Vietnam and especially Ho Chi Minh City is one of my most frequented locations due to work related events and I have been to the city dozens of times since mid of 2014. While Vietnam is a challenging environment in terms of infrastructure and language barrier people there are also very friendly and I enjoy most of my time spent in the country.
Since I am based in Kuala Lumpur (KUL) I have essentially 3 options to fly in business class to Ho Chi Minh City (SGN), all of which feature a more or less similar product with minor differences.
Besides low cost carriers Air Asia, JetStar Asia and Vietjet Air the route is served by:
- Malaysias national carrier Malaysia Airlines – a oneworld member, flying with modern Boing 737 aircraft
- Vietnams flag carrier Vietnam Airlines – a SkyTeam member, serving the route with not so modern A320 equipment
- Malindo Air, the Malaysian hybrid carrier spin-off of Indonesian LCC giant Lion Air flying Boing 737 to Saigon. The airline has no alliance affiliation.
I have flown all three airlines on the route and normally decide based on the price between Vietnam Airlines and Malaysia Airlines, since both have similar products. After some serious events made me doubt the operational professionalism and safety aboard Malindo Air I am not flying with them anymore.
Malaysia Airlines is dealing with some financial struggles that have gotten worse with the horrible year of 2014, in which the airline lost two Boing 777 aircraft in separate incidents just a few months apart. In an ongoing restructure of their operation they focus more on domestic and regional routes and have been cutting back on long haul flights.
For the KUL to SGN flights the airline is using modern Boing 737 aircraft that is featured on basically all of Malaysia Airlines short haul routes. The planes have a small business class cabin of 4 rows in the front with real business class seats in a 2-2 configuration. Besides the onboard service business class passengers can also use the gorgeous business class check-in counters at KUL, get priority boarding, priority luggage delivery and on this route access to the Malaysia Airlines Regional lounge in the main terminal of Kuala Lumpur international airport.
The seats in Malaysias 737 are standard recliner business class seats with a decent legroom and reclining space, absolutely sufficient and comfortable for a short flight of 2h. All seats have one international power outlet and most aircrafts feature USB plugs as well.
The business class cabin is separated from the economy seats by a curtain that is open during boarding, take-off and landing and closed throughout the flight. Economy class features reclining leather seats in a 3-3 configuration that are still pretty decent.
Waiting at the seat is a small pillow and a rather thin blanket, which is fine given that the flights on which these product is offered are mostly small and Malaysia Airlines cabin is not too cold.
Before take-off there is a pre-departure drinks service that often starts even during boarding, choices are water and several juices. After boarding finished there is also a hot-towel service before push-back.
Shortly after take-off the flight attendants will distribute a printed menu with the food and drink options aboard and prepare the cabin for meal service. Meals are server on all flights even for flying times of 1h as for the Kuala Lumpur to Singapore service. When providing the menu guests have the option of ordering a new drink that will be served with some packed peanuts before meal service commences.
Normally 2 flight attendants will be working in business class and start taking meal orders shortly after the menus were delivered. Meal service is done individually rather than from a cart which gives a more exclusive touch and also makes sure the aisle stays clear in case you need to use the restrooms during the service.
In general a full lunch or dinner will be served, consisting of salad for starter, a main and a dessert, after the tray is served bread will be proactively offered as well as drinks. Malaysia Airlines uses real stainless steel cutlery and drink refills are repeatedly offered during the meal service.
Every seat, including those in economy, feature an individual IFE screen that is used to screen the safety demonstration video and provides movies, series, games and information throughout the flight. The selection of international and local movies is extremely decent for the time of the flight and I never had problems finding something to watch. While the headset provided in business class are not noise cancelling it still has good quality.
Shortly before landing there is a pre-arrival drink served and following that the flight attendants start preparing the cabin for landing. It is worth noting that Malaysia Airlines is a dry airline on flights below 3h duration, they claim that guests do not wish alcoholic beverages for short flights while I think it is more of a cost cutting decision.
The service in Malaysia Airlines is almost always very friendly and warm, in all the flights I had only 2 or 3 rather cold but never unfriendly flight attendants. Aircraft equipment is new and mostly very clean, the seats are comfortable for the duration of this flight and the service is certainly detailed for a short haul trip. Rounded with a nice IFE and mood lighting in the cabin I find Malaysia Airlines an overall very comfortable and enjoyable carrier. I do see options to upgrade the service by re-introducing alcoholic beverages but that is a minor thing on such short flights. Inflight WIFI would be nice as well but again no real need for short haul trips as of now.
That being said it all depends on the price of the ticket, while the product is decent and certainly worth a good amount of money it is not that different to virtually all other carriers around that area, so I mostly go with the cheapest business class fare and never felt that the value for money was anything below amazing.