Review: Malaysia Airlines A350 First Class

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  • JKL

    In a nutshell, very nice indeed.

    Having stayed at the Hilton KL the night before, it was an easy journey to the airport – a few minutes walk from the hotel to the KLIA Ekspres, a ten minute wait for the next train, then half an hour to KLIA.

    There is a dedicated and private / screened-off First Class check-in area (available to OneWorld Emeralds as well as those travelling in First), from where I collected my boarding pass, having checked in online two days prior.

    I was then escorted down to the lounge, through immigration and security. As it happened there were no queues to jump, but I know from previous experience how useful this service can be when the airport is busy, as they take you straight to the front.

    The lounge for the time being is the Regional Golden Lounge, pending completion of the main Satellite lounge refurbishment (due at the end of January). The Regional lounge is perfectly comfortable, the food is decent, and the service very attentive, but the facilities are, sadly, woefully inadequate – two shower units and three toilet cubicles, so always a queue. Oddly, the cubicles have a wash basin but no hand towels or dryer. But there is a cleaner on-hand who mops and cleans the cubicles between every use…

    After an hour or so in the lounge, I was escorted to the gate and onto the aircraft. First Class boarding is through Door 1, so you turn right, not left 😉

    This was Malaysia’s second A350 I think, as it has the rather nicer Negaraku livery. It still has that ‘new plane’ smell, and the cabin looked very fresh (I may even have been the first person to use seat 1A – not sure, but there wasn’t a mark on it). The colour scheme is a mix of pale greys, darker browns, and small flashes of bronze – quite relaxing on the eye.

    There are four seats in the First cabin, in a slightly staggered 1-2-1 arrangement such that 1A is slightly further forward of the middle seats and 1K a little further back – which gives a good feeling of privacy, at least in 1A where I was sat.

    Each seat is enclosed as a ‘suite’, with walls up to maybe chest height when standing / just above your head when seated. The suite can be fully closed for privacy via a door that slides forward from beside the seat. This can then be opened outwards like a standard hinged door – I’m not sure why the seat designers went for this arrangement, rather than just have you slide it back open, but I suppose it could be useful for deterring the odd straggler trying to come forward from Business class to use the First class loo 😉

    On which subject, there are two toilets for the First cabin. One slightly larger forward of 1K, and one small / standard-sized one outside the flight deck forward of the galley.

    The cabin is separated from the forward galley by curtains, and from the Business class cabin behind by curtains and a thin bulkhead, all of which seem reasonably well sound-insulated – the cabin was pretty quiet, and I only occasionally noticed any gallery chat, and even then it was muted. Now and again I was aware of seat-motor noises when the Business class seat behind me was adjusted by its occupant, but nothing intrusive, and if you were wearing earplugs or headphones I doubt you’d be disturbed.

    There’s a reasonable amount of at-seat storage, located in a side cabinet running the length of the suite and comprising a locker at the front, big enough for a large-ish laptop bag or holdall, then a narrower space (perhaps big enough for a small briefcase) in the middle behind the tray-table, then a smaller (but still quite big) bits-and-pieces box under the armrest. There is no under-footstool space as on the A380, but seat 1A has a full-size overhead locker, and 1K has two half-size lockers above it, of which it looked like only one was available for passenger use. 1D and G do not have overhead lockers but the crew will store your bags in a cupboard if needed, and hang jackets etc (there’s no A380-style at-seat wardrobe).

    The IFE content appears to be the same as on all of Malaysia’s long-haul aircraft (so not great, to be honest, but there’s usually at least one or two new-ish movies). The user interface has been updated compared to the A380 and, unless it was just my
    imagination, the screen is higher resolution – seemed to be a lot sharper. The TV in the First suites is a good size, and is a touch-screen, which may be of use to anyone with six-foot-long arms. For the rest of us, there is a separate touch-screen remote control that works well enough, though I found it a little fiddly at times. One annoyance is that the fast-forward options appear not to work, so I can no longer skip the adverts as I used to on the A380.

    Buttons for four pre-set seat recline positions, as well as for moving the seat forward or back, are located in a side panel in front of the armrest, along with various lighting and do-not-disturb options. There are also duplicate controls for most of these options at the side – more easily reached when lying flat.

    Oddly, some of the more useful controls (fine-tuning seat and footrest positions, adjusting seat firmness) are located under the armrest, so not immediately available – I tend to adjust my seat position quite a lot during a long flight, from fully flat to watching-a-movie-reclined, to drinking-coffee-reclined, to eating / working etc etc, for which I found the presets weren’t quite right, so I was frequently having to lift up the armrest – all a bit irritating after a while. Not sure why they couldn’t have put them up with the others. On the plus side, there’s a vanity mirror on the underside of the armrest so you can check your hair etc while adjusting your seat should you so wish.

    Also under the armrest is a control for opening and closing the window blinds – each suite has two windows, so this button acts on both; each window also has its own open/close buttons immediately below it, although these seem not to work terribly well. Strangely, the under-armrest button has been wired the wrong way around so that the ‘up’ button closes the blinds and the ‘down’ button opens them. I trust the control yoke on the flight deck has not suffered the same fate.

    Finally, also lurking under the armrest (but marginally easier to find than on the A380) there’s a standard (UK-style) mains plug, and separate USB socket, for charging your iThingies etc., and the headphone socket.

    I found the seat to be very comfortable. However, if you are particularly broad-shouldered, or wide-at-the-waist, you may find it a little narrow. The storage cabinet on one side, and suite-wall (which has a small armrest extending inward) on the other, don’t give much room to spread out, compared to the A380 seat.

    The in-flight amenity kit has been upgraded. A rather nice leather washbag (Cerutti-branded) contains various moisturisers etc by Payot, plus a 25ml bottle of Cerutti 1881 Eau de Toilette, and a gold Malaysia Airlines key fob… The pyjamas and slippers are presented in a potentially-useful-for-the-beach shoulder bag, and are now black with red trim and collar-zip, with quite a sporty look. Very comfortable and I daresay they’ll see some use at home for lounging around in. Also in the bag were socks and eyeshades.

    The bedding has also been refreshed. It may be my imagination, but the duvet and pillow feel more comfortable than I recall from the A380 a few weeks ago. Certainly the colour-scheme has changed – now a blue-grey stripe design for the duvet, plain white cotton for the pillow, and plain blue for the mattress topper. Nicely done. The duvet and a small cushion are at your seat when you board, the rest are brought by the crew on request or when you ask them to make up the bed. All very comfortable – and warm enough without being too warm.

    Service and food were superb. Absolutely brilliant crew, with just the right level of attentiveness – unobtrusive, but discreetly keeping an eye out and immediately on-hand when you need them.

    There is the option to pre-order your meal via Malaysia’s Chef-on-Call service, although that menu has become rather limited recently so I tend not to bother any more (but if you fancy lobster tails, that dish is well worth pre-booking). The in-flight menu is very good though, with plenty of options, including Malaysia’s famous satay. On my morning flight (MH4) the first meal was brunch, with starter options of fruit smoothie, seasonal fruit, cereal and bakery selections, then main course options of nasi lemak, Spanish omelette, eggs royale, dim sum, or raisin pancakes, then chocolate cake or ice cream for dessert. Then there’s a ‘dine anytime’ menu (though in reality the whole menu can be had as and when you want), which on my flight was satay, Ossetra caviar, smoked snowfish and poached prawns, roasted beef rib, ayam masak lemak, pan-fried sea bass with wasabi beurre blanc, oriental duck salad, egg noddles, sandwiches, ice cream, fruit, cheese, cookies, crisps…

    Plenty of drink options are available – various teas and coffees (served in proper china), teh tarik, milo, orange, apple and guava juice, still and sparkling water etc.

    I’m not sure Malaysia have quite settled on their champagne supplier yet, as my last few flights have all been different, but this one was Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2006 – very agreeable 😉 I didn’t try the wines because, as the only passenger in First, I felt duty-bound to finish the champagne once they’d opened it, but for reference, on offer were: Domaine Trouillet Puilly Fuisse “Aux Chaillloux” 2014, Chateaux Bader Blanc 2014, Pikes “Traditionale” Clare Valley Reisling 2015, Chateaux Bouscaut 2012 Crus Classés de Graves, Yalumba Shiraz Viognier 2012, Domaine Simon Bize Savigny les Beale “les Bourgeats” 2014/15, and E Guigal Cotes du Rhône 2012.

    Spirits were: Bacardi Superior Rum, Hendrick’s Gin, Smirnoff Blue Vodka, Glenlivet Single Malt, Chivas Regal 12 Years, Jack Daniel’s, Johnnie Walker Black Label, Otard VO Gold, Courvoisier XO, Martini Extra Dry, Bailey’s, Tia Maria, Drambui… Beers were Carlsberg, Tiger or Stella Artois.

    Malaysia’s A350 offers in-flight WiFi, which can be purchased in three packages – US$1 for 8MB at 64kbs, $5 for 20MB at 64kbs, or $20 for 150MB at 200kbs. Cash or credit cards accepted. Not free for First Class passengers though, which would have been a nice touch. I opted for the 150MB package, which worked well once we’d resolved a few teething problems (turned out something or other needed doing on the flight deck). I’m posting this from somewhere over Iran, according to the map… Voice-Over-IP and FaceTime calls appear to be enabled (although video was a little flaky) and as I was alone in the cabin I plugged in my headphones and made a short call – had the other seats been occupied I don’t think I would have done, and actually I’d personally rather they disabled VOIP/SIP/FaceTime calling: given the number of people who don’t even have the manners to put their phones into silent mode in the lounge (or step outside to take a call – actually stepping outside is something they could helpfully do in-flight), I hate to think how obnoxious a full cabin could become with the DYKWIA brigade making their oh-so-important calls on speaker-phone at full volume… I hope at the very least the crew are empowered to give them a good slap if they try.

    The A350 seems a little more prone to bumps than the A380, presumably due to it being a smaller aircraft, unless the occasional turbulence we encountered was particularly unusual, but otherwise it was a very smooth, and quiet, ride. The First cabin feels very exclusive, private, and relaxed, although obviously a much smaller space than that on the A380 due to having half the number of seats, and also less headroom due to the overhead lockers at the sides. The suites themselves are very good, I feel, barring a couple of minor design oddities (possibly the fault of the seat supplier, so perhaps not fair to criticise Malaysia Airlines).

    If you want room to walk around the cabin or would miss being able to wander upstairs, or are of larger build and need a wider seat, then I’d say go for the evening A380 flight. But if that’s not a concern and you want a comfortable, private, modern-feeling space in which to sleep or work, I’d say Malaysia’s A350 First cabin does the job very well indeed.

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