Whisking passengers between London and Kuala Lumpur aboard its new Airbus A350s, Malaysia Airlines' first class cabin is an exclusive experience available to just four passengers on every flight, but one we'd describe as being more 'premium' than 'luxury'.
With double-daily service between KL and London, that's a total of just eight first class passengers flying each way, and on the airline's flagship MH1 service out of Heathrow Airport, Australian Business Traveller was one of those lucky few, to bring you this review.
- Frequent flyer program: Malaysia Airlines Enrich. As a Oneworld airline, you could choose to earn points and status credits in the Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme instead when travelling on an eligible fare.
- Checked baggage allowance: 50kg across any number of bags, boosted to 55kg for Enrich Silver members, 70kg Oneworld Emerald cardholders (such as Qantas Platinum and above), 75kg for Enrich Gold members, and 100kg (plus an extra 15kg for golfing equipment) exclusively for Enrich Platinum members.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 2x115cm bags at a combined total weight of 14kg, plus one small item like a laptop, handbag, briefcase or camera bag.
- Airport fast-track: As expected, there's priority check-in, boarding and baggage delivery, and also access to Heathrow's 'Fast Track' departures channel at security – but as another passenger here commented, it was more like "Slow Track", with only one security lane open and a growing queue. If Kuala Lumpur is your final destination, hold onto your boarding pass: you can use it to access the 'first class' lines at Malaysian passport control, found near the red carpet.
Malaysia Airlines runs its own Golden Lounge in Heathrow Terminal 4, where first class passengers (and Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers) have access to a dedicated space, accessed through the 'first class' door aside reception:
Inside, you'll find business and shower facilities, plus a selection of reading material...
... along with buffet dining...
... and a tended bar, where Champagne (Laurent Perrier Brut) is poured:
Take a seat nearby and a la carte dining is available too, offering a selection of starters, mains and desserts.
As mine was a late evening visit, I went straight for dessert – a 'banana boat' with fresh banana and both vanilla and strawberry ice cream, presented in a much more refined way than hinted on the menu, which was delicious:
Malaysia Airlines' Oneworld partner Qatar Airways also operates a 'Premium Lounge' in the same terminal exclusively for business class and first class passengers, which a Malaysia Airlines first class boarding pass also unlocks.
Inside: showers, a quiet area, buffet and restaurant dining, and of course, Champagne: Laurent Perrier Brut as Malaysia Airlines also serves in its first class lounge, plus Laurent Perrier Rosé.
If you're arriving into London from a Malaysia Airlines flight in first class, there's unfortunately no arrivals lounge provided, but you could pay your way into the Plaza Premium Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 4, or enter using a Priority Pass airport lounge card.
First class aboard Malaysia Airlines' A350s is significantly cosier than on most other airlines, with its four suites contained in a single row in a 1-2-1 layout:
As the prized window seats were already taken, I selected suite 1G...
... on the right-hand side of the centre pair:
Looking around the suite, there's a long bench on one side, pictured above and continuing below, with an extra mounted nook for your personal items...
... and that bench also opens up for added storage beneath – perfect for the pillows, slippers, amenity kit and blanket you'll get after take-off:
Speaking of storage, there's more of it closer to you, with dedicated spaces for headphones and a water bottle, along with a shelf for small items like smartphones:
On the other side, a literature pocket (where you'll find the menu and safety card):
Beyond storage, a control panel to your side, with a handy 'do not disturb' setting...
... which activates a red bar under your seat number, indicating to the crew that you'd rather be left alone:
A few of those same controls are also accessible via side buttons, handy if you're in 'bed mode'...
... with a broader suite of buttons tucked away underneath the side panel for more precise adjustments, and to activate the seat's massage feature.
I found myself using these keys rather frequently – more so than the generic buttons above – and wish there were an option to 'save' your preferred pose to return later, rather than having to open up a hatch and tweak the seat again every time you move.
Just below that is an international AC power outlet, plus a high-powered USB port. Unlike my experience back in business class on the same aircraft where my Microsoft Surface charger wouldn't fit into the outlet, I had no such problems here, including when headphones were plugged in beside.
The fold-out meal table provided sufficient space for working on that Surface...
... and as the right lighting always helps me maintain productivity, I was pleased that in addition to the usual overhead lamp there's an extra light to the side, which can be swivelled and angled to align with any reading material, or to brighten up any other part of the suite...
... plus a rectangular ambient light behind you, the brightness of which can be controlled via the seat control panel...
... as can the brightness of other lights, such as underneath the foot rest in front, which later forms the end of your 83-inch, 210cm bed (pyjamas are provided, of course):
While the length of the bed is generous, here's where the experience becomes more like business class than First.
For starters, the seat is the same width as business class on the A350s at 22 inches (56cm), and while most other airlines offer lush bedding in first class including padded mattresses and the like, Malaysia Airlines instead provides only a business class seat cover (which isn't padded at all), joined by a blanket and a pillow (given out at bed time, so not the cushion pictured below) – although at least the pillow is larger and softer than provided in business class.
The bigger drawcard for first class over business class is privacy, with a sliding door separating you from the aisle when sleeping, or also while working to prevent others from seeing any confidential documents.
During take-off and landing, the door is secured open...
... and can be closed by pulling the lever below once the crew have unlocked it.
Despite that, privacy was less of an advantage on this flight, because while the centre pair of seats have a divider that can be closed between them, on this particular aircraft, it was stuck in the half-open, half-closed position, which the cabin crew weren't able to resolve. This meant my seatmate and I could see each other with sitting upright, although when seats were in bed mode, privacy was still assured.
On boarding, a prawn canapé was waiting at my seat, along with a hot towel and a chocolate, quickly joined by a glass of Champagne.
I'd hoped this would be the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2006 as noted on the menu, but this ended up being the non-vintage Comte Audoin du Dampierre Grande Cuvee from business class.
In many countries, airlines have to pay duty or tax on alcohol when the bottle is opened on the ground, but not if it's opened in the air, so pouring a cheaper drop before take-off saves the airline money.
Once airborne, the real first class Champagne makes an appearance, joined by nuts and snacks, and if you're only going to have one glass of Champagne on your flight, it's worth waiting for the Taittinger:
This is a premium drop worthy of a first class cabin, which Australian travellers may recognise from Qantas first class, and which many high-end restaurants choose to serve on the ground as well, including Heston Blumenthal's three-Michelin-starred The Fat Duck, which you could visit on a spare day in London.
Now, while the inflight menu suggests that supper will be served after take-off, I opted to eat before boarding and go straight to sleep instead – the goal being to smooth my transition between time zones by getting some immediate sleep on this flight, followed by snoozing through my connecting, overnight KL-Sydney leg, to adjust to my 'home' time zone as quickly as possible.
Being first class, I asked a member of the crew to wake me up in four hours, which they happily did, and after that half-night of sleep, I took advantage of the 'dine anytime' service.
This began with a selection of breads, normally served via a roving bread basket, but as I was the only one awake and eating in the four-seat cabin, I had a mini basket to myself:
Naturally, a yummy helping of Malaysia Airlines' signature satay sticks kicked things off, before I moved on to Ossetra caviar and accompaniments – Ossetra being just one rung below Beluga in the caviar ranks.
This course was well-intentioned but was missing a mother of pearl spoon, which would have enhanced the flavour of the dish as metal spoons (like the one provided) cause the caviar to react, making the taste more metallic.
For the main, I kept things simple, choosing a loin of herb-crusted new season lamb with roasted kipfler potatoes, spring vegetables and creamed spinach in a rosemary and garlic sauce (delicious), which I paired with a glass of Bordeaux red in the Chateau Bouscaut 2012 AOC Pessac Leognan, Crus Classes de Graves:
When the crew offered Marshfield salted caramel ice cream for dessert, I didn't need to check the menu for anything else, and was pleased this was plated-up, rather than served in packaging as often happens in business class:
As I wanted to work for the rest of the flight, I ordered a latte – prepared by hand with as much 'latte art' as you can realistically get from an aircraft coffee machine...
... but closer to landing, I could hear Belgian waffles calling my name, so decided to indulge:
Other options available on Malaysia Airlines' first class 'dine anytime' menu include:
- Egg noodles in a vegetable soup
- Warmed sandwiches (Croque monsieur or roast beef with caramelised onion and cheese_
- Seasonal fruit
- Selection of cheese with crackers and accompaniments
- Potato chips
- Fruit smoothie
- Nasi Lemak
- Eggs prepared your way (sunny side up, scrambled, half boiled or poached)
- Breakfast sides including mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, sausages, smoked salmon and creamed spinach
- Mushroom omelette
For those opting for the full dinner service after take-off, other starters available were Scottish smoked salmon and a mint and pea soup, while for the main course, there's also Daging Masak Kicap, chicken katsu curry and pasta primavera.
Despite all of this, absent is a formal 'tasting menu' where travellers can enjoy bites of everything (without being wasteful and ordering one of every main-sized dish), as other airlines like Qantas and Etihad Airways offer in first class.
Entertainment & Service
A 24-inch high definition entertainment screen trumps the 16-inch screens further back in business class, serving up the same selection of movies and television shows, but with added clarity and a more optimal viewing distance:
My system initially wasn't working properly, but came online after a reset – but later lost power, along with all screens in first class and the seat controls, when everything had to be rebooted again.
Once operational, the system could be controlled using an easy-access remote, or also by touch if needed (although the screen is normally too far forward to reach).
Inflight Internet is also available to purchase aboard Malaysia Airlines' A350s, but while this worked fine on my flight over to London, on this leg, the system refused to connect at all:
Service-wise, with two crew members dedicated to the four-seat first class cabin, help was never far away, with call bells answered promptly and drinks topped up without being asked.
I also appreciated that the crew were happy to wake me at my preferred time, and although the inflight entertainment system has its own 'wake up' feature to prompt this, the only options it gives are to be woken for the second meal or just for landing, making this a more personal touch suited to the first class service.
What could have been improved is the attention to detail. For example, after advising the crew I'd be going to sleep and eating later during the flight, they returned moments later to set my table anyway, which I had to decline.
I also had to buzz the call bell during the flight to ask that the crew-controlled safety lock on the suite's closing door be disabled, so that I could close it as expected – which took the assistance of more than one member of the crew, as the first didn't know how to do this.
Small issues like this with the seat, service and WiFi are to be expected when an airline starts flying a new aircraft type or launches a new seat, but Malaysia Airlines has been flying this jet for months now, and these aspects of the service, especially in first class, should have already been ironed out.
That said, the overall experience is still enjoyable, if not more subtle and subdued than the first class service of many other airlines, particularly the likes of Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Etihad Airways, on which there's no mistaking you're flying up the very front.
One closing tip: If you prefer to ride a little cooler, consider selecting one of the window seats if you can, rather than those in the middle, as only the window seats have personal adjustable air vents.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to London as a guest of Malaysia Airlines.