Travelling aboard Malaysia Airlines' new Airbus A350s? Then take a look at the airline's new inflight Internet service, with plans starting at just US$1, available exclusively on Malaysia Airlines' A350 jets.
While you won't be able to connect aboard MAS' other aircraft which fly between Australia and Kuala Lumpur, you're covered on A350 flights to and from London, and from May, on Kuala Lumpur-Tokyo and KL-Osaka flights, too.
Australian Business Traveller put the inflight WiFi service to the test on a recent return trip between KL and London Heathrow to bring you this review.
Malaysia Airlines Airbus A350 inflight Internet: plans
Malaysia Airlines offers three connectivity plans, which are the same price whether you connect from a smartphone, tablet or laptop:
- Lite Plan (US$1): Unlimited time, but only an 8MB data limit and speeds capped at 64kbps (best-suited for messaging only).
- Social Plan (US$5): Unlimited time, 20MB data limit and speeds throttled to 200kbps, only for use with messaging and apps (no general web browsing).
- Business Plan (US$20): 150MB data limit, speeds limited to 0.5Mbps, but valid for 31 days, so any unused data can be used on your next Malaysia Airlines A350 flight.
While that's a good range of price points catering to both business and leisure travellers, absent is a free option as offered on many other airlines: although with the entry-level plan priced at US$1, it's hard to complain!
The Business Plan is also handy for round-trips, such as from Kuala Lumpur to London and then from London back to Kuala Lumpur, because the one plan and payment could cover you for two flights if you're conservative with your data.
AusBT review: Malaysia Airlines' A350 first class, MH1, London to KL
Malaysia Airlines Airbus A350 inflight Internet: getting online
Assuming your device is already in flight mode, switch on WiFi after the aircraft reaches 10,000ft, look for the 'MHConnect' hotspot and join the network.
Your web browser should pop open to get things started:
Click the big red "connect to the Internet" button to reveal the plans available, remembering that the prices indicated are in US dollars:
Then, you'll be asked to register for an account, sign-in to your existing account, or continue as a guest:
It might be tempting to speed your way through by connecting as a 'guest', but creating an account allows you to switch your connection between devices (such as from your laptop to your smartphone), and if you choose the Business Plan, to access your plan again on another flight if you still have data remaining.
In any case, you'll be asked for your credit card details – the portal accepts all credit and charge cards issued in Australia including Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Diners Club. Discover and JCB cards are also accepted.
It doesn't take long for your transaction to be processed...
... before you're online.
Handy tip: Keep this page open in the background so that you can easily monitor your data allowance, or log off.
You'll also see a countdown timer on the screen above; it turns out that the Business Plan has a total time limit of 24 hours of connectivity across all the flights on which you use it.
That doesn't mean you must use up all your data within 24 hours of connecting for the first time, only that the total time you can spend online over the 31-day period covered by your pass is limited to 24 hours in total.
The expiry date and time is also displayed on the same screen in year-month-date format.
Been working on your laptop and want to switch your connection over to your smartphone during meal time? That's easily done!
Follow the same steps as above to get online, but after clicking the big red "connect to the Internet" button, look for the "returning user" option at the top instead of choosing a plan – this allows you to log back into the account you created earlier, assuming you didn't check out as a guest:
This process is quick, and within moments, I was back online under that plan.
Just remember that you can only be connected on one device at a time from a single plan, so if you log on using a different gadget, your previous device will be logged off, which is standard of most inflight Internet systems.
Malaysia Airlines Airbus A350 inflight Internet: surfing speeds and reliability
Generally speaking, inflight Internet speeds normally range from 'very slow' to 'somewhat slow', but most airlines don't hint as to the speed of their connection until you've already paid for it.
That's where Malaysia Airlines is different, by setting clear expectations from the start when choosing your plan.
For example, choose the Lite Plan and the speed you'll get (64kbps) is little better than dial-up Internet of yesteryear, or choose the Social Plan and the speeds you'll get (200kbps) are comparable to an entry-level ADSL plan on the ground.
The Business Plan offers the best speeds, but it's only the 'best' in relation to the other options, still being capped at a mere 512kbps/0.5Mbps.
Running a SpeedTest on the connection revealed real-life speeds a little slower than that, with downloads averaging 0.41Mbps, uploads of 0.37Mbps and ping speeds of 1,165ms:
Practically speaking, that's fine for basic web browsing with a fair bit of patience, but not much else.
The connection on my flight from Kuala Lumpur to London was quite stable, and I used it to make two other flight bookings without incident.
It wasn't possible to book new flights with Malaysia Airlines, however, because the airline's website refuses to load through the inflight Internet connection, perhaps due to the way the service has been configured:
On my flight back from London to Kuala Lumpur, the experience was very different – in that there was no experience to be had at all, as the service refused to work for the entire duration of the flight:
The cabin crew tried resetting everything, including the inflight entertainment system which is connected to parts of the WiFi, but nothing worked: so while I still had data remaining on my plan from the flight over, I wasn't able to use it.
Overall, the system is functional when it works – but reliability is very important, and having the service offline for an entire 13-hour flight isn't ideal, particularly as inflight WiFi is only offered on a small number of Malaysia Airlines routes to begin with.
However, more passengers will have the chance to use it from later this year, with six ex-Air Berlin Airbus A330-200s already kitted out with WiFi technology that can be adapted by Malaysia Airlines, and which will appear on flights to Perth and Auckland from Q4 2018.
Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of Malaysia Airlines.