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Old Feb 4, 06, 3:08 am
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Terra Australis Cognita
Posts: 5,348
Adam Air: The Boutique Airlines

In a country of strange airlines Adam Air is among the strangest. Owned and run by the eponymous Adam Adhitya Suherman, playboy scion of a wealthy family, in barely over two years the company has bought or leased 19 737s and now flies on 22 routes around the country, as well as to Penang and Singapore. Their trademark screaming orange and flourescent yellow make even Air Asia's crimson red seem subdued, and every month the company seems to announce expansion plans and is even planning to list in Singapore's stock market in 2006. And they certainly present an enticing image, to quote some of the charmingly fractured English from their website:

Discover New Flying Experience
modern jet airplanes with sophisticated interiors
full of fun with our friendly angels

The only problem, though, is getting your way into the sophisticated interior of their modern jet airplanes. The website doesn't offer online booking (it's been "Coming Soon" for half a year now), in fact it can't even offer accurate schedules, and Singapore's Adam Air office first refused to answer any calls. When I finally got through, they did condescend to make a booking -- but I would have to show up at the office, in person and within 24 hours, to pay for it. Cash only, no credit cards, and of course the office is only open 9-5 weekdays, 9-12 Saturday, closed Sundays and public holidays. But against the odds I did manage to nip in on a Saturday, interrupting the beauty sleep of a genuinely astonished ticketing agent, who then painstakingly wrote out both my ticket and receipt entirely by hand, and at S$177 return (taxes included) the cost came out to under half of what SQ charges. But what would this discounted boutiquosity get me?

KI989 SIN-CGK B737-500 seat 1B

Finding the check-in desk at Changi was easy: it was the one with no queue. For boarding passes Adam had invested in a printer, although it was an antique dot-matrix model fed by hand and only the second try printed out more or less straight. Cowed by an adminition that "you may not be acceptable for travel" unless you show up at the gate 30 minutes before departure, I mosied my way over 10 min before the gate closed, only to find it near empty as everybody was already jammed up in the tube.

The paint job may be spiffy, but the plane was obviously an old workhorse that has been around the block a few times. Against my expectations loads inside were decent (80%-ish) but I had the best seat in the house, with seat 1A missing, seat 1C empty and two miniskirted friendly angels in yellow and orange sitting opposite me, one of them very cute indeed. Rollback was delayed by some 10 minutes, as some checked-in passengers decided to no-show, but they were eventually deemed unacceptable and the plane set off. Announcements were both in Indonesian and English, and the crew noted that they were "required" to hold the safety demo and did so with a suitable lack of enthusiasm. With seat 1A unceremoniously ripped out, I had neither seat pocket nor safety card, but with the main entrance door around half a meter away I can perhaps forgive this lapse of safety regulations.

Soon enough we were airborne, the seatbelt sign blinked off, the cart set off down the aisle and a lunch box in blazing orange landed inside my lap. Inside was one of the more innovative in-flights meals I've seen to date: a cup of water, a piece of colorful but entirely tasteless cake and, the piece de resistance, an original boutique hamburger from famed boutique restaurant McDonalds. Let's just I was glad I'd had the foresight to wolf down some noodles at the airport. As expected, there was no in-flight entertainment of any kind, but that's what laptops are for innit?

After a vista of Tanjung Priok by night, touchdown was smooth and we rolled up the gate, where I had the rare pleasure of being the very first off the plane. With no other flights touching down at the time I felt like I was alone in the terminal: escalators rolled to life as I stepped on and I was the first at immigration, the first at customs and the first in the taxi queue -- 5 minutes from the gate to the cab. SQ may lick Adam in everything else, but this feeling ain't ever going to happen unless you're willing to fork out for F.

Some gratuitous Jakarta pictures:

KI988 CGK-SIN B737-500 seat 1D

The fickle gods of macet (Indonesian for "traffic jam", a very useful word indeed) were in my favor and I arrived at Soekarno-Hatta two hours before my flight. Not being able to find my flight on the departure board occasioned mild alarm, but eyeball-blistering orange signs pointed the way to check-in and for some unaccountable reason I again scored a seat in the first row, this time 1D. The mystery of the missing flight was also solved when I realized that Adam Air's rather unintuitive three-letter code is "DHI" (not that "KI" makes much more sense) and the flight was listed as 17:30, not the correct 17:35. With no lounge access to look forward to I settled down in Starbucks with a comfy sofa, tarmac views, a mocha frappucino, a broken-as-usual wifi connection and an air conditioning unit that seems to incorporate a jet engine (for volumes of sound, that is, not cold air).

A few days in Jakarta always helps to lower your expectations. The plane was, most probably, exactly the same as before but now I noted all sorts of little signs of professionalism and dedicated branding: Adam Air logos emblazoned on bits of airport gear, Adam Air guys with clipboards doing the mysterious things that guys with clipboards do, Adam Air stewardesses going around passing around candy. Seat 1D isn't quite as nice as 1B but the pitch was still great, loads today were a little lower (60%-ish) and pushback was exactly on time. The classical muzak of last time, however, was replaced by a four-letter peppered heavy metal rendition of "I Will Survive", both a comforting and somewhat disturbing choice at the same time -- I mean, it's nice to survive, but it's nicer not to end up in situations where "survival" is a top priority in the first place.

Meal service was precisely the same McD's hamburger, although this time I discovered that a generous dollop of chilli sauce makes it slightly less dry. Adam doesn't seem to have an in-flight magazine, but this time they did have the safety cars and a short duty-free catalog to browse, although the stewardesses never made any announcements about anything being available. After an entirely unremarkable 90 minute flight we touched down at SIN, again on schedule, and that was the end of this boutique experience.

Overall, I doubt I'll be flying Adam from Singapore again, the ticketing is just too much of a hassle and Valuair is still a notch or two better servicewise in the same price bracket. However, I would be happy to fly them again domestically from Jakarta and I wish the company luck in their future endeavours.
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