Truth be told, our first ever flight on Malaysia Airlines did not get off to a great start. And given recent twin disasters, I was already a little jittery about boarding the plane.
However, they’re a member of the oneworld Alliance and actually have a good safety record so I decided to be practical about the matter and book flights since it was one of two direct options. The airline recently announced turning a profit in February and is likely to return to the black fully in the next few years so I’m not the only one giving them a go.
Excellent Business Class Fare from Taipei to Kota Kinabalu
The Malaysia Airlines business class fare was too good to be true at around $700 USD total for two people. Our alternative direct option from Taipei – Kota Kinabalu (a 3.5-hour flight) was AirAsia. I’m too used to the premium class experience to go with a budget carrier even though I hear it’s quite a good choice.
Another upshot of purchasing business class tickets regionally within Asia (at least on oneworld Alliance carriers) is that it’s quite inexpensive to refund or change your ticket. See below.
Delayed Departure Email Alerts
The good news is that Malaysia Airlines was excellent about emailing departure updates, even when they are not ideal. At 6:00 p.m. the day prior to our 8:00 a.m. flight, I received an email alert that our flight would be delayed 10 hours to 6:00 p.m. the following day. Seeing that our stay in Kota Kinabalu was already short, I wasn’t pleased but thought the extra time might be a good chance to see sights in Taipei that we missed.
But when the second email arrived with news of a further delay to a 9:00 p.m. departure landing us in Kota Kinabalu at almost 1:00 a.m., I called Malaysia Airlines to cancel the flight as a late landing like that would mean a disastrously sleep-deprived following day for my 8-year-old who finds sleeping past 6:00 a.m. upsetting in any time zone.
Flight cancelled, we began to have second thoughts as my daughter enjoys the things to do for kids in Kota Kinabalu. I called again and they put us back on the 8:00 a.m. flight the following day without additional fees. I should have incurred a cancellation fee and additional ticket charges since the price of our flight had increased. I can’t say this courtesy would happen on an American carrier and it reversed ill feelings I had about the delay.
Note that I used Skype to call the 24-hour Malaysia number as the United States line operates only during U.S. business hours. They do have an option for you to leave a call-back number to any country if hold times are extreme—and they were in my case as news of new MH 370 debris had just hit the internet. I did receive a call back but the connection was not great so I wound up hanging up and calling again.
Departure from Taipei Airport
Concierge desks are not kidding when suggesting departing for TPE three hours in advance. Sure, it was the last day of the Ching Ming holiday but at 6:00 a.m., the airport was heaving with people. Having business class check-in made a huge difference as there is no VIP line to pass through the incredibly long security and customs lines. I would say people who arrived two hours before their flight did not have much time to spare.
Gorgeous Lounge Access
Malaysia Airlines uses the China Airlines lounge at TPE which is quite beautiful with dark stone, comfortable sofas and a zen-like feel. Morning breakfast included dim sum, Western options, a noodle bar (with famous Taiwanese beef noodle), pastries, a congee bar and more. Like the airport, it was busy with most of the plush sofa space occupied but we settled into a little table near the food that happened to have an electrical outlet (I did not spy a ton of plugs so charge prior to airport arrival).
The flight departed from gate BR1 which is a little confusing to find. It’s sort of like a swing gate an area of four gates that changes depending on how quickly other planes load. In this case, we boarded a bus to the plane through gate 3.
We’ve been in the Malaysia Airlines lounge at Kota Kinabalu airport twice now and it’s nice though a bit in need of an update. A small buffet of local and Western food as well as a full-service bar are on offer. There is also a small kids’ play room, prayer rooms, rather nice bathrooms and comfortable seating though it’s not a huge space and electrical outlets are hard to come by.
On Board Malaysia Airlines Business Class 737
The Malaysia Airlines 737-800 felt old and in need of a deep cleaning with dated tiny televisions and signs wear all over the place. That being said, Kota Kinabalu is the second largest airport outside of KL so while I was thinking this must not be a popular route, our plane was actually rather full. Malaysia Airlines is rolling out a number of new planes including a new business class cabin so I liken it to American Airlines before their new planes began serving San Diego.
The configuration is like Alaska Airlines 737 planes to Hawaii. Business class seats have plenty of legroom for a regional flight and recline a little bit.
Our welcome drink included a choice of apple, orange or guava juice in addition to a delicious fruit smoothie (an airline can win over my daughter with a good smoothie like this). Hot towels were also provided before take-off, which luckily was more or less on time.
We have our own Bose headphones but the flight attendant passed out some over-ear headphones to passengers who would like to watch the TV.
I will say that the entertainment options were quite robust with probably 50+ movies and a variety of TV shows including a section just for kids on the touch-screen TV. An electrical socket and USB socket are available at each business class seat.
I read Going Places, the in-flight magazine from cover-to-cover as the April edition happened to cover regional food (a passion of mine) and I was glad to have tackled many items on their list of must-eat Taiwanese food. It’s a very well-done publication and oddly gave me even more faith in the airline.
Our flight attendants were awesome. They consistently checked the cabin and refilled my champagne without me asking. Breakfast was served shortly after take-off featuring a choice of dim sum, seafood rice or a Western omelette. My daughter powered through her dim sum with gusto (raving about it along the way) as I quite enjoyed the seafood rice. I dare say, which I have also read elsewhere, the food on Malaysia Airlines is outstanding for airline food.
The Bottom Line
We landed in Kota Kinabalu on time and I would certainly fly them again. If the plane was newer, the airline’s recent disasters wouldn’t have crossed my mind during the flight. Note that they are in the process of updating their fleet anyway.
I suppose that the point of this post is that we flew MAS and it was fine. I feel a bit silly for being afraid to do so.
Have you flown Malaysia Airlines recently?