Russian Helicopters conclude South Asian Heli Tour in Malaysia

Russian Helicopters holding company (part of Rostec State Corporation) recently concluded their South Asian Heli Tour with the last stop in Malaysia. The company showcased their latest offerings – the Mi-171A2 medium lift multi-purpose helicopter and the Ansat light multi-purpose helicopter. The South Asian Heli Tour began with participation in the Zhuhai airshow in China, followed by demonstrations of the two helicopters in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Malaysia was the final pit-stop in a long tour of South East Asian countries. Russian Helicopters held a demo event showcasing the two above mentioned helicopters at the Sepang Formula One circuit located near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA)

The day began with a a session introducing the Russian helicopters company along with an introduction to the Mi-171A2 and the Ansat helicopters.

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A short address by different stakeholders followed, after which the action moved outdoors. It was now time to see the birds in action. As the participants moved to the helipad area, the two helicopters were spooling up for their demo flights.

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The Ansat helicopter (manufactured at the Kazan Helicopter Plant) was the first off the chocks, showing how nimble and agile it was. The Ansat is a light utility helicopter, powered by twin Pratt & Whitney PW207K engines, with a power output of 630hp each.

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The helicopter has an internal cargo capacity of 1272kg, with a MTOW of 3600kg. Its maximum flight range is 520km, with a service ceiling of 4600m (or around 15000ft) In passenger configuration, the Ansat can carry up to 8 pax.

As soon as the Ansat returned, the mighty Mi-171A2 lifted off for its demo flight. The Mi-171A2 is a medium utility helicopter derived from the Mi-8/Mi-17 family. The fuselage shape may seem to be familiar to people, but the helicopter is completely modernised.

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One of its most distinctive features is an X-shaped tail rotor that provides better stability.

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Both the main and tail rotors are made up of composites that reduce the overall weight while increasing reliability and durability. The Mi-171A2 features a full glass cockpit and is powered by two Klimov VK-2500PS-03 engines with a power output of 2000hp each.

It has an internal cargo carrying capacity of 4000kg, and can also carry payload on external slings. The maximum flight range with internal fuel tanks is 800km, with a service ceiling of 6000m (or over 19500ft) It is highly customisable in terms of internal configuration. In pure passenger configuration, the Mi-171A2 can carry up to 24 pax.

After the demo, participants got a chance to get up close with both the helicopters.

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People could be seen interacting with the helicopter crew.

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The Mi-171A with its rear cargo door open

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The interiors of the Mi-171A2. Pretty spacious!

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Post the demo session, it was time to head indoors for some lunch, followed by a press conference addressed by the Russian Helicopters CEO, Andrei Boginsky.

Mr Boginsky began by giving an overview of the successful South Asian Heli tour across China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. The tour resulted in soft and hard contracts totalling up to 70 helicopters.

According to Mr. Boginsky, demand for civilian helicopters in Southeast Asian countries may amount to 420 helicopters in the next ten years. “We are counting on a substantial share of this market, and the results of the demo tour suggest that we have every reason for this,” he said.

Mr. Boginsky gave a positive outlook for the company over the next 3-4 years, with multiple products on offer. The press conference ended with Mr. Boginsky inviting the participants to the MAKS airshow in Russia next year.

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British Airways retires the Boeing 767

British Airways retired its fleet of Boeing 767-300s from commercial service on November 25, 2018 after operating the type for 28 long years!

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The final 767-300 in service, registered G-BZHA completed its last passenger carrying flight on Nov 25, completing a round trip from London Heathrow to Larnaca, Cyprus.

The Boeing 767 was introduced into commercial service with British Airways in February 1990 with a special short flight from London Heathrow to Paris. Over the years, the 767 operated routes to Europe, Middle East, North America and even to India! The type was BA’s medium capacity, long haul workhorse till the induction of the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.

Although initially configured for long haul routes, the 767 was later re-configured to operate short haul routes. The aircraft were also retrofitted with winglets to improve their efficiency.

The Boeing 767 heralded the era of long haul twin engined jets that were more fuel efficient as compared to previous generation quad engined aircraft. However, as compared to newer more fuel-efficient jets like the Boeing 777s and especially the Boeing 787s, the 767s were noisy, more expensive to run and lacked the latest passenger friendly features.

They will however continue to be operated around the world for at least the next 5 years if not more. However, for British Airways, it is the end of an era!

Flying on a classic – NAM Air Boeing 737-500

BACKGROUND

The Boeing 737-500 was produced by Boeing as a direct replacement of the Boeing 737-200. It first flew in 1989, and Southwest Airlines was the launch customer. The 737-500 is one of the rarer versions of the Boeing 737 family as only 389 of this variant were produced. It is also hard to get on one of these as only a handful of airlines fly this type today. Southwest Airlines retired their 737-500s in 2016, and so did Lufthansa in the same year.

There are a couple of airlines in Indonesia that still operate this type currently. So, when a trip to Indonesia materialised recently, I felt that this would be a good opportunity to tick this off my bucket list, before they’re gone for good. I booked myself on NAM Air flights from CGK to JOG and back, both operated with the 737-500s.

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I arrived into CGK Terminal 3 on KLM, and after almost an hour long (!) wait for my luggage, I made my way to Terminal 2. I went to the NAM Air check-in counter, where the lady at the desk quickly issued me a boarding pass. As I took the boarding pass in my hand, I casually asked her if the flight was on time. She checked her screen and sheepishly told me that the flight was delayed – this is after I asked her! I then asked her how much was the delay, and she replied coolly – “three hours, sir”  WHAT??? I thought I heard wrong, so I asked her again. Unfortunately her response was the same – three hour delay. For a one hour flight! Incredible!!!

I asked her to put me on an earlier flight if possible, and she asked me to head to the customer service counter. As i approached the customer service counter, I was greeted by this…

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I had to wait for another ten minutes before the agent showed up. I explained my situation to him, and he agreed to put me on to an earlier Sriwijaya Air flight, which incidentally was delayed too! Worse, the flight was on a 737-800!

Opportunity missed! Oh well, I still had the return leg, which I hoped would work out as planned. And, as I landed in JOG, I received an email from NAM Air informing me that my return flight to CGK was rescheduled to 50 minutes earlier!

CHECK-IN

On the day of my return flight, I was nervous as I made my way to the airport. There was no way of tracking the incoming flight, as the 737-500s do not show up on Flightradar24. I reached the airport well within time, and made my way to the NAM Air check-in counter. I asked the check-in agent if the flight was on time, and he replied with, “so far, yes!”. I had more than two hours till departure, which meant that the incoming aircraft had not even departed CGK. There was nothing else to do but wait.

Security check was a breeze and I reached the departure gate area, where I saw this!

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Of course it was not my flight, but the sight of a NAM Air Boeing 737-500 was pleasing to the eyes. Would this be a harbinger or something? Only time would tell!

There’s nothing much to do at the tiny terminal of the Adisutjipto International Airport, except a few cafes and restaurants and a bunch of shops. I wasn’t too hungry but I was lured by the smell of freshly baked bread. I picked up a couple of fresh coffee buns at the “Roti O” outlet along with coffee.

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If you haven’t had coffee buns yet, I highly recommend trying them at “Roti O” in Indonesia or “Rotiboy” in Malaysia.

Our scheduled boarding time of 1935 came and went, but there was no sign of our aircraft. The FIDS screens still showed that the departure was on time, but obviously that would not happen now. Finally at around 2000, I heard the sound of reversers and saw a NAM Air 737-500 slowing down on the sole runway at JOG. Five minutes later, the aircraft arrived at the gate, and I heaved a sigh of relief. Finally!!!

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BOARDING

Boarding was announced within 20 minutes, which I felt was truly remarkable. As I walked towards the aircraft, I couldn’t help but admire her beauty.

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I felt a mix of joy and relief at finally being able to fly on this exotic little aircraft. Its a feeling only aviation enthusiasts will understand!

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The aircraft was registered PK-NAQ and named “Lomasasta”. It was a 23 year old bird, originally delivered to Continental Airlines in June 1995. The winglets were added much later.

The interiors were of 1990s vintage as expected, but were well maintained. The red & blue seat covers, in line with the company colours added a nice bright touch to the cabin.

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As I sat down, I noticed that the legroom was kinda tight.

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The flight was around 80% full, but the boarding was completed quickly.

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THE FLIGHT

We pushed back at 2025, 20 minutes past our STD of 2005. Not bad considering the three hour delay last time!

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After a quick taxi to the runway, we were airborne and on our way to CGK. As soon as the seatbelt signs were switched off, the crew started the snack service. The snack consisted of some cookies and water.

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The square windows on this 737-500

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Safety card on board NAM Air 737-500

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The cabin as seen from the last row. The crew can be seen concluding the snack service.

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The last couple of rows of the NAM Air 737-500. Notice the tight leg room!

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The lavs too were the old fashioned “blue juice” type 😀 Note the old style buttons on the wash basin.

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The sign on the top seems to be a remnant from the Continental/United days.

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ARRIVAL

We landed at around 2145, around 30 minutes behind schedule.

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As soon as we docked, everyone lined up in the aisle waiting to deplane. I was in no hurry of course, as I savoured the final moments on board this classic baby Boeing.

Clicked one last photo of the Business Class seats as I finally made my way to the exit.

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As I bid farewell to the crew, I was smiling, happy to have finally managed to fly on the now rare Boeing 737-500.

So if you haven’t flown on this type yet, get on board a NAM Air 737-500 the next time you visit this part of the world. Do plan with a lot of time in hand though, as delays could mess up your travel plans!

 

Celebrating KLM’s 99th Anniversary – Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur in World Business Class

Celebrating KLM’s 99th Anniversary – Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur in World Business Class

THE BACKGROUND

Dutch flag carrier KLM recently celebrated its 99th anniversary on October 7th 2018. The airline officially named Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij N.V but commonly known  as KLM was established on October 7th 1919. Since its inception, KLM has continued to operate under the same name, making it the oldest airline in the world to do so.

I have flown with KLM multiple times in the past, including on the MD-11 Farewell flight in Amsterdam on November 11th 2014. Every flight has been a memorable experience, with friendly but professional crew and outstanding inflight services. So when I recently discovered that I would be flying with them on their 99th anniversary, I thought of making it special for them – for all the wonderful experiences that I have had. Read on for more details on how we celebrated this milestone…

I was flying from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur on flight KL 810, that continues on to Amsterdam. KLM has fifth freedom traffic rights between KUL & CGK, allowing one to experience their famed hospitality and friendliness without visiting the Netherlands.

REACHING THE AIRPORT

I reached the brand new Terminal 3 at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport with plenty of time to spare. Terminal 3 at CGK is quite modern, spacious and bright. Although the older Terminal 2 has more character with its traditional Javanese architecture, it had become congested given the rapid growth in air traffic.

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CHECK-IN

The KLM check-in counters are located at Row C, and as I walked towards them, I could see the 99th anniversary decorations all over. This was after all a one of a kind milestone!

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KLM first introduced its service to Jakarta in the year 1924, so the airport management is obviously happy to celebrate this milestone with them.

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I was flying in World Business Class today, and headed to the Sky Priority/Business Class check-in counter where I was greeted by a friendly check-in agent. As she was working on my boarding pass, I was approached by another KLM ground staff who asked me if I was willing to star in a short birthday video for them. Who wouldn’t? Haha…

After I had my five seconds of fame, I was given my boarding pass along with a special souvenir to commemorate the occasion. KLM always know how to make things special 🙂

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Check-in done, I waved my goodbyes to the friendly staff who wished me a pleasant flight. The excitement was building up and I couldn’t wait to get on-board. I had another hour and a half to go. Time to head to the lounge.

KLM even has a customised lounge invite for Soekarno-Hatta airport. Most airlines print the lounge invitation on the boarding pass these days.

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I cleared security and immigration – rather quickly due to the special Sky Priority access at CGK, and made my way to the lounge. KLM uses its Skyteam partner Garuda Indonesia’s signature lounge at CGK. This lounge is located at the mezzanine floor post immigration.

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The entrance to the Garuda Indonesia lounge but where’s everybody?

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A long empty passage to???

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A look at Garuda Indonesia’s crew uniform through the years. From the 1940s to the 1990s…

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And from the end of the 20th century to the present…

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Children’s play area… but where are the people???

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I was finally greeted at the reception desk by the lounge staff who ushered me in.

Ah! finally I see people… 🙂

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The lounge itself was quite spacious with decent F&B options and a moderately sized seating area. They had these nice Garuda models on display!

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And this very cool popcorn machine…

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I settled down with a beer and some nice fresh popcorn to while away the next hour or so till boarding began.

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While I was sipping my beer, I saw our aircraft arrive from KUL. It was going to be a Boeing 777-200ER today. A quick check on Flightradar24 told me that the aircraft was named Mount Kilimanjaro (maybe an inspiration for a future trip 😉 ) with the registration PH-BQK.

BOARDING

Soon it was time for boarding, and I made my way down to Gate 8 where our aircraft was docked.

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The CGK ground staff had neatly divided the boarding queues by class of travel and boarding zone, and held up placards along with announcements over a loudspeaker.

There was long queue that had formed at the gate, giving me a good idea of the load tonight.

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Soon it was time to board, and I made my way down the jazzy purple lit aerobridge towards the aircraft.

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About to board…

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As always, I was greeted at the door by friendly KLM cabin crew who ushered me to my seat – 4A in the forward Business Class cabin. KLM 777-200ER’s Business Class is divided into two parts – five rows in the forward section and a single row in the aft section.

A view of my seat.

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The Business Class cabin on KLM’s B777s is in a staggered 2-2-2 layout, with the seats near the window angled away from the aisle.

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The seats are full lie-flat, with plenty of legroom with a nice little storage area beneath the foot rest.

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We had an approximately 50% occupancy in Business Class tonight and boarding was quickly completed.

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The crew offered a choice of welcome drinks, and I chose the champagne of course – to celebrate this special day! 🙂

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THE FLIGHT

We pushed back a few minutes before schedule, and quickly began our taxi towards the runway. The take-off queue seemed shorter than normal for Jakarta and we were airborne in no time at all.

The crew began the dinner service as soon as the seatbelt signs were switched off, and menus were handed out.

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There were two options for the main course

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Plenty of beverage options – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic

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No KLM flight is complete without the Flying Dutchman!

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Noise cancellation headphones were handed out earlier

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Nifty little IFE remote controller

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Dinner was soon served. I had chosen the cheese and spinach cannelloni.

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For drinks, I decided to go with Aberfeldy single malt whisky (one of my favourite single malts), along with the Flying Dutchman

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With not enough time for a complete movie, i decided to watch F.R.I.E.N.D.S. instead. Always good fun on a flight!

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After the meal, it was time to surprise the crew 🙂

As mentioned earlier, KLM has ensured that every flight with them was memorable for me, and today was a good opportunity to return the favour. I’ve clicked quite a few photos of KLM aircraft over the past decade, and I had printed out a couple of A4 sized photos of my favourite – the KLM Orange Pride Boeing 777-300ER during my stay in Jakarta. The intent was to gift one to the cabin crew and the other to the flight crew.

I introduced myself to the cabin crew in the galley and told them that I had a surprise for them to celebrate KLM’s 99th anniversary. Their eyes lit up and they said, “We love surprises”. The smiles became wider when I presented them with this little token of appreciation for all the fantastic experiences on KLM through the years.

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I had clicked this photo at KUL a couple of years ago, and it was only apt that I presented this on a flight to KUL. The blue t-shirt was chosen on purpose to suit the occasion 🙂

And since this is KLM, the crew always had one up their sleeves. This was their gesture of appreciation for me – a nice little comfort bag exclusively made for KLM by the Dutch fashion designer Jan Taminiau

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Soon we were close to starting our descent into KUL, and the captain announced an on-time arrival for us.

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Crossing over the Malacca straits towards the Malaysian peninsula, a little under half an hour to go before landing. Love these 3D maps!

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And now as per another KLM tradition – the crew handed out the signature little KLM Delft Blue houses to all the Business Class passengers. And as another gesture of appreciation, I was given the opportunity to pick two 🙂

I picked house numbers 43 & 49 to add to my nascent KLM house collection.

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Could this flight get any better???

We touched down five minutes ahead of schedule and taxied towards the KLIA Satellite terminal.

ARRIVAL

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As my fellow passengers got up to disembark, I remained seated, savouring the final moments of this memorable flight.

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I had to get up eventually as I had one more thing left to do.

As I made my way to the forward galley, a smiling captain greeted me. The crew had obviously told him about me. Warm smiles and handshakes were exchanged as I presented him with my capture of the Orange Pride.

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The captain thanked me for the little gift, and told me that he would keep it for display at the KLM crew centre in Amsterdam. WOW!!!

I bid farewell to the captain and the crew and made my way to the terminal. Thus ended one of my most memorable flights in recent times and that too on this momentous occasion for KLM.

Happy 99th birthday KLM, and look forward to celebrating the century with you next year!

Dank u wel en Tot ziens!

The Boeing 747 turns 50!

The Boeing 747, lovingly called the Jumbo Jet has turned 50! Its hard to imagine that this massive aircraft – once the workhorse of most major airlines globally has been around for half a century! It has been one of the most iconic – if not THE most iconic aircraft of all time.

The Boeing 747 first rolled out of the Boeing factory at Everett, Washington (purpose-built to manufacture the Boeing 747) on September 30th, 1968. Even as it stood there outside the factory, many had doubts that it could actually fly. They had never seen an aircraft this massive! How could it even get off the ground let alone fly, people wondered! But fly it did, and on it flew millions of wonderstruck passengers over the next five decades.

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The rollout of the first Boeing 747 at the Boeing factory, Everett Washington. Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

Building the Boeing 747 itself was a challenge. Such a massive aircraft had never been built before. It would be roughly twice the size of the then Boeing bestseller – the 707. Joe Sutter – known as the father of the 747 and his team spent countless hours conceptualising, designing and building the Jumbo jet (as it would be called later), and all of this before computer aided design tools became available. The Boeing 747 had a distinctive hump, housing the cockpit and an upper deck passenger cabin that gave it a distinctive look that we all have come to adore.

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Saudi Arabian Airlines Boeing 747-100 HZ-AIE (built in 1981) at BOM in January 2008

Pan Am was the launch customer of the Boeing 747, ordering 25 of these giant aircraft in 1966. It took roughly over two years for Boeing to undertake one of the most complex engineering projects – both in size and sophistication. The Boeing 747 was designed to carry larger number of passengers over greater distances than those possible with previous airliners. Additionally, it was also designed to carry a large amount of cargo with loading of oversized cargo possible through a swivelling nose cargo door. Such a large aircraft also required tremendous amount of power, which was made possible with the development of high bypass turbofan engines. The Pratt & Whitney JT9D was chosen to power the Boeing 747. Four of these engines, each producing between 43,500–51,600 lbf thrust would power the Jumbo jet, allowing it to carry between 350-400 passengers over its maximum range of 4620 nm. By the time it was rolled out of the factory, 26 airlines had ordered the Boeing 747 and their logos were pasted on the fuselage of the first prototype.

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Iran Air Boeing 747-200 EP-IAI (built in 1982) at BOM in Oct 2014

The Boeing 747 first flew on February 9th, 1969 with test pilots Jack Waddell and Brien Wygle, along with flight engineer Jess Wallick. The first flight went smoothly, and the aircraft soon entered into service on January 22nd, 1970 when Pan Am operated the first ever Boeing 747 commercial flight – from New York to London. Since then there’s been no looking back as the Boeing 747 quickly became the long haul workhorse of major airlines from around the world, carrying more passengers and cargo over longer distances than ever before.

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Iran Air Boeing 747SP-86 EP-IAB (built in 1976) at BOM in Sep 2010

One of the Boeing 747’s unique and most loved characteristic was its trademark hump. The front of the hump housed the flight deck providing the pilots with a panoramic view of the tarmac as they manoeuvred the aircraft through increasingly crowded airports. The hump also housed lounges or social areas on early build 747s that gave way to premium passenger cabins in the later variants. The upper deck on a 747 was THE place to be – exclusive to only a select few!

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Business Class cabin on the upper deck of Air India Boeing 747-400 VT-EVA (built in 1996)

As of today – 50 years later more than 1500 Jumbo jets have been built spanning multiple variants – passenger, cargo and even mixed (called Combi) The aircraft has made long haul international travel accessible to more and more people, and has opened up routes that were previously thought impossible.

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Air India Boeing 747-300 Combi VT-EPW (built in 1988) at BOM in Nov 2007

Rapid advancements in engine and airframe technology has made the production of  large airliners powered by twin engines possible today. These twin engined wide-body airliners are capable of carrying almost the same number of passengers as early 747s, over longer distances.  Shrinking profits caused by high oil prices and rapidly dropping airfares have led airlines to ditch four-engined very large aircraft (VLA) like the Boeing 747 in favour of large twin-engined jets like the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A330. The two engines mean that they burn less fuel than the quad-engined 747s and are therefore cheaper to operate and maintain. Apart from the Airbus A380 (which could only manage limited sales) there has not been any new large four-engined aircraft developed. All new long haul wide-body aircraft developed will be powered by twin engines.

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Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 9V-SPA (built in 1994) at SIN in Jan 2010

The large twin-engined aircraft although quieter, more efficient and capable of flying longer distances do not quite have the grace and character of the Jumbo. The distinctive nose and hump, high-mounted flight deck and four engines that produce some of the sweetest music on the tarmac provide instant recognition for any aviation enthusiast.

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Lufthansa Boeing 747-8I D-ABYL (built in 2014) at HND in Feb 2018

Despite the preference for newer, more efficient aircraft, the Boeing 747 lives on – finding its place (though in decreasing numbers) in the long haul fleet of airlines around the world. The Jumbo still rules in the cargo world however, ferrying thousands of tons of cargo across the world every single day. The nose cargo door allows unparalleled flexibility for loading oversized cargo inside its cavernous interiors.

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Silkway Cargo Boeing 747-400 Freighter 4K-SW888 (built in 1999) at KUL in Apr 2016

The next few years will see more and more airlines around the world retire the Boeing 747s from their fleet, as newer aircraft get inducted. However, the Jumbo will soldier on – in one form or another for at least a decade and a half, allowing the current generation of aviation enthusiasts a chance to marvel at this amazing feat of engineering.

The first Boeing 777 ever built is finally retired!

The first Boeing 777 aircraft ever built – a Boeing 777-200 L/N 1 (in service with Cathay Pacific Airlines till June 2018 and registered B-HNL) has finally been retired from commercial service.

Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-200 | B-HNL

This aircraft was the first of its type, built by Boeing in 1994. Although United Airlines was the launch customer of the Boeing 777 in the year 1995, this aircraft served as a test aircraft for Boeing till Cathay Pacific acquired it in the year 2000. It flew with Cathay Pacific for 18 years before being retired from the fleet in June 2018. The original registration of this aircraft while with Boeing was N7771 (aptly so!) and changed to B-HNL upon joining the Cathay Pacific fleet.

It was powered by two Rolls Royce Trent 877 engines, and had a seating capacity of 335 passengers in a two class configuration. It was Cathay Pacific’s standard workhorse for regional high density flights for over a decade and a half.

The aircraft was flown yesterday from Hong Kong to Tucson, Arizona where it will be kept on permanent display at the Pima Air and Space Museum.

 

 

 

 

Experiencing Malaysia Airlines’ brand new A350-900 Business Class

Experiencing Malaysia Airlines’ brand new A350-900 Business Class

BACKGROUND

Malaysia Airlines (MH) recently took delivery of its first brand new Airbus A350-900 aircraft. The aircraft is slated to take over the airline’s long haul routes that were formerly operated by the now retired Boeing 777s and also the ones operated presently by the Airbus A380 (i.e. KUL-LHR)

The A350s will prove to be a cost effective and fuel-efficient alternative than the gigantic A380 and provide much longer range than the airline’s A330-300s. At the time of writing this, MH has taken delivery of a second A350, and both the aircraft are currently doing short domestic and regional hops for crew training/familiarisation.

I saw this as a good opportunity to try out the Business Class product on the brand new aircraft, and promptly booked a flight to Penang (PEN), operated by the A350

REACHING THE AIRPORT

I was booked on MH 1140, with a scheduled departure time of 1105. However I received a text from MH a few hours before departure, informing me of a delay in departure. I left home accordingly, and reached the KLIA Main Terminal with plenty of time to spare.

A quick visit to the Anjung Tinjau (Viewing Gallery) at KLIA gave me an opportunity to spot my aircraft docked at its designated gate.

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CHECK-IN

Check-in was quick and the Business Class counter had just one person ahead of me, and I was checked-in in no time at all.

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The check-in agent handed me my boarding pass and invited me to the newly renovated Malaysia Airlines’ domestic Golden Lounge.

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Security check took no more than 2 minutes, and I was soon in the domestic departures area.

A view of the retail area in the Domestic Departures hold.

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The MH lounge was a five-minute walk away, and a smiling MH lounge attendant greeted me at the reception.

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The lounge had a definitely fresh look to it, and didn’t seem too crowded at the time. I quickly found a seat facing the tarmac, and grabbed some coffee and snacks.

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The view from the MH Domestic Golden Lounge.

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The food & drink counter

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As the boarding time approached, I made my way towards the departure gate, which was a good 10 minute walk from the lounge.

BOARDING

Sector: KUL-PEN

Airline: Malaysia Airlines

Flight: MH 1140

Aircraft: Airbus A350-900

Registration: 9M-MAB

Seat: 10A

This would be my ride today! Malaysia Airlines’ first Airbus A350-900 9M-MAB

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Boarding for our flight was announced at 1130, 30 minutes before the revised departure time, and the huge crowd of waiting passengers queued up almost immediately. I on the other hand, took my own time admiring the brand new bird.

As the queue thinned out, I walked over to the boarding counter. The agent quickly scanned my boarding pass, and I made my way to the aerobridge.

Looked like a full house today!

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Much larger windows on the A350 as compared to conventional aircraft. However, the 787 windows are larger.

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The Business Class on MH A350-900 has a total of 35 seats and is divided into two sections. The forward section is the larger of the two, and is separated from the smaller aft section by the Business Class galley. I had selected a seat in the aft cabin, and I had the whole cabin to myself on this flight.

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The Business Class cabin features a staggered 1-2-1 and 1-2-2 configuration. On the port side, there are single seats adjacent to the window, while on the starboard side, there are single as well as double seats in alternate rows. The middle section has 2 seats in a staggered arrangement.

This should give you an idea of the seating configuration.

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The seat itself is nice and comfy and wide enough for a long haul flight. It of course reclines into a fully flat bed.

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The legroom

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Seat controls

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The crew offered a choice of welcome drinks (apple juice, orange juice, guava juice or water) and I opted for an orange juice.

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The boarding process took around 40 minutes, and we were ten minutes past our departure time by the time it was completed. The doors were soon closed but we waited a few more minutes for pushback clearance.

The Captain on our flight today was a senior Airbus check pilot, and the First Officer was a Malaysian. The MH pilots are currently undergoing checks with pilots from Airbus.

The view out of my window (Seat 10A)

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The IFE system

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Nice little cubbyholes to keep your smartphone and water bottle

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THE FLIGHT

We finally pushed back 20 minutes past noon, and slowly the two RR Trent XWB engines powered up. The A350-900 is super quiet, and even with the engines powered on, you could hear the hiss of the air-conditioning vents.

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A small prayer as we begin our journey

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We began a slow taxi towards Runway 32R, which was the active departure runway, and held short as a Malindo Air 737 began its take-off roll.

Soon it was our turn, and we lined up on the runway. The Trent XWBs spooled up to take-off thrust and we accelerated down the runway. The A350 was incredibly quiet even during take-off, so much so that one can hear the distinct sound of the flaps being retracted.

Our heading today would be northerly straight to PEN.

The Business Class seat in the fully flat position

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I spent the next few minutes chatting with the cabin crew about their experience with this new aircraft. The crew seemed really pleased with it and was looking forward to operating it on the long haul routes. As per the head purser, MH would be operating the A350 on the KUL-LHR route starting Jan 15th.

The crew was kind enough to offer me a tour of the First Class cabin.

The First Class cabin on board MH A350-900 consists of 4 enclosed suites in a 1-2-1 configuration.

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Plenty of space in the suite

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Seat & IFE controls

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With the door in the closed position

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I loved the choice of colours used in the First Class cabin; gives it a premium look and feel.

Posing with the cabin crew. They were really courteous and answered all my questions patiently! 🙂

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ARRIVAL

The flight to PEN was quite short at 40 minutes, and the first officer announced that we had begun our descent.

As we descended into PEN, the view outside my window was gorgeous!

We touched down at 1315, nearly twenty minutes past our revised arrival time.

After a short taxi, we docked at the Penang International Airport terminal, bringing to an end this short but enjoyable flight.

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SUMMARY

The hard product on board MH’s A350-900 is definitely state of the art, and looks pretty comfortable for the long haul flights it will eventually operate. Since this was a short flight, I was not able to experience the on board service though. However, MH is generally pretty good as far as the in flight service is concerned.

The food variety is decent, and the signature satay is simply delicious. I hope MH comes up with some special offerings to mark the introduction of this brand new aircraft type. I also hope that the A350-900 brings in some much needed resurgence in MH’s fortunes. Here’s wishing them all the best!

Thank you all for reading.

United bids farewell to the Boeing 747

After a long innings spanning 47 years, United Airlines is set to retire the iconic Boeing 747 from its fleet. The final regular passenger flight operated by the Boeing 747-400 will be on October 29th 2017, from Seoul to San Francisco. It will be the end of an era for United, in which its much loved “Queen of the skies” ruled the skies across the world.

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United Airlines had taken delivery of its first ever Boeing 747 on June 26th 1970, with its first commercial flight from San Francisco to Honolulu a few weeks later on July 23rd 1970. The Jumbo jet served as the workhorse of the airline’s long haul fleet for over four decades, and was adored by passengers and crew equally.

United operated multiple versions of the Boeing 747, starting with the original 747-100, 747-200, 747-SP (taken over from PanAm) and finally the 747-400. It allowed the airline to carry over 300 passengers comfortably to popular destinations in Europe, Asia and Australia.

To commemorate the retirement of this iconic aircraft, United will be operating a one-off farewell flight on the 747-400 from San Francisco to Honolulu on November 7th 2017. This flight will recreate the first 747 flight operated by United in 1970. From a 1970s-inspired menu to retro uniforms for flight attendants to inflight entertainment befitting of that first flight, passengers will help send the Queen of the Skies off in true style. Tickets for this farewell flight were sold out within two hours of going on sale.

San Francisco International Airport (SFO) was the de-facto hub for United’s Boeing 747s, and it is only fair for the airport to operate the farewell flight.

I had the opportunity to spot the United 747-400s in action at SFO a few years ago. Here’s my tribute to the Queen of the Skies…

 

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United 747 in the classic “Tulip” livery about to touch down on Runway 28L at SFO

 

Trip Report: BOM-KUL – Business Class on Malaysia Airlines Retro Boeing 737

BOM-KUL – Business Class on Malaysia Airlines Retro Boeing 737

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INTRODUCTION

I was heading back to Kuala Lumpur after a short visit to my hometown, Mumbai for the Chinese New Year holiday. At the time, there were only two airline options between BOM & KUL – Malaysia Airlines (which operated two flights daily) and Malindo Air (one flight daily) Both airlines operate the narrow-body Boeing 737 on this route.

Since then, Indonesia AirAsia X has started a flight to BOM, deploying an Airbus A330-300 on the DPS-KUL-BOM route.

Anyway, I had booked my travel to BOM and back on MH. This report describes my journey back to KUL on Malaysia Airlines Business Class on their Boeing 737-800.

REACHING THE AIRPORT

I was booked on MH 195, the traditional late night departure out of BOM for Malaysia Airlines. This flight used to be operated by MH’s B777-200ERs before the type was phased out in late 2015/early 2016. To overcome this downgrade in capacity, MH has added a second daily flight, which departs BOM at 0225 in the morning.

The late evening traffic on the way to the airport was not too bad, and I arrived at the CSIA Terminal 2 drop-off area nearly 3 hours before departure.

View of the BOM Terminal 2 departures area

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CHECK-IN

The Malaysia Airlines check-in counters are located in Row J, and there was a sizeable queue there.

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The Business Class counter had 4-5 people ahead of me, and it took nearly 7-8 minutes for my turn.

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The check-in process was fast, and took less than five minutes, and I was handed my boarding pass, lounge invitation and the immigration departure card. I was on seat 1F – a bulkhead window seat.

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The aircraft flying me back to KUL was 9M-MXA, wearing the “40 Years of MH” retro colours. Woohoo! A quick check on FR24 revealed that the incoming aircraft was over an hour away.

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Security check was next, and took no more than five minutes. There was a long queue for immigration however, and the process took nearly 15 minutes, before I was released into the Duty Free area.

A view of the BOM Duty Free

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My favourite section 🙂

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The FIDS showing International Departures out of BOM

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Love that ceiling!

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Looking towards the food court area. Plenty of options to eat and drink

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It was now time to head to the lounge to relax for a bit.

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BOM Terminal 2 has a common use lounge called “GVK Lounge” for premium passengers. The lounge is massive, and is divided into two levels – one for First Class and the other for Business Class passengers. At the outset, I was not sure whether having a common lounge was a good idea for an airport the size of BOM. It was possible that the lounge would get overcrowded, especially during the peak international departure times.

However, after using this lounge on a few occasions, I have never seen it being crowded.

Here are a few photos of the lounge.

The ornate entrance! Looks more like the entrance to a fancy hotel!

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The seating area

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The bar

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The quiet zone featuring leather recliners

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The food spread

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I was feeling quite hungry, as it was way past dinnertime.

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The GVK lounge offers its patrons a complimentary 15-minute neck & back massage or a 15-minute foot massage. I opted for a foot massage and after finishing my dinner, headed to the in-house spa. It was pretty relaxing, and I was charged up for the upcoming flight.

As the boarding time approached, I headed out towards the departure gates. We were to depart from Gate 69 that night.

A view of the walkway to the departures area.

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The seating area at Gate 69. Look at those chandeliers!

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BOARDING

Sector: BOM-KUL

Airline: Malaysia Airlines

Flight: MH 195

Aircraft: Boeing 737-800

Registration: 9M-MXA “40 Years of MH” retro livery

Seat: 1F

As I sat down at the departure gate, our aircraft had just landed and was taxiing towards the terminal.

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Here she is, about to dock at the gate.

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We had to wait for another 30 odd minutes before boarding was announced. As is the ritual, families with infants and children were invited to board first, followed by Oneworld premium members. Business Class passengers were asked to board at their convenience.

A view of our aircraft from the aerobridge.

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I was greeted by a couple of MH cabin crew at the aircraft door and ushered to my seat.

The Business Class seats on board Malaysia Airlines 737-800. Pretty standard stuff.

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My seat – 1F

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The legroom on this first row of Business Class

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A welcome drink was offered. There was a choice of apple juice, orange juice or water. I opted for the orange juice.

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Here’s the menu for our flight tonight

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Three main course options on this five-hour flight is not bad at all! The highlight is the appetizer consisting of Malaysian satay. Yummy!

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The beverage selection on the menu. There were no alcoholic beverages listed on the menu although MH does serve them on the flight.

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Boarding was soon complete, and doors were closed. After a wait of another 10 minutes we got our pushback clearance, and we began our taxi towards Runway 27.

THE FLIGHT

The cabin lights were dimmed for take-off and the safety video was played on the IFE screens. Since the IFE screen for the bulkhead seats is in the armrest, a nice little drop-down screen did the job instead.

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Holding short of Runway 27

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After waiting for a couple of arrivals, we lined up on the runway and were airborne after a longish take-off roll.

There were no clouds in the vicinity, and the seat belt signs were soon turned off.

My seat at the full-reclined position.

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The cabin crew then handed out a pair of headphones. These active noise cancellation headphones were a bit on the heavier side but did a decent job of blocking out the noise of the engines and the surroundings. The sound quality of course was average.

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Although this aircraft wears the retro MH livery on the outside, it is anything but retro on the inside. The cabin is equipped with the Boeing Sky Interior and looks quite up to date. Here is a view of the Business Class cabin on our aircraft featuring a total of 16 seats.

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The drinks trolley made an appearance soon and I asked for a beer.

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An appetizer consisting of some delicious Malaysian satay with a lovely peanut dip was served. The satay is a trademark MH offering, and I am glad that the airline continues to serve it.

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The piping hot satay was a perfect accompaniment to the chilled Carlsberg. Just the right environment to pull out the IFE screen and do a bit of TV watching.

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We were flying on a roughly south-easterly heading on our way to KUL.

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Over 4 hours to go.

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Another view of the front row. Two seats vacant tonight.

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I had finished my beer and the lovely satay, and the crew asked me if I was ready for the main meal. A tablecloth was laid out and the crew brought out the meal in a nice little tray.

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“Supper” consisting of a chicken gravy along with dried fruits rice and sautéed vegetables. This was accompanied by a bowl of yoghurt; cut fruits, an assortment of bread along with some “dahi-samosa chaat”.

The portion served was sufficient for this flight.

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The taste was good, nothing really spectacular.

After having my fill, I decided to watch a movie as I find it difficult to sleep on a flight.

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Malaysia Airlines doesn’t hand out full-fledged amenity kits in Business Class on their regional routes operated by the Boeing 737s. Instead, the crew distributed eyeshades and slippers. This is one big improvement area for MH, as SQ hands out mini-kits even in Premium Economy Class on their BOM-SIN flights.

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I finished watching the movie, and tried to fall asleep. I was successful, and only woke up as we were passing over the Malacca Straits.

I freshened up and was listening to some music when our first officer announced that we would soon start our descent into KUL.

The cabin crew appeared with a tray of drinks as people began to wake up. I downed another glass of orange juice.

ARRIVAL

The cabin crew did their ritual of preparing the cabin for arrival as we began our descent. The descent was relatively smooth with only one layer of clouds to plough through.

The sun was just rising over the district of Sepang as we made a 180-degree turn to line up on our final approach to KUL Runway 32L.

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We touched down with a nice, positive thud and a brief application of the twin reversers slowed us down to taxi speed.

We taxied towards the KLIA Satellite Terminal and finally docked at our gate some 20 minutes behind schedule. Not too shabby at all!

It took another 5-7 minutes for the door to be opened, and I thanked the crew and walked out of the aircraft.

A view of the KUL Satellite Terminal. Love that design!

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The terminal was nicely lit up for the Chinese New Year holiday.

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After a quick Aerotrain ride to the main terminal, I made my way towards Immigration. There was no queue at all at the dedicated First/Business Immigration counters, and my passport was stamped within a minute.

A brisk walk later, I was at our designated baggage belt to be greeted by this sight!

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It took nearly 10 more minutes for the bags to start arriving, and thankfully mine was amongst the first lot to arrive.

SUMMARY

It was a typical narrow-body regional flight experience on board Malaysia Airlines Business Class. The seats are your average 737 style recliner seats. The extra width as compared to Economy Class is welcome though.

The onboard service on Malaysia Airlines leaves a lot to be desired. The lack of a comprehensive menu listing all the beverage options is one callout. The service from the cabin crew is average with no personalisation at all. A bit of a letdown here.

The food options are good, and the serving portions are sufficient. The signature MH satay is a big plus!

The lack of amenity kits in Business Class is another big letdown. Other airlines offer mini amenity kits even in Economy/Premium Economy Class on overnight flights.

Even Malindo Air – which is a semi-LCC and is a direct competitor to MH offers an amenity kit in Business Class! Hope MH looks into this aspect soon.

Hope you enjoyed this report on the Business Class experience onboard Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737-800.

Thank you all for reading!

Air India’s Star Alliance fleet

Air India joined Star Alliance – the world’s largest global airline alliance on July 11, 2014 as its 27th member. As is the custom, the alliance members paint a few of their aircraft in a special Star Alliance livery. This livery usually consists of a white fuselage with the words “Star Alliance” across it and a black tail fin with the alliance logo.

At the time of joining the alliance, Air India painted one of its Airbus A320s, VT-ESF in the Star Alliance livery. This was rolled out on July 11, 2014.

Here is VT-ESF painted in the Star Alliance livery, touching down on Runway 09 at BOM.

One interesting aspect about this aircraft is that it belongs to the pre-merger Indian Airlines, and is equipped with a double bogie main landing gear. Indian Airlines’ first set of Airbus A320s delivered in the early 1990s all sported double bogie main landing gears, designed to handle the “not so perfect” airfield conditions in India at the time.

A few months later, Air India painted one of its Boeing 777-300ERs, VT-ALJ titled “Bihar” in the alliance’s colours. VT-ALJ was Air India’s first Boeing 777-300ER, delivered to the airline in 2007. Also, this was Air India’s first wide-body aircraft to be painted in the Star Alliance livery.

“Bihar” seen here on short final to Runway 27 at BOM on a dull, rainy day.

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Air India Boeing 777-300ER VT-ALJ “Bihar” in Star Alliance colours

Again in April 2015, Air India took delivery of a brand new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, VT-ANU factory-painted in the Star Alliance colours. This was the world’s first 787 Dreamliner to be painted in an alliance special livery.

Here is VT-ANU turning on to taxiway N1 at BOM for a morning departure.

Two year later, VT-ANU remains the only Boeing 787 Dreamliner to be painted in the colours of an airline alliance.

As of now, these are the only three aircraft in the Air India fleet sporting the Star Alliance colours.

As Air India starts phasing out its classic Indian Airlines era Airbus A320s and inducting brand new Airbus A320 NEOs, it is likely that one of these aircraft would be painted in the Star livery.