Sunday, 22 February 2009

Excellent MAS service but will it be profitable?

The article accompanying this post is extracted from New Straits Times
but I had just got a very pleasant example of the excellent service
that MAS still offers.

Despite the high price of around RM400 return to Tawau from Kota
Kinabalu, it is still worthwhile because I was actually offered a taxi
ride to and from the airport and a hotel stay at Tawau, just outside
the plane's door, when MAS cancelled its late night flight. My name
was printed in large bold letters. My colleagues who were with me were
surprised. Actually I rejected that offer because I already confirmed
my flight back in the afternoon. I'm no longer young who enjoys
staying long in foreign places.

This cancellation became more frequent just after Idris Jala announced
the cost cutting measures a few days ago. It happened to my brother
who was from Sandakan so I was extra careful by visiting MAS office
when I was in Sandakan the day before.

I was just helping my colleague in interviewing our new Streamyx
technicians. After a quick study I decided to confirm the return
flight in the afternoon and saving time by checking in early at the
Kota Kinabalu airport for the return flight from Tawau. This service
is still offered by MAS. This is vital because travelling time from
Tawau Airport at Balung to Tawau is one hour.

Compared to Airasia its service is excellent and caters for serious
passengers who need to travel at short notice. One actually wonder if
it is really worth it but based on my own travel expenses allowances,
it is cheaper to pay MAS tickets than for me to stay longer than
necessary. I'm sure many other better paid executives are worth much
more than that.

For personal use, I don't think it is worth it. That is why I booked
tickets for my wife and daughter using Air Asia for a flight in
November 2009 at RM60 return making this cheaper than Bus fares.

One passenger that I met at Sandakan airport commented that Air Asia
is smart in offering many flights close to each other so that it can
cancell a lightly loaded plane without any compensation and while
ensuring that its plane always travel in full capacity. MAS cannot
afford such luxury because its flights are very rare and widely spaced
apart, just like the case for Tawau. 2:40PM and 9:10PM.. Actually it
is still sufficiently close together for MAS to offer the 2:40PM
flight if the 9:10PM flight is too lightly loaded to be economical.
Alas MAS is not well organised for this compared to Air Asia as shown
by my experience. Luckily I was extra careful in planning my flights.

Someone will argue that cancelling flights will not increase Asset
Utilisation that much because cancelled flights mean less utilisation.
For many managements they like to plan using utilisation but this is a
fallacy. It is better to plan for total cost efficiency than just a
too simplified utilisation figures. Flying a lightly loaded plane is
much more expensive than letting the plane idle with no passengers at
all, despite increasing utilisation rate. This same mistake keep on
being repeated many times even in TM. There was a calculation that TM
network utilisatiion is only 2% which is actually accurate based on
certain assumptions. Similar study was put forward for a prominent
Telecom Carrier in USA.

Passengers may be complaining that contracts must be fulfilled but we
must be realistic in our expectations. In this difficult times, it is
better to make MAS profitable while providing superior services that
we are accustomed to, instead of letting MAS downgrade its services
and costs to the level of AirAsia in order to be profitable. There is
still a need for an Airline that offers first class services complete
with Aerobridge access although we may have to pay more for it. During
this difficult economic condition, the number of passengers who can
afford or need such services may be even less but MAS should be
allowed to offer alternative non-burdening but still cost effective

At the airport, I met an elderly man who is our Telephone Installation
contractor in Tawau taking the same expensive MAS flight. I wonder why
he didn't take Air Asia or just the bus. I don't think his margin is
that large for him afford such high prices for travel expenses, but
many people work for fun, not for profit.

Another issue is the lack of refreshment. The flight takes only about
an hour. Peanuts and fresh orange was served. It used to be hot
coffee or tea and cake. The price difference between just fresh orange
and hot drinks is too small. After all, the equipment is already built-
in and the Stewards are idle. Instead of offering peanuts, MAS should
offer alternative such as cakes or sweets. In order to reduce cost,
the in-flight magazine and newspapers can be removed because
passengers who need them can always buy them if they really need
reading materials.
ZAINI MOHD SAID The Sunshine Airways that RMAF ran
By : Zaini Mohd Said
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A Dart Herald in 1967. Red Cross members are carrying an airman who
fainted during a parade at the Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Kuala
Lumpur. — File picture by P.S. Yong
A Dart Herald in 1967. Red Cross members are carrying an airman who
fainted during a parade at the Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Kuala
Lumpur. — File picture by P.S. Yong

I WAS on a late afternoon Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight from KL
International Airport to Kota Kinabalu a few days ago. That was quick
to make me feel happy and thankful again.

I would be dishonest if I said that the cabin crew who took care of
all of us seated in the forward section of the Boeing 737 jet was not
instrumental in helping me recover during the 2½-hour flight.
I recovered for two reasons. One was that I managed to take a short
nap. I had not been sleeping properly for some weeks and obtaining it
during the flight was refreshing.
The next was getting to see the smiling and cheery faces of the flight
attendants as they went about their duties, even if, as someone once
said, they were just going about it mechanically and only for the
duration of the flight. To me it did not matter. A smile, even a brief
one, can still be soothing.
I had boarded the aircraft after a scheduled inquiry session in the
city, which unfortunately did not materialise.
The man whom two others and I were supposed to interview did not turn
up. The galling part was that none of the people who had organised the
task could explain this man's absence.
There was absolute silence from him and his staff on why he was unable
to be present.
The uncertainties of the situation had us warming our seats for
another 30 minutes after the appointed time — waiting for what, in the
end, turned out to be a letdown. What a waste of time it was.
Luckily, the three of us are in our golden years and have learnt to
control our feelings of disappointment or despair brought on by the
callousness of others.
But that did not prevent me from wondering about what charges I could
throw at the man if he had been subjected to the Armed Forces Act.
We used to readily charge officers for the slightest of offences such
as conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline, being
absent without official leave (AWOL), being absent from the official
place of duty (which actually was about arriving 30 seconds late at
the appointed location) or disobeying a lawful command.
A guilty verdict could get the officer cashiered — ignominiously
booted out of the military. Those were some of the ways of the
military on discipline.
That was why my flight to Kota Kinabalu that day was very pleasant. I
was reassured that there are still many who are disciplined and caring
enough towards others even if they happened to be just hardworking
cabin crew personnel.
In any case, I have always given them the thumbs-up for their
performance on such a thankless job. And should anyone think I am
being too generous, if not naïve, let me say that I have seen and
experienced enough of what cabin crews of airlines in other parts of
the world can dish out in the name of in-flight service.
But this kind of service on commercial airlines has to be better than
what one gets flying in military transport aircraft, except when one
is lucky enough to accompany some VIP on a military executive jet
My experience as a passenger on the standard military transport
aircraft started with the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) in the
middle 1960s.
These were mainly flights between Sabah and Sarawak and the peninsula.
The aircraft was the Dart Herald turboprop that could seat about 40.
I suppose that was the first pressurised cabin transport aircraft we
had to haul troops and stores to and from both theatres.
The aircraft provided a comfortable flight, quite similar to what one
gets flying in the MAS Fokker Friendship of old, provided you did not
experience bad weather.
In fact, for young military personnel in the earlier days, flying in
the Dart Herald was something that almost all of us looked forward to
when we had to go anywhere in the country.
It was better than flying on the short-haul, short take-off and
landing (STOL) Caribou aircraft, the engines of which made a real
racket on take-off.
For one thing, the Dart Herald had a proper toilet instead of the
funnel and tube thing in the aft of the Caribou, clearly meant for men
to empty only their bladders. Anyone and anything else had to wait
until the aircraft got back on the ground.
By our military standards then, their in-flight meal boxes were
excellent. Each small box had some sardine sandwiches, biscuits, a
cordial drink, a fruit (usually an apple,
orange or banana) and the inevitable hardboiled egg, thankfully with
salt and pepper in mini paper packets. These condiments made the eggs
The only problem that seemed to be associated closely with the Dart
Herald flights was that they were subject to frequent delays and
cancellations, which we found frustrating.
Bad weather was usually given as the reason, something we found
difficult to fathom, especially when it was a sunny day with a clear
sky at the take-off airfield.
Of course, we were unaware that it was raging mad over the South China
Sea. That would have been terribly dangerous for everyone, given the
cruising altitude of the aircraft, reportedly around 20,000 feet.
Unfortunately, for this reason and because of the yellow star (which
looked more like the sun) emblem on a blue background of the RMAF
emblazoned on the aircraft, the service was in jest and unfairly
dubbed the Sunshine Airways.
On reflection, it was only a term for many among us who were ignorant
and admittedly uninitiated.
I am thankful that the officers and men of the Dart Herald squadron
ignored the jibes and were strict about flight safety and passenger
comfort, especially when facing foul weather.
What unnecessary dangers could have emerged and what unfortunate fate
could have befallen many of us if they had not been that particular, I
do not want to even imagine.
That is why minor irritants in life are just so unimportant to me now.

The writer is a former army field commander. He can be contacted at

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