Time to reconsider Garuda?

Posted on: January 23rd, 2015 by: Martin J Cowling

I have been avoiding flying Garuda Indonesia for two decades now! The financially troubled carrier had an appalling safety record, an ageing fleet, European bans, a patchy service culture and massive competition. To turn this around would seem impossible.

Yet last month Skytrax announced that the Indonesian airline has been nominated one of the world’s five star airlines.   This is an honour reserved for seven other carriers:

  1. Asiana Airlines,
  2. All Nippon Airways,
  3. Cathay Pacific,
  4. Hainan Airlines
  5. Malaysia Airlines (currently under review)
  6. Qatar Airways
  7.  Singapore Airlines.

This news surprised me. I have been aware of the changes at Garuda but not realised how dramatically things have turned around.

To recap, in 2007 Garuda were banned from European air space for safety reasons. In the twenty years before, they had seen seven fatal incidents.



The ban was lifted in 2009. This coincided with an ambitious five year modernisation plan called the Quantum Leap.

The plan included:

  • fleet rejuvenation (their fleet age is now an average 5 years)
  • growing the Indonesian domestic market (they have 22% of the market with 16 competitors)
  • improving its international presence
  • building on their LCC Citilink’s potential (it has 8% of the Indonesian market)
  • introducing new brand colours (see below)
  • enforcing “cost discipline”
  •  investing in human capital
New Garuda Livery

New Garuda Livery

Former Garuda CEO Emirsyah Satar even created a leadership exercise in which the management team several times a year gathered to clean their aeroplanes, to show cleanliness was a high priority.  What a message! Emir himself, it was noted, cleaned the aeroplane lavatories as a means of motivating his staff. No wonder, last year, the Centre for Aviation (CAPA) named  Emirsyah Satar as Airline Executive of the Year award. Satar resigned in December and was replaced by Arif Wibowo, former President of low-cost carrier Citilink.

Arif Wibowo (left) and Emirsyah Satar from Poskota News

Arif Wibowo (left) and Emirsyah Satar from Poskota News

In 2012 Garuda was voted as the most improved airline in the world by Skytrax. In July they added a First Class cabin to their new B777s. Last year they joined Skyteam. Then they were nominated as a Five star carrier. They are the first of the Skyteam members to be considered a five star carrier. Of the other five star carriers, three are Star Alliance carriers, three are (currently) One World and one is unaligned.

Garuda are still not making money though with relatively low loads in 2014. They were reportedly profitable in September and their last quarter losses lower. As their success grows, I assume new CEO Wibowo will be  hoping that passenger growth will follow.

My final question is “are they safe now“?

So in conclusion should I stop avoiding Garuda and fly them now?

Boeing delivers 200th 787

Posted on: November 1st, 2014 by: Martin J Cowling

I have yet to ride in a 787 and there are now 200 flying! This week on 28th October, 2014., Boeing delivered the 200th 787 to Qatar airways. (Registration# A7-BCP) at Paine field airport, Everett. The 100th was delivered on 4th November 4th, 2013 to Japan Airlines.

It seems that 21 airlines now fly the 787:

  1. Aeromexico (AM)
  2. Air Canada (AC)
  3. Air India (AI)
  4. Arkefly (OR)  (Netherlands)
  5. All Nippon Airways
  6. British Airways (BA)
  7. China Southern (CZ)
  8. Ethiopian Airlines (
  9. Hainan Airlines (
  10. Japan Airlines (JL)
  11. Jetairfly (TB)  (Belgium)
  12. Jetstar Airways (JQ)
  13. Kenya Airways (KQ)
  14. LAN Airlines (LA)
  15. LOT Polish Airlines (LO)
  16. Norwegian (DY)
  17. Qatar Airways (QR)
  18. Royal Brunei (BI)
  19. Thai Airways International (TG)
  20. Thomson Airways (BY)
  21. United Airlines (UA)

Every now and then I jump on the 787 tracker which shows in real time where every 787 is and plot my imagined flights! Anyone else? Or you too busy flying the real deal?!


Related Posts

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Tracking the 787

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Etihad Free Gold Status match – for Aussies only

Posted on: July 28th, 2014 by: Martin J Cowling

Etihad is trying to seriously wrestle Qantas and Emirates for some international traffic out of Australia.

Ugoldntil 6th August, they are have a deal to extend Gold status in their Etihad Guest” Frequent Flyer program to any Australian who holds Gold (or higher status) with any international airline but Virgin Australia and Singapore Airlines.


Gold with Etihad gets you:

  • 50 precent more miles on every Etihad flight
  • access to business class lounges run by Etihad, Virgin Australia, Air Berlin, Singapore airlines and other carriers for the Gold card holder and guest
  • 15kg additional baggage allowance
  • priority baggage handling
  • Business Class check in and priority through immigration


There are five conditions to be eligible for this deal:

  1. You have to be a member of the Etihad Guest loyalty program
  2. You have to hold gold or higher status with any airline except Virgin Australia and Singapore
  3. You have to prove that you are an Australian resident
  4. You have to have show that you have flown in business or first class to Europe or the Middle East at least twice in the past 12 months with “ticket copies, boarding cards or loyalty program statements
  5. You get everything to Etihad by midnight of the 6th of August, 2014


More information from Etihad. The airline have said that the number of matches they will give out is limited but it does not feel that by their marketing push. For example, I have  been interested that this ad has been appearing every day on my Facebook feed:

facebook feed

Etihad is the national airline of the United Arab Emirates and is based in Abu Dhabi. They compete closely with Emirates. They held a four star rating with Skytrax before withdrawing from the Skytrax rating system in June this year. Passenger reviews on Skytrax give them 59%. I rate them at 73% compared with my 92% rating for Emirates.


Related Posts

Etihad unveils flying hotel!

Trip Report: Etihad Evaluated



All views in this post are my own and do not represent my employer. I do not receive commission for this offer and I only recommend deals that I would choose for myself



Air New Zealand’s new 787-9 takes flight

Posted on: May 31st, 2014 by: Martin J Cowling


787-9 ANZ #169-ZB003Wishing desperately I was in Seattle this week when  Air New Zealand’s first Boeing 787-9 took off  from Paine Field airport north of Seattle for a three hour and ten minute flight. It reached an altitude of 11,800 metres (39,000 feet) and an airspeed of 360 knots during its  B1 test flight during which the two pilots throughly checked all systems to ensure performance while simultaneously checking  full cabin functionality of every aspect of the cabin is tested in-flight.

Air New Zealand is the launch customer for the Boeing 787-9 and this aircraft (tail registration ZK-NZE) is the first of ten of the stretch dreamliner. This plane in its distinctive “All-Black” colours will start flying from Auckland to Perth in October.  Then Christchurch, Shanghai and Tokyo will be added by the end of 2014. The other dreamliners colour scheme will be in the new black and white scheme which the whole Air New Zealand fleet is moving to. The design incorporates the iconic New Zealand “fernmark” logo.

The plane’s 302 passengers will be accommodated in a three class layout:

  • 18 “herringbone” Business Class seats with ‘memory foam’ mattress, quilt and two full size pillows.- all passengers have aisle access
  • 21 premium economy seats (41” pitch and 19.3″ width) arranged 2-3-2 – the airline has dropped its Spaceseat in favour of a “Business Lite option”
  • 263 economy seats in a 3-3-3 layout with 31-32″ pitch except in 14 ” Skycouch” rows which have 33″ pitch and legrests plus armrests  which flip all the way up to create a 152cm (5 foot) long “sofa-like”  flat surface.

 skycouch sq-lh-787-9-economy-skycouch-mum-kids-sleeping-865x463

Air New Zealand is a four star rated airline with Skytrax and my fourth favourite airline (after Qatar, Emirates and Cathay Pacific!).

Air New Zealand information on their Dreamliner here and an amazing time-lapse video of the Air New Zealand’s 787 under construction is here.

My 787 pinterest archive here.


Related Posts

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Stunning landing in Queenstown

Trip Report: Perfection 777th flight on an NZ B777





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My “Scoot” to Singapore!

Posted on: February 4th, 2014 by: Martin J Cowling


Singapore airline launched Scoot in 2011 as a low cost carrier. I think their intention is to position Scoot between ultra low cost Tiger and regional subsidiary Silk Air. Late last year, Scoot announced an arrangement with Thailand’s Nok air to extend the brand from Thailand so I think Scoot is here to stay for a while.

Scoot has gone with a vibrant youth focused vibe. It feels somewhat more “hip” than its parent. For example, they refer to “cuddly” passengers who they encourage to buy two seats.

Booking: 10 out of 10

Their booking engine (www.flyscoot.com), available in Cantonese,  English, Japanese, Korean and Mandarin) is user friendly, fast and straight forward.  They take what could be a confusing number of choices and options and reduce them to seven steps which I found very easy to move between:

Step One: Passenger selects destination and date

Step Two: Scoot displays all flights and prices for the week across four fare options:

  1. Fly
  2. Flybag
  3. FlybagEat
  4. Scoot biz (their business class cabin) with wider seats, more leg room and included meal. These are not the equivalent of a Qantas, Delta or Malaysian Business class seat


Step three: Passenger data is added. Scoot offers bolt ons including Extra baggage, Entertainment kits, Sleeping kits and Meals. Everything a full service airline used to include!  Scoot also charges for scoot thru which allows a passenger to connect between flights in Singapore. All of the options are cheaper if booked online in advance than on the actual flight.

The thing that impressed me is that none of those options are forced onto the customer. You do not unwittingly proceed to payment with an insurance option chosen. This happens with Air Asia and Ryanair.

I also like Scoot’s very generous 10kg of hand luggage.

Step Four: Seat selection

Selecting a seat ahead of schedule costs:

  1. Standard (a nominal fee of around $US5- Scoot’s economy seats are arranged 3-4-3 configuration which means you risking getting stuck in one of the middle seats if you don’t pre select)
  2. Super (a fee of $US20 to $US30) are located in a special child free section with more leg room. I highly recommend these for their 35″ of leg room and their “private cabin” feel
  3. S-t-r-e-t-c-h ( emergency ecit and bulkhead seats) for an extra $US50 to $us60

Step Five: More Extras: Hotels and rental cars

Step Six: Payment

Here is where I suggest you watch things carefully. On another trip, while searching a fare to Japan, while Scoot started as having the lowest price, with extras such as luggage, meals, and super seating the fare jumped to $400 more than Malaysian Airline’s best fare!

A Confirmation email came quickly.  Scoot then gives you twelve hours in which you can change your date and time and even name for no fee.

Check in: 9 out of 10

Online check in was easy and fast. Check in at the airport opens 180 minutes and they will accommodate you oif you are in the queue 60 minutes before it closes. Scoot offers Early Check-in at Singapore only for a fee of SGD 5 at Scoot’s check-in counters. At Sydney, I was surprised at how mnay people were choosing to check in with luggage at the airport rather than pre check. I was in line for less than two minutes. My hand luggage was weighed and at 7kg was well under their 10kg limit. I had no check in luggage.


Customers at Singapore airport can pay $SG39 for access to the SATS Premier Lounge in Terminal 2 with food, beverages and shower facilities for up to four hours. There was no such facility available at Sydney airport.

Boarding: 9 out of 10

Boarding was stress free. We were warmly welcomed on board by smiling crew.


On Board: 8 out of 10

Image from Seatplan

Image: Seatplans.com

The plane feels spacious and light. The current Scoot fleet are ex Singapore Airlines craft in very good condition.

Business Class has four rows of eight seats arranged in a  2-4-2 layout. The black leather seats are 22 inches wide and have a 38 inch pitch. There is an AC socket which is shared between every two seats.

Super Seats are yellow, have a 17″ width and a 35″ pitch. They are arranged 3-4-3 but as previously mentioned in a small private child free cabin at the back of Business.  It was a marvellous space to fly in. The yellow was not too garish.

Standard Seats are Blue with Stretch seats highlighted in yellow at the emergency exit rows.

The crew worked very, very hard. They were selling meals, drinks, duty free, entertainment kits etc and maintained a very warm and pleasant demeanour. The cabin manager, had come from Singapore Airlines but the rest of the crew were new to flying.

Lavatories were maintained at a spotless condition for the entire flight.


Entertainment: 5 out of 10

There is no seat-back entertainment system but you can hire portable DVD players or stream material to your own device for a fee. Bring your own laptop or even a book is my advice.


Meals: 3 out of 10

All Scoot meals cost.  Take a look at the selection. Pre ordering is cheaper and if you must buy a meal, recommended. The meals are expensive by Singapore standards. Most were double the price of what I would pay in a hawker’s market or food outlet in Singapore. The portions, however, are smaller than one would expect. The quality was also disappointing. Water was not available on the flights and had to be paid for at a cost of $SG4 per small bottle.  This galls me.


Arrival at the super efficient Singapore Airport was a breeze and I was on the street, no more than 20 minutes after landing.

The Verdict

My Flight Rating: Overall 74% (3.7 out of 5).
My Overall rating of Scoot: 74%  (Tiger gets 27% from me, easyJet 76%, Jetstar 63%)
Skytrax: Scoot has a 3 star rating from Skytrax.Its customers give the carrier a rating of 7 out of 10 which is good for a Low Cost carrier
Positives: Crew,  Website, Super seats
Negatives: Meals, lack of free water, Entertainment
Would I fly them again? Yes

 Related Posts:

Qatar 5 star: Hanoi to Bangkok

Trip report: Malaysia “five star”

Singapore ups Low Cost ante


My Top Airlines for 2012

Posted on: December 30th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

This  last year, I flew 121 times for a total distance of  331,127km (205,753 mi). This is eight and a quarter times around the earth. I was inside planes for a whopping 19 days of the year. Some airlines made my time with them a delight – and some made it not so fun. I rate each flight I take for every factor from Booking to Check-in to deplaning. and keep a tally of my rating using Flightmemory.com.  The scores averaged out give me the ranking of flights, airlines and airports.  I have placed my score for each airline next to the airline name. Next year, I need to write more trip reports!

Check out my worst airline of 2012 list.

Here are my 2012 best airlines (NB I have not ever flown Malaysian, Asiana, Eva or ANA who Skytrax consider amongst the best  airlines in the world).


1. Qatar Airlines  – 100%

Qatar: 22 November 1993. Fleet:  116 Destinations: 124 Employees: 20,000.  Skytrax Rating: 5 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 87%

 I used to be cynical about Qatar’s many awards but I have to concede the airline is actually fantastic. The thing that is impressive about Qatar is not only are they excellent but they are consistently excellent. That is an impressive achievement for an airline that is expanding as rapidly as Qatar. Crews are friendly,  entertainment system brilliant and not only is the airline comfortable in Business but they have the most generous seat room  in Economy. The airline is removing first class from its planes although their Business Class is probably better than most carrier’s First Class. Meals are excellent, excellent and excellent! So glad they are joining One World. Now to find a flight on their 787!

 Related Post

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1. Emirates – 100%

United Arab Emirates: 25 October 1985. Fleet:  191 Destinations: 124 Employees: 50,000 (whole group).  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 60%

Emirates is steadily and determinedly moving toward being the world’s biggest airline on every measure. My experiences with Emirates have been consistently fantastic from their straight forward booking system to their efficient check in service.  Wherever I have been, I get great on board service, amazing meals and access to a brilliant entertainment system. I have yet to meet an unfriendly employee whether in their call centre, at check in, or on board.

Related Post

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3. Cathay Pacific – 96%

Hong Kong: 24 September, 1946. Fleet:  135 Destinations: 60 Employees: 29,800  Skytrax Rating: 5 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 78%

One of the oldest airlines in my Top Ten, I have been flying them for 20 years now. Cathay slipped in my ratings a couple of years ago but they have bounced back now. The new business class refit is just right. I like their new Premium Economy and even their standard economy seats are acceptable.  Their entertainment system is brilliant. Staff are friendly. Food is great. And I am so in love with their lounge at Hong Kong airport.


3. Air New Zealand  – 96%

New Zealand: 1930. Fleet:  135 Destinations: 104 Employees: 10, 450  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 70%

Skytrax savaged Air New Zealand his year pushing them out of their Top ten to 17th place. I struggle to find fault with he airline. Starting with friendly Kiwi service, add a website that is easy to negotiate, great aircraft interiors and some of the best lounges ever. The food on board and in their Koru Club lounges that is fresh and delicious across all classes.  The website easy to negotiate and on board entertainment system. I am not a fan of their new Trans Tasman offerings as I think the bundles they offer are too complicated but they work okay. Best safety videos ever!

 Related Post

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5. Virgin Australia -95%

Australia: August, 2000. Fleet:  90 Destinations: 50 Employees: 7, 006  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 73%

Two years ago, there is no way I would have put this airline anywhere near the Top Ten. Since then the carrier has had a total overhaul.New name, new livery, new uniforms; new catering; new aircraft and a new business class. Service is outstanding. Food is great.

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5. Thai Airways -95%

Thailand: 1 October 1972 . Fleet:  89 Destinations: 75 Employees: 25.761  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 67%

My major niggle with Thai is some nervousness with their past safety record. My major regret of 2012 was not getting onto their A380! Must rectify in 2013! Thai hospitality is a notch above other airlines. Their planes sparkle. Food is good in Economy and excellent in Business. Service friendly and genuine.


7. Singapore 92%

Singapore: 1 October 1972 . Fleet:  320 Destinations: 62 Employees: 14,515  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 88%

Singapore Airlines in my mind used to be the Emirates and Qatar of the world but I think their leadership has been slightly eroded. They still have great food, great planes, and a great entertainment system (Krisworld), however.  My major criticism of SQ is that their staff tend to be a little too robotic for me. They do work hard on every flight.


8. JetBlue 91%

USA: 11 February, 2000,  . Fleet:  172 Destinations: 75 Employees: 11, 797  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline.  Skytrax Passenger Rating: 76%

Yes, I am saying JetBlue are the best airline in the USA. I have been flying JetBlue regularly since their first year. For a budget airline, their offerings are very, very good. In fact, I think better than their so called “full service” counterparts.   Free checked baggage (which in the USA is a rarity),  personal entertainment units, and  free snacks and drinks. I always buy the  Even More Space with extra leg room and priority boarding. Their website has always been a breeze to use. And when they make a mistake they acknowledge it and try and  fix it.  Flying feels very stress free with JetBlue. J.D. Power and Associates  acknowledged this when they found JetBlue to be number one in customer satisfaction for a North American low-cost carrier.


9. Virgin America 90%

USA: 8 August, 2007. Fleet:  52 Destinations: 19 Employees: 2,200  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 80%

The airline is still not making any money but it wows the crowds (and me) with their product. In 2012, I had my first disappointing experience when I was a little underwhelmed with a very delayed LAX-SFO flight. The experience has caused me to put JetBlue ahead of them this trip. I think their customer service responses could have been handled better. Lessons from JetBlue might be handy here. Apart from that, I find the carrier a real joy to fly. On board food and drink offerings are interesting. I like the on screen ordering system. Entertainment options are grand. WiFi works well. With a  very few exceptions, every Virgin America employee is both friendly and fun.

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10 Qantas  88%

Australia: 16 November 1920. Fleet:  143 Destinations: 41 Employees: 27, 405  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 77%

Qantas is not as good as they used to be. Skytrax knocked them out of their Top Ten carriers last year. I believe they still deliver a quality product domestically and internationally, however. Their website is straightforward to use unless you are booking multi city international fares when it is a nightmare. They could fix their frequent flyer app to make it useful. I found the staff to be very welcoming on all my flights this year. I like their meals. Where Qantas really excel is that  they really understand the needs of the long haul customer. The refurbished interiors look great and the Q entertainment system works very well with great variety of shows. Disappointing they have pulled wi-fi.

Related Posts:

Qantas ditches WiFi???

Trip Report: Qantas 93: Melbourne to Los Angeles


Highly Commended:

Alaska Airlines are still a pleasure to fly. Friendly stress free experiences. JD Power said they were the best mainline carrier in the USA and commended them for their boarding, deplaning and baggage process. I would agree. Entertainment options are limited. WiFi is available.  Main cabin Food choices includes some good meals and fresh foods and Alaska seem to have worked hard on First  Class choices. They have the best airline app I have seen for the iPhone and Android.

LAN are usually good -but again not consistent. Their Economy product is actually quite stable but Business class is all over the place. Meals superb. Entertainment systems variable. Skytrax places them as a three star. When they are good, they are 4 star.

Lufthansa have attentive and professional service, good entertainment, excellent food and drink selection. Not in my Top Ten but definitely worth recommending.

Turkish Air have the best food of any airline I have ever been on – in every class. The rest of their product, however is incredibly inconsistent. On  flights where everything worked well, I would put them into the Top Ten. The trouble is that for every superb flight, I had with them, I then had a mediocre one. Although, I hasten to add, I never had a bad experience. So on some flights cabin crews were amazing. On others disappointing, On some there is a  great entertainment system and free wi-fi. On others there are almost no offerings.  I am still waiting for my points to be added to my United Mileage Plus account.

Highly improved:

Delta continues to draw ahead of the other US airlines. Their Business Class offerings I think are superior to any of the other US carriers. Economy (Coach) less so. Staff enthusiasm and friendliness has improved. JD Power has them as the best of the major four US carriers.

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Qatar 787 -at last!

Posted on: November 24th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

One hundred passengers joined Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker for the delivery flight of their 787 from Seattle to Doha on November 17. I am in no way envious! Qatar are the Middle Eastern launch customer for the 787 having ordered 60 of the planes – 30 firm with options for 30 more. Qatar is rated a five star airline and has been nominated airline of the year twice by Skytrax. They are the newest entrant to One World. I have yet to fly them.
 Qatar Airways had refused to take delivery of the first five of their 787s until  a defects within the Dreamliner GE designed GEnx engines, had been rectified.  General Electric Co. told aircraft operators in September to make another round of inspections on engines installed on the 787  and newer 747 models following an engine failure on a Boeing freighter aircraft resulted in an aborted  takeoff in Shanghai in September. This follows a failure in July when an engine on a jet being tested before delivery in South Carolina failed due to cracking in the engine’s fan shaft.
I guess the engine issues have been resolved because Qatar’s 787 commenced commercial service on selected Doha – Dubai flights on November 20  to familiarise flight crews with the aircraft. It will later be deployed long-haul on one of the five daily London Heathrow services, followed by Zurich, Frankfurt and Delhi. It is interesting how a big fuss was made by Qatar about the engine failures but nothing was said about the fixes!

The Qatar 787 has 254 seats in a two-class layout:

  • 22 seats in Business Class in a 1-2-1 configuration. Width: 22″ Pitch: 80″
  • 232 seats in Economy Class:  3-3-3. Width: 16.9″ Pitch: 32″
This compares to Ethiopians’ 270 passengers which is the most squeezy Boeing 787. ANA only has 158 seats on board, by comparison.

Each seat is equipped with AVOD entertainment system with USB, MP3 and  laptop power outlets. Wifi and GSM will be available to all passengers during flights. Tv Screens are 10.6″ in Economy and 17″ in Business.

Boeing now has previously delivered 29 787s to seven  customers (ANA, JAL, LAN, Ethiopian, Air India, United and LOT).

Related Posts:

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LAN gets 787

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ANA on track for first 787 ever!

Relevant Link

My Pinterest 787 Board: http://pinterest.com/martinjcowling/the-787/

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Turkish Delight -Great Trip + Best Economy Meal Ever!

Posted on: November 6th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

Turkish airlines are the 83rd airline I have ever flown. Member of the Star Alliance since 2008, they have been expanding rapidly in the last eight years and now fly to over 200 destinations with 160 aircraft.  Turkish Airlines have been awarded  Europe’s Best Airline and Southern Europe’s Best Airline  twice in 2011 and 2012. Interestingly, this week, Lufthansa expressed an interest in either merging with or forming a closer alliance with Turkish Airlines.

Booking 5 out of 10

I booked through online travel agents who were offering the same flights at a much reduced cost compared to the Turkish Airlines own website. I also found the website to be slow and produced regular “page outs”.

My first actual contact with Turkish  “best airline in Europe” was not good. I tried to add my frequent flyer  and choose seats on my six forthcoming Turkish flights. I could not find a way of dong it on the website so I called Turkish for help. It took five phone calls. The first three phone calls were disconnected. On the fourth call, I was connected to the airline for nine minutes. The operator said he needed to place me me on hold- and disconnected me!

The fifth call took 24 minutes just to add my frequent flyer and do six seat assignments. Call quality was poor and the agent struggled to understand my English.  I had to ask him to clarify himself on a few occasions. It was not at all a good introduction to the airline. The most annoying thing is that every time I was on hold I had to  listening to their “Globally Yours” jingle over and over.

Check in: 7 out of 10

Online Check- in was very frustrating. The first thing I discovered, that despite my calls (see above), neither my frequent flyer number nor seat requests had been noted. The emergency exit seats were available on the second flight but I could not request them. Further, at the end of the online check in process, I found I was as not actually checked in and still had to see  an agent at Dulles airport. The check in agent at Washington proved to be extremely lovely and very helpful and looked carefully for seats with extra leg room (while we chatted about Turkish food) -to no avail. She did get me such a seat on the second flight.They weighed my checkin luggage and it came in at 10kg. The Turkish Airlines limit is 8kg. She looked like she was about to say something about the weight but chose not to. I could have easily removed 2kg and carried it in my clothes or as an additional clothing layer!

Boarding: 9 out of 10

Boarding was a little chaotic in both Washington and Istanbul. Despite,  my boarding pass saying “Group 2″, I didn’t experience any attempt at groupings! Instead there was lots of “subtle” pushing and jostling by passengers to get to the front of the lines. At Washington, economy class passengers were barked at to form two lines for boarding. There was also a Business boarding line.

The Flight attendants at the door were both friendly and efficient. I felt personally welcomed. An interesting touch on then Washington-Istanbul route was the presence at the door of the on board chef. I saw him circulating amongst the Business Class passengers later, welcoming them on board. The chef personally creates the meals for Business passengers. The airline came fourth in Business Class catering in 2012 Skytrax awards. I vowed to fly Business Class if I could!

Attendants greeted passengers in Turkish and English as they came through the plane. One felt very welcome. It  was as if someone was inviting you into their home. It is hard to describe but I have never seen an airline staff do it so well.

On my second flight from Istanbul to Budapest, a woman strode down the aisle with two friends and they “occupied” the emergency exit seats around me. The woman placed a bag on the seat next to me and stood there next to it. As the correct seat holders arrived, the women gradually gave up their attempted seat takeover and moved to the rear of the plane.


On Board: 8 out of 10

On the longer flight, at each economy seat was an amenity pack, pillow, blanket and headphones for the entertainment system, The amenity kit in an attractive red case was very generously stocked. Toothbrush (albeit) with horrible toothpaste, toothbrush lid, lip gel, eye cover etc. The Turkish Airlines magazine “Skylife” was in the seat pocket. The magazine is also available as an ipad app. Flight attendants passed out menus just after take off.

I found the crew kept up their friendliness and hospitality for the whole flight even in deplaning. They spoke English and Turkish to passengers which is appropriate on a US to Turkey flight but I was surprised at the lack of Hungarian for the second flight.

On the Airbus 340 from Washington to Budapest, there were 34 lie flat Business class seats which have a 54″ pitch and 21″width arranged in a staggered 2/2/2 layout. 236 passengers slotted into economy in a 2/4/2 arrangement. Seat pitch (distance between seats) was a fairly generous 33″. Seat width  a less generous 17″.  There is a seat rest under each seat which for me was a waste of time. Seatguru warns that seats A, E and K lose half underseat space to have the entertainment system box stored there and seats B, D, F and J lose a third.  Hence I chose G!   Bulkhead row is Row 7 and emergency exit row 23. Seats have a brightly coloured turquoise fabric.

The cabin was very clean and feel fresh. Lavatories were spotless at start of flight but declined by the end. They did not seem to be refreshed.

On the next flight,  I had an emergency exit row which was very comfortable.


There has been a lot of speculation about Turkish Airline’s safety. With three fatal crashes in 20 years, the last one in 2009, planecrashinfo gives them a much higher Accident Rate than the world average. Incidentally, the same rate as Singapore and Thai airlines and lower than Air France. Some say Turkish expansion is putting safety at risk and others note that many pilots are Turkish military trained. The airlines’s commentary on safety is here.

I was surprised on the second flight to see a father and his child in the exit row. The cabin crew moved them to another position after a while. I wonder how that mix up happened? There were a couple of small niggling things like ignoring mobile phone use or passengers moving around the cabin on taxi (more on that later).

The safety briefing is pre recorded and plays in Turkish and English. There was no staff accompaniment. I like to have this as to me it reinforces the importance of safety, may get people to pay attention to the safety procedures and identifies who I may be needing to watch to get off the plane in a hurry.

I was interested that after a spate of turbulence on the first flight, the captain left the fasten Seat belt sign on for most of rest of the flight.


The very laden A340 seemed to take to the air very slowly out of Washington.


Meals: 12 out of 10

There are four types of Economy Class meals in the world today:

  1. Non existent (eg Virgin Australia domestic,  Jetstar, Most US domestic services)
  2. Poor (eg United and American airlines long haul).
  3. Okay (eg British Airways)
  4. Good (eg Qantas and Air New Zealand).

Emirates breaks the mould by having amazing meals. Turkish trumps them. Turkish Airlines was the 2010 recipient of the World’s Best Economy Class Catering Award from Skytrax (Thai won it in 2011 and Singapore in 2012). Dinner was a choice between a beef burger and a chicken dish. The beef was like no other burger I had ever tasted.  It was so delicious. The servings were generous and the meal was accompanied by a fresh bread roll. Often airlines will provide a roll which feels stone cold and/or which is hard as nails. Air France always gets it right. Well Turkish had them beat. On both fights the roll tasted as if it had walked out of the bakery minutes before. For me, this is attention to detail and a desire to make the flying experience better. The meal which came with salads and dessert, as very filling. All Turkish airline food is halal which means you will never see a prok dish. Alcohol is served on the flights.

Through the night, there were sandwiches and marble cake available in then galleys. Frankly, the sandwich presentation left a little to be desired but the cake looked nice.

About two hours before landing on the Washington to Istanbul flight, the cabin crew brought a full breakfast with eggs, potatoes, fruit salad, and a croissanty roll. Delicious!

On the shorter Istanbul to Budapest flight, there was no choice of meal but it was the best the Economy class meal I have ever had on an aeroplane. Starter was smoked salmon with a cucumber and yoghurt sauce. Stunning! The main was stuffed eggplant, their signature dish. Tender and delicious. The dessert was some sort of runny custardy type dish, which I devoured.

With every meal came a refresher towellete.


Entertainment: 10 out of 10

The A340 came with Turkish Airline’s Planet digital system. It was a very intuitive easy to use system which operated very well. The airline promised  450 films and TV programs as well as 600 albums. On the 777, the airline has installed free wifi. I will get to test that out on the way back to Los Angeles.

For the air nerd like me, you can watch the takeoff and landing via cameras mounted at the front and back of the aircraft.



Both landings were brilliant. The thing that astounded me, however was how many people left their seats on both flights, after the landings. They grabbed luggage, chatted to each other or on cell phones and went to the rest rooms. There was an appeal twice over the PA on the first flight but the cabin crew largely ignored these passengers. This is surely a safety hazard? See safety above.


The Verdict

My Flight Rating: Overall 89% (4.5 out of 5).

My Overall rating of  Airline:   4.5 out of 5 (based on my two flights)

Skytrax Rating of Turkish:  4 star

Positives:   Staff, amazing meals

Negatives:  Website, telephone reservations

Would I fly them again? YES!


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Changement d’Air France

Posted on: September 27th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

Air France announced this week, a series of changes designed to reposition its products and services at the best possible level in the industry” . These changes are all designed to attract custom back to an airline which  has been hit by the  global economic downturn and volatile oil prices.

Under a three-year plan dubbed “Transform 2015,” Air France- KLM is seeking to reduce operating costs by two billion euros ($US2.59 billion) with the proceeds going to pay down debt. This includes cutting more than 5,000 jobs by 2015. Alongside this, is a new focus on attracting custom  outlined in a  document entitled  Air France committed to its customers.  The airline has announced it is “investing several hundred million euros over the next few years to repositioning the customer experience.

The customer focussed changes include:

  • On Board Internet connectivity through Orange from February, 2013
  •  customers being able to download and archive the daily newspaper on their tablet or smartphone before their flight for free
  • a completely redesigned Business Class menu
  • Premium Economy meal boxes on shorter flights to be replaced by a meal tray
  • being more easily able to mix Premium Economy and Economy segments on the same itinerary
  • a redesigned website last July
  • standardised “Sky Priority” access at airports for Premium passengers
  • Business or Premium Economy customers being able to choose “automatic check-in
  • Customers at certain French airports being able to print their own luggage labels and check in their own luggage
  • from November 2012 “self boarding” will be rolled out at Charles de Gualle where passengers use automatic  boarding gates instead of an agent
  • Economy passengers from 2013 being able to purchase “more leg room” seats (Elite Frequent Flyers will still have them for free)

The change that has attracted the most attention, however, is the airline’s decision to adopt English terms for three of its Cabin types from 28 October.

  • “Voyageur” will become “Economy”
  •  “Premium Voyageur” =  “Premium Economy”
  • “Affaires'” = Business

The airline, however, will keep  “La Premiere” for long-haul first class cabins.

Air France’s Cabin name change announcement in French Air France’s Cabin name change announcement in English

This adoption may seem logical but it is an interesting Business move for the French flag carrier as France is known to fiercely defend its language. For example, France has had the “Toubon Law” since 1994 which requires the use of French in all official government publications, government funded schools, advertising and French workplaces. Two years ago, Avenir de la langue française (Future of the French language) called on the government to put a stop to the Anglicisation of their culture warning: “French is methodically ousted in favour of simplified English that zealously promotes the international business oligarchy”.

Well this name change seem to do just that.The carrier states that “Air France has chosen to adopt generic air transport terms for its travel classes, which are already well-known by its customers“. It claims that the changes have been tested in France and the customer response was “the majority … are in favour of this harmonization, finding it clearer and more international.”

It seems to me, that overall the Customer commitment plan contains changes which  are designed to save money while streamlining travel. Automatic boarding and self check in, when done properly, work well for customers but also help Air France achieve that magic job cull. It does mean though it will be possible to go from booking to boarding without encountering a single human. How does an airline differentiate itself in that environment?

Bonne chance Air France

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LAN gets 787

Posted on: September 1st, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling


Boeing keeps churning out the 787s!  LAN Airlines, received delivery of the first 787 Dreamliner  yesterday. The new plane arrived in Santiago, Chile September 1st, making it the first airline in the Americas to receive the new airplane. LAN is one of my favourite airlines. I have always found them a delight to travel with.

LAN has ordered 32 planes that will be phased in over the next 10 years at a cost of almost five billion dollars. The destinations the 787 will fly to during its first year of operation will be Santiago, Buenos Aires, Lima, Los Angeles, Madrid and Frankfurt. I would love to have seen it ply Santiago to Sydney, Australia.

The LAN version of the plane has a two cabin layout: Premium Business and Economy with capacity for 247 passengers. This compares to the 270 seats on Ethiopian,  United’s 219 seat version. In contrast, there are only 186 seats on JAL and a mere 158 on ANA.I wonder if those carriers will start to add more seats?!

In Premium Business LAN has a five rows of seats 2-2-2 layout giving a total of 30 Premium Business seats.  LAN surveyed its regular premium business-class passengers and found that its passengers strongly preferred side-by-side seating to alternative staggered seating configurations. Pitch is 75″ and width 23″.

In economy class LAN has arranged the 217 seats in a 3-3-3 configuration giving a 16.8” wide seat and a pitch of 31”. Every seat has seat back TV.


More photos are on my Pinterest. 

I still need to engineer a way to fly on one soon.

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