Fancy having airport lounge access at Kuala Lumpur International Airport for under $17 even if flying economy – or as a Malindo Air business class passenger in lieu of a coffee at Starbucks?
Enter, the Sama-Sama Express Lounge: open to both paying guests, and Malindo Air's high flyers who'd rather enjoy lounge access than have a snack in the terminal: as the voucher you're given at check-in gives you either choice, while construction of Malindo Air's own KLIA lounge continues.
Australian Business Traveller stopped by before a Malindo Air business class flight from Kuala Lumpur to Brisbane: here's what we thought.
Location & Impressions
After clearing outbound passport control in Kuala Lumpur, follow the signs towards "international departure gates C1-C37", which involves jumping on the aerotrain from the main terminal building to the satellite pier.
(If your flight departs from the main terminal building, you can jump on the same train later to get back.)
Once in the satellite pier, follow the path towards the centre of the terminal, and then veer right when you see the "Hotel Sama-Sama Express" sign:
You'll know you're in the right place when you see the Sama-Sama Express entrance aside a 'hotel' sign, near Gate C5. Our visit happened to coincide with Malaysia Day celebrations, thus the extra flags:
On first impressions, you believe you're entering a modern space with plenty of natural light, but as the sign above hints, the Sama-Sama Express is indeed an airport hotel, not just an airport lounge – so what you're seeing is actually the lead-up to the hotel lobby, where the entrance to the separate lounge is located:
If PR 'hero shots' are anything to go by, you can expect to emerge in a styled yet subtle lounge offering a variety of seats in a mood-lit atmosphere...
... but in reality, it's more of a dark room plonked in the corner of the hotel's lobby, with very little natural light, even at 3pm in the afternoon:
There's certainly some fluorescent light that seeps across from the open kitchen...
... but overall, the space isn't particularly inviting, and the 'forced darkness' during daylight hours makes it easy to doze off (as several other lounge guests had done): not something you want to do when you have a flight to catch, unless you've remembered to set a wake-up alarm.
Given the lounge's location, it's also a fair hike back through the terminal to reach many of the departure gates, and while it's fantastic that no boarding calls are made here, there's oddly no flight information screen to provide travellers with information either.
To check on your flight, you'll need to exit the lounge and review the monitor in the hotel's main lobby, but this screen only displays a limited number of flights – and given how busy KLIA can be, our flight still hadn't made it onto the screen at the time it was due to board, rendering this monitor rather useless.
- Malindo Air business class passengers, on presentation of their lounge invitation as a temporary measure while Malindo Air's own lounge is under construction
- Members of the DragonPass airport lounge program flying with any airline
Access can also be purchased at the door for 55MYR (A$16.55) by any traveller passing through the airport, regardless of the airline they're flying with: an option to keep up your sleeve if stuck down the back in economy without lounge access.
You'll find a buffet section in the far corner of the lounge...
... with basics like salads...
... fresh fruit and nibbles...
... soup, bread and spreads...
... a juice corner...
... chilled water (via the white box), and machine-made espresso coffee:
Several hot dishes are also available at the buffet, including lemongrass chicken with rice and a vegetarian curry, plus spaghetti and tomato concasse (not pictured):
Our visit was as a Malindo Air business class passenger bound for Brisbane, so as the flight departs at 6pm and we'd eaten a decent lunch earlier in the day, we abstained from the buffet: as would many calorie-conscious business travellers who avoid eating food "just because it's there", although the time-appropriate cafe latte we made using the espresso machine was acceptable.
Wine and beer are also available for those so inclined, and for truly hungry travellers, food can also be ordered from the hotel's room service menu: such as fish and chips, a lamb rack with black pepper sauce, a beef burger, or a traditional club sandwich, which will each set you back around A$7-10, including the hotel's service charge.
Due to the darkness of the lighting here, we initially found it hard to be productive (and to stay awake), but managed to nab a seat near the lounge's entrance, adjoining the hotel lobby: the lobby having a skylight above and a slight view out towards the tarmac through a doorway, allowing for a little more of that lovely light:
Fortunately for us, this seat was also one which provided access to power, with no international adaptor required for our Australian-pinned gadgets thanks to these being multi-country AC outlets:
Next to this were several computers, although for most of our stay, these were occupied by people recharging their phones via the Mac's USB ports rather than actually using the computers:
That's because our seat was practically the only spot in the entire lounge with access to power. Everywhere else, the available power points were taken up by lamps and appliances...
... and looking around the lounge, some travellers had unplugged those lamps to create an available power point for themselves, only adding to the lounge's darkness:
In 2017, it's not unreasonable to expect easy access to available power points in international airport lounges, with many modern lounges providing these near almost every seat, along with USB power points for charging smartphones without occupying the main power plug, so we'd love to see some more of these installed here for travellers to use.
Wireless Internet is complimentary, but on the slow side: we recorded download speeds of just 1.57Mbps, uploads of 3.54Mbps and ping speeds of 11ms. That's adequate for basic tasks like simple web browsing, emails and social media, but isn't ideal for more data-hungry duties like transferring large presentations, files or images.
With a TV screen in the far (dark) corner, travellers can kick back on one of the lounge chairs to relax, or could perch themselves at one of the stools closer to reception with a drink in-hand, particularly for a shorter stay.
Shower facilities are also available with amenities provided, although unlike in many airline business class lounges where each shower suite is a private room, these are instead 'shower cubicles', located within separate male and female zones.
We spotted one private (and locked) shower suite marked 'VIP', which can presumably be unlocked and used at an extra charge.
All things considered, if you've paid $16.55 at the door, you certainly get your money's worth given that this includes access to the lounge, unlimited food and beverage from the buffet (excluding cooked-to-order items from the room service menu), WiFi, and a shower before your next flight.
However, if your access is as a business class passenger, your expectations are higher: and when compared to KLIA's many 'true' business class lounges, such as those of Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific and even Thai Airways, the Sama-Sama Express Lounge is significantly below par, and could do with more light, more access to power, faster Internet and a wider range of complimentary food and drinks.
When travelling on an international business class ticket, you shouldn't be asked to chip in $7-10 towards a more substantial meal in the lounge (which could allow you to maximise your sleep in the air: the very reason many people fly business class) – it should simply be included.
We look forward to Malindo Air opening its own business class lounge soon at KLIA, being better-tailored to business class flyers rather than pay-in customers, as is currently the case with the Sama-Sama Express Lounge.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Kuala Lumpur as a guest of Malindo Air.