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