First impressions I arrived at Gatwick's North Terminal at 0800 for my 0930 departure on MA0613. Malev is a relative newcomer to Gatwick and its desk is not easily located. It is in Zone A, to the far left of the airport, but then you must walk past the other desks (Delta and then Emirates) to the back wall, then walk around the corner to where the El Al ticket office used to be located, but which now has desks A25 (business) and A26 (economy). Check-in was swift, and I then joined the huge queue for security to pass airside, which took 15 minutes.
Malev uses the Aviance lounge for business class passengers. This is located on the first floor level underneath the British Airways Terrace Lounge and the new Emirates lounge. The Aviance lounge is basic, but clean, with drinks and snacks, and paid for wifi access courtesy of T-Mobile. No flights are called, so I left at 0900 and waited for the flight to be called while wandering around the shops.
Much has changed for Malev since Business Travellerlast flew the airline (see Business TravellerSeptember 2005). The airline has stopped its flights from both Stansted and Heathrow, and now flies twice daily from Gatwick at 0930 and 1850, returning from Budapest at 0720-0850 and 1630-1805 (see Online news, August 3, 2006).
Malev's twice-daily flight slots from Heathrow were sold to British Airways as a direct result of joining the Oneworld Alliance. Malev and BA codeshare on each other's flights, but unfortunately that meant the daily flights from Heathrow being cut from five (both BA and Malev) to three, and those flight times being not much better (0825, 1340 and 1730). Readers will note that the flight times on Malev are more convenient for those flying from Budapest to London than in the other direction, but unfortunately, the BA flight times aren't great for those wanting to make the most of a day either. One would have to use Easyjet's 0635 departure for that, though you would have to travel to Luton (Easyjet also has a 1220 departure from Gatwick, and a 1635 flight from Luton. Wizzair has departures to Budapest from Luton, including one at 0800).
Boarding The inbound flight was late to arrive because of strong winds, and the gate was not given until 0915. The departure gate assigned to Malev at Gatwick (46) is quite a distance from the North Terminal, with a view of the Sofitel Gatwick and, with a further 300 metres once you have passed through Gate 46 before you reach the airbridge, you are very nearly back in the South Terminal.
Once we were on board, the attendant took jackets, offered water and orange juice and also a choice of reading, including the English language journals theBudapest Timesand Budapest Sun. Malev's in-flight magazine, the bilingual Horizonwas also available.
We pushed back from the gate at 0950, just within the 20 minutes for an on-time departure, but then were caught behind some planes waiting for take-off and so did not make it into the air until 1015. Nevertheless, the captain assured us that the strong winds would now work in our favour, and so it proved as we arrived only a few minutes behind schedule.
The flight We were served a cooked lunch of a chicken kebab and roast potatoes – delicious – with a choice of wine.
The Fokker 70 we flew on is part of Malev's fleet of planes, including two Boeing 767-200s, five Boeing 737-800s, seven Boeing 737-700s and six 737-600s. There are five Fokker 70 planes and four Bombardier CRJ-200. The livery is a distinctive grey and green, and my plane was clean and tidy. The winds made take-off and landing bumpy, but the flight itself was smooth, and I worked for around two hours, helped by having a vacant seat next to me. The Fokker 70 had three rows of 2-2 business class seating, and then 3-2 of economy, though the curtain had been moved forward so the front row of economy had business class seating, if not the more elaborate meal service and drinks selection.
Arrival We arrived 20 minutes late, and stopped away from the airport, so a bus transferred us to the terminal. Immigration was swift, and the baggage arrived a few minutes later.
Verdict An excellent service, but it is a shame there aren't more convenient flight times. It's understandable that Malev is catering for the home market, but with codeshares on British Airways from Heathrow not offering a realistic choice for those wanting to do a day trip, the low-cost operators will continue to do well on this route, not least since Budapest Ferihegy Airport's low-cost terminal – Terminal 1 – is actually closer to the city than the main airport terminal, so one of the normal disadvantages of flying low-cost is removed. That said, Malev is clearly moving ahead with modernisation, and with e-ticketing arriving from the beginning of 2007 and full membership of Oneworld from April, the only question mark remains over its ownership (four companies are currently bidding).
Price Return fares quoted by online agent Travelocity (travelocity.co.uk) are from £89 for economy and £243 for business class.
Contact malev.com, +44 (0)870 909 0577.