Good Advice Tried and Tested

Malaysia Airlines A380 business class

13/12/2012

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 It took me longer than anticipated to reach London Heathrow Terminal 4 via the Underground as there was no direct service leaving the Piccadilly line platform I was waiting at, so I was 20 minutes late arriving at departures (2020). My flight was scheduled for 2200 so I knew this didn't leave me much time. Fortunately, there was no queue at the business class check-in desk in and I was processed quickly – my suitcase tagged and boarding pass issued.

(I had not completed online check-in as I couldn't print my boarding pass but I was able to change my seat to 14K, instead of 9K at the front of the cabin, which didn't look like such a good option as it was so near the washrooms and galley.) From the check-in area it was a short walk to security, where despite having access to the fast-track lane, there were dozens of people waiting and a huge group were ushered from the economy class lane right in front of me into fast-track. All in all, it took 30 minutes to get through, which was very frustrating.

THE LOUNGE The Malaysia Airlines lounge was to the left of security, a minute's walk in the direction of my gate (6), and accessed via a lift next to Pret. As it was 2100 by the time I got to the lounge, boarding had actually already started, but staff at reception said I had at least 20 minutes until I would be called so I had time for a glass of champagne and a good look at the A380 on the stand through floor-to-ceiling windows.

The lounge was quite crowded and the comfy seats packed closely together in the bar area. I didn't bother eating anything but nuts were served by waiters who brought drinks to customers at their seats, and there was a decent selection of tasty-looking hot dishes (curries and spaghetti bolognese), plus salads, cheese and crackers. There was also a choise of newspapers and magazines but I didn't have time to look through them.

BOARDING I headed down to the gate at 2120 (business class passengers access the double-decker superjumbo through a separate airbridge via Gate 6B) and noticed the flight was closing. There was no one ahead of me so I was straight on board and directed to my seat by a friendly member of crew. I was offered a glass of orange or apple juice but no water or champagne, the last, because the bar was not yet open.

A blanket and small pillow had been placed on my seat and I was pleased to find handy storage bins built into the side of the plane beneath the window (one of the advantages of being in a window seat), so I could place my belongings in there instead of in an overhead bin. A menu card had been placed inside a slot beneath the shared central tray table, so I took the time to read through it. There were no vegetarian options listed so I was glad that I had pre-orderd a special meal.

THE SEAT 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? 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 Journey time was estimated to be 11 hours 40 minutes, with landing scheduled for 1820 local time. The cabin lights were dimmed at 2200, at the same time as the plane pushed back and just after the safety demonstration. However, there was a very long taxi to the runway, so take-off wasn't until 2235. Once cruising at 2250, the lights came back on and the seatbelt signs went off. A member of crew came around shortly after with noise-cancelling headphones and Tumi amenity kits containing Elemis hand and face cream, hand sanitiser, lip balm, a toothbrush and paste, hairbrush, socks and an eyemask.

A drinks service began at 2315, and I ordered a glass of water and some champagne (Taittinger brut reserve NV). These were served with a small bag of roasted and salted mixed nuts. Tray tables were also lifted from the armrests and set with white cotton cloths. Dinner was served at midnight. I was presented with a starter of spicy vegetarian samosas and spring rolls with tomato sauce, followed by a roasted vegetable salad, and a veggie lasagne. There was also a choice of fresh bread rolls and fruit salad, with a dessert trolley displaying the lime and Madagascar vanilla cheesecake.

The main menu listed Malaysian chicken satay with peanut sauce (I was told this was very good) and prawn brioche as appetisers. The mains were of honey-glazed chicken with roasted almond mashed potatoes, grilled pineapple, green and yellow zucchini and chasseur sauce; beef kerutup with steamed rice and stir-fried mixed vegetables; pan-fried salmon fillet with crumbed potato cakes, broccoli, roasted vine tomatoes, horseradish cream and grain mustard; and lamb biryani with rice and vegetable pickles. The meal could also me completed with cheese (Brie and Stilton), and tea and coffee.

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.

Enrich Platinum flying business can also avail of Malaysia Airlines’ “chef-on-call” option. This allows you to choose from an extended menu of 25 dishes 24 hours in advance of departure either online or over the phone (+603 7843 3000).

I watched a film and found a reasonable selection of new releases, as well as plenty of other movies and TV shows. The screen was large, the picture quality excellent and the menus easy to navigate. The cabin lights went out at about 0100. I was offered more champagne and a bottle of Vittel after the meal. Washrooms were clean and spacious with moisturiser and eau de toilette provided. At about 0200 I reclined my seat fully flat and unpacked the large, soft coverlet provdied and settled down to sleep.

At about 0700 I got up and went for a walk in the galley and helped myself to a salad roll from the snack tray. There were also chicken tikka wraps, bacon sandwiches, cheese and nuts. I then went back to my seat and watched another film. Breakfast was served at 0800, beginning with a choice of apple, orange or grapefruit juice. I was given a tray with a box of Kellog’s corn flakes, a small plate of freshly sliced fruit and offered a selection pastries.

There was then a hot option including delicious looking pancakes but I was presented with my special meal, which looked very unappealing – a plate of boiled vegetables with a stack of aubergine slices under some kind of white sauce. The other dishes were nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk with spicy prawn sambal); a mixed grill with shallot and caper cream sauce with chicken sausage, minute steak, lamb kebab, croquette potatoes and vegetables; and stir-fried Chinese noodles with beef strips, julienne carrot, braised pak choy and garlic oyster sauce.

Finally, the crew came around with tea and coffee at 0900. Attendants were polite and efficient but not overly friendly. Headphones were collected shortly before the plane started making its descent.

ARRIVAL The aircraft landed a little ahead of schedule at 1015 (1815 local time) and disembarkation via the airbridge was quick. There was a five-minute walk past various retail outlets and cafes to a shuttle transfer, where immigration and baggage reclaim were located. There was a queue of about 30 people at the fast-track immigration lane but they opened up another desk so all in all it didn't take more than ten minutes to get through. I then had an eight-minute wait for my suitcase to appear. The drive to KL took about an hour, although traffic in the centre around the Petronas towers meant it added an extra 45 minutes on to my journey to get to my nearby hotel, the Grand Hyatt

VERDICT 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.

PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Kuala Lumpur in January ranged between £3,057 and £4,215.

CONTACT malaysiaairlines.com

FACT FILE

SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2-2 (A-C, E-G, H-K)

SEAT PITCH 74in/188cm

SEAT WIDTH 22in/56cm

SEAT RECLINE 180 degrees

Jenny Southan