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MH is for Malaysian Hospitality: KUL-IST on 777 (Business Class)

MH is for Malaysian Hospitality: KUL-IST on 777 (Business Class)

Old Mar 9, 10, 6:59 am
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Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 1,167
MH is for Malaysian Hospitality: KUL-IST on 777 (Business Class)

Malaysia Airlines
MH 30
March 8, 2010
Seats 3A and 3C (Business Class)
10:45 flying time

About ten years ago, a 42 inch plasma cost over $5000 if you wanted one in your house. They were new to the market, hard to find, and seeing one in someone’s house made visitors gasp at how thin and sleek and damn futuristic it looked. Traditional tube-based TVs, also known as CRT’s, were on the defensive. Many manufacturers began claiming that their CRT TV was “flat screen.” In a literal sense, they were, because the front of the tube had been flattened on all four corners, yielding a flat screen in front. It did nothing to the tube itself, though, which jutted out behind the screen like an ugly appendage. Confusion ensued, as stores and customers excitedly looked for “flat screen” TV’s, only to find they were, in fact, decades-old technology all dolled up.

At around the same time, airline manufacturers began rethinking the definition of business class. Realizing that coach seats will always be a commodity with limited pricing power, airlines poured their efforts into their premium products in hopes of chasing fat profit margins. “Cradle” style seats with 42-inch pitch were tossed into the garbage bins, and “lie flat” became the rage. Some boldly proclaimed their seats converted into “lie flat beds.” Undoubtedly, the ability to knock one’s head back to the same level as the body or torso triggers some primeval switch that allows sleep to take place, and lie flat seats held the promise of triggering that switch. Like the flat screen TV’s that turned out to be so disappointing, however, it quickly became clear that there were two kinds of lie flat seats in the airline world – a “flat” seat that was not parallel to the floor, and a flat seat that was parallel. The seat that was not parallel to the floor was a cheater seat – in an attempt to squeeze one more row of seats into the cabin, airlines created seats that became hated by travelers everywhere, known derisively as “slopey” seats that prevented any kind of sleep for fear of a midflight wedgie. Thus, the premium cabin world split into two – those who could sleep parallel to the floor, and those who couldn’t.

At around the same time, Malaysia Airlines (MH) decided to embark on an ambitious retool of their premium products, launching a new Business and First class seat. Along with the opening of the magnificent Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) and their flagship lounge at KLIA, MH was an airline on the upward track, with the legendary Singapore Airlines in its crosshairs. The Business seat is an angled lie flat, which at the time rivaled SQ’s Spacebed product. The lounge was lauded as one of the best in the world (winning several Skytrax awards in 2002), with spacious seating, a la carte dining as well as buffet line, premium toiletries and rain showers, and even Haagen Daaz ice cream.

After the self-congratulations died down, however, MH finds itself a decade later nowhere near catching up with SQ. Changi opened a gleaming new Terminal 3, SQ became the world’s largest operator of the A380, and launched an audacious business class product with the widest seat in the sky, 1-2-1 seating on the 77W and A380 and A345, launched innovative all-business class nonstops to the US, expanded their network, and generally kicked ... and took no prisoners. MH, meanwhile, lost virtually all their domestic business to low cost startup Air Asia, failed to join any global alliance, constantly lost money amid management shakeups and finger-pointing, and did nothing to revamp their product other than launching a new marketing campaign equating their call sign with “Malaysian Hospitality.” Would warm smiles be enough to overcome these obstacles and keep MH among the top tier of global airlines in premium cabin offerings? Mrs. Bangkokiscool and I set out to find out.

For this flight, we flew from Bangkok on Thai Airways on a fairley new 777-200ER with very generous seat pitch and a world-class seat-back AVOD system. Upon arrival in KLIA, we were again struck by what a beautiful facility KLIA is, and how in spite of being much busier and opening much later, BKK would have been much better served with a classy and distinctive design like KLIA. There are some misses, but by and large KLIA may be the most attractive airport I’ve been to.

We had about four hours to kill before our 00:30 flight to IST, so we waited in the lounge. This is MH’s flagship lounge, and sadly MH’s cost cutting efforts were shockingly highlighted. While it was an okay place to while away the time, it’s clear that the lounge is desperately in need of some updating. The water feature at the entrance has long ago dried out, leaving ugly water stains and drains as the first thing a visitor sees. The walls are scuffed, the tile on the floor is cracked, the carpet is threadbare and the seats are frayed and torn at the edges and most have stains on them. We saw some staff watching Youtube on a desktop computer, others chatting amongst themselves, and several times a huge green rolling trash can was wheeled right through the lounge among the passengers. We tried to overlook these problems and focused on the food instead. Along one side of the buffet line is Western food, the other side is Asian food. The problem with the food is that it wasn’t really food. It was food that had been prepared many hours earlier, reheated many times, and left to languish on a buffet line. The curry puffs were soggy, the quiche was shriveled and tasted like plastic, the salad was wilted, and the ice cream was some unknown brand. We eventually gave up and grabbed some food outside the lounge.

After a while we decided to take showers since we’d had a long day in Bangkok and the flight to IST would take over 10 hours. Bored shower attendants barely looked up from their cell phones to give us towels outside the restrooms. Inside the shower stalls, more cost cutting was evident, with some stalls showing unpatched holes in the tile from where plumbing for rain showerheads used to run, now replaced with ordinary shower wands. Mrs. Bangkokiscool reported that in the women’s showers an attendant spoke the entire time on her cell phone, ignoring the fact that the showers were dirty from previous users. The premium L’Occitane products are all gone, replaced with a generic Motel 6-style shampoo and liquid soap. Even the toothbrush and shaving kits have all been downgraded to the cheapest possible solution. As I was shaving myself with a razor barely sharp enough to pass for a letter opener, it occurred to me how silly of a cost-cutting move this was. For an airline trying to make a personal, even intimate, connection with a premium (male) passenger, a decent shaver is a great (and inexpensive) way to say, “we care about you.” Instead, I got a “we could care less about you.”

Our flight was delayed by twenty minutes to 00:50. During the night the lounge was filled almost to capacity with MH’s numerous nighttime departures to FRA, AMS, LHR, SYD, NRT, PEK, and other places. It looked like several other airlines also use the lounge. By midnight, the place had cleared out, and we decided to walk slowly to the gate. At KLIA security is done at the gate, and we quickly cleared through. Within a few minutes they announced boarding for families and passengers requiring assistance only. A single staffer stood at the boarding side of the gate and announced (no microphone, no sign) “Business class only.” A LOT of passengers were milling around him trying to get on, and I could quickly see what was happening, so we joined in the fun and maneuvered our way to the front. True enough, within 5 seconds he gave up in defeat and simply stepped aside, allowing anyone to board.

Once on board we were quickly seated. Here the tragedy of MH’s 777 C class product became glaringly obvious. I didn’t take out a tape measure, but the seat pitch on this plane is absurdly large – Mrs. Bangkokiscool could not reach the seatpocket in front when seated. The pictures below don’t really do it justice – there is a lot of legroom in these seats. The tragedy is that the seats are the slopey angled “lie flat,” and they could so easily be a true lie flat on the 777. The hard part, creating space, is already done -- why didn't they just make the seat lie flat? I estimate the seat recline to be no better than 170 degrees. In terms of my own experiences, this seat is similar to EVA Premium Laurel and Northwest WBC, but both of those reclined more than MH’s seat. The massive amount of room, combined with a light load, made for a very spacious feeling in the cabin in spite of the 2-3-2 layout. A generously sized and very silky-feeling duvet and a nice pillow round out the seat. Sleeping comfort was about what you’d expect in these seats – fairly comfortable, but with occasional wake-ups when you slide too far down or get tired of locking your knees in an effort to brace against the footrest to prevent sliding. In the restrooms, more evidence of cost-cutting, with the “linen towels” sign above the sink promising a more glorious past when MH was confident enough to have linen towels. Now, just ordinary paper towels are dispensed.

On board catering was adequate and middle-of-the-road for international C class travel. I wouldn’t call it the worst we’ve had, but it was far from the best. The satay was good, as always. The first meal was served at 2 AM local time (why do airlines insist on this), so I didn’t bother very much with it other than to pick at it. The breakfast service was served 2 hours prior to landing, with Mrs. Bangkokiscool opting for the waffles and me opting for the nasi lemak.

Where MH does score a perfect 10 is in service. Unlike the lie-flat seat story (which is either misleading or a cruel joke depending on how charitable you feel) there is definite truth in advertising here. Service on this flight was warm and friendly, always accompanied with a smile. We were called by our names nearly every time we were addressed. Service was prompt too, there was very little waiting around for the next course or waiting for dishes to be cleared. I got the impression that whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted it, the FAs would have been happy to accommodate if they could. And here MH does have an advantage over SQ, in my opinion. Our experiences on SQ’s A380 last year was that the SQ service was a little stretched on the giant A380, with many lapses and when you did find a FA, the service was typically SQ robotic and clinical, not much different than the nice ladies at the dentist office reception. MH’s staff, on the other hand, had a sincerity and grace that is much more representative of Southeast Asian peoples, and we appreciated it very much. And if you subscribe to the idea that the smoother a landing is, then the more experience the flight crew must have (I believe this), then MH's cockpit crew must be very experienced in the 777 by now, as the flying pilot greased the plane into IST in the dark and rain in the smoothest 777 landing I've ever experienced.

All right, so let’s come to a deal with the marketing types. Let’s leave “flatscreen” TV’s for plasma and LCD’s, and “lie flat” for true horizontal lie-flats. MH can be the first to embrace this new philosophy. In the meantime, MH remains a mixed bag of excellent service, let down by a seriously aged hard product in C, declining catering standards, and an unacceptable lounge experience.

Last edited by bangkokiscool; Mar 9, 10 at 7:06 am
bangkokiscool is offline  
Old Mar 11, 10, 10:45 pm
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I cannot agree any more about the slippery slope seats. Great read. Thanks.
roadwarriorafrica is offline  
Old Mar 13, 10, 1:06 pm
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Thanks, maybe the airline will improve??
chanp is offline  
Old Mar 13, 10, 10:39 pm
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Well-written but sad to read!
Hope they get their act together soon.
jetfan is offline  
Old Mar 14, 10, 12:50 am
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I liked your TR, almost written in a narrative form instead of just spitting out facts. You mentioned BR and NW while describing MH's business class seat and I can tell you on an overall scale in terms of airline service, MH is light years ahead of BR and NW.

Thanks for sharing!
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Old Mar 15, 10, 10:04 am
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thank you, i really enjoyed the read, and i am sorry for MH... they used to be trying hard, but i guess they will not succeed...
mag is offline  
Old Mar 15, 10, 10:52 am
Join Date: Oct 2000
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MH truely has the potential to be a great airline, and compete well with SQ. I just hope they don't decide to join oneworld - I honestly think Skyteam - with DL's pressence as well as KL/AF pressence Asia, will offer them better oppertuntiies. AA/BA are an abusive monopoly.

That being said, coming from that part of the world (was born there) , I remember, as a child, when SQ and MH were equal, SQ always having the edge.
Now the gap is so wide. What is badly needed is a hardware upgrade : New seats in C (for the super long haul routes). I think the F cabin is fine. The lounge in KUL really needs to be redone. It was really nice 10-15 years ago.

The downhill started in 1993-1995 when Tajudin Ramli (sp) tookover as CEO. He basiscally raided the airline and the downhill as been going on since.

Most of the well to do Malaysians fly Singapore, and change planes in Singapore. (except Malaysian civil servants who have to fly MH lol)

Last edited by meFIRST; Mar 15, 10 at 1:52 pm
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Old Apr 18, 10, 12:10 pm
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Looking for information on Bangkok Airways I came across your excellent report. After having read it I'm beginning to wonder how much can Airline Quality be trusted? Malaysia was one of the options I was considering, but I think I will stick to the original Etihad's option.

That said I must acknowledge that Qatar J cabin deserves all the praise it receives.
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Old Aug 2, 10, 1:23 am
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Originally Posted by moien View Post
Looking for information on Bangkok Airways I came across your excellent report. After having read it I'm beginning to wonder how much can Airline Quality be trusted? Malaysia was one of the options I was considering, but I think I will stick to the original Etihad's option.

That said I must acknowledge that Qatar J cabin deserves all the praise it receives.
Etihad is far superior than Malaysia in every category except cabin crews. It is almost impossible to defeat the charming and genuinely caring attitude of MH's crews.
fly747first is offline  
Old Aug 2, 10, 10:49 am
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Thanks for the great pictures!

Last edited by BlissWorld; Aug 2, 10 at 11:01 am
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Old Aug 2, 10, 11:39 am
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Thanks for the strong trip report. I had the pleasure of trying MH business class service about one year ago on an award trip, NRT-KUL-PER, and basically agree with your assessment of the hard product, although I can't fault MH for having too much legroom; I liked the 777 business class cabin configuration, but not the slopy near-flat seat or the minimal, mostly screwed-up IFE.

(My MH report: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-...lines-j-y.html )

I agree with you about the cabin staff being absolutely top-flight, and the MH no-alliance, no-partners, isolation strategy being a head-scratcher. I can't imagine how they think they're going to succeed on this basis. Why do they resist SkyTeam when ST could bring them so much more custom... and needs another Asian partner in the worst way? If MH were to join OW or Star, though, they'd always be second fiddles to CX or SQ respectively.

I would have to disagree with you about the Golden Lounge at KLIA. I thought it was splendid and did not see any of the personnel or food-quality lapses you saw. Then again, I was there in the morning and you were there in the late evening; that might make a difference. Or maybe things have really fallen apart for MH in the past year; in July '09 my flights, and KLIA itself, were very sparsely populated.
BearX220 is offline  
Old Aug 2, 10, 12:26 pm
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Exceptionally well written trip report. Many thanks! I particularly appreciate how you demonstrated how MH's tragic choice of the cheaper "lie-flat" seat was the first slip down the slippery slope for this airline...
blueline7 is offline  
Old Aug 2, 10, 1:55 pm
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Originally Posted by blueline7 View Post
Exceptionally well written trip report. Many thanks! I particularly appreciate how you demonstrated how MH's tragic choice of the cheaper "lie-flat" seat was the first slip down the slippery slope for this airline...
Although, if you go by airline history, that's not really true. For nearly a decade, SQ managed to stay on top with the Spacebed lie-flat J seats at a time when rivals (e.g. BA) were already offering a true 180-degree flat bed in Business Class. The reason was clear: SQ was superior in every other category and people preferred SQ's outstanding service over BA's. My point being, you don't necessarily need to have the fanciest seat to be the best. Look at EK today... its current J hard product leaves much to be desired and the airline continues to report huge profits even when the economy of Dubai is unstable. Meanwhile, there is no doubt that EK has the most luxurious F suites in the world. And of course, how many airlines out there provide complimentary hotel rooms to passengers (even those ticketed in economy class) on long layovers?

Something else worth considering is that of the six 5-star airlines in the world, only CX and SQ offer a 1x2x1 configuration in Business Class; all others still feature 2x2x2 or 2x3x2 configuration and most are lie-flat, not 180-degree flat.

However, I do agree that to remain competitive, MH must work on fixing the rough edges. As I mentioned on another post, what I'm truly appalled by is the fact that the current 777 J seats have sufficient pitch to lie entirely flat, yet MH has not bothered to modify these seats, which is something that shouldn't be difficult at all. More importantly, the inappropriate behavior of the lounge staff that the OP describes is simply unacceptable and being a 5-star airline, MH must pay closer attention to its front-line employees.
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