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Why – and how – to fly with Royal Brunei Airlines

Over the Christmas period ticket costs soar, and one of the busiest – and most expensive – routes is between the UK and Australia. So when I needed flights to Melbourne the results were daunting. Until, that is, I lucked on Royal Brunei Airlines, who were charging just £1100.

Royal Air Brunei Boeing 787 Dreamliner

The experience overall was very good, and – with rates like these – I’ll certainly fly with them again. But it’s worth bearing in mind one or two ways in which they differ from other scheduled airlines.

Firstly, they don’t serve alcohol on board. This actually makes for a rather calmer flight and they don’t stop you carrying duty free on board. On LHR flights this can be bought in London or on the refuelling stop at Dubai. However there’s a catch to this as well: most of their services change planes in Bandar Seri Bagawan (where we sat in the uninviting terminal, currently under desultory renovation, for rather more than three hours) and the authorities there will confiscate any liquids found in your hand luggage as you leave. This means you have to set a bracing pace to get through a litre before it is taken away.

Not to worry. Melbourne duty free is quite happy to sell to incoming passengers.

The film selection is slightly strange, with an emphasis on fantasy genres and on most films there are a fair number of censored scenes. On such a long flight you’ll get to see most of the films available and stray heavily into the kids section if you have, like me, finished your book within the first few hours.

Whatever you are watching,  the service from London to Brunei uses the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and although this is in many ways an excellent plane the ambient cruising-speed noise drowns out the faint sounds the provided headsets could produce. To hear the soundtrack you’ll need your own earphones. Fortunately I did.

These idiosyncrasies apart the service was excellent. Instead of booking in online I called reservations direct well in advance and was able to reserve good seats on every leg of the journey. On the 787 in Royal Air Brunei’s configuration even the seats in economy were comfortable and with plenty of legroom. The windows were a lot bigger and the touch-screen 9″ monitor bright and clear. The 777 service that still continues on from Brunei to Melbourne is less sophisticated but still acceptable and is, in any case, due to upgraded soon to the newer plane. The meals were good as long as you stuck to the Asian options, with vegetarian meals that often outshone their meaty alternatives. And as someone now conditioned by the surly commercialism of cut-price airlines the full-service of a proper scheduled flight transformed the experience.

Somewhat bizarrely they backed up the standard prohibition on smoking onboard with their own specific ban on e-cigarettes. As these don’t emit a tell-tale cloud of smoke this was not readily enforceable so could safely be ignored. The journey was broken by refuelling in Dubai and a plane-change in Brunei, and all flights were precisely on time. The resulting three 7-hour segments saw me cover the miles between London and Melbourne in a pleasant, easy blur.

I’ll use Royal Brunei Airlines again. You can too. Find out more on their own website.

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