Which is the best business class from Kuala Lumpur to London? Malaysia Airlines vs Qatar Airways vs Emirates compared


According to the Skytrax world airlines awards for 2019, Qatar is the best carrier in the world, Emirates is 5th and Malaysia Airlines is 36.

The Skytrax awards are based on the responses of 21 million participants from 100 nationalities. It is touted as the largest annual airline passenger satisfaction survey in the world.

I have a number of issues with satisfaction surveys, the primary one being that they don’t really provide any actionable insights. J.D. Power, a research company carries out an annual satisfaction survey of US airlines and their 2019 survey shows travellers are more satisfied than ever with airlines.

Yet high levels of satisfaction don’t translate into increased profitability as airline stocks underperform most markets, mainly because as capacity continues to grow, prices continue to fall.

And many of those surveyed probably travel once a year in economy. Business class passengers’ account for only 5.4% of international travel, yet are responsible for 30% of airline revenues. On some flights business class passengers account for 75% of profits.

Little wonder then that Malaysia airlines, Qatar Airways and Emirates are going all out to attract premium class passengers as we head into the lucrative end of the year holiday season. But which one of them flying to the UK deserves your hard earned money?

We compare the business class offerings of these three of the main carriers.

Online airline booking experience
If you want an easy to navigate, seamless experience with an online booking engine that is clear and transparent with an intuitive interface then Emirates clinches this important part of the process as all the information is clearly laid out, allowing you to make changes without too much effort or repetition.

The Qatar Airways sites is easy to navigate although the font is a bit small. They lose a point for the outrageous ‘no show’ penalties while Malaysia Airlines loses a point for the limited number of flights offered but wins it back for being the only one to offer direct flights, shaving at least 3 hours off the journey time.
Emirates 4. Qatar 3. Malaysia 4.

Check in at Kuala Lumpur International Airport
There’s nothing to choose between the three, which is a massive lost opportunity for MAS because KLIA is its home airport and should be used to really make a powerful first impression.

Check in staff for all three carriers also need to be trained to have more enthusiasm for their jobs and be constantly reminded they represent the brand at the start of the relationship with passengers.

It may be a process for them but it isn’t for the brand or the customer. It’s a key touch point in the relationship building process and shouldn’t be underestimated, especially by Malaysia Airlines.
Emirates 3. Qatar 3. Malaysia 2.

Emirates, Qatar Airways & MAS lounges at KLIA
All three lounges are on the ‘mezzanine’ level at KLIA and are all harder to find than they should be, especially the Plaza premium lounge. This is not unique to KLIA as most airports appear to hide their lounges.

The Malaysia airlines lounge at KLIA

When flying Qatar and Emirates I took the early morning flights that left around 0200hrs. Qatar doesn’t have its own lounge at KLIA so uses the Plaza Premium lounge. Which is anything but premium.

From an experiential branding perspective, this is a massive fail on the part of Qatar Airways. I don’t know why they haven’t invested in their own lounges, not just at KLIA but at other airports around the world.

The Emirates lounge at KLIA is small & intimate

Emirates lounge is small and intimate with a limited but superior range of hot and cold foods and beverages including premium non vintage champagnes. The lighting is calm and the environment relaxing. Staff are attentive and knowledgeable.

Understandably the MAS lounge is the largest but it wasn’t the most impressive. The first thing that hits you is the smell. It’s the unmistakable smell of Malaysian food.

It reminded me of walking into a food court. Nothing wrong with that perhaps but the Emirates lounge in Dubai doesn’t smell of Mandi while the Qatar Airways lounge at Doha don’t smell of Machbus.

While some business class lounges around the world are creating daylight boosting zones, ‘Hue lighting’ rooms and amber or blue lighting throughout, The Malaysia Airlines lounge at KLIA was rather dull and uninspiring.
Emirates 4. Qatar 1. Malaysia 2.

Lounge to gate experience at KLIA
Walking from all the lounges to the respective gates should be straight forward but it isn’t due to a lack of effective way finding. While this isn’t the fault of the carriers, they should be able to influence the airport operator. Walking out of the Malaysia Airlines lounge, there is no sign directing you where to go or even how to get down to the ground floor.

The main security checks for all flights are at the departure gates. I think this is unique to KLIA and absolutely bonkers. At Dubai, Doha and Heathrow, by this stage it’s just a passport check.

So as a business class passenger on the national airline you queue with everyone else. This should be at an earlier stage of the journey where there are fast track lanes for business class passengers.

National carriers need to leverage every opportunity they can and home advantage is supposed to work for them, not against them. Malaysia Airlines really needs to get on top of this by working with stakeholders such as Malaysia Airports to create a memorable experience, for the right reasons. Malaysia Airlines loses another point here because KLIA is its home airport.
Emirates 3. Qatar 3. Malaysia 2.

Business class environment on MAS, Qatar and Emirates
My Emirates flight was a Boing 777 while the Qatar flight was an Airbus A330 and the MAS flight an Airbus A350. So not exactly ‘apples to apples’ but close enough.

Emirates business class is bling central. It’s shiny, bright with huge TV screens and thousands of movies, TV shows, games, flight information and more. It’s world class and has won numerous awards.

The Qatar cabin is less ostentatious and a little more refined with equally impressive TVs and movies, TV shows, games and flight information. It’s also won many awards especially with Skytrax.

The Malaysian Airlines cabin is functional. It’s more Toyota than the Porsche of the others. The TV is smaller, of poorer quality and there are less new movies. Overall entertainment options are significantly less than the others.

I’m not comparing seats because that would only make sense if I compared exactly the same seat on each aircraft.

Wifi is free on Emirates and Qatar and costs US$2 – US$25 on MAS, depending on the package. Bearing in mind the quality of Wifi on flights is still patchy, charging business class passengers is not a good idea and MAS would be better offering it free.
Emirates 4. Qatar 4. Malaysia 2.

Comparing inflight service on MAS with Qatar Airways & Emirates
I’ll focus on key experiential points here and not do a food review! The mix of passengers on all the carriers was essentially the same – Westerners, Arabs, Malaysians and a mix of others so they need to cater to all tastes.

Order a pre meal drink on Emirates or Qatar and it’s served together with a variety of warmed premium nuts in a bowl.

Pre meal nuts on MAS
Pre meal nuts on Emirates
Pre meal nuts on Qatar Airways

On MAS the nuts are the same as economy class and are served in the bag. Another bag of nut mix is also served the contents of which was a serious disappointment.

MAS does provide two choices of nuts but the presentation is weak

On Emirates and Qatar, every pre dinner drink order was a personal event and served by a ‘waiter’. I saw a number of passengers order cocktails, champagne and other drinks and the glassware is elegant and the whole experience is similar to a 5 star hotel cocktail bar.

The pre dinner experience on MAS is functional. It isn’t bad, it’s just not in the same league as the competition but it is competing with them for the same passengers so it really needs to be.

While the food is comparable, MAS really lets itself down with the way it serves the food. Emirates and Qatar prepare meals in the galley and serve them individually, MAS pushes the food trolley along the aisle, like in economy.

I was sitting in the back row so had to put up with the trolley clanking every time it went over a ‘lip’ on the floor next to me.

Oh, and on the MAS drinks trolley were some heavily flavoured and hugely sweet ‘juice drinks’ popular in Malaysia and other parts of SE Asia but not really anywhere else.

Watching MAS cabin crew peel back the seal on one of those containers didn’t make me feel like I was in an exclusive cabin. Pedantic perhaps but paying attention to these little things is what differentiates great brands from the rest.

MAS did deliver the main course personally so I didn’t have to put up with the trolley!

MAS losses a point over its coffee. The world loves good coffee. Arabs have been drinking coffee since the 15th century. Europeans have had a coffee culture for 400 years. There are 700 Starbucks stores in South East Asia, 140 of them in Malaysia. 75% of Australians drink fresh coffee every day.

Order a coffee on Emirates and you’ll receive a freshly brewed mug of Ethiopia’s finest beans. Same on Qatar, on MAS it’s Nescafe. Now I know Malaysians like Nescafe but the typical international business traveller from the East or West is more likely to enjoy a freshly brewed cup of java.

At the end of the meal on MAS, out came that bloody trolley again. And this time there was a rubbish bag on top and as the steward cleared plates, he emptied left over food and rubbish into the bag. Sorry but that’s simply not good enough on business class and another point lost.

Clearing plates on MAS business class

All three offer a ‘mattress’. Qatar gets a special mention for providing The White Company pajamas. I didn’t use them but I took them home!

Like I say, it’s not that MAS business class is bad, it’s just that the other carriers have raised the bar when it comes to service. So it’s inevitable passengers will compare experiences.
Emirates 4. Qatar 5. Malaysia 2.

Cabin crew attitude on MAS, Emirates & Qatar Airways
Cabin crew are some of the most underrated and under appreciated people in the aviation business. They need a wide variety of skills. They need to be professional yet friendly, polite and caring, have great communication and customer service skills while at the same time an empathetic nature.

They need to be flexible enough to deal with multiple cultures, have high levels of tolerance, be organized, firm and calm while managing multiple activities and all at 38,000 feet!

Little wonder then that cabin crew can make or break an airline brand. And it takes real talent to become good cabin crew. Asians have a natural charm and historically, Asian carriers have led the world in providing memorable experiences and it’s no surprise that Emirates and Qatar hire mostly Asian cabin crew from at least 15 Asian countries.

Emirates cabin crew lead the field in terms of professionalism. They are attentive and yet unobtrusive. The crew member looking after me introduced herself at the start of the flight and made herself visible without interrupting me. She made me feel special and important.

The service, personalization and ‘nothing is too difficult’ attitude was bang on the money.

There isn’t much to choose from between the Qatar cabin crew and Emirates, perhaps a little more refined but really nothing much in it.

The cheese platter on MAS. Would it be more exclusive to serve the biscuits out of the wrapper?
Presentation of the Emirates cheese platter is very different to Malaysia Airlines

MAS staff were professional and attentive if a little hurried. I felt they wanted to get the meal over with while the others seemed to actually enjoy their work.

When I complained about not being able to have a proper cup of coffee on MAS, the crew member – who was senior and obviously experienced – dealt with me sincerely, sympathetically and professionally.
Emirates 5. Qatar 4. Malaysia 4.

Arrival in London
Most airlines seem to be happy to be rid of you the moment you leave the aircraft. However, flying Emirates business class entitles you to a limousine to any destination within about 70 miles of Heathrow or Gatwick.

This limousine option is outstanding value and ensures the last leg of the journey leaves a lasting, positive impression. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve mentioned this service to people. Neither MAS or Qatar offer a limousine and for some I know it’s a deal breaker.
Emirates 3. Qatar 0. Malaysia 0.

The post experience experience
None of the airlines try to build a personal relationship with you. I was travelling Qatar for the first time and yet there was a lack of personalisation in follow up communications. It was my first flight to London on MAS for about 5 years and I had mentioned it on social media but again, no attempt was made to build rapport with me although I was sent an email asking me to complete a questionnaire. Emirates carpet bombs me with numerous emails containing special offers but doesn’t do anything to build rapport with me. This a missed opportunity for all the airlines.
Emirates 0. Qatar 0. Malaysia 0.

The Verdict
Emirates 30/45
Qatar 23/45
Malaysia 18/45

Malaysia Airlines comes in a distant third and that’s a pity because in the mid 1980s, before The Emirates or Qatar even had their own airlines, three airlines – Singapore Air, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines – invested heavily in their people to make the experience of flying with them memorable.

The contents of the MAS business class toiletry bag 3 years ago
The Malaysia Airlines business class toiletry bag is a lot better today.

It worked and those airlines became the ‘poster boys’ of the commercial aviation business.

MAS began to lose sight of what it is in the 1990s and stumbled along until the twin tragedies of 2014. In the months and years after 2014, costs were slashed and it became nothing more than a low cost carrier masquerading as a national airline.

There is no doubt that it has made significant headway since those dark days but it still has a long way to go. To make the transition, management has to understand they are not selling flights they are selling experiences.

The Emirates toiletry bag is well thought out with brands that complement the offering.

Looking at the MAS staff behave, my gut feeling is they are trying their best but the MAS training is inadequate in the face of such dynamic competition. And how the management react to the recent FAA ruling will be key to the next stage of the carriers evolution.

Splitting Emirates and Qatar isn’t easy. Qatar’s rise as a global carrier of repute has been meteoric and it is winning awards almost every day. Loads out of Kuala Lumpur are impressive but it isn’t investing as heavily in the experience as Emirates and that’s why it came in second.

Emirates is the benchmark for all airlines. The crew really seems to be in touch with the company values and living those values on board. Having said that, I hear there are rumblings of discontent amongst frequent flyers.

Emirates has undoubtedly reached the top but in many ways, that’s the easy part. Staying there and continually improving will be tough, especially if competitors up their game.

Emirates is a clear winner.

If you’d like to know how Fusionbrand can make your business a world class brand, please contact us on +60192233090.

Another C level executive leaves Malaysia Airlines


According to marketing magazine, group CMO of Malaysia Airlines Arved von zur Muehlen lasted 6 months in the role before jumping ‘ship’ and joining a Canadian carrier.

This despite Malaysia Airlines crediting him with being “instrumental in restoring the airline’s position as a leading international carrier and developing its innovative customer-centric services.”

Only yesterday, Group chief executive officer Izham Ismail announced in a bullish interview with Bernama that things were improving at the carrier and the five-year Malaysia Airlines Recovery Plan (MRP) was seeing impressive results across the board.

Err, you don’t say! “the key focus in year 2018 included driving revenue.”

He said “…customer experience had also improved with market-driven metrics based on the company’s customer survey and net promoter measures showing significant positive gains over the last two financial years.” I don’t quite understand what that means but I do understand that this latest departure and the barrage of abuse the carrier is getting online and on an almost daily basis (See this earlier report with hugely embarrassing videos) suggests things are not so rosy down there in Sepang.

But one thing seems to be for sure. Despite the CEO saying things are really, really good, Malaysia Airlines is a springboard to better positions in more solid Western carriers because Muehlen is about the fourth Western C level executive to bail out in the last couple of years.

These videos suggest there is a disconnect between what Malaysia Airlines says and what it does


In the mid 1980s, I was working in the Middle East and when it came to taking leave, we had 2 travel options. Head West for Europe or East for Asia. Whichever direction, the airline recommendations were always the same – try to fly on Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Malaysia Airlines.

Why, because those airlines offered top quality service. Something the European carriers, with the exception perhaps of Swissair, were unwilling or unable to do.

Emirates arrived in 1985, Oman and Qatar Air in 1993, Etihad in 2003. Prior to that, the only Gulf carriers were Saudi Airlines and Gulf Air. Thanks to their owner’s deep pockets, Emirates, Etihad and Qatar accelerated the establishment of their brands with massive investments in brand experiences.

Since then, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific have done their best to compete but Malaysia Airlines (MAB) was left far behind and today, is a mere shadow of the great brand it once was.

To many, if it wasn’t for the Business and First class offerings, it’s essentially already a low cost carrier. Nevertheless, in its communications at least, Malaysia Airlines continues to give the outside world the impression it sees itself as a world-class carrier.

In March 2018, Malaysia Airlines launched a campaign titled “Malaysian Hospitality Begins With Us”. The campaign aim was to ‘reinstate and demonstrate MAB as the national icon and represent Malaysian hospitality on behalf of the nation to all its guests and customers.’

MAB’s group CEO Izham Ismail said during the launch “that the airline’s diversity, heritage and culture are the foundation and reference of the brand promise, and that MAB aims to provide a Malaysian experience in travel through Malaysian hospitality.”

These bold and practically impossible to live up to statements were supported by the usual professionally produced advertisements and videos shot in high definition with smiling cabin crew in brand new aircraft telling us about ‘Malaysian Hospitality’ and how it is a culture that ‘runs through the organization’.

The website, the first destination for many potential passengers has a special section for ‘Malaysian Hospitality’ and in this section announces “Welcome’, or as the locals would say, ‘Selamat Datang’. That’s how it begins, the experience that is our hospitality. Warmth and generosity are the hallmarks of how we treat anyone we meet. That’s what we’re known for as Malaysians, and more importantly as an airline.”

It goes on to say, “Our hospitality begins with our experience. As we strive to deliver the best experience possible, everything we do is guided by our principles of hospitality.”

Now in some ways I think this is quite clever. Because if Malaysians are known for their warmth and generosity, then they only need to leverage on the natural capabilities of employees to deliver a potentially world class experience.

But it also means that every crew on every flight, will have to be on top of their game non stop if they are to deliver a high level of service at every touch point, every time. And that delivery must meet the very diverse needs of very diverse passengers.

And of course, the concept of ‘warmth and generosity’ may be difficult to deliver. Warmth yes, but generosity? What does that mean? Do you hug every passenger and give them a US$100 bill? Or do you upgrade everyone who asks?

Don’t forget, the aim is to ‘represent Malaysian hospitality on behalf of the nation to all its guests and customers’. With such a promise, there can be no half measures. And of course you can be sure plenty of people will be waiting for the first fail.

Is Malaysia Airlines delivering on the promises above? Despite the glossy high-end corporate videos, two videos have emerged recently to suggest it isn’t.

On their own, these videos could be dismissed as ‘one off’ rants by disgruntled customers but watched together and added to the explosion of negativity on the MAS Facebook page and a pattern seems to be emerging.

This suggests to me that whatever training cabin crew are receiving is not linked to the big promise and whoever is responsible for measuring the effectiveness of that training, isn’t doing their job properly.

Let’s take a look at the videos. The first one was uploaded to YouTube on November 20th 2018 by travel and aviation vlogger Josh Cahil who is based in Germany and has 23,000 followers on Instagram and close to 10,000 followers on Twitter.

His YouTube video where he claimed he was bullied by “extremely unfriendly” MAS cabin crew on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to London has been viewed more than 280,000 times and generated more than 2,600 comments.

International media in the UK and Australia picked up the story as well and in Malaysia it was covered by Says.com not to mention other news portals.

The second video was circulated around Malaysia via Whatsapp towards the end of November 2018. This video was created by controversial travel hack, entrepreneur and author of “Don’t You Know Who I Think I Am?: Confessions of a First-Class A**hole” Justin Ross Lee.

I have a suspicion this video was created some time ago because it features the Malaysia Airlines A380 and as far as I know, they aren’t using that aircraft on the London sector any more.

But what both these videos do is show how Malaysia Airlines is unable to deliver on the bold promises it makes in its marketing. They also show the futility of spending large sums of money on big ideas and not linking that promise to the departments responsible for delivering on that promise when all it takes is one passenger to have a bad experience and share that experience across social media and the whole expensive, one size fits all campaign is ruined.

This mass economy approach more suited to 1988 than to 2018 is built around the belief that with a large enough investment, an airline can make potential and existing passengers believe each bold statement it makes and that if it doesn’t deliver on that statement during their particular interaction with the brand, the passenger should just be grateful anyway.

Following the Josh Cahil video, Malaysia Airlines initiated an investigation and according to Cahil, the group CEO sent him a template apology and offered him a refund, which he asked them to donate to a charity supported by them.

The problem was that by this stage, the story was dominating social media conversations. Even corporate driven tactics on social media were being ambushed with negative comments.

In fact the majority of MAB’s attempts to use social media in a positive way are being hijacked by negative comments. And when this happens, the firm doesn’t seem to grasp the link between what the commentators are saying online and what is happening offline.

Malaysia Airlines attempts to build brand equity on social media
However, brand experiences are not meeting expectations & negativity is hijacking campaigns

This is the dangerous spiral many brands are finding themselves on today. They don’t invest in the right training to deliver the experiences consumers demand offline.

There are a variety of reasons for this and some of them sinister. Most common is that the scope of work for a campaign is created in isolation and by people who don’t understand the importance of delivering a ‘best in class’ customer experience.

Which means that if the scope of work for the project is wrong, it is doomed to failure before it even starts.

In despair or because they now have a channel in which to express their frustrations, consumers go online where they passionately vent those frustrations. And often they do it in the very space the company thinks it owns such as on a Facebook page, further diluting the ability of the brand to deliver on the brand promises made in the very expensive corporate driven messages it believes are defining its brand in the way it wants to be defined!

And if that wasn’t bad enough, when passengers vent those frustrations online, the people tasked with representing the brand simply don’t have the skills or for that matter the responsibility to respond in a suitable manner.

This exasperates the negativity around the brand, causing brand equity to plummet to such an extent that it can be almost impossible to escape the spiral into brand obscurity.

So what can Malaysia Airlines do? If they are serious about building a national brand that can compete with Asian and Middle Eastern competitors then it needs to understand the following

1) Forget about the big idea
Smart Brands understand the concept of the big idea belongs to the 1970s and much as the world has changed significantly since then, so should the way brands engage. Malaysia Airlines must focus budgets not on telling people they deliver Malaysian Hospitality but on showing people they deliver Malaysian Hospitality.

This requires a comprehensive overhaul of the marketing, advertising, customer relationship and social media strategies. Fusionbrand recommends this be carried out through a brand audit as soon as possible.

2) The right experience training
Judging by these videos and the comments across Social Media, Malaysia Airlines see training as a box to be ticked. A review is required to identify if there is an understanding of what constitutes world class service.

If the training providers have been hired for the wrong reasons and don’t have the skills to deliver the type of training required to compete with sector leaders, how can Malaysia Airlines cabin crew and for that matter ground crew, deliver a world class service?

3) Social Media
There’s no escaping social media but too many brands don’t give it suitable attention. Malaysia Airlines must start investing funds in social media instead of big idea promises it cannot keep.

I don’t know what’s happening at MAB, but too many companies think social media is the perfect place for interns because they are young and have an Instagram account themselves. After all, what could be hard about posting on Facebook and Twitter, right? Wrong.

Social Media is about many things. For brands, it’s about cultural, social and other nuances. Being responsible for a brand online is not something you do, it’s something you are.

Malaysia Airlines needs to link what it says and does offline with what it says and does online. Quickly, before it’s too late.

Enrich is not a channel to sell as much as possible, it’s a channel for the brand to build relationships


So I’m checking in online for a flight on Malaysia Airlines and I noticed that my Enrich membership (that’s the MAS Frequent Flyer Programme (FFP)) has been downgraded from gold to silver.

That in itself is hardly a surprise because I rarely fly with them anymore (the 3 – 4 business class business trips I take to the UK from Malaysia each year are now on a competitor carrier where I’m a gold card member) but what surprised me is the way my demotion was, or in this case, wasn’t communicated to me.

After going through old emails, I don’t think I received any communications telling me I would be or had been downgraded. No gentle nudge or reminder to travel to retain the gold status. No email to ask what could MAS do to help me remain a gold card holder. Nothing. Just a stealth like downgrade. And I presume that’s standard operating procedure for anyone downgraded?

I can’t remember how long I’ve been a gold member but I suspect it’s around 10 years, maybe more. But as I’ve documented extensively elsewhere in this blog, I’ve been flying with Malaysia Airlines for more than 30 years and was one of the few to fly MAS in the days after MH370 went down. So I feel, perhaps wrongly that I have some relational credits in the bank.

Now I’d like to reiterate that I’m not complaining about being downgraded because I knew it was coming. I’m just reminded how few brands understand the concept of loyalty, of retaining a customer once they’ve acquired them. Of doing what they can to salvage a customer before they leave.

Harvard Business Review would argue that not all customers are worth keeping. And Malaysia Airlines most probably would argue that I’m definately not worth keeping. Even though I manage the travel budget of my family of five as well as my company and influence a number of other business owners.

According to Harvard Business Review, “acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one.” Meanwhile Accenture reports that 80% of ‘switchers’ feel the company could have done something to retain them.

I switched my long haul allegiance to another carrier years ago and am definately one of the 80%. Malaysia Airlines has done nothing to stop me switching. And has done nothing to try and win me back once I have switched.

They put a lot of effort into encouraging travellers to join Enrich, the Frequent Flier programme. But once a member, communications are fairly standard and lack personalisation. Even a customer experience email sent to me after a flight was addressed ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.

Malaysia Airlines needs to move away from a transactional approach to branding

The email was written in an old fashioned style (who says ‘we will duly respect your style?”), littered with grammatical errors and despite stating the survey was only valid for 7 days, the link which was sent to me on 8th October 2017, was working today 10th April 2018. The email offers me an opt out option if I don’t want to receive the surveys but there isn’t a link to make this happen.

The email signed off ‘We are professional, progressive, connected and open‘ That’s a bold, ambitious statement, very hard to measure and almost impossible to live up to.

I get a lot of emails from the frequent flyer programme and they are almost always trying to sell me flights, packages, destinations, discounts on third party products and services and I get that but these are all transactions. The airline is simply carpet bombing the database with offers and hoping that enough of them will stick.

The focus seems to be about selling enough of everything to as many people as possible and in the shortest period of time. There is zero attempt to build a relationship with the recipient despite the fact that it’s the FFP. It simply reduces MAS to nothing more than an object or a commodity.

But as Malaysia Airlines should have realised post MH370, objects can’t be differentiated emotionally and besides consumers have no emotional connection or loyalty to objects.

I am sure MAS understands this because that’s why it has a FFP programme. Unfortunately, it’s stuck in the past when it comes to using the FFP. Malaysia Airlines needs to stop looking at members as customers and start to see them as partners.

What are the lessons for MAS and other brands? If you collect customer data, store it and use it properly. Instead of trying to sell something to everyone, use the data base properly. Link offers to customer value requirements. Preempt negative situations. Don’t simply downgrade members, find out how to keep them happy. Personalise correspondence. Encourage participation.

Instead of selling to them, collaborate with loyalty programme members. Build relationships by providing solutions to members’ needs. Successful brands are built on openness and Malaysia Airlines says it’s an open company. Prove it.

Tourism Malaysia and Malaysia Airports sign an MOU – in London


At the World Travel Market in London recently, Tourism Malaysia & Malaysia Airports met and signed an MOU to promote domestic tourism.

A fund will be created (not sure where the money will come from but I have a hunch it’ll be the tax payer) to support marketing campaigns by airlines and travel industry players in 2018.

Anyone know why they had to go to London to sign the MOU? And for that matter, how will an airport promote tourism? And how this project will link with other initiatives?

Is Malaysia Airlines outperforming the industry? Well yes, and no.


This morning I was feeling sorry for Malaysia Airlines CEO Peter Bellew, see my earlier post. He’s in the papers again today and understandably bullish whilst reporting load figures for last year.

“We had 90% load factor in December 2016 and we are whacking Singapore Airlines (82.9%, Garuda (77.4%) and Cathay Pacific (85%). We are doing pretty good,” Bellew told the Business Times Malaysia as he did backflips around the office.

OK I made that last bit up but he’s obviously pleased as punch. So I thought I’d have a quick look at the industry to see how the carriers’ performance stacked up.

Malaysia Airlines is outperforming the industry but fares are low

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Air Passenger Market Analysis report, revenue per passenger kilometer (RPK) increased 6.3% in 2016, way above the 10 year average of 5.5%.

International passenger traffic rose 6.7% in 2016 compared to 2015. This in turn took the average load factor to a record full-year average high of 80.5%.

In Asia Pacific demand was even better with carriers seeing demand increase 8.3% over 2015, which was the second-fastest increase in the world. Average load factors are at 78.6%.

The good news for the industry has continued into January 2017 as the RPK rate rose 9.6% year on year and load factors above 80%. This should help Malaysia Airlines should continue on the path to profitability.

So Malaysia Airlines is carrying more passengers than competitors but we don’t know by how much they are undercutting those competitors because we don’t have their RPK figure.

Malaysia Airlines did report that average fares dropped 3% in 2016, despite a 5% increase in passengers in the last quarter. This would suggest then that those improved figures are coming at a cost. The key once those passengers have flown with Malaysia Airlines is whether or not they will fly again, once fares have increased.

It’s common knowledge that Malaysia Airlines has slashed it’s fares to grow market share. The problem is the brand and offering is a shadow of it’s former self so those flying the airline are getting little more than a LCC product.

Service may have improved but once fares go up, that may not be enough to hold off the competition.

Perhaps that’s when the Malaysia Airlines brand retention strategy will kick in. Probably built around the frequent flyer programme. I don’t see much happening in that area at the moment but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

Malaysia Airlines to consider not serving alcohol?


The National Union of Flight Attendants (Nufam) represents all cabin crew at Malaysia Airlines. As we all know they’ve had a tough few years as the carrier let go of more than 6,000 staff. So they need to get their teeth into a worthy cause.

Recently the Muslim MP Ghapur Salleh who is the MP for Kalabakan constituency in Sabah, suggested Malaysia Airlines start charging for alcoholic beverages on all flights. I’m not sure where he got the inspiration for this suggestion but surprisingly Nufam took umbrage and said its not right for him as a Muslim to encourage Malaysia Airlines to charge for selling alcohol.

Try to stay with me.

Nufam’s justification for this statement was that it is a highly sensitive matter for Muslim workers who make up the majority of cabin crew at the airline. According to Nufam, many of the Muslim crew previously objected to the serving of alcohol on flights and that the matter was even raised with the government.

The guilty party

Nufam went on to say that MAB is a fully fledged airline and can’t charge for drinks. Nufam said the real discussion should be about discouraging or even excluding the drinks list from in flight menus because the alcoholic drinks were listed alongside halal food.

Seriously? Is Nufam suggesting that having a list of alcoholic beverages next to halal food will make the food non halal?

Large financial sacrifices have been made by the tax payer to bale out Malaysia Airlines. Thousands of people have lost their jobs and families have been torn apart as a result of job losses.

Despite a lack of funds and resources, employees are working desperately hard, often with old equipment to turn Malaysia Airlines around and the people who represent the cabin crew are focussing on taking a list of alcoholic drinks off a menu because the food listed on that menu is halal?

But that’s not the end of it. This article reports that Nufam suggested Malaysia Airlines start charging for water, even though it has already said that being a full fledged airline, it can’t charge for products the way LCCs do.

One can only assume the lunatics have taken over the asylum! I genuinely feel sorry for Peter Bellew!

The Malaysia Airlines tie up with Liverpool may sell tickets, but it won’t rebuild the brand


The English Premier League is broadcast to 70% of the world’s 2.1 billion football fans in 212 countries and territories around the world. Asia and Oceania represents 35% of that global audience.

In China alone, up to 18 broadcasters show nearly every game every week to more than 350 million fans across the country.

As of last year, a number of Asian brands including Thailand’s Chang beer (Everton) and King Power (Leicester City), Japan’s Yokohama Tyres (Chelsea), Yanmar and Epsom (Manchester United), Hong Kong’s AIA (Tottenham Hotspur) and GWFX (Swansea City) could be seen on advertising at grounds and/or on shirts.

Betting firms such as 138.com and UK-K8 who are targeting Asia are represented on the jerseys of West Bromwich Albion, Bournemouth, Watford and Crystal Palace.

In the championship, AirAsia sponsors Queens Park Rangers and Malaysia has a relationship with Cardiff city. Last year Malaysia Airlines signed a three year deal to be the official carrier of Liverpool after Garuda Indonesia relinquished the role.

Any reference to Malaysia Airlines on the Liverpool Facebook page?
Any reference to Malaysia Airlines on the Liverpool Facebook page?

Football has become popular with big global brands because of its impressive reach and because traditional channels such as TV are becoming fragmented as new services like Netflix, iflix and Amazon prime as well as Youtube, Facebook and others make it increasingly hard to gain the eyeballs all brands insist they need.

Football gives these brands the opportunity to reach a mass audience as well as be associated with what is obviously a very popular sport.

But in an economy driven not by what a company says it does but by what its customers experience, I question the relevance or validity of this approach.

I also think that if the logic is that by supporting a football team, a brand reaches out to all that team’s fans then surely fans of other teams will not support that brand?

And what if the team does badly? How does the association with a badly performing product reflect on the brand?

Take the case of Malaysia Airlines and Liverpool. Liverpool is one of the greatest, most iconic football clubs in the UK. The club was established in 1892, four years after the original premier league was set up.

The club’s trophy cabinet contains eighteen domestic League titles, seven FA Cups and eight League Cups, more than any other club.

They’ve also won five European Cups, three UEFA Cups and three UEFA Super Cups which means they’ve won more European trophies than any other English team in history except Manchester United (also 41).

That’s an impressive record but there’s a problem, they haven’t won an EPL title since 1992. Does that matter? Well it should do.

Does a brand such as Malaysia Airlines, which is going through a business turnaround plan to make it more competitive, efficient and effective, want to be associated with a team that hasn’t won anything significant for nearly 40 years?

And over the last few years, Liverpool has developed a reputation for poor winter form. The team won 2 out of ten matches at the start of 2016. In January 2017, Jurgen Klopp’s team lost 3 matches at Anfield in one week and as a result, was unceremoniously dumped out of two major competitions.

The team narrowly missed their worst run of losses at home since 1923 with a 1-1 draw against Chelsea at the end of January but the poor form continued into February with the recent 2-0 defeat away to lowly Hull City, 15 places below them. Only time will tell if last Saturday’s win against high flying Tottenham was the beginning of a new dawn or a flash in the pan.

If the latter, how does that reflect on Malaysia Airlines?

The Malaysia Airlines logo appears at the bottom of the home page, between the beer and the donuts
The Malaysia Airlines logo appears at the bottom of the home page, between the beer and the donuts

Liverpool are now 13 points off the leaders Chelsea and definitely under achieving.

Sure Malaysia Airlines is getting the eyballs, assuming viewers are watching the LED panels around the ground but is it the right environment for the brand? Is being associated with a team that is underachieving going to leave a positive impression?

You could argue that all Malaysia Airlines is doing is trying to raise awareness. But is raising awareness the right way forward? Is there anyone out there NOT aware of Malaysia Airlines?

Before Malaysia Airlines stepped in, Garuda International was the official carrier of Liverpool but after three years and a comprehensive study to determine if the airline was benefiting from the sponsorship, they pulled the plug. Surely if they felt they were getting value for money, they would have stayed on?

Garuda wasn’t the only sponsor to see little value in sponsoring teams in the EPL. In June 2016, Chinese smartphone maker Huawei ended its relationship as “official smartphone partner” to Arsenal after two years, citing “limited visibility.”

Malaysia Airlines hasn’t disclosed the amount it is paying to be the official carrier but Garuda forked out US$9 million (RM40 million) a year for the privilege.

So if Malaysia Airlines is paying the same (probably more but anyway), that’s US$27 million or RM125 million for brand exposure on LED and static boards at each home game, exposure on the Liverpool FC website which seems to consist of the logo at the bottom of the page, in publications and on the Facebook page although a quick look at the Liverpool page failed to find any reference to Malaysia Airlines.

The package is also supposed to include co-branding opportunities, merchandising rights and pitch side access with players and legends.

That’s a lot of money to pay to increase awareness of an airline that is probably known to everyone on the planet. But Malaysia Airlines CEO Peter Bellew thinks the deal, “has changed perception radically for us, in China, in Thailand, in the U.K.”

He didn’t explain what the perception of Malaysia Airlines was before the deal and how advertising on LED panels can change those perceptions.

The first game at which Malaysia Airlines appeared was a Liverpool v Manchester United match at the beginning of the 2016/17 season.

Liverpool managed to hang on for a draw, not an auspicious start. During the game, Malaysia Airlines advertised roundtrip fares between Kuala Lumpur and London at a ridiculously cheap £395 (RM2,299).

Branding is not about sales, it's about relationships
Branding is not about sales, it’s about relationships

Confusingly, Bellews credits the passenger load increase on the Kuala Lumpur to London route from 45% in May 2016 to 63% in December 2016 to the Liverpool deal and was quoted in one newspaper as saying, “Old-fashioned sales and marketing works.”

Slashing prices to the bone and spending RM125 million to raise awareness (and to change perceptions) and tell football fans you are selling tickets at £395 when other airlines are selling the same route at £500 isn’t really old fashioned sales and marketing, it’s just old fashioned and more importantly, unsustainable.

And to be frank, it’s hard not to fill a plane from Malaysia to the UK in December as thousands of expatriates head home for Christmas and thousands more Malaysians head to Europe for the long holiday.

Irrespective of the fact that Malaysia Airlines is sponsoring a weak product, there is also the question of whether football fans in Asia, watching matches as they do in coffee shops, bars and roadside stalls at 2, 3 or even 4am really take in the messages on the LED billboards.

And even if consumers do take in and accept the limited messages that can be communicated on a pitchside screen there is another flaw to this process. What if performance doesn’t match any perception created?

Of course in the ‘old fashioned’ world that didn’t matter because the focus was more on acquistion anyway and there was a belief that there were always going to be new customers.

At least that’s what TWA, Swissair and the other 300 airlines that have failed over the past 50 years thought.

Brands such as Malaysia Airlines generally succeed, or fail not based on their advertising, positioning or associations but on operational issues, service capabilities, retention and the experiences of others we relate to.

The problem for Malaysia Airlines is that today, all of the above are played out on Facebook, in the letters pages of newspapers and in the comments sections of popular bloggers.

Dissatisfied customers can change perceptions and damage brands on social media much faster than those brands can change perceptions through pitchside LED screens.

In the ‘old fashioned’ world, brands reached out to the masses. Awareness and sales took precedent over customer development.

I get the feeling that Malaysia Airlines is focussing too much on getting back into the black, no matter what the cost. Selling tickets at RM2,299 and old fashioned sales and marketing tactics may just do that.

But what happens when the carrier wants to increase prices? If Malaysia Airlines has been attracting price conscious customers, won’t they move on to the cheapest carrier?

And if this model is successful, then it will probably be the next advertiser on those LCD screens.

Malaysia Airlines will soon make a profit, but at what cost to the brand?


Peter Bellew the Chief Executive of Malaysia Airlines appeared chuffed to bits earlier this month when announcing the carrier had made its first monthly profit for a number of years in December 2016. I don’t want to appear pedantic but the former Chief Executive, Christoph Mueller announced last April that the carrier made its first monthly profit in February 2016 in this interview with Business Insider.

In the same interview, Mueller also said, “the airline’s products are “tired” and don’t appeal to young travelers.” Fast forward a year and the Nikkei Asian Review (NAR) is telling the industry, “Bellew’s efforts in improving the management and work culture, including at the baggage and maintenance departments, and a marketing strategy to attract Malaysians to fly on its planes again, has worked.”

Making a profit, but at what cost to the brand?
Making a profit, but at what cost to the brand?

In the article, Bellew is quoted as saying, “About a year ago, the company was flying Boeing 737 jets with only 5-10 passengers on board some flights. On Airbus A380 super jumbo flights to London in November 2015, some flights only carried 50 passengers.”

The article continues, “As of last May, the carrier was filling 45% of seats on its London flights. Last month, however, the figure reached 63%. Overall, the company filled 90% of seats in December and 82% in the last quarter, he said. That was up from the 79.3% reported for July-September. Business bookings are running at double year-ago levels.

What does this mean exactly? May is traditionally a slow month for the European routes whereas December is a peak month. I would suggest then that 45% in May is nothing to write home about but it is not terrible. But he says ‘last month’ which I presume is referring to December 2016 (the interview was in January 2017) the figure reached 63%. If that is referring to December then it is worrying.

Business class on Malaysia Airlines is not what it used to be
Business class on Malaysia Airlines is not what it used to be

But confusingly, the article then says the company filled 90% of seats in December which seems to contradict the initial statement. What we do know is that Bellew and Mueller have slashed operating costs to such an extent that Malaysia Airlines is now essentially a LCC, especially for domestic flights.

What I’ve noticed, and many others are also of the same opinion, is that its people do not have the communication skills required to engage effectively with passengers when there is a situation. Reasonable requests for explanations are met with a shrug or a mumbled reply.

When I flew business class recently and a fellow passenger’s phone repeatedly beeped during the approach, suggesting incoming messages which meant his phone was on when it shouldn’t be, the flight attendants did nothing. As I exited the plane I asked them why and they simply shrugged and moved to the galley.

There’s a reason why phones have an airplane setting. Sure, there are no proven examples of a phone causing a problem on an aircraft but I don’t want to be there when a phone does adversely affect the outcome of a flight and, bearing in mind the last couple of years, I don’t think Bellew would want it to be on his carrier.

Most recently, one popular blogger known as fourfeetnine had a terrible experience when travelling home for the holidays on Malaysia Airlines.

What bothered me so much about her experience was not that the flight was overbooked – this is Chinese New Year after all and these things happen – but how she was dealt with by Malaysia Airlines representatives at the airport. There appeared to be a complete lack of empathy for a young mother with a toddler and a baby, indifference to her predicament and no attempt to solve the problem in a way that may protect the brand.

And the irony is that this goes against what Malaysia Airlines is trying to sell through its new videos for Chinese New Year. The video closes with a flight attendant saying, “I would like to wish everyone a pleasant journey this Chinese New Year, see you on board!” Unless of course, in the case of Fourfeetnine and her family, you happen to be travelling home to Penang.

The blogger has taken her experience online and inevitably her story has gone viral. It’s had over 5,500 Likes on Facebook, thousands of shares and generated hundreds of comments, many of them also negative experiences about the carrier. This narrative will over shadow all corporate driven messages and make the job of getting bums on seats even harder.

In the past Malaysia Airlines was a product comparable to CX and SQ but today it is no better than a LCC. Crucially, consumers are beginning to treat it like a LCC. Once perceived as a LCC, Malaysia Airlines will get business based on price. But as soon as it tries to increase prices, it will be judged even more on the experiences of passengers like fourfeetnine and all the others with negative experiences shared across the ecosystem.

Malaysia Airlines really needs to start investing in the experience. From the clunky, outdated booking engine to the physical touchpoints it needs to be delivering on the promises it makes. Otherwise it’ll always be known as a Low Cost Carrier. And not a very good one.

Even brand consultants are human


I wrote a blog post last week about how I was told I could not use the Malaysia Airlines lounge at KLIA if I wasn’t flying Malaysia Airlines. I also shared the post with a blog that I have a lot of time for and they responded with a very balanced article suggesting I was wrong.

In the post I wrote that gold and platinum members of the Malaysia Airlines FFP programme couldn’t use the lounge but someone also not flying Malaysia Airlines, who had never flown Malaysia Airlines and may never do so again, could enter the lounge if they paid RM200 (US$40).

I explained that this lack of appreciation for loyal customers did not make branding sense.

I was making the point that what other airlines do is irrelevant. That what is normal doesn’t matter because Malaysia Airlines isn’t any other airline going through normal. That Malaysia Airlines needs to work harder than any other airline to rebuild its brand following the twin tragedies of 2014 and that the first place it should start was with members of its frequent flyer programme but that it had largely ignored them.

Brands, especially airline brands are always looking for an edge. And they especially like to be seen to be human, to be caring, to be willing to do something extra. A colleague reminded me of what we call ‘thoughtful gestures’ branding. It’s happening more and more in the era of the long idea because thoughtful gestures have long legs on social media.

Think of all those airline ads that show the captain giving a kid a toy plane, a stewardess adjusting the blanket of a sleeping passenger, the offer to heat up a milk bottle for a baby, etc. All cliches and all used by Malaysia Airlines in its advertising in the past.

No frequent flyer, including me is entitled to anything that’s not in the terms and conditions but if they ask for something minor or simple, such as a free coffee or a pen or a postcard or want to use the bathroom in the lounge then although it’s against the rules, it would be a great opportunity for a “thoughtful gesture” that made an impression and more importantly, may then be discussed on social media and negate some of the negative narrative.

The mistake I made was that I personalized a minor issue and as a result, people focused on my behavior instead of the airline’s attitude.

I copped a lot of abuse and I won’t make that mistake again. Although I can promise you I’m not an unctuous twat and do not consider myself entitled!