BACKGROUND Malaysia Airlines went double daily with its 494-seat A380 on the London-KL route in November (click here to read our news story), with the previous B747 service replaced by the superjumbo. (It was already using the A380 for one of the daily flights.)
The former B747 flights, MH1, departs London daily at 2200 and arrives in KL the next day at 1820, while MH4 departs KL at 1045 daily to arrive London Heathrow the same day at 1615.
The pre-existing A380 services, MH3, departs London at 1050 and arrives in KL at 0710 the next day, while MH2, departs KL at 2345 and arrives in London at 0525 the following day.
Malaysia Airlines is the only carrier to offer direct nonstop services between UK and Malaysia. The A380 services will offer 6,916 seats weekly compared to 5,026 seats offered through the earlier double daily B747-400 operations.
CHECK-IN As this was a connecting service on from Langkawi, I had already checked in and been issued with a paper boarding pass. (Click here to read the review of this flight.) My suitcase had also been through-checked to my final destination so all I needed to do was head to the lounge and wait for boarding. My flight (MH2) back to the UK was due to depart at 2355.
The B737-400 from Langkawi landed at 2110 and passengers were disembarked from the front via an airbridge to the terminal. I was off by 2115 and queuing for immigration for international departures shortly after. There were about a dozen people ahead of me so it took about seven minutes to be seen.
I then had to take the shuttle (one minute’s walk away) to the international terminal where the Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge (I was booked in business for the London leg, as opposed to economy for the first part of the journey) and my gate C37 was located. A train was about to depart when I got there so managed to hop on.
THE LOUNGE The lounge was a short walk away, up a set of escalators and along a corridor on the mezzanine level. The newly renovated space was expansive, with plenty of seating (for 326 passengers) and views of the parking stands through floor-to-ceiling windows. The décor was neutral and modern, with an oatmeal coloured carpet throughout, dark brown and cream armchairs, small wooden tables, and a pale ceiling dotted with spotlights.
To the left, upon arrival, was a staffed sports bar showing football on TV but it was empty when I walked past. Further in were two catering areas – the first had fridges stocked with cans of soft drinks, mixers (no tonic though, just “bitter soda”) and beer (Tiger and Carlsberg). There was also a freezer filled with mini tubs of Haagen Dazs ice cream in three flavours – Belgian chocolate, green tea and macadamia nut.
A self-service bar proffered champagne, wine and a number of spirits, while food counters displayed fairly stale and unappetising sandwiches (squidgy vegetarian ones wrapped in cling film), along with salad, crackers, cheese, savoury pastries, mini pizzas and pies. Another section served hot dishes including penne carbonara, buttered vegetables, paprika potato wedges (under-cooked), ginger beef, steamed rice, roast lamb, and two types of soup – cream of corn being one. Passengers could also help themselves to rolls or make themselves some toast.
Plenty of staff were on hand to clear tables and help people with any questions they had. Wifi was free and a code was displayed at reception but it turned out not to work for me and I was given another one. There were magazines to hand – Forbes, Sphere and Time to name three. I also noticed handy free phone charging stations with a selection of adaptors (for iPhone, Blackberry, Samsung and Nokia) and small safes to leave them in.
There was a business centre at one end and three PCs, as well as a relaxation room and spa at the other. Washrooms have showers, toothbrushes/paste and combs. Disappointingly, there were no bottles of mineral water to take for the flight – just large ones to pour into glasses.
BOARDING Boarding was scheduled to begin at 2225 and I was told on arrival to the lounge that they would announce when passengers needed to go to the gate. I couldn’t see any departure screens in the lounge near where I was sitting by the window got up to investigate the status of my flight from time to time to be on the safe side.
Boarding was announced at 2330, and I headed downstairs to level one via an eatery where I bought two bottles of Evian for the journey. It was a five-minute walk to Gate C37 and low and behold a security check – where my water was promptly confiscated. In my annoyance, I nearly forgot my laptop, which I had taken out of its case to put through the X-ray machine. Staff had to call me back for it just as I was having my boarding pass checked. Stressful.
I was then ushered upstairs to access the plane’s upper deck via an airbridge and was in my seat by 2345. A choice of water, apple, orange and guava juice was offered at 2350, followed by newspapers including the Daily Mail and Wall Street Journal. Arabic music played overhead. Hot towels were handed out before take-off.
THE SEAT I was in window seat 11A. No one was sitting next to me, which was a bonus, especially on this night flight. The 66 business class seats are arranged in a 2-2-2 layout (A-C, E-G, H-K) and are upholstered in navy fabric flecked with red, and with dark blue leather armrests, and grey and dark purple panelling. There was no row 13. All seats are forward facing so if you are in a window seat you will have to step over the person next to you if you need to get out.
The cabin felt very spacious, with windows set back allowing room for the storage bins beneath. The windows were also larger than on other planes and mood lighting contributed to the calm, relaxed feeling inside. I found the tray table a little tricky to manoeuvre in an out of the armrest (there is a knack to it) but I was impressed with the amount of storage and the large IFE screen, controlled by a remote in the panel in the centre of my armrest.
There were three pre-set seat positions and a metal footrest that folded upwards. There were also two compartments under the 17-inch IFE screen for storing personal items and shoes. Between the seat pairs was a slide-up privacy divider and each had a reading light and power socket next to it. The product was wide and comfortable but could have been better for sleeping as even when fully reclined the legrest did not seem to come up high enough to create a completely horizontal bed. No undersheets or sleep suits were provided and the pillow could have been bigger, but I liked the large soft cotton coverlet provided.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The good thing about window seats is the extra storage space you get in the lockers beneath the windows – they hold bags up to 10kg in weight, and three are accessible per person. For me this was a plus as I tend to travel with a handbag and additional bag for my laptop, books, magazines and other items.
Business class is across two cabins on the upper deck – the front one is smaller, quieter and more exclusive, but as there are only three rows in it, it’s probably best to opt either for window seats or aisle seats in the middle row (seven) as sitting in the others may mean you are disturbed by people going to and from the washrooms and galleys.
Avoid aisle seats in row nine for the same reason, and note the sitting in the back row (17) is closest to the upper deck economy section so, again, may suffer some disturbance. A broad flight of stairs from the front section leads down to the lower deck and there are two really big washrooms here. All seats offer the same amount of legroom (74 inches/188cm) in business.
THE FLIGHT Take-off was at 0030, and once cruising, the cabin crew began the drinks service, handed out amenity kits (containing Elemis hand and face cream, hand sanitiser, lip balm, a toothbrush and paste, hairbrush, socks and an eyemask) and noise-cancelling headphones. I had a glass of Taittinger champagne, and while everyone else was served Malaysia Airlines “award-winning” chicken satay to start, I was given two skewers of hot courgette, red pepper and pineapple in oil. It was very unpleasant so I didn’t eat it.
Tray tables slid out of the left-hand armrest and were laid with white linen cloths. My meal tray had china plates for bread (garlic, white rolls or brown), a mixed salad with balsamic dressing, fruit salad, and a main (this was served at about 0210) of stuffed ravioli with tomato and pepper sauce and Parmesan crisp. It was fine and I was hungry so I ate it. At 0235, tea and coffee was offered and trays cleared.
The main menu listed a second appetiser of chicken tandoori with young mango mint salad, with mains of chicken masala with brown onion pulao and mustard snow beans; lamb cutlet with mint and garlic dressing with roasted pumpkin, seared Brussels sprouts and vine tomatoes; tuna with creamy spinach quiche with mixed greens and tomato relish; and a gourmet sandwich of raosted beef, mozzarella cheese and a side of potato wedges.
There were two red and two white wines listed: Château Puygueraud, 2009, Francs Côte de Bordeaux, France, and Serego Alighierei Possessioni Rosso, 2009, Italy; and Domaine Faiveley Montagny Chardonnay, 2010, Cote Chalonnaise, France, and Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand.
Bottles of water were given out at 0245 and at 0300 I settled down to get some sleep. The fabric of the seat is a bit scratchy on bare skin so if you it’s advisable to wear a long-sleeved T-shirt as opposed to short-sleeved one as no undersheet sheet is provided. Fortunately, I was able to use the cotton coverlet from the vacant seat next to me to lie on, which made it a lot more comfortable. It also helped pad out the armrest which, although slid down almost flush with the seat, was quite hard on your knee if lying on your side.
The fact that the legrest doesn’t raise fully horizontal was also annoying but it didn’t stop me sleeping soundly for about six hours and then dosing for another two, waking when the cabin lights came on at 1100. The breakfast service began shortly after, with a choice of juice or strawberry smoothies, tea, coffee, pastries and bread rolls, fresh sliced fruit, muesli, and then a hot option. My vegetarian dish wasn’t particularly nice – cheese omelette with peas, tomato sauce, peppers and mushrooms and fried potato slices (it sounds nicer than it was).
The menu listed hot dishes of chive scrambled eggs with toasted English muffin with grilled salmon fillet; Malaysian nesi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk with spicy prawn sambal); mixed breakfast grill with turkey slices lamb medallion, beef sausage, backed anchovies potato and buttered vegetables; and light apple-flavoured buttermilk pancake.
ARRIVAL The aircraft landed a little early at 1310 (0510 local time) and there was a ten-minute taxi to the gate. Disembarkation was quick and after a seven-minute walk to immigration, I was pleased to find no one ahead of me so was straight through to baggage reclaim. It took about 25 minutes for my case to appear.
VERDICT As with the outbound flight (click here to read my review), I wasn’t overly enamoured with the quality of my vegetarian food compared with what other passengers were served from the normal menu, but the overall A380 experience was very good. I loved how quiet and spacious the upper deck was and the amount of storage the business class window seats offered. I was also impressed by the size of the IFE screens and the washrooms at the very front of the plane. The fully flat bed wasn’t perfect but was a great improvement on its B747/B777 angled-lie flat business product and I slept well.
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Kuala Lumpur in January ranged between £3,057 and £4,215.
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2-2 (A-C, E-G, H-K)
SEAT PITCH 74in/188cm
SEAT WIDTH 22in/56cm
SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees