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!

 

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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!