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London Heathrow – Kuala Lumpur
Departure: 12:00 (actual 12:15)
Arrival: 07:35 (on time)
Introduction: This was the first of a multi-sector trip from London to Bangkok via KUL. I purchased my tickets on expedia.co.uk and if anyone happened to read my ‘mistake fare’ thread on Businesstraveller.com they will know the background to what was literally a steal of a fare.
Malaysia Airlines operates two daily flights from London to Kuala Lumpur. Both are using three class A380’s with First, Business and Economy classes. The first flight MH003 which I was taking departs at midday to arrive in Kuala Lumpur the following morning. The latter departs LHR at night and arrives in KUL the following late afternoon.
Check in: Malaysian Airlines operates from Terminal Four at Heathrow. I had checked in online via malaysiaairlines.com the night before and printed my boarding cards for both LHR – KUL and KUL – BKK. I still had a bag to drop though so
I proceeded to the MH Premium Check In desks at Zone B and was swiftly seen to by the handling agent (Alitalia). She said that she would need to print new boarding cards for me to get through security anyway. Not sure why, but was not an inconvenience.
I was checked in within a matter on minutes, issued both my boarding cards and directed to Fast Track security and the lounge. Security was really quiet. In fact the longest line at the xray machine was the Fast Track line. So I just went through a regular lane.
The Lounge: Malaysia Airlines operates it’s own Golden Club lounge one floor up from departures towards gate 6. It is an impressive facility with loads of natural light and floor to ceiling windows. As it is located several floors up and is on a corner of T4 it offers unrivaled views over Heathrow – and the MH A380 herself parked a few doors down. It really is a plane spotters paradise.
There were separate Business and First class sections to the lounge, but bizzarly they are separated only by a completely see through glass door. I could understand opaque or frosted glass but its weird just this whole panel of clear glass seperating the two sections. The First Class lounge and offerings looked identical to the Business Class lounge and decor fairly similar except with some more designer like chairs etc. Anyway, back to the Business Class Lounge.
The lounge seems relatively new and this is obvious. It is very much a bamboo/wood theme with comfortable chairs and sofas. Food and beverage offerings were extensive and generous. The lounge at this time catered mainly to breakfast and offered a buffet featuring hot dishes – scrambled eggs, sausages, baked beans, Malaysian noodles and (the delicious) Malaysian Nasi Lemak with prawn Sambal. There were also fresh fruits, bakery items, a cold fish platter, yoghurts etc.
There was a manned bar with barista. He prepared me one of the most delicious cafe lates I have had – anywhere. Champagne and a full liquor range were also available. The bar was not self service and I kind of wish that you could at least help yourself to water and juices etc. I begin to feel like a pain in the neck every time I wanted a single glass of water.
The washrooms were beautifully appointed and immaculate. I’m not sure if showers were available. There were also some dining tables close by the buffet station. Three pc’s. And free fast wifi provided by BT. Tables were promptly cleared and as they were cleared the staff asked if you would like a refill.
Anyway, I enjoyed my time in the lounge. The food was great. It was an oasis of calm (I got there early and nabbed a great solo window seat overlooking the active runway). Boarding was called and I proceeded to gate 5 just a few minutes walk away.
Boarding/pre take off: Boarding commenced 40minutes prior to departure through two doors. 1 door was for the lower deck (first class and economy) and the second door for the upper deck (Business Class and the small upper deck economy cabin).
I was welcomed at the door and directed to my seat, 7K. There was already a duvet and pillow on my seat as well as the menu and wine list in the seat pocket. Soon after taking my seat one of the crew offered me a choice of drink: OJ, water or ‘ruby passion’ which I learned was a tea/juice fusion with fresh mint.
There were no bubbles on offer. I tried the ruby passion. It was delicious. Big thick hot towels were then distributed, followed by newspapers. We closed up and pushed back at 12:15.
The seat/cabin: Malaysia Airlines A380’s have 64 seats split across two cabins on the upper deck. Starting from the front of the upper deck there are two (huge!) bathrooms and a small area where snacks were later set up as well as a magazine rack.
Then there was a small J class mini cabin of just three rows (6-8). Behind the mini cabin is a large galley/bathroom complex. Then a much larger J class cabin (8 rows). Behind this larger J cabin is the upper deck economy cabin. And as MH have their controversial no kids on the upper deck’ policy in Y you can be guaranteed there will be no screaming kids in the cot sets behind in the first row of economy.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect with the seats as I had read quite a lot of reviews with some quite negative about them. For example, claiming it is not a true lie flat bed. Alas, I discovered the seats were indeed comfortable in both sitting and bed mode. They are upholstered in a calming blue/mauve/purple cloth and configured 2x2x2 with ample leg room.
There is a large fixed cocktail table between each two seats. The IFE screen is large and fitted in the setback in front of you with the control in the armrest. The tray table is located in the armrest and is of a good design, allowing you to move it forward, backwards and even outwards and to the side so you can still leave your seat easily if you have a tray in front of you. The other armrest has a mechanism where you can push a button and it raises fully to allow a couple extra inches of room at shoulder level when in bed mode. There is also a manual dividing screen that can be raised between the two seats.
Storage space is ample. In fact so many little nooks about I was worried I would forget where I put everything and leave something behind. There were large side lockers (though not large enough or a trolley bag) a small storage draw just below the IFE screen for specs, documents, water bottles etc. As well as a larger draw at the bottom of the seat in front for shoes, handbags, etc.
The controls for the seat are straight forward touch buttons near the cocktail table. There are pre set selections for take off/landing mode, flat bed mode and a lounging mode. There is also a memory button so you can program your own ideal position and store it. The seat was comfortable in the flat position and the surface felt smooth – no bumps or creases. I was comfortable in flat bed mode and managed a few hours sleep.
Now for the drawbacks. It is true that the seat can feel a little narrow. For myself, this was mainly caused by the size of the fixed cocktail table in the centre of the seats. It is really large and always seemed to take up quite a lot of leg space if you have your legs crossed. It was probably psychological too. It just makes the seat look narrow. It would have been much better if they had opted for a cocktail table that perhaps folded up to use and then could be clipped down.
Others have mentioned in their review that although the seat reclines to a fully flat position, the leg rest does not continue totally flush with the seat and tapers down slightly at an angle. This is true, but the angle is really tiny. Why they did not make it completely flush with the seat I cannot understand. There is room there for it to be completely flat and obviously the mechanism is available.
Anyway, the seat in the bed mode was completely dreamy compared to the horrendous AA angled flat seats I was in a couple weeks ago.
Which seat to choose: I would definitely go for a seat in the front ‘mini cabin’ of three rows. It feels more intimate than the larger J cabin. My personal preference is for window seats generally, however that means when traveling next to a stranger I have to climb over. This didn’t prove to require herculean efforts or advanced contortionist skills unlike my recent AA flight. Window seats also have more personal storage (the side lockers).
Service flow and catering: Post take off headphones and a decently stocked amenity kit was offered. The IFE was then switched on but first a L O N G Malaysia Tourism advertisement was played complete with an annoying theme tune over the aircraft pa.
Lunch orders were then taken. I had already pre ordered mine having used the ‘book the cook’ facility. It is available to all passengers in J and F and the options really are extensive (around 15 main meal choices). Top tier MH frequent flyers get an even greater variety of choice.
My meal selection of cod was confirmed by the flight attendant (the first and only time my name would be used during the flight). For those whom hadn’t pre ordered the choices were:
Starter: smoked salmon with salmon roe.
Mains: braised chicken thigh in sweet tomato gravy. Grilled rib eye of beef. Pan fried salmon fillet. Or lamb biriyani.
Dessert was banoffee pie, cheese or fresh fruit.
Drinks with packaged nuts then followed. I had another ‘ruby passion’. Champagne was Tattinger Brut Reserve NV. Wines a 2010 Montagny Chardonnay, a 2011 NZ Sauvignon blanc, a 2009 Chatea Puygueraud Merlot or a 2009 Serego Alighieri Possessioni Roso. There were ten coffee options (yes 10) and nine tea options.
Then came the infamous ‘satay service’. It was a really lovely touch and the presentation was flawless. A choice of chicken, beef or a combination of the two were offered. Portions were generous (I received five sticks) and they were served with the traditional accompaniments and another big thick hot towel.
Once the satay remnants were cleared away the main meal service began with linen lined on our tray tables followed by our starters and a side plate of fruit. A selection of breads were offered as well as a choice of wines. The starter plates were then cleared in and the mains served. My main was fantastic. The portion was large, it was perfectly cooked and it was quite unique and daring in ingredients. It really was a taste sensation. A dessert and tea and coffee service followed but I did not partake.
Everything was cleared in and bottles of water distributed. The duty free carts passed through the aisles then it was lights out. There was a selection of self service snacks set up in the galley areas or more substantial snacks were available on request (noodles etc).
The bathrooms were spotless every time I went in. Approximately two and a half hours before landing in KL the cabin became a gentle orange colour thanks to the mood lighting and breakfast was served.
Again it was a substantial offering. Fruit, museli and bakery items to start followed by a choice of four main options. I chose the Nasi Lemak. It was excellent.
Once breakfast was cleared in we had about an hour to run. I watched a little more tv and before I knew it we were on final approach to KL. A quick taxi and we pulled onto stand at the satellite terminal ontime.
IFE: Being a new aircraft the IFE was pretty top notch. The screen is very large and offered a massive amount of new releases and tv programs including some interesting documentaries. Picture and sound quality was excellent. There was also a tail mounted camera which gave amazing perspectives on taxi, take off and landing.
Crew: Given that Malaysia Airlines has won ‘worlds best cabin crew’ for the last few years as voted by Skytrax, I’ll admit my expectations were high. The crew on the whole were good. Excellent? I’m not so sure. They all looked immaculate, were all slim. None of the fatties or unkempt types you can encounter in the west.
There was a 50/50 male to female ratio and they seemed to be ‘mature’ by Asian airline standards with the average age probably in the mid 40’s. They were polite and friendly but I’m not sure they were all what I would have wished from ‘the worlds best cabin crew’.
They were not particularly engaging, didn’t introduce themselves. My name was used only once unlike say CX where they use it throughout the flight. The smile looked a tiny bit plastered on. Yet, you couldn’t fault them either.
They went through the motions and I must admit were extremely patient with the belligerent seat mate I had (an embarrassment to the British).
What I found particularly disappointing was the lack of any role their ‘Cabin Chief’ played. He was not involved in the service. He did not greet or speak to any passengers (not in the cabin I was in anyway). Every time I went to the washroom or to stretch my legs he was sat in his ‘office’ by the galley, curtain closed. The only time I saw him carry a service item was a cup of coffee – his own – from the mid galley, through the cabin to his curtained off den.
I think it is in this area where MH could really pick up it’s game. When I fly Cathay or SQ I really do get off the aircraft feeling I was a ‘valued customer’. I don’t expect anyone to come kiss my butt but I enjoy the little bit of banter with the Chief when they come and greet top tier FF’s for a little chat.
I’m guessing (maybe someone closer to MH ways can confirm) that there is a hierarchy in place in terms of crew working on which aircraft and routes. The crew on my connecting short haul flight from KL to BKK were flawless. And seemed much younger (and probably newer). Maybe those working on the A380 long haul routes are very senior and just a little more subdued and relaxed with the whole thing?
Conclusion: Given some of the fares I’ve seen MH advertise from the UK to the likes of Australia (c£2700 rtn) they not only offer a superb service but also great prices for a premium product.
The lounges are great, the seats very good, service very good, food excellent. I would definitely have no hesitation in flying MH again and would chose them over any European airline I have ever flown.