Highlights of 7P577

by - 20:41

Flight: Batavia Air 7P577
Date: Sunday, 07 Jun 09
Sector: Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta (CGK) -> Batam Hang Nadim (BTH)
Aircraft: PK-YVT, B737-4H6
Seat: 21A
Departure Gate: B1

Scheduled Departure Time: 1140 LT
Actual Departure Time: 1306 LT
Scheduled Arrival Time: 1320 LT
Actual Arrival Time: 1433 LT
Arrival Gate: A4

Booking

Our initial plan was to try Kartika Airline’s B737-200 back to Batam from Jakarta. Unfortunately, we discovered that the flight does not operate on Sundays, although it was stated as a daily flight. Mandala offered the cheapest fare but it was operated by a rather boring A319. We also did not enquire with Indonesia Air Asia for similar reasons. Thus, we decided to book a noontime flight with Batavia Air at Rp447,000 (S$65.54) which was operated by a B737-400. Batavia Air also operates B737-200 between Batam and Jakarta, but the fares on the particular flight are extremely high, possibly due to high demand.

Much to our disappointment, Batavia Air had fully computerized their booking system and thus only a printed e-ticket was issued. However, we were given the airline’s ticket folders which had the schedule printed on it as compensation.

Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta Domestic Terminal 1B

After enjoying Roy’s excellent hospitality last night and feasting on a variety of Indonesian dishes, he picked us up at our hotel lobby for the short 20 minute drive to the airport. CGK airport consists of both the international and domestic terminals and are located on separate sides of the road. In addition, the domestic terminal is further split into a number of branch terminals. Batavia Air, Kartika Airlines and Sriwijaya Air share Teminal 1B while Lion Air and its subsidiary Wings Air operate from Terminal 1A.

Drop off for CGK Domestic Terminal 1B
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We quickly proceeded through the entrance baggage check and attempted to locate the check-in counter for our flight on the overhead flight information displays, which showed check-in desk B16. However, we discovered that B16 was used to check in for another flight and was politely directed to B12 instead.

Terminal 1B Check-in Area
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Although I had requested for a window seat, I was given an aisle seat 21D instead. Thus, I declined the boarding pass and explained to the puzzled lady that a window seat ends with either an ‘A’ or an ‘F’. My request was quickly processed and I was issued a new boarding pass with a window seat in the same row, 21A. The boarding pass was a piece of thermal printed paper, which I dubbed as ‘supermarket receipt’ due to its close similarities to one. These forms of boarding passes seem to gain popularity among low cost carriers around the world due to its low cost. However, it must be noted that Asiana, a five star airline ranked by global airline consultancy firm Skytrax, also uses similar boarding passes for its domestic flights.

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After paying the Rp40,000 (S$5.86) domestic departure tax at the counter, a bar code label similar to a supermarket price tag was pasted onto the boarding pass with the airline’s name printed on it. In comparison, a pre-printed generic sticker was used at Batam airport. Following which, we headed up to the boarding lounges on the upper floor. The terminal has a very interesting layout where only the boarding lounges and the check-in area are air-conditioned, but not the connecting walkways and corridors. Despite the 33 degree noon time heat, the terminal remained comfortably cool. This might be due to the design of the terminal’s sloping tiled roofs.

An escalator links the air-conditioned check-in hall with the non-air-conditioned walkways
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As the boarding time approached, the gate agent announced in Bahasa Indonesia that our flight would be delayed by one hour. As the boarding lounge was very stuffy due to poor ventilation, we decided to head out to sit at the seats located in the connecting corridors instead. It was almost impossible to spot or photograph aircraft in the restricted area as the views are blocked by the either the boarding gate lounges or the covered linkways between the gates. Moreover, it was difficult to photograph aircraft climbing out above the obstructions as each flight rotated at different locations along the runway.

Connecting walkways with seats
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Boarding Gate Lounge (Exterior)
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Boarding Gate Lounge (Interior)
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Being accustomised to Singapore where a flight delay would almost mean a gate change, we noticed that the flight information display outside Gate B4 displayed our flight, 7P577 to Medan via Batam. In contrast, our boarding passes showed that our flight would depart from Gate B1, which display showed another Batavia flight heading to Jambi instead. I had a good scare when a Batavia Air A320 arrived at the gate at 12pm, as that might mean a possible equipment change due to the delay! The A320 is admittedly a comfortable aircraft to fly in, but having made most of my flights in the past 2 years in A320s, I was determined to avoid flying the aircraft type whenever possible.

As the rescheduled time approached, we headed to Gate B4 as the gate agent made the boarding call for the flight to Medan. However, he did not announce the flight number. It was only by noticing the other passenger’s boarding pass that the flight being boarded was the direct flight to Medan! We hurriedly enquired with the gate agents and discovered that our flight would still board at gate B1 despite the delay. As it was already 1245hrs, we rushed back down the corridor to gate B1. The flight display outside gate B1 still displayed the flight to Jambi.

Flight Information Display at Gate B4 with the misleading display for our flight
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We unwittingly ended up being one of the first in the queue to board the aircraft as the gate agent commenced boarding for our flight as soon as we arrived. As the gates in the domestic terminal are linked by an outer circumferential corridor, we took a long walk and ended back outside gate B4, where a B737-400 PK-YVT was attached to an aerobridge. In most cases, I would be disappointed that we are boarding from an aerobridge as it meant that it would not be possible to obtain ramp photographs of the aircraft. However, I was relieved that the aircraft type was a B737-400, as I had never flown this variant of the B737 before.

The aircraft which gave me a good scare. A320 PK-YVG operating direct to MES (Medan)
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The Flight

We were welcomed onboard by the crew, who were wearing a very striking orange uniform. The first impression I had was that it was extremely warm in the aircraft cabin! There was some air coming out of the individual air-conditioning outlets, but it was very weak and not sufficiently cold. As passengers continued to settle into their seats, many started to fan themselves with an assortment of magazines and pieces of paper.

The aircraft was originally delivered to Malaysia Airlines in 1995 as 9M-MQL (MSN 27191/2676) and its first flight was on 28 November 1994. After more than a decade of service with the airline, it was leased to Nok Air in November 2006 as HS-DDH. Following the end of the lease, the aircraft was finally sold to Batavia Air and entered service with the airline on 15 November 2008 as PK-YVT.

The front section of the cabin, which used to be the business class section when the aircraft was in service with Malaysia Airlines, was replaced with dark blue Batavia seats. In addition, the emergency exit row seats were also replaced with similar seats, while the rest of the cabin kept the original dirty green Malaysia Airlines seats. Many of the original seats had mysterious brown stains on the seat cushions, which caused one to wonder if these stains had been made while in service with Malaysia Airlines.

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Passenger Service Unit on B737-400 The individual aircon outlets etc on the B732 had now been replaced with one single fitting on the B734
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The engines were started up as soon as the front door was closed and the aerobridge was withdrawn from the aircraft. I found it highly unusual as the engines were usually started as the aircraft was pushed back from the gate, and not at the gate. An apology was then made over the announcement system for the delay due to operational constraints. It was also worthy of note that a stern warning was made to warn passengers that removing the life vest from the aircraft is a federal offence. This warning was also pasted in the form of a huge sticker on the safety card.

Several interesting aircraft were noted at the famed aircraft storage area, which included a pair of Max Air B747-300, Yemenia and Orient Thai B747, an unmarked B747SP, Bouraq B737-200 and a number of Phuket Air aircraft.

Aircraft Storage Area at CGK
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We made an immediate takeoff on runway 07R, and the CFM56 engine sound was notably more muted and devoid of character as compared to the Pratt & Withney JT8Ds on the B732.

Overview of CGK after takeoff from 07R
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Once the seatbelt sign had been extinguished, the cabin crew started to serve refreshments, with one pair working from the front of the cabin and another pair from the rear. As compared to the Sriwijaya Air offerings on the same sector, a cup of mineral water and a bun was distributed separately without a box.

Cabin Crew serving refreshments
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The bun offered to passengers was a plain bun with a kaya streak on the top of the bun, and tasted marginally better as compared to the tasteless cheese croissant served on the Sriwijaya Air flight.

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Shortly after the crew had finished serving all the passengers, the aircraft started to shake from turbulence and a very soft announcement was made to request passengers to request to their seats as the seatbelt sign had been illuminated.

Wing view over Bintan Island
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The descent and approach was a very turbulent ride due to the presence of low and heavy thunderstorm clouds over Batam. It was also surprising that a number of passengers had switched on their mobile phones during this critical phase of the flight!

Final Approach over Batu Besar, Batam
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The terminal apron was bare except for a Riau Airlines BAe Avro RJ100 which was being pushed back for departure.

Riau Airlines Avro RJ100 PK-RAZ
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We came to a complete stop at an aerobridge gate, which sealed all hopes of being able to get a decent full body photo of our aircraft. However, it might be a thoughtful gesture by the airline as it was drizzling and there were plenty of aerobridges available at the empty apron.

Batam Hang Nadim Airport Airside view
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We quickly exited the terminal and made a deal with one of the numerous taxi touts outside the terminal building for a ride to Batam Centre Ferry Terminal at Rp50,000 (S$7.33), which is about S$2 cheaper than using the official taxi queue. Upon arrival at Batam Centre, the same taxi driver tried to insist that the fare is Rp70,000 and even brandished an official fare list to make his point. Thankfully, we had decided to pay the fare in exact amount and he backed away after seeing that he would not be able to extract the extra Rp20,000 from us.

The demand for the ferry back to Singapore was surprisingly strong, and we had to spend 2 hours in the adjacent shopping centre as the earlier ferries were full. It was interesting to note that a vast majority of the Singaporeans brought back boxes of JCo donuts (S$0.95 per piece vs S$1.30 per piece in Singapore)!

Batam Fast 2 way Ferry Ticket. S$7 (S$6 departure tax + S$1 insurance) has to paid in SGD at the ticket counter
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Batam Fast ferry back to Singapore
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A final mug of A&W Root Beer float at the megamall. A&W had pulled out of Singapore many years ago! Cost: Rp12,800 / S$1.83 / MYR4.20
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PDF version with additional details of this trip report is available on request :)

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