If at First you do succeed Fly, Fly again

Just had a lovely shower. Needed it 'n all. Something has to jolt me into action, and out of the automatic stupor I found myself in prior. I'm in Jakarta airport right now and feeling a bit overwhelmed. Let me try and describe how I got here.

I worked from home on Tuesday. Had spent weeks umming and ahhing about whether to go to work with my bags, or stay home and get a cab, a decision made for me in the end by my boss who pointed out the complete idiocy of going into the office. So I got a bunch done, and signed off at 4pm so I could pack for the cab picking me up at 5pm, a ride I wasn't looking forward to after the awful rush hour fail.

Inauspiciously, the cab was about 15 minutes late. The driver called to say he couldn't find my house; turns out he was on completely the wrong road. OK so I live just off South Bank, and there are also South Terrace and South Bank Terrace around here, but I'd like to think cab drivers specialise in getting to A, in order to take their punter to B, but whatever. Turns out he was a lovely guy, local South London boy and we spent the entire journey talking about football and cricket and the odd other sport. Knew his stuff about Wimbledon, for a Chelsea fan.

I hadn't printed anything out at all, and had no boarding pass. The app had checked me in successfully, but told me that the airport authority required my attendance at the desk. No matter; so far as I was aware, the hand baggage limit was so small that I had to check a bag in anyway. So I found the Garuda Indonesia desks, and felt a bit deflated. I had a business class ticket and was intending to see if I could buy an upgrade to first class, but the first class desk was already in use and another 4 people were in the queue there. Given there's only 8 seats in the cabin I figured it was likely to be full, and resigned myself to sampling merely one of the best business classes in the world (apparently; Garuda were an entirely new airline to me at this point).

A minute or two later and I'm at the desk. A staggeringly friendly woman took my passport, told me I could take both my bags onboard no problem, and tapped away at her computer. I enquired about an upgrade anyway, to which her response was... "Sir, I was just about to tell you about the offer we have on today".

Wait. Really? Holy shit! Yes, they are selling upgrades. She told me the price, I thought about it, told her it was my birthday the next day but perhaps I'd be better off upgrading on the way back but maybe they won't be on offer etc etc ... and before I knew it, I was walking to the ticketing desk. They'd been primed for my arrival, did a lot of tapping, and sent me back to check-in - where the same lass handed me my boarding passes in a cardboard wallet and asked if I'd be OK making my own way through security and to the lounge. I could have an escort if I wanted it, I think. No, really, that's fine, thank you.

Oh wow. I'm about to fly Gardua's first class. Bloody hell!

Through fast track security and towards, but not quite reaching, the BA lounges. Upstairs and to the No1 Lounge. Garuda don't have their own lounge, instead sharing this facility with a few other airlines plus a couple of clubs (LoungeClub, Priority Pass) and pay on the door customers. So it's not very exclusive, and in fact my initial impressions were a mixture of bemusement and self-defence.

At the desk in front of me were two angry men, each trying to pay entry for themselves and their other halves, in vain. The woman on the desk explained, over and over again, that they were currently pretty much full and what little space they did have was for people who had reserved in advance, or were entitled due to an agreement with an airline. Back and forth she went, playing lounge-rage-tennis with the two couples, telling each of them the same story as each bloke kept getting angrier and angrier about being unable to get in.

Once an impasse is reached - whereby both couples stand ever so slightly to the side and insist they're just going to wait until people leave and they can take their space - I gingerly (in both senses of the word) step in and hand over my boarding pass. She gets immediately on her walkie talkie to summon "the Garuda host", and I am escorted away, feeling the vicious daggers being thrust, entirely reasonably, into my back by the ragers. Bleurgh.

Anyway, through the lounge into a small room, just 10 seats, with no-one in it. There's a "this room is reserved" sign, and it's roped off until I arrive. I pick a seat and am asked what I want to drink, so I ask for a champagne. When it's delivered, I'm asked what I want to eat. Obviously I go for the fish finger sandwich because fuck yeah fish finger sandwiches. It raises a smile, but I enquire as to just how popular they are and am told that of course, everyone has them, because fuck yeah fish finger sandwiches.

Seems my holiday might now have begun.

There's a small menu. Outside in the main bit is a small buffet, plus a staffed bar serving free beer and spirits and pay for champagne. I don't know how to get it for free without being brought it, and during my stay this never happens anyway, but I do grab a Tiger beer. Another bloke arrives, who settles down with a laptop and phone that each beep and bloop and chime incessantly for the next half a bloody hour or more, until he finally puts some headphones on. It's quite infuriating, as is the lack of wifi - somehow, no networks are even visible. Whatever.

Having been left alone by the Garuda host, I don't really know what the protocol is for going to the gate. My phone lights up telling me I'll be leaving from 42, which is pleasingly coincidental since I am also leaving behind me the age of 42. The other guy packs up and leaves, and I figure maybe he knows what he's doing so I set off soon after. Turns out 42 is the most distant gate, a 20 minute walk away according to the signs, and in a little pavilion at the end of the pier. Gates 37-39 and 41 don't seem to exist. Eh?

There's a lot of people around but even more seats. I plonk myself down a fair distance away from the gate, and wait. As always I'm too early. Kids are making a lot of noise, and some adult men are walking around in bare feet for fucks sake. The guy next to me is on his phone, having a one-sided conversation since he's not giving the other end even a second to say anything. He tells a story of how his brother always gets upgrades at airports by wearing suits, and today he thought he'd struck lucky when they asked him if he wanted to fly business, but he was appalled when they said he'd have to pay £429 for it.

A friendly, grandmotherly lady with an iPad and ID card sits next to me to ask if I'd mind terribly to spend a few minutes answering a bunch of survey questions about my Heathrow experience today, specifically related to how I got there. Just as the survey comes to an end, boarding is announced. I think perhaps they're going to say it's just for first class, but it's actually for all frequent flyer card holders, people with kids, the old and infirm, and everyone in business or first. This seems to be most of the plane, but nonetheless I somehow manage to get through quickly and the woman checking boarding passes and passports happens to be the woman from the check-in desk. She recognises me and says she hopes I'll have a good birthday. Good memory, thank you so much!

Finally I'm onboard. Let's see what the fuss is about. First impressions? Honestly, not as blown away as I expected. I've read a ton of reviews of Garuda's first class on FlyerTalk, by people who fly way more than me and way more often in First class, and they're universally positive. Whereas I looked at the seat and though, not as wide as Cathay's is it? Doesn't seem as spacious as Qantas, does it?

It does have a sliding door though, which is very cool. The seat faces straight forwards, no angular nonsense, and you can close the door to make it a fully private enclosed suite. I like this, but not yet, because first here come a succession of staff to introduce themselves to me. Sara hangs my jacket up in my wardrobe. Linny comes to say if I want anything just ask her, and Uri does the same thing afterwards. I've got a big menu, but they have a proper chef on board so if I fancy anything else he can try and rustle it up. Would I like a drink? You know how this goes: I ask for champagne. What I wasn't expecting was "which one? We have two". Hello!

It's topped up before we even move away. The weather outside is horrific, and it's actually quite horrible watching the queue of planes in front of us take off. The level of spray looks, to my inexperienced eyes, like it's a really dangerous time to be hurtling along a runway. Surely it's too damn slippery? Or maybe we're on slicks? I dunno. Anyway we're up, not too far off scheduled time. My TV breaks midway through the security announcement, but I'm not too fussed if I have to move since there's only 5 people in the 8 seats and I can always move next door.

As it happens there's no need, it was a very temporary glitch and once airborne I explore and examine the place I'm living for the next 14.5 hours (this ain't a short flight).

There's some Clarins stuff in the amenity kit, which comes in a lovely bag.

I get slippers, presented to me on a mat. They offer to take my shoes, or I can store them under the footrest. I opt for the latter.

I call it a footrest - it's really hard for me to reach, actually. There is a lot of forward space here, which means they can stand inside my suite when pouring champagne.

The entertainment system is a huge screen with very very responsive controls, and when it says "Live TV" it's not lying. There are 9 (I think) live channels!

The handheld remote also has a bit of info on its screen, though it falls short of Qantas's big handheld tablet thing. (Was that Qantas? I think it was Qantas)

There is a handheld tablet thing for controlling lights the seat, though. All yer standard stuff: presets, manual controls, massage, etc.

I'm asked which size pyjamas I wanted, and told that XXXL is probably the best. This takes me aback a bit, and I discuss it with Helen because, oh, I've got free wifi for 24hrs and it's by far the best wifi I've ever used on a plane. Anyway, I say I'll take the jimjams after I've eaten.

Ah, food. The chef comes and introduces himself to me and walks me through the menu, taking my order. There are 5 courses for the first meal and it all sounds lovely. Once I'm done telling him my choices, I put the great noise cancelling headphones back on and crack on with watching Inception.

There's turbulence. Not surprising, the weather in England was properly awful when we left and there'd even been a threat of delay earlier - lots of flights were being delayed or cancelled, but tbh I think a thrice-weekly long haul which itself is the only flight to Jakarta from Heathrow is not one they're going to hold back.

Oh, here comes the food.

First up is caviar with creme-fraiche, blinis, and crackers (a recommended Indonesian addition). Of course it's decadent and lovely.

Bread is presented on some kind of glass slate. It smells and tastes great.

This chicken dish is absolutely out of this world drop dead fantastic.

The solid aspects of the soup are delivered by Sara, and the chef then comes to pour the liquid over it. It's thick and delicious.

Hands down the nicest broccoli I've ever had. Helped that it came with a gorgeous piece of salmon and hell, I even liked the sugar snap peas (I normally wouldn't).

Cheese and crackers is hardly likely to go wrong now is it? Especially when I get a decent glass of port with it.

Salted caramel thing with ice cream, accompanied by a dessert wine. And all throughout, the Tattinger kept coming.

Do you know, I think after that I felt a little tipsy and full? Not entirely sure how that happened. But, in summary: wow. Some of the best food I've ever eaten onboard, and presented impeccably. Thumbs very much up.

Somehow I'd managed to keep track of what was going on in Inception. Well, I say that; I thought it was a ludicrous film where there was precious little point in even trying to keep track of what's going on because it's deliberately wilfully complex and confusing and thoroughly enjoyable nonsense. Certainly more enjoyable than the documentary I watched next, live on BBC World, about the Srebrenica massacre of Bosniaks in 1995. Cheerful, not.

Taking my headphones off for a bit, I'm deafened by a fellow passenger snoring. By now it's time for me to go get changed, as my XXXL pyjamas are waiting for me on a hanger in the bathroom. Distressingly, XXXL are too small. Not entirely - but I can't get my head through the hole in the top without a bit of ripping, and it is a bit tight. Bottoms are OK though. Upon my exit, Sara takes away my civvies to hang up until I want to change back. Really, you're going to hang up my clothes? Go on then!

My suite has been made up into a fully flat bed, with sheet and blanket and pillows, and the glass of champagne filled up. I adjust it a bit and start watching a documentary about Mo Farah while finishing the drink. With some help, I close the doors to my suite and drift off to sleep.

I wake up a few times, but probably no more than when Helen's cat Buster gets in one of his aggressive moods. After 4-5 hours I wake up properly, not least because there's turbulence. There's been a lot of it, and will be for most of the journey in fact, which is a shame because all the while the belts are on I can't go to the loo, nor can I ask for more booze or anything. In the end that's probably not too bad a thing.

Once I sort my seat out, and manage to finally get some power to my phone - neither of the USB sockets work, and in fact are both really difficult to get the cable back out of - I start watching Kung Fu Jungle, the first new martial arts movie I've seen in yonks. It's great. While I'm watching it, they notice I'm awake and ask if I want anything - yes please, an orange juice and some nuts. Excellent.

A little while after the chef is back, taking my orders for breakfast. He tries to encourage me to have much more than I actually order. Listen mate, I'm already XXXL, don't push it.

There are hot, lovely pastries.

Then a cute fruit salad.

Then scrambled eggs with chicken sausage and sauteed mushrooms. This is excellent.

Yeah, I'll have a fancy pot of green tea to go with it please. What do you mean there's more than one type of green tea? No, I didn't read the extensive tea menu when I took a photo earlier. Just whatever you suggest, please.

The seatbelt signs are on throughout the meal. Most of the liquids threaten to overflow at one point or another, the only one to succeed being the tea, all over my top. Thank goodness for the sleeper suit!

I'm also on wifi a lot, since by now it's Wednesday morning UK time, and Chris and Helen are up. The wifi really is fantastic, I can share photos with them easily, and the same login works on both my phone and iPad.

I watch The Founder, the film about Ray Kroc from McDonald's. There is terrible dubbing using a voice nothing like Michael Keaton's whenever he swears. Since it's a dramatisation of real events anything I say can't really be considered a spoiler but nonetheless I'll restrict my review to two things:

  1. It's a very good film
  2. It's the least heartwarming success story this side of the Steve Jobs biopic

I think I prefer heartwarming failure stories like Anvil, but anyway. Once it finishes, I go get changed back into real clothes and also freshen up - clean me teeth, mouthwash, moisturiser, some weird Evian "facial lotion spray" stuff, etc. Feeling as good as new, I return to my now-a-seat-again suite having given my PJs away to be folded and packed for me to take away. The stationery folder has been opened and placed strategically for me, but upon enquiry my hunch is correct: I don't need to fill anything out because I'm only in transit.

I'm offered more food. Really? Yes, there's a separate section of the menu for "stuff you might want before you land" don't forget. Oh god, OK then. How about this absolutely gobsmackingly wonderful banoffee tart, washed down with a champagne?

Apologetically, I am forced to try the other champagne since they've run out of the Tattinger. I presume that's my fault. They definitely haven't run out of this Billecart stuff though, because in the last 90 minutes of the flight I receive FOUR refills. C'mon now!

Chris is tracking me on flightradar24 and tells me I'm about to pass Kuala Lumpur. Oh, really? I'm 12 hours in and the windows have been shut the whole time and I've not looked at the moving map even once. What's wrong with me? So I open one of my three(!) window blinds and, oh, is that KL? I think that's KL.

A "how was your Garuda experience?" survey arrives at the same time as an unbidden top-up, so it would seem rude not to fill it out. I give almost entirely positive feedback, bitching only slightly about the cabin being a bit hot, and the shared lounge at Heathrow being crap. Move to T4, damn it.

A documentary about homelessness in Hawaii comes on, and is exactly as sobering as the champagne is pissed-ing(?) meaning I stay at a nice enjoyable level. Everyone's awake now - Kevin's continually accusing me of flying via places I'm going nowhere near like Amsterdam or Hong Kong, and Helen is eating grief ice cream at 1030 UK time.

There's a slight delay in our landing time, and lots of islands and clouds and stuff to take bad photos of.

There are about 6 kinds of cloud formation visible at once, in numerous places. Some serious weather around here.

Eventually we're over Indonesia, I think, and the colours are mental.

Some announcements are made. In the Indonesian one I hear the words "first class"; in English they just say we'll be getting off first. Also something garbled about flight connections, I don't catch it at all. But we're descending, and I realise I don't really know what to expect on the ground. New airline, new airport, new terminal - literally: it has only been open a couple of months. I try in vain to find out online what lounge I'll have access to. Will I be able to visit the first class lounge because I'm arriving off a first class flight, with my next leg in business? (There is no first on the planes to Australia) Who knows?

A bag arrives: in it are my XXXL pyjamas, and the slippers get bagged up too and then the amenity kit thrown in. It says "First Class" on it and feels very ostentatious. Do I want to be wandering through the airport with it?

I probably don't, to be honest. Best to be circumspect, so I hurriedly decant the contents into my bags before getting off the plane. That was a disgustingly opulent and fantastic way to spend the first few hours of my birthday. Let's see what Jakarta CGK terminal 3 is all about, shall we?

Created By
Darren Foreman

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