Review: Royal Brunei A320neo Economy Class Hong Kong to Brunei

In November 2018 I had commitments in Bandar Seri Begawan, and also headed off to a jungle resort in Ulu Temburong National Park, a national park in Brunei. This was booked as part of my fourth and final trip with school – you can check out my reports in previous years of my trips to Myanmar, Fujian, and Yunnan here. Once again, my parents funded this trip, and I’ll reiterate once again that my goal in life is to be able to use the tactics I learn in this industry to give my parents such experiences in the future, for pennies on the dollar.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Brunei Airport

With that in mind, I was booked a HK$3,800 roundtrip economy class ticket on Royal Brunei, which operates the only nonstop flight between Hong Kong and Bandar Seri Begawan. I was thrilled to see that I’d be flying their new A320neo, which I was excited to review – I quickly did a little research, and found out that Royal Brunei had installed PTVs on their A320neos, which isn’t usually the case in economy class on narrowbody aircraft in Southeast Asia. For your reference, business class starts selling from HK$6,900 roundtrip on this route.

Here’s my review of the product, which will work a little differently from the other reviews I’ve written in the past.

Firstly, for full disclosure

This trip I did a couple of things that I’ve never done before, and am unlikely to do again in future reports. Firstly, I was excited to fly Royal Brunei’s new A320neo and at the time of booking couldn’t find anything on the internet about their new product. Since I was travelling with school (which translates into anything but “board first”), I reached an agreement with both the airline and the school that I’d preboard, so to provide unobtrusive photo and video footage. I don’t like doing this since it exposes me as a travel blogger – but I took the return flight “in the dark” and didn’t notice a radical change in soft product, so I’m comfortable with reporting my experience as it happened.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class ft. Yours Truly

At this point I’d also like to thank Badi Lattif, the airline’s Social Media Officer – I wouldn’t have been able to shoot all the below footage without his help. That being said, rest assured that I’m integrous to providing genuine reports, and won’t be doing this on a regular basis.

Taking the return flight “unnoticed” also means that I boarded with the rest of the school, which meant that I didn’t get any meaningful footage of the cabin at all, both on photo and video. For that reason, I’ll be merging together my experiences of the two flights into one cohesive report, as my experiences on the two flights were largely similar.

Check out my video on the experience

As some of you loyal readers know, I recently started a YouTube channel so I could capture a wider audience. I don’t plan to migrate towards the YouTube channel entirely, though I do take pride in the work that I do on my channel. Here’s a video review of this flight:

I’d appreciate if you could drop a like on the video as well as subscribe to my channel, where you’ll see more interesting content in video form. With that being said…

My experience on Royal Brunei’s A320neo

Royal Brunei departs from the Midfield Concourse, which is a couple of stops from the immigration hall on the people-mover rail. I’ve been to the Midfield Concourse many times, so this time I just made a beeline to gate 214. If you’re flying in business class from Hong Kong, Royal Brunei uses the Hong Kong Airlines Club Autus lounge (check out my review here), which is a beautiful lounge with good food options and decent facilities.

I was quite excited to see the Royal Brunei A320neo parked at the gate – not just because we’d be flying an A320neo, but also because I’d be trying a new airline altogether, and flying to Brunei for the first time.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Hong Kong Airport

If you’re originating in Bandar Seri Begawan, Royal Brunei’s check-in process is painless, as is the immigration process; while architecturally stunning, the airport is tiny and features a grand total of 8 gates. As a business class passenger you’d get access to Royal Brunei’s recently refurbished lounge featuring showers and a-la-carte dining (!), and Priority Pass customers have access to the Sky Lounge, which features a mini-cinema, an arcade and showers among other facilities.

The Sky Lounge can also be accessed through a walk-in fee of BND 50 (~HK$293), or a prepaid fee of BND 45 (~HK$264) – in retrospect I probably should’ve done that so I could review the lounge too, but you win some, you lose some; I’m actually itching to review their 787 in business class now anyway, so I’ll probably save the lounge review until then.

Royal Brunei Check-In Counters Brunei Airport

Back at Hong Kong, boarding was called at 2:30 PM, starting with business class passengers and Royal Skies Gold members.

Royal Brunei 636
Sunday, November 11, 2018
Origin: Hong Kong (HKG) Gate: 214 Dep: 14:55 (15:00)
Destination: Bandar Seri Begawan (BWN) Gate: 4 Arr: 18:00 (18:00)
Duration: 3 h 5 min (3 h)
Aircraft: Airbus A320neo
Seat: 39J (Economy Class)

Royal Brunei only started delivering their A320neos this year, so as you’d expect, they’re pretty new. I walked into a business class cabin featuring 12 seats, spread across three rows in a 2-2 configuration (the charming cabin crew asked if they could pose for the photos – of course, why not?). I briefly explored the business class cabin before heading to my seat in economy class.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Business Class

I thought the colour tones of the business class cabin were nice, though would’ve appreciated if they employed some of the light blue undertones they used in the economy cabin. Each business class seat featured a fluffy pillow and a light regional blanket (they have more substantial bedding on their longhaul flights). More than anything I was excited to see each seat equipped with a responsive PTV on this A320neo.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Business Class Cabin

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Business Class

These seats are recliner seats, so they have nothing against the more modern types of business class seat out there. The seat shares the same bones as some other modern regional premium products, such as Vistara business class (here’s a great video review from my friend Josh).

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Business Class Seats

Seat pitch is allegedly 42″, which seems about right.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Business Class Seats 7H and 7K

The business class seat on Royal Brunei’s A320neo reclines pretty far back – I’d say further back than your average premium economy seat, but not by much. Each seat also features a legrest but no swing-down footrest.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Business Class Seat Reclined

The seat controls were manual, and also located by the side of the seat was the IFE remote and a headphone jack.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Business Class Seat Controls and Headphone Jack

Of course, the business class seats also featured high-resolution PTV screens, which almost functioned as iPads due to how responsive they were. They were marginally bigger than the economy PTVs, though I do feel like some space was wasted here.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Business Class Entertainment Screen

These planes run flights of up to 5 hours. If I could I’d avoid one of these planes for Royal Brunei’s 787 if flying in business class, which features fully flat beds. However, for a narrowbody aircraft belonging to an airline that basically operates a monopoly to half its destinations, I didn’t think the business class product was half bad.

With that, I moved on to economy class, where I was seated in this flight.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Cabin

The economy class cabin features 138 seats in a 3-3 configuration, as you’d expect on an A320.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Cabin

Much like the business class cabin, each seat featured a seatback PTV, which was what drew me to the Royal Brunei A320neo in the first place.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Cabin

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class

The “regular” economy seats feature 30″ of seat pitch, which isn’t terrible, though I do admit that it did feel cramped after a while, especially since the seats aren’t slimline (this isn’t a complaint – I’d much rather experience a slight confinement of space than the feeling of sitting on a rock for 5 hours).

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Legroom

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Legroom

At the front of the economy cabin are 18 “preferred” seats spanning three rows. These seats feature 32″ pitch, which is equivalent to your standard longhaul economy product.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Legroom (Preferred Seat)

Of course, if 32″ isn’t enough, you can book an exit row seat, which features more space. These were located in rows 28 and 29 (so for those seated in row 27, I’m sorry – seats in rows 27 and 28 lack a recline button).

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Legroom (Exit Row)

The bulkhead seats also featured a decent amount of legroom, despite the bulkhead itself being rather confining – more than anything I was excited that there was a small storage nook below the bulkhead screens, which other seats don’t have.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Legroom (Bulkhead)

Under each TV screen was a toggle bar featuring the screen on-off button and a few other controls. Under that was a USB port as well as a two-pronged headphone jack. One annoying thing about the seat was that the toggle bar would stay illuminated throughout the flight, regardless of cabin lighting (there was no way to turn it off, which could get annoying on a redeye flight).

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Toggle Bar and USB Port

I found the padding and seat upholstery quality quite impressive. The padding was ample for a regional economy product, whereas the seat was upholstered in faux leather, which was pleasant to the touch (this cabin was designed by a rich country alright).

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Headrest

A complaint about the seat would be the recline. For 30″ seat pitch I don’t expect a lot of recline to start with, but in addition to being limiting, there was no “cradle” effect, so the seat pan wouldn’t slide forward, etc.. I thought that was an inefficient use of space for an otherwise well-designed product.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Recline

Furthermore, apart from the classic seat pocket and under-seat storage, there are no other nooks available within the seat to store small items within reach, such as a phone. Despite this, I found that the economy seat was more than enough for short hops between Brunei and Southeast/Central Asia.

I was excited to see that Royal Brunei had selected to equip these A320neos with air nozzles, which is all too often forgotten in modern aircraft cabins, especially for airlines based in hot climates.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Air Nozzles

I had a chance to scroll through the entertainment system prior to departure. The entertainment system was alright – I was pleasantly surprised with the interface and its user-friendliness, and how easy it was to navigate; Royal Brunei uses the Thales entertainment system, which is the same entertainment system that Hong Kong Airlines introduced with their latest batch of A350s. I was also pleasantly surprised by the fact that it worked gate-to-gate, apart from during the safety demonstration, and a landing video by the end of the flight. However, the actual selection itself wasn’t anything compared to the likes of, say, KrisWorld. There were a few pages of movies and TV shows to choose from, and around a few dozen music albums, though there was room for more.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Entertainment Screen

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Entertainment System Homepage

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Entertainment System Movie and TV Selection

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Entertainment System Music Selection

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Entertainment System Games Selection

I found it interesting that the Holy Qur’an was accessible in the entertainment system. In retrospect that’s not very surprising, since Brunei is an Islam country that operates under Sharia law; however, it’s not every day when you peer over your seatmate’s screen and see them close-reading the Holy Qur’an on a flight.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Entertainment System Holy Qur’an

I chose to stick to the airshow for the flight, since I’d loaded up work on my laptop. Unfortunately, Royal Brunei’s A320neo entertainment system only features a replaying inflight map, so this isn’t an airshow where you can tamper with the viewing angles or watch from any external cameras.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Entertainment System Airshow

Unfortunately, Royal Brunei doesn’t have, and has no plans to install WiFi on their A320neos.

I was assigned middle seat 39J towards the back of the cabin on the right, though I was happy with it, since I was close friends with both my seatmates.

The cabin soon filled up. While our school group was on the flight, there was also another tour group that joined the flight with us. My gosh, they were obnoxious – they yelled Cantonese across the cabin during taxiing to communicate with all the members of their group, and they had no sense of personal space, in that while lining up for the bathroom, they’d prop themselves up by placing their hands on aisle passengers’ TV screens, etc.. Apart from that demographic, I found the economy cabin to mostly be dominated by expats (from both Hong Kong and Brunei) as well as travelers in their 20s.

After the door closed, a prayer video was played on the PTV screens.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Prayer Screening

The crew then did a manual safety demonstration. I found it interesting that despite having had 787s for quite a few years now, Royal Brunei doesn’t have a “televised” safety demonstration.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Safety Demonstration

After the safety demonstration, the crew came around the cabin with a plastic bag full of economy-style headphones, asking “care for headsets”? The question was phrased the same way on both flights, which speaks for how cabin crew are trained at this airline. I took a headset on the outbound just for the picture, and it was bad. I could hear the audio tracks to the movies my seatmates were watching, and from eavesdropping some awkward conversations from some people seated next to strangers during the return flight, I realised I wasn’t the only one with the same problem. Fortunately I have proper headphones from Bose, so I used those instead.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Headphones

We slowly taxied towards runway 07R, and it took us a while to get airborne, as we were bypassed by a few Cathay Pacific heavies. By 3:20 PM we were off the ground and well on our way towards Brunei.

View upon Takeoff from Hong Kong Airport

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Airshow upon Taking Off

Views-wise it wasn’t the best of days, since there was a fair amount of smog set over the city. However, it was still nice having the opportunity to fly the scenic route over the city, which isn’t always the case when flying out of Hong Kong Airport.

View upon Takeoff from Hong Kong Airport

Shortly after takeoff I decided to use the lavatory, which was standard for an A320. I appreciated that the crew made an effort to keep the lavatory spotlessly clean throughout both flights.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Lavatory

The seatbelt sign came off once we reached our cruising altitude of 37,000 feet. Right after that the crew passed out landing cards for Brunei, which I filled out.

I pulled out my laptop and worked for a while, and soon the crew started passing out meals. Royal Brunei doesn’t feature menus in economy class, though we were given the choice between a chicken satay and a Chinese-style fish dish.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Meal Presentation

I went with the chicken satay, which was actually really good, despite being sloppily presented. The rice was incredibly flavourful, the chicken was tender, and the sweet and salty flavours intermingled throughout the satay sauce. I would’ve appreciated a little more spice to the satay sauce, though the dish was delicious and filling as is. I also really enjoyed the vegetable salad offered, which was tart due to the vinaigrette it came with; the white chocolate mousse was also good, though probably the low-point of the meal.

The cabin crew were friendly and efficient, though impersonal while serving the meal, which is in line with what I’d expect in economy when they have 138 mouths to feed. They did a drinks run along with the meal, and I elected to have water; on the outbound, the cabin crew clarified that there was packaged water provided on the meal tray, and if I wanted more (on the return I was simply given an additional cup of water alongside the packaged water provided).

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Meal – Chicken Satay with Rice

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Dessert – White Chocolate Mousse

It’s worth noting that while my return meal was equally flavourful, unfortunately the beef rendang was overcooked and dry. Still quite an acceptable showing, though this meal wasn’t quite as good as that of the outbound flight.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Meal – Beef Rendang with Yellow Rice (Return Flight)

The captain came onto the PA during the meal service to announce our flight time of 3 hours and 15 minutes, our cruising altitude of 37,000 feet, and our estimated arrival time of 37,000 feet. I found it a little weird that the captain came onto the PA during the meal service as opposed to before the flight, then again it didn’t bother me much (on the return flight the captain came onto the PA before takeoff).

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Economy Class Cabin upon Meal Service

After the meal service a queue formed for the lavatory that lasted basically up until landing. Royal Brunei’s A320neos don’t feature a particularly bad passenger-to-toilet ratio, though it isn’t amazing either. For that reason, aisle seats C and H in rows 43-45 are the seats to avoid, as you’ll experience a lot of aisle traffic after the meal service, especially if you’re trying to sleep (or watch a movie, in our case, since people would literally place their hands over our screens to prop themselves up while waiting in line).

Despite this, the crew were very friendly. They’d address us as “sweetie”, which I found adorable, they smiled, and they worked hard to keep the ever-popular lavatory squeaky clean.

I worked a little more on my laptop, though my seatmates’ movies were interrupted by a landing video featuring some of Brunei’s key tourist destinations. I found the video to be well-produced and short enough.

Royal Brunei Airbus A320neo Landing Video

I had the privilege of watching a sunset of sorts when descending into Brunei, and soon we flew over some of the amazing greenery that Brunei’s infrastructure is overlaid upon.

Landing into Brunei Airport

Landing into Brunei Airport

A couple of moments later at 5:55 PM, we did a smooth touchdown at Brunei International Airport, in Bandar Seri Begawan, the country’s capital. We taxied past the entire airport before pulling into a gate, where I saw a range of beautiful Royal Brunei aircraft (while Royal Brunei isn’t the exclusive operator out of this terminal, they do operate around 90% of flights out of Brunei International Airport).

Landing into Brunei Airport

While taxiing I saw a Royal Brunei 787, which I’d really like to fly in the future!

Royal Brunei Boeing 787 Brunei Airport

We parked at gate 4. The deplaning process was painless, as was the immigration process – at least for those of us who didn’t need a visa. Our bags came on the carousel in no time, and by 6:30 PM we made it out to the largely deserted airport terminal. At this point I got myself a SIM card, and we were off to the Mulia Hotel for the night, which I’ll be reviewing next.

Brunei Airport Terminal

Bottom Line: Royal Brunei A320neo Economy Class

Is Royal Brunei’s A320neo the world’s best narrowbody product in either business or economy class? Not really. Off the top of my head I’ve flown a better hard product on Cathay Dragon’s A321 in economy, and plenty of narrowbody planes have flat beds in business class these days, including (but not limited to) Philippine Airlines’ new A321neos, Gulf Air, flydubai, etc..

The hard product was perfectly comfortable on the Royal Brunei A320neo, though I didn’t consider it to be particularly special by any means. I’d have appreciated some extra thought on the ergonomics front in the economy seat I was sat in, such as a storage nook for glasses and a phone, which would’ve been useful on a redeye flight. I also wish the seats reclined more, and with a “cradle” effect.

However, the economy seat is definitely one of the better regional economy seats I’ve sat in, from the padding, to the high-quality upholstery, to the functional entertainment system. Add in a great meal, above-average service, and decent entertainment, and this was a flight that was hard to fault.

Have you flown Royal Brunei’s A320neo before? How did you find the experience?

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