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KLIA's Premium Passenger Experience

For our return back to Dublin with Etihad, I was keen to see what lounge Etihad would send us to and what KLIA’s premium passenger experience is like, now that the main terminal to satellite train is out of action for at least the next year or two.

Once we were sent on our way from check-in, we arrived at a very neon, blue, walkway to the business/first immigration counters. Customs, as always, has a priority lane to the extreme left in KLIA (and please, once again, this is not security – take your water with you), not that it’s either policed or guarded in any way, and overall this check is much more theatre than function anyway.

Previously, there was a shuttle train to ferry passengers between the main terminal and the satellite terminal, where long-haul flights depart from – but after what would appear to be years of under-maintenance, it has finally given up the ghost, leaving passengers to enjoy an overly-warm bus trip out to the satellite terminal instead, and form negative impressions of KLIA in the process (especially on arrival).

Thankfully, there has been some progress – at least for Business/First passengers – who can now use an ‘exclusive’ bus service (or BMW private transfer if you’re flying Malaysia Airlines).

Signage unfortunately is severely lacking (nor were we informed of this at check-in) and I can’t even begin to imagine how many eligible passengers end up on the regular bus service as a result.

To find the service, you need to head off with some perseverance in the direction of the G gates, specifically around G1. Look for a relatively unmarked opening in the glass on the right hand-side manned by a single staff member giving boarding cards a perfunctory check.

Gate G1 - Premium Shuttle Bus

We were then sent downstairs by escalator, and into a rather strange, empty lounge area. Two staff members (visible just about in the picture below) sat at a desk talking to each other, but it was otherwise quite unclear what should happen here – in our case we just walked towards the doors, without either of the two professional desk-attenders saying anything – until someone else came in from outside, and walked us out.

Gate G1 - Premium Shuttle Bus Waiting Area

Onto the bus and – I won’t sugar-coat it – it’s better than the alternative, but it is still a bus. Everyone gets a seat, and that’s great considering it was standing room only on our non-premium arrival, and the seat is on the fancier side with some recline controls and a face-to-face arrangement.

KLIA's Premium Shuttle Bus

Mostly however, the best thing about the ‘premium passenger’ bus is that it’s quieter and you do get lovely views out across the airfield compared to the old train – though I’d still prefer to see the train brought back into service with all due haste.

Etihad has, in their wisdom, selected the Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge as their current lounge of choice – which on the face of it, given the bus drama, is a very sensible choice, allowing passengers to chill out in the same terminal building as the flight – without having to worry about factoring in bus time.

Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge - Satellite

I’m always a big fan of Malaysia Airlines’ cavernous Golden Lounge at the satellite terminal – but I’ll be honest, this visit was a bit of a let-down.

I honestly never thought I’d see the day, but it was packed to start with – barely 2 seats to be found together throughout the entire lounge, and every nook and cranny was busy, even the bar, which is nearly uniformly abandoned.

Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge - Bar

I’m not sure whether this is the result of the timing of our visit, or Malaysia Airlines’ monetizing the lounge to airlines like Etihad in addition to its Oneworld passenger base eligibility, or what – but it was not at all a calm or pleasant place to pass the time.

It also felt like standards had dipped – food choices didn’t seem as plentiful or tasty as before, things took a long time to be cleared from deserted tables, and then we encountered the shower fiasco.

Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge

The showers were busy, and there was a queue; so how is this handled in 2024 by the Golden Lounge team? Maybe a pager, or some kind of notification or promise to go look for you? Nope, it’s by ‘try again in 25 minutes’ – are you then guaranteed a shower? No, not then either, it’s pure luck. Surely they can do much better than this.

In the end, after returning 25 minutes later, I’d just missed out to a guy who’d forgotten his boarding card and took about 5 minutes to go away and get it, in which time I could easily have managed a shower – but nevertheless they waited, and so did I, right in front of the counter.

I assume they eventually got annoyed looking at me, as much as I was annoyed standing there, and I was shown to a very clean, disability-friendly bathroom that had a shower in it. I actually had no issues at all either with the shower, or with the wait time, but surely having to stand there in a queue during what is clearly a known peak period, is outrageous in 2024.

Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge - Bathroom

And so it was, that we shortly headed to our gate – with the opinion that KLIA’s premium passenger experience, far from improving is actually really just beginning to lag further and further apart from regional rivals. The shuttle bus is very much a band-aid solution, but one that will need to last for possibly a few years while the lounge – despite Etihad’s wise choice and best intentions in terms of location – is sadly declining in appeal and luxury.

Reformed backpacker & former ultra-cheap traveller, Andy now atones for his past by overspending on premium travel experiences and failing at making the most of the miles & points game. Former expat now returned to Ireland, he is a product manager by day, and travel aficionado by evening and weekend.

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