Saturday, March 31, 2012

Airline's image on the up

Indonesia's major carrier has a history marked by tragedy but it is straightening out its act.

After nine "fatal events" since 1970, culminating in the 2007 Yogyakarta crash that killed 21 and injured many more, Indonesia's national carrier has refreshed its fleet and is now compliant with best-practice maintenance and safety standards. Garuda Indonesia has also overhauled its inflight service in a bid to become one of the best airlines in the world.

It must be doing something right - the carrier has come up as best international airline for January 2012 in a recent Roy Morgan survey of airlines.

It's the latest in a long list of accolades, so Sky Report decided to do our own survey to see if the punters actually agree with the press releases.

We took to social media to seek the opinions of recent Australian Garuda customers. And apart from some minor gripes about food, the mood was generally very positive.

Each of the respondents (we got about 10 via Twitter and SourceBottle - we're no Roy Morgan) said they had chosen Garuda on price. (One got Amsterdam-Sydney for $1000 return.) Several had not chosen at all - the choice was made by a travel partner. One respondent wasn't happy at the time, telling Sky Report he said to his wife: "Why did you book them? They fall out of the sky."

However, he was pleasantly surprised by the experience of flying with them.

None knew of Garuda's hard-targeted transformation drive, in play since 2008, but each had glowing things to say, ranging from "the smiling crew was amazing with our 13-month-old baby", to "the inflight

entertainment was great". Some said the economy cabin appeared to be roomier than others in which they had flown.

To sum up, one of our respondents, who flew Garuda to Bali for a conference and "wouldn't have considered booking them myself", had this to say: "Overall, the experience was so good we've made a point to rave about it to anyone we know that travels to Bali. Their service had the effect of breaking the flight up so that when we arrived we felt fresh and relaxed. It certainly opened my eyes. Watch out Jetstar; I think Garuda is going to show you the value in treating passengers as people and not cattle." High praise indeed.

Service, please

This may be old news to some but there is only one public bus that stops within Australia's busiest airport, Sydney.

Sky Report discovered this on a recent trip, when we walked out the wrong door for the taxi queue and found ourselves at a bus stop, with only one STA service using it. Fortuitously for us, it was for the 400 service - which heads to Randwick, where we wished to go - so we jumped aboard.

But not everyone wants to go to Randwick (or Burwood, where the bus ends up) and with Sydney Airport passenger movements expected to reach 50.6 million by 2020 (from exceeding 35.7 million at present), the one-bus-only situation is a puzzling ineptitude.

Of course, there's a train to Central (expensive) and a fair few private shuttles (requires some organisation) but if those aren't ideal for flyers, they certainly don't suit the millions of commutes a year that airport workers clock up.

"More than 16,000 people from surrounding neighbourhoods and beyond, employed by hundreds of companies, work at the airport every day and many of them have no choice but to drive to work," says the Sydney Airport communications manager, Tracy Ong.

The public transport woes and flow-on traffic congestion are a key feature in the Joint Study on Aviation Capacity for the Sydney Region, released last month, which optimistically contains a raft of recommendations to improve the airport run for everyone.

Much publicised are the Commonwealth and NSW governments' plans to improve major roads around the airport, as well as a strategy to encourage rail use by reducing the cost of the train to something akin to the regular CityRail fare.

But what of those not directly on a train line? Well, the joint study does note the need for new bus services - but only two.

"A significant portion of airport users are from Sydney's lower north, with a concentration of commuter/staff trips to Sydney [Kingsford-Smith] Airport from the Sutherland Shire - both areas which are not currently well served by public transport to the airport," the report says.

It suggests as a "possibility" the introduction of a St George-Sutherland bus service largely for airport staff, and a lower north shore service.

But it also notes the good folk of the leafy lower north aren't exactly great users of public transport.
"While the pool of commuter patronage from the lower north shore is relatively small to warrant a direct service, a Metrobus service could provide a direct bus link from the lower north shore to the airport, also connecting other areas in between," it says.

Confiscation crazy

Next time the guy in front of you in the airport screening queue is emptying his pockets of coins, keys, money clip and the remains of his lunch into a plastic tray, spare a thought for your counterparts in the US and what they get held up behind.

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) allows its officers a blog and on it, they've itemised some of the zanier items they have confiscated.

From snakes to stun guns, the TSA sees it all and, according to Reuters, confiscates an average of four pistols a day.

Spear guns are apparently commonly confused for something that can be carried on. One officer even detected a chainsaw (not exactly a discreet item), fully fuelled with petrol.

And you thought your can of hairspray was a hazard ...

Route watch

Qantas has ceased flying its own planes between Hong Kong and London. Qantas fares booked for Australia-Hong Kong-London will now have the latter leg provided by British Airways.

In the meantime, Hong Kong Airlines has launched a business-class-only service between London and Hong Kong.

The airline is flying one service a day on Airbus A330-200s between Gatwick and Chek Lap Kok.

Reported and advertised fares have been running about a half to a third of the cost of business class on Cathay Pacific.


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