I was travelling from Ho Chi Minh City back home to Singapore, so decided to do a mileage run with a oneworld carrier given that I was trying to keep my frequent flyer status on Qantas for another year.
Having done some research, I realised that Malaysia Airlines was my best bet given that it goes via KL, as that gives me two sectors and a lot more points and status credits with Qantas Frequent Flyer than travelling on a direct flight.
Standby at airport: Go shows
I showed up way too early at Tan Sohn Nat International Airport for my 7.10pm flight, and wanted to check if I could standby for an earlier ticket. I had done it pretty often with Qantas in Australia, or to some extent with airlines in US as well, so I thought I could try.
While I tried to check in, I was told by the agent that the fare class for my ticket was ineligible for what they called ‘go shows’, and asked that I wait around to 4pm before my flight opens for check in. Obviously I wasn’t going to wait around for 2 hours to check my bag, so I asked to speak to the airport manager.
When I later spoke to the airport manager, he explained that their customer management system has recently been changed and they are no longer allowed to put people on a different flight from what was booked.
In summary, any sale tickets – whether in Business or Economy – will not allow you to show up for an earlier flight. From some online research the only exception seem to be out of Singapore.
Having said that, the airport manager made an exception to allow me to do an early check-in (they do not offer ECI at SGN), and invited me to head to the lounge early.
Security, immigration, lounge
Note that the airport only offers dedicated immigration counters for Sky Priority members, a Skyteam initiative, as Vietnam Airlines is an alliance members. Unfortunately that also means that all other airlines customers, including premium passengers, will have to join the general line. If you are an ASEAN passport holder, fortunately the dedicated counter queue tends to be shorter.
Once you have passed through immigration, you will see that there’s a dedicated business and first class security lane so feel free to use that.
The lounge that Malaysia Airlines uses at Tan Sohn Nat International Airport was the Saigonnais Lounge, a third-party lounge operated by Sasco, the airport operator. In fact, all the lounges at the international terminal are operated by Sasco.
After spending about three hours at the lounge, I finally head to the aircraft to start my journey.
My ride today is on a Boeing 737-800, which Malaysia Airlines have plenty of – 48 to be exact. MH typically uses the 737-800s for its domestic and regional services, some as far as Taipei, Shanghai and Perth.
MH was expecting to bring in some MAX 8 and MAX 10 from this year onwards, but given the recent incidents around the MAX variants it remains to be seen if that will still happen. At the time of writing, MH has yet to make any changes to their order.
Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 737-800 features 16 business class seats, laid out in a 2-2 configuration across four rows. In economy class, there are 144 seats, laid out 3-3 across 24 rows.
The business class seats are recliners, which is perfectly fine for short haul routes. The seats come with 42 inches of pitch, offering plenty of legroom. The seat measures 21 inches across, wide enough for even a fairly big sized person.
Be careful though, Malaysia Airlines also uses these narrowbody aircraft on some mid haul route, including the Shanghai Pudong — Kuala Lumpur red eye service that I took some time ago. So if you want to have a good rest, either avoid overnight services altogether on MH, or check the aircraft before you book.
The seat has got simple mechanical controls: one button to control the seat back recline, another one for the legrest. Both of these have to be set to the default position for take off and landing. Note that this is a recliner seat, while it has a considerable recline, these are not flat beds – don’t expect to sleep well on them.
The tray table is stowed in one of your armrest. In the middle armrest between each pair of seats, you will find the controller for your in-flight entertainment system.
As I was seated in row 1, the in-flight entertainment screen is also stowed under the middle of the pair of seats. To take out the screen, you will have to push it in first before it pops out. There was no instructions so I had to look around and fiddle with the screen before I could get it to come out, which was pretty frustrating.
The cabin today was only about half full, so there was only about one person for every two seats. In the business cabin, there was two cabin crew, so the passenger to crew ratio was very good.
There was also a variety of newspapers being put in every magazine holder in front of the seat: you don’t really get a choice, but every seat seem to get a different newspaper so you can always swap with your seat neighbour if you wanted something else.
As a pre-departure service, I was offered a couple of guava, orange or apple juice. I went with the pink guava (I may have gotten this wrong) and was pleasantly surprised at how tasty it was. I was then offered a cold towel to refresh myself.
One thing to note: Malaysia Airlines have stopped serving alcoholic beverages on its flights under three hours for a couple of years now, so there was none available on this flight.
Soon we were on our way, and the cabin crew came around handing out menu cards.
There was a simple dinner service on this short two-hour ride. Despite the short ride, there was three options available for the main course:
- Ayam Panggang Madu (Grilled honey chicken)
- Pad Gra Pow (Thai-style stir fried beef with rice)
- Pan-Roasted Garoupa with Tomato and Chilli Jam
I went for the Ayam Panggang Madu, and everything was served on a single tray, including a side salad to start with, and an orange cake for dessert. One of the cabin crew also came around with a selection of breads. I decided to go with garlic bread which, to my disappointment, was cold.
While the meal didn’t exactly look very palatable, the surprise was in the cake: it was so delicious, and not too sweet, so I finished it all.
After the meal service, my tray was promptly cleared and I was offered a hot drink. Checking the menu, I decided on a Rooibos tea, which took a while to come. However, the tea was pretty heartening and in my opinion a good way to end off the flight in absence of a glass of wine.
As I was in the bulkhead seat, the in-flight entertainment seat was stowed at the side of the seat. With no instructions on how to get it out, I struggled with the screen for a good while before figuring out to use it.
The screen is a touch screen, but for the germaphobes, there’s also a remote control stowed at the side of the seat.
Given it was a short flight, I didn’t bother watching any shows. I scrolled through the selection, which wasn’t huge but pretty current. The screen was quite small for a business class cabin, and the resolution of the screen was quite bad as well. There was a pair of headphones that was dished out at the beginning of the flight, but again, it looked like they have been in use for the last decade.
Malaysia Airlines has a fairly large fleet of Boeing 737-800s, so if you ever need a hop in Southeast Asia, there’s a good chance you will have to ride one of these.
Let’s face it: the business class product is not stellar on any Boeing 737s, including SilkAir’s (not until they get the flat beds). The other major issue with MH’s planes are the state of the cleanliness. While airplanes are rarely the cleanest place on earth, it’s really something else to have armrests as dirty as theirs.
On the service end, MH obviously fared much better. The Malaysian hospitality is warm, the food tasted good, and everyone was pretty attentive and proactive.
What I’m really unsure of is the removal of alcohol beverages on journeys under three hours.