Flight Review: Garuda Indonesia First Class (777-300ER) from London to Jakarta
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TO THE POINT: Flying in Garuda Indonesia's first class was an unbelievably posh experience from start to finish. The pros: outstanding service, complimentary transportation to and from the airport and a swanky arrivals lounge in Jakarta. The cons: disappointing low-quality headphones and not-so-impressive check-in counters in LHR's ancient Terminal 3.
"You're doing WHAT?!" was the response I got from most people when I told them I was going to be flying around the world over the course of four days just to experience a few first class cabins. Of course, #AvGeeks and TPG readers everywhere understand why a perfectly sane person would want to do such a thing.
The idea for my RTW adventure started when Garuda Indonesia posted very attractive first-class fares last summer from London (LHR) to Jakarta (CGK). This is an airline I've wanted to try out for so long but it's been hard since it doesn't fly to North America yet. My wife wanted nothing to do with this crazy itinerary, so I emailed back and forth with a fellow travel enthusiast I know who lives in California and devised an itinerary that would allow us to fly Garuda Indonesia's first class along with that of Lufthansa, Korean Air and Cathay Pacific. Since I live in Minnesota, we decided to meet in London and go from there. Using the tips I learned from reading this website, I was able to book the other three airlines with points and miles — thanks, TPG!
As I mentioned before, booking this flight was done the conventional way: with cash. I found this particular fare on the UK version of Expedia.com for 2,086 British pounds (~$2,540), so I used my Chase Sapphire Reserve card in order to get 3x points for my travel purchase. At the time, the Platinum Card from American Express was not yet offering 5x points on airline bookings, otherwise I would have used that instead. Unfortunately this was also long before Garuda's incredible 90% off promo, so I wasn't able to take advantage of that on this trip.
With the intent of achieving elite status with Air France in order to try out La Premiere on the 777-300ER, I credited the flight to my Flying Blue account, which gave me 12,731 miles and helped me toward that goal immensely.
Check-In and Lounge
I arrived at Terminal 2 in London-Heathrow (LHR) from Frankfurt (FRA) around 4:00pm and my colleague met me there since he was flying in from Munich (MUC). After taking the bus to Terminal 3, we checked in at a counter that was shared by many airlines. Note that Garuda Indonesia does offer complimentary car service to the airport for first class passengers.
After sifting through all the screens and signs, we finally spotted the tiny Garuda logo — the friendly gentleman working at the counter seemed to be contracted by several airlines to check passengers in. The process itself was a breeze since we were only traveling with carry-on bags.
We were then directed to the No.1 Lounge, which is shared by many airlines in Terminal 3.
The lounge had an attractive entrance with friendly staff to help check you in.
Since this lounge is shared by both business- and first-class passengers, we were directed to an area reserved just for those traveling in first which was a cozy environment with a den-like motif.
We set up shop at a table so we could edit our photos and catch up on emails. The Wi-Fi here was free and quite fast in this part of the lounge.
The lounge featured a spa, which offered manicures, pedicures, facials and massages but for a fee, unlike similar services offered gratis in other lounges when you're flying in first class.
Around the corner, there was a small area for little ones to play in.
If the kids get bored with the play area, there was also a cinema room in the lounge that played movies and had comfortable-looking seats.
As for the food and beverage options, I didn't partake since I'd already indulged in a delicious lunch with a Scotch tasting at the Lufthansa First Class Terminal when I was in Frankfurt earlier that afternoon. I also wanted to be hungry enough to test out all the food on this flight. For business-class passengers in the lounge, there was a small spread of items displayed in a buffet style, while first-class passengers could choose from the buffet as well as a special made-to-order menu.
Shortly after we arrived in the lounge, our friendly Garuda representative, Luke, greeted us, handed us our boarding passes and said he would come find us when boarding was ready so he could escort us to the plane. He showed up right on time for boarding and insisted that he take our bags so we wouldn't even have to lift a finger — talk about exceptional ground service!
We arrived at the tired-looking boarding area after a short walk.
Luke escorted us right to the jetway, where we were handed off to one of the best flight crews in the skies. Overall, the lounge experience was a pleasant one. My standards are definitely lower when I'm not flying out of an airline's hub, but with the cozy lounge and personal escort to the plane, I was impressed with the Garuda first-class experience so far.
Cabin and Seat
Garuda Indonesia operates Boeing 777-300ERs on its longest routes, and the first-class cabin has eight seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration. We hit the jackpot since we were the only two passengers in first class for the night — we chose seats 1A and 2A and the crew was nice enough to set up seats 1D and 1G so we could dine together. It truly felt like we were on a personal charter to Jakarta. I settled into seat 1A on the left side of the cabin.
The two middle seats would be ideal if you were traveling as a couple, or in our case, perfect for kindling a bromance while eating dinner. What a treat it was for us to have separate seats for dining and sleeping.
With a seat width of 22 inches and 82 inches of pitch, there's plenty of room to stretch out. What stood out to me was the cool pop of orange in the cabin and the gorgeous polished wood on the arm rests and tray tables.
After dinner, the crew transformed seat 1A into my own little bedroom. The bed was so comfortable that I almost got a full night's sleep! It also didn't hurt that we didn't hit any bumps along the way and the cabin temperature was kept cool throughout the flight.
These seats offered a great amount of privacy with doors that completely enclosed each suite.
The seat controls were incredibly easy to use via this HD touchpad.
There was also plenty of storage around each seat. On the aisle side of the IFE screen, there was even a place to hang your clothes after you changed into the pajamas that were provided.
On the window side, there was another storage bin that housed the IFE remote. This was also a convenient place to store some of my smaller belongings.
Also along the window side of the seat are enough newspapers and magazines to get you through the long-haul flight. How did Garuda know National Geographic was my favorite magazine?
On the back wall of the first-class cabin, Garuda proudly displays the fact that they are now a Skytrax Five Star Airline. And after my experience on this flight, I can see why.
Behind the first-class cabin were two business-class cabins with 42 seats total. These seats look quite nice with 73 inches of pitch and 19 inches of width. Like the first-class seats, seats had a 180-degree recline in bed mode. (For more on Garuda's business class on this aircraft, check out TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig's review.)
Behind business class are 268 economy seats arranged in a 3-3-3 configuration. These seats are approximately 17 inches wide with 32 inches of pitch. The economy section was pretty empty on our flight so these passengers had plenty of room to spread out as well.
Overall, the suites in first class are phenomenal — a stunning combination of design, comfort and technology. Of course, it never hurts when you basically have the whole cabin to yourself.
Amenities and In-flight Entertainment
There was only one restroom for first-class passengers on this 777-300ER, which on our flight was not an issue since there were only two of us in the cabin. However I can see this possibly being a problem if the cabin was full. I think the cloth hand towels were a nice touch.
The lavatory was kept spotless throughout our entire 14-hour flight.
The soft product in lavatory is what impressed me the most — there was a full-size bottle of Loewe eau de toilette available for our use.
In addition, we were provided with L'Occitane cleansing cloths and mini-dental/shaving kits. As a dentist, I'm always interested in what airlines provide as far as toothbrushes and toothpaste.
The Loewe amenity kit actually contained items I could use, and the eau de toilette and body balm were especially nice.
The pajamas provided were not branded and were of pretty average quality. To me, they felt exactly like the ones that are provided in first class on British Airways. There's a subtle Garuda Indonesia logo located on the upper left corner of the pajama top. I normally wear a small or medium in the US so, naturally, I asked for an XL and it fit perfectly.
If there was one thing I was disappointed with, it was the headphones, which were some of the lowest-quality I've seen in any premium cabin.
The disappointing headphones were soon forgotten when my comfy slippers were presented by a flight attendant who slipped them on for you Cinderella-style to make sure they were a perfect fit.
The super responsive in-flight entertainment system had plenty of features to keep you busy. I love it when you can watch live TV from 37,000 feet in the air.
There was a wide selection of international TV shows to keep us busy.
A fine selection of movies were also at our disposal. I watched The Secret Life of Pets, since my six-year-old twin boys had been raving about it.
As boring as it sounds, sometimes I just like watching the airshow since it still amazes me that you can fly this far around the globe in just a matter of hours.
As it should be, the Wi-Fi was complimentary for all first-class passengers. I didn't log on but thought this was indicative of how well-rounded Garuda's first-class experience was.
With the combination of a high-end amenity kit, a modern IFE system, complimentary Wi-Fi and a super-luxe comfy slipper presentation, Garuda hits a home run in this part of the first-class experience.
Food and Beverage
The food and beverage area is another area where Garuda shines. The menu is simple but has plenty of options to choose from. Dinner is served shortly after takeoff and consists of six courses. Breakfast is served a few hours before landing — even though we landed in Jakarta around 5:00 pm — and consists of both Indonesian and Western food choices. The wine and spirits menu didn't disappoint with two excellent Champagnes from which to choose. The white and red wine list was also impressive with a 2011 Chassagne-Montrachet leading the charge. The rest of the bar menu consisted of some of the usual suspects you would see in the air. Coffee is taken very seriously in Indonesia and Garuda's two-page coffee menu, pictured below, exemplifies that.
To start my gastronomic experience, I went with the delicious Billecart-Salmon Cuvée, a powerful Champagne that has more of a goldish hue than a glass of Dom Pérignon would have. You can find it on the ground for about $90 per bottle.
The Champagne was served before takeoff along with warm macadamia nuts.
The two of us were spoiled, too, because we ended up with our own onboard chef, who made recommendations and put together a stunning multi-course dinner for the two of us.
Once in the air, I started with the caviar which was served with prawn crackers, blinis (thin pancakes) and crème fraîche. This paired beautifully with a glass of Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé, which you can find for about $70 per bottle on the ground. Bonus points to Garuda for the unique caviar presentation that came along with it.
After the caviar course, we moved to seats 1D and 1G for the rest of the meal. We both had the outstanding 2011 Chassagne-Montrachet (~$80 per bottle on the ground) with our first two courses.
For my appetizer, I had the smoked chicken terrine with fig relish, tomato and a crouton. And it was great.
After that, I had the chicken noodle soup with a meatball, pak choy and spring onion. It was absolutely sensational and I could have easily had three more bowls.
For my main course, it was a tough choice between so many amazing dishes, but ultimately, I decided on the roasted lamb loin with garlic and parmesan risotto. I obliged with the recommended pairing of the 2009 Château Margaux Durfort-Vivens and it was a great match.
At this point, I was starting to get pretty full, but I'm a team player so I kept going. The chef's cheese board of blue, cheddar and camembert was a nice way to end the savory portion of the meal. Strong cheeses like this work better in the air than delicate cheeses, in my opinion.
Mercifully, I finished with the walnut and dark chocolate tart with vanilla ice cream. The dark chocolate was an easy match with my 18-year-old Glenfiddich whisky.
After a solid night of sleep, it was time for breakfast. I typically skip breakfast on planes in order to maximize sleep, but that's not really an issue on a 14-hour flight. I started with a made-to-order cappuccino.
Then I moved to the Toraja roast, which was presented elegantly with my own French press.
For my main course, I had scrambled eggs with chicken sausage and hash browns. Clearly the eggs were freshly scrambled on board to create yet another spectacular dish on this flight.
I haven't flown on every international first-class product in the sky but I can say that this was the best food I have ever had on a plane. The service by our two flight attendants and onboard chef was equally outstanding.
We had a smooth landing around 5:00pm local time in Jakarta. Since our connecting flight was with Korean Air, this is when most airlines would bid you adieu. However, that's not Garuda Indonesia's culture and we were met at the gate by a friendly Garuda agent along with two other representatives. The agent escorted us to the lounge while the two other reps insisted on rolling our suitcases for the 10-minute walk.
We arrived at Garuda Indonesia's lounge after a short, 10-minute walk.
The main level of the lounge is the business-class section. We hung out there for a few minutes while the agent verified that we could access the first-class section. I was happy we didn't spend too much time on the main level as it was uncomfortably warm and muggy.
The lounge offered a buffet-style food selection along with complimentary beverages.
After a few minutes, we were escorted downstairs to the first-class section of the lounge. Conversely, it was quite chilly down there and we both put on an extra layer of clothes. The lounge featured semi-private suites to relax and watch TV and we had our pick of spaces since we basically had the whole lounge to ourselves for the three hours we were there.
The other side of the lounge had a piano and even more seating.
There was also an area to properly sit and have a meal. We elected to just hang out in the suites since we recently had breakfast.
After getting off such a long flight, I thought a shower was in order.
The shower rooms were absolutely gorgeous.
The toiletries were also impressive with Garuda continuing to use L'Occitane products in the showers.
Even though I didn't eat anything in lounge, the menu looked tempting and I almost got the nachos & cinnamon tortilla out of sheer curiosity. I couldn't resist have a couple of Bintang's during this short Indonesian visit. I grew a huge liking to this brand of beer when I was in Bali the month before with my wife — it's a crisp, clean, flavorful lager that's made to go with spicy and savory traditional Indonesian dishes.
As if this arrival service wasn't generous enough, we were later driven to our Korean Air gate by the warm Garuda Indonesia staff.
As far as I'm concerned, the only problem with Garuda Indonesia first class is that it isn't available on flights to North America yet, although there have been rumors about the carrier possibly starting service between Jakarta and the US (nothing has been verified yet). The Garuda first-class product specializes in service in the sky along with exceptional personal service on the ground. If and when the airline comes to North America, I would argue that this would be the best way to get to Asia, which is saying a lot since Japan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air and Cathay Pacific all have fantastic products. I'm already looking forward to flying with Garuda Indonesia again.
Have you flown on Garuda? Tell us about your experience below.
All photos courtesy of the author.