Family-Friendly Flying

Nov 4th, 2010, in Featured, IM Posts, Travel, by

How to get where you family needs to go with minimal stress? Which Indonesian airline is best suited to bringing the wife and kids?

children flying

Like Ross who when his family grew sacrificed his love of Jakartan public transport for Jakartan taxis, many people have to reconsider how they travel if they are bringing children, especially babies and toddlers.

But what about flying domestically in Indonesia, when you have a baby on board? Is family-friendly flying possible, and if so which airline is the most family-friendly?

We will look at some relevant issues below:

Price | Punctuality | Facilities | Baggage | Safety


Price

Parents are already paying extra to bring their children. Which airline has the most family-friendly pricing policy?

You may not realise that currently the only Indonesian domestic airline which gives a cheaper price to children aged 2-11 is Citilink, the budget wing of Garuda Indonesia.

Citilink logo
Children fly for less than adults, only on Citilink

All other airlines charge the same for adults and children. (And curiously, when booking some airlines online you still need to enter the child's date of birth, despite the fare being the same as for an adult.) You might have thought that this was because on more budget-oriented airlines (e.g. Air Asia, Lion Air) there are few or no in-flight services (e.g. free food) which are cheaper for kids. However, Citilink also only gives a plastic cup of water and a snack to each passenger, so maybe not.

Note also, this does not necessarily mean that Citilink will always have the cheapest fare for families; other airlines' adult price may be cheaper overall.


Punctuality

Being stuck in a crowded airport because the flight has been delayed is no fun, especially with children. Which airlines have the best record for punctuality?

This is hard to verify independently.

Mandala Air logo

Mandala Air publishes its On-Time Performance here (last month 83%), and claims to be the first. Citilink used to publish its OTP on its homepage, but it was always 100% - seems unlikely - and has recently disappeared.

So, here is some general guidance: The younger the planes, the less likely there is to be a delay caused by plane issues or unscheduled maintenance. Next question: which airline has the youngest fleet of planes? Mandala Air's webpage used to invite passengers to fly on "the youngest armada" of aircraft, while Lion Air is the official "first to fly" airline of the Boeing 737-900ER. Garuda is ordering new Boeing 777 planes, but they will be used on international routes only.


Different airlines claim to have the newest planes

There are some impartial statistics at the Indonesian Inspector-General of Civil Aviation's domestic airline statistics page. It says when each plane in the airline's fleet was manufactured, etc. However, I can't vouch for how up to date they are.

However, it is not only the airlines' fault. Many of Indonesia's airports are operating above their intended capacity. For example, Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport had 37 million people fly to/from its airport last year; it's designed to handle a maximum of 22 million. Similarly, Surabaya's Juanda airport's capacity is 6.5 million passengers; it received 10.8 million last year.

Of course, better late than never. In this regard, Merpati has a reputation for the most cancellations, with Batavia Air running a distant second.


Facilities

Which airline offers the most complete facilities for families?

Garuda logo

Garuda Indonesia wins this one because it is the only full-service airline. An added bonus: in Jakarta and Surabaya, passengers can also use the less crowded nicer international terminal for domestic departures. For recently arrived passengers on international flights, this removes the need to change terminals.

However, even for Garuda there are some areas for improvement. It doesn't offer baby bassinets on domestic flights; maybe that's not so much a problem for e.g. Surabaya to Denpasar (50 minutes), but it would be on e.g. Jakarta to Manado (3 hours 10 minutes) or Jakarta to Jayapura (over six hours, overnight). And in my experience, Garuda is also the only airline that makes passengers place their prams/strollers in checked baggage when checking in, rather than at the departure gate.

At the other end of the scale, Air Asia and Mandala Air now operate from the new Low-Cost Carrier Terminal 3 in Jakarta. While Terminal 1 has air-bridges for some flights, Terminal 3 doesn't; all passengers must walk upstairs to enter the plane; this may not be so nice with small children, especially in inclement weather.


Baggage

Having your baggage damaged or lost is no fun, especially with children. Who has the best or worst record?

Again, it is difficult to accurately verify or make impartial judgments.

My extended family and I have had the following negative experiences, over the years:

  • Lion Air: Pram broken beyond repair.
  • Garuda Indonesia: Bag slashed while transiting Denpasar, but no items/valuables missing.
  • Batavia Air: Wheels broken off one side of a suitcase


United Breaks Guitars, Lion Doesn't; Lion Breaks Prams Instead

However, it's not all bad news.

  • Unlike Dave Carroll and the Sons Of Maxwell (see above) the author's electric guitar has survived trips on Merpati and Lion Air; no, the guitar wasn't in the cabin, it was in the cargo hold.
  • Fragile items and electrical appliances have survived trips on Batavia Air, Garuda, Lion Air, Air Asia and Merpati.

As long as any complaint is resolved competently and quickly, that is probably just as important. Lion Air couldn't help with the broken pram, but what was more annoying was there no form or way of reporting the damage; the ground crew just suggested leaving it there for them to repair (when it was clearly irreparable).


Safety

You aren't going to bring your family on an unsafe airline. Which airline has the best safety record?

This area is discussed in more detail here, so this is the short version.

These airlines are currently permitted to fly in EU airspace:

Air Asia logo Batavia Air logo
Citilink logo Garuda logo
Mandala Air logo

Meanwhile, Lion Air is currently "in consultation" with the EU about its status, suggesting it will soon join them.

However, this doesn't necessarily mean the other airlines are unsafe, nor that you are guaranteed an incident-free flight on one of the five above.

I have personally flown on all of the airlines listed above, and do not have any major concerns about the safety of any of them.


But this is just the author's opinion and experience; maybe yours are different.

Which airline would you say is Indonesia's most family friendly? Please add a comment with your vote and a reason why.

Questions on the topic are also welcome.


12 Comments on “Family-Friendly Flying”

  1. avatar Oigal says:

    Thanks Chris, As someone who spends (it seems) half his life in the air above Indonesia I would venture that it is not so much the “newness” of the fleet but how many they have. Mandala has a pretty slick fleet these days but the moment one plane goes down the whole fleet seems to run hours late.

    Lion, Nice hosties but fly on time, one wonders why the print schedules..I think its a inside company joke..

    Garuda getting better by the week and really not a bad way to fly with a pretty good points progamme.

    Worst Airport for theft and missing baggage..Surabaya particulary if you are changing planes there. Also the best airport if you must get stuck in..then do it there.

    Funniest Airline Wings “Fly is Cheap” sez it all really and Lions weakest link.

  2. avatar rustyprince says:

    Lion Air is the worst for delays. 2/3 times from JAkarta to Manado. I’ve had 3 hrs longer to enjoy a novel.
    Merpati, I found okay except they really sting you on extra luggage. Trigana/Express not mentioned here but again no probs. Wings same as Lion but I prefer the lassies in this uniform more sexually confident than the geisha like Lion air uniform they have to switch into.
    Now using Garuda to Manado and no probs so far, and price the same as Lion.
    Exiting Indonesia I now prefer Malaysia Air, very tasty meal and with the 20kg baggage allowance for free comparable to Air Asia whose budget value is becoming a myth.

  3. avatar Chris says:

    Hi Oigal and Rustyprince,

    Does Garuda still have the same old “Candid Camera” shows (and no sound/headphones) as its only in-flight entertainment? And if not, what does it have now?

    I’m aware that the new Garuda international A330-200s have multi-channel entertainment, but I wonder if it has filtered down to domestic yet.

  4. avatar Oigal says:

    Actually it is filtering down..on a number of domestic flights (if lucky) you get the full deal in seat video, games etc etc..

  5. avatar rustyprince says:

    Hello Chris,
    It was a few months back when I used Garuda to Manado, and that particular flight didn’t have inflight entertainment. Two acquaintances who fly all the time on this route, often with Garuda, have also confirmed no infotainment.

  6. avatar Chris says:

    Hi Rustyprince,

    Another question: You said:

    Merpati, I found okay except they really sting you on extra luggage.

    What’s the going rate for excess baggage on Merpati? You seem to have more experience in this area than me; I thought baggage limits were (like many other laws) not really enforced on domestic flights.

  7. avatar rustyprince says:

    I posted a reply to you a cuple days back, must have got lost over the Java Sea.
    Merpati, Ambon to Banda, and Luwuk to Sulawesi a few years back were very officious about the extra luggage. I got off the Luwuk extra payement by pulling a crazy Bule, arrrr! Damn! ErRrrr! You get the picture. Kept my self-respect intact in Ambon, didN’t want to look like a cheapskate in front of all the other Bule’s going to Banda. I think the charge was 40000rp per kg and I was 7 over the 15 limit. My ‘bule gila’ display was however much more restrained than the 4 merchants I witnessed at an Air Asia desk who seemed to be 100kg over the limit and burst out with a host of vicious expletives and at one stage tried to hit the airline official, rough stuff indeed!
    I also know from experience that Express Airlines are very precise on the luggage, but I’m more composed now and didn’t let the side down.

  8. avatar Chris says:

    Oigal,

    Indeed I did get lucky on Garuda recently. From Surabaya to Jakarta, there was in-seat video in a Boeing 737-800.

    Alas, the screen couldn’t angle down low enough for my young child to see the kids channel properly/clearly.

  9. avatar Oigal says:

    Ah yes but how far have we come Chris. It’s strange but now Garuda is our airline of choice both domestically ..of course and internationally. That includes all of our partner companies overseas.

  10. avatar Oigal says:

    All,

    Probably wrong forum but maybe Chris or someone can help. I have been asked to advise on a marriage taking place in Bali, mixed couple, legal but strictly non religious. Any ideas on co ordinators, lodging, etc etc.

    Oh doesn’t have to Bali but Indonesia but figured you would have no hope arranging a non myth/religious marriage in Surabaya for instance.

    Can PM or just post…

  11. avatar David says:

    I was quite impressed with Garuda recently, those tv screens will keep the older kids occupied; if I’m not wrong on international flights you get the full range of stuff, like full length movies – I watched ‘Cocoon’ an old favourite – and games, whereas on the domestic flights it’s more limited, but for the diehards they’ve still got those candid camera episodes they always used to show in case you miss them,

  12. avatar Oigal says:

    Hi David, Internationally I would say the best in SE Asia particularly bang for buck. Not as clinically slick as Sing Air but more personable. I say that as a big fan for Sing Air but these days……Meanwhile QANTAS has fallen to levels that rule them out of any regular travel choice.

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