In late 2019 I had the privilege of being in tourist hotspot Bali, in Indonesia. As serial fare-hackers will know, Jakarta is a hotspot for something else; cheap business class fares. With my ride home booked for less than £700 one-way using the wonderful Oman Air, I needed to get to Jakarta.
Indonesia is a vast island nation and the fourth most-populous country in the world, so there’s a lot of domestic flying and plenty of choice. For this flight, I booked Garuda Indonesia for £90 one-way, attracted by the opportunity of trying a new carrier and of flying an A330-300 on this short, 600-mile flight instead of a narrow body aircraft.
I also filmed the experience for my YouTube channel:
I don’t have any status with Skyteam at all, so I wasn’t able to use the premium checkin at Denpasar-Bali airport. However, I did enquire about the possibility of paid upgrades, but was met with a price of some £300 (400 USD), which was more cash than I’m willing to set fire to for a flight which already had novelty value for me anyway.
The domestic terminal at Denpasar-Bali is much less ornate and less fussy than the fine new international terminal next door, but still contains some local charm.
There are large windows onto the tarmac, where a Garuda 737 (which operates the majority of Bali-Jakarta flights) can be seen, along with the controversially expensive “GWK” statue dominating the hill in the distance.
There’s a lounge in the domestic terminal too, for Garuda and Skyteam elites and business class ticket holders. Alas, no entry for me (for once!) but no big deal; the domestic terminal is absolutely fine to wait in and has a Starbucks among other, more provincial, catering outlets.
Our aircraft today: A five year old A330-300, PK-GPX. Garuda is the national airline of Indonesia and has been hit firmly by the pandemic of 2020, having restructured its bonds and been forced to merge with some other state-run corporations in order to save costs.
Flying in Indonesia can be strange for the uninitiated; airports often have too few gates for the number of flight departing. This means simultaneously-timed flights can depart from one gate, and boarding is done is short bursts. Simply watching to see passengers flow through your gate isn’t enough. You need to listen carefully and watch for the signs carried by staff; the aircraft you might think is “yours”, attached to the gate, for Jakarta, might actually be for Surabaya and the plan is to use your gate to corral all passengers in a few minutes down the stairs, onto a bus, and drive you across the tarmac to your actual aircraft.
As it turned out, our aircraft was the one attached to the gate, and we boarded promptly by seat row number. I got a glimpse of Garuda’s 2-2-2 configuration regional business class (their international seats are much newer and feature direct aisle access for everyone). I was right to save my money!
Economy is laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration, which means couples will enjoy paired seats by the window.
My seat was 49J, right at the very back of the aircraft in a curtained area which is used for crew rest on longer flights.
These slightly older generation seats in economy class are well padded and feature 33 inches of pitch, which is very generous.
Just in case you find yourself tempted into the back row, be reassured there is no missing window and the seat can still recline, thanks to a gap between the seat and rear bulkhead.
A small mint sweet was handed out prior to departure, which gave me immediate nostalgia for holiday flights from the UK I took as a boy in the 1990s and 2000s – who else remembers boiled sweets handed out before takeoff? I certainly do.
Departure was punctual and we took off for our cruise altitude of 32,000 feet, heading roughly west to Jakarta.
I was grateful to dodge these storms, if there were anything like as nasty as the ones I’d experienced on my way into Bali with Qantas!
With the seat pitch at 33 inches in economy, legroom was no problem at all for me, but be mindful that window seats have an electrical box (to the right of my feet) which will prove annoying to some.
Each seat has one USB socket to charge devices – note that these are under the seats and you need to reach back for them; they’re easy to miss!
The fold down table has a large cut out which can only mean this was designed for some very large customers!
…and yes, there are individual air vents in economy.
Each seat contains an entertainment screen; there’s a modest selection of Indonesian and Western TV and film. I mostly stuck with the moving map.
Despite this flight’s short length of barely over 90 minutes, headphones are provided, which is a nice touch.
Garuda has a low profile in the West, but actually serves a significant route network in East Asia.
This being a legacy airline flying in Asia, there is of course a meal service – something we’ve seen all but evaporate from European skies in favour of a different business model.
The airline even supplies metal cutlery with the meal!
The meal was a mild chicken curry – apologies, there’s no menu card on Garuda domestic and I’m not an expert in Indonesian food – but it was excellent, and a substantial portion which was more than sufficient for lunch.
I have absolutely no idea what the dessert was, but I found it repulsive and synthetic. However, everyone else I saw ate it without complaint; perhaps this is a local dish which doesn’t marry well with my unashamedly British expectations of dessert!
The bathroom was clean, and even came with what Garuda call “eau de toilette”, which is more akin to fragranced alcohol gel.
I try to view every carrier as an experience of culture’ you won’t like everything you come across, and not everything will be to your taste, but you can appreciate its inherent quality. So, despite some of the mild put-downs in this article, it’s hard to see Garuda as anything other than a beloved full service carrier providing distinctly Indonesian service. The airline still proudly displays their Skytrax award for “Most Loved Airline” which it won several years ago.
For £90, I think this was a good value flight and certainly knocked spots off most of my European and American economy class experiences of a similar flight duration. I’d happily fly Garuda again, and will try their business class the next time my wallet and their prices are harmonised!