Indonesia is made up of more than 17000 islands. And besides commonly visited places like Jakarta and Bali, there are many, many fantastic places to visit. Navigating your way through to these locations is a potential headache though. There are so many airlines and so many routes to consider. Indonesian domestic airlines do not exactly have the best reputation for safety. But that’s not an excuse for not exploring what the Indonesian archipelago has to offer.
I’ve been flying in and out of Indonesia, visiting little enclaves of paradise and historical and natural wonders over the last few years, flash traveller style. This meant travelling out of Singapore, taking flights that no sane traveller would even consider taking, either because I was trying to keep costs low, or simply because the bigger airlines don’t fly to the destination. It used to be a nightmare booking flight tickets through local agents or at the ticketing counter. However, over the last year, local airlines have started using online ticketing, to my relief.
First, let’s take a look at the different airline ticketing methods:
LionAir – I’ve tried booking online for Singapore to Bali (this route no longer exists). Verdict: Successful.
AirAsia – No problem with online booking here. Very reliable, though they only cover the major hubs.
Sriwijaya Air – Site goes down sometimes. But I just booked Jakarta to Ternate just now. They email you the ticket/itinerary. Someone will call to confirm your credit card user info. Verdict: Successful.
Batavia Air – Selecting the destination may stump you. There’s a field for “Departure city”, “Destination City” and “Return City”. So your return city technically can be completely different from your departure city. Weird. Leaving the Return City field empty will allow you to book one-way ticket. Worked for me. I didn’t get an email, but you can print out the ticket after payment confirmation. No idea how you can access your ticket if you don’t have a printer at that time though. Verdict: Successful.
Merpati Air – I’ve only tried buying from counter (Denpasar to Tambolaka), but there is an online booking option on the website now. However, there is a line saying that only Indonesian issued credit cards can be used. Plus the session keeps timing out each time I tried booking. Tell me if you managed to book Merpati tickets through their ticketing system. Verdict: Unsuccessful
Trigana Air – I can’t find any online ticketing service. And the page is in Indonesian. Verdict: Not Available
Express Air – The site is in English. But there is no online booking. You need to call, which means if you are not somewhere in Indonesia, it will be very tough to book. Verdict: Not Available
Air Transport Hubs of Indonesia
Depending on where in Indonesia you actually want to go, there are some routes that make more sense than others. I don’t profess to be an expert, but let me try to share what I know. This next section assumes you have a good geographical knowledge of the Indonesian islands, or at least have Google Maps opened in another tab right now. If not, please open one and type in Indonesia. =)
Jakarta‘s Soekarno-Hatta airport is obviously the main transport hub to the rest of Indonesia. (Side note: all the airports have unique funky names I love!). You can’t go wrong if you start from here. It’s the main international airport where most airlines end up.
On Java, Surabaya‘s Juanda airport is another hub that serves east Java. Conveniently, AirAsia flies there from Kuala Lumpur, and Batavia Air and Jetstar flies there from Singapore. Both are convenient entry points if you want to avoid Jakarta.
Further east, of course Ngurah Rai airport in Denpasar, Bali is well known, going out to many International destinations, and probably the destination we Singaporeans end up at. But did you know you can actually go beyond Bali to places like Dili, East Timor through Batavia Air, for example? Ngurah Rai is also the hub for destinations to its east, covering the Nusa Tenggara Timur / Barat (East/West Nusa Tenggara) provinces, which covers attractions like Lombok (the Gili Islands! Rinjani!) and Flores (Alor diving/whaling! Komodo Islands!).
While Denpasar covers the western end of Nusa Tenggara’s two provinces, the eastern end’s hub is served by Kupang’s El Tari airport. I’ve never been there myself, but it’s somewhere to start if you want to do an overland crossing to East Timor.
Over on Sumatra, Polonia Airport in Medan is a hub serving the land mass. Its close proximity to Malaysia and Singapore means airlines such as Jetstar, AirAsia and Firefly make frequent flights there. Medan itself is an interesting destination (Lake Toba! Bukit Lawang Orang Utans!)
Balikpapan‘s Sepinggan Airport is the hub for sights around Kalimantan. Diving in Derawan and Sangalaki is to the north. Surprisingly there are no connections from the north side. (Borneo’s Kuching and Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia). AirAsia flies here from Kuala Lumpur though.
Recently the Indo government is trying to make Makassar (Sultan Hasanuddin Airport) the major transport hub leading to destinations in East Indonesia. So now Garuda, Indonesia’s national carrier flies direct from Singapore. Makassar is the start-off point for adventures up north in Sulawesi (Tanah Toraja!) though a connecting flight is oft needed elsewhere, even on Sulawesi since travelling overland is not easy. Makassar would serve people wanting flights to Manado, and elsewhere on the Maluku islands (Ambon, Ternate etc)
Lastly, all the way to the east is Papua. Jayapura is the capital of the province (Sentani Airport) leading to Cenderawasih Bay and overland crossings into Vanimo, Papua New Guinea. Sorong (Domine Edward Osok Airport) is where you start for Raja Ampat diving. I haven’t been on Papua myself, so I do not have much information on these airports.
There you have it. So in summary, you have Jakarta for destinations all over Indonesia including western Indonesia, plus Makassar as the main hub to destinations in eastern Indonesia.Then you have the seaports and the Pelni boats. But that would stretch this post to twice the length, and I doubt you want to spend 48 hrs sitting on board boats. If any of your reading this is an expert on the sea network, you can educate me. =)
If you found this entry useful, do share the post! Do comment or drop me a note if you need help with these routes. I’ll share what I know.