If you follow international travel news, you may have heard the big flap about airline blogger Josh Cahill of GoTravelYourWay who had an unpleasant experience on a Malaysian Airlines flight. We’ve all had unpleasant flying experiences, but what was unique about Josh’s story is what happened after he posted about the bad experience on Instagram. A representative from Malaysian Airlines saw the post and phoned the cockpit asking the crew to make the passenger more comfortable. According to Josh, this upset the crew and they retaliated by denying him drinks, including water. You can read the whole story, as reported by LoyaltyLobby, here. Or, check out Josh's video review of his flight.
Fortunately I’ve been able to avoid this level of drama in my own travels this year. But, I did fly from Kuala Lumpur to London (the same haul Josh was on) with Malaysian Airlines recently, and I noticed some big flaws in their service policies. Since I’ve taken a similar trip on Emirates many times before, I thought it might be interesting to do a little compare-and-contrast between the two airlines.
One quick note – I'm only reviewing economy flights on each airline in this post. Here are my thoughts:
Drinks are important
When you are sitting on an airplane for a long time, all kinds of things can happen to your mind and your body. You get cranky. Your legs get stiff. And it’s very easy to get thirsty. Having access to food and drink on a flight can be really helpful. And it’s important that airlines provide these things for you – it’s not like you can just go to the store and buy your own drinks.
Personally, I like to drink a lot of drinks, like Coca Cola or orange juice. This is true for me in general, but it’s especially the case when I’m on a long flight. With Emirates, when they pour me a Coke, I’ll usually ask for the can and they’ll give it to me with no issue. On my recent flight with Malaysian Airlines, they wouldn’t do that. When I asked, they said they couldn’t give me the can because there might not be enough for everyone. They invited me to ask for more later. That's better than nothing, but I didn’t want to have to ask for more. I want to make it easier for them and not have them come to my seat every time every time I get thirsty.
Approach to service
The frequency of service and how everything is paced is much better with Emirates. When they serve a hot meal, they do the first pass with the food and drink. After they are done with the first round, there will be a second cart coming and they will offer you another round of drinks. Then there is a third round specifically for coffee or tea.
With Malaysian Airlines, they serve food and drink on the first pass. The second pass is just for clean up. You can ask for extra drinks at this point, but it’s not offered they will just whizz by hoping you don’t ask. (I can tell when someone is trying to avoid me.) I understand they may have supply issues. Since Malaysian Airlines uses smaller planes they might not have enough space to stock endless drinks for everyone. But this can be communicated in a way that doesn’t make you feel like you’re just getting terrible service.
On Emirates, they have a station in the galley with snacks and drinks so you can just go back and get it any time. You don’t have to call the stewardess, and you can stretch your legs at the same time.
If someone sees Malaysian Airlines’ service as unfriendly I can understand. The way they have their service set up, it can certainly feel that way.
One of the reasons I like Emirates is because they have newer, bigger aircraft – the A380. Inside the aircraft, on long-haul flights, they provide an amenity kit with an eye mask, ear plugs, socks, blanket, headphones and pillow. Malaysia Airlines is not quite so generous. They have blankets and pillows, but don’t give you the other stuff, such as eye mask and earplugs, which would help make for a more comfortable flight.
Some people may not think of a menu as a great amenity, but I do. Every Emirates flight they have menus. This way you know what is available in terms of food, drinks and snacks. It’s really nice. With Malaysian Airlines, you’re just flying blind you don’t know what’s available. As I said before, you have to ask what they have and ask if they have it available. It’s annoying, and it seems like it would just take more of the flight attendants’ time and energy.
In the terminal
If, like me, you like a good airport lounge, Emirates is probably the way to go. For starters, it’s easier to get points with Emirates. After a few flights with Emirates, I achieved Silver status and can access their business lounges for free. Emirates doesn’t partner with any other airline, so if you want to use their lounges you have to book with them directly. And because they don’t partner with other airlines, they have a very high standard for their lounges. You will typically find the same level of service and great amenities in their lounges as you do on board the plane.
Malaysian Airlines partners with Oneworld, so quality of lounges can vary. It's also harder to gain the status you'd need to access their lounges for free. I did not use their lounge on this last trip because I did not have enough points. I have been to their lounges in Kuala Lumpur in the past, but they were not as good as Emirates Lounges I've been to.
Who offers the most value
Because of Emirates’ reputation, some people think they offer all of these amenities because they are a more expensive airline. I don’t really think that’s the case. The price difference to fly from Kuala Lumpur to London on Emirates is only about $100 USD more than Malaysian Airlines. Also, Malaysian flies direct to London (typically a 12-13 hour flight). Emirates always flies through Dubai, making the trip 18-20 hours. You would think Malaysian would charge more for the value of a direct flight, but that’s not the case. Malaysian Airlines should have the profit to provide better service on this flight – they are paying for less fuel, fewer pilots and less money on airport fees.
For me, it doesn’t make sense. I would not be upset if Malaysian Airlines wanted to increase their prices a little bit. After all, they provide value by flying direct. Right now, I think passengers have to choose between having a good experience and a quicker flight. If Malaysian Airlines upped their game a little bit, consumers wouldn’t have to make this choice. They might even give Emirates some stiffer competition!
Have you flown Malaysian Airlines or Emirates? What were your thoughts? What would you change?