Air Malta Flight Fails to Soar

The choices for a direct flight between Milano, Italy and the stunning island of Malta were between Air Malta or Ryanair, who I avoid flying at all costs. I was keen to try Air Malta, the tiny flag carrier, which has been financially struggling for a long time. But, when I booked this flight, I hadn’t anticipated the October 3rd announcement that the current Air Malta will be shut down in March next year.

To make matters “more interesting”, Italy had a general transport strike on the day I departed Milan, which caused delays or cancellations of air and rail services! I was notified by Air Malta, in the evening before that my flight would be delayed by two hours and 55 minutes. We left later that that and arrived almost four hours late.

This flight marked my 1563rd air journey and was my first experience flying from Milan Linate Airport, adding novelty to my adventure.

Booking (Online): 10/10

The Air Malta website was straightforward and convenient to use. Air Malta offers four types of Economy class: Go Sale, Go Light, Go Smart and Go Flex.

The airline has three types of business-class fares: Just Business, Business Smart and Business Freedom. Each comes with the usual differing levels of cancellation and booking fees. This means the airline is selling seven different fare options. On top of that are a series of extras.

I am not a fan of all these options. Let me just buy a ticket and fly without worrying about every small detail like baggage etc!

I opted for a Go Light fare and Selected Seat and “Go First” snagging an emergency exit seat for myself. This choice allowed me to board alongside Business Class passengers, a decision that proved beneficial as the competition for carry-on space heated up very quickly.

Frequent Flyer: Flypass

Air Malta runs its own loyalty program: FlyPass. It is connected to Swiss Air and Lufthansa. I personally chose to accumulate points through my Air France Flying Blue program. However, with the impending closure of Air Malta in 2024, a harsh reality emerges: any miles earned in their program will not be transferable. As the airline’s closure looms, those with miles in the Air Malta program may now find themselves diligently seeking flights during the Christmas and New Year period in a race against time. This situation poses a challenge for the prospective new airline, making it difficult to introduce a competitive loyalty program.

It is a stark reminder that frequent flyer miles, despite their allure, often have limited real-world value. They are susceptible to devaluation or even complete cancellation. The lesson here is clear: Miles should be used, not hoarded. I’m still haunted by my experience from two decades ago when I lost a substantial 180,000 miles due to the collapse of Star Alliance member Ansett Australia!

Check-In: 7/10

Air Malta sent me a daily email in the week leading up to my flight, encouraging me to bid for an upgrade. At the time, I saw no point in doing so. Regrettably, their communication regarding the previously mentioned flight delay left much to be desired. In their solitary message addressing the delay, they did present alternatives such as flight cancellation or rebooking. Nevertheless, more detailed information and proactive updates on the day of the flight would have been greatly appreciated. Disappointingly, their website displayed no information on the delay, and to my surprise, all flight tracking websites as well as Milan Linate Airport’s own website indicated an on-time departure!

I decided to trust the airline’s communication and spent some extra time exploring the captivating city of Milan. Conveniently, Linate Airport is well-connected to Line 4 of Milan’s metro system, ensuring easy accessibility.

At the airport, I found Air Malta’s single check-in desk located near the entrance, catering to both business and economy class passengers. I couldn’t confirm if more counters were operational in the past. .

To my delight, there was no queue, and the check-in agent efficiently assisted me, despite the challenging circumstances due to the four-hour delay, inclement weather, and the frustration of some passengers. A bit of humour and a smile helped lighten the atmosphere during the check-in process, and we departed with much warmer interactions. It served as a reminder that being understanding and courteous, especially when dealing with people facing difficult situations, can go a long way

Security checks at Linate had lengthy queues, but they moved swiftly. I was impressed by the efficiency and friendly demeanour of the security team. Notably, Linate Airport didn’t require passengers to remove liquids, electronics, or shoes during the security check, which expedited the process. However, the new tray stacking system and advanced scanners seemed to confuse some passengers. It would be beneficial if airports used waiting times to explain these procedures to travellers. Why don’t they?

Boarding Experience: 1/10

Upon arriving at the gate after taking a short coffee break, I was surprised to find a line of 50 passengers already queuing for boarding, even before the inbound flight had landed. It was evident that the strike had caused chaos, with both passengers and staff feeling the pressure.

When it was time for boarding, specifically for Business and ‘Go First’ passengers, I had the privilege of bypassing the queue, allowing me to become the third passenger to board the plane. However, despite our early boarding, the three of us were left waiting on the air bridge for about ten minutes before being able to enter the aircraft. Boarding took almost an hour in total and felt very slow.

Upon reaching the plane’s entrance, I was stunned to see almost zero interaction between crew and passengers, not even a simple welcoming greeting as people passed through the cabin. I did manage to initiate a conversation with the cabin manager when I greeted them. The crew members watched passengers but I saw no smiles. I was unsure if this was typical or a result if the delays or the knowledge their jobs were soon to be restructured.

Baggage:

Before my Air Malta flight, I was unsure how strictly they implemented their baggage policies. Being an ardent carry-on traveller, I’ve honed my luggage to a science compacted to near perfection. My primary carry-on bag weighed in at 7.5 kg, under their 10 kg allowance. In terms of dimensions but it teetered on the edge of their 40x55x25 cm limit.AMy smaller item was within the size limit of 40 cm x 20 cm x 25 cm, but it tipped the scales at 3.5 kilograms, surpassing their kg weight limit.

Despite the explicit warnings of a 60 euro fee for marginally heavier bags, there was no gate-side hand-carry baggage inspection or weigh-in, a refreshing departure from the strictness often encountered on airlines like Ryanair.

The contemporary spectacle of causing passengers undue stress over a kilogram or an inch too large in their luggage dimensions seems to epitomize a less-than-desirable aspect of modern air travel. While enforcing a few kilograms over the limit makes sense, situations where people are brought to tears over the weight of their laptop or the size of their handbag appear unnecessary. My 7 kg officially adhered to Air Malta’s baggage guidelines, including allowances.

Onboard: 7/10

The aircraft for this journey was an Airbus A320-200, bearing the registration 9H-AHS, which is one of three A320s in Air Malta’s fleet. This particular plane was originally delivered to Sri Lankan Airlines in April 2012 before becoming a part of Air Malta’s fleet in April 2018. Remarkably, the aircraft was in excellent condition.

Inside the cabin, there were 168 seats arranged as you would typically find in this narrow-body aircraft, with three rows on each side of the centre aisle. As si typical in Europe with Business Class, the middle seat is left unoccupied, giving a slight more comfortable and spacious travel experience.

The seat pitch was 31 inches (ca. 79 centimetres), and the seat width was 18 inches (ca. 46 cm). In the emergency exit, I think that pitch was around 34/35″

The flight was almost fully occupied, with just one seat available in Business Class and three seats in Economy, one of which was next to me, specifically, the middle seat in my emergency exit row!.

We got a nice sunset at departure but for most of the flight, we encountered darkness thick cloud and quite a bit of turbulence due to weather patterns over southern Europe. It wasn’t until we neared the main airport runway in Milan that I finally caught sight of some light.

Safety: 9/10

AirlineRatings.com gave Air Malta a Safety Rating of 7/7, highlighting the airline’s strong commitment to passenger safety.

Strict safety checks were conducted on board. I noticed one passenger being reminded to put their shoes on during take-off and landing. Air Malta had a clear policy that no coats or bags were allowed in the emergency exit area, ensuring an unobstructed path. While some airlines may adopt a more relaxed approach, Air Malta was diligent about this safety measure. On the other hand, bulkier items like coats, bags, and laptops were permitted in the seat pockets.

Entertainment: 1/10

Unfortunately, the flight offered no in-flight entertainment options, and Wi-Fi was not provided.

Passengers were provided with just a magazine to pass the time.

Given the late departure and the dark, stormy night, enjoying the scenic views of the Mediterranean was impossible.

I

In today’s aviation landscape, Wi-Fi is becoming increasingly vital for passengers, particularly during evening flights. It’s worth noting that Air Malta’s competitors, Ryanair and Wizz Air, similarly do not provide such amenities but you will find them with varying degrees with the main line Europe airlines.

Meals: 0/10

One notable aspect of the flight was that passengers were charged for all drinks and food onboard. While it’s not uncommon for airlines to charge for snacks and meals, offering complimentary water in light of the delay, would have been a thoughtful gesture. It might have bought some goodwill.

Arrival at Malta Airport: 7/10

Due to the delays, my arrival at Malta International Airport was delayed by four hours and happened at night, depriving me of the chance to savour scenic views of the Maltese islands during the journey. As we descended, I caught only a glimpse of a few scattered lights before experiencing a beautiful landing on the airport’s single runway.

After landing, we were shuttled a considerable distance to the terminal by bus. It struck me as somewhat unusual to see Ryanair and Wizz Air planes parked right at the terminal, while the flag carrier didn’t appear to have priority at its home airport.

Nonetheless, the arrival process was notably efficient. What impressed me most was the convenience of purchasing a bus pass for the Malta bus system right in the arrival hall. In a span of just 29 minutes after landing, I had managed to secure the pass, freshen up in the restroom, and catch a bus to Valletta. I arrived at my apartment exactly one hour after we touched down. This smooth transition from the aircraft to my accommodation certainly alleviated the impact of arriving four hours behind schedule.

About the Airline:

Air Malta was formed in 1974 which means that it should be celebrating 50 years in 2024 instead of being shut down. Since 2020, the airline has been really struggling and has been trimming staff, flights and services. The carrier now flies to 18 destinations, down from 37 in 2019.

In April 2023, the European Union rejected the Maltese government’s request to provide 290 million euros in state aid to the airline. Consequently, the government announced plans to cease Air Malta’s operations on March 30, 2024, to be succeeded by a new carrier, scheduled to launch in March 2024 under the name KM Air Malta, yet it will trade under the familiar brand, Air Malta. Unfortunately, this transition will result in job losses for all existing staff, and the details of their new terms and conditions remain uncertain.

Ryanair, which maintains a substantial presence in Malta and connects the country to 61 destinations, has long been warning of Air Malta’s impending demise

For travellers like me, there is the option to choose indirect flights and make connections with carriers such as British Airways, ITA, Lufthansa, and Turkish Airways at various European hubs. Additionally, WIZZ Air offers flights to Malta from eight destinations across Europe.

Here’s to hoping that the upcoming ‘more efficient and financially viable’ airline will experience brighter days ahead.

Overall:

My score for this flight is 57%. This is similar to how I rate Air Asia, American Airlines and Jetstar!

Airline Ratings provides Air Malta with a Product Rating of 3/7, while TripAdvisor rates it at 3.5 stars. Skytrax awards Air Malta a three-star rating.

Would I fly them again? If flying to Malta and the only competition was Ryanair, then yes!

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