One of the best things about living in Malaysia is the multitude of cultural-religious holidays, because even if you aren’t celebrating them, they are still great opportunities for much needed rest and recharge from work. This year’s Aidilfitri holidays coincided with the Labour Day holidays, and resulted in the possibility of having an entire week off with only 2 days of leave needed to make up the 7 days.
The various lockdowns and the pandemic of the past 2 years meant that any travel plans I may have had before were naturally non-existent. With the festive holidays staring me right in the face, I decided to take the opportunity to enjoy some much needed R&R after going one full year at work without any proper rest. The initial plan was to enjoy some sun in Langkawi, but after a few complications at the planning stage, I instead planned a quick solo getaway to Labuan island for myself.
A quick look at flight schedules later, and I booked a return ticket on Malaysia Airlines (MH) between Kuala Lumpur (KUL) and Labuan (LBU).
Buying my tickets
I bought my ticket directly from the Malaysia Airlines website. Malaysia Airlines now sells tickets on a tiered basis, where the (cheapest) basic Economy Lite fare gives you only a single 7kg cabin bag allowance with no check in baggage allowance and no free seat selection. The base return fare cost me RM296.00 (pre-taxes), however as I subsequently added on a seat reservation and check in baggage allowance for the return sector, I ended up paying a total of RM442.70 (incl. taxes & charges).
If you’re thinking MH is starting to sound like a hybrid carrier, then you’d be right – additional frills on top of the basic fare will cost you extra. If you need a cabin bag allowance, I’d recommend just paying the extra RM 20 or so for the middle tier Economy Basic fare that does give you a 20kg check-in allowance. MH sells extra check in baggage allowance in increments of 5kgs, and as the price increases closer to your departure date, you might end up paying more for a 10kg bag than you would have for the middle tier fare with a 20kg bag allowance.
Earning points on Malaysia Airlines domestic flights
Enrich members are guaranteed to earn Enrich points and 1 Elite point for this domestic KUL-LBU sector, with the amount of Enrich points earned dependent on class of travel, and the amount paid for your ticket.
As Malaysia Airlines is a Oneworld member, frequent flyer members of Oneworld partner airlines can also earn miles and elite points on MH flights. On the other hand, this isn’t as straightforward on MH domestic flights, as these flights often do not actually meet the minimum booking class requirement to earn points on Oneworld partner frequent flyer programs.
I learnt this the hard way after I didn’t earn any British Airways Avios for this flight. If you really want to earn some points on domestic flights, I suggest signing up for an Enrich membership. You are more likely to be able to earn miles and elite points on your Oneworld frequent flyer program with MH if you fly on the longer distance international flights.
Departure experience at Kuala Lumpur International Airport
The Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA for short) is MH’s main operating base. Despite being 24 years old and showing some wear and tear, the Main Terminal Building and its Satellite are still a spectacular and dignified piece of architecture.
Malaysia Airlines prescribes mandatory self check in for all Economy passengers with bag drops done at counters. I had previously checked in online with no check in baggage, and so after collecting a printed boarding pass at the self check in kiosks, I was free to spend some time at the Viewing Gallery.
With an hour left till boarding, I made my way to the domestic security checks at the far left of the building. Malaysia Airports has installed several face recognition gates as part of an ongoing trial, but I opted for the manual documents check as I wasn’t too sure how to use them.
Gate B11 was a short walk from security, and the holding area was teeming with passengers making their balik kampung trek to Labuan for Aidilfitri.
Boarding was soon called for priority passengers (i.e those with children / persons in need of care), and thereafter extended to passengers sat in the final 10 rows of the aircraft. As I had pre-booked seat 28A for myself, I happily made my way down the jetbridge and to the start of some much needed R&R.
MH gives out these handy little amenity kits when boarding, containing a face mask and a sanitising wet wipe that has a rather strong alcohol smell. Note that while the mask mandate for outdoors have been relaxed in Malaysia, masks are still required to be worn indoors and on flights, among others.
I was lucky enough to secure a slot in the overhead compartments for my bag. The Aidilfitri season meant that a large number of cabin baggage in the overheads were comparatively large versus my regular sized roller bag.
Despite the passenger load and the complexity of allocating space for the carry on luggage, we still managed to push back for an on-time 2:40 pm departure.
Takeoff was a powerful one from runway 32R into the overcast skies over the Klang Valley. We then made a right turn over Putrajaya to head over the Titiwangsa mountain range and out towards the East Coast for a flight path over the South China Sea.
Cabin & Onboard facilities
Flight MH 2634 was operated by 9M-MXT, one of MH’s many B737-800 workhorses. I was relieved to find that it wasn’t one of MH’s leased, non-BSI aircraft, as MH still has a few of these jets with LCC-esque cabin running around on random sectors.
MH frequently uses its cabin crew as part of its hospitality-centric brand image, and I was glad to see that they certainly lived up to company standards on this flight. The crew were cheery and very friendly, and actively helped with finding empty slots for the cabin bags in the overhead compartments.
Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737-800 Economy Class seats
Malaysia Airlines operates its B738 fleet in a 2-class configuration, with Economy class seats arranged in a 3-3 layout. The seats have 30 inches of seat pitch that is adequate for regional sectors like this flight to Labuan.
The seats on MH’s 738s are comfortable, but the lack of a headrest makes it feel a bit “flat”. This is a minor issue, as a slight recline mitigates the issue, but I’m not sure if I’ll find it as comfortable for sectors longer than 3 hours.
Onboard Amenities – Select IFE system
All seats feature MH’s Select IFE system. The Select IFE on the B738 fleet isn’t up to par with those offered by the big players, but it does feature a decent selection of relatively new films. I managed to keep myself occupied with a viewing of Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast which I certainly wasn’t expecting to feature on Select.
Refreshments are served onboard all MH flights, with flights spanning 2 hours or longer offering a hot meal. Menus for each flight are viewable beforehand on MH’s website, which is a pretty handy feature.
For this hop to Labuan, the choice was between Nasi Lemak and Stir Fried Efu Noodles. I didn’t feel like having Nasi Lemak and so I chose the noodles. Drinks were a choice between apple and orange juices, and I went for the apple.
MH now serves their meals in a nicely designed snackbox configuration – This is a result of Covid-19 SOPs, though I do also remember the last time MH served meals in a (cheap looking) snackbox during the cost cutting era a decade ago, a choice that wasn’t very befitting of MH’s then status as a full service legacy carrier.
These days, MH positions itself as a “premium” carrier, and up until Covid-19, meals were served the traditional way on a tray with sides and dessert.
While MH’s catering receive less than stellar comments from time to time, my Efu Noodles were pretty savoury and tasty. The only thing I’d fix would be to up the vegetable and meat content as it seemed to be 90% noodles.
Arrival at Labuan
The arrival approach into Labuan featured a descent and right turn over the South China Sea and a final approach over the north of the island for an ahead of schedule landing on runway 14.
Touchdown was very firm, but there was some very enthusiastic braking by the flight crew that saw the brakes wheezing as they were squeezed twice. As there are no parallel taxiways at Labuan, aircraft missing the turn off to the terminal apron would have to do a 180 on the runway itself and backtrack to the turn off.
Befitting the festive season, there was no shortage of Selamat Hari Raya greetings by the cabin crew as the passengers disembarked into the terminal and for a very sunny Aidilfitri on the island.
All arrivals into the Malaysian Borneo states / territories, including Labuan, are subject to entry immigration control. This means queuing and presenting your ID documents, though no entry slip is given at Labuan.
As of the date of flying, visitors to Labuan are still required to present a verified negative PCR or RTK Covid-19 test result on arrival. This check is done after immigration and just before the baggage claim.
All in all this was a pretty nice re-introduction to domestic flying with MH. MH’s domestic services are usually the subject of comments about inconsistent service levels, but I was glad to see that this certainly wasn’t the case on this flight.