A Flawless Finish To Our Garuda First Class Experience

I’m sorry, as a premium cabin airline geek, I just can’t stop thinking about how amazing Garuda Indonesia is.

I’ve talked about their incredible ground services at London Heathrow, in spite of the fact that they use a contract lounge. I’ve talked about my phenomenal onboard experience from London to Jakarta.

Now I just briefly have to mention how impressed I was by the arrival experience. Let me start by saying that Jakarta Airport is a bit of a dump, so I had low expectations of the arrival experience. Well, now that I’ve experienced Garuda first class firsthand, I realize that I was completely crazy to even think they wouldn’t execute something perfectly. 😉

Our flight arrived in Jakarta at a remote stand. Once the door opened, there were several Garuda representatives waiting to greet first class passengers at the top of the stairs.

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We were greeted by Larizka and Ilham, who said they’d be helping us through immigration and to our waiting car. They apologized once again for the flight’s delay, and that we were arriving at a remote stand. It’s nice when an airline has a separate bus for premium passengers, but in the case of Garuda Indonesia, they had two buses for first class passengers, so that there were only three people per bus. We had a roughly five minute drive to the terminal.

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Larizka whisked us through immigration, while Ilham took our bags and handled immigration formalities. When I say that Larizka whisked us through immigration, I literally mean she whisked us through it, as we didn’t have to go through immigration. She brought us through a separate exit, while Ilham took our passports and processed immigration for us — incredible!

I had heard nightmare stories about traffic in Jakarta, so said “I just need to use the restroom quickly before getting in the car,” to which Larizka responded “I wish you had told me earlier, you could have used the one in the first class lounge, it’s much nicer.” Hah!

Once outside the airport, our car (complimentary for Garuda first class passengers) taking us to the hotel was waiting right by the exit. There was no need to go to a parking garage or to wait for the driver to pull up. We had the choice between a Mercedes E-Class or Toyota Alphard. Perhaps I’m crazy, but I selected the latter, since it’s much more spacious, and I was expecting it to be a long ride. I have a fear of driving, so I’ll take advantage of any chance I can get to be in a bigger car.

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There were bottles of water and towels waiting for us in the car.

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I generally try to follow local customs when abroad, so for the most part don’t tip as much when I’m outside the U.S. However, in this case for whatever reason I felt compelled to tip both of them… and they both refused. At first I thought they were doing so to be polite and that if I insisted again she would accept it, but she didn’t. She said “no, please, it was our pleasure.” So I asked if I could at least take a picture to remember their great service.

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Yesterday I was still a bit conflicted about where Garuda ranks on the list of the world’s best airlines. I definitely thought Garuda was top five. The more that I think about it, I think Garuda definitely ranks in the top two, and perhaps even ranks number one.

I’ve never in my life had such a seamless end-to-end experience on any airline. Ever. Even though Garuda doesn’t have some of the “frills” like an onboard bar or shower, they offer what’s easily the world’s most well rounded experience.

Furthermore, I’ve never on any airline had such genuine service from the moment I arrived at the airport to the moment I left the airport. It’s not just how attentive the staff were, but even more importantly, how kind they were. There wasn’t a single employee we interacted with who didn’t seem genuinely happy to be there, and like they wanted to make our experience great.

Garuda proudly displays their Skytrax 5-star rating on a placard in the back of the cabin, and they deserve it. While I don’t put much weight into Skytrax ratings, in the case of Garuda they got it right.

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Here’s to hoping my return experience is equally impressive.

Comments

  1. Dear Ben, the experience you refer here is part of the same: they are the best!
    I guess you agree with me (go to my comment in your other post) that Garuda is in the top 2, and I still have to think a lot which would be the number one to leave Garuda second, and I get to the conclusion that I’m wrong: they are the Number One airline in the world.

  2. Hi Ben,
    How would you compare this ground experience to your one in France? The one when you paid $200 I think it was.

    Also, kinda strange that you didn’t have to clear customs as a FC passenger.

  3. Hi Ben, im your reader from Jakarta. I’m very glad that you enjoy the indonesian hospitality on GA flights. As you know, since we are now building the new Terminal 3 and it will be completed by next year for international flight (it is now running for GA domestic flight only) i hope you can get a chance to come again and be able to review it (sorry for the dump old Terminal 2). As a proud Indonesian, i would like to say thank you personally for giving GA a special place in your heart

  4. Hi Ben, did you have to book this with them and do you happen to know if they also offer it for passengers flying LHR-CGK one way only?

  5. “I generally try to follow local customs when abroad, so for the most part don’t tip as much”

    Why don’t you NOT tip at all in countries where it is not expected? Especially airline employees, how tacky and typically American.

    Do you tip the crew on flights?

  6. @ Rick — You absolutely get it if flying one-way. I had to book the car in advance, but the arrivals service was automatic for all passengers.

  7. @ Dan — Why don’t you do what you’re comfortable with and I do what I’m comfortable with? Indonesia isn’t like Japan, which is to say that tipping isn’t frowned upon. It’s not unusual for people to be tipped in the tourism sector, and in the same way you’d tip an airport porter, I also felt it was appropriate to tip the people who saved us a lot of time and were incredibly friendly. Sorry you feel otherwise.

  8. @ Yogi — Thanks for the kind words! Indonesia is one of the most hospitable places on earth, and I love it here!

  9. @ Patrick — For an experience at a single airport, the Air France first class ground experience in Paris is the best in the world, hands down. Air France is probably the only other airline in the world that gets the first class ground experience right. So ultimately there are a lot more frills to the Air France ground experience and they have a lot more to work with in Paris, but the warmth of the Garuda service is incomparable.

  10. Lucky, seriously I cannot wait to fly the airline and the same route in F and thanks to your Black Friday tip!! I know, 6-7 months away but I’m certain to tell you how my experience goes!!

  11. Meh. Looks lovely, but I think your review may be biased. Their soft product looks amazing (AMAZING), but I think your experience flying (literally) every singe world class first class has numbed you to what should make the (top five or top two, etc.) rankings. Of course your thoughts are your own, but a few of my opinions:

    -things like free wifi are ok for some, but most of your readership will be splurging to fly F on vacation. As such, it’s less valuable. I don’t bother to open my laptops on intl. F
    -A standard suite will never compare to the luxury of SQ Suites or the EY Apartment, or even the QR a380 bar or the EK bar/shower combo. Those things (all hard products) set the airlines apart
    -Gate to gate (or immigration to street, rather?) hand holding is awesome. But once again, I think you’re biased. (ie, you just wrote about how the luxury of flying is seriously changing. Nowadays, you highly appreciate a fast trak through immigration despite a crappy lounge. Me? I’ll take 4 hours in the $400 per bottle/open bar, with my bath, with my rubber ducky, with my cigar.)

    Overall–I think the travel is starting to wear on you, causing you to appreciate the little things (like very personalized service) more so than most readers might. Just my two cents!

    Keep up the great work!

  12. @ Jake P — Fascinating perspective. If it’s alright, I’ll write a follow-up post about this, as I’m curious how other people feel. Thanks for reading!

  13. This makes me happy to read. I’m always banging on about how great GA are, and it seems to fall upon deaf ears the majority of the time. Frills like on EY/QR do enrich the journey, but nothing leaves a warm lasting impression like incredible, sincere service and thoughtfulness.

  14. @ben or @tiffany – some sort of writeup of premium class offerings and how local economies affect the offerings would be nice. It would seem that airlines in lower economic locales could offer more for less cost; it would seem to be cheaper to pay staff to greet F pax at the door of the plane and walk them through the airport somewhere like this vs NYC.

  15. Looks amazing, but how many times should one fly on a specific airline (or in a specific seating class) before being able to properly ‘rate’ them?

  16. Not trying to pile on, but I agree with Jake P. I find you write the best reviews online and love reading them, but some of the things you care about are not those which your “average consumer” cares about. Most of us get to fly F a handful of times a year on vacation, so the things that make a big deal to us are different. Showering at 35,000 feet is damn cool, and I think ~anybody would agree. Getting my shoes put in individual bags? Great service, but doesn’t change my perception of them all that much.

  17. “Indonesia is one of the most hospitable places on earth”
    Indonesia is one of the most dangerous places on earth and a significant proportion of the population would wish you ill. For the inexperienced newcomer, Indonesia might seem welcoming; certainly some aspects of its tourism sector work well, but that depends on staying in secured compounds. It is not safe to go anywhere in Jakarta after dark, the treat of terrorism is extreme, street crime is high, loony fanaticism is rife, corruption is endemic, the LGBT community is harassed.
    It’s one thing to have a nice experience on an airline, something else altogether to reach the conclusion about a country’s welcome on the basis of a first class flight and personal escort through immigration/customs.
    These Indonesia posts are starting to read a bit like advertising.

  18. @ Lucky- I think it would be a great little piece for different types of travelers to talk about their priorities, like Jake P. does above. Everyone has a different focus- for me the priority is always speed, with the next most important thing being comfort. So I like the speeding through immigration service a lot, whereas the car service is nice, but less important for me. Super attentive service doesn’t mean that much to me, I like the model that you have written about with Cathay Pacific- leaving you to yourself most of the time, but being very helpful when asked.

    So for instance, a nice lounge experience at an outstation doesn’t mean that much to me, because I am likely arriving at the airport not much before my flight. That said, I did give a bit more time at the Air France JFK lounge a few months ago because of their meal service in the lounge. That was something that means a lot to me, because it meant I could get on the plane and go to sleep immediately, saving me at least an hour of sleep. That means a lot more to me than a really nice bar in the lounge.

    The secondary focus on comfort would make the EY apartment probably the nicest in-flight option for me as a somewhat introverted traveler. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly EY unless it was the fastest option or a very close second.

    And because of my focus on speed I would focus much more on non-stops vs. a connection, something that Lucky hinted at with his post about the Lufthansa First Class Terminal.

  19. Mike- Agreed about the benefit of a shower meaning a lot more to me than shoe service. But it’s only a real benefit if you can do the Gary Leff thing and get a shower close to landing, so it’s your way of refreshing and getting ready for arrival. Again, being able to get through things faster is the priority when in “travel mode”, so being able to skip the arrivals lounge/shower at hotel/apartment is nice.

  20. The service looks amazing. It is a huge difference to have car to pick you up than not having one. It’s minor difference whether it is a Mercedes vs a Toyota. Every one has probably different perspective on this, but I definitely would rather take personalized and detailed service over cigar and $400 bottle of wine. Ground service really makes you feel special and I am surprised how few airlines have it right, or at all (say, Cathay F).

  21. @Robert
    Actually, Air France First had an employee walked me through security in SFO and then to the lounge. Then she came back and walked me onto the A380, cutting all the lines with everyone staring. They also had employees waiting at the jet bridge in Paris and took all First Class passengers down the stair or elevator to waiting BMWs for the lounge. There was an immigration office in the lounge to process my passport. When I flew back from Madrid/CDG/SFO, I had the same kind of service as well.

    The attitude of the staff on the ground and on board was nice and professional. But I am sure how it compared to the one Ben experienced with Garuda. Of course, the price was about twice ($6k) for SFO/CDG/BCN then MAD/CDG/SFO round trip.

  22. @ Lucky– Heck yeah do a follow up post.

    For reference: I’m only 24 and I *only* fly J/F internationally 3-4 annually, all for leisure. That means I’m decidedly in the camp that arrives at the Al Mourjan lounge 3.5 hours before departure, just to sample the desserts. And once I’m on the plane, both laptops stay zipped.

    Enjoy your time in Jakarta! My lovely bride and I honeymooned in Bali and have yet to find similarly warm and hospitable people anywhere on earth.

  23. @paolo that’s a rude comments on indonesia and not all things as dramatic as you said, are you a drama queen/king? as an indonesian i dont find it dangerous living here. I live in jakarta, i could do whatever i want, i could go home at anytime using public transportation (24 hours) without having things going wrong. What media feeds your head is just awful. Have you been to Indonesia? How long did you stay? Did you blend with locals?

  24. @Lucky: “Jakarta Airport is a bit of a dump”

    Understatement of the century! 🙂

    In all seriousness, it’s getting better with the new terminal but even I have heard they are having problems with the efficiency of it. Needs a bit of time.

    Garuda has always been excellent every time I have flown them (all in economy). They smartly didn’t serve a meal on their red-eye from Jakarta to Osaka and instead do a quick snack so people can sleep, with a full meal upon landing. Even SQ can learn a thing or two here as they rarely get this right on red-eye flights departing super late (one of my biggest complaints about SQ is this: they sometimes don’t get practicalities right).

    Your immigration experience sounds efficient but I wonder what happened as Garuda used to have Indonesian immigration ONBOARD for flights into Indonesia for First and Biz Class Passengers. Maybe it was on selected routes, but I always found it cool that they did all the immigration formalities on the plane right before landing. Anyone know if that still exists?

  25. Sounds like a good time.
    I’m sure some here will find this review useful, and agree that doing the same reviews over and over gets old for you and readers alike.

    But I gotta admit, this makes me a tad less excited about my upcoming SQ suites class flight that my Fiancee and I booked for 226k miles and 850 cash.

    I thought the whole idea was to travel for nearly free (or at least flights and hotels). And while this is still a far cry from TPG spending 32K on The Residence (honestly, who was that TR even for?), we’re in territory that is or is close to unattainable to those who rely on miles and points. (I could pull off $2500 if I wanted to stretch a travel budget, but factoring in fiancee would be out of range- not to mention this price is not the norm).

    Keep on having fun, just know for that this reader, reviews on PH Maldives and LH F and SQ F and the likes are what intrigued me and inspired me to get into the game. Wheras this… well, just makes me envious.

  26. Ben – This is so disappointing. Now I need to start collecting Delta miles to score a Garuda 1st class.

    On a serious note, glad to see an up and coming country like Indonesia do so well. You definitely are the golden standard in premium class trip reports. I hope the rest of your trip goes as well as your flight trip.

  27. Fear of driving — this is why I love your posts. Even if I dont care about the review, there are frequently little “easter eggs” in there that make me smile. Reading your blog is like reading a good serialized novel where the narrator gradually reveals himself. Kudos to you,sir. If I suffered from as many fears and phobias as you do, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning. Best wishes to you and yours during the holiday season.

  28. @Iowan you cannot use Delta miles for GA F (and actually I dont think you can use DL miles for any SkyTeam F awards) – for GA F its only their own miles or cash though their prices are fairly reasonable, I booked mile earlier this year so outside the black Friday sale and it was ~$2500 o/w (I’m taking EY back).

  29. @CR – I was lucky enough to experience such innovational service a few times on my regular flight ICN-CGK. Sadly, GA is no longer provide the Immigration onboard. It seems that the Indonesian Immigration has refused to continue the service. I don’t know what’s the reason. The service was given to all pax onboard even Y pax. The Immigration officers would go around and stamp your passport once the plane enters Indonesian territory. International pax was also able to pay VOA fee onboard, just like purchasing a duty free item. After arriving you can just go straight to baggage claim. Tremendous time saving, especially in an overcrowded airport.

  30. @Dan I accepted tips when i was ground staff so each to their own you miserable twat. If you were offered I reckon you’d accept. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

  31. @Paolo – He is a troll who got Indonesia mixed up with Iraq and Syria.

    @Mike – “Showering at 35,000 feet is damn cool, and I think ~anybody would agree.”
    I totally disagree. I would much rather wait to land and shower leisurely in a nice large shower on the ground instead of rushing it in a tiny cramped space. The only reason to shower in the air is if you had a very important meeting as soon as you landed. For example: if you were an important government envoy who would head straight to the Presidential Palace upon landing.

  32. Alphard is the best car to roam around Jakarta! You made the right choice.

    About the tipping issue, I had the same experience with you. I tried to tip them and they refused me. Even the driver in the car refused the tip from me. It was just a memorable experience for me. And I love their Indonesian food on board the aircraft.

    The service level of Garuda First class is way better than the Singapore Airlines Suite class. I just wish Garuda Indonesia flies to more destination than Singapore Airlines.

  33. Actually, it is quite possible that the Toyota Alphard costs more than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class in Indonesia. That is the case in Taiwan.

  34. @ Rory — Surprisingly painless, it took less than 45 minutes. I was shocked! So happy we didn’t go for the police escort. I’m guessing the delay helped with the travel time, since we left the airport at around 9PM rather than 6PM.

  35. @Paolo
    What utter rubbish of a comment!!

    I have 4 years as a pilot on Boeing in Indo, stayed in Jakarta, but with about 15 overnights a month all over the country, from Banda Aceh to Jayapura. I never felt unsafe, ANYTIME. Not even when walking in the streets of Jakarta at night, or any other city for that matter.
    I have lived many placed on earth, including years in US and I am from west Europe. In Indo I have never had to worry about my safety (except horrific traffic and poor aviation infrastructure and training). Indo ppl are genuenly nice.

  36. @ Elijah: Totally disagree with you on the accepting tip part. I am in the same camp with Dan. It is not being stingy or anything, but if you have paid for the services, I do not see the need to tip any of the staff if it has been delivered flawlessly by the staff. Do you tip the flight attendants for their good service? Do you tip the luggage handler because he delivered your priority bag out to the luggage belt? Again, tipping it sorry to say a very “American” culture – though dissapointedly spreading everywhere – because this only encourages workers in the these service industry to expect something back which in the first place they should have not taken the job if they do not want to work in the service industry. For me if you really appreciate the service of a staff because of superb service delivery, best is to write to the company to compliment them which will have better impact than giving tips.
    Therefore, I too agree with Dan that it was really a bad move from Ben’s side to want to tip the staff for their job which is part of their job description (and why they were hired and trained for to do).

  37. Today in Indonesia: 2 gay men each given 85 strokes of the cane for engaging in homosexual acts. Not an old-fashioned school boy cane but one that leaves permanent, disfiguring scars. Administered in a public place in front of the usual hysterical baying lunatics for which Aceh is well-known. The 2 had been arrested after a vigilante group broke into their home and found them in bed together. One of the men, a final year medical student, has been expelled from his university.
    Also, in cosmopolitan Jakarta, 142 men arrested ( including foreign nationals from Singapore and the U.K.) in a police raid on a gay sauna ( charge: pornograpghy).
    I diasagree with your characterisation of Indonesia as “one of the most hospitable places on earth” . I like reading your blog but in this case you are utterly ,dangerously , clueless.

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