Friday, December 24, 2010

TRIP REPORT – Royal Brunei Airlines – Brisbane to London (Heathrow) to Brisbane – Boeing B777-200 – LONG!

The actual routing of this trip was Brisbane – Brunei (Bandar Seri Begawan) – Dubai – London – Dubai – Brunei – Brisbane

Saturday 11 September 2010 – BI0074 – Brisbane-Brunei (Bandar Seri Begawan) – Boeing B777-212(ER) – V8-BLB

Check-in was to open at about 10.30am (2 hours prior to take off) so we had some time to have a drink and sit around for about an hour. The check-in queue was not that long by the time we joined the queue, and with 6 check-in points for the economy section, after 20 minutes, we were at the front of the queue. One surprise once we got the front the queue was that we were checked-in on a business class check-in point – obviously this section is a little quieter – so it is a nice touch that they process more passengers by ushering them into the business class line!

Unfortunately though, being checked-in on a business class didn’t equal an upgrade. But we enquired and received a pair of seats in the bulk head row (52) which meant extra leg-room for the trip to Brunei.

The flight (like all on the Royal Brunei) was going to be full, so hand baggage restrictions were strictly adhered to – 7kg – we had to shuffle some jackets and pants to the big suitcase so we could carry our laptop and other toiletries on board. Our bags were checked right through to London, and we were also issued with boarding passes for the next sectors from Brunei to Dubai and then London. We had to check on the ground in Brunei about the availability of bulk-head seats as system locked Brisbane agents out.

Boarding was by row number and was strictly enforced. We were eventually called aboard and found the other passengers in our row had taken pretty much all of the overhead space… so we pushed and shoved and managed to make all our stuff fit!! Turns out my wife and I got to spread out across the centre three seat of Row 52 – the economy section of these ex-Singapore Airlines aircraft are 3x3x3.

Also on these B777s are Personal Televisions with Audio Visual Entertainment on demand, with movies, televisions shows, radio, video games, and travel maps and times.

Hot towels came out, followed by comfort packs with socks, eye mask, and toothbrush and toothpaste. There was a spoken safety demonstration, before push-back about 5 minutes late. Take off was from Brisbane’s Runway 01, and with the IBUNA SID, we made a series of right-hand turns to overfly the field and then towards the North-West.

As with all these long-haul Royal Brunei flights, a snack is served first – about 10-15 minutes after take-off, followed by a main meal about one hour or so into the flight. Royal Brunei is an alcohol-free airline which suited us fine, and seemed to keep most of the younger and perhaps rowdy passengers away from this airline with the majority of passengers on these flights being married with children and generally over 40! Drinks (water/juice) and nibblies are offered regularly, before another meal service about two hours prior to landing. The selection of meals was pretty limited – generally beef or chicken.

One thing I did like was that the Royal Brunei Flight Attendants, when not serving food and drinks, kept freshening up the toilets, so while we were seated close to the toilets, a fresh essence kept wafting out!! Even after 6 hours of flying the toilets were very clean and fresh!!

The flight time seemed to pass fairly quickly, probably helped by watching a couple of the movies on the AVOD system. It was indeed a great system, with plenty of new release and classic movies that would suit all ages!!

We were starting our descent into Brunei and the captain turned the seatbelt sign pretty much straight away advising that there are some tropical storms nearby. There were some light bumps but nothing major. We broke through the clouds and made a series of left hand turns and landed at Bandar Seri Begawan Airport on dusk.

A nice little International Airport that has got its market well identified and catered to. Transit passengers (like us) were ushered off the plane and through a well signed passageway into the waiting area of the terminal – no chance of passing through immigration “by mistake”!! The terminal area has plenty of seating and a nice selection of souvenir and food shops, including two cafes that serve hot and cold food, and coffee and tea! There are also day-stay rooms down a set of stairs – something we investigated for the return journey – as well as toilets and showers.

The pictures below show the terminal area and aircraft parking area with two of Royal Brunei's B777-200's waiting for departures later in the evening.

Saturday 11 September 2010 – BI0097 – Brunei (Bandar Seri Begawan)-Dubai-London (Heathrow) – Boeing B777-212(ER) – V8-BLA

No bulk-head seats available for this long sector to Dubai and then onto London (Heathrow). Our flight was called about 2 hours prior to departure (after about 2 hours waiting in the terminal), and we passed through a security check-point before proceeding to a smaller departure gate lounge. Some people were found out and not happy about this procedure especially with the restrictions on liquids seeing numerous bottles of water being surrendered. We emptied our water bottle in the terminal and were able to refill it onboard the plane!! Nice!!

We boarded and had a window and centre on row 58 – with another passenger in the isle. It was interesting that a prayer was said before this flight unlike the service from Brisbane. The plane pushed back pretty much on schedule, and after a nice long roll down the runway, we set off for Dubai.

Despite not having the extra legroom of the bulk-head seat, these seats were fairly comfortable for my six foot frame, and with a bit of wriggling around, I was able to get fairly comfortable and catch some shut eye! Same sort of in-flight service occurred in this sector, and again the Flight Attendants when not serving food and drinks were doing a sterling job at keeping the toilets clean and fresh.

Nice smooth descent and some great views over the city and high-rises of Dubai, saw us land about midnight Dubai time to a balmy 38 degrees centigrade outside!!

Upon disembarking the plane, we surrendered our boarding passes at an arrivals gate and received a numbered card. Upstairs into the arrivals area – and toilets and drink taps – before we were diverted to a security screening point and then back down to the lower level departure area.

WOW!! Dubai is an opulent terminal with big open spaces and plenty of intricate and beautiful decorations (as shown below).

Plenty of easy to read sign-postings – and plenty of shopping outlets!! Also plenty of gates, and ours was about a 5 minute walk back down to the end of the terminal. With this essentially being a transit stop, with only a handful of passengers leaving and joining the flight, by the time we had reached the gate area, the gate was open and we were able to sit in the waiting area for the flight. It was here that our numbered cards were swapped for our boarding passes which were the original ones received in Brunei. V8-BLA is pictured below waiting for its passengers.

Boarding was a little late, but a short taxi to the runway, saw us in the air shortly after 2am. I took a couple of pictures of the AVOD TV flight map shortly after leaving Dubai and overhead Europe.

We had the same seats as one the previous sector, and again we were fortunate to be able to get some sleep on this sector. In-flight service was again the same as the previous sectors, however the meal before landing at London was a nice breakfast of a beef roll.

We commenced descent shortly after crossing the English coast, and were advised that we needed 20 minutes of holding for a landing time of 6.05am (which was still early then scheduled). This holding seemed to go on forever, and included a thorough spraying of the cabin. By my watch, we circled for about 30 minutes, but that said, we then had some direct tracking to overhead London – with some fantastic dawn views over the Thames, O2 Arena, Houses of Parliament, and Hyde Park - some grainy pictures below!

We landed Runway 24L at about 6.10am and with Royal Brunei operating from Terminal 4 at Heathrow, a short taxi had us on the Gate at about 6.15am. V8-BLA is pictured below parked at Heathrow.

It was quite cold outside – a big change from Dubai!! With Terminal 4 not at its busiest yet, immigration was pretty quick and easy, through to baggage reclaim, and wonder of wonders, our bag made it safe!! Quarantine is pretty relaxed as compared to Australia, with an unchallenged path through the ‘Green Line’ (nothing to declare).

In all, I was really impressed with Royal Brunei. I don’t mind that they don’t serve alcohol as I’m not a drinker on aeroplanes. I thought the menu items for the meals, despite being limited in range, were really tasty and I enjoyed each meal that I had whilst on board. The extra touches that the Flight Attendants do – fetching extra food and drinks, assisting with sick passengers, and the cleaning/maintenance of the toilets – was really impressive and should be commended. A really great in-flight experience – I was really looking forward to the long journey home at the end of the holiday!!

Thursday 30 September 2010 – BI0098 – London (Heathrow)-Dubai-Brunei (Bandar Seri Begawan) – Boeing B777-212(ER) – V8-BLE

Well our holiday was over… An early start in Central London had us on the way to the airport at 5am for our 9am departure. Made it to Terminal 4 to find that check-in wasn’t open, and a queue about 30 people long. We decided to join the queue, and ended up waiting about 30 minutes before check-in finally opened with 6 agents working the Economy lines.

Had a nice check-in agent, who checked us and our bags through to Brisbane. Enquires were made about a seat in the bulkhead row and much to our delight, we were provided with a window and centre on the left-hand side of Row 52 (just behind the wing). Through security at Heathrow to find some breakfast (eventually at Starbucks), and a seat to relax and watch some arrivals on Runway 27L. Boarding began about 30 minutes prior to departure, and was again by row number. We took our seats – plenty of room in the overhead lockers this time – and with all passengers aboard, we pushed back about 5 minutes after the scheduled departure time.

We received our hot towels – but they were cold – and then received our comfort packs. Taxi to depart on Runway 27R – crossing Runway 27L and taxi past the redevelopments on Terminal 2. We had to wait for a couple of departures, but about 15 minutes after push back, we were airborne and heading South-East towards Dubai.

A fairly slow climb up to 36000 feet, with some nice views over the English countryside as shown below.

The flight attendants got the go ahead to start their in-flight service about 10 minutes after take-off, with the seatbelt sign eventually being turned off about 25 minutes after departure. Service was essentially the same as the previous flights, with nuts and soft drinks or juice coming out first, and then a meal – either beef or chicken (again) following about an hour later. We settled in for the cruise, enjoying the Personal TV Entertainment unit, which again was working faultlessly. As we approached the Middle East, our attention was then drawn to the Jett8 Cargo B747 Freighter flying below us as we commenced flying over the Afghanistan mountains. Some of the 'sights' are pictured below.

Night was falling as we commenced our descent into Dubai, with some spectacular views again of the city (the grainy picture below was the best I could do!).

We landed a little early, and with a short taxi, we were parked out our gate. Same procedure as the London bound flight – we were ushered off the plane, we received our numbered card, through the security check point for transit passengers, and back down to the departures lounge. We had a bit of time to spare, so had a quick look at a couple of shops (so many!!), and stocked up on water for the next leg of our journey. Also bought a Dubai magnet for the collection and was shocked at the very favourable exchange rate (compared to UK Pounds!).

Boarding gate opened, and we traded our numbered card for our original boarding pass. About a 20 minute wait and we were back on the B777 and ready for the next part of the trip to Brunei.

Pushed back pretty much on time, and a short taxi to the active runway – now in the opposite direction to our landing – so take off was about 5 minutes after we commenced our taxi. Again lovely views of Dubai on our climb out, and the in-flight service was again similar to the other flights. We decided to settle down and try to get some sleep, as departure from Dubai was at about 8pm and landing in Brunei was expected at about 8am (local).

We did manage to have some shut eye (which was good), but were woken up for the morning meal service about 2 hours prior to landing. Breakfast was egg or soup – the egg was quite tasty! Like the last sector into Brunei, the captain of this flight warned us of tropical storms on the approach path, so soon after we commenced descent, the seatbelt sign came on. Shortly after this, the spray also came out for the cabin. Descent was smooth, and with limited traffic into Brunei, we landed a little ahead of schedule with the sun shinning and the humidity running high!! We taxied past the military area and the Sultans VIP aircraft parking hangars (both pictured below on the opposite side to the terminal).

Brunei is really a quiet little airport, with only an Air Asia X Airbus A320, as well as some parked Royal Brunei B777s and A320s noted at the terminal (pictured below).

Before we disembarked the plane, all passengers were advised of their options for what to do during their time in transit. Passengers can be issued with temporary visitor visa for about $5 Brunei dollars, and then travel into the city where some passengers had booked hotel rooms for the day. There are also as many as three transit tours to different parts of Brunei, and all of differing lengths, available for passengers to sign up to once they have landed. Alternatively, passengers can try their luck in getting a day-room at the airport to be able to have a sleep and shower before their next flight.

We decided that we needed sleep, so after disembarking the plane, and making our way back into the terminal waiting area, we promptly made our way down the stairs in the centre of the waiting area to the day rooms. Fortunately, there was one (of about 15) available, and for 60 Brunei dollars (about AUD$50), we enjoyed the use of this room for about 10 hours (9am until 7pm). The day room is pictured below - it’s not much of a luxurious room – but at least there is a bed for much needed sleep – and there is a shower with a towel available for 5 Brunei dollars.

For those who don’t want the relative ‘luxury’ of using the dayrooms, the seats in the waiting area of the terminal don’t have arm rests so lying down on these and catching up on sleep in possible. There are also showers available to the general public within the downstairs toilet blocks, although I do believe that there is a small charge for their use.

For the transit passengers that took the tours, we heard a couple of them say that they had fun and thought that the tours were well worth taking – especially the tour to the ‘golden palace’ and the ‘monkey’ tour.

In our dayroom, my wife enjoyed the time sleeping, while I made several trips back up the stairs to terminal for food, coffee, and some plane-spotting. Not too many planes to spot though – just about the entire Royal Brunei fleet of all their types pass through in a day, while other aircraft of note were a Malaysian B737, Singapore B777, and an unidentified Antonov 12. The cafĂ© and restaurant in the terminal have pretty good quality food, and potato chips and chocolates are also available from a grocery type shop. All the souvenir shops were open for business, with the traders offering the tourists (like me) great deals on their jewellery and other assorted souvenirs and knick knacks.

Several monsoonal showers passed through during the afternoon – quite heavy showers as shown in the photo below!!

After showers and some dinner, we returned our dayroom key, and proceeded upstairs and though security and into the waiting area for our flight to Brisbane.

Friday 1 October 2010 – BI0073 – Brunei (Bandar Seri Begawan)-Brisbane – Boeing B777-212(ER) – V8-BLD

We checked about the bulkhead seat, but a pair together weren’t available, so we took what we were given, which was a window and centre seat in Row 57. While we waited, the evening flight back to London (via Dubai) departed.

The flight boarded a little late (supposedly there was a late gate change due to an unserviceable boarding gate), and after all was on board, we pushed back some 15 minutes late. Long taxi and long take off roll, before some right hand turns towards Australia. Being a night time flight, we hoped for a bit more sleep, but feeling surprisingly refreshed after spending the day in the dayroom at Brunei Airport, we settled back and enjoyed some of the movies and TV shows on the personal TV.

In-flight service was again the same, with a snack followed by evening meal, and then breakfast served about two hours out of Brisbane. When not attending to passengers, the flight attendants kept a close eye on the toilets, and kept them smelling fresh!

With the sun rising out to the left side of the plane, we knew that we were approaching Brisbane. We started descending about 5.30am and landed about 5.50am. As we were the first plane at the terminal for the morning, immigration was fast, our bags came out eventually, probably after about 20 minutes, before we passed through Customs, and went outside for some breakfast!

Again, this was a really enjoyable flight with Royal Brunei Airlines. I would again thoroughly recommend them as a long haul option between Australia and England.