Have you ever wondered what it’s like flying business class? Is it really worth forking out those extra dollars for a nicer seat, better service and to get on and off the plane more quickly?
This year Mike has been lucky enough to experience some business class flights for work purposes with five different airlines. Here’s the lowdown on his thoughts on his most recent flight with Malaysia Airlines business class – and some sneaky pics of what it really looks like behind the scenes.
All of my travelling life has been spent turning right and heading towards the rear of the plane (often quite a long way back…). Like most other travellers I’m intimately familiar with the cramped seats, barely edible meals, smells and fitful slumber that typifies long haul economy class flying.
Of course, there are some airlines that are better than others – in our experience Air New Zealand and Emirates work hard to make the best out of a bad situation, but at the end of the day we’re all just a little jealous of those who get to live it up in the pointy end in Business and First Class.
I mention my humble travelling origins so that it’s clear I understand that reviewing the merits or otherwise of a Business Class experience is a great example of a first world problem. That said, I guess if you’re going to spend the extra money you really want to make sure it’s worth it, so it pays to do your research!
It’s only been recently that there’s been a need for me to travel a little further afield with work and luckily my employer’s travel policy dictates that I fly Business Class for all flights over 9 hours. There are a lot of benefits to living in New Zealand – great beaches, snowy mountains, just the right amount of people and some pretty good pinot noir. However, we are a very, very long way from anywhere!
Here’s the low down on my recent experience flying Auckland to Kuala Lumpur return with Malaysia Airlines
The Business Class Lounge:
Malaysia Airlines don’t have a dedicated lounge at Auckland Airport, so they utilise the Strata lounge. While nice enough, it’s not of an equivalent standard of Air New Zealand’s Koru Lounge.
On my return flight from Kuala Lumpur, the “Satellite Golden Lounge” at KLIA was unavailable and so I was re-directed to the much smaller C.I.P. Lounge on the mezzanine floor of the Satellite Building. The lounge seated about 70 people, so I suspect there were a number of smaller lounges being used while the much larger Golden Lounge was out of action (perhaps they are renovating it?).
The room itself was tightly packed, and reminded me of the sort of lounge you find at a regional short haul airport. Given that I was in the home of Malaysian Airlines, I expected the experience to be less like being in a holding pen!
The food was standard – I had a samosa, prawn cake and some dumplings, and then thought I should try a small fruit tart, a piece of opera cake and a couple of cookies. All of it was perfectly fine, however the fact that there was only the option of a paper plate or plastic bowl and plastic cutlery added to the non-premium feeling.
They also served rice, chicken curry and porridge, along with some fruit.
The drinks fridge held softdrinks, and there were large containers of assorted juices that you could serve up in plastic cups. It looked like beers were available on request.
So, all in all a slightly underwhelming experience in the lounge. Better than being out with the masses though and having to pay for the average airport food, and plenty of power cables to plug the laptop into.
It’s a real luxury to beat the boarding queues and to be warmly welcomed by name and given a refreshing fruit juice when you walk on to the plane.
I also got a nice refreshing cool towelette and the offer of a glass of champagne as I sat down.
The seating structure allows all passengers to have their own foot well so that they can lie flat. That means there are two seats side by side through the middle row which zig zag up the plane so there is never anyone directly in front of you.
On the sides, seats alternate between two side by side and one on its own with the feet going in between the two in front. This is great when you get the seat on its own, as I did out of both Auckland and Kuala Lumpur.
Personal space is one of the big benefits of flying business. You can recline the seat without feeling bad about cramping the person behind and, likewise, no one’s ever going to cramp your space by reclining in front of you.
The screen is also significantly larger than what you find in economy. I’ve always found watching movies on the plane a little bit frustrating – the sound and visual quality is never great in economy, however it’s certainly much better in business!
The seats on Malaysian Airlines are very simple to use. There’s a recline button and then a lie flat button. There’s also no need for someone to “make the bed up”, which means it’s easier to nod off just when you feel like it.
I was provided with a large blanket and a sleeping bag that could go around my feet and also had holes in it to thread the seatbelt through.
I was also provided with a set of headphones, which were a significant step up from the plastic ones you get in economy!
The thing that I have most enjoyed when I’ve been lucky enough to fly business class is the space. Rather than eating with your elbows tucked inside your ribcage and hands in Tyrannosaurus Rex position, you can actually eat normally. Plus the tray is significantly larger which means that there’s a much lower risk of your food tumbling off the side.
The cabin crew pulled my tray out for me and covered it with a crisp white tablecloth. You get a menu with numerous meal choices and a wine list.
Here’s some of the meals that are served on board:
The goodie bag
A range of useful toiletries containing most things you’d need is provided with the seat. The girls in the family particularly like the lip balm!
The bags are comparable to what I’ve experienced on other airlines – probably the coolest in-flight item in a goodie bag however were the great woollen snoods that Swiss Air provided back in February!
So is it worth flying business class?
A colleague of mine flying back to Australia from Kuala Lumpur had an 8 hour flight and therefore had to fly economy. Heading from the office after our meeting he was dreading a 6 hour wait at Starbucks before the flight left at midnight and then 8 hours of trying to sleep in economy class. Alternatively, I was quite looking forward to relaxing in the lounge, having a glass of champagne, watching a moving and getting a good night’s rest.
So is it worth paying the difference to upgrade so that you can look forward to the flight rather than dread it? Well if you have someone else paying for it, or you need to been fully functioning when you get off a long haul flight then I’d suggest you seriously consider it.
However, if the budget’s tight then maybe just suck it up in the back. Paying for it myself on personal travel I would struggle to justify the extra expense and would probably rather spend the money on better accommodation and a few nice meals out when I arrive where I want to be.
The verdict on the best business class airline
And as for Malaysian Airlines? Well, they were good, but not great. The lounge was a bit of a let down and the service was competent without being outstanding. Of the five different business class experiences I’ve had, I prefer Air New Zealand given the choice – hopefully the subject of another post!
Looking for things to do in Malaysia? Check out our posts on some of the places we’ve visited in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur.