Penang is a destination I am no stranger to, having visited multiple times over the past few years. On those previous occasions I’ve always taken the train from KL Sentral to Butterworth, and crossing over to the island via the ferry.
This time, with the financially beleaguered ferry having completely suspended operations, the only remaining direct routing option was to fly. I opted for a return ticket on Firefly from Subang Airport to avoid having to make the 45 minute trek down to KLIA in Sepang.
Firefly is a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines, operating regional point-to-point flights across the peninsular and neighboring countries. It operates from Subang Airport, itself Kuala Lumpur’s main airport from 1965 to 1998 when the new KLIA opened. While having featured 3 terminals during its heyday, the airport now only retains the former Terminal 3, refurbished and rebranded as “Skypark” in 2007.
I was initially booked for flight FY 1428, departing earlier at 11:00 am, but a day before the flight the airline sent out notifications that the flight had been canceled and I’d been pushed to the 12:00 pm FY 1448 instead.
First posted 27 August 2021. Updated 25 February 2023.
Buying my tickets
I bought my tickets on Firefly’s website, with the two-way return Saver ticket costing me RM 388.00 (incl. taxes and charges). The Saver tickets came with a 20kg check in baggage allowance.
As Firefly is a Malaysia Airlines subsidiary, members of Malaysia Airlines’ Enrich frequent flyer program can earn Enrich points (miles) with their Firefly ticket, but not the Elite points required to rank up.
Departure experience from Subang Skypark
I’d personally flew on MAS flights between Subang and Kuantan back when they still flew transitional domestic flights after KLIA opened. I was still a kid then and Terminal 3 was still Terminal 3. Times have certainly changed since then, and as Malaysia was in the middle of a Recovery phase Movement Control Order, there were new procedures in place to restrict and contain the spread of Covid-19 amongst passengers.
A perk of Subang is its location within the Greater KL urban area, which makes getting to the airport easier than getting to KLIA. In my case, I took a Grab to the airport, and at RM 16 it was very much cheaper than a RM 70 Grab ride to KLIA.
Firefly provides a checked baggage allowance of up to 20kg with its base fares, and as I’d already checked in online, I only needed to drop my bag at the bag drop counter.
I also found it pretty amusing that Firefly still uses supermarket receipt style boarding passes, as the last local airline to use them was Air Asia, but has since moved on to traditional boarding cards.
The small terminal has decent food and cafe choices. I opted for McDonald’s for lunch, but due to a late arrival of my food I left most of my fries and drink unfinished to head to the small gate area. This was a bit of a mistake on my part, because I’d overestimated the size of the terminal, meaning I actually had more than enough time to finish my food.
As part of the then new Covid-19 standard operating procedures (SOP), all visitors to the terminal were required to wear a mask and to scan a MySejahtera contact tracing QR code upon entry, followed by a mandatory temperature scan. The temperature scan was repeated at the gate prior to boarding as well.
There were also reminders to keep 1 metre distances in queues, particularly at the check-in area. Masks are also mandatory at all times and during flights.
Boarding the Firefly ATR 72
Firefly operates a fleet of 12 ATR 72-500s. Like most turboprop aircraft, ATR 72s feature built-in stairs for faster turnaround times, and for routes to small airports with less equipment on hand.
There is a certain nostalgia to flying turboprops in Peninsular Malaysia as multi-city hops on Fokker F27s used to be common in the old days before the North-South Expressway was constructed. People used to hop on a MAS F27 between Subang, Ipoh, Penang and other cities as flying was faster and more convenient than the slower roads then.
I’d been allocated a window seat upon checking in, and I was a bit bummed to discover that the windows themselves aren’t exactly the cleanest. This seems to be an issue across FY’s fleet as a cursory glance at other pictures taken through their windows also have that dirty murky layer.
Pushback and departure was on time, and our little ATR was soon whizzing (with groaning suspensions) its way over to the threshold of Runway 15. Due to its small size, our take-off run was incredibly short and soon I was enjoying the view of the PJ-Subang Jaya area on climb out.
Cabin & Onboard Amenities
Firefly operates all-Economy configurations across their fleet with seats in a 2-2 configuration onboard and 29 inches of seat pitch.
The legroom is tight but acceptable for a short hop in this small plane. The seats, on the other hand, are decent, but the whole package is really only suited for the short hops that FY flies.
FY refurbished their seats last year in 2020, but the rest of the cabin’s interior fittings were showing their age with a few cracks and bits flaking off here and there. Its obvious that FY really needs to look at refreshing its entire cabin.
There was also the case of the dirty windows. It seems FY didn’t take the time to clean the exterior of the aircraft, making the view from the inside murky. I’m not sure what FY’s aircraft wash schedule is, but it does make for a bad impression.
Firefly’s base fare also includes refreshments. Due to the short flights operated by the airline, meals are not served onboard. Instead, juices and salted peanuts are served with the occasional choice of packed curry puffs.
This is a nice touch, as the similarly priced Malindo ATR 72 services offer only Buy-On-Board refreshments.
Arrival at Penang International Airport
Our flight’s approach path was the standard Runway 04 arrival track, followed by a taxi to the B gates turboprop stands.
We’d arrived at a particular window when there were apparently little flights departing and arriving, and so the usually busy Penang Airport was extremely quiet.
My bag was already on the conveyor belt when I reached the baggage hall, so I simply had to grab it and head upstairs to catch a Grab to the hotel.
It was great being in the air again after months of being stuck on the ground, and at the time of this flight I certainly didn’t expect having to repeat this sector again within a few weeks for work. Even more unexpected was that Malaysia’s Covid-19 situation worsened significantly in the months after this flight, leaving us all grounded once again.
All things considered this was certainly a decent point-to-point flight and I can certainly see the appeal of flying from Subang over KLIA.