My work trip to Indonesia coincided with the delivery of B737 MAX8 to Lion Air. No wonder that it was on my list of things to do in the country. Let’s not get into the details of how it happened. Let’s just say – it happened! Special Thanks to Lion Air. Can’t thank them enough for scheduling the MAX8 to Pontianak on the day of my flight.
Research & Booking
The idea to visit Pontianak was to visit the Equator Monument. The town is the largest settlement on the equator. What better way to visit than on the MAX8 and Lion Air – the largest airline in Indonesia by market share which had Jakarta – Pontianak as its launch route in 2000. That’s not that long ago!
The airline has grown from strength to strength since then and now operates over 100 B737 series aircraft along with a handful of A330. The airline also has a large order book with close to 300 B737 series aircraft pending delivery just for the flagship airline of the group.
The group operates Lion Air, Batik Air and Wings Air in Indonesia along with Thai Lion and Malindo (Batik Air Malaysia) in Thailand and Malaysia respectively. Lion Air operates with a low cost model but gives baggage allowance.
The website was a breeze for check-in and seat 28A was selected effortlessly.
Information about Soekarno – Hatta International Airport can be found in my previous Trip Report (Batik Air: Refreshing experience in Indonesia)
The departure for this flight was from Terminal 1A and the car dropped me at the departures area well within time.
At 0530 hours the entry gates were free as I walked in through the security check and a quick screening. I reconfirmed with the Lion Air staff on the flight details and showed by printout before heading to the gates.
I was unusually hungry and the last experience had taught me that food is available before security and not after. Sadly, there were only 2 options in this part of the terminal and basic Bahasa with sign language was the only rescue to get what remotely resembled an omelet along with rice.
Security was quick but this time around there was no view of the ramp. This meant that I had absolutely no idea on what to expect.
Boarding was announced at 0620 and as I made my way to the boarding gate, I showed my boarding card and let’s just say I was allowed to break the queue, knowing very little that this was a special privilege based on my request, and go on the apron and not board via aerobridge. The first glimpse was of the split scimitar winglets and before I could really think on which plane this could be, I saw the engine followed by the Boeing 737 MAX 8 written near the rear door. My joy knew no bounds – understandably since this is one of the handful Boeing 737 MAX flying around in the world at this moment.
737 MAX8 is the fourth generation of the 737 family and incorporates split scimitar winglets, new generation engines and improved air frame which assure savings of over 13% to its customers. Lion Air is only the third airline to operate the MAX with sister carrier Malindo being the launch operator.
I took some time to click pictures. Sadly, couldn’t take a snap of the entire plane since it was docked to the aerobridge and there were restrictions on how far I can go from the aircraft. I boarded from the stairs attached to the rear door and made my way into what smelled like a factory fresh aircraft. The aircraft had seen commercial service for just half a day before I boarded.
The aircraft was spotlessly clean with very comfortable seats. I was surprised with the legroom which would shame quite a few full service carriers. The comfort is probably because the MAX 8 is configured with 180 all economy seats, 9 less than the standard B737-800 which the airline operates.
The seat pocket had the inflight magazine, safety card and the prayer pamphlet. My vantage location in the aircraft gave a good view of the split scimitar winglets.
The interiors were the standard Boeing Sky Interiors (BSI) which are available on the B737-800NG series as well. The MAX incorporates a lot of changes but not many on the passenger side, they are mostly in the avionics and usability front.
We pushed back 5 minutes to departure time and taxied to runway 25L. The crew did the safety demonstration during this time and we were no.2 in sequence for takeoff. The engine noise was marginally lower than the 737NG as we left the ground behind and banked northwards setting course to Pontianak. The flight looked almost full.
As the flight reached its cruising altitude, I clicked some pictures & thanks to the weather had a good view for the entire duration. There was no service for this flight. The crew did a quick run with the shopping cart.
I decided to explore the aircraft starting with the washrooms. The rear ones have shrunk a lot and the LED usage is seen in the washroom as well. The cabin is similar to the current BSI with possibility of mood lighting.
Rest of the flight was spent in observing at the split scimitar. We overflew the Java sea and the island of Pulau Belitung before starting descend into the capital of West Kalimantan. We had a long straight glide into Pontianak and made a smooth feather touch landing on runway 15 and taxied to the apron. The airport has had a soft opening recently and the new building looks impressive. More on this in one of the later trip reports on another carrier.
We docked to one of the newly installed aerobridge and deplaned via aerobridge. There were other Lion Air aircraft along with Kalstar Aviation ATR.
The fantastic airport building has a sign with the airport code along with model of the Equator monument – the only reason why this place is famous.
As people headed to baggage belts, I headed out after seeing the arrivals section of the airport and had to rely on the local prepaid taxi in absence of Uber or the local favorites Grab and Go-Jek.
The B737 MAX8 was a great experience. From a passenger perspective nothing much has changed but a factory fresh plane, efficient ground handling and on-time departure and arrival meant there was nothing to complain.
I cannot thank Lion Air enough for this MAX8 experience.
Aircraft: PK-LQF First full day of operations