In my two years of wheelchair travel, I have had the opportunity to fly on 16 different airlines. I logged my 16th, Garuda Indonesia, a few days after Christmas 2015. The airline operates a short 1 hour, 20 minute flight between London’s Gatwick Airport and Amsterdam, Netherlands. I was able to get a really good deal on a Business Class ticket ($199), and decided to review it as part of my series on the benefits of flying first/business class if you have a disability.
The flight, number GA 89, was operated by a Boeing 777-300ER, and continued on to Jakarta, Indonesia after the brief stop in Amsterdam. Since my final destination for the day was Munich, Germany, I hopped off the plane in Amsterdam and caught a flight to Munich on KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. In this blog post, I’ll review my experience from check-in to arrival on Garuda Indonesia flight 89, including details of the wheelchair assistance I received.
This trip was my first time flying from London’s Gatwick Airport since I became a wheelchair user. For travelers staying in Central or Northern London, Gatwick will not be the most convenient airport. For the purposes of this trip, though, I dealt with the inconvenience in order to experience Garuda Indonesia for the first time.
Check-in opened for my flight about two hours prior to the scheduled departure of 11:25 a.m. It took a few extra minutes at check-in because of my wheelchair, but I was allowed to take it to the gate myself. The airline offered to send me through security and passport control with an attendant, but I declined and managed it on my own.
The airport itself is very wheelchair accessible, and I was able to use a dedicated/private wheelchair accessible restroom, located in the check-in hall. These facilities were located throughout the airport, and are a perfect place for a wheelchair user and personal assistant to seek the necessary privacy.
The airport had an expedited security screening line that I could use, and I was through in a matter of minutes.
No. 1 Business Class Lounge
After check-in, I stopped by the No. 1 Business Class Lounge. I received complimentary access with my Business Class ticket. In the lounge, I was able to connect to wi-fi, grab a snack, and have a couple of drinks at the bar. It was a nice place to relax before my flight, and had a very clean (and private) restroom for wheelchair users.
Boarding was a breeze.
After booking the flight about a week in advance of travel, I called Garuda’s disability services desk, and requested boarding assistance with an aisle chair. You can find contact information for this and other airlines in my list of who to contact for wheelchair assistance at major airlines.
I was eager to try out this new airline, and I showed up to the gate area about 5 minutes before boarding was set to begin. The airline’s staff were there and ready to help me aboard using the aisle chair. I took my wheelchair down the jetway to the door of the aircraft, and transferred into the aisle chair. The staff were courteous and respected my instructions, which I find is true of most airports in the United Kingdom. The level of wheelchair assistance that has been provided to me in the U.K. has truly put the U.S. airlines to shame.
My wheelchair was taken down to the tarmac and loaded into a cargo container, which is common on wide body jets. This protected my wheelchair from damage during the flight, as it was the only item stored inside the crate. I was able to watch this process from my seat, looking out the window. My wheelchair has never been damaged on flights to, from or through the United Kingdom, which is a testament to the care that is shown to these crucial pieces of mobility equipment.
Within a few moments of settling into my seat, the purser/lead flight attendant introduced himself and offered me a pre-departure beverage. I selected the champagne, pictured above. Ardy, the stuffed camel I picked up in Dubai, was looking at the champagne with jealousy.
A hot towel was served alongside the pre-departure beverage, which was a nice treat.
My Business Class Seat
There are three classes of service on Garuda Indonesia – First Class, Business Class and Economy Class. I could justify flying Business Class because of the relatively low price, but First Class was well outside of my acceptable price range. The picture above shows me seated in seat 6K, the first row of Business Class. The photo was snapped by a flight attendant during meal service, somewhere over the English Channel. I’ll now take a look at some of the features of the seat, and get back to food & beverage later in this post.
Garuda’s 777 has staggered business class seats. Pictured above is the seat behind me, 7H. This seat was closer to the aisle, with the armrest between the seat and the window. Since I wanted to be closer to the window, I chose seat 6K. The seats lay flat at a 180-degree angle, and are great for sleeping. A pillow and blanket is provided to all passengers in Business Class. The armrests do not lower, which means you’ll have to slide over the armrest yourself, or be lifted over it if you cannot walk.
The business class seats on Garuda’s Boeing 777 have an adjustable/articulating headrest. It can elevate a couple inches, and be adjusted on both sides. The headrest was comfortable, even for me (I used to stand at height of 6’3″).
The seat could be adjusted using the controls, located in the armrest table next to the seat. A remote control for the inflight entertainment system can also be found here. The flight attendant call button, and controls for the overhead reading lights are located on this remote.
Reading lights are located above the seat. Something that frustrated me about this aircraft was that there were no individual air vents, so there is no way to control the air flow to your seat. As I am typically quite warm when flying, I like to have a steady flow of air in my general direction. This is not possible in the business class cabin on Garuda’s Boeing 777.
Business Class offers a decent selection of movies on the inflight entertainment system. There is also a moving flight map that allows you to track the progress of your flight. I didn’t have time to watch a movie, so I kept the flight map open for most of the journey. The screen is built into the seating pod, and is nor adjustable. Still, the picture was pretty good, and it was easy to see with the window shades closed.
Each business class seat has a power outlet located near the floor, as well as two USB plugs. I was able to charge my cell phone and laptop during flight.
The business class seat was very comfortable, but I did hit my knee on the tray table more than a few times. This tray table attachment could have been designed better, and it is certainly something to be aware of.
Inflight Service, Food & Beverage
Garuda Indonesia is one of seven 5-star airlines, as certified by SKYTRAX, who evaluate passenger comfort and service. Garuda was only the second of the 5-star airlines I have flown, so I was eager to see if my experience aligned with the rating.
It was hard for me to judge on a flight that lasted little more than an hour, but I will say that it was the best 1 hour, 20 minute flight I have ever taken. While there are better business class seats on the market (see my review of KLM’s new Dreamliner), the attentive service of Garuda Indonesia was unmatched, and their wheelchair assistance services were well managed.
Pictured above is the flight attendant that was assigned to look after my needs. Here, she is pouring a glass of champagne at the start of the inflight meal service. My glass was never empty.
Given the short duration of the flight, meal service was just a “small bite,” which consisted primarily of salon and fruit. The food was very tasty, and definitely more substantial than the meals typically offered on intra-European flights. Had I continued on to Jakarta from Amsterdam, a full, multi-course meal service would have been offered. [youtube_embed” src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD_r8C8GNKA”/]
Arrival to Amsterdam
The descent to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is my favorite in all the world. As you can see from the video above, it is incredibly beautiful. If you ever fly to Amsterdam, be sure to look out the window and take in the view.
When we arrived at the gate, the aircraft was greeted with an Ambu-lift. The Ambulift is a truck that allows wheelchair travelers to deplane and be reconnected with their wheelchairs immediately. The truck then transports the passenger to their connecting flight, to passport control, or to baggage claim. On this trip, I went to passport control, in order to enter the Schengen Area and continue my journey with KLM to Munich.
For more information on the accessibility and wheelchair services at the Amsterdam airport, check out the Amsterdam wheelchair accessible travel guide.
While I’ve only flown Garuda Indonesia once, I was impressed by the airline’s attention to detail, and their concern for my comfort and convenience. The wheelchair assistance services were handled superbly, and the airline’s staff treated me with respect and dignity. The business class seat was comfortable, and I would look forward to flying Garuda should I make a trip to Jakarta in the future.