Malaysia Airlines looks to 'right-size' Airbus A350 first class

By Chris Chamberlin, September 15 2017

You don’t need a large first class cabin to make luxury travel a viable proposition, Malaysia Airlines believes, with its upcoming Airbus A350 jets to feature just four first class suites.

But how will this play out when that's only half as many as found aboard the Oneworld member's Airbus A380s, which the A350s will eventually replace?

Malaysia Airlines CEO Peter Bellew speaks exclusively with Australian Business Traveller on the future of first class for the resurgent airline.

Malaysia Airlines first class: where’s the demand?

As Malaysia Airlines doesn’t offer first class service on flights to Australia – instead, only between Kuala Lumpur and London – Bellew explains where first class is heading, with London remaining firmly on the map.

“I think there’s a niche role (for first class) on the London route… we’re operating load factors of around about 60% in first class right now (on flights with eight first class seats), so having four first class seats is about the right mix for us."

“The only complaint I’ve had with the four seats is that I met a family the other night, there’s six in the family, and they said, “We can’t all travel in first class any more!”, so there’s an argument now for some within the family… but not many families travel that way!"

Bellew suggests Malaysia Airlines "would probably have demand on flights to Auckland and to Tokyo,” both of which are now being considered as a destinations for the forthcoming Airbus A350 jets.

A final decision on this is expected before the end of October.

“We’re changing the timings of the (Auckland) flight which we think will make it more attractive… and we’re monitoring the financial progress of the route, and will make our decision based around that,” although “first class won’t really be a major figure in that decision at all.”

One reward seat on (almost) every flight

It’s understood that the bulk of first class passengers currently travelling with Malaysia Airlines are splashing out on full-priced tickets, but even when the cabin shrinks from eight to just four first class seats, there’ll still be room at the pointy end for savvy travellers spending their frequent flyer points.

“I expect that on each flight there will generally be one (reward) seat available for Enrich members or other points cardholders,” such as Qantas Frequent Flyer members, Bellew tips.

“Sometimes, depending on our seat analysis, the nature and time of year, and our predictions, there might be two, but I expect there’ll be one on every flight,” pledges the man in the top job.

Malaysia Airlines has also recently improved its IT integration with Qantas, with Qantas Frequent Flyer members now able to book Malaysia Airlines reward flights via the Qantas website – including first class travel, along with tickets in business class and economy – rather than having to call.

Also read: Malaysia Airlines first class upgrade guide

But is its A350 first class too similar to business class?

Aussie travellers will recognise Malaysia Airlines’ upcoming Airbus A350 first class seats as being very similar to the Qantas Business Suite – currently ferrying business class passengers to Asia and across Australia aboard the Roo’s Airbus A330s, and soon, its Airbus A380s and Boeing 787s.

And that’s because both products are based on the Vantage XL seat from Thompson Aero.

So how will Malaysia Airlines differentiate its first class experience in a seat that most travellers would expect to find further back in business class?

Bellew touts the increased privacy of the seats, and with first class spanning just one row at the front of the plane, the overall experience of seclusion “should make it popular”, Bellew shares.

“We’ll also be doing a lot with the food, a lot with the experience on board and a lot with the experience on the ground at London and Kuala Lumpur, and that will give a lot of added benefit to our customers.”

Plus, “there are lots of people who are wealthy, they can afford it, and they value sleep… and with the first class product we currently have – and that we will have – I think you’ll get a great night’s sleep.

“To many people, that’s worth thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars, because their time is very precious.”

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

ian62

ian62

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Aug 2014

Total posts 31

4 x F is also working well for AF La Premiere 

plad

plad

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

16 Jun 2017

Total posts 35

SIA now has only 4 in F on a lot of their 777-300er. I am disappointed that there is no F on  SIA A350's .Surely they could have had 1 row.

FLX1

FLX1

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

@plad:

"there is no F on SIA A350's" precisely because "SIA now has only 4 in F on a lot of their 777-300er" plus all 380s in SQ fleet.

If there's sufficient Rev$-paying(i.e. not FFP redemption) demand for F on a SQ route yr-round, pretty sure SQ would deploy a 77W or 380 on that route instead of 359.

MH hv F on 359 because that is gonna be their flagship aircraft type for their flagship route(i.e. KUL-LHR).  Clearly not the case for SQ....we'll unlikely see SQ deploy 359 on their flagship routes(e.g. SIN-LHR) as long as the 77W/380 is still around SQ fleet and 779 in the future.

Notso Swift

Notso Swift

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Oct 2016

Total posts 109

But it is more than just 1 row of space, even if there was a shared galley (which AF don't have) there is still other amenities and the separation bulkhead
The Thompson is still a good upgrade for MAL considering their current 2x2x2 set up

Ian_from_HKG

Ian_from_HKG

CX

05 Jun 2012

Total posts 119

StudiodeKadent

StudiodeKadent

20 May 2015

Total posts 584

Its interesting that MAS went for Thompson Vantage XL First but Vantage Business... the advantage of Vantage First is that it fits in with Vantage XL Business thus allowing two cabin classes with zero density loss and also common components. I wonder how MAS will make the cabin fit together...

FLX1

FLX1

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

@StudiodeKadent:

"...the advantage of Vantage First is that it fits in with Vantage XL Business thus allowing two cabin classes with zero density loss and also common components."

I hv seen them and I agree.  It's a very intelligent design solution offering maximum cabin space efficiency+utilization and works best for those carriers planning to deploy no more than 1 row of F seats/a tiny F cabin.

"...wonder how MAS will make the cabin fit together..."

Technically & physically quite simple actually.  The F seat use the same bulkhead row space that would hv been an extra-spacious J seat in row 1 within a more typical cabin config without F.  The side table for that F seat encloses the foot space for the J seat immediately behind when in lie-flat mode just like the classic staggered set-up for the remaining J seats.

MH can even easily install an elaborate partition between the F row and the 1st J row because most J seat designs these days already include high partitions/enclosures surrounding each seat.  E.g. the J design for Delta One already look more like a mini office room for 1 pax than a seat.... 

FLX1

FLX1

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 644

In my opinion, most airlines still offering F are no longer relying on differences in hard product specs/designs between their F vs J when trying to sell F.  There're already so little differences between the 2 in those aspects.

Unless U are going over the top with 'stateroom' type F design like EY does(but apparently no F competitor seems to be in a hurry to match), most airlines choose to differentiate F vs J thru  the soft products /accessories /services aspects such as a private limo or even helicopter airport transfer, a butler to escort F pax fm terminal curbside to his/her F seat onboard, F lounge that's not really a lounge anymore but 5* hotel-like private suite for each F pax, a F pax to F cabin crew ratio @ 2:1 or even lower, almost 100% bespoke meal menu(basically any cuisine/food type U want to eat while onboard), etc., etc.

MissBasset

MissBasset

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Aug 2012

Total posts 194

Someone moaning that his family of 6 will not all be able to go F on the new config. Hello Sanjay, of many blogs, is that you??

Too Technical

Too Technical

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Oct 2016

Total posts 40

Is it normal that our family only travel in economy...? ;)

Steve987

Steve987

23 Feb 2015

Total posts 254

Soft product is important, but the hard product is the key for me. The premium for a qf business seat masquerading as F would have to be minimal to be justified.

Ian_from_HKG

Ian_from_HKG

CX

05 Jun 2012

Total posts 119

I assume you never fly BA F!!

Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Malaysia Airlines looks to 'right-size' Airbus A350 first class