Archive for May 2011
Modified version available from online review forum:ciao.co.uk
• Cheap £600 per person (£200 cheaper than best available alternative)
• Spacious seats (34-inch seat pitch?)
• Pre-book decent seats for free (British airways charge outside of 24-hours)
• Free Brunei tour (transits five-plus hours)
• Chance to book a day-room at the Empire (independently)
• Lovely cabin crew
• The three flight sectors broken up nicely into seven/eight/seven hours
• Breaks in Dubai & Bandar mean leg stretches and relief for smokers
• Asian & Indian Cinema
• No laptop sockets in economy-class (Despite newish aircraft)
• Touchdown and disembark in Dubai enroute
• Long outbound connection in Bandar (Twelve-hours)
• Travel visa for Australians, even for transit (available on arrival)
• No UK or Australia online check-in available
• Dry (no alcohol)
• Duty Free booze bother in Brunei
• Difficult to obtain quality information on travel visas; stopover tour; seats
I would fly Royal Brunei again.
ROYAL BRUNEI may not be for you if: you can’t live without alcohol; travel on an Australia passport; are in a rush; and have a low laptop battery-life.
Alternatively, If you can: live without a drink; but can’t go 14-hours without a ciggie; don’t hold a Australia passport; are not in a rush; have a decent laptop battery-life; love a bargain; and roomy seats; and look for an airline to get you to your destination when they say they will – then Royal Brunei should be right up your alley.
A few inches make a big difference. It is the ability to: open a laptop much more than 90-degrees; to cross one leg over the other; or to squeeze past a seated passenger without passing second base. Another bonus is there is room to sleep between the seats on the floor.
PRICE AND DETAILS
AN ECONOMY-CLASS round-trip ticket cost £600 from London to Melbourne. This was £200 less than the next cheapest airline. The outbound travel-date was 14 April 2011 and the ticket was booked in December. The low-price was perhaps due to the fact that this was a new route. The Brunei – Melbourne flights started only three-weeks-prior. That, and perhaps because the tiny Sultanate still has oil coming out of its arse.
As always, a travel visa check is required for all en route transits/stops and destination. This bit goes on. And on. Skip if not relevant.
DUBAI TRANSIT United Kingdom (UK), New Zealand (NZ), United States (US) & Australia (AU) passport-holders do not require a visa to transit the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
DUBAI STOPOVER UK, NZ, US & AU passport-holders require a visa to stop in the UAE. This is: issued on arrival; free-of-charge; and is valid for 30-days.
BRUNEI TRANSIT UK, NZ, US passport-holders do not require a visa to transit Brunei.
AU passport-holders require a transit visa. This is: issued on arrival; costs BND5.00 or SGD5.00; and is valid for 72-hours. Only Brunei or Singapore Dollars are accepted #.
BRUNEI STOPOVER UK, NZ, US passport-holders require a visa to stop in Brunei. This is issued on arrival; is free-of-charge; and valid for 30-days (UK, NZ) & 90-days (US).
AU passport-holders also require a stopover visa. This is issued on arrival; costs BN$ 20.00 or SG$ 20.00; and is valid for 30-days. Only Brunei or Singapore Dollars are accepted #.
Local currency can be obtained through a nearby currency exchange desk at unfavourable rates. One Brunei or Singapore Dollar is roughly £ 2.00.
# It was difficult to get authoritative information about Brunei visas for Australia passport holders. The Royal Brunei website points to the The Brunei Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade which does not give procedure information or cost. The Australian Government was more helpful, but the information was still incomplete. So I asked passport control directly in Brunei.
AUSTRALIA TRANSIT AND STOPOVER UK and US passport-holders require a visa to transit or stop in Australia. These must be obtained prior to arrival. US passport holders require an Electronic Travel Authority (ETA). Europe passport holders (incl UK) An eVisitor visa. Both are issued electronically; are free-of-charge (although a service charge of A$20.00 applies to the ‘free’ ETA); and are valid for twelve months. There is a maximum stay of three-months for any one visit. AU and NZ passport-holders do not require a visa.
For up-to-date travel-visa requirements for all countries, see: uk.cibt.com, the travel visa specialists travel agents use (although here they do not provide additional useful information on Australia passports in Brunei).
In all cases, to be safe, a passport should have: a blank page; six-months validity beyond intended departure date. A traveller should also have: sufficient funds for the entire stay; and an onward ticket copy.
Duty Free Alcohol and Brunei have a complicated relationship. There’s a good chance the relationship becomes complicated after customs take your alcohol.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office warns that Brunei does not recognise dual nationality. Entry may be refused if found to hold two passports. It recommends Brunei entry on the passport which you exited your last country. This advice may be overly cautions. We travelled with dual passports without bother (although no-one checked). In addition, my wife exited Australia with an Australian passport and entered Brunei on a UK passport. This was to avoid the need for a travel visa.
BEFORE THE AIRPORT
ROYAL BRUNEI’S FREQUENT-FLIER PROGRAMME is called Royal Skies. Miles can be accrued on Royal Brunei and Cathay Pacific flights only. (Whereas frequent-flier programmes with many other airlines allow for mileage accrual on scores of partner airlines). My first attempt to enrol with Royal Skies was almost successful. Almost. A membership number did not generate after a long screen-hang. An effort to re-register was blocked. My details were on file. An email to the service centre generated an automatic reply. It included the statement: we apologise for being unable to accept any requests received via email at this stage. I registered again with a different email address and altered personal details without bother. A day later I received an email to tell me the fare type used was not eligible for miles (designated ‘S’ class). Miles can only be accrued in: B, H, K, L, N, T, V, Y, D, C and J classes. There is an additional caveat: no miles can be accrued where local government laws prohibit the accumulation of miles. It’s a sad totalitarian state that prohibits punters from freebie flights.
So, in a nut shell, if you get a cheap-cheap ticket, don’t bother to enrol, otherwise:
ONLINE CHECK-IN is only available from Brunei at present.
PREBOOK SEATS are possible on Royal Brunei. Not all airlines allow this. Others like British Airways charge a fee outside of 24-hours. Although the very best seats are blocked (bulkheads and exit-rows) – everywhere else is available. We nabbed two-seats together on the side at the back where the plane tapers to a two-three-two configuration -rows 58 and 59 (near the Galley). In addition row 47 (near the toilets) has a two-three-two config.
THE HAND BAGGAGE weight limit is 7-kg. We took about 10-kg without bother. In addition the combined dimensions should not exceed 115-cm (e.g. 56 x 36 x 23 cm) in economy-class. Royal Brunei specifically ban umbrellas and helium filled balloons as part of carry-on luggage. No clown conventions in Brunei then. For a full list of stuff you never considered taking on holiday with you until now (unless you are FSB or CIA or Charlton Heston) see:
HOLD BAGGAGE allowance is 20 kg for Economy Class Passengers. We took 25-kg in one suitcase with no bother.
AT THE AIRPORT
CHECK-IN at Heathrow was relatively painless – a 15-minute queue 90-minutes prior to departure. It was about 30-minutes at Melbourne. Check-in opens three-hours prior and closes one-hour prior to departure. These days, check-in at the airport is often quicker than online check-in because of the long bag drop queues.
DUTY FREE ALCOHOL – Duty Free Alcohol and Brunei have a complicated relationship. There’s a good chance the relationship becomes complicated after customs take your alcohol. The Australia government is complicit in this situation. So says a leaflet given out by Royal Brunei. Get your head around the below rules.
Duty free alcohol purchases made in the UK or United Arab Emirates (or nearly everywhere else for that matter) will be confiscated in Brunei. Even when in transit. Even if the goods are in a sealed tamper-proof evidence bag.
Duty free alcohol purchases made in Australia can be taken into (subject to allowances) or through Brunei. Should Brunei be a transit point, then duty-free alcohol must be in an sealed tamper-proof evidence bag. If not, it may be confiscated.
It might be easier to buy duty free on arrival at your destination. Duty free on arrival in Australia is OK.
ON THE PLANE
FLIGHT TIME – Each leg is broken up nicely in to seven/eight/seven hours. Twenty-two flying hours in total. About two hours more than a ‘direct’ Qantas flight (although there is more ground time on Royal Brunei).
EACH FLIGHT WAS BLESSED in a prerecorded message before each take-off. As a secular-humanist it was a curiosity. A travel experience in that it was to observe an ancient ritual in a thoroughly twenty-first century context. However, I must admit, were British Airways to evoke Christ before each flight – It would make me uncomfortable. I’m yet to reconcile these contrasting attitudes on like facts. Familiarity breeds contempt perhaps?
This way for Mecca
DEPARTURES from Heathrow and Melbourne were about 30-minutes late. On one occasion, apologies came from a Kiwi accent un the cock-putt.
SEATS on the B777-200ER are spacious. It’s difficult to say how spacious. The Royal Brunei in-flight magazine says the seat-pitch is 32″. The website says 33″. While Seat-Guru says 32-34″. My best guess is 33-34″ (based on previous travel with a confirmed 34″ on a Air New Zealand B747). At best, this is three-inches more than British Airways. A few inches make a big difference. It is the ability to: open a laptop much more than 90-degrees; to cross one leg over the other; or to squeeze past a seated passenger without passing second base. Another bonus is there is room to sleep between the seats on the floor. In addition, the Royal Brunei seat-width is 18″ Good for generous girth. This is half-an-inch more than British Airways B777.
However all this said, there is little that can be done for comfort when faced with a rabid-recliner. Traits are 90-to-135 degrees in a split-second without a cursory backwards glance or warning. The particularly virulent variety don’t bother to wait until meals are finished before they launch backwards. This gives a fright as food trays and drinks threaten to and do fly. Another trait is they abuse the unwritten travellers’ code of conduct when the recline is not used for the designated purpose – sleep. Especially galling if the passenger in front of them remains erect. Seat-wise that is. The result is to force the passenger behind to accept cramped conditions or recline too. This sets a chain effect in motion. The final straw is to sit behind a rabid recliner who is a wriggler and a shouter (shout so they can hear themselves over the headphones max volume).
The seat-pitch and width range for all airlines when aircraft type is not taken into account is: 29-36″ & 16.2-19″.
This means Royal Brunei with 33/34″ pitch and 18″ width may have the most spacious long-haul economy seat in its class – and be well above average when all aircraft types are considered. It is odd that this feature is not highlighted or promoted in its literature or website.
Other comfort features include: footrests; adjustable headrests (vertical for neck placement and movable lateral wings); centre arm-rests that rise; and adjustable fold-down tables (back-and-forth). The entertainment system console is near-flush on the inside arm. Better than the armrest top, where the buttons are frequently inadvertently knocked.
However, there are a few comfort cons. The headphones-socket is inside-arm (The ideal position is armrest front); the centre armrest rise stops at 90 degrees. This means couple cannot snuggle shoulder-to-shoulder. The side arm-rests are fixed (some times there is a latch underneath); there are no individual air-con nozzles.
AIRCRAFT TYPE was a Boeing 777-200ER with a seat configuration 3-3-3 that reduces to 2-3-2 for the last few rows where the plane tapers at the back. Best place to pre-book seats.
INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT was small personal seat back screens with plenty of on demand programmes. Examples were: Science and Technology (err…Top Gear… OK I get it); History and Documentary (err…Kate and William: A Modern Royal Romance… Fuck-sake, they are not even married yet) and Drama (err… Glee…Not quite LA Law is it…).
Movies included New Releases like: Tron; Little Fockers; The Tourist. Favourites included: Harry Potter; Mr. & Mrs Smith and Miss Congeniality. A Classic was the original Oceans Eleven.
Best of all were the International films. Movies you would never see on a Western Airline. Like a Hindi singing dancing fighting robot who gets an emotion upgrade (Robot); the story of Indonesia’s fight for freedom from Dutch Imperialists (Laskar Pemimpi); or Japanese science fiction where a WWII battleship becomes space-worthy (Space Battleship Yamato). Not to neglect the blasts from the past in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (Will for Prez anyone?). Games include ten-pin bowling, tennis and golf. Then there was Tetris with multi-player functionality. Fierce.
Watch the world fly by…
One grievance is that the controls are counter-intuitive. For example, two-sets of control buttons (one for films one for games). In addition the console changes orientation when each set of buttons is in use. There is no single enter button, rather forward and back arrows share this function.
It’s not just the in-flight entertainment that whiles away the time. In fact, the most memorable moments are the world. It’s so good I’m sure airlines will soon charge extra for window seats. The views are like you would see in a National Geographic Magazine. Minus the scratched and fogged windows. For example: the flat scarred Australian outback plains. Wavy stripes of tan, ochre-red, and olive – as far as the eye can see. The beautiful monotony is broken by teal lakes, salt basins and clouds shaped like fern-leaves. A different scene can be seen over Borneo. A mocha river splits verdant virgin rain-forest as it snakes its way into a murky estuary where it meets the emerald South China Sea. All the while the plane passes enormous cumulus nimbus the size of city blocks. Then at night you are eye-level with the stars. Below, city constellations sprawl like the milky way. Then there are the man-made miracles like the Burj Khalifa – the world’s tallest building. At nearly 900m, it stands prouder than a dog’s dick. Candy floss clouds. Snow capped peaks. Patchwork paddocks with unsound green hues. You can watch the world fly by. Literally.
Or really watch the world go by…
Or, with a camera – you can get busy inside the plane.
THE INFLIGHT MAGAZINE, muhibah, had feature articles on: Adventure Auckland; Marvellous Melbourne; Royal London; and Chiang Mai. The magazine was mostly content with little advertising.
TOILETS have full-length mirrors and moisturiser. There are no toilets at the back of the plane. Perfect if that’s where you are located. No queues past your seat. Air Stewardesses loiter outside the loos with perfume in a can. I’m not sure whether I should be impressed or offended.
MEALS AND DRINKS The meals were nice. Not too heavy. Neither was the cutlery. It was plastic. Meals were the old favourites: beef, chicken or fish. Some with rice, others with mashed potato. These were generally accompanied by cheese + crackers. Then there was pasta or potato side salad. Deserts were chocolate mousse or ice cream. One brand was Serendipity: Death by Chocolate. Perhaps literally. There was an algorithm worth of E numbers: 407, 410, 412, 433, 466, 471. Breakfast was an egg croissant. Frequent refreshments were offered. At least every two-hours. Juices, water and fizzy-pop. No alcohol mind. There are no nuts anymore. Much to one customer’s dismay (who also happened to be a rabid recliner and a wriggler).
Stop, dinner time…
THE CABIN CREW were attentive, polite and had genuine smiles and eye contact. They were also beautiful and petite. They were impeccably smart in uniforms that included head-scarves. However the slap was caked on. Red and blue face paint.
you WILL eat your ho-fun or else!
EXTRAS Before take-off, mostly steaming hot towels (although tepid ones made an appearance) were provided. Before the plane lands, the flight attendants go the cabin and spray what smells like mosquito repellent. Just in case some bugs boarded I guess.
TRANSIT DUBAI AIRPORT
Passengers must disembark. Hand-luggage can remain on the plane, although best left in the overhead compartments. Common sense dictates that valuables should be taken. Boarding-passes are exchanged for transit-passes. This is done through a single-file bottle-neck for about 300 people. Once through security (metal detector and hand-luggage x-ray – off comes the belt again) passengers are air-side. Here there is access to shops and duty-free. The whole process takes about half-an-hour. Time spent mostly in queues. The rest spent in a 500m loop-walk back to the plane. There were no immigration controls. Some gratitude for small mercies.
There isn’t much time left for an airport tour. It is a transit after all. There were about 20-minutes free. Enough time to queue for a Costa Coffee latte. At 19 Dirhams (£3.50) a pop. Ouch. A little extra juice for the laptop came from one of the abundant sockets (accepts UK plugs). Is this (Electricity) theft? The airport is modern – all glass and metal full of travelators and palm trees.
Royal Brunei use Terminal one. Gates 111/113 were used for our trip. The Dubai terminal one map shows nearby smoking rooms at gate 110 & 109.
Further information can be found at:
The completion of landing card is required for stopovers but not transits. It comes with the sombre statement: Death for drug traffickers under Brunei law. Bandar Seri Begawan airport is small but modern. It has five air-gates each with an air-bridge. A few extra gates are on the side. Small is good. No need for hiking boots to get air-side to kerb-side. At immigration the Australian passport holders were directed elsewhere to acquire visas. Inside the terminal there are about a dozen shops restaurants and stalls. The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf has free Internet with purchases. An access code is given. It also has UK sockets for laptop battery recharge. A large latte costs B$6.50. (£3.25). For meals there is a restaurant called the Coffee Garden. It serves rice straight from the cooker and meat portions from the microwave. Despite this I can recommend the potion-shy beef randang with pickles (B$8). My wife ate the Vietnamese Poh Boh. Mee hoon noodles in broth with beef brisket and sweet basil (B$12.50). She said it tasted like 35p instant noodles. The restaurant has a UK socket in the far left corner. No Internet access. The call to prayer is observed in the airport. Over the tannoy. Loudly. There are a couple of duty-free shops with limited stock range. Chocolate and perfume. That’s pretty much it. Small stalls sell nick-naks; postcards; plates; tacky t-shirts; jewelery; watches; stuffed monkeys; fridge magnets etc. Not much to excite really. Although a foot massage might be nice. For smokers desperate for a fag, Royal Brunei might be perfect. There is a designated sealed glass cubicle under the Coffee Bean.
It seems a small airport can also be bad. Especially if there is a twelve-hour wait for a flight connection. However, here it is easy to make the best of a bad situation.
A FREE CITY TOUR is available for transit-passengers with waits more than five-hours. Alternative paid tours too are available. (city tour, water village, rain-forest tour). After twenty-plus-hours without sleep – we had different desires.
We booked a day-room and transfers at The Empire Hotel and County Club. A driver met us in arrivals with a sign. It’s about 20-minutes drive to the resort from the airport. The day-room was available from 8am-8pm. The cost was B$178 for the room and B$70 for the transfers.
THE EMPIRE is grand. Ridiculously so. It sits next to the South China Sea, amidst 180 hectares of manicured gardens and lawns. Former guests include Heads-of-state and royalty. Slick Willy, Bill Clinton, Prince Charles and the Malaysian Prime Minister (Zoolander anyone?) to name a few. Curiously, Chris Tarrant also makes-the-cut on the fame photo-wall. It’s not the wall I would put him against. The charge: crimes against humanity with his faux bonhomie.
It is not who has been there that makes the hotel spectacular. It is why they go there. My jaw almost hit the floor when I saw the lobby atrium. It’s over fifty-meters high. For scale, a comparison could be made with Heathrow terminal-five. For style, it’s a different league. The roof here is supported by enormous marble pillars. The sort you might see Nile-side. The size-shock means you may miss the ’small’ details like the intricate floor-mosaics, wall-artwork or ceiling-chandeliers, custom-made with Swarovski-crystal. The glass walls allow the best of the outdoors indoors – light and views, not bugs and heat. From the lobby the levels unfold and cascade like hill-side rice-paddy terraces down to the first-floor. Each connected by stairs or escalators.
The room had wow-factor. Amy went wow. I used stronger language. And that was just for the bathroom. It was bigger than our home bedroom. It had: marble-slabs; his-and-her-basins; and a sunken bath with beach views. The room was in the sea-view wing. It had: high ceilings; neutral decor; and a terrace that too looked over beach golden crescent. The bed was king. I felt like an emperor. The lush padded white duvet was a siren to tempt immediate slumber. That and a bed-bomb.
High-tea is available in the vast expanse that is the lobby-lounge. A tiered tray comes complete with savouries, sandwiches, scones and cakes. It is complemented with cream, jam, and coffee. B$35 for two.
A walk along the beach-front at sunset was as memorable as I have ever seen. Layers of gentle white fluffy clouds meandered while simultaneously dark wind-torn ragged types churned. They both framed an ever intense sun as it slowly sank in to the South China Sea. I would have sank a beer were Brunei, like the airline, not dry.
At dusk, we heard the cicada cacophony; saw the distant light-flashes on the horizon; felt the muggy-heat on our skin; and half-tasted-smelled the damp-sweetness in the air. The simultaneous sensory overload can only mean that you are in Asia. That, or just experienced a flash-bang grenade.
The Empire has a Jack Nicklaus designed golf course. It also has nine swimming pools. The hotel that is. Not the golf course. The Thor-pedo could dodge golf-balls en route to a new world record were that the case. Now that would be something to write about. The resort also has a three-screen cinema.
We flew to Australia for a wedding. Our travel experience was a dream compared to some guests. All those who flew Qantas or its subsidiary Jetstar had bother.
The groom’s family were taken off a direct flight to Sydney in Singapore (a party of eight seated together on a A380) and made to wait 14-hours for the next flight (then spread all over a B747). Qantas did not offer earlier alternative flights (although they did provide accommodation and transfers). Qantas have since spent months denying they owe compensation for which they are clearly liable under EU regulations (* update: Qantas has promised to pay 600€ per person after consultation with their lawyers in Sydney). The bride and groom had their baggage delayed by half-a-day in Saigon, sorry Hoochie Man (Their Honeymoon). Later, they were bumped off Qantas and put on British Airways between Bangkok and London. Although the time difference was minor, it meant they lost seat assignments booked six-months in advance. In addition Their Frequent flier numbers were not transferred. This meant they had to manually claim missing miles that should have been credited automatically. The bridesmaid and her boyfriend missed their Lufthansa connection in Asia because Qantas left Melbourne two-hours late. It meant an overnight stay in Singapore. Qantas were unable/unprepared to liaise with Lufthansa to prearrange accommodation. They were told to approach the Lufthansa desk on arrival – at 2am – to be looked after. The Qantas delay meant it took them over 40-hours instead of 24 to get home to Hamburg.
Royal Brunei might not be for everyone – but it fit the bill for us. The fact it is a dry airline made no difference. The twelve-hour layover was a chance to rest and catch some beach time. In addition, as we did not travel on Australian passports – there was no need for a travel visa. The transit in Dubai was an acceptable trade-off for the cheap airfare. I also had enough laptop battery-life to last the trip duration. Finally Royal Brunei arrived in Melbourne on time, so I had plenty of time to make my two-hour connection onwards to New Zealand.
The moral of the story is that there is something to be said for small businesses. In particular – small airlines.
Comments Off | 01 TRAVEL, 01... Brunei Darussalam, 01... United Arab Emirates, 01... United Kingdom, 02 AIRLINES, 02... Royal Brunei, 03 AIRPORTS, 03... Bandar, 03... Dubai, 05 ACCOMMODATIONS, 05... Bandar, PHOTOGRAPHS, REVIEWS