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Going back to old virtues – on a Malaysia Airlines A380

KUALA LUMPUR - "Due both catastrophes in 2014, we are maybe more known now than any airline our size would usually be," says the German CEO of Malaysia Airlines, Christoph Mueller. Even if the old principle establishes that bad PR is better than no PR, the case of the Asian airline is unprecedented globally.

And this kind of publicity is for sure not letting business thrive. No airline can possibly recover from such lows. That's what one was thinking, then. But in the meantime, Christoph Mueller has led the airline close to break-even again, after a radical downsizing.

Malaysia Airlines Airbus A380
Malaysia Airlines Airbus A380, © Airbus

"Malaysia Airlines has a proud heritage, and used to be the epitome of Asian service culture, besides Singapore Airlines," according to Mueller. That's something to build upon, even without a rebranding. Malaysia Airlines has phased out its whole Boeing 777-fleet, while in Europe, it only continues to serve London-Heathrow, twice daily in each direction, with the A380.

That's 1,976 seats that have to be filled, every day. And very often, they are going empty. On my outbound flight on a Monday night, almost the full main deck was empty, with not even one person sitting in each row, fitting ten people. But Christoph Mueller denies that the London route is only continued out of reasons of prestige or political reckoning.

"There are many Malaysians studying in London, and in terms of investing in British real estate, Malaysians are ranking second," according to the CEO. But he still admits: "The A380 is not ideal for this route, it was ordered in 2001 to serve the kangaroo route from London via Kuala Lumpur to Australia, but that has been mostly taken over by the Gulf carriers these days," states Müller. In 2018, when the six newly ordered Airbus A350s will arrive, the six A380s are due for sale.

After appointments in Kuala Lumpur, I am flying back from Asia to Europe on a Friday night, shortly before midnight. In contrast to the other Asian regional hubs like Singapore or Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur offers all amenities, but is much more manageable in size, with much less people, very beneficial.

Almost three hours before departure, I arrive at the airport by the KLIA Ekspres fast train. Nobody is waiting at Business Class check-in, within seconds I have my boarding pass in hand, I'm not checking any luggage. From here, it's not far to passport control, where in each lane, about half a dozen people are lined up. Entirely by accident, I discover that there is a priority lane for premium passengers, where nobody is in line.

Truly, a Golden Lounge

After passing through, I take the people mover to the satellite terminal, where my A380 gate is located. I want to spend the time before departure eating and working in Malaysia Airlines' Golden Lounge. It's not easy to find, I don't see any signs, but at some point I find the entrance in a corner on the first floor. I would have liked to get a description of how to get here with my boarding pass.

The lounge is vast and fairly empty, even during evening rush hour. Alcoholic beverages, since we are in a Muslim country, are only served at a bar before the proper lounge, but the barmen stock everything, even chilled French champagne. Because of how big it is, it's not easy to grasp what the lounge offers at all.

I am delighted when I spot a kitchen counter where an actual chef prepares fresh Laksa, a hot, aromatic soup and Malaysian specialty. Delicious. With that, a cold Tiger beer and some spicy papaya salad make for a very good start for the long trip. Even some international newspapers are offered here.

The A380 Experience

Then, it's time to proceed to the gate, where the security check takes place. Through an ascending pier, I am proceeding directly onto the upper deck to my seat 11A. For me, a window seat on the A380's upper deck is a must, because of how the stowage bins underneath the windows enhance the personal living space considerably, even in the Economy section of the upper deck.

Malaysia Airlines Airbus A380
Malaysia Airlines Airbus A380 Business Class, © Andreas Spaeth

Tonight, the A380 to London is choc-a-block, in extreme contrast to my outbound flight. The 66 seats of Business Class are divided into two sections, with three rows configured 2-2-2 in the front and eight rows aft of the galley, behind.

Before takeoff, just water and guava juice are offered, no newspapers, no alcohol. Then the captain announces a slight delay, as the final route planning is still under way. On the screens at every seat, the text of a "journey prayer" is appearing in Arabic, Malay and English. Finally, the A380 gets under way about 15 minutes behind schedule, whispering as usual as it takes to the sky.

Afterwards, very stylish amenity kits by Porsche Design are distributed, also menu cards and headphones. Unfortunately, the inflight service commences very slowly, it takes 45 minutes after takeoff before drinks are offered for the first time. I opt for the excellent Philipponat Royale Réserve champagne.

With it goes the signature dish of Malaysia Airlines, chicken and beef satay sticks. These are grilled at the catering facility in Kuala Lumpur over mangrove charcoal, which I had the privilege to observe that same morning. Of course satay tastes incomparably better straight from the fire then on board, chilled and reheated. Then, it takes a full hour until a meal is served, at about 1.30am Malaysian time, much too late. Many passengers have gone to sleep already.

Malaysia Airlines Airbus A380
Malaysia Airlines "Signature Dish", © Andreas Spaeth

The menu on this long night flight is called "Dine Anytime" and it contains eleven options, mostly lighter dishes like Asian noodles or soups, although pasta or beef are offered. I have already opted to select menu items online, before the flight.

"Book the Cook" is very popular with Singapore Airlines, and Malaysia Airlines offers its similar "Chef on Call" scheme for the premium classes. So I just pick a starter from the menu now, crabmeat-and-avocado salad with fennel, shaved Parmesan and red pepper coulis. It looks nice and is tasty.

As main dish, I had ordered Nasi Lemak online. That's more a breakfast dish in Asia, but I could never eat it in the morning. It consists of rice cooked in coconut milk, served with a hot prawn sambal sauce and peanuts, a half hard-boiled egg and some crunchy dried mini fishes. I love such things, especially when they are spicy, as it gives me a warm feeling in my stomach.

Unfortunately, the beverage service is a bit erratic, although many passengers are already sleeping. During the whole meal, wine is offered just once, a perfect Chaud Pouilly-Fumé 2014 from the Loire. To top it off, I have a plate of fresh fruit and a cup of Häagen Dazs strawberry ice cream, my favorite flavor. Finally, a small glass of malt whisky, Glenlivet 18 Years. I can't complain.

A real lapse

Until I want to go to sleep, that is, because now it appears I'm really out of luck. The A380 is advertised for its mood lighting and the LED lights produced by German company Diehl. Only that just tonight, and exactly above my seat, this neon tube persistently glows brightly, while the rest of the cabin lies in darkness, as intended. A real lapse.

Even a rebooting of the lighting system leads to nothing. I request a seat elsewhere, assuming that all is occupied anyway. Unfortunately, I'm not invited into the hopefully dark First Class cabin. The cabin crew does apologize to me, but that doesn't solve the problem. At some point they even find a free seat in Business Class, but I have cluttered my things all over my seat environment and decide not to move now, in the middle of the night.

I'm glad the sleep mask actually does cut out the light. But I still had wished for a more proactive handling of this quite annoying problem by the cabin crew. The seat itself can be extended into a 183cm-bed, and with armrests up it offers a fairly wide space. But as often happens with full-flat seats not boasting an ottoman at the foot end, the lower part is not in line with the rest of the bed here, but rather points slightly downwards. To fall asleep, I bend my knees, not always comfortable.

Malaysia Airlines Business Class
Malaysia Airlines Business Class, © Andreas Spaeth

I still try to sleep as long as possible, but about one and a half hours before landing I'm in the mood for breakfast. Again, the crew stands by with the dish I ordered online, without any discussion, waffles with syrup, berry compote and baked bananas. Something I never eat elsewhere, it looked much different on the order page, but still it is quite tasty.

When I ask for Smoked Salmon and Herb Cream Cheese on crisp bread, that's on the menu, the flight attendant is puzzled and excuses herself: "There is so much on the menu". After twelve hours and 52 minutes, the A380 is touching down on a rain-soaked runway in Heathrow and taxies to Terminal 4.

Verdict


Malaysia Airlines offers everything on board its A380 that makes travel agreeable. The Business Class product, although a few years old, is very solid, if only the service, especially on night flights, could be streamlined. Kuala Lumpur airport is easier to use than most other big Asian hubs. That combined with competitive prices makes Malaysia Airlines a good option from Europe to Asia or Australia.

Flight report

Airline: Malaysia Airlines
Aircraft type: Airbus A380
Registration: 9M-MHC
Cabin: Business Class
Date: May 20, 2016
Route: Kuala Lumpur-London/Heathrow
Flight: MH002

Andreas Spaeth


Andreas Spaeth flies. Very frequently. On PaxEx.com one of the leading European aviation journalists shares his personal passenger experiences traveling around the globe.

Follow Andreas on his Twitter @SpaethFlies.

© Andreas Spaeth | Abb.: Andreas Spaeth | Jun 17, 2016 10:20


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