Tried & Tested

Flight review: Garuda Indonesia B777-300ER business class

27 Feb 2017 by Jenny Southan
Garuda Indonesia

BACKGROUND

Garuda Indonesia (named after holy Hindu bird the “garuda”) is Indonesia’s national airline. It was founded in 1949. Today, it serves more than 40 domestic destinations and 36 internationally, carries 25 million passengers and is a member of Skyteam.

The nonstop route from London Heathrow to Jakarta began on March 31, 2016. The service started with five weekly flights but was reduced to three weekly flights in winter 2016. There are plans to increase the frequency back to five flights weekly again in winter 2017.

Garuda previously flew from London to Jakarta via Amsterdam until March 29, 2016, but cut out the Amsterdam touch-down to appeal to business travellers and leisure travellers on their way to Bali.

CHECK-IN  

Online check-in is available 24 hours before departure. I checked in online the Saturday morning of my flight, moving my assigned window seat in row 12 to row 8, although I didn’t realise that this was the last row of the forward section of business class so closer to the galley. (It wasn’t clear from the seat map.) Online boarding passes were not available so I had to collect mine from the airport.

My flight was due to take-off at 2015 so I made sure I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 at 1800 to allow enough time to experience the lounge. As there were severe delays on the Piccadilly line, I took the Heathrow Express from Paddington, which was just under £15 for a single with my annual Gold Card, which gives one third off. Otherwise, it is a very expensive 15-minute journey.

I took the lift to level -1 and then walked to the terminal, following signs for the Garuda check-in desks in Zone F. There were five open in total – three for economy, one for business and one for first class. There was only one other person in front of me so it didn’t take long to have my bag weighed and tagged, and my documentation issued. I was given a separate print-out for my luggage receipt, as well as a fast-track arrivals voucher. I was instructed to look out for signs pointing to Lounge F (the No 1 Traveller facility) once airside.

I took the escalators upstairs and found my way to fast-track security a short distance away. There were several packing sections for liquids with free plastic bags and automatic gates that opened when you scanned your boarding card. Screening wasn’t busy and I was through within a couple of minutes (laptops had to come out but did not need to be removed from cases). There was a body scanner for those who need extra checks. I was airside by 1810. I bought a few last-minute items before heading to the lounge about three minutes away, up some stairs.

THE LOUNGE

No 1 Traveller is a paid-for public facility (£26 booked online) or free for business class passengers flying certain airlines such as Garuda Indonesia. My boarding pass was photocopied by a member of staff before I could enter.

I was impressed to discover lots of private library-style living rooms, dimly lit and behind glass for small groups or families. These had all been booked out in advance. There was also a spa with paid-for treatments (the 90-minute “Jet Lag Cure” costs £90), showers, a cinema room, lots of comfy seating, and a long, low counter by the window to sit at and work or eat. There were even sleep pods available from £20, ideal for layovers.

A dining zone served both complimentary and paid-for a la carte meals. Most drinks (ordered at the bar) are also free although you do have to pay for champagne (£8 a glass). There was a free self-service buffet with various salads (potato, pasta, greens, tomato and quinoa) as well as brownies, muffins and cakes. Water and juice was on tap. I ordered the free mac and cheese with kale and crispy onions, made to order – it was very good and went nicely with a glass of the house Merlot.

No 1 lounge Heathrow mac n cheese

For a fee, a la carte dishes included Arabic steamed lamb with steamed rice (£10), Cajun chicken Jambalaya and cornbread (£10), halal beef burger with thick-cut chips (£8) and tagliatelle with Italian-style meatballs and tomato sauce (£10). Quite a few people were ordering these dishes. It took a while to get my drinks order. Overall I thought the lounge was excellent – quite busy but lots of amenities, contemporary décor and good food.

No 1 lounge Heathrow buffet

BOARDING

There are no announcements on the lounge so you have to keep an eye on screens for your flight status. I knew my gate was to be announced at 1915 so once it had, I left the lounge to go for boarding. Gate 18 turned out to be about eight minutes’ walk away.

There was a priority channel for premium travellers so after I had had my passport and boarding pass checked I was straight into the waiting hall. There was a separate seating area for first and business class passengers at the far end, right next to the entrance for boarding gate A. At 1943 there was a call for first class passengers and families with young children to board, followed shortly after by business class passengers.

There was no one checking IDs at this stage so we walked straight out and through the airbridge to the plane, where a member of crew checked boarding passes for seat numbers and directed people either left or right (some business class seats are to the left while others are to the right as it’s split between two cabins divided by a galley and washrooms).

Once seated, I was asked what I would like to drink – I suggested a gin and tonic but she said this would only be available after take off, recommending the champagne instead so I went for that. I was pleased to find that I had an entire overhead bin to myself due to the configuration of the cabin (1-2-1). A member of crew offered a selection of neatly folded English-language newspapers including The Times, The Daily Mail and The Wall Street Journal.

Garuda Indonesia business class B777-300ER

The same woman then returned and knelt down by my seat to ask if I had pre-ordered a vegetarian meal. I said I had, but after looking at the menu and seeing vegetarian options available, I politely asked if she would mind if I forsake my special meal and have what other people would order.

There was a little confusion at first, and she later came back to double check that I didn’t want the special meal as well, but we got there and she was very amenable. (One never knows if there will be veggie options onboard unfamiliar airlines so I like to play on the safe side, but the food listed is almost always better than the special option.)

While waiting for take-off, an in-flight safety video was played. The airbridge was withdrawn at 2015, and the purser came on to inform passengers that the flight time to Jakarta would be 13 hours 45 minutes. The plane took off at 2045 – I read my paper by the reading light until we reached cruising altitude and the cabin lights came back on.

THE SEAT

On this three-class B777-330ER, business class window seats are all for solo travellers, while middle seats are in pairs, although seats E-F are best suited to couples as D-G are separated by tables. All are forward facing. The business class cabins (rows 6 to 8, and 9 to 16) are configured 1-2-1 (A, E-F, K/C, D-G, H). At the front (rows 1 and 2) is first class. Economy is row 21 to 52.

Garuda Indonesia business class

There were L’Occitane amenity kits on every seat (pictured below) that included slippers, along with plastic-wrapped coverlets, pillows, headphones and 330ml bottles of water (I brought an extra two bottles of Evian as I like to stay hydrated). I was impressed by the privacy of the seat, 8A, which was on its own, and the amount of space.

The colour scheme was a bit drab but the design and ergonomics was excellent. A big fold-out table came out of one wall in front and there was a generous TV screen, space to place shoes in a cubby hole under an ottoman and a handy shelf and storage compartment for personal belongings such as phones.

Garuda Indonesia business class amenity kit

The seat belt was unusual – there was a traditional lap belt plus one that came across the shoulder to clip in at the waist. It seemed far more secure. There were universal plug sockets and USB ports for every passenger. The business class seat is controlled by a side panel with buttons for pre-set upright, relax, massage and (fully flat) bed modes. You can also use other buttons to modify the recline and back support.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

Row 8 is near the galley although this didn’t bother me too much, and the extra surface space on the side table was a bonus. I liked the more exclusive feel of the smaller forward business class cabin – if you want guaranteed peace, go for window seats in rows 6 and 7. On my return flight, I was in the larger business class section but still found it to be peaceful and private due to the design of the seat. My advice would be to avoid middle seats E-F if you are travelling alone, and seats in row 9, as these are closest to the washrooms. Window seats A and K are better than C and H as are protected from the aisle by tables.

THE FLIGHT

This flight is scheduled to depart at 2015 from London Heathrow, landing at 1705 the following day at Jakarta Soekarno Hatta International (CGK). This make for a total fliht time of 13 hours 50 minutes.

My pre-ordered gin and tonic was delivered at 2105, 20 minutes after take-off. At 2110, an egg canape was presented, followed by a bowl of roasted, salted nuts a few minutes after. The crew busied themselves in the galley quietly getting dinner ready as I plugged in to watch a film. There was a good selection of movies, although English-language ones had Indonesian subtitles that you couldn’t remove (as far as I could see). Dinner was presented beautifully with tables set with white cloths, little white china dishes of salt and fresh black pepper, and bread and butter.

Garuda Indonesia business class starter

What was on the menu? There were four starters: Indonesian coconut marinated vegetables salad; cured salmon with orange and tarragon, beetroot, toasted walnuts and horseradish sauce; oxtail soup with tomato, carrots, potatoes and chilli sambal; and mushroom and chestnut soup with lemon olive oil. I went for the salad, packed with coconut, ginger and peanuts, making it a taste sensation.

There were four main courses: grilled marinated chicken with steamed jasmine rice; braised beef ribs with mashed potato, roasted vegetables and horseradish; pan-fried plaice with meuniere sauce, roasted potatoes, sautéed asparagus and carrots; and spinach and ricotta cannelloni with arrabbiata sauce and edamame.

Garuda Indonesia business class main course

I liked the balance of options – one specific to the airline’s home country, and several more international crowd-pleasers. I chose the pasta, which was presented on an attractive black plate and something I would have been pleased with in a restaurant.

The wine menu featured three whites, three reds, one non-vintage champagne (Billecart Salmon Brut Rose), and one dessert wine (2011 Noble One Botrytis Riverina, South Australia), which won a Business Traveller Cellars in the Sky Award in 2014. I liked how they had added some tasting notes for each one to describe the flavour profile of each.

Whites:

  • 2014 Louis Jadot, Bourgogne, Chardonnay, Burgundy, France
  • 2015 Sancerre Henri Bourgeois “Les Baronnes” Loire, France
  • 2014 Chapoutier Belleruche Cotes de Rhone Blanc, France

Reds:

  • 2014 Staete Landt “State of Grace” Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand
  • 2008 L’Andrea, Montevibiano, Umbria, Italy
  • 2014 Glaetzer Wallace Shiraz Grenache, Barossa Valley, South Australia

There was also a modest selection of beers (Bintang, Heineken and Crown lager) and spirits such as Chivas Regal 12-year-old Scotch and Gordon’s gin. Proper Sumatran coffee can be made to order in a variety of ways including espresso and cappuccino, and there were some interesting Indonesian teas such as Oxidised Purple Oolong and organic Rosella tea from Java.

There were two desserts: spiced chocolate cake with raspberry coulis, and warm date and toffee pudding with vanilla bean ice cream. I opted for the cheese plate, though, which was a small portion of two slices with biscuits but just right. I would have liked a little chutney though instead of dried fruit.

Garuda Indonesia business class cheese plate

The member of crew assigned to my cabin was very efficient and attentive, and there were several offers of drinks refills. Stickers on the wall showed there was wifi available during the flight (for a fee, as I discovered). At 2300, I tried to get online – the cheapest package for sending texts was US$5, while the most expensive was US$21.95 for full web use. I tapped the text package but didn’t go through with the sign up process, so it was weird when later in the flight I received some messages. I tried to send one but couldn’t without paying.

Snacks for the flight included Indonesian sate platter (beef, chicken and fish), chicken shawarma, braised lamb pie, fresh cut fruit, and tortilla chips with cheese sauce and tomato salsa. There were also noodle soups, chocolate, crisps and nuts.

I settled down to sleep at 2330 – it was easy to recline the seat fully flat. The bed was very comfy and flat – there was no under sheet though, which would have been nice and the thick velvety cover was too hot (cotton would have been better). The cabin in fact was very warm for the whole flight, which made me feel a little unwell – there were no overhead vents. What I did quite like was the illuminated “starry sky” effect on the roof of the cabin.

After waking at 0230, I slept for a couple more hours until 0430, and then went to freshen up in the washroom. It was quite spacious and had L’Occitane moisturiser, fragrance, refreshing wipes and shaving packs available for use. Once back in my seat, I was offered breakfast. I wasn’t hungry at that time so just asked for a black tea with milk. I charged my phone via the USB socket then fell back asleep until 0730. Feeling more refreshed by this time, I had another cup of tea and some breakfast. Customs declaration forms were handed out at 0940.

Breakfast was plentiful. The menu listed: fresh cut fruit, yoghurt and cereal, followed by rice porridge with poached chicken, quail egg, sweet soy, fried peanuts and red chilli sambal; French toast brioche with caramelised banana and toffee sauce; and eggs cooked any way you like (I went for fried as apparently these are the most challenging to prepare on a plane and I wanted to see what they were like – a bit rubbery). There were sides available of beans, seared cherry tomatoes, asparagus, bubble and squeak, and chicken sausage.

Garuda Indonesia business class breakfast

ARRIVAL

It was a grey afternoon in Indonesia when we made our long, smooth descent over the sea to Jakarta airport. Priority disembarkation was given to first and then business class passengers via an airbridge to the terminal. Once through immigration, which didn’t take too long, I made my way to baggage reclaim, where I found the Garuda Indonesia welcome lounge.

A simple facility with free coffee and water, the fact that staff go and wait for your suitcase for you is great. For me, that is one of the most tiring parts of the journey so it was nice to be able to sit and relax and check some emails while I waited for it to appear. It only took about 15 minutes so wasn’t bad at all. Top marks to the airline for this service – I would like to see it more.

VERDICT

This was the first time I had flown with Garuda Indonesia and, having done so, would recommend its business class product to anyone. It’s up there with all the best airlines, ticking boxes for seats with fully flat beds and direct aisle access, good service, wifi, fresh and varied food, quality champagne and modern in-flight entertainment systems.

This is also the only airline that flies nonstop to Jakarta (you could also choose Singapore Airlines, China Southern or Malaysia Airlines via their hubs). However, coming back is a different matter. It’s a 17-hour journey with a stop-off in Singapore.

FACT FILE:

SEAT CONFIGURATION 1-2-1

SEAT PITCH 43in/109.2cm

SEAT WIDTH 21.2in/53.8cm

SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees

PRICE Internet rates for a flexible return midweek flight in business class from London to Jakarta started from £2,316 in March.

CONTACT garuda-indonesia.com

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