Tuesday Trip Report: Royal Brunei

Long been curious to try Royal Brunei. Due to a quirk in my schedule, I got the chance to last week. Even though it involved two stopovers, their flight got me out of London and into Melbourne at a time that fitted my schedule.

My first Royal Brunei sector was actually the 787th flight of my life. I had hoped for a flight on the 787 but the timing didn’t work. (For those who have been following, I flew my 737th on a Southwest 737, 747th in a Qantas B747, then United for 757, Qantas for 767 and more recently Air New Zealand 777).

Who are Royal Brunei?

Set up in 1974 by the Government of Brunei who still own the national carrier, Royal Brunei currently serve 18 destinations in Asia, Australia, the Middle East and London. Four cities will be trimmed from the network at the end of the month.

The carrier has had a mixed history oscillating between expansion and contraction. In fact the cities they have served (19) now outnumber the cities they currently serve (18). They have chewed through CEOS in recent years with three between September 2o02 and March 2011. There is currently no CEO.

Fleet currently includes: six 777s (leased from Singapore Airlines) and four A320s. They have an order for five 787s but I am not sure if that will proceed.

They were also my 79th airline, I have flown with.

It appears to me that Royal Brunei, having gone through an expansion period between 2006 and 2010, had to reduce fares to fill their planes. They as a result,  filled their planes with Australians, New Zealanders and English paying very cheap fares. Most of these passengers only used Brunei as a transit stop so the country had limited benefit from the growth and Royal Brunei lost money on the services. One English couple told me this was their seventh flight with Royal Brunei and they had found it was cheaper to travel through Brunei using the country as a stopover than it was to fly just to Brunei! This is not sustainable business. This year they have announced major restructuring designed to stem losses.

They are not part of an alliance.

Booking: 7 out of 10

The website (http://www.bruneiair.com) is a little clunky. I signed up for their Frequent Flyer Program “Royal Skies” online. Conformation was instant with the temporary card popping in my email in seconds. As part of the registration process, it asked me for my status with any other program. I entered that I was Gold with Qantas.  I cheekily followed that up by emailing their frequent flyer centre and asking for a “status match” (hey you gotta try!). The email bounced back, however, telling me basically all services can be done on the website. That seemed to foil that idea.

There is no seat selection system available online so I could not nab a bulkhead seat.

Check in: 7 out of 10

The Royal Brunei website would not let me check in. Telephoning the Australian office (there does not appear to be a centralised reservation centre), I was told that the online check in system was not working for passengers to Australia!

I arrived 3 hours before check in- very early- so the actual physical check in it was very fast and very efficient. I tried again for my bulkhead seat to find out that there were eight infants on the flight so all the bulkheads were taken.

 Boarding: 8 out of 10

Royal Brunei like to get you to the gate very early. I wised up by Brunei Airport and took my time. Boarding was very smooth each time.

We had a crew change in Dubai and a crew and plane change in Brunei. All of the crew were friendly and worked hard. They even showed passengers to their seats, something I have not seen on many airlines anymore.

Upon landing at Dubai, we all had to “de-plane” but could leave hand luggage on board. Our boarding pass was taken as we exited. In exchange,  we were given a card with a numbered on it. We hung onto that card and returned it to the gate staff upon re boarding in exchange  for our Boarding pass. No idea why they do that this way?! We then passed through security into the main Dubai airport terminal with its acres of shops. The security line for transit passengers was badly signposted and a lot of passengers took a wrong turn. They eventually made their way back but it was messy. I was a mini hero in that I went through the right security line followed by a number of passengers who were very pleased that in following me,  they had not got lost. I do think its ridiculous having to pass through security to re board the same plane we were screened in London for- but rules is rules.

Dubai gave me a chance to buy a Starbucks from the very friendly staff there. The food facilities were very limited due to some renovation work. McDonalds and a Thai Restaurant were doing a roaring trade.

The change of aircraft at Brunei meant a longer wait in a very boring airport terminal. The terminal consisted of a money changer, a Coffee shop, 3 duty free gift kiosks, a massage centre and a pharmacy. There were also showers but I was not excited by the state of them. The coffee shop has free wifi. There is a also a Dayroom service where you can rent a room with bed, shower and toilet. This is not well publicised.

Royal Brunei offer a city tour to transit passengers in Brunei over a certain length of time. I m doing the tour on my next flight.

 

On Board: 9 out of 10

All my sectors were on 777s and they were all full. The planes were clean and very pleasantly decorated.

There had been complaints on Skytrax that lavatories were not clean. Someone must have taken that to heart because for most of the flights, one of the cabin crew was stationed next to the toilets and they were cleaning them constantly. I never encountered a grubby lavatory. Royal Brunei provided moisturiser in the lavatories too, a touch many airlines have now dropped.

Layout in economy is 3-3-3. Seat width in economy is 18″ wide and pitch between the seats varies between 32″ and 34″. On the same sector here’s how some of the 21 competitors on the “Kangaroo Route” stack up:

Carrier Width Pitch
Air Asia X 16.5 32
British Airways 17.5 31
Cathay Pacific 17.5 32
Emirates 17 to 18 32 to 33
Etihad 17 31.5 to 33
Malaysian 16.5 34
Qantas 17.5 to 18 31
Qatar 17.9 32 to 34
Singapore 19 32
Thai International 17 31 to 33
Virgin Atlantic 17.5 31

Joy of joy, every seat had a pillow and blanket. No amenity packs were handed out at all in Economy.

 

Takeoff: 10 out of 10

Safety briefing started with a call to prayer in Arabic with pictures of Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque, the major mosque in Brunei. I was interested that few people including cabin crew paid much attention to the prayers. The three sets of crews appeared to take safety very carefully checking and demonstrating clearly and well. All takeoffs were executed very professionally. Captain interaction varied but was professional, timely and friendly.

 

Entertainment: 9 out of 10.

Royal Brunei’s inflight entertainment system, Skyshow is a little dated technology-wise. They consist of 8.4″ TVs in every seat in economy and 1-4 in Business.  The range is excellent, however with an amazing array of current and old films in multiple languages. The passengers seated next to me were thrilled and caught up on all of the films they had been wanting to see. Some of the films and TV shows are censored which can cause some amusing jumps, sometimes.

 

Meals: 9 out of 10

I was very impressed with the quality and quantity of food on all of the sectors. I especially liked the ice cream for dessert. All meals are Halal and in keeping with the religious traditions of Brunei, no alcohol is served on board. This is far from  a big deal for me. You are apparently allowed to bring your own and consume it but I didn’t observe that happening. The range of drinks, I found surprisingly limited, however.  I thought there may have been more options in terms of juices.

There was plenty of water available through the night and crew members came around regularly with trays of juices and water. There were no snacks available to grab through the night.

 

Follow up 0 out of 10

I have had no points from the flights added to my Frequent Flyer Account.

 

My ratings:
84% which rounds out at about 4 out of 5

Positives:  Friendly crew, Good on board entertainment,

Negatives: On line Check in, no advanced seat selection, poor directions at Dubai

Would I fly them again? Yes- I am in December!

 

 

 

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