REVIEW – Garuda Indonesia First Class Lounge – Jakarta (CGK) Terminal 3
November 24, 2019
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November 27, 2019

REVIEW – Garuda Indonesia : First Class – Jakarta CGK to London LHR (B777)

Garuda Indonesia (GA)


Intro


As I mentioned in the intro to my outbound journey, Garuda has had some real scheduling issues when it comes to establishing flights between Jakarta and Europe. At the time that I took this flight they still needed to make a technical stop in Singapore in order to refuel before carrying on to London.

I wasn’t against this in principle since it meant that I’d have more time to enjoy the flight and would get to mix things up by stretching my legs in Changi airport. I was also curious to see how many passengers would be taking each of the two segments individually (answer: none in First).

 


Pre-Departure


After whiling away a few hours in the very boring First Class lounge I was collected by my Garuda PA Herlina who walked me to the gate. The boarding process had already begun but this had no bearing on First Class passengers at all. We simply walked straight past everybody and through a private roped channel onto a jet bridge reserved for F passengers and right into the First Class cabin.

Given the private jet bridge and the fact that the cabin curtains were drawn the entire time, you genuinely got the feeling that you were on  a private jet with 8 seats. It never felt like I was on a large plane.

My seat: 1K. I arrived to find newspapers, an amenity kit and menus waiting for me on the wood veneer sideboard. A pair of high quality slippers was also tucked under the ottoman.

As a side sleeper I was very happy to spot a bolster pillow like the ones used on SQ. As somebody with a sense of tasteful design I was somewhat less thrilled to have to look at a bright orange wall for the next 17 hours.

GA F CGK-LHR-4
GA F CGK-LHR-9
Jacket storageJacket storage
Interactive seat controlsInteractive seat controls
Universal power and deep storageUniversal power and deep storage
Two underpowered USB ports, S-video connector, headphones and a bottle of mineral waterTwo underpowered USB ports, S-video connector, headphones and a bottle of mineral water

The overall design and finishes of the suite were rather dreary and old fashioned. It felt like the skeleton of a modern First Class suite had been retrofitted with as much beige and brown as possible to suck all the life out of it. I know people complain about the bling on Emirates but at least it helps to offset all the grey that they use on the seat upholstery. I guess the orange feature wall was a nod to modernity but it just doesn’t look elegant at all, instead evoking memories of motorway service stations in the 1980s.

Speaking of antiquated, I was wondering if the IFE in First Class would be upgraded over the Windows 95 looking interface in Business Class…

GA F CGK-LHR-18
GA F CGK-LHR-19
GA F CGK-LHR-29

The headphones were quite a bit better though and featured active noise cancellation.

The amenity kit was disappointing. An unbranded bag with a couple of basic items inside as well as two hotel toiletry sized Hermès products, just like the ones used by the Sofitel in Amsterdam for example.

GA F CGK-LHR-21
GA F CGK-LHR-20
GA F CGK-LHR-22

Overall I actually preferred the design and contents of the Garuda Business Class kit!

Much like Emirates, Garuda offers a writing kit for First Class passengers although most people are far more likely to be interested in the complimentary WiFi offered to First Class passengers (which was unfortunately very slow in my experience). The writing kit was really scuffed up and old looking, much like a lot of the surfaces within the suite; the interior designer should have suggested a darker leather finish for both…

 


Part 1: The Flight to Singapore


I was offered a drink upon boarding and was very disappointed to discover that they were serving the exact same champagnes in First Class as they were in Business! Usually food and drink are the major differentiators between the top two cabins on a plane but this is the first time I’ve ever seen a major carrier keep the drinks list the same. Don’t get me wrong, Billecart Salmon Rosé is a fine champagne (particularly for Business Class) but in First Class it is quite a statement when you don’t serve a prestige cuvée. The statement being: “we’re too cheap to spring for the good stuff and don’t think our passengers are sophisticated enough to notice.”

The warm macadamia nuts were good though and a thick warm welcome towel is always appreciated.

Since we were delayed by around 30 minutes the crew came to top up everybody’s glasses and assure us that we would make up the time on the second leg.

The seat may not be the most modern looking and the champagne not up to First Class standards but these kinds of views make you forget all of that for a few minutes and just marvel at the majesty of flight.

On this short hop to Singapore, the full drinks list was available but the food selection was understandably somewhat abbreviated.


Breakfast Menu

Drinks Menu

It wasn’t just the champagne that was decidedly Business Class: Gordon’s Gin, Heineken, Dow’s Ruby Port and Martell Cordon Bleu. Not exactly top shelf stuff…

 

The dining table was absolutely enormous and would comfortably have accommodated a second diner, sitting on the ottoman.

The table setting was every bit as impressive as in Business Class, with the tableware being varied and having a real sense of place on board Indonesia’s flag carrier. The yoghurt was served in a bowl rather than a plastic pot, as favoured by many other airlines (no yoghurt brand is so impressive that an F passenger prefers to see the packaging rather than eating out of an actual bowl).

The fruit was fresh, sweet and delicious. I was particularly happy to see the dragonfruit, although I couldn’t help feeling that other local favourites such as salak and mangosteen were conspicuous in their absence.

The fried rice with chicken sate was delicious. The peanut sauce had a nice kick to it (unlike the version you’ll often find in Malaysia or Singapore) and the accompanying chilli pickle was spicy enough to peel paint from a railing – just the way I like it.

Shortly after my plates were cleared I peered through the window and began to see the familiar sight of hundreds of shipping tankers on the approach to Singapore harbour.

 


Intermission : A brief stop in Singapore


First Class passengers were invited to disembark first and we were each greeted by our own personal assistant with a buggy. I was asked whether I wanted to head straight to the lounge or if I wanted to do some shopping first.

If you know me, you know that I couldn’t come to Singapore and miss out on this. Sticky, sweet and spicy squares of meaty deliciousness.

Thoroughly confused by the fact that I wanted to visit a meat stand rather than say Dior or a perfume shop, my Singaporean assistant then drove me to the DNata lounge used by Garuda. I had previously reviewed this facility and was really looking forward to one of their barista-made coffees before heading back to the plane. Granted, it isn’t as fancy as The Private Room but at least us First Class passengers were given a private area to hang out in, which offered table service.

GA F CGK-LHR-49
GA F CGK-LHR-48

After around 45 minutes we were driven back to the gate and boarded the plane through our own separate security channel (since all security is done at the gate in SIN).

 


Part 2: The Flight to London


Back on board and back to business. I was welcomed onto the plane and offered another warm towel alongside some macadamia nuts and my choice of drink. I decided to move on from the Billy Rosé and tried a glass of the Marc Morey Chassagne Montrachet, which was genuinely fantastic. Bizarrely this wine is probably better than any still white served on any other carrier, yet the champagne is the same one served in Business…

I took this opportunity to peruse the main food menu, the entirety of which would be available to me over the next 13 hours or so.

 

Main Food Menu

 

One very unique aspect of flying First Class with Garuda is that you are contacted in advance of your flight by a special team that will fulfill any specific catering requests that you may have. I ordered two of my favourite Balinese specialities and was looking forward to seeing how they would turn out. (I had also requested Krug Rosé and Pol Roger Winston Churchill but they weren’t having any of it!)

Once we were up in the air most passengers asked to have lunch straight away. Since I was still on UK time I wasn’t particularly hungry so just asked to have some caviar. I’ve no idea why but the photo I took capturing that moment is still to this day my most liked instagram image ever:

View this post on Instagram

Caviar service on board #garudaindonesia First Class. I really dig the presentation 👍😄.The caviar sits in a glass bowl, within a wooden box filled with ice. The caviar is accompanied by cream cheese and blinis as well as Indonesian rice crackers. The portion size is very small though (about half the size of the jars you get on CX or JL). Whilst I like the idea of the crackers, I'm pretty old fashioned when it comes to caviar. I tend to eat it plain, using the mother of pearl spoon 😃. You may have noticed that I'm not drinking champagne🍾. The reason for his is that Garuda doesn't serve a First Class champagne😠 You can either have Billecart Salmon Rosé (their business class champagne) or Taittinger NV (a £20 bottle of plonk). I can't imagine why Garuda have so obviously shot themselves in the foot with this choice. Truly unacceptable for a competitive First Class product.

A post shared by 𝕁𝕒𝕣𝕧𝕚𝕤 𝕄𝕒𝕣𝕔𝕠𝕤✈️ (@theluxurytraveller) on

Fantastic presentation with the sake box filled with ice and the MOP spoonFantastic presentation with the sake box filled with ice and the MOP spoon
Not the biggest portion thoughNot the biggest portion though

After I finished the caviar, the crew came to check if I’d changed my mind and wanted anything more to eat. I asked if they had any more macadamia nuts and improvised a truly delicious main course 😉

It transpires that spicy Bak Kwa slices pair superbly with a chilled Chassagne Montrachet.

After my light meal I asked the crew to make up the bed and headed to the bathroom to get changed into my PJs. I had been asked my size in advance and went with a Large which fit…ok. The sleepwear was unbranded and not particularly breathable or comfortable.

Unbranded Garuda First Class PJsUnbranded Garuda First Class PJs
Some basic amenitiesSome basic amenities

The bed setup was very impressive. The bedding was very comfortable, helped in no small part by the three full sized pillows. The mattress topper also ensured that the sleeping surface was soft and free of lumps. The privacy was incredible too, with the robust and tall doors far better than the flimsy blinds set into the doors of Singapore Suites.

GA F CGK-LHR-55
GA F CGK-LHR-60
GA F CGK-LHR-59

Best of all, the suite comes with its own air vent meaning you can cool things down for an ideal sleeping temperature.

I awoke after a very solid 7 hour sleep and opened my blinds. There’s nothing like that magical feeling of waking up to a new and unfamiliar view. Especially one as majestic as this.

After such a sound sleep I needed something to wake me up. I ordered a triple shot cappuccino, which was expertly made and served on a very attractive lacquered tray. I was surprised that this wasn’t served with a chocolate or biscuit of some kind though. Cathay are still number one when it comes to pralines served with hot drinks in their top cabin.

I spent an hour or so working on my laptop and reading before asking the crew to serve my lunch.

The meal began with a wonderful selection of tropical fruit served with a chilli dipping sauce. I felt like the Billy Rosé would be the perfect complement to the spice and the fruit and fortunately it was.

Next up was a superb oxtail soup. It was intensely savoury and full of bright and spicy flavours. This came served with some traditional Indonesian crackers and a sambal dipping sauce.

Next came the main course which I had specially requested: Bebek Goreng – Balinese Fried duck. I had really been looking forward to this but unfortunately the duck was tough and chewy. Not a patch on the almost ethereal version served at Alila Villas Uluwatu. The vegetables were quite soggy and overcooked too. I guess a crispy texture is hard to achieve on the old steam ovens on a 777. In fact I can’t recall a time I’ve ever encountered a truly crispy texture on a protein served on a plane.

Thankfully the dessert which I requested was every bit as good as the best version I ever had in Bali. Bubur Injin is a sweet porridge made from black rice, coconut milk and coconut sugar. A far easier dish to reheat on a plane and so good that I could have easily eaten two more bowls. The glass of Chateau Myrat Sauternes was excellent too.

I ordered a French press of the single origin West Papuan coffee to conclude my meal. For some reason it felt really indulgent to have a whole pot to myself (yet I was disappointed by the subpar champagne 😅).

An hour or so after my meal the captain announced that we would soon be making final preparations for landing. At this stage the crew came round to hand out hot towels and thanked each guest individually for their custom.

I looked out of the window and smiled as I saw the sun illuminating the city which I’d left only two days earlier, it felt like I’d experienced so much since I’d last set eyes on the Thames…


Conclusion


There’s a lot to like about Garuda as an airline but one thing is abundantly clear. The Business Class is so good that First feels slightly disappointing in comparison.

The tableware, hot towels, food, drink and amenity kit are almost identical between the two products. The IFE is just as antiquated in both cabins and is well overdue for an upgrade. I found the service to be professional and well intentioned but somewhat lacking in warmth. The crew didn’t go out of their way to make proactive suggestions or engage in conversation in the way that I’ve encountered on JAL, ANA, Cathay or Singapore – airlines which are natural competitors for Garuda.

I couldn’t help feeling throughout my experience that Garuda was playing at providing a First Class product without actually having the budget or the wherewithal to deliver on the premise. The windowless lounge was a lacklustre start to an experience that came infuriatingly close to being excellent but fell short in multiple ways.

The caviar presentation was beautiful but the portion was so measly that it ended up being a big old serving of assorted carbs with cream and a tiny bit of actual sturgeon roe. The champagne is not up to First Class standards and neither are any of the spirits. Having said that, the still wines were rather good as was the coffee – which shows that Garuda are able to get things right when they want to. The bed was very comfortable and the privacy was excellent. With a quick refresh of the upholstery, the addition of an HDMI port and a large new screen, the hard product would easily hold its own against the top tier of First Class. The writing kit is pointless and the condition it was kept in meant that it was a net detractor to the overall experience. The PJs and amenity kit both seemed cheap in a world in which other airlines are really making the most of their partnerships with top luxury brands.

Given everything I experienced on this trip, my summary is this: Indonesia is great and so are the people, I never pass up a chance to visit and am always delighted to be there. I am happy that Garuda is as good as it is in Business Class (easily in the top 5 airlines despite the slightly dated seat) however First Class needs some improvement before it can compete in the same way.


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