Malaysia Airlines plans next-generation Boeing 737 MAX business class

By David Flynn, January 10 2019
Malaysia Airlines plans next-generation Boeing 737 MAX business class

The clock is ticking on Malaysia Airlines’ plans for its next-generation Boeing 737 MAX seats, ahead of the arrival of its first MAX jet in early 2020.

However, the Oneworld member is “rethinking” previous plans to install lie-fat seats onto the single-aisle jet, and could opt instead for a more conventional recliner.

“We are rethinking (that), to be honest – we are still evaluating the seats and the configuration of the aircraft,” says Lau Yin May, Malaysia Airlines’ Head of Customer Experience.

“We are looking at what consumers are asking for,” Lau tells Australian Business Traveller, adding that the ruler is being run over Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX network map to look at the length of its flights, “and that will then determine whether it should be lie-flat or a recliner.”

While some airlines taking delivery of the Boeing 737 MAX have opted for lie-flat seats in business class, “more than half are still on recliners,” Lau observes.

The lure of lie-flat

Could Malaysia Airlines chance a dollar each way and split the 737 MAX fleet into some with lie-flat seats and others with recliners? “ We are considering that, “ Lau admits, “but we are also cognisant that managing a single configuration is so much more efficient.’

“We are hoping to have one configuration across the fleet but we are (still) evaluating… if there is a mix of longer routes which require lie-flat we may do that.”

With the first of 15 Boeing 737-8 MAX jets due for delivery in early 2020, Lau says that a decision will be made by April this year.

The business class seats will be chosen from Boeing’s pre-approved catalogue of line-fit products, which covers several leading seatmakers – among them Thompson Aero, who supplied the business class and first class seats for Malaysia Airlines’ Airbus A350 and A330 aircraft and offers its Vantage and Vantage Solo lie-flat seats  for single-aisle jets like the Boeing 737 and Airbus A320 families.

In July 2017, Malaysia Airlines' then-CEO Peter Bellew revealed to Australian Business Traveller his plans for adopting lie-flat suites with direct aisle access for all passengers on the Boeing 737 MAX fleet, citing Thompson's Vantage Solo design.

“I’m shamelessly copying what JetBlue have done with Mint, which is a fantastically innovative transcontinental product in the US,” Bellew told Australian Business Traveller at the time. “I’m shamelessly ripping off their ideas!”

JetBlue's groundbreaking Airbus A321 Mint premium class (below) was developed by Thompson and Factorydesign.

JetBlue's Airbus A321 Mint business class
JetBlue's Airbus A321 Mint business class

The lure of fresh deliveries of the Boeing 737 MAX has seen other airlines opt for flatbeds, led by Flydubai...

Flydubai's lie-flat Boeing 737 MAX business class
Flydubai's lie-flat Boeing 737 MAX business class

… with speculation that Virgin Australia will use the late 2019 delivery of its Boeing 737 MAX jets to launch a lie-flat business class seat for transcontinental flights.

Singapore Airlines’ regionals offshoot SilkAir also plans to introduce next-generation flat beds on its Boeing 737 MAX jets from 2020.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

16 Jan 2018

Total posts 89

The flights they operate the 737 to now is based on frequency and competes with the likes of SilkAir, Thai Smile, Garuda, Vietnam Airlines - I haven’t mentioned TG as they are such an inconsistent product. There is no need to add a loe flat on <5 hour flights. You can’t take any advantage of it. Stick to a recliner and deck it out with tech enhancements that are enticing to the business market.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 654

Lie flat seats on narrowbodies will probably always be a niche proposition. Most of the routes flown are too short to justify the amount of space these seats use. Pax will not pay a premium for a lie-flat seat on a 2 hour flight where they won't ever lie the seat down.


There is definitely a place for the product but it is more a dedicated sub-fleet such as a trans-continental fleet dedicated to PER services or the US trans-continental services offered by AA, UA and B6.

I doubt VA will introduce the lie-flat product on its Max8s as it will use up too much space and result in the loss of too many Y seats. I think they'll wait until they get their Max10s and use the extra space offered to introduce a premium product for a sub-fleet that will probably just do trans-continental and trans-Tasman services.

BA Gold

01 Apr 2012

Total posts 158

I agree. For a two hour flight i'm more than happy with a recliner. Even a three hour one, maybe even four hours. But in MH's case some of the routes they operate the 737 on are in excess of five hours (PER-KUL and KUL-DEL for example). Put simply, I just would not fly MH on those routes in J. I'd rather fly Air Asia X Premium Flat bed.


I think a subfleet of 737's equipped with flat beds makes perfect sense for MH. They could also be used to try out new markets that don't justify an A330/A350 on.

My parents last year went to India on Malaysia Airlines and from Perth they took a 737, than from KL to Deli also a 737 as well. Why are Malaysia Airlines flying Boeing 737's from Perth to KL, I recall a while back they were flying Boeing 777's and Airbus A330's. Is it they can't fill their flights.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 654

It will be a combination of demand and frequency. Remember PER-KUL is pretty much the same distance as PER-BNE and everyone is quite accepting that this route is typically flown by 737s.

06 Feb 2014

Total posts 116

Not business travellers...737 is a vastly inferior product. Maybe economy passengers can live with it...

Perth KL is quite competitive with Malindo at 12x week; Air Asia ~11 I and MH varies but ~10. KL is just losing its appeal as a stopover vs Singapore.

JKH
JKH

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Sep 2017

Total posts 141

Such a pain when manufacturers and airlines persist with N/B aircraft having ever increasing range, and yet they are often intolerable for pax comfort on longer flights. I understand that they are the economical workhorses, just crummy for pax on longer trips

Bring on the 797 quickly!

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 654

We still don't know exactly what a 797 will be. Short widebody aircraft are problematic from both a weight and aerodynamic point of view.


Boeing are probably tossing this up and it could be something like a 757 with a slightly wider cabin or a twin aisle 767 width cabin. Passengers loved the 767 but from an accountant point of view it was an issue. It added weight and width but only added one extra seat per row. 2019 will be the year we finally find out what exactly a 797 is.


JKH
JKH

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Sep 2017

Total posts 141

Don’t want to digress too much from the article... isn’t it rather public now from Boeing that 797 will be 767’ish in config, capacity and range.

AJW
AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 555

Odd considering the 787 is much like a (modern version) of the 767, but with extra range.

10 May 2018

Total posts 16

They really need lie-flat seats on a subset of their 737MAX fleet. Direct aisle access for those seats are not necessary though. They have flights using 737s lasting over 5 hours with quite a number of them being overnighters as well. A lie-flat seat is imperative if they want to be competitive with airlines flying widebodies on the routes they compete on. Flights under 4 hours don't need lie-flat business seats. Sure, having 2 different seating arrangements won't be as efficient to manage but the trade-off is that they will be more competitive offering such a product on a narrowbody. It's a no-brainer really. I hope MH don't mess up this opportunity to make the right decision.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 496

I agree with your 'subset' fleet point, but I also think that MH really needs to decide how much it wants to compete in the KUL-(China / India) marketplace, where a true NB lay-flat would be of certain value to them. Currently MH's network around Asia is more predicated on the coastal cities where <4 hrs from KUL is the norm.

Peter Bellew or not, he is no longer with the carrier. I'm somewhat more surprised that MH has left this decision to essentially what is almost the 'last-minute'.

I was curious about Malaysian’s statement “We are looking at what consumers are asking for,”


They said the same thing about alcohol being served in business class on flights less than three hours. Just a nice way of saying “stuff you customers it’s all about getting away with it if we can” rather than rebuilding the airline to be the best


Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 443

I recently did KL-DEL and it was a nightmare in J class on a night flight. They need a subset of their fleet for flats on routes such as this where 738's are used to their max range. I for one wont ever fly MH again if they keep using 738's on medium haul routes when for the same price I can get an A330 for the same price...even if it means a different alliance. Its just not worth it on the 737.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Sep 2011

Total posts 14

Have you folks ever flown PER-KUL on an MH 737? I would have been very happy for a lie flat bed on my 6 hour flight!!

might be disappointed on the 737 as non lie flat bed. Check the aircraft as before Christmas they were flying the A330 which has lie flat seats.

Malaysia Airlines - Enrich

01 Jun 2015

Total posts 26

Flown MH B737 Business Class many times with a recliner seat. Found the product to be just passable. Service so and so. If they were to retain the Recliner seat, they better enhance new Recliner seat as the present one is a bit drappy and old. Lie Flat seats on B737/ Welcome anytime. Inflight meal need to be change too.

24 Apr 2018

Total posts 6

I agree with many others here. Lie flat on anything more than 3-4 hours. If it's a recliner only, no thanks. Go elsewhere. MH seem to concentrate their business on O&D traffic in KUL and less on those in transit- a mistake. who'd fly LHR-KUL-PER in J and get stuffed into a 737 for 5+ hours. No chance. Not a fan of narrow bodies at any time, though QR have lie flats on some A320's and that's pretty good.

10 May 2018

Total posts 16

They've got 15 MAX8s and 10 MAX10s on order. Seems to me the answer is lie-flat business seats on the MAX10s and updated recliners for the MAX8s.


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Malaysia Airlines plans next-generation Boeing 737 MAX business class