Malaysian Hospitality, it’s my choice.

A lot needs to be done to make our na­tional car­rier Malaysia Air­lines com­pet­i­tive again but we are on the right track.

The Star Malaysia - - Nation - news­desk@thes­tar.com.my Wong Chun Wai

SURELY, we must have heard from fre­quent flyers that Malaysia Air­lines Bhd has lost its lus­tre and vigour. Our planes look derelict com­pared to those of Cathay Pa­cific, Sin­ga­pore Air­lines and Emi­rates Air­lines.

The com­plaints run the gamut, from food choice to movie se­lec­tion. The man­age­ment of Malaysia Air­lines must have re­ceived this feed­back, surely.

Yet, like many Malaysians, I re­main loyal to MH. I be­lieve in its Malaysian Hospitality. I have trav­elled to many coun­tries, got on­board a va­ri­ety of air­lines, and I can vouch that our cabin crew are the best, and truly de­serve the many ac­co­lades that have come their way.

How­ever, all that can’t gloss over the na­tional car­rier’s need to be com­pet­i­tive again. Its trou­bles haven’t been erased from mem­ory, but faith in the brand is slowly but surely re­turn­ing.

The air­line’s losses in 2014, in the wake of MH370’s dis­ap­pear­ance, and the shoot­ing down of MH17, will con­tinue to haunt it. Those mas­sive losses of hu­man life have hurt both the air­line and coun­try’s im­age in a hor­ri­ble and dev­as­tat­ing way.

It didn’t help that the old MAS was de­clared “tech­ni­cally bank­rupt” in 2015. But the dark clouds have blown over. The man­age­ment has done a re­mark­able job in turn­ing things around, earn­ing me­dia cov­er­age which said, “so much growth that it doesn’t have enough air­craft to match the de­mand.”

In June, MAS an­nounced it was buy­ing six se­cond-hand Air­bus A330s, and last week, Prime Min­is­ter Datuk Seri Na­jib Tun Razak re­vealed that the coun­try in­tends to make Malaysia Air­lines buy more Boe­ing planes, say­ing: “We are com­mit­ted to 25 planes of 737 MAX 10, eight 787 Dream­lin­ers and there is a strong prob­a­bil­ity, not pos­si­bil­ity, that we will add 24 or 25 more 737 MAX 10 in the near fu­ture.”

So within five years, with the ad­di­tional pur­chases, the deal will be worth in ex­cess of US$10bil (RM41.87bil), it was re­ported.

The 737 MAX 10 will be the air­line’s most prof­itable sin­gle-aisle air­plane, of­fer­ing the low­est seat costs ever, while the 787 Dream­liner is a long-haul, mid-size wide-body, twin-en­gine jet air­liner.

The Prime Min­is­ter also wit­nessed the sign­ing of a Me­moran­dum Of Un­der­stand­ing be­tween Malaysia Air­lines and The Boe­ing Com­pany for air­craft pur­chases and the set­ting up of a Main­te­nance, Re­pair and Over­haul fa­cil­ity in Sepang, worth US$4.86bil (RM20.35bil).

The dis­cus­sion with Don­ald Trump was the high­light of Na­jib’s 911 work­ing visit to the US, where he was in­vited by the 45th US Pres­i­dent.

Na­jib said the Gov­ern­ment would also try to per­suade low-cost car­rier, AirAsia Bhd, to pur­chase US-made Gen­eral Elec­tric en­gines.

Read­ing purely into the po­lit­i­cal spin, the PM is seen spend­ing lav­ishly, which the coun­try can ill af­ford at the mo­ment, but Malaysia Air­lines needs those new planes badly, as its chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Peter Bellew at­tested, “even af­ter buy­ing six used A330s, it seems the air­line is still short of empty seats for its ag­gres­sive re­gional ex­pan­sion plans.”

A re­cent re­port states “this pur­chase of 40-plus long-haul air­craft is a huge deal for an air­line that cur­rently has just 21 long-haul air­craft in ac­tive ro­ta­tion (15 Air­bus A330s, six Air­bus A380s – which it re­cently con­sid­ered sell­ing).”

Ac­cord­ing to AirFleets, “Malaysia has an ad­di­tional 24 wide-body air­craft cur­rently stored, half of which are (un­der­stand­ably) Malaysia’s re­tired 777 fleet, which was the air­craft model in­volved in both the 2014 tragedies. Three oth­ers are Boe­ing 747-400s, which are known for their fuel in­ef­fi­ciency, com­pared to more mod­ern air­craft.”

Malaysia Air­lines also needs to re­gain pre­mium des­ti­na­tions it lost. Malaysians can no longer fly MH to New York, Los An­ge­les or San Fran­cisco. It’s dis­ap­point­ing that we have to hop on an­other air­line to get to these prime lo­ca­tions.

The Paris and Am­s­ter­dam routes ceased oper­a­tions early last year, and be­fore that, in 2015, Frank­furt and Is­tan­bul also lost their ser­vice, leav­ing Lon­don as the air­line’s sole Euro­pean des­ti­na­tion.

This cer­tainly doesn’t bode well for an in­ter­na­tional car­rier since these are golden ticket routes – pop­u­lar and prof­itable.

In­cred­i­bly, at one time, the old MAS flew di­rect into Zim­babwe and Ar­gentina even, when de­ci­sions were made by lead­ers with­out con­sid­er­ing com­mer­cial con­cerns.

Malaysia Air­lines now has to con­sign its past to the his­tory books and move on to com­pete in the highly-com­pet­i­tive avi­a­tion busi­ness.

The Gov­ern­ment has wisely left the job of run­ning the air­line to a pro­fes­sional. Who cares if he’s a for­eigner? As long as he does it right.

The man­age­ment has whit­tled down its staff size be­cause the air­line was sim­ply “bloated” at one point. It has stopped the prac­tice of hav­ing over-priced food items for pas­sen­gers.

Malaysia Air­lines must, how­ever, re­mem­ber that it is a pre­mium brand. It is not a low-cost car­rier and pas­sen­gers ex­pect to get what they pay for.

No com­pro­mise can ex­ist in the food qual­ity, en­ter­tain­ment of­fer­ings and lux­ury of the busi­ness class, where air­lines rake in the bucks. Now, even Wi-Fi is a pre­req­ui­site.

Two “new” movies in a movies pack­age doesn’t cut the mus­tard, es­pe­cially when other air­lines of­fer hun­dreds of se­lec­tions from mul­ti­ple gen­res.

Fre­quent trav­ellers also want the menu to be reg­u­larly up­dated, even if they are able to pre-or­der their food be­fore board­ing (for high-pay­ing pas­sen­gers). Cer­tain things sim­ply can­not be com­pro­mised for long hauls, though.

Our na­tional car­rier could do well to re­mem­ber that we are not mere pas­sen­gers, but cus­tomers, too. As the client, it’s fair game to ex­pect some pam­per­ing.

Na­jib has made the right call to buy more planes for Malaysia Air­lines. It is long over­due, more so be­cause planes are not de­liv­ered to the buyer the day af­ter pur­chase.

My choice is clear – a Malaysian air­line comes first – whether it’s Malaysia Air­lines or AirAsia – be­cause I be­lieve in sup­port­ing a Malaysian brand. Give me the sa­tay and sin­cere smiles, any time.

Golden ser­vice: Our cabin crew are the best, and truly de­serve the many ac­co­lades that have come their way. — EPA

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