vibrations you would get when an old bus is sitting idle with the engine on; the only difference is having these vibrations concentrating on different spots on your back. In any case, I’m not much of a fan of massage seats and seeing that I was still not yet sleepy, I decided to watch whatever movies they were screening. I settled for this sick movie whose title I have yet to find out. Sick because the movie is all about brutal murder of innocent victims by a group of “hilly-billies”, essentially deformed humans who prey on stray hikers for food. What a way to keep me awake in the middle of the night! Haha.

Food prepared by Ayamas packed in a plastic bag.

Food prepared by Ayamas packed in a plastic bag.

Not the most appealing chicken rice around but it did fill up the stomach.

Not the most appealing chicken rice around but it did fill up the stomach.

Anyway, the movie provided a good form of entertainment to go along with the Ayamas chicken rice which was served in the same transparent microwaveable boxes, only this time round the food, together with the plastic fork, spoon and napkin were all packed in a plastic bag. A wise move considering many might not have the appetite to eat heavily so late at night. However, the food was quite bland and thankfully I had bought a Subway sandwich earlier to complement my meal!

So the coach made a toilet break midway through the journey, this time round though it stopped at a proper Rest & Service stop with the proper food stalls and all. Unlike the trip up to Kuala Lumpur, the bus attendant (whom I find to be very young and pretty, and very Singaporean) did not make any announcements onboard informing passengers of the supposedly 15-minute toilet break. Either she forgot about it or the PA system was not working but in any case, all the passengers got woken up as the driver switched on the bright lights in the bus. By this time too, the entertainment system was paused.

The 15-minute toilet break turned out to be a 30-minute makan break but nobody was really in any rush in the middle of the night so it was alright. By now some passengers were seen to be sleeping soundly under the comfort of blankets and pillows provided by the attendant. I wonder why I wasn’t provided with a set though. Anyway we were anticipating the movies to run for a second time after the bus commenced the second leg of the journey but it never happened. While majority of the passengers may be sleeping, the bus crew should take into account those who were not, and should just play the movies again for the sake of keeping the passengers entertained with whatever limited offerings available, especially since there are no video-on-demand and games available.

The bubbly cute coach attendant in the black and white uniform.

The bubbly cute coach attendant in the black and white uniform.

We reached the Sultan Abu Bakar immigration complex slightly before 0200H, crossed the Second Link and cleared Tuas checkpoint shortly after. Again, no announcements were made by the attendant. By now the entertainment system was already switced off and the headphones collected back. With the driver skilfully cruising the Ayer Rajah and Central Expressways, we managed to reach ParkRoyal Hotel slightly after 0230H. This brings the whole journey to their promise of 4.5 hours long.

Overall, Suasana Edaran managed to surpass my expectations of a Malaysian coach operator. For the price I paid, my rides were definitely value-for-money and the company scored on the comfort factor with their fabric seats, airconditioning and general smoothness of the journey. However, there are a few areas which the company can further improve on.

The first of which would definitely be the personal entertainment system. This can be upgraded to offer passengers with video on demand as well as games, which would make the investment for the game consoles worth the money. The food and beverage offerings can definitely be improved as well. In addition to making their food look more appetising, the company may want to introduce Transtar-style styrofoam cups with covers with which they can serve hot coffee or tea to passengers with ease. Passengers will also not have to worry about any spillage. The company may also want to look into standardising practices across all its staff, such as ensuring that all announcements are being made to inform passengers at the appropriate times.

I recommend this coach service for those who won’t mind going that extra mile to save a few bucks on transport, but yet do not want to compromise too much on comfort.

With that, I’m happy to give Suasana Edaran TopClass a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

For more information, do visit their website here:
http://www.suasanaedaran.com.my/

Suasana Edaran TopClass
Customer Service: 5/5
Onboard Service: 3.5/5
Comfort: 4/5
Entertainment: 2/5
Food & Beverage: 3/5
OVERALL: 3.5/5

Express coach firm Transtar cuts Singapore-KL fares October 13, 2009

Posted by hafizbam in Bus, Miscellaneous, Transport Events.
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Published in The Straits Times today (Home page 2) is an article by Maria Almenoar featuring coach firm Transtar which is offering new non-stop basic Classic class bus rides between Singapore and Malaysia. Tickets are being offered at a low promotional fare of only S$9 and can be booked at the three-day Travel Malaysia fair to be held over this weekend at the Suntec Convention Centre.

Other firms also seek ways to regain business from budget carriers.

Hit hard by budget carriers flying their route, express coach companies are starting to fight back.

One company, Transtar Travel, is planning a promotion with half-price tickets to Kuala Lumpur. It will offer S$9 one-way tickets to the first 9,900 customers travelling between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur on its new express coach service.

The offer can be booked at the three-day Travel Malaysia fair starting on Friday at Suntec Convention Centre, where seven bus companies will have booths. These promotional seats are normally priced at $17 and offer the usual perks of reclining seats, shared entertainment screens and a food and beverage bar. One-way express bus tickets rang from about $20 to more than $60 depending on how luxurious the coach is.

Transtar executive director Sebastian Yap said business has been down by about 30 per cent since caps were lifted last December on how many flights budget carriers could make on the route.

Every year, more than 1.5 million people hop on express coaches and head for Kuala Lumpur. Since the opening up of skies between Singapore and Malaysia, however, bus companies are reporting a drop of about 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

The Singapore-Kuala Lumpur sector is now served by 11 airlines and is the busiest out of Changi Airport, with 498 flights both ways a week.

Flights take about 45 minutes, but passengers need to check in and make a trip to and from the airport, bringing the total time to five hours, similar to travelling by bus.

“We cannot just sit around and hope that we won’t get hurt… We have to come up with ways to bring people back to the buses,” said Mr Yap, also the chairman of the sub-committee that oversees events promotion and terminal operations at the Express Bus Agencies Association.

The association has 22 members, including big guns such as Five Star Tours, Sri Maju Tours & Travel, and Luxury Tours & Travel, which account for about 60 per cent of the Singapore-Malaysia express bus traffic.

Transtar, with a fleet of 50 coaches running the Singapore-Kuala Lumpur sector 12 times a day, is one of the bigger players in the market, so the likelihood is that other companies will follow suit with lower fares soon, said Mr Yap.

His low-fare deal is a promotional offer for a new class of coach service called Transtar Classic. This line will be scaled down from his high-end coach services, which comes with 18 reclining seats that double as massage chairs, individual entertainment screens and food from Delifrance. Transtar Classic will have 61 seats and run non-stop to Kuala Lumpur three times a day.

Other bus firms are not sure that competing on price alone is the best strategy.

Mr Ismail Abdul Rahman, director of Hasry Singapore, said lower fares would attract more people, but sustainability would be an issue. He is considering raising the level of service and convenience instead, like having Internet connection on the bus.

For construction firm owner Brandon Lim, who takes the bus regularly to Malaysia, the perks mean little. “Planes don’t get me door-to-door, and I have to spend extra time and money on getting to and from the airport. Bus is always better,” he said.

At the end of the day, the customer wins. Lower fares and even more amenities to suit the diverse needs of commuters during their five-hour bus rides will only help make express buses a more worthy choice mode of transport to the Malaysian capital.

The only factor lacking now is a proper intercity bus/coach terminal in Singapore – a facility already commonly found in other countries, and which the Singapore government can certainly provide – to enhance the overall experience for bus commuters even before and after their long journeys.

Click here to visit Transtar Travel’s website.