Of the 5000+ air carriers on the world, There are only six five star airlines:
- ANA All Nippon Airways
- Asiana Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Singapore Airlines
What makes a five star airline? According to Skytrax: The 5-Star Airline rating recognizes airlines at the forefront of product innovation, that set quality benchmarks and trends that are often followed by other carriers. The Airline Rating systems assess the standard of an airline’s Product and Service Delivery Quality, using more than 800 assessment categories, applied across both the Onboard and Airport environments.
My experiences with Cathay have been excellent and good with Singspore, I expected Malaysian to be…. Well five star.
I flew Malaysia three times this month, my first ever flights with this carrier. One reason I had for flying Malaysia, is that they have joined the One World Alliance. I can now earn points and use Malaysia’s lounges through my Qantas Frequent Flyer membership. The catch is that not all fares are eligible for earning points and status credits. Navigating the maze of eligble fares and sectors is way too complex. Annoyingly, it is possible to earn fewer frequent flyer points on some business class fares than some economy fares!
Malayan Airways Limited started its first flight in 1947. In 1963 it became Malaysian Airways then Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA) in 1966. In 1972 the carrier was split into two: MAS (Malaysian Airline System) and Singapore Airlines. The current name was adopted in 1987. Malaysia Airlines flies to 61 domestic and international destinations with 92 planes. Malaysia made a massive loss in 2012 and the airline was reported to be in crisis. It began a series of cost cutting measures including dropping loss making flights. It proposed a deal with fast growing arch rival budget carrier Air Asia which would have ended head-to-head competition. Air Asia would have concentrated on the lower-cost short-haul routes and Malaysia Airlines on the long-haul flights. Air Asia would buy a fifth of Malaysia airline’s shares. This collapsed.
Malaysian is one of the few airlines left in the world that offer face to face booking in their own offices. They also have an excellent 24 hour call centre. The airline has their own MHmobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android which can be used to book flights. I used the
Website booking engine which is very straightforward. My frustration was that it was not very easy to see which fares would gain Qantas frequent flyer accrual (see above). Malaysian offers three classes of Economy (Basic, Smart and Flexi), Business and First (on selected flights only).
Check In : 8/10
While Malaysia offers check in 48 hours in advance, exit and bulkhead row seating is only allocated at the airport so I found myself waiting in line at each airport. Interestingly at Melbourne airport, at the start of the Check in process, there were about 100 people waiting for Economy check in, five waiting in Business and one waiting in the online check in/bag drop off queue. I was the first to be served. This meant I easily got an extra leg room seat. This experience was repeated when I checked in at Bangkok but not on my Kuala Lumpur to Sydney flight.
As I was checking in, an altercation began at the counter next to me. A gentleman had used his points to upgrade himself to Business Class. Interestingly he had left his wife in Economy. The check in agent advised him that the upgrade had not come through. He was furious and demanded to see the supervisor. She advised him the entire plane including Business Class was full. He was still arguing his case furiously showing printouts of his frequent flyer account, as I walked away.
Malaysia Airlines has a pleasant lounge in Melbourne, a ginormous lounge at Kuala Lumpur and use Thai airways facilities in Bangkok. I thought the food range a little limited in Melbourne until I found the staff cook some meals to order. The food choices were overwhelming at the Kuala Lumpur facility. I was pleased but wasn’t wowed by the facilities. The wifi worked well at all of the lounges.
There was the usual scrum melee upon boarding but the Business/Preferred Frequent Flyer lines moved quickly. The welcome aboard my flights was polite but not overly warm. Interestingly at Skytrax awards this year, Malaysia’s cabin crew took third spot while Cathay and Asiana took first and second respectively. Oddly, I found the Malaysia crews to be quite bossy.
Despite fairly full flights, I found that people did not bring a lot of hand luggage on board so there seemed to be plenty of room on board.
On board: 9/10
I flew on two A330s and a 737 (I have yet to get on the Malaysia Airlines’ 380!). The first impression of the A330 Economy cabin was the riot of colour! (photo: Andy Mitchell- Flickr)
In the A330 Economy class, the 247 seats are arranged 2-4-2 except for the last four rows which are 2-3-2. Avoid the very back row. Seat width is 17.5 inches seat pitch 32 inches. Each seat has footrest, 8.9″ seat back TV screen and meal tray table except at the front rows which are “in-arm”. Seats are mechanically assisted recline. Each passenger has access to an individual overhead reading light, 115 volt AC power supply and USB port. There are five lavatories which were clean for the whole flight.
The 36 Business Class seats are 20 inches wide with a seat pitch of 60 inches arranged in pairs so every seat is either window or aisle. Each seat has an Individual 15.4-inch seat back smart screen featuring Audio Video on Demand, in-seat power, USB port and LED reading light. There is a one-piece tray table with 6-inch slide in centre console, a fold up privacy divider and Fold-out privacy divider. There are three lavatories.
The cabin felt very fresh and very clean. No amenity kit was provided on any of the flights which suprised me.
On my overnight Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur flight, the gentleman sitting behind me collapsed on while heading to the lavatory. He hit the floor with a loud thump, waking many of the passengers up -including myself. I immediately pressed the flight attendant call button. Together with another passenger, we checked if he was okay and helped him to his seat. He complained of feeling dizzy and asked for water. I rushed down to the galley at the back of the plane, which was empty and helped myself to a glass of water for him. He asked for more so back to the plane rear I went. As he drank the second glass, I went forward and found a cabin attendant and explained the situation. She provided him with more water. It concerned me that no one responded to the call button through the entire incident and they didn’t check on the passenger again. Embarrassedly, he thanked me profusely at disembarkation.
My overwhelming memory of the entertainment system are the same three ads that appeared at the start of every show. While I fast forwarded through them, it was an irritation each time. The system seemed to have a good range of movies but the TV range was a bit more limited compared to Qantas. The buttons worked well but the controls on the TV could be unresponsive at times.
I was very disappointed with half of the Economy meals I was served on the Malaysia flights. For example, dinner on the flight out consisted of a pizza type sub in a box. It tasted okay. Breakfast on another flight was a choice between a Chicken or a Mushroom pie. I thought a five star airline would have five star catering.
The airline have a good selection of alcoholic and non alcoholic drinks although I would love to see more of the interesting juices one finds in the country of Malaysia. No bottles of water were handed out but the cabin crew passed through the cabin with water and juice from time to time. They were willing to pour drinks when I visited the galley.
My Flight Rating: Overall 81% (4 out of 5).
My Overall rating of Malaysia Airlines 4.0 out of 5 I would place them on a group with Etihad, Swiss, Air Canada and Korean Air. This grouping is just behind Delta and ahead of Air France and way behind Singapore and Cathay in my mind.
Malaysia has a 5 star rating from Skytrax. This rating was confirmed again last week in Paris, yet they only came 14th place in the most recent Skytax awards and were tenth the year before. How can a five star airline not feel overwhelmingly amazing? Are they declining? If so, is this as a result of financial pressures?
Would I fly them again? Yes