Review: Transiting Jakarta Airport

Filed Under: Travel

I wasn’t originally going to write about my transit in Jakarta, though it ended up being more of an adventure than I had bargained for.

It was also one of the more challenging transits I’ve had. I’m a firm believer in always being overly friendly to front-line staff, because I tend to think you get the best results by treating people the way you want to be treated. Well, during this layover I almost lost it. Almost.

My flight from Hong Kong landed at 8:05PM, and my Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo Narita was scheduled to depart at 9:25PM, leaving me 80 minutes to transit. That seems like a comfortable enough connection, though doesn’t leave much room for error. I didn’t yet have my boarding pass for my flight to Narita, so upon deplaning headed to the transit desk to hopefully get it issued.

Jakarta Airport arrivals hall

As luck would have it, the transit desk was not far from my arrival gate. There were two transit desks — one on the left side of the concourse, and one across from it on the right side of the concourse.

Both transit desks had signs for which airlines they serve, and the desk on the left clearly stated it provided ground handling for Japan Airlines.

There was no queue and there were four agent staffing the desk — my lucky day, eh?

I guess I should start by clarifying what I mean by “staffing the desk.” There were four people sitting at the transit desk — two were watching TV with headphones in, while the other two were playing games on their phones with headphones in. I literally had to wave to get their attention.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: “Hi, I’m booked on JL726 to Tokyo Narita and was hoping you could issue my boarding pass?”
Agent: “Which airline you arrive on?”
Me: “Cathay Pacific.”
Agent: “Then you use other desk over there.”
Me: “Sorry, to clarify, I’m booked on the Japan Airlines flight, and the sign says that you do transit for Japan Airlines.”
Agent: “No. You arrive Cathay Pacific, you go to Cathay Pacific desk.”
Me: “I arrived on a separate ticket. This ticket I’m flying is all Japan Airlines, so why would I use the Cathay Pacific desk?” (which was mostly true, given that the previous segment was part of a one-way, and this was the start of a new one-way)
Agent: “You go over there.”

Okay, fine, so I went over to the other desk, except it wasn’t staffed. But I figured I’d wait a few minutes. After five minutes I decided to go visit my friends at the other desk again.

Me: “There’s no one at the other desk. Do you know when they’ll show up?”
Agent: “Soon.”
Me: “Do you know how soon? My flight is in a bit over an hour.”
Agent: “Oh you don’t fly tomorrow?”
Me: “Ummm… no. I’m in transit. I fly tonight.”
Agent: “Okay, just keep waiting.”
Me: “Do you think you could maybe call someone and see if they can send someone to that transit desk?”
Agent: “No, just keep waiting.”

As I said at the beginning of the post, I do everything in my power to be nice, but this was the point at which I started to get a bit irked, and I wasn’t as friendly as I’d usually be.

Me: “I’m sorry but you guys are all sitting here playing games and I have a flight that leaves in an hour, and I’m waiting on someone that may or may not show up. If you’re not willing to make a phone call, can you please get your supervisor?”
Agent: “I already tell you, Japan Airlines not our job.”
Me: “Then you need to get your sign changed, because it clearly says you do the transit desk for Japan Airlines.”

So I go back to the other desk and keep waiting. And waiting. And waiting. I’d be lying if I didn’t say my blood pressure was progressively increasing.

After another 10 minutes I went back to the other desk, and very firmly told them that they were going to need to help me. And once I was firm they finally made a phone call, and a few minutes later a representative showed up.

He said “the other desk is supposed to do this, but I will help.”

He took my passport and left me standing there for about 15 minutes. That’s not the most reassuring feeling in a foreign country when your flight is about to depart, but it’s not like I had another option. After about 10 minutes he returned and said I needed to pay him so he could pay the visa fee. So I gave him $20, and he returned 10 minutes later with my boarding pass.

At that point he walked me through a roped off area and I found myself in the departures hall. The departures hall was sort of cute in a rundown way. It felt like a cross between the Honolulu and Bali airports.

Jakarta Airport departures hall

Jakarta Airport departures hall

We headed towards gate D7, where my Japan Airlines flight was departing from.

Jakarta Airport departure gate

The gate area was super-cool, with high ceilings.

Jakarta Airport departure gate

Boarding was already underway, so I proceeded right aboard.

Jakarta Airport departure gate

Bottom line

This was one of the more complicated transits I’ve had in a while. It still wasn’t a big deal, but ultimately I’d always much rather be the nice guy than the firm and pushy guy, though I had to be the latter towards the end.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose!

Fortunately what was awaiting me for the next 24 hours was nothing but blissful, over-the-top, beyond accommodating service.

Have you transited Jakarta Airport? If so, what was your experience like?

  1. This is sooooo Asia!!! šŸ™‚ Had several interactions like this one. The best was once when I arrived in Bangkok and went to immigration. The agent looked at my passport and nodded his had meaning something was wrong. He said something I could not understand and pointed I had to go somewhere else. Well, to keep the long story short after my blood pressure was way high I finally understood I had to fill a form about yellow fever because I was carrying a South American passport and the country was in the list. I tried to explain that I was coming from the US, I did not live there, etc…. but there was no way to convince the guy. Finally I find this little window in the middle of nowhere in the airport where a very grumpy lady picks my passport, says some words I could not understand and stamps a piece of paper. I look at her and she screams: Go!!!!! Well, that was the code for me to go back to immigration, show the piece of paper and be free to enter Thailand. LOL!!!!!!!

  2. Lucky,

    Have you ever gotten burned with such a short transit on two separate tickets? I know about your Etihad A380 story, but I’m wondering about other instances.

    I suppose as an ExecPlat you could just cancel the original ticket and book a new one the next day or whenever they had availability. I think many of us who are travelling on fixed dates with more than one person don’t have the flexibility that you do to find alternate award space and I’m always curious about what ends of happening if the connection is missed.

  3. I had heard enough horror stories about transiting Jakarta thet I decided to pay for the meet and great transit assistance service that my hotel offered. It was only like $35 I think per person and well worth it.


  4. well, that’s unpleasant… why didn’t you check-in online in Hong Kong? or maybe JAL desk in HKG?

  5. Is there a reason you never check in on your phone and use passbook or mobile boarding passes? not having to deal with the hassle of a paper pass is the greatest thing when I’m traveling since my iPhone is always in my hands

  6. Just did the Jakarta transit myself on Monday…was an adventure. šŸ™‚ Flew in on Thai in the morning and my connection to HKG on Cathay was a 10 hour gap. Writing up my trip report now but suffice it to say that I tried three times to get through the transit area and was refused each time. Was forced to leave and pay the Visa to reenter.

  7. JAL has a fully functioning online check-in process that allows you to print your boarding pass.

  8. we arrived in Jakarta after a 3 hour delay & missed our Garuda flight. I walked up and down that hallway a number of times trying to get help with rebooking. Finally we went through to departures and waited by the gate shown on our boarding pass. Sometime after the boarding time had passed and there was no activity at the gate I checked the info board, which showed a different gate. We ran and just made it. Indonesia in general is a tough place to fly to, take all info, inc flight departure times with a pinch of salt!

  9. I’m really sorry about your experience!! That’s so frustrating! I’ve transited there both on ANA and Japan Airlines, and actually had a very pleasant experience both times. I’ve also visited there, and while not my favorite city in Asia, it’s certainly worth exploring for a day. And the Grand Hyatt truly went above and beyond for me as a Diamond member.

  10. Ben,
    What’s that $20.00 visa fee for? This is not Visa on Arrival (if I remember, it’s $35.00), right? Unless this is for transit visa other than that I think he just got a free $20.00 from you.

  11. I’ve transited twice in CGk in the past 12 months and had good experiences. While there was a wait both times, staff was friendly and helpful. I also never paid the $20 fee. I’m really sorry to hear about your experience, but I wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

  12. Sorry to hear you had a bad experience with CGK, but that seems to be par for the course. šŸ™

    Even though we have Indonesian passports, my family still uses an ‘assistant’ to bypass security, customs/immigration and transit desks, well worth the small fee we pay him. He’ll meet you at the gate and then bring you all the way to your car, so skipping all the crazy officials and crooks in Indonesia.

  13. @Santastico. This is not “sooooo Asia”. This is more accurately “sooooo Indonesia”. Use terms accurately. You’ll never be met with such disgrace in Singapore and Hong Kong, both Asian countries.

  14. I didnĀ“t like CGK at all. I was also in transit and was told that I had to pay for a visa transit. As I had more time to spare, I exited the airside area and checked in the QR balcony. As you have to go through security before entering the airport, itĀ“s a mess outside. Inside isnĀ“t much better.
    This has nothing to do with the airport, but QR also charged me some taxes (like U$ 20, but I donĀ“t know why it wasnĀ“t charged when I ticketed it). I only had Benjamins, they didnĀ“t had change and asked for a bell boy to change it in a currency booth, but he changed to Indonesian Rupiah. I said I wouldnĀ“t accept U$ 80 in Rupyah, so he probably had a hard time to change the money back and not pay the conversion taxes.

  15. On two separate tickets, I always make sure that I have a layover of at least 6-12 hours (or overnight which is even better). I am usually travelling with family and cannot take the pressure of missing flights due to delays etc. It just ruins the whole concept of vacation.

  16. I would love to do a quick turnaround at Jakarta. But I will have to go through security and check in again. Just curious though, does security/police give you crap there? Would love to try it out.

  17. You would only have to pay “airport tax” for Intl depature – that costs under $5… That $20 is “coffee” money for this individual for sure… what a shame for other honest Indonesians

  18. yeah Ben that $20 is bull. I have transfered through Jakarta before on two occasions and both times did not pay the fine. Also stupid of you to not checkin on your mobile app, especially with JAL

  19. Hi Lucky, I’m glad you were able to catch the next flight without any incident. Having lived in both Indonesia and the US for quite some time, I can assure you that it is the normal expected behavior and service you would get in Indonesia… not just in the airports mind you, but everywhere. The scary part is, they completely don’t think that it’s a problem… they genuinely think that they were being reasonable.

  20. My SQ sin-cgk commute: in the visa on arrival days, i’d always choose a seat close to exit, already have the exact cash in cost in local IDR or USD or EUR, get out asap as soon as aircraft doors are open, sprint to the corridor and see all the VOA counters still empty. 1 counter get to pay for visa, 2 get a receipt, 3 to stamp it, 4 to show and exchange for the visa sticker, 5 the actual immigration booth. If you dont know the procedure you could get trampled easily. CGK is more an airport designed for international-domestic vv connections. Nowadays with GA, luggage is autmaticly labled to the domestic destination, there is valet luggage and a secret shortcut from international arrivals to domestic departure. Fortunately i am nowadays met by someone high-ranking from immigration at the aerobridge and cuts the lines, pybasses cues and counters and explained me all these secret features. It really pays to know people and maintain friendly relations there.

  21. A friend of my colleague at work once told me, they purposely use white chalk and mark your luggage. Then on the way out, these officers will ask to open the luggage. At the same time, other custom officer would whisper and say, just give him money, so no need to open the luggage. šŸ™‚

    @Diondi: “Heā€™ll meet you at the gate and then bring you all the way to your car, so skipping all the crazy officials and crooks….”
    That’s a wowww… then, you can bring anything even illegal stuffs into the country?

  22. Honestly, not surprised. I regularly fly out of CGK and honestly, don’t like the airport very much. It’s showing its age and the lounges, oh man, the lounges, are just terrible. Looking forward to the new terminal coming soon.

  23. I was in Indonesia recently and was supposed to fly from Labuan Bajo (Komodo National Park) to Bali. The flight was scheduled at 4:50 PM. The incoming aircraft was slightly delayed, so the flight was delayed. 45 minutes later everyone was still waiting to board the flight. Finally, I went to ask an employee what the problem was. He said that the airport closed at 5:00 so the flight was cancelled. I was furious, since the airline never made an announcement and left everyone in the boarding area. I imagine this must happen often, given the flight departs 10 minutes before the airport closes. Any delay will result in a similar situation.

    I went to the airline desk to get rebooked on another flight, as did the other passengers. There were no Indonesians on the flight, just Europeans/Americans/Australians. At the airline desk, the agents were not doing anything. I ask them to book me on another flight, since they canceled my other one. They pretended not to speak English, which wasn’t true, since they spoke it well at check in. Then, I started to speak to them in Indonesian (a second language for me), and they just told me to wait. I figured I didn’t have much control over the situation and waited. A German passenger, though, started yelling at the airline employees for their ineptitude and not doing their jobs (this lasted about 30 seconds). After 4 hours, an airline representative finally got us a hotel, but still no rebooked flight. Around midnight we were told we would be on a flight the next day. During that four hour period, the police arrested the German guy and led him away. I don’t know what happened to him. I suspect they just wanted a bribe, but I don’t know.

    In short, don’t lose your temper in Indonesia. It was good of you Ben to be firm but not lose it.

  24. I’m assuming online checkin didn’t work, sometimes it’s blocked because they want to check us or collect a tax. I’ve had CX tickets out of LAX where their system wouldn’t allow me to checkin online because they wanted to see the credit card used for purchase, etc. So it’s not always that easy to just checkin online.

  25. @Tiara – yes on the white chalk – that’s a true process.

    On skipping immigrations and illegal goods – They are cracking down on it a whole lot; what I find at the very least – the staff loves targeting foreigners as they are much more uncomfortable with the kind of “pressure” being put on that the locals who are pretty used to their “pressure” tactics.

    On opening up a luggage – unless you’re carrying something illegal; let them open it up – truthfully; wth can they do to you anyway if you are not in the wrong (FYI – i travel back home to Indonesia @ least once a year carrying vitamins etc from the USA)

  26. Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta is without doubt the worst airport in my experience – and that’s even compared to other disasters like Tom Bradley (LAX) and CDG Paris. One is GUARANTEED of delays, whether arriving in, or departing from, this sorry excuse for an airport. It is so tired and thank goodness that a new terminal is being constructed nearby, but it won’t be ready for a few more years. I always endeavor to avoid flying to or through Jakarta as much as possible. The queue for taxis is also another horror. Be prepared to pay bribes to get certain things done.

  27. Ah.. the white chalk. Someone mentioned this to us a few years back. From then we carry a small pack of wet wipes when flying to CGK and simply wipe off any marked luggage.

  28. I know this airport, as it is my home base, as a pilot. First of all, what you payed was most likely the airport tax for departures. It is 150.000RP (roughly 15USD) for intl flts.
    This is payed when getting a boarding pass, and will be a sticker on the back of the boarding pass, witch will be collected at the gate to make sure you payed it.

    I guess all airports have a tax to be payed, but it is included in the ticket price, but the system (or lack of system…) in Indonesia dont allow that. This is also why you cant check in online in this country.

    After a few years in this country, I have found that it is important to take charge here. I quickly see when smiles doesnt solve anything, then I raise my voice, and suddenly everyone around scrambling to solve the situation.
    In Indonesia, there are no system, and they dont know communication. They really try their best, but everything turn out to be a complete chaos, due to lack of communication skills among themselves. And this goes beyond airports and aviation, it is everywhere in this country.
    So it takes time to know how to work around that.

    But, despite that, it is a nice country.

  29. @Tiara, not sure as I’ve never tried but the customs guys just wave us on and give us a smile when he’s with us!

  30. Mike O., that is no issue at all. Compared to US airports it is really a breeze. Generally no long line-ups here and no screaming thugs in uniform.

  31. I think it’s awesome that even though time was tight you still had time to take pictures going to your gate. And you never get people in your shots, well done!

  32. @wim

    I read somewhere that someone was trying to go through customs and go check in again and Indonesian police threatened to have him arrested unless a bribe was paid. I read it somewhere on flyertalk.

  33. @Mike.O

    Mike I have been going through this airport for more than 15 year for at least 2 or 3 times a month and I have never seen anything like it.
    The only complaint I would have is that luggage handling is slow sometimes.

  34. @coins – I too am curious what the $20 “visa fee” was for, considering you were there for 80 some mins :S

  35. As an indonesian, i would like to say sorry..but i am happy you could enjoy our airport….please come again sometime

  36. I probably would’ve lost it too! I can’t stand it when people are not busy and don’t try to help me. At least make the damn phone call!!

  37. Lucky,

    As Mark has said above and since you did hold a separate CGK – NRT ticket (and assuming it had been issued before Feb. 9, 2015 for travelling on March 2015 onwards), the twenty dollars was definitely for the airport tax which was Rp 150,000 (at a crazy exchange rate set by the airport authority) that you had to pay departing from CGK. You should have a sticker or a stamp with PAID on your boarding pass for this airport tax. As of March 2015 (unless your ticket was issued before Feb. 9th, 2015) , all airlines tickets to and from as well as within Indonesia have already the airport tax included thus there has been no need for a separate payment of Rp 45,000 (for Domestic flights) and Rp 150,000 at the airport (for International flights). So, this is not a bribe. This practice of paying an airport tax at the airport is still being done at Manila. Bangkok and Shangai used to have it until around 6 to 8 years ago.

    I am a frequent travellers to CGK and I never experienced any issue transferring to my other flights. However, I mostly travel on GA and SQ. One thing for sure is that you do have to be firmed in Indonesia. Otherwise, the local won’t have any sense of urgency to get things done. If I were you, I would definitely take your complaint to JAL for having an awful and irresponsible agents in the ground at CGK.

  38. That is really unfortunate and it’s sad that you had to get upset and raise your voice in order for something to happen. Transits can be difficult, I encountered a difficult transit in Brisbane where I had about 1.5 to connect to my flight. My flights were booked separately but all on one airline. I arrived on my delayed flight and went to the transit desk to get my boarding pass (my luggage was already tagged to the next plane). the transit desk was staffed but they were very inefficient and not very nice. They had no idea what they were doing and after wasting time they said there was nothing that they could do and that I would have to exit out and check-in in the departures lounge. By the time I reached the departures lounge – the flight had just closed but the airline wouldn’t help me at all. I learned two things that day – 1) virgin australia does not have good customer service and 2) never trust transit less than 3 hours.

  39. Hi all,
    Anyone can tell me from your experience recently, as I will arrive with Qatar and then take domestic flight with GA to Jogjakarta(with 4h transit), can I use the transit service? Or I still need to go out from immigration and then check – in again?
    Thank you

  40. @ GZCalvario — You’ll need to clear immigration, but there should be a transit desk you can still use.

  41. Hi I’ve flown from jakarta airport many times. JKT can be a pain sometimes. departure is actually fine the pain is just immigration but luckily there is a premium immigration. i hope you go to a jakarta flight soon and visit jakarta. also try garuda indonesia first class.

  42. I really enjoyed reading all the previous comments. I agree with most of them. You must be corrupted to survive here. For the gentleman who invited us to fly Garuda. I am sorry…Garuda is so expensive now and lousy. I prefer MAS and Singapore Airlines. Thanks and bless you all….MARZZ

  43. Hi, anyone have experience layover inside of CGK overnight? my flight from SIN-CGK arrive at 22:55 and next flight is domestic flight at 05:35, all flight by GA in terminal 2. Is it safe to stay overnight as im travel alone, i plan to stay inside the terminal.

  44. Lucky – I’m sitting in the Garuda Indonesia business class lounge and I am shocked how easy transiting Jakarta is, I flew in on AF from Singapore (was hoping to try the new business class seats but alas aircraft swap) and transferring to Garuda Indonesia. I was met plane side by a Garuda employee with my name on a clip board. She walked me to an immigration desk with my passport, boarding pass and check luggage tag in hand and asked me to wait, then she returned a moment later to escort me up via a velvet rope to the departure level. I had an AF boarding pass with both flights on it. She escorted me to the Garuda lounge and she returned about 10 mins later with a new GA boarding pass and my passport. As I was waiting I noticed several other passengers had escorts with passports in hand so I could assume this was a feature for Garuda Indonesia? Either way I was ready to go through the hassle of transiting but I have to say it is the best airport to transit. I would probably do it again… anyone else have this experience?

  45. Hi, I’m in the process of arranging a flight that begins at Tokyo Haneda and ends at Singapore Changi via CGK. The airline from HND to CGK is ANA while the airline from CGK to SIN is Singapore Airlines.

    Is it necessary to plan for a >2 hour layover at CGK despite arriving and departing from the same terminal? What should I expect during this stopover?


  46. Can’t believe what I am reading here in 4 days time I am flying Qantas business class from Sydney arriving Jakarta at 6 pm and departing on Malaysian Airlines 4 am following day – so very long layover and intend to spend the night in the lounge. Any advise from anyone ?? Thanks , don’t suppose I need to pay what US$20 for this transit ??

  47. Just a data point for future travelers. Arrived CGK at midnight terminal 2 bound for a 7am departure in same terminal. transit counter was closed. Was told by JAL staff that using transit for connection of more than 6 hours is not permitted so we had to wait outside the secure area for about 4 hours until checkin opened. Of course you can’t go through first security to checkin until 3 hours before your flight. Just a heads up for anyone else.

  48. jakarta,s NEW terminal is an absolute JOKE. whilst arriving in the aircraft it was clearly obvious at the lack of civil engineering standards, the concrete paving is already starting to fail releasing stones which will be ingested into aircraft engines along with the blowing masses of migrating paper.
    And the BEST they are still using a man with direction paddles to direct the aircraft in to the bay, Most airports NOW use AGNIS ( azimuth guidance nose in stand) this is electronic guidance to correctly align and park the aircraft, CLEARLY an optional item at this NEW shining mess.
    The baggage cart had a huge hole in its roof, so theres NO chance of keeping your bags dry.
    First impressions of the terminal were DIRE filthy windows, broken wiring sockets, abrupt floor height changes, all the overhead air con outlets are dripping water onto already slippery surfaces, DONT LOOK UP the supposed majestic sweeping ceiling is an absolute engineering abomination panels are cut short, twisted, misaligned and broken.
    Paintwork is riddled with WET patches and holes in the arrivals hall.
    LOOK UP in the arrivals hall and you see something unbelievable the vertical columns are way off alignment with the horizontal beams, THIS IS TYPICAL OF INDONESIAN ENGINEERING.Walking out of the baggage collection hall look back and you will see a steel tube construction IT IS CLEARLY NOT LEVEL. The taxi point outside is TOTALLY DISFUNCTIONAL you get the taxi company you are told NOT the taxi company you want.
    On leaving this shining gem of indonesian engineering look at the already broken kerbs and concrete floor sections.

  49. Just read this posts. Based in Jakarta here and travel magazine publisher . The usd20 is for the airport charge of rp150,000 , until recently you hahe to pay upon check in in cash at the airline desk. Now it is included in the price of the ticket upon purchase . Which is more convenient. The airport is not the most organised for sure but then I have experienced worse as well ( Istanbul and santorini airports came to mind in the past year of travelling) . Come back to Jakarta again and try the GA First. And on the way, pick up my travel magazine “DestinAsian”

  50. Sorry for my poor english, but I hope you do understand what I’m asking. A little background, I’m an Indonesian teen living in Singapore. Gonna fly back to my hometown in West Kalimantan. Instead of going to Batam first on a ferry ride from Singapore, our family decided to take plane from Singapore to Jakarta then to West Kalimantan. Since this is our first time transiting on international flight, any tips for my family?

    Side note: I’m travelling back with my mother. Both of us are Indonesians citizen(Indonesia passport). Our Airline To Jakarta and West Kalimantan is Lion air. And we’ll be flying on this coming 19 December.

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