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TPG Contributor Katie Genter recently flew an open-jaw itinerary from Austin (AUS) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL), with a return trip from Jakarta (CGK). After a flight cancellation and rebooking, she found herself taking the long way to KUL on a Malaysia Airlines A380-800 from London Heathrow (LHR) to KUL. Here’s her experience in economy class on this Malaysia Airlines flight. (All photos are by the author.)
Malaysia Airlines has struggled with financial troubles due to competition from low-cost airlines and two unfortunate incidents in 2014. As a result, the carrier has implemented various changes including shifting its focus toward regional flights and substantially reducing long-haul routes by cutting all routes to Africa and the Americas. Despite these recent changes, I was surprised to find myself on Malaysia Airlines’ longest remaining route from London (LHR) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL).
Booking and Rebooking
I needed to attend a conference in May in Singapore (SIN). When I found an open-jaw economy itinerary from Austin (AUS) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) that returned from Soekarno–Hatta International in Jakarta (CGK) for just $803 round-trip, I booked it knowing there’d be cheaper flights to and from Singapore available on other low-cost carriers.
Just 27 hours before my Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG) leg was scheduled to depart, American Airlines contacted me by both email and text message notifying me that it’d canceled the flight. These messages claimed I’d be rebooked automatically, but 67 minutes later I received a text message saying my ticket was “Unable to Rebook” and I should call to reschedule.
I immediately jumped on ExpertFlyer to determine the best options to request. Since my conference was in SIN, I initially tried to use this cancellation to get rebooked directly to SIN. Although this seemed to be a reasonable request — as SIN is just 184 miles from KUL — the first American Airlines agent hung up on me when I requested this. The next agent and her supervisor both told me a rebooking to Singapore simply wouldn’t happen.
The next-best option would be to fly directly from AUS to London (LHR) to KUL, but it seems AA didn’t want to pay British Airways for the AUS-LHR leg — as it refused this request. Instead, it offered AUS-DFW-LHR-KUL, with the transatlantic flight on the American Airlines 777-300ER. Since the rebooking process had already spanned almost three hours, I accepted this option.
Although this new itinerary covered more physical miles, my mileage earnings would be significantly less because I was rebooked into Malaysia Airlines’ Q fare class for the LHR-KUL segment. My original outbound itinerary would’ve earned 10,198 elite-qualifying miles and 20,396 redeemable miles — due to the 100% bonus for my AAdvantage Platinum status — yet my new outbound itinerary earned just 5,250 elite-qualifying miles and 10,500 redeemable miles.
Since this was a rebooking due to a canceled flight, I requested — and received — the earnings of my originally booked outbound itinerary. Based on TPG’s valuation of AAdvantage miles at 1.5 cents per mile, I earned $306 worth of redeemable miles on this outbound itinerary.
I used my Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express for the purchase. I’d already selected Gas as my 3x bonus category, but I still earned 2x Membership Rewards per dollar spent. The $803 airfare netted me 1,606 Membership Reward points, but satisfied 16% of the $5,000 minimum spend I needed to earn the welcome bonus.
Check-in for Malaysia Airlines flights begins 48 hours before departure. I used my Malaysia Airlines record locator — which I requested from the American Airlines agent who rebooked me — to check-in and choose a seat on the carrier’s website about 34 hours before departure.
During check-in, any available economy seat can be selected by anyone for free. However, before check-in opens, it will cost 150 MYR ($37) to select a premium seat — selected bulkhead rows and emergency exit seats — or 50 MYR ($12) to select a standard seat.
Connecting at LHR
My American Airlines flight from Dallas (DFW) pulled into LHR Terminal 3 around 7:00am. After taking a bus to Terminal 4, I quickly made my way through transfer security.
I found a free viewing deck near Terminal 4 gates 15 and 16 that offered elevated views of one of the LHR runways as well as binoculars and tablets showing aircraft in the surrounding airspace. After enjoying the view — and spotting the retired British Airways Concorde — I made my way to the lounge.
As a Oneworld Sapphire, I was able to access the Terminal 4 Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge. The lounge was small but never become crowded, even as the boarding time approached.
There was an extensive-but-small spread of both Malay and Western warm and cold food, while hot drinks were available from a self-serve machine at the bar. Alcoholic drinks were available from a bartender, but it seemed no one was partaking before this flight.
The lounge had nice views of one of the LHR airfields as well as Gate 6 where the Malaysia Airlines A380 was parked.
The 15Mbps upload/download speed on the lounge Wi-Fi was quick enough for my needs but I found it strange that there were no visible power outlets.
The women’s bathroom featured two bathroom stalls and one self-serve shower room, which offered toiletries — shampoo, conditioner, body wash and a toothbrush with toothpaste — towels, a hair dryer and a shower cap. It took me some time to tune the shower temperature, but otherwise I had a wonderful shower and left the lounge feeling refreshed.
My boarding pass indicated that the gate would open at 10:55am. I arrived at the gate at 10:40am and was pleasantly surprised to find a staffed gate but no passengers lining up yet. Signs in the Gate 6 area clearly indicated that the A380 lower level was to board through Gate 6a and the upper level was to board through Gate 6b.
When boarding the aircraft, the flight attendants happily greeted passengers. Although my seat was in the rear section of the lower deck economy cabin, I wandered up the back stairwell to sneak a peek of the upper deck economy cabin. The flight attendants I came across upstairs welcomed me instead of shooing me back downstairs.
Passengers continued to trickle onto the plane, but when the cabin door closed, the economy cabin was only about 30% full.
Cabin and Seats
The Malaysia Airlines A380-800 economy cabin made a good first impression with clean, new-looking seats. I’d hoped to select an upper deck window economy seat at check-in, as these seats are a 2-4-2 configuration and the window seats have special seat-side compartments for storage. However, when I chose my seat at check-in, no upper deck window seats were available.
The lower deck economy cabin is arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration. I chose seat 74K, a special seat because there is no other seat directly in front of it. I purposefully chose this seat to allow for easy aisle access and plenty of legroom while still having a window.
Due to the low load, few passengers were seated around me — but even on a full flight, 74K would have been a very nice seat. 74K had only two potential downsides: the in-flight entertainment system is built into the armrest and was difficult to use — especially in conjunction with working on a laptop — while the tray table that folds out from the armrest is awkwardly small.
During the flight I spent some time testing out seat 74J — a normal middle seat. I found the 18″ width of the seat to be comfortable enough and I was surprised by how much legroom the 32″ pitch allowed. However, when I attempted to work on my 14″ laptop in this seat, I found it uncomfortable — and close to impossible when 73J, the seat in front of me, was reclined. If you plan to work and have a larger laptop, you may want to pay to reserve a bulkhead or emergency exit row seat instead.
As I wandered the plane, I noted that none of the seats had legroom impeded because of entertainment boxes. There are IFE boxes under some of the seats, but they’re placed naturally between and toward the front of the seats so as to maximize legroom.
I found that the armrests on this plane were positioned at a reasonable height — perfect for both working and sleeping. Although the armrests along the aisles and windows didn’t raise, the ones between the seats raised completely.
If you’re lucky enough to be on a low-load flight like me, the three- and four-seat rows are comfortable to lay across. Even my 74 HJK row — with an immovable armrest between the middle seat and window seat — proved to be a comfortable bed with my knees bent over the immovable armrest.
The cabin was darkened after dinner, although no requests were made for passengers to lower their shades to block the incoming sunlight. Most passengers opted to sleep soon after dinner and many slept the entire flight until breakfast. The cabin lighting was raised for breakfast and then lowered again shortly after breakfast.
A light but surprisingly warm purple blanket and small pillow awaited passengers on each seat. Two-prong headsets were distributed shortly after takeoff for use with the IFE system. Although it was possible to use one’s own headset with the IFE system by plugging into either outlet, I found that — without a two-to-one adapter — my headphones only played sound from the left earbud.
In the bathrooms, lotion, men’s cologne and women’s cologne were freely available. Strangely, these bottles disappeared from all three bathrooms I checked about two hours before landing — right when most people probably needed them!
The in-flight entertainment (IFE) system was pretty extensive. I mainly utilized the interactive map during flight, but I especially enjoyed watching the tail camera as we taxied and landed.
Each seat featured a universal power outlet and USB power outlet.
The 10.6″ seat-back screens were bright and easy to tilt. Unlike some IFE systems, these screens weren’t blurred or dimmed from a neighbor’s perspective. This was actually nice for this flight as I could use the IFE for 74J instead of trying to use the retractable arm IFE at my 74K seat.
There were many movies — including some current releases — TV shows and musical selections to choose from. Despite all the other entertainment options, I was surprised to find only two English-language e-books and absolutely no games or seat-to-seat chat features available. Additionally, no Wi-Fi was offered on this flight.
The system certainly took some getting used to as it functioned slightly differently than those used on other long-haul aircraft. In particular, swiping to scroll through choices didn’t always work — in some cases, you instead needed to click on the scroll buttons.
I was really impressed with the flight attendants who worked this flight. Of those I interacted with, most seemed genuinely proud to be working on the Malaysia Airlines A380 and seemed sincerely interested in wanting me to have a great experience on this flight. I’d chatted briefly with a flight attendant while boarding and was surprised to find later on in the flight that she’d remembered the details from our short conversation— that represents not only having a good memory but also paying attention to detail.
Flight attendants frequently passed through the cabin, served and cleared meals efficiently and were friendly to the passengers in all interactions I witnessed. They also seemed very content working together. Outside of meal service, I heard happy-sounding chatter from the nearby galley as well as the sound of playing cards being shuffled. Although this led to my galley-adjacent seat being a bit louder, I didn’t find the talking bothersome even without headphones on. In fact, I was happy to be on a flight with a crew that seemed so happy to be working together.
Shortly after takeoff drink service, it was announced that flight attendants would give tours of the economy cabin to children ages 5-15. The announcement said that tours would be given in groups of four children with two cabin crew, and that the tours would cover both economy class decks, galleys and life jackets. I never noticed any of these tours coming through the cabin, but I like that they were offered.
Food and Beverage
Beverage service occurred shortly after takeoff and featured juices, sodas, beer and wine — as well as two bags of peanuts per passenger. During drink service, it was announced that dinner service would occur about 40 minutes later. Dinner consisted of a choice between spicy chicken and rice or lasagna.
I opted for the spicy chicken and rice. Unlike most “spicy” dishes, this meal actually was spicy. The chicken included some dark meat pieces but was generally of good quality. The rice was well cooked and not at all soggy. The dish also included a portion of mixed vegetables, which were a bit overcooked, but nicely seasoned with peppercorn.
Both entrée choices were served on a tray with multiple other items. The meal was complemented by dishes with spiced potato salad topped with smoked salmon and a tasty — but not overly sweet — vanilla blueberry cheesecake. The tray also included crackers and cheese, a cup of water and a warm sunflower seed roll with soft, spreadable butter. Tea and coffee were served partway though dinner.
When I awoke with six hours and 10 mins remaining in the 12-hour-and-13 minute-flight — after sleeping soundly for about two hours — I found a snack box waiting for me on a folded-down half-tray. It contained four different snack items: sweet strawberry wafers, saltine crackers, a citrus-flavored breakfast bread and a piece of soft cheese wrapped in wax, enough to satisfy any hunger or cravings.
Breakfast — a choice of coconut rice with spicy seafood or eggs — was served exactly three hours before landing. I opted for the eggs and found that this dish contained much more than just eggs! There were also well-seasoned grilled tomatoes and peppers, a soggy hash brown filled with a mushroom mixture and an impressive so-called “egg roll” — a thin strip of scrambled eggs rolled with a layer of a creamy potato sauce and small flecks of ground beef.
Both breakfast options were served with a fruit salad composed of fresh-cut melon, orange slices and grapes, a small cup of strawberry yogurt, a cold but fluffy croissant with jam and butter, a small cup of water and your choice of hot beverage or juice.
Water and Coke were available for self-service in the galley between dinner and breakfast. There was no snack box in the galley, but snacks — like a cup of peanuts — were available upon request.
I’d certainly fly the Malaysia Airways A380 from LHR to KUL again. Granted, my experience might be a bit biased because of the low load on this flight, but I sincerely expect that 74A or 74K would still be great seats even on a full-capacity flight. Certainly try for 74A or 74K if you’re traveling alone or snag one of the upper deck window/aisle pairs if you’re traveling as a pair. If you have a large laptop and need to get some work done, try for a bulkhead seat, exit row seat or choose seats 74A or 74K.
The soft product on this flight was excellent. The flight attendants were friendly and quick to respond. The food served on the flight was ample and generally tasty. The hard product was pretty good in my experience — my seat was comfortable and I slept very well across 74HJK on my low-load flight. Malaysia Airlines surpassed my expectations from the lounge through the entire flight, and I’d certainly fly with the airline again.
Have you flown on Malaysia Airlines’ long-haul recently in economy? If so, how’d your experience compare with mine?
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