In the past, Garuda Indonesia had mostly been known as a regional carrier focused mainly on short haul flights within Indonesia.
However, the Indonesian government recently completed a brand makeover of Garuda: expanding service routes, upgrading planes, and launching a proper first class product. The result was the airline’s first ever five star rating in 2014.
Flying Garuda Indonesia’s first class product and experiencing its legendary Indonesian hospitality has always been on top of my mileage wish list. However, with mileage redemptions restricted to only those with a small fortune of Garuda Miles, it always remained just a wish.
This all changed in late December when Garuda Indonesia had an incredible 90% off mileage flash sale, cutting the cost an award redemption for first class to basement low prices. I ended up redeeming a mere 13,500 Garuda miles + $76 for my first class flight from Jakarta to Tokyo, with a tag on flight in business class from Hong Kong.
The retail cost of the flights would have cost around $7000 (54,311 HKD).
To say this was the mileage deal of the year would be putting it mildly. For comparisons sake, a one way ticket in coach within the US on United or American Airlines would run you 12,500 miles. Instead, for an additional mere 1,000 points I was able to book one of the finest first class products in the world!
At 8:30 PM my Mercedes picked me up from the Grand Hyatt and we began our relatively short one hour drive to Jakarta airport.
Inside the Mercedes were two bottles of waters and quite a few mints.
Upon arrival, I was warmly greeted at the curb by two first class escorts, who proceeded to take my passport and bags.
We then zipped through the priority security lane in a matter of seconds, a complete 180 from my previous experience with Jakarta Airport’s notoriously long security lines.
After being checked in, I was taken straight to the lounge, bypassing any sort of immigration queue.
That’s right, when you fly in first class with Garuda, one of your personal escorts stays behind and personally takes care of immigration matters while the other guides you to the Garuda First Class Lounge.
After breezing by immigration, we arrived at the entrance of the Garuda Lounge and walked straight past the relatively crowded business class section.
At the end of the entrance laid a red velvet rope, which discretely separates the “mere” business class passengers from those sitting in first class.
Upon entering, another first class lounge agent, whose sole job was probably to guard against any unwanted guests, instantly greeted us before we headed down an escalator.
By now, I could tell this was going to be no ordinary first class experience as the sheer amount of people greeting you was just absurd.
If the business lounge was crowded, going down the escalator felt like rolling into your own private VIP mansion.
The lounge consists of four main sections. The dining area is equipped with various small tables lining a patterned wall of mirrors and tapestry.
Adjacent to the dining area is a row of entertainment cubicles to lounge around in.
If you’re feeling sleepy, there is also a row of lie flat seats in the back area, which never seemed to be occupied.
Besides the main dining and lounge area, there is also a separate private room for families, and a small “spa” room.
The centerpiece of the lounge was the Yamaha grand piano, which surprisingly was well tuned.
Afterwards, I headed to the dining area and downed another delightful glass of Billecart-Salmon Champagne, before ordering two Indonesian main dishes: Pan Grilled Fish Satay and Chicken “Pelalah” with Balinese rice.
Ultimately though, my American tastes got the better of me and I finished my meal with plate of “Mexican” Nachos.
After dinner I headed to the shower to freshen up before my flight. The shower room was beautiful decorated and even had L’occitane amenities.
Overall the lounge was bright and vibrant, and there was plenty of seating for the relatively minuscule amount of passengers.
Note: Garuda Indonesia recently switched to the newly built Terminal 3 Ultimate. You can find a review of the new first class lounge here.
Having a few minutes to waste, I chatted with the relatively young staff (all in their mid 20’s), all whom exuded the warm hospitality that Indonesia is well known for.
I was told there were only five passengers in the lounge that night. Amusingly enough, I counted at least 7 lounge staff in the first class area, which if probably the only time I’ll witness a lounge with more staff then flyers.
Soon it was time to board and my lovely first class personal assistant came back and escorted me to the plane.
While a few select airlines offer an escort to the gate, Garuda takes this to a different level. As we walked past various checkpoints, all the employees slightly bowed and greeted me like I was royalty.
We reached the boarding area and calmly strolled by as everyone gawked and wondered who the heck I was!
Upon boarding I was greeted by the entire first class cabin crew and said goodbye to my amazing personal first class attendant, Didi.
I was shown to my window seat suite offered a glass of Billecart champagne, along with a bowl of macadamia nuts.
The first class cabin consists only of two rows of four suites that can be fully enclosed. The seat itself is quite spacious and is covered in partially with beige leather.
There is a large storage compartment located next to window, which was also lined with beige fabric.
One nifty feature I liked about the suite is the built in closet so your clothes don’t get wrinkled in flight.
Lining the window is a compartment stuffed with various reading materials and a hidden power outlet.
A Loewe’s amenity kit was provided, along with a pair of extremely comfortable pajamas.
The best part of the first class suite is a touch pad that allows you to customize your seat position in any way possible, from the position of your footrest to your seatback.
Want a massage? Not only can the seat give an in flight massage, you can choose between various seat massage modes.
Afterwards, my flight attendant came by and asked whether I would like to change out of my shoes into slightly more comfortable slippers. What happened next blew my mind.
Upon taking off my shoes, my flight attendant kneeled down, put on my new first class slippers, before taking away shoes and placing each shoe individually in a shoe bag.
If this wasn’t over the top enough, when taking off my shoes, a red cloth was placed underneath, to prevent my feet from actually touching the floor!
I was a bit shocked at this point, and felt a bit embarrassed having a flight attendant kneeling over, but she assured me it was part of the regular first class service.
In fact Garuda’s first class flight attendants will typically kneel down so you can talk at eye level, instead of standing above you.
We soon took off after a minor delay at Jakarta airport. Since I was on a red eye flight, most of the first class passengers were already asleep and the cabin mood lighting was switched to dark blue.
Soon afterwards, a starter consisting of a generous helping of caviar presented beautifully in a glass bowl along with Kropek, a type of Indonesian shrimp chip, was served.
Similar to Etihad, Garuda has an onboard chef for its first class passengers, and he soon came over to take my late dinner order.
I started off with Garuda’s famous sate (marinated sticks of chicken covered in peanut sauce) which were phenomenal.
This was followed by a salmon sandwich and mango dome cake, which tasted surprisingly delicious.
Note: On longer flights to Europe, the meal selection is more extensive. On a subsequent flight from Amsterdam, one of the starters was a soup served the “high end” way.
After my post-midnight snack, I asked my bed to be made, and a pair of flight attendants quickly turned my seat was into a lie flat bed.
Similar to Singapore Airlines and Emirates, Garuda’s first class suites features sliding doors that can turn the suite into your own private cabin.
With the lights fully turned off, the ceiling was filled with hundreds of LED stars, giving the plane a magical feeling, like you’re on a private Disneyland ride in the sky.
The bed itself was quite comfortable and more even spacious then Emirates’ first class cabin. I quickly dozed off for a few hours.
I woke up as the sun was rising and was immediately presented with the breakfast menu, which had a vast list of western dishes, including waffles and freshly cooked eggs.
However, since we were flying to Japan, I decided to go with the set Japanese tray, made up of various kinds of seafood including salmon and shrimp.
The meal was delicious and probably one of the healthiest breakfasts I’ve had on a plane.
Soon we began our descent, and we landed at Haneda airport ahead of schedule. I won’t lie, secretly I wished the flight would be a bit longer!
Upon disembarking, I was met by another ground escort who accompanied me until I left the departure area.
She asked if I required any ground transportation, and was quite amused when I told her I was planning on taking the commuter train. My ground escort dropped me off at the train platform and my amazing first class experience came to an abrupt end.
In conclusion, Garuda Indonesia first class had the best ground service I’ve ever experienced, making me truly feel like a VIP. The in air service was also top notch and the enclosed suite rivals among the best in the industry. The only thing slightly lacking was the food selection, but it was more than adequate for a 7 hour flight.
From pickup to drop off, you’re spoiled like a king, and while some could argue this was a one off, a subsequent amazing flight in Garuda First Class from Amsterdam was just as spectacular.
Many people might not know this, but NextShark is a small media startup that runs on no outside funding or loans, and with no paywalls or subscription fees, we rely on help from our community and readers like you.
Everything you see today is built by Asians, for Asians to help amplify our voices globally and support each other. However, we still face many difficulties in our industry because of our commitment to accessible and informational Asian news coverage.
We hope you consider making a contribution to NextShark so we can continue to provide you quality journalism that informs, educates, and inspires the Asian community. Even a $1 contribution goes a long way. Thank you for supporting NextShark and our community.