Malaysia Airlines Airbus A350 first class: MH1, London to Kuala Lumpur

Review: Malaysia Airlines Airbus A350 first class: MH1, London to Kuala Lumpur

Airline:
MH (Malaysia Airlines)
Cabin Class:
First
Aircraft Type:
Airbus A350-900
Flight:
MH1
Seat:
1G

service:

meals:

seating:

overall:

What's Hot

  • Champagne and caviar
  • Lounge options at Heathrow
  • Flat bed of 210cms

What's Not

  • Privacy only assured when the seat works properly
  • No arrivals lounge in London

X-Factor

  • Only four first class seats on every flight

Introduction

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.

Check-in

  • 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.

Lounge

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.

Seat

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.

AusBT review: Malaysia Airlines Airbus A350 business class, Kuala Lumpur-London

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.

Don't fiddle with the other lock, however: it's only for emergency use.

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.

Meal

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.

We won't judge if you ask for a top-up, of course...

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
  • Cereal
  • 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.

Read: Inflight degustation: sampling Etihad's first class tasting menu

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.

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

11 Comments

  • MarkJohnSon

    MarkJohnSon
    Banned

    6 Apr, 2018 01:41 am

    Wow. Colour me impressed. It’s not super luxe, but the little things are done exceptionally well. Good job by the Berhad boys.
    No member give thanks

  • Simon Coveney

    Covvers
    Banned

    6 Apr, 2018 02:01 am

    I can’t say I agree Mark. Aspects of the product seem impressive but, overall, I cannot help but feel this is just an tarted up J class product. The width of the seats and the bedding provided to me makes it all a bit of a joke.
    No member give thanks

  • SeaVisionBurma

    SeaVisionBurma

    6 Apr, 2018 02:44 am

    "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"

    That is a good bit of info to know...

    No member give thanks

  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    6 Apr, 2018 09:32 am

    It's something Emirates does too in countries where those taxes or duties apply - when departing Australia in first class, for example, they usually pour the business class Moet NV on boarding and open up the Dom after take-off.
    Member who gave thanks

    Bafe

  • smit0847

    smit0847

    6 Apr, 2018 08:44 am

    I will NEVER understand why Malaysia Airlines decided to be the only airline in the world to install F on an A350.
    No member give thanks

  • John Odlum

    John Odlum

    6 Apr, 2018 09:19 am

    Then you need to broaden your thinking and ask yourself "Why is it so?". And here is the answer. MH already has first class on its A380 flying KUL-LHR and as there is proven demand for that cabin, they need to have some first class on the A350s which will replace the A380s. There will always be some travellers who due to wealth or position or political role will want to be in first class or at least NOT want to be with everybody else in business class, and they are who this small cabin is designed for.
    Member who gave thanks

    asw

  • StudiodeKadent

    StudiodeKadent

    6 Apr, 2018 09:32 am

    Because London has more First demand than any other airport in the world, and it also has a large base of lucrative Oneworld frequent flyers.

    Also because national prestige compels them to retain a First product.
    No member give thanks

  • watson374

    watson374

    6 Apr, 2018 10:44 am

    @smit0847 What, you expect the Malaysian royalty and political elite to mix with the hoi polloi in Business? Please. Business is for lowly executives, upper-middle-class globetrotters and savvy point hacks.

    You need to assess it within the context that Malaysia Airlines operate in, which is governed by business and political requirements. Really, a medium-to-large twin aircraft with a small First cabin is what they've needed all along, so it's good to see the A350 with one row of First happen at last, after they wasted a decade on A380s they bought for prestige to look cool next to SQ and TG they were never going to fill.
    No member give thanks

  • AB__CD

    AB__CD

    8 Apr, 2018 01:26 pm

    And remember, they basically installed a slightly more exclusive business class cabin as their F product. It will share >50% commonality for maintenance etc, and hell, it even shares a cabin footprint, so that the footrest of the forwardmost J seat is the console for the F seat ahead, reducing the wasted space that usually occurs when transitioning cabins.
    No member give thanks

  • Paul Selvarajan

    Pauli

    15 Apr, 2018 09:51 am

    That Malay passenger demands 1st class seat and for free !
    No member give thanks

  • StudiodeKadent

    StudiodeKadent

    6 Apr, 2018 09:18 am

    Considering that Malaysia isn't a very high-yielding market I think this is a perfectly acceptable first class but I must wonder a little why MAS didn't use the Vantage First seat to the fullest (i.e. install Vantage XL Business Class behind it and make use of the saved space to compensate for the density loss), or perhaps get the seat customized further to increase the width when they obviously could've done so. I guess going as "off the shelf" saved them a lot of money.

    I wish MAS the best though. Hopefully their smaller operation is more profitable over the long term for them.
    No member give thanks

  • AB__CD

    AB__CD

    8 Apr, 2018 01:28 pm

    They did. That is a Vantage First seat, but connected to a normal Vantage (non-XL seat behind).
    No member give thanks

  • jimmy224

    jimmy224

    6 Apr, 2018 12:41 pm

    Bedding apart it looks really solid, considering that it costs less than most other first class products. The seat looks beautiful, MH would have gotten themselves a complete winner if a slightly smaller version of these seat are in J.
    No member give thanks

  • Stefan Kane

    DrSK

    6 Apr, 2018 08:47 pm

    Nice to see another airline serving Taittinger CdC in F - a superb champagne.
    I know it is the ultimate first world problem, but the practice of serving the J class champagne to F passengers on the ground really cheapens the whole experience. The Duval Leroy that QF served me on the ground in LAX recently wasn't a patch on the Taittinger they cracked open once airborne. In the overall scheme of things, exactly how much 'duty' are they saving by doing so? Only a few dollars, surely. I resent having to ask what I'm being served on the ground in F before accepting a glass ... it's a painful reminder of what a precious, entitled prat I've become.
    Member who gave thanks

    Bafe

  • eminere

    eminere

    7 Apr, 2018 09:31 am

    Then don’t ask and just drink up.
    No member give thanks

  • Stefan Kane

    DrSK

    7 Apr, 2018 11:36 am

    Fair point, eminere, and the downvotes are deserved. It's more the principle of the matter: airlines advertise a particular level of service in F, which generally includes the quality of the champagnes they offer (e.g. the Qantas 'Cellars in the Sky' award). When there is a differential offering on the ground for the sake of saving a few dollars, the experience is somewhat compromised, I feel - especially if one is paying for F. I fully acknowledge that this is a petty concern of limited relevance to the vast majority of travellers.
    No member give thanks

  • Gilbert

    gilbertauejr

    11 Apr, 2018 02:48 pm

    Put aside award flights.

    Assuming KUL-LHR-KUL mid week flights mid October.
    TG: USD5,707
    WY: USD6,430
    CZ: USD6,520
    MH: USD7,223
    SQ: USD9,189

    What would you go for? I personally would go for WY (F in their 787 starting July '18) as it couldn't be any worse than MH seat-wise.
    The MH F product, is not worth its price.
    Member who gave thanks

    pointyendmark

  • Ian_from_HKG

    Ian_from_HKG

    17 Apr, 2018 03:09 pm

    I have flown MH F on this route once, and had to pay a HK$15,000 surcharge (one-way) over the J fare. For that I should have had my own champagne bar!

    The reality is that the physical seat itself is pretty much indistinguishable from the J seats on the same aircraft (which I have flown several times). The main comfort difference is that the cubby for your feet is bigger. Otherwise, when sleeping, there is no discernible difference.

    The service was excellent, it was sort of nice being in a suite, and the upgraded controls and lighting were nice too, but I honestly wouldn't pay that difference again if I could avoid it (I only paid it this time because a family funeral required me to change my travel plans (which were for J travel on MH) at the last minute and I could only get a seat in F as J was full). I would rate it more as J+ than real F.
    No member give thanks

  • mikimoto

    mikimoto

    18 Apr, 2018 07:25 pm

    As a matter of interest, once the aircraft doors are closed prior to take off (or even if they are still open during passenger loading), how would customs authorities know whether a bottle of champagne has been opened on the ground or in the air?
    No member give thanks

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26 Apr, 2018 06:09 am

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