BACKROUND National carrier to the world’s fourth most populous country, Garuda Indonesia embarked on a major overhaul last year, resulting in a brand makeover, the introduction of a modernised fleet and an aggressive campaign to re-open routes and establish new ones after years of cutbacks. There are dozens of daily flights between Jakarta and Singapore making this a highly competitive route. Changi-based Singapore Airlines, Valuair, Air Asia and Tiger Airways operate the route as do Indonesian carriers Lion Airlines, Batavia Air and Sriwijaya Air. In addition, Lufthansa, Vietnam Airlines, Philippine Airlines and All Nippon Airlines use Singapore-Jakarta as a feeder route to their wider networks.
CHECK IN I arrived at Changi Airport about two hours ahead of the 6.40pm departure. The counters were fairly free and I used the Business class queue. I was allocated my window seat 4k and was given my boarding pass and a lounge invite. At the time of my trip, Garuda Indonesia was using the Skyview Lounge on the mezzanine floor of Terminal 1 but it has very recently allowed Executive class and high-tier Frequent Flyer members to use the facilities at Jetquay. (See http://asia.businesstraveller.com/asia-pacific/news/garuda-offers-vip-clients-use-of-changi-airports-jetquay-terminal) Garuda has increased its frequency, with seven direct flights per day on the 95-minute Singapore-Jakarta shuttle route. Garuda also offers a Singapore-Jakarta service with stopovers in other Indonesian cities, such as Solo and Palembang, but these can double and even triple journey times so best be careful when booking to go for the direct option.
BOARDING Boarding was announced in the lounge and I left in good time for the gate. There was express boarding for Executive class passengers and higher tier Garuda Frequent Flyer members. On board the Airbus A330-200, I was greeted by name and offered a welcome fruit juice. The first thing I noticed was the new livery and decor. Garuda has undergone a substantial rebranding, with a modified bird logo and splashes of red, brown and orange. The effect is much warmer than the older aquamarine-based colouring of the past, which was fresh but a little cold. Garuda has also adopted a more modern font, so the signage is a little unfamiliar but a welcome change.
THE SEAT Garuda’s modernised fleet has 180º fully lie-flat beds in Executive class. On this short daytime flight, I didn’t have the chance to make full use of this but I did find gentler recline positions to be very comfortable. All seats have a laptop PC power outlet as well as a personal reading light. There’s a decent amount of storage for personal items.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE Rows 1 and 4 are bulkhead rows, with rows 3 and 6 having no seats immediately behind them. With fully lie-flat beds, there’s little to choose from in the sense of extra leg room. The seats are of the shell style to separate yourself from your neighbour. On long-haul flights, I’d probably opt for an aisle seat to avoid having to clamber over sleeping neighbours.
THE FLIGHT The A300-200 aircraft are equipped with a much improved touch-screen inflight entertainment (IFE) system. This is now an audio and video on demand (AVOD) facility that has 25 movie choices, 10 different television programmes, 48 music albums as well as 25 interactive games. The display offers English, French and Chinese language options. This was more than enough to keep me occupied for this short hop. I wasn’t particularly hungry but I did take advantage of the drinks service and some light snacks. The flight kept good time and I was only disappointed not to have more time to enjoy the experience.
ARRIVAL We touched down pretty much on schedule for the 7.15pm arrival time. There is a one-hour difference between Singapore and Jakarta. Executive class passengers disembarked first. This is something of an advantage at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport. It gives you a split-second head-start in the race for the horrendously bureaucratic visa-on-arrival process that makes arriving in Indonesia such a terrible pain.
CONFIGURATION Executive class 3-3 (36 in total), Economy class 2-4-4 (186 in total)
SEAT WIDTH flat 52.66cm/20.73in
SEAT PITCH 74-inches
SEAT RECLINE Fully lie-flat
PRICE Executive class returns are available online for US$643 during August
Almost unrecognisable from years gone by, Garuda Indonesia has raised its game considerably. The overall feel is warmer, helped in large part by the new branding, but this also seemed to be translated into a friendlier service. I got the impression that Garuda staff are proud of the new product. The question will be, can Garuda overcome its historic legacy of inconsistent service now that it has a new start?