Behind-the-scenes: Malaysia Airlines

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Virginia Haddon experiences the behind-the-scenes action of Malaysia Airlines, in light of a recent brand overhaul. 

Over the last 12 months Malaysia Airlines (MH) has been undergoing a major overhaul in line with a 12 point plan covering such critical items as fiscally viable and a complete shakeup with the airline’s executives. The recently appointed CEO, Christoff Mueller, was willing to confront the elephant in the room with refreshing honesty at a meeting last week where he answered all questions put to him and explained the rationale behind the changes.  “Changing a culture is a challenge. We’ve had a hierarchical structure which tends to slow change down,” said Mueller. “However we are currently streamlining processes.”

Christoff Mueller

On 1 September 2015 MAS became a new legal entity: Malaysia Airlines Berhad – MAB, with 13,000 staff. Although the aircraft currently looks the same, it will have a branding ‘refresh’ – according to Mueller. Details of the extent of this refresh are to be announced in six to eight weeks. Mueller and his new team want seamless transitions and ‘kerbside to kerbside’ experiences to be improved. There will be new aircraft seats; renewed lounges and better connections between flights. Things like on-time flights and bag handling speeds are on Mueller’s hit-list however he feels most of the hiccups are in Kuala Lumpur and will be able to rectify these issues quickly.

According to Mueller the challenge is to ensure the entire staff is motivated and engaged, especially those on the front line, with these major changes to guarantee the new culture filters through the entire company.  Although MAB does not have a union, as his first priority Mueller instituted staff representation, ensuring they have a voice in the remodelling of the airline and to instil confidence in the workforce.

To catch a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes activities of any major operation is enlightening but this is especially so of an airline and one wishing to reinvent itself such as Malaysia Airlines. To see the scale is mind-boggling; to experience, even just for a moment, the depth of training undertaken by the staff, the seriousness taken in its safety and the dedication to on board quality and service is impressive.

At Brahims Airline Catering, partially owned by Malaysia Airlines, action rarely stops and the numbers are massive. It’s arguably the largest Halal kitchen in the world; the preparation area alone is the equivalent of two football fields. Within this there are various cold and hot kitchens, a bakery, a patisserie, plating up areas and refrigerators and blast chillers on major industrial scale, which is to be expected when producing thousands of meals per day.

Imagine cutting two and a half tonnes of fish; three to four tonnes of chicken, 300-600 kilograms of lamb and beef and three to four tonnes of fruit into a very specific portion size…personally, not by machine…in just one day. What about cooking a 123 kilograms of Massaman curry? And this is just for the flights leaving Kuala Lumpur. The only exception is the satay, offered to every business and first class MH passenger, and prepared only in Kuala Lumpur for every MH flight globally.  There are usually six to eight workers threading 16,000 to 20,000 lamb, beef and chicken skewers per day.  Yes! per day. Each worker averages 3,000 skewers per person per day.  The satay sticks are then cooked in the traditional way over hot coals and served on board with the spicy peanut sauce. This personal favourite has won MH the coveted Skytrax Signature Dish award numerous times.

As with all major airlines safety is paramount at Malaysia Airlines. The in-house training for MH flight attendants is one of the most comprehensive in the industry at 63 days tuition for just one aircraft type – although this will be changing to 75 days for two aircraft in the future – with at least 19 days dedicated safety. Attendants must gain a pass mark of over 90 per cent in the safety category and can only re-sit the examination once if they are to fly with MH. Each attendant must update their safety training every year and is restricted to working on a maximum of three aircraft types in the fleet. Only one day is on grooming and deportment. Five days focuses on first aid from the straight forward to the potentially fatal: medical emergencies like asthma, epilepsy, heart attack, even childbirth – a baby girl was successfully delivered on board a flight in May this year; they are taught how to use defibrillators, and POCs (portable oxygen containers) and to perform CPR.

Training is conducted in all levels of emergency from the simple to the worst case scenarios and major catastrophes and in all aspects of fire-fighting; signalling and survival equipment; the art of subduing of unruly passengers; rapid aircraft evacuation on land and sea with or without shoot or life raft; even ‘how to be tough’ with passengers so they will react in the correct and speedy way in an emergency. You definitely don’t want the first passenger jumping on the evacuation chute with heels as it will puncture the shoot and no one else will be able slide down.  (Hint: always wear flat shoes and always keep them on during a flight as its likely you won’t be able to find them in an emergency and you will sustain friction burns sliding down a chute.)Standing at the top of an evacuation chute on a 747 is scary without an emergency situation but jumping down it is exhilarating when it’s not one.  Serving the meal and drinks from the trolley is more complicated than expected.  Following a cabin crew in retraining was illuminating. The experience was indicative of the thorough ‘refresh’ Mueller and his band of executives are instituting at Malaysia Airlines Berhad.

Final Hint: Recommend your traveller take the KLIA Ekspres rail journey between KLIA and KLIA2 to downtown KL.  It takes only 28 minutes compared to at least one hour by road.  There’s even free Wi-Fi and if heading home they can check in for their flight at the Central terminal.

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2015-10-09 14.11.18

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