Malindo Air Economy & Business Class Review: HKT-KUL-DPS

Itinerary: HKT-KUL-DPS (Phuket to Bali via Kuala Lumpur)

Cost: US$306

My friend: “Who are you flying on?”

Moi: “Malindo Air – a.k.a. Lion Air”

“*Googles safety record.* Oh my God, you’re braver than I.”

“It was nice knowing you. :D”

“WHAT MADE YOU PICK THEM?”

“This route is surprisingly lacking in good [and reasonably priced] connections. Malaysia Airlines was substantially more.”

“Does Air Asia not fly this route?”

“It wasn’t coming through in my searches.”

As you can see, I survived. 

Corporate Kakistocracy

 

Prior to departure, I attempted to clarify my baggage allowance.  The short (1.5hr) leg from Phuket to KL was ticketed in Economy (Y), while KL to Bali was in Business class (J). Y gets 25kg (55lbs), and J pax receive an allowance of 40kg (88lbs). A phone call months ago didn’t quite resolve my question.

Late last week, I rang up Malindo.  A fairly competent chap related that the Economy allowance would apply. It seems Malindo uses a “most restrictive” protocol on such tickets.  For a counter-example, BA gives you the most generous allowance. Anyway, I ask about the upgrade cost to business class.  On leisure routes in low season, these upgrades can be a steal. The agent comes back with a quote of 78 Malaysian Ringgit, or US$19.50.  That would be half the cost of buying the extra 5 kg of baggage that I wanted. 

Sadly, the ticketing desk was closed.  Yes, a business with its customer service line open till 10pm is apparently unable to take money after 4:30 pm or so. Call back tomorrow, he bade me. I asked if the same price would apply, which he confirmed. Awesome, or so I foolishly thought.

Another call, more money drained from my skype account. The new agent at Malindo informs that I’d have to go through my travel agent, Orbitz in this case.  Why do I always run into this sort of good luck when I book via a third party?!

Immediately after hanging up, I ring Orbitz. Before I can even tender my question, the agent follows protocol to inform me of the change rules and fees. Unfortunately, the fare rules on file with Orbitz are grossly incomplete (I noticed this when reading the document weeks before trying to find out, myself).  The Orbitz agent needed to call Malindo three times, which stretched the call to the near 1 hour mark. Apparently, there is a change fee of 1000 Thai baht on the ticket (approx. $29.80). Ok. And the upgrade cost?

Malindo has no idea, and they need to fax their revenue management team. I should expect an email within 24 hours.

At this point, I said “Sure, go ahead.”  I knew that I’d have a better chance of receiving a leprechaun riding a unicorn at my front door.  Neither the email nor the unicorn-mounted Sir Leprechaun appeared.

I then tried to buy the extra 5kg, when HSBC blocked the transaction.  Thanks, HSBC.  You annoyed me, but you did me a favor.

I packed two carry-ons and checked one bag @ 20kg.  My carry-ons probably weighed another 15kg together.

With great effort, I tried to give extra money to an airline that stubbornly refused to take it.

HKT-KUL

After such a great start, I proceeded to the airport.  Check-in wasn’t too crowded – 8 people/couples ahead of me. Unfortunately, even “easy” solo travellers seemed to require 5-10 minutes to check-in despite any semblance of complicating factors (tons of extra baggage, “oops where’s my passport?” etc). I feel sorry for the bus load of people who arrived 10 minutes later queued behind me.  Spending 90 minutes watching 3 people scratch their heads to check in a single university student or older couple must have been fun. 

Coral Executive Lounge at Phuket Airport fourth floor
Coral Executive Lounge, HKT

After check-in, I breezed through security and ended up using my Priority Pass card to get into the Coral Executive Lounge on the 4th floor.  A manned bar served draft Singha (my preferred Thai beer), and a small but decent buffet spread featured a pasta dish, Tom Kha soup, ginger fish, and rice in addition to fruit, cakes, pastries, and a salad bar. Soft drinks, coffee, and tea were self-serve. It was a perfect spot to kill an hour and have lunch.

At last, it was time to board.  I realized during check-in that the flight wouldn’t have the light load I initially thought it would. Boarding took place as a semi-organized scrum. In such scenarios, the losers are business passengers and those with young kids/need extra time.  

Malindo Air Boeing 737-800 parked at Phuket airport

I found my seat (6D) and stowed my bags.  In short order, my neighbor, a young American woman from the Bay Area, strikes up a conversation with me. She was on a Thai/Bali holiday now that she had some vacation time. She’s an English teacher in Beijing.  I’ve come to appreciate meeting China-based expats, as I am heading to Kunming for four months in late August.

A beverage and hot snack service was offered on this 90-minute flight to KL. As a non-cheese eater, the choice of a chicken or veggie pizza wasn’t appealing.  Then again, I wasn’t planning on eating anyway after having lunch on the Coral Lounge.

The in-flight entertainment onboard was surprisingly well-executed with high-resolution screens and a cosmopolitan, multilingual selection of content.  Somewhat fitting on an ex-Thailand flight, I watched Anna & the King.

KUL-DPS

 

After a harder-than-average touchdown, we were soon at the gate in KL.  I proceeded to the H-gates for my departure.  While Malindo does have a business lounge, both the Malindo lounge AND the priority pass lounges for KL are located in a satellite terminal.  As I didn’t have a particularly long layover, I continued working my way through A Short History of Byzantium.

Boarding was more organized. Biz and families first, then by rows. Most passengers on my flight were actually bound for Brisbane, by coincidence (I used to live there as a Master’s student at UQ).  Bali was a stop on the way.

The business seat (1A) onboard was fairly low-tech, but it was in rather good condition and was particularly comfortable. For the right price, it would be an extremely attractive option ex-Australia to Bali or elsewhere in SE Asia (both Brisbane and MEL flights are to & from KL via Bali). I realized by the end of the flight that I didn’t even feel the need to recline it, which is extremely rare for me.

Onboard service was quite friendly and responsive.  After take-off, orders were taken for a main course (lamb biriyani or channa dhal).  I opted for a biriyani with water and a Tiger beer. The biriyani was delicious, and the attendant kept my beer thimble (3oz pours) topped off. I might have had an entire can before the end of the 3-hour flight!

My seat-mate was going through wine like a fiend, and prior to disembarkation, I heard the tipsy, rambling tale of her woes arising from a passport with less than 6 months validity and needing to borrow two kilo-dollars (Australian) from her mother to get home, which she found degrading at 50 years old.  Her key mistake: booking two separate tickets from Vietnam to Australia (Hanoi-Singapore, Singapore-Brisbane), on a passport that would be expired in 5.5 months.

For this leg, I opted to watch Interstellar.  The world-building was quite thought provoking amidst the waste I see around me (and am forced to partake in due to a lack of development – e.g. dependence on bottled water for drinking). I could see myself as the grandfather who remembers the profligacy of the past (which is to say, the present).

IFE in J on the Bali leg

I was curious to see how Denpasar airport (and Bali generally) had changed in the 5 years since I have been there. It seems to have improved, as immigration queues were non-existent.  I was also delighted that Indonesia now offers a free, non-renewable/extendable 30-day visa on arrival. Before, it was US$25. A renewable/extendable 30-day visa now costs $35.  As I didn’t plan for more than a month, I went the free route.

Despite an arrival at 9:20pm, I didn’t see my bag until 10:50pm, as mine was the absolute last off the plane. I had walked to the lost luggage desk, as the belt came through with a “finished” sign (and all other passengers were gone).

Summary

 

Malindo’s head office is corporate kakistocracy incarnate. While you will get earnest agents trying to help, their systems and processes are convoluted to an extent such that “Malindoan” should replace “Byzantine” in the dictionary. As least Byzantine complexity could do such wonders as bribing one steppe horde to annihilate another. Malindo cannot even feed revenue into its own coffers.

 

That said, the onboard service was faultless.  I’d be inclined to fly them again, and I have a feeling that they could be a very cost-effective option ex-Australia if you want to buy a business ticket (and don’t mind a narrow-body aircraft).