Lion Air B737-900 Economy

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  • Anonymous
    Guest

    kempinski
    Participant

    “Ultimate cattle class experience in the sky. If one thing’s missing: it’s the bumpy village road!”
    Lion Air flight JT343
    Palembang PLM to Jakarta Soekarno Hatta CGK
    DPR 1740 ARR1840
    Aircraft Boeing B737-900ER PK-LHH (delivered factory fresh from Boeing on 23 August 2010)

    Background

    I was on a short business trip and need a flight back home by Sunday evening. There are quite a number of airlines flying this route, with 3 having evening departures: Lion Air, Garuda, and Sriwijaya Air. The first two compete on this route with 7 and 8 daily flights respectively. Wanting to avoid flying Jurassic 737 (Sriwijaya) or incur an expensive one-way fare (Garuda), I opted for Lion Air. This also happened to be my first flight on a Boeing B737-900ER.

    Booking

    As a local resident, booking can be easily made through the website http://www.lionair.co.id, however, if you wish to pay with credit card then this must be done 48 hours prior to departure time. Foreigners might find it hard to book Lion Air tickets unless they have access to a local travel agent in Indonesia.

    Check-in

    Palembang’s Sultan Mahmud Badarudin 2 airport is compact in size but everything was organized and immaculately maintained. This was the exact opposite of Jakarta Soekarno Hatta International which was chaotic, disorganized, and extremely dirty. As one enters the check-in hall, there is a security check for baggage. One can then proceed to the respective check-in counters. I arrived at the airport quite early for my 1740 departure, and at the Lion Air counter it still showed check-in for the earlier JT335 which departed at 1640. However the staff were willing to check me in and a boarding pass was given in no time.
    As in other Indonesian airports, before proceeding to a departure lounge, you need to pay airport tax. At PLM it was done at a dedicated airport tax payment counter. You will be given a receipt with a printed barcode to gain entry to the departure waiting lounge.

    Waiting area

    All departure gates (both domestic and internationals) are on the upper level. There are few shops selling a range of goods such as specialty food, clothing, souvenirs, plus a few snack bars and cafes. The domestic gate area was separated from the international one. There are 2 gates for each, but both shared the same waiting area. To gain entrance to the gate area, one needed to swipe his/her airport tax receipt through the automatic gate. Attendants were available to help. My flight was scheduled to leave from gate A2.
    While browsing the shop, it was announced that my flight (JT0343) would be delayed for around 15mins due to late arrival which was considerably better than the earlier Lion Air flight JT0335 which had more than a 30-minute delay.

    Boarding

    The boarding time in the boarding pass was printed at 17.10 for my 17.40 departure. However, due to late arrival, the plane that was supposed to take me to Jakarta only arrived at 17.10. Inside the waiting lounge, there were 4 other departures beside my flight, all bound to Jakarta: A delayed Lion Air JT335, an ontime Sriwijaya Air flight, a 16.30 Garuda Indonesia flight which was delayed with no notice, and another Garuda Indonesia flight at 17.55 Hence, the 2-gate waiting area was packed with passengers for five flights at once: the waiting hall was packed to the brim. The delayed Lion Air JT335 was called to board first from gate A1 followed by Sriwijaya Air from the same gate. After which, boarding for my flight JT343 began from adjacent gate A2. Boarding was chaotic as passengers starting to swarm the gate as soon as the boarding announcement was made. Operating a Boeing 737-900ER in an all-economy configuration, Lion Air initiates boarding through 2 aircraft doors. Door 1L (front) for passengers seated in front of the emergency exit rows, others enter the plane from Door 5L. Seated in 17F in front of emergency exit rows, I entered the plane using a jetway through door 1L before being greeted by the stewardess. Passengers who board from door 5L need to descend down from the boarding gate and then climb up the stairs to enter the plane. The load for this evening flight was pretty good and most seats were taken.

    The aircraft

    Lion Air’s B737-900ER was configured in all-economy class configuration (although some are configured in a 2-class config). There are 10 emergency exits with 4 overwing exits in row 19 and 20. Four other exits are in the aft of the cabin. I can see around 35 rows in a 3-3 all economy configuration which brings the capacity to over 200 passengers.
    The lighting in the cabin was slightly dimmed. There was no “fresh aircraft” feeling despite it being very new at only 6-months old.

    The seat

    Seats were covered in dark blue leather with white seat interiors (i.e. tray table). Red leather head covers on all seats had printed advertisements on them. Seat pitch is 29-inch: not generous at all with this type of aircraft especially as they’re used to cross all over Indonesia, with some flights lasting over 4-hours. Slightly larger seat pitch can be found on emergency exit rows and much larger on rows behind emergency exit door 4. No PTV installed (and I don’t think they will since the tray table are of an older style which takes all the space on the seat back). Seat pockets contain a safety card (if any), a magazine (on selected seat if lucky), an airsickness bag (if any), and much more rubbish. Clearly there is no cleaning during turnaround (shocking fact!). With 5 stewardesses to oversee 200 seats and a 40mins turnaround, they could at least do something when the airline doesn’t hire cleaners. Casting judgement on the appalling interior conditions of this 6-month-old plane, I quickly inspected the availability of my life vest.

    Pre Take-off

    I find it surprising that nowadays, flight attendants do not assist passengers with their carry-on luggage anymore. A gentlemen seated on the aisle in the same row as me had a bulky cardboard box and he just put it in his lap. I was about to advise him that all bags should be stowed but a stewardess approached him and asked him to put his box in the overhead bin. Rather than help, she just stood on the aisle and pointed out what to do to the gentlemen. It was like watching a teacher scold her pupil. I did not know whether it was because the general FA had slightly different non-customer oriented training, or because there is no hand luggage policy being enforced in any airports in Indonesia causing major passengers to carry bulky items on board (earlier, during boarding, I even saw a group of filmmakers carry 5 bulky items each inside the plane – clearly Lion Air has no enforcement on carry-on luggage) which hassles the FA.
    FAs ran up and down the aisle to check for seatbelts and to close overhead bins prior to take-off and shortly afterwards a manual safety demonstration was conducted while the plane was heading towards the runway.

    In-flight

    Shortly after take-off, an announcement was made regarding the selling of onboard food, drinks, and merchandise. No catalogue/menu placed on every seat, so if one needs something, he has to ask the FA directly. Most people did not bother and the cart passed by quickly. From a glance, I saw that the card was only loaded with drink items (no food) and a few caps as the only merchandise being sold. Very poor offering indeed (Lion Air should learn from other LCCs in this regard if they want to make money from in-flight sales).
    No other service is provided. The FAs cared not to check on passengers as they were having their own reunion until shortly before landing. Not so boring for a 1-hour flight, but one would be doomed if he didn’t bring his own entertainment (e-reader, books, music player, etc).

    The crew

    No interaction at all from the cockpit crew. The cabin crew – 5 of them – were all in their young age and all seemed to be arrogant. The attitude is somewhat not customer-oriented (see story above) nor attentive and interested in doing the job. A simple example is during in-flight sales, both FA pushing the cart did not make any interaction to sell the products. They just passed by slowly hoping someone would call them to ask what’s on sale. During boarding/deplaning only the FA stood by the door to talk to passengers while the others just stood on the aisle as if they wanted to say “this is my place, so what!?!” With such a combination of attitude, no matter how pretty, young, and attractive they were, I would simply rate this experience as disheartening.

    Arrival

    We landed 10mins behind schedule. Plus, since we landed at runway 7R which was closer to Terminal 2, meaning that the plane had to taxi down the long way to Terminal 1B. A further 10 mins approximately was needed to cross the taxiway. Deplaning was done through 2 doors as in boarding; but this time all with stairs despite the plane being parked next to the jetway. One had to walk the long corridors passing a self-made transfer counter for Lion Air flights before proceeding into baggage claim.

    Baggage

    As usual, baggage handlers at CGK showed their excellence in slowly delivering passenger’s luggage. Despite the TV monitors in each baggage carousel, none were on to indicate which belt was for which flight. We had to look at the tags on each bag in the carousel to see where the bag was from. A rather messy operation. Lion Air staff and a superintendent just stood by without an effort to make announcement to passenger on baggage claim information.
    I checked-in 2 bags – one cardboard box appeared first after waiting for 30mins while my small trolley case appeared in the last batch (after 45mins waiting) in a dire condition: it was wet with vinegar!!! A complaint was made to the lost & found department but no-one could give any solution. Tired and getting late, I drove home to report this case to the Lion Air call centre. Apparently, the call centre is not interested in handling such a case as well; they tried to give me the telephone numbers of the baggage departments at the airport, but none was active. Emails and phone calls to customer service went unanswered. In the end, the total cost to have my bag laundered is more costly than the ticket itself!

    Verdict

    Despite their marketing campaigns in local newspapers, purporting to be the first to fly the B737-900ER, I found that the product was far from superior. I know that Lion Air is an LCC, but that does not mean it should compromise on the standards. The seats were dirty, so was the seat pocket and floor since no attempts to clean that had been made during turnaround; no wide selection of in-flight sales items (this is a source of income for LCCs too!) nor any effort made to print onboard menus and place them in every seat. Despite being new, the B737s were not being kept in an immaculate condition; surely it’s just waiting for mishaps to happen. On the very same day as I wrote this article, a B737-900ER of Lion Air’s skidded off the runway at Pekanbaru airport; the second incident after another plane from Lion Air skidded the runway the night before at the same airport.
    In terms of service, the crew is indifferent (read “The crew” section above) and the most disappointing thing to add to an already depressing experience was how the baggage handlers worked so slowly, ruining passenger’s bag without compensation! Contacting the airline for solutions was a fruitless effort. Zero customer service indeed. I’m usually quite generous on giving the ratings, but with such a poor experience, I can’t see any competitive benefits from this airline.

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