Good Advice Tried and Tested

Malaysia Airlines A380 business class

04/10/2012

Background This was the return leg of Malaysia Airlines’ inaugural A380 flight between Kuala Lumpur and London Heathrow, which took place in July. It flies double-daily on the route, previously using a B747-400 for both flights. It now operates flight MH003 to Kuala Lumpur (departing at 1200 with a journey time of 12 hours 30 minutes) and return flight MH002 (at 2340 with a journey time of 13 hours ten minutes) on the superjumbo, increasing capacity on the route by 987 passengers a week. Flight MH001 at 2200 from London and return flight MH004 at 1005 continue to be plied with a B747.

Check-in I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 at 0900 and checked in at Malaysia’s premium desk, then made my way through fast-track security. This was slow so I ducked under one of the barriers and used the normal lane. From there I went to the carrier’s refurbished lounge.

The lounge This 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. Both have windows overlooking the apron and you can look down on to the A380 (or B747). The two sections are divided by a glass wall, with a central bar serving both. There is a small work area with a computer, but a lack of plugs for those wanting to keep their devices charged.

There was a large selection of food, though this might have been because there was a reception with Malaysia Airlines’ chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, and 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 and business/first class passengers. We were quickly on board, our jackets taken and soft drinks offered. There was a slight delay before take-off, which took place at about 1230.

The seat Malaysia’s A380 has 494 seats – 420 in economy class across the lower and upper decks (the upper area, holding 70 seats, was originally intended as a premium economy zone), 66 fully-flat business class seats across two cabins on the upper deck, and eight fully-flat first class seats on the lower deck (see seat plan, right).

The business seat is a strange one – it has a pitch of 74 inches (188cm) and reclines into a bed measuring 72 inches (183cm), but although it reclines fully-flat, this doesn’t include the legrest, which droops slightly when horizontal. If you are lying on your back, 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 it to go fully horizontal, and if people want an angled legrest, 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 if I pressed the legrest 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 legrest 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 legrest.

The plug socket is conveniently located between the seats and kept my laptop charged (you need a US adaptor). The in-flight entertainment (IFE), which is the Thales i5000 system, is easy to use with an outstanding TV and movie selection viewed on a 17-inch screen. It also has Malaysia’s in-flight magazine, Going Places, as a digital flipbook (there is also a paper copy). The table didn’t go fully-flat and was awkward to adjust.

Which seat to choose? The front business class cabin has only three rows – six to eight – in a 2-2-2 (A-C, D-G, H-K) configuration and is the one to go for because it is quieter. A galley separates it from the eight-row cabin behind, which is divided from economy by a curtain. If you are in the second cabin, pick somewhere in the middle. Avoid row nine as it is right by the washrooms and galley. The meal service takes place from here, so it’s quite a busy area, and even the noise of toilets flushing and tea/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 legroom 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 these are quite close to economy class.

The flight The service was very friendly, but very slow. I think this can be excused since it was an inaugural flight. The meal began with an appetiser of Malaysian chicken and beef satay with traditional accompaniments, or prawn brochette with toasted ciabatta with sambal spread, black olives and mixed lettuce. The mains were pan-seared fillet of beef with stuffed potato Provençal, roasted capsicums, onion marmalade and beef jus; deep-fried fillet of cod, steamed rice, stir-fried vegetables and garlic oyster sauce; or egg noodles with roasted beef strips, julienne of carrots and leeks, ginger and dried bean curd gravy. The desserts were chocolate cake, fresh fruit or a cheese selection.

The food was delicious, the noodles and beef particularly so. There was also a good choice of snacks, including noodles, cookies and sandwiches. The wines were Taittinger, Domaine Faiveley Montagny Chardonnay 2010, Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2011, Château Puygueraud 2009 and Serego Alighieri Possessioni Rosso 2009.

As this was an overnight flight‚ I slept for a few hours and then had breakfast. The choice was rolled vegetable frittata with chicken sausage, sautéed potatoes, sliced turkey, asparagus tips and grilled tomato; crêpes served with orange curd, blueberry ragoût, crème Français and maple syrup; or paratha (Indian flatbread), chicken curry and lentils. I had a blueberry pancake served with grilled pineapple, a mixed berry compote and maple syrup. You could choose from Ethiopian Yirgacheffe or Brazilian Santos coffee, and Malaysian teas such as teh tarik (milk-based) or Ceylon Meda Watte (loose leaf).

Arrival We arrived slightly late in Kuala Lumpur but were quickly through immigration using the premium desks. My travelling companions’ bags arrived after a 15-minute wait.

Verdict A huge improvement on the business class on Malaysia’s long-haul fleet – almost excellent, but the seat does need to be fixed if it is going to tempt premium passengers away from competitors such as Singapore Airlines.

Fact file

  • PLANE TYPE A380
  • CONFIGURATION 2-2-2
  • SEAT WIDTH 22in (55.8cm)
  • SEAT LENGTH 72in (183cm)
  • PRICE Internet rates for a return business class A380 flight from London to Kuala Lumpur in October ranged between £3,321 and £3,580 depending on flexibility.
  • CONTACT malaysiaairlines.com

Tom Otley