Royal Brunei Airlines Economy Class

BACKGROUND Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) had quite an active year in 2010. In May, the flag carrier of the wealthy Sultanate confirmed it had leased a number of Boeing B777-200ERs from Singapore Airlines to replace its aging B767-300ERs used on major routes between Australia and the UK via Brunei.

Then, during the 54th Assembly of Presidents of the Association of Asia-Pacific Airlines, held in November in the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, its chief executive officer Robert Yang revealed the company was finalising an order for five Boeing Dreamliners 787s, with the first delivery expected sometime in 2012.

RBA’s new four times weekly Melbourne service, set for March 29, forms part of its latest strategy to fly to more destinations within a seven-hour radius of the country. Points such as Taipei, Tokyo and Seoul-Incheon are being considered as next stops, airline executives told Business Traveller during the conference.

CHECK-IN I had a 7am breakfast meeting at the Rizqun International Hotel in Gadong, not too far from the airport. A friend, who was escorting me that morning, and I departed at 9.15am, reaching the terminal in about 10 minutes. The BI635 flight for Hong Kong (codeshared with Dragonair) was scheduled to leave at 10.40am, which left me time to explore my surroundings.

The check-in counter was located in Zone B, but to get to it, one had to pass their belongings through the X-ray scanner.

RBA’s online check-in service is only available for flights from Brunei, but despite not taking advantage of it, I got the aisle seat deeper into the cabin that I requested for from the counter staff. Having tried a front row seat on the flight from Hong Kong, I wanted to sample a different location for purposes of this review.

I cleared immigration without any problem and entered a brightly lit circular waiting hall. All thoughts of checking out any of the shops quickly evaporated when I spotted a tiny massage centre beside Gate 4 where my aircraft was parked. My Brunei trip had been so packed with appointments that I had to leave out my usual practice of trying a local spa. A pity, as a Brunei-based businesswoman-friend of mine owns a salon that offers body treatments.

I had only time for a 30-minute foot reflexolgy (B$29/US$22), and the therapist had just finished my session when I heard them making the final call for my flight. I sprung up so quickly that I startled the poor lady. I found out later that I didn’t have to dash out the way I did as there were still a number of passengers who were leisurely making their way into the plane.

BOARDING There was only one entrance through which all passengers, regardless of the ticket type, entered the Airbus A320 aircraft.

THE SEAT I looked longingly at the business class seats, totalling 12 and arranged in three rows (six, seven, eight) with their 2-2 (AC-HK) configuration, but alas, I was directed to move on to the economy class. There, 138 seats were arranged in 23 rows, starting at number 26 and following a 3-3 (ABC-HJK) layout. I stopped at seat H on row 44.

I placed my bulky computer trolley bag in the overhead compartment and my rucksack under the seat in front of me, whose seat back did not have a TV monitor but instead, a small mirror for primping.

Otherwise, there are no bells and whistles, and the standard features (of older aircraft) apply, such as the audio earphones, the small screen that descends from the ceiling and the inflight magazine Muhibah.

While the aircraft interiors are kept spic and span, some of the upholstery is visibly fading.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Echoing the Hong Kong-Bandar Seri Begawan flight I had taken a few days earlier, this Wednesday return one was not full, and I had the luxury of having the two seats (J and K) next to me unoccupied. The window seats of rows 42 and 43 are by the emergency exits and passengers occupying them are asked to help out should an emergency arise. The walk to the washroom in the aft section of the plane isn’t a long one.

THE FLIGHT Many airlines carrying heavy loads of Muslim travellers start the journey with the stirring invocation to Allah and Prophet Mohammed, and RBA is no different. A safety demonstration, personally conducted by the flight attendants, follows. The meal on this leg consisted of a choice of chicken with brocolli or fish with steamed rice and vegetables, topped off with a marble cheesecake. I had the first and was satisfied.

ARRIVAL We had a rather rough landing at Chek Lap Kok Airport, which annoyed me. That wasn’t the only irritant – our luggage showed up at the carousel after a good 25 minutes. I should know as I timed it.

VERDICT Except for that thump on the runway, it was an uneventful flight. The attendants were very solicitous about our comfort.

Plane type Airbus A320
Seat configuration 2-2 in business class and 3-3 in economy class
Seat width 17.5in/44cm
Seat pitch 31in/79cm to 32in/81cm, 35in/89cm for O/wing (the section near the wing)
Seat recline 10 degrees
Price March online return fares start from US$362

Margie T Logarta





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Royal Brunei Airlines Economy Class

BACKGROUND Royal Brunei Airlines (RBA) is the primary carrier connecting the Sultanate to Asia-Pacific, Middle East and the UK. It operates a daily service between Bandar Seri Begawan and Hongkong, a flight that is codeshared with Dragonair.

CHECK IN The Orchid Garden Hotel, where I stayed in Bandar Seri Begawan, is less than five minutes’ drive to the airport. Nevertheless, I was bright and early for my car pickup and we arrived at Brunei International Airport at 9.10am for my flight BI635 set for 11.15am.

I was directed to Zone B for check in. A see-through glass panel partitioned off the area. I went through a security check as my bags were loaded onto the X-ray scanner. Once cleared, I was ushered to the check-in counter, and fortunately, there was no queue.

RBA offers online check in only on flights originating from the Sultanate. And since I didn’t avail of this facility, it was hardly surprising that I got a seat that was nearly at the back of the plane. Nevertheless, I was happy to get the window seat I requested. My bags were tagged and I had the boarding pass in hand in less than five minutes.

I went and cleared immigration immediately. It was still an hour and a half before boarding. I had plenty of time to spare – which was fine as I had arranged with the airline weeks before my trip for an access to its airport lounge so I could check it out (see review).

BOARDING There were no flight announcements in the lounge, which takes up the entire mezzanine floor of the boarding area. I sat on a sofa by the floor-to-ceiling glass wall so that Gate 1 was within my eyeline.

At 10.45am, I saw a line formed at the boarding gate and I quickly dashed out of the lounge and went downstairs. A few Business Class passengers, who were also taking the same flight, stood ahead of me for another pre-boarding security check. Fortunately, the line moved quickly and we were ushered into the boarding gate and through the airbridge.

The end of the airbridge connected to the door at the front of the aircraft, and all passengers used this one entrance. Boarding proceeded smoothly. Most passengers were already seated when I entered the plane.

THE SEAT The aircraft is a single-aisle Airbus A320 with two-class categories. Business Class has 12 seats arranged in three rows (six, seven and eight) with a 2-2 (AC-HK) configuration.

The Economy Class has 138 seats arranged in 23 rows in a 3-3 (ABC-HJK) configuration. The Economy cabin starts from row 26 through 58.

I walked towards row 50 past the plane’s wing section and took seat K, a window seat that I normally prefer during short-haul flights of five hours or shorter.

The plane was full but the two seats beside me were still empty and I was crossing my fingers in the hope it stayed that way. Both my laptop and my handbag were slim enough to fit underneath the seat in front of me, so I didn’t bother with the overhead storage.

The seat is pretty standard for Economy Class with its built-in radio, earphones and magazine pocket. With a 17.5in (44cm) width, the seat was wide enough for my slender frame. I refrained from extending my seat to its full 10-degree recline as a courtesy to the passenger sitting behind me.

As the cabin crew were distributing wet towels, my seatmate arrived and took the seat beside me. So much for having more breathing space, I thought. Fortunately, the seat beside him remained vacant and he moved there the minute the cabin crew said it was okay to switch seat.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The best seats in the Economy cabin were between rows 26 and 28. These rows nearer the Business Class cabin seemed quieter. There was less foot traffic around this area during the flight as the toilets are located at the back of the plane. For those who make frequent trips to the loo, however, an aisle seat further down from the plane’s mid-section would work best.

THE FLIGHT Our journey began with a Muslim prayer for a safe trip, which I find quaint and reassuring. After that, our plane pushed back from Gate 1. It was exactly 11.15am.

Once at cruising altitude, seven miniature TV monitors dropped from the overhead panel at each side of the aisle, signalling the start of the inflight entertainment. As the programme being shown was not to my liking, I switched to radio and amused myself with easy listening music as I flipped through magazines I bought for mid-air reading.

About half an hour into the flight, the cabin crew started serving lunch. I asked for the chicken dish with rice, which was just lovely. This was my second RBA flight (the first one was five days earlier) and I was pleasantly surprised that the airline’s meals, even for Economy, were not the tasteless offerings that I normally encounter. After the meal, I decided to catch some shut eye and did so quiet soundly until pre-landing announcement came on.

ARRIVAL The plane touched down on time at 2.15pm. I cleared Hongkong immigration through the electronic channel and went straight to retrieve my bags. I was already aboard the airport train to Central half an hour after we landed.

VERDICT Royal Brunei Airlines has friendly staff and one of the best inflight meals in Economy Class.


CONFIGURATION 2-2 in Business and 3-3 in Economy
SEAT WIDTH 17.5in/44cm
SEAT PITCH 31in/79cm to 32in/81cm, 35in/89cm for O/wing (the section near the wing)
SEAT RECLINE 10 degrees
PRICE Internet rates for a return Economy Class flight from Bandar Seri Begawan to Hongkong in mid-January started from B$473 (US$333).

Gigi Onag

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