Air Malta commenced in 1973 in partnership with the once prestigious PIA Pakistan International Airlines. Their first flight took off a year later. The name Air Malta had previously been used by other carriers since 1947 but they are different airlines. Air Malta originally leased Boeing B720’s which were short range but wide bodied planes ideal for carrying large numbers of holiday makers the relatively short distances from northern Europe to the Meditteranean. In 1986 the airline purchased new Boeing 737’s and added Airbus A320’s to their fleet in 1989. The airline’s network expanded to cover many major European cities, several short distance routes to Sicily, Sardinia, Tunisia, Libya and has expanded to include Israel. Demand for flights to Tunisia declined and the airline has ceased services. Because of the seasonal nature of Malta’s tourism industry during winter months the airline leases its aircraft to other airlines; most recently Etihad and Chile’s Sky Airline. The airline owns its own ground services company which provides check-in services for other airlines in Valetta and they also operate freight, insurance and package holiday subsidiaries. In 2012 the airline updated its logo, colour scheme and designs. Air Malta plays a crucial role in the local economy which has been hard hit by the Euro crisis and economic malaise in the European Union. The carrier is 98% government owned.
Air Malta is the flag carrier of a friendly social holiday island and crew do try to provide a superior service. The airline’s multi-lingual flight attendants tend to be experienced rather than glamorous and most will speak at least three languages. Service is efficient, call buttons are answered and asking for a drinks top-up will not be greeted by a snarl.
Air Malta competes against many of Europe’s largest discount carriers on the same routes but their network is not as extensive. Air Malta is primarily a holiday airline so they operate a large number of routes on a seasonal basis. The airline provides excellent links to Norway, England, Italy and also serve two destinations in Switzerland. Air Malta serves Libya’s capital, Tripoli and also Benghazi. The airline’s only Middle Eastern route, Tel Aviv is served as a seasonal destination only. Air Malta codeshares with numerous other airlines including Australia’s troubled flag carrier, Qantas.
Air Malta is more expensive than the it’s chief competitors; Ryanair, easyJet and Air Berlin, however the travelling experience is far superior. While many of their rivals are little more than buses with wings full of football hooligans, an Air Malta flight promises to be an enjoyable one and is worth a little extra.
European passengers who have become accustomed to paying for terrible onboard catering on discount airlines will be pleased to discover tasty meals and drinks are served free of charge on all Air Malta flights. Meal serving match the distance of the flight and time of day. Passengers on short distance flights to Rome for example will typically be served rolls and coffee while longer routes in the morning will receive quite sizable hot breakfasts. Business Class catering servings are certainly larger and tastier but not exactly glamorously presented.
No Air Malta flight is longer than four hours flying time so the airline has not gone to the expense of installing expensive individual IFE (in-flight entertainment) units. All planes have drop down TV monitors with volume accessed from seat headphones. The airline have 10 channels of audio in several European languages. The airline’s English language magazine Skylife is a pleasant read designed to put holiday makers in the mood for their Maltese holiday.
Air Malta operates its own ground handling company at Malta’s only airport, 5km from downtown Valetta. The airline’s check-in procedures have been automated with self-check and internet check-in which is convenient for passengers without luggage. All others will need to utilise the bag drop facilities. Ground staff tend to be reasonably diligent rather than friendly. While plastic bag wrapping is very popular at Malta International Airport Air Malta has one of the best reputations in Europe for baggage handling, making the plastic wrapping unnecessary. However holidaymakers may feel more relaxed having Travel Insurance. The airport experience in Valletta is relatively dull as their new airport terminal and facilities are so ‘international’ they really could be anywhere on the planet. There are few reminders that this airport is in Malta. Outside Malta, the airline has contracted third party ground handlers to do check-in and baggage and the quality of their service varies from ordinary to rude.
On many routes Air Malta is the only airline to offer a premium class which they call Club Class. Because Air Malta’s fleet is now entirely narrow body aircraft their Club Class take up the first two or three rows of the plane and are separated from Economy by a curtain which for security reasons is often not drawn. Service is Club Class is a little better than Economy with a hot towel and free newspapers before take-off. Seats are naturally larger and are leather. Air Malta do not operate any of their own lounges but their premium passengers have access to La Valletta Executive Lounge in Malta and private lounges in other airports which vary greatly. Malta’s lounge is very comfortable and Economy passengers can also access it for €29. Drinks and food are then free.
Air Malta’s Economy Class compares very favourably with other legacy airlines like British Airways, KLM or Lufthansa and they are certainly far superior to the budget carriers who dominate European holiday destinations. Holiday makers will not regret spending a little extra for the superior service they will get from Air Malta.
Air Malta is not a member of any airline alliance but do have a reasonably well developed frequent flyer programme called Flypass. The multi-tier scheme operates similarly to Star Alliance schemes however will primarily be of use to Maltese residents or frequent travellers to Malta. There seems no strong reason why anyone else should join. KMiles, which they call their points, are earned from flights, codeshare airlines and partner tourist operators.
Air Malta is government owned and because of its contribution to the nation’s economy it is too important to let fail. In 2004 the airline hit economic turbulence and required a cash injection to it airborne. In return for a government loan union benefits were cut. Malta joining the Eurozone in 2007 initiated a drop in tourism which has been compounded by Europe’s economic meltdown. In 2010 the airline required another injection of cash. Despite Air Malta maximising use of its fleet the airline’s managers seem unable to combat cheaper rivals like Ryanair or more prestigious carriers like Emirates. At the same time fewer Maltese are travelling and tourism is dropping. Political problems in nearby Tunisia and Libya have not helped either. While Air Malta remains in the public spotlight because of its state ownership its management continue to be more ethical than many of their sleezy rivals such as easyJet. The airline's new colour scheme and image make-over looks fun and exciting.
Air Malta operate a newish fleet which is maintained by Lufthansa Technik. The airline has had no fatal accident however one aircraft was towed off a runway in 2002 by human error. Air Malta keeps its planes in good shape and only employs experienced pilots.
The holiday island of Malta has a high class airline as its flag carrier which offers reasonable value for money.
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