Tried & Tested

Tried and Tested: Malaysia Airlines A380 business class

12 Jul 2012 by Tom Otley
Background: This was the return inaugural flight of Malaysia Airlines’ A380 from London Heathrow. MAS flies double daily on this route, previously using a B747-400 for both of these flights. The above video and images were taken on board the flight. The introduction of the A380 on the route – initially for three flights a week and then, from August 25, a second, so that one daily flight is with the A380 and one is on the B747 – will increase capacity on the route by 987 passengers weekly (the B747 has a capacity of 353 passengers as opposed to the A380s 494 passengers). (NB: on the MAS website it says 359, but six of these are blocked for crew rest). For a review of the Kuala Lumpur-Heathrow leg in a B747, click here, and for a review of the carrier's refurbished Golden Lounge at KL, click here. First impressions: I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 at 0900 and checked in at the Malaysia Airlines premium desk, then made my way through fast track security. This was slow, so I ducked under one of the barriers and went through normal security. From there I went to the new lounge. The lounge: The refurbished lounge is on the right just before Gate Six, up one level from the shopping area. As you enter, the business lounge is to the left and the first class lounge to the right. Once inside you’ll see that both lounges have windows out onto the apron and you can look down onto the A380 (or B747 depending on the flight). The area is divided into business and first class areas, with a glass wall between the two, with a central bar serving both. There is a small work area with a computer, but the usual lack of plugs for those wanting to keep their laptops or electrical devices charged. There was a large selection of food, though this might have been because there was a reception with the Malaysia Airlines CEO as well as well as Colin Matthews, CEO of BAA. Boarding: The flight was called in the lounge so we took the lift down and were immediately at Gate Six. There were separate lines for economy class and business and first class passengers. We were quickly onboard, our jackets taken and soft drinks were offered. There was a slight delay before take-off, which took place around 1230. Malaysia’s A380 has a capacity of 494 seats with a total of 420 economy class seats across the lower and upper deck. There are eight fully-flat first-class seats on the main (lower) deck, and 66 fully-flat business-class on the upper deck with 70 economy seats towards the rear. This upper area for economy was originally intended for premium economy seating. (The new interiors have been designed by leading aviation design consultancy, Priestmangoode.) The seat: The 66 fully-flat business class seats on the upper deck are in two cabins. The forward cabin has only three rows – six to eight, and is the one to go for, because it is quieter. There is then a galley and then the larger cabin, which starts with row nine and goes back in a 2-2-2 configuration of AC – DG – HK through to row 17 (omitting row 13). There is then a curtain divider and then the upper deck economy class. For a seat plan of this aircraft, click here. If you are in the larger second cabin, I’d pick somewhere in the middle. The front row (row nine) is the one to avoid, since you are right by the front washrooms on either side. There are at least three washrooms you can use, the largest of which is at the front of the forward cabin. The back cabin has two washrooms, and the one on the right is the larger of the two (worth bearing in mind if you are intending to change during the flight, or are just very large). The meal service takes place from the galley as well, so it’s quite a busy area, and even the noise of the washrooms flushing and the tea- and coffee-making can disturb, partly because the aircraft is quieter than most. I was in 9D, which along with 9G are definitely two seats to miss, since passengers use your leg room as a walk-through area and wait for the washroom when the flight attendants are pushing trolleys through the cabin. I’d also avoid the back rows since this is quite close to economy class. Many headlines were made about MAS banning children from the upper deck economy section, but children are allowed up here in business class, and were in both cabins. They were quite noisy. The seat is a strange one. It has a pitch of 74 inches (188cm) and reclines into a bed of 72 inches (183cm), but although it reclines fully-flat, this doesn’t include the leg rest, which droops slightly when horizontal. If you are lying on your back, to be honest, it’s almost unnoticeable, but if you sleep on your side, it creates a build-up of tension in your knees, which isn’t great. I can’t work out why the seat has been made this way – there’s plenty of room for the seat to go fully horizontal, and if people want a drooping leg rest, presumably it could have been programmed so that this is a choice. I spoke with an onboard engineer for the airline and he said that it if I pressed the leg rest button, it improved things somewhat, but not completely. The seat would need reprogramming so that the best position for sleeping was attainable with one press of a button, but even then, he didn’t think the leg rest would come up enough to make the bed fully-flat. We’ll have to see how the airline deals with this, but it’s hard to believe it has bought a seat that reclines fully-flat apart from the leg rest. The seat power is conveniently located between the seats and kept my laptop charged, and the IFE (in-flight entertainment) which is the Thales i5000 system is easy to use, with an outstanding selection of TV programmes and movies to be viewed on an individual 17-inch screen – the screens are seatback mounted, apart from the front row of the cabin where it is on the bulkhead wall. It also has the Malaysia Airlines inflight magazine Going Places on here as a digital flipbook, though since there is a paper copy in the magazine pocket of each seat, this must be just an experiment. I worked using the in-seat power, which was fine (you need a US adaptor), but the table never went fully-flat and was awkward to adjust. The flight: The service was very friendly, but very slow. I think this can be excused since it was an inaugural flight. The food and drink offering was as follows:
  • Appetizer: Malaysian satay: charcoal hand-grilled chicken and beef skewers with peanut sauce and traditional accompaniments, or prawn brochette with toasted ciabatta bread with sambal spread, black olives and mixed lettuce.
  • Main course: beef fillet: pan-seared fillet of beef accompanied with stuffed potato Provencal, a medley of roasted capsicums, onion marmalade and served with beef jus, or deep fried fillet of cod, complimented with steamed rice, stir-fried mixed vegetables and garlic oyster sauce, or egg noodles with roasted beef strips, julienne of carrots and leeks, ginger and dried bean curd gravy.
  • Dessert: double chocolate cake, fresh fruits, or cheese selection.
The food was delicious, the noodles and beef particularly so. There was also a good choice of on-demand snacks including noodles, cookies or a sandwich, such as a gourmet sandwich with peppered chicken, mixed lettuce, gherkin and kalamata olive skewer.
  • Wines: Taittinger, Domaine Faiveley Montagny Chardonnay 2010, Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Château Puygueraud 2009 or Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2009.
This was an overnight flight, so I slept for a few hours, and then had breakfast.
  • Breakfast: Rolled vegetable frittata: egg frittata with julienne of carrots, leek and onion, served with grilled sausage, sautéed potatoes with sliced turkey, asparagus tips and grilled tomato, or a light choice of crêpes served with creamy orange curd, blueberry ragoût, crème Français and maple syrup, or paratha (Indian flatbread) accompanied with chicken curry and lentils.
I went for a blueberry pancake served with grilled pineapples, a mixed berry compote and maple syrup.
  • Coffee: Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or Brazilian Santos, along with Malaysian teas such as Teh Tarik (milk-based tea) or Ceylon Meda Watte (loose leaf tea). The teas and coffees were served in large mugs.
Arrival: We arrived slightly late in Kuala Lumpur, but were quickly through immigration using the premium desks. The bags of my travelling companions arrived after a further 15-minute wait. Verdict: A huge improvement on the business class on MAS’s long-haul fleet, this is almost excellent, but the seat does need to be fixed if the airline is going to tempt premium passengers away from competitors such as Singapore Airlines. Contact: Tom Otley
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