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.


As it rebrands, Malaysia Airlines cannot make mistakes such as this

2 days after sending out termination letters to 6,000 staff, MAS is advertising for new staff
2 days after sending out termination letters to 6,000 staff, MAS is advertising for new staff
There’s a saying in our company that if a client’s employees are happy then that happiness will show in the way those employees interact with prospects and customers, thereby improving their experiences and the reputation of the brand.

When working on an Internal brand audit we’ll take a long hard look at the hiring and firing process and often make small but effective changes to the process. This is particularly so when looking at how firms fire people because unhappy staff often have a grudge to bear when they are let go and in a social media world this can be damaging.

Malaysia Airlines is already a damaged brand which is why it has embarked on a restructuring exercise that includes more than 6,000 job cuts. A lot of effort is being put into helping those staff reintegrate themselves back into the economy but this is not simply about getting them another job.

Keeping all those ex staff after they have left MAS will require very skillful communications and an integrated effort by all departments concerned. The news that 2 days after 6,000 staff were sent their termination letters, the MAS website is still recruiting cabin crew and suggesting there are other vacancies is a huge mistake on the part of those responsible for the brand.

There is no room for error in the restructuring of Malaysia’s finest, most high profile global brand.

The rebranding of MAS has already started and first impressions are good

The new Malaysia Airlines CEO Christoph Mueller has begun the process of rebranding MAS by stating Monday that the carrier is ‘technically bankrupt’ and that a brutal restructuring exercise is the only way forward. He went on to say that the rot had set in years before the mystery of flight MH370 and the tragic one-in-a-billion shooting down of MH17.

Christoph Mueller leading the MAS rebrand
Christoph Mueller leading the MAS rebrand

Of course this is nothing new but by stating what we all know and confidently but empathetically, he has shown us that he is serious and perhaps most important of all, he is prepared to do what no previous CEO has been prepared (or was allowed) to do, namely to do what it takes to rebuild the damaged brand.

He has begun by announcing three high level areas – pillars that will over the next 3 years put Malaysia Airlines back where it belongs, at the top of the Asian aviation business.

Phase one requires massive job cuts to the bloated workforce, new contracts for staff, the renegotiation of supplier contracts (as well as cutting the number of suppliers by 90%), the axing of some international routes and reducing the flight frequency on others, reviewing the 777-200ER fleet and selling off 2 Airbus A380s. MAS thought the A380 could help turn the carrier around and at one stage put in an order for 60 of the mighty jets.

But the huge, fuel guzzling A380 has had mixed reviews from airlines and pilots and rumour has it there has been little interest in the 2 aircraft MAS is looking to sell. I’d be surprised though if they sell off the 777s unless they intend to replace them with more modern, fuel-efficient alternatives.

MAS wants to sell 2 A380s, reducing the fleet to 4 despite once ordering 60
MAS wants to sell 2 A380s, reducing the fleet to 4 despite once ordering 60

Phase two will focus on transforming the carrier and apparently more than 40 areas for improvement have already been identified and the third phase will look at sustaining the new position of the airline.

So although the name hasn’t yet changed, the new Malaysia Airlines Brand is up and running.

Before you can go anywhere with a brand, you need three things. The first is a solid product offering. If you don’t have that, it doesn’t matter how much you spend on selling, marketing or advertising, the brand will not grow. We’ve seen that over the last 5 years as MAS spent more than RM1 billion trying to resuscitate the brand with advertising campaign after advertising campaign without addressing the brand’s structural issues.

Instead of trying to WOW customers with their product, former MAS CEOs cut costs, sold assets and ignored the passenger experience. The very heart and soul of what makes Malaysia unique – its people and the way they are – was ignored and instead cosmetic, shallow clichéd taglines were created and tacked together in a series of immediately forgettable tactical campaigns that did little for the brand.

The second thing you need when building a brand is a CEO who is prepared to look where others prefer not to look, who understands what needs to be done and is prepared to do what it takes and make the tough decisions, even if that means taking apart the existing brand and rebuilding it, brick by painful brick.

And the third key component is people who understand that the organization is the brand and that brand is part of a community. And this community, made up of people within and without the organisation will make or break the new brand. The new team will have to embrace and engage the community and understand that it is the community not the staff who make the MAS brand.

The new culture of MAS must be connected not aloof
The new culture of MAS must be connected not aloof

This team will need to create an environment where people work toward a common, clearly defined organizational goal and not a personal one. Arrogance, ignorance or the ‘tidak apa’ culture will have no place in the new environment. Instead a humble, collaborative, connected and engaged culture based around delivering value, not on the company terms but on the customer terms will be the order of the day.

You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned anything about the new livery, logo, brand architecture, uniforms, positioning, celebrities, the brand story and so on. That’s because they are irrelevant if the three points above are not addressed first.

Rebuilding the MAS brand was never going to be easy but the early signs are good, long may it continue.

Can Christoph Mueller rebuild the MAS brand?

The May 2015 edition of Going Places, Malaysia Airlines in flight magazine features an introduction from Mr Christoph Mueller, the airline’s new CEO. In the short message Mr Mueller talks about the “overwhelming hospitality” he has received since arriving in Malaysia two months earlier. He explains that he would like all Malaysia Airlines’ passengers to experience the same overwhelming hospitality on board MAS flights.

MAS is not a bad airline
MAS is not a bad airline

He goes on to talk about the “formidable culture” of Malaysia and expresses hope that MAS will leave visitors with a “wonderful experience from the heart of Asia”. He tells us he is ‘excited’ for Malaysia Airlines despite the difficult and challenging task he and his staff face in turning the carrier around and making it profitable again.

He explains that the turnaround begins with people like ‘me’ (the reader) who he calls guests. The airline will be listening carefully to the feedback from guests. Mr Mueller goes on to say that the “the key is to design products and services to create a guest experience that you will find truly valuable.” I’m not sure what the key refers to to but I presume it is to rebuilding the airline.

'Truly valuable products and services'
‘Truly valuable products and services’

Mr Mueller is certainly right that the turnaround of MAS begins with the airline’s guests and in particular the frequent flyers who have supported the airline over the last 20 years. No doubt retention of guests will be at the heart of the rebranding brief sent out a few weeks ago and the RFPs for which are due at the end of this week. But he needs to steer away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to his guests because they all have very different needs and requirements for value.

As for ‘designing products and services’ that guests will find ‘truly valuable’, Mr Mueller is making the right noises although I would have liked to have seen a more specific set of ideas delivered confidently and dynamically in his first public communication to the country and those many supporters of Malaysia Airlines. For instance, an overview of what he has in mind would have given people something to start talking about and sharing on social media, generating a wave of interest, enthusiasm, anticipation and positivity. And what exactly does ‘truly valuable’ mean?

MAS is not a bad product and it’s certainly not broken. Far from it, the product and services are OK. But the trouble is, to be competitive in today’s aviation business, or for that matter any other business being OK simply isn’t enough. To be successful in the aviation business, you need to be exceptional.

On a business trip to London earlier this month, I met up with a group of Malaysians who were all long-term MAS passengers, all with Silver or Gold Enrich (The MAS frequent flyer programme) cards. But this time they had flown in on Emirates and were raving about the quality of the business class experience, the outstanding service from the crew of 13 different nationalities and their professionalism, the efficiency of the airline, the seamless integration between the business class lounge in Dubai and the A380.

But what surprised me most of all was how they waxed lyrical about the communication between the crew and the passengers. Each crew member seemed to know each passenger’s name and used it in every communication, no matter how trivial. And the crew seemed genuinely interested in each passenger. Not in an irritating, intrusive way but in a professional client/customer way.

Emirates, the benchmark for MAS
Emirates, the benchmark for MAS

The meal service was akin to something normally reserved for a 5 star restaurant and was designed around the individual passengers needs on that flight. Meals were served individually, by hand and not from a trolley. Two of the travellers sat next to each other. Both were asked if they would like to sleep first and have their meal later or eat first and then sleep. They felt the crew were doing everything possible to make their trip truly memorable.

The service wasn’t rushed and they all thought the announcements over the PA were delivered in a confident, calming and professional way. And when the Captain (not the chief steward) announced clearly and confidently that seat belts needed to be put on while the aircraft experienced some ‘choppy’ weather, they all felt instantly at ease. MAS does many of the things Emirates does (I believe having flown Emirates, MAS and Etihad business class to the UK in the last 5 months that Emirates is the benchmark) and many of the things it doesn’t do can be done.

The question is, will MAS be able to do them exceptionally? Will Mr Mueller be able to find enough good middle managers with the skills and commitment to motivate MAS staff to deliver an outstanding experience time and time again? Will branding investments focus on getting the organisation ‘on brand’ before launching very expensive and imminently forgettable advertising campaigns that over promise and force the airline to under deliver?

Making experiences outstanding will be key to winning back lost customers and attracting new business and not glossy advertising campaigns, a new logo or new uniforms. We all want Mr Mueller to turn the airline around and with the support of the government giving him the authority to let go of 6,000 staff and low oil prices driving down the price of aviation fuel his chances are good. But judging by where MAS is at the moment and the ability of competitors to keep raising the bar, Mr Mueller is really up against it.

Slashing prices has not helped rebuild the MAS brand

Since the twin disasters of MH370 and MH17, Malaysia Airlines has slashed prices on just about all its fares, offered travel agents in Australia Rolex watches and free flights to promote the carrier and attempted to discount its way out of trouble. And it has tried to do this with a series of ill conceived and poorly executed ads and PR campaigns that I wrote about here.

At the same time, it continues to ignore those passengers who have supported the airline during this difficult period.

MAS has also sent out the same poorly thought out post flight survey to passengers that asks questions that can offer little actionable data to be used to save the iconic brand. An example of the survey is this question below:

Good to know but how useful is the data?
Good to know but how useful is the data?

As an example, question A is about value for money. If a passenger has paid RM50 for a RM400 ticket then he will probably consider the flight to be good value for money. But if he has paid RM400 for the ticket and the person next to him has paid RM50, he probably won’t consider it good value for money. So how can MAS use the results?

I also wrote here that MAS should not be slashing prices because it was not going to work and once you’ve slashed prices, it is very hard to increase them.

Many people disagreed with me. Commenting on the article, Bob said, “At this time, the last thing they need is branding. They need to fill up seats for revenue so I don’t see any issues with the ads to be honest.”

I disagreed and said instead that MAS should focus on rebuilding its brand and offer more value rather than slash prices. Well if rumours from Reuters are to be believed, MAS is about to announce that the 3rd quarter 2014 was its worst quarter since it began operations 70 odd years ago. Reuters reports that despite the promotions and cheap flights, passenger numbers and yields were the loweest ever.

I’ll say it again, slashing prices does not work. This is what MAS needs to do NOW to save the brand. It’s time to stop reacting and start planning.

A real time example of what’s wrong with the Malaysia Airlines brand

This is the biggest weekend of the year in Malaysia as families across the country go home for the end of Ramadhan Eid holidays. As Monday and Tuesday are public holidays, many people will have a nine day break.

For me personally I’m looking forward to some quality time with my family in Sarawak, one of the best kept secrets in Asia. I’m flying business class to Kuching about an hour and forty minutes flying time from Kuala Lumpur.

When I get to the airport they tell me my flight is delayed. Now I’m a little bit annoyed by this because I’ve been a member of their FFP since it began and they have my email address and mobile number so they could have let me know the flight was delayed. But hey, that’s a minor issue and besides, if it’s a technical problem I’d prefer them to discover it on the ground and not in the air. Incidentally when I checked in, there was no apology from the girl at the desk.

MAS is carrying out renovations to its lounge at KLIA so I am directed to a temporary lounge. When I get to the lounge I show my boarding card to the person at the counter who looks at it and hands it back. There is no mention of flight announcements. The greeting isn’t rude but it’s hardly enthusiastic.

I sit down and get online. The lounge is quiet, I’m in a good mood, and considering I’m at an airport and about to get on an MAS flight I’m relaxed and excited at the prospect of spending some quality time with my family in a beautiful place.

30 minutes later I get to that point in an airport where you feel like you need reassurance that everything is alright. So I go to the counter and ask about my flight. I’m told it is delayed (like I didn’t know that) and the staff member points to a time on the boarding card and mumbles something incoherent.

I don’t know about you but when I’m at an airport there are so many distractions, so many unusual assaults on the senses that I rarely pay attention to announcements however, a little later, I suddenly look up and realize I haven’t heard an announcement about my flight or for that matter any others. I ask one of the MAS staff in the lounge what is happening with my flight. She goes to the desk and comes back and tells me my flight has left!

I’m stunned and ask someone to explain what just happened. The explanation revolves around the fact that it is a temporary lounge and they don’t make announcements and anyway, there is a sign on the desk stating that there won’t be any announcements.

Now bearing in mind getting passengers to the plane is a fairly important part of an airline’s responsibility, the sign below can hardly be described as adequate, especially with all the other messages on the desk.

The pathetic sign stating there will be no flight announcements
The pathetic sign stating there will be no flight announcements

Understandably I’m not impressed. This is business class, there aren’t many people waiting and it wouldn’t take much effort on the part of the staff to inform the few passengers in the lounge that their flight was boarding. Furthermore, if one business class passenger is late arriving at the departure gate, how much effort does it take for the staff at the gate to call the business class lounge and ask if the passenger is there? Aren’t these the little things that help passengers justify paying more for a ticket?

For some reason I’m then sent to the flight transfer counter where I listen to a staff member explain my situation to other staff members who all look like the last thing they want to be doing right now is deal with this issue. No one tells me anything. Eventually after interrupting the conversation I learn that my luggage has been sent to lost and found and I have to go and get it and not to worry, I will be put on the next flight.

I then go back to the lounge and 10 minutes later another member of staff tells me that I have to go and get my luggage because he doesn’t have the authority put it on the next flight which is odd because someone had the authority to take it off the previous aircraft and send it to lost and found but most galling of all, he tries to nickel and dime me for RM150 penalty to change to the 5.55pm flight!

He’s not very happy with the fact that I’m not very happy but obviously is just following a procedure and not interpreting the situation as it is. I realise he doesn’t have any authority so ask him to send a supervisor to talk to me. He walks off to the desk and sits down. 30 minutes later he is still there and making no effort to update me so I have to go and find out what is happening. He tells me the supervisor will be here in 10 minutes.

25 minutes later I get up again and go and ask him what is going on. He says the supervisor will be there soon. As we’re talking the supervisor arrives. She manages to talk to another supervisor who agrees not to charge me the RM150 penalty. It has taken me a lot of effort to get to this stage.

But it doesn’t get better just yet. It transpires that I wasn’t put on the 5.55pm flight, I was put on the waiting list because the flight was full. No one told me this. I asked what time is the next flight, answer 6.30pm but it is also full. The next flight after that with seats is 7.30pm. By the time I board that flight I will have been at the airport for six hours.

So how is related to the problems at MAS?

Throughout this horrendous experience I felt that on the whole, with the exception of a couple of members the staff were sympathetic to my predicament and wanted to help. But the problem is they just didn’t have the knowledge or the skills to deal with the situation effectively.

Being told repeatedly that the lounge is temporary and therefore there won’t be any announcements is not good enough but it isn’t the fault of the staff. It suggests the company doesn’t understand the importance of the customer. Especially highly profitable business class passengers.

It’s great that you are renovating the lounge but it doesn’t mean you lower your standards in a temporary lounge. It might be temporary to you but to every passenger, it is still the lounge. It’s not like I’m paying less for my ticket because I am using a temporary lounge. Does it mean that when you lease an aircraft from another airline you lower your engineering or safety standards?

And besides we’re talking about the worst time in the airlines history. Shouldn’t every customer willing to spend money with the airline at this difficult stage be appreciated more?

The attitude of the lounge staff was at best adequate. I got the feeling they were doing the job but nothing more. And having flown Malaysian Airlines for over 20 years I have to say I’ve felt this way for the last 12 – 15 years.

If the MAS brand is to survive, those that make the decisions on training have got to understand that the airline is not doing passengers a favour. Numerous reports released over the last 5 years point to service as being the main factor influencing consumer brand choices.

In every report I have read recently, the averages percentage of people who switch brands because of poor service is around 70% and goes as as high as 80%. It is universally accepted that customer service is critical to the success of a brand. That service comes from effective and timely training based on the changing needs of customers.

The issue is that what may have been considered acceptable customer service yesterday is no longer acceptable today. Moreover, as more and more companies raise the bar in terms of the quality of service they deliver, consumers expect more. Training needs to be updated and reinforced.

Nowadays, for an Asian carrier to thrive let alone survive, it has to have a culture not of customer service but of exceptional customer service. The ability to deliver exceptional customer service is the only way brands can build the loyalty that will differentiate themselves from other competitor brands.

Armed with the skills and tools needed to deliver exceptional customer service, staff will have the ability, confidence and enthusiasm to go the ‘extra mile’ when dealing with their customers.

Malaysia Airlines is a service product in a very competitive space. Despite the two very tragic incidents in the last 5 months numerous customers such as my family and I have stuck by them.

Right now it is tough being loyal to MAS and it isn’t made easier when they can’t even get the basics right. I, like many loyal customers don’t want any special treatment but I do expect a decent level of service.

As I write this, there is talk in the UK newspapers of a strategic review of MAS that may include renaming and rebranding the airline. I don’t know what they define as a rebrand but it’ll take more than a change of name to save MAS.

Malaysia Airlines won’t return to profitability with bland, boring TV commercials

I don’t like to kick a man (or an airline) when he’s (or it’s) down, and despite a couple of good quarters, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is certainly down.

The good quarters (following six straight quarters of losses) are a result of increased revenues thanks to better load factors and higher RASK (Revenue per available seat kilometer).

Just to recap, to avoid bankruptcy, MAS embarked on a massive restructuring plan towards the end of 2011 that included cutting unprofitable routes and reducing costs with the goal being to return to full year profitability in 2013.

Although the airline has done quite well, that’s unlikely to happen even though it is focusing on Asia and has stopped flying to costly destinations such as Buenos Aires, Johannesburg, Cape Town and oddly, Dubai. Giving up Dubai and Dammam suggests the carrier is surrendering to the aggressive carriers from the Middle East.

The most recent business strategy announced two key strategic elements – one to focus on the premium sector and the other to focus on the competitive Asian market. The announcement that the airline would go after the premium sector came at the same time as the partnership deal with AirAsia that has now been scrapped.

I’ve seen nothing to suggest the airline is courting premium customers and although it is good to see the airline understands the importance of segmentation, I doubt their ability to execute such a strategy.

Especially as the airline seems to be going the same old predictable route of using an advertising campaign featuring an irritating tagline (more on that later) to magically increase demand. And I’ve seen nothing else to suggest the airline is doing anything other than the usual advertising, print and PR tactics with a nod to social media.

And what an advertising campaign it is! I think this is the TV commercial.

I’m sorry but this has to be the worst commercial or video I’ve ever seen. It features people of various ages walking, cycling, swimming, jogging, directing traffic (I’m serious), reading newspapers, skateboarding, going to a meeting, graduating, bowling, clubbing and all with one thing in common – they are all carrying at least one suitcase! Yes, even the traffic policeman!! This really is rock bottom.

The print advertisement (which I’ve also seen on a billboard) features two men sitting on a wooden dock. They are both holding suitcases and the younger man has his arm around the older man and is looking into his eyes.

Sitting on the dock of the bay, suitcase in my hand
Sitting on the dock of the bay, suitcase in my hand

Does this image make anyone else uncomfortable? Here’s a close up to help you decide.

Does this make you uneasy?
Does this make you uneasy?

MAS also has a corporate video that starts off with a series of stock scenes featuring babies taking their first steps, dad playing with son, climbers etc and then cuts to old shots of MAS in the early days. Meanwhile the voice over tells us that life is made up of countless journeys. Getit?.

Then we get shots of computer generated imagery of the various planes used by the airline from past to present (didn’t BA do something similar?) before going back to the people shots – nice, smiling, friendly air hostess with kid – cut to boys jumping into lake – then back to nice, smiling people, tender, caring hostess and then, out of the blue we’re told the strangers we meet on our journeys give us courage – cut to skydivers – then back to lovers on beach, cultural harmony, pregnant couple and so on. I stopped at this point, unable to continue. Have a look instead.

One of the videos (I can’t remember which one and I have no intention of watching them again) features the Malaysia Airlines app that I really like but isn’t integrated with the website (or if it is I can’t figure out how to find my bookings made online on the app).

So if MAS is serious about increasing market share, what should the company do? Here are 5 things they need to start doing today.

1) Forget about the big idea. Focus instead on consistent, onging, personalised engagement with each of your very diverse audiences.
2) You probably have one of the most comprehensive databases in South East Asia. Start to use it properly.
3) Focus. These ‘one-size-fits-all’ advertising campaigns are an expensive exercise in naïve futility. Put an end to them now.
4) Don’t do social, be social.
5) Integrate all your solutions to make it easier for consumers to use them. Otherwise they defeat the object of developing them in the first place!

I’ve been flying MAS for over 20 years and I think it is a great product but it needs work. A lot of work. This traditional approach to brand building is not going to help steer the airline to full year profitability. They’d be better off throwing the money down a black hole.