Malaysia Airlines is a child of Malayan Airways which first flew a few passengers between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur in 1947. Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965 did not initially extend to their airline but disagreement over strategy lead to a divorce. Singapore wanted to focus on International routes while Malaysia wanted to concentrate on domestic legs so in 1972 Singapore Airlines and Malaysian Airlines System – MAS were born, from an equal division of assets. The amicable division eventually created two of the world’s great airlines. As part of a marketing make-over the airlines name was simplified to Malaysian Airlines in 1987. In the 1970’s Malaysia Airlines’ acquisition of DC10’s allowed them to launch long distance services to Europe. In the 80’s they expanded to the US and in the 90’s Mexico, South Africa and Argentina were added. In 1997 the airline’s balance sheet turned red during the Asian Financial Crisis but recovered slowly. With the liberalisation of Malaysia’s airline market, competition has been intense and profits difficult to achieve.
Malaysia Airlines provides all its passengers with great on-board service irrespective of the class of travel. All flight crews are multi-lingual attractive Malaysians. The women are immaculately presented in a colourful Malaysian outfit and men in a western uniform. Staff are pleasant, smiling, diligent and display a patience that many tired old-timers crewing other airlines can barely comprehend. Friendly staff enjoy having a chat with passengers in the galley and have a real personality without being overly familiar.
Malaysia Airlines has a surprisingly extensive network. Who would think the best way to go from Tokyo to Buenos Aires, or Brisbane to Cape Town would be via Kuala Lumper? But it’s true. The airline has an excellent network between all of Australia’s mainland capitals and many European and Asian cities as well. Their domestic network covers virtually every commercial airport in Malaysia. As well as having an extensive network the airline also promotes stopovers in Kuala Lumpur at no extra charge. This often overlooked Asian capital is one of the world’s greatest places to dine and go shopping. It’s worth taking up the stopover option just to explore the deliciously cheap outdoor eateries.
Malaysia Airlines is extremely competitive. As a mid range airline, for price they always beat similar competitors like Cathay Pacific, Qantas and British Airways but the reality is a trip with Malaysia Airlines is a much more enjoyable experience as well. First and Business Class on Malaysia Airlines can in fact be cheap compared to others so presents fantastic value. It pays to check their website and compare prices with rivals.
Malaysia Airlines has quite good catering overall but it is showing signs of economising. Malaysia Airlines often compete against airlines who offer no free catering at all so meals are fantastic, but when compared to Emirates, there really isn’t a comparison. Premium passengers enjoy a high standard of service on colourful china and nice cutlery. The meal trolley looks very inviting with a wide variety of nicely presented choices available. Crew actually offer seconds! In Economy, meals resemble high quality TV dinners on aluminium foil. Wine service is adequate; however selections also show signs of budgeting.
The style of entertainment offering depends on the aircraft type and destination. Long haul flights have an individual seat back personal entertainment system with dozens of movie options, audio channels and games, while shorter flights have a single drop-down main screen with a single movie. Premium passengers get their own portable media player which is very inferior to those offered by almost everyone else, however if you plan to sleep, eat and work it’s quite OK.
Malaysia Airlines offers an efficient check in service. Queues are generally short, thought has gone into where passengers with needs sit and excess baggage is generally overlooked unless you’re travelling with the kitchen sink. Baggage is handled efficiently and transfers go seamlessly. Staff are generally polite and attentive. Premium passengers are not fawned over the way they are on other carriers, which can be good or bad depending on how vain you are.
Malaysia Airlines has a very nice First and Business Class product at an attractive price. Cabin interiors are very soothing and spacious. If you are primarily after space and comfort then its fine, but if you are after luxury and want to be treated like a celebrity then better airlines exist. Malaysia Airlines Lounges are also very nice, but a little dated and in need of a make-over. They can be crowded. Malaysia Airlines premium services just don’t qualify them for the highest tier of air travel but still do present excellent value for money.
Economy Class in Malaysia Airlines is a pleasant enough experience. Seats are OK, the entertainment system is more than adequate, meals are a little above average and baggage allowance is generous. Passengers can enjoy a KL stopover at no extra cost and staff are friendly. Some aircraft interiors are showing signs of age, but considering the price is typically less than competitors, these minor points are worth it.
Malaysia Airlines does not belong to any of the main airline alliances but a membership card for Enrich, their frequent flyer programme will also come in handy with many partnered airlines, hotels and financial service providers. But the reality remains that Enrich Miles are practically worthless unless you have tens of thousands of them. You need to take many flights just to get an upgrade (the same as almost every airline). There is also a student scheme called Grad, which operates similarly and is also mostly useless. You would need to take literally hundreds of flights to become a Platinum Enrich member.
Malaysia Airlines senior management team don’t seem to be the brightest bunch in aviation today. And they are definitely susceptible to flattery, brown-nosing and nepotism. An odour of corruption surrounds their entire management. The airline certainly demonstrates a preference for ethnic Malay Malaysians over Chinese and Indian Malaysians, so well connected Malays with a skill at flattery are destined to go far. A lack of skill and little product knowledge are no obstacle to a successful career in Malaysia Airlines, if you have the right connections. The upper echelon of the company should be held responsible for the poor financial performance of the airline and lack of a real strategy in dealing with the explosive growth in low-cost carriers. Management is certainly carrying a lot of excess baggage and they should be held accountable. Why hasn’t Malaysia Airlines joined Star Alliance, SkyTeam or OneWorld? It should have, a decade ago. As well as useless managers, Malaysia Airlines also has disquiet amongst its junior staff who are unhappy about the airlines lack of direction.
Malaysia Airlines has been no stranger to safety dramas. In 1977 the airline lost a plane from a mysterious terrorist who sabotaged and destroyed a flight. It remains a mystery who/why they did it. The airline has a reputation for average aircraft maintenance and second hand Malaysia Airlines aircraft have been claimed to be in sub-standard condition in recent years. The airline operates an aging fleet when compared to prestigious airlines from the Middle East, however its age is comparable to US carriers. It is difficult to believe that economising by the financially distressed airline, has not spread to its Engineering division.
Quite a nice airline with a distinctive Malaysian feel offering good service at a very good price.
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