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Exclusive (Part 2): Malaysia Airlines CEO reveals new business class seats and free wifi

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This is part two of my interview with Captain Izham, CEO of the Malaysia Aviation Group and Malaysia Airlines.

I highly recommend you start with Part 1 of our interview with Captain Izham Ismail, which looks at Malaysia Airline’s struggles for the past decade and how it has survived in the post-covid environment.

Whilst the past decade has been hard for Malaysia Airlines, with multiple restructurings and a big headcount reduction in 2015, the next decade is seen as one of opportunity.

“Now is the time for us to reinvest, reinvest into our product, our people and so forth.” Staff were given their first bonus in 30 years last month, but money is also being spent on on improving the overall experience when you fly Malaysia Airlines, starting with renewal of the fleet.

Malaysia Airlines CEO reveals new business class seat

Boeing 737 MAX and A330neos are coming

First up is the renewal of the existing 737NG fleet. Last year, Malaysia Airlines unveiled its first refurbished 737, with the remaining 38 to follow by the end of this year. New seats in both business and economy, with a new blue colour scheme in contrast to the previous burgundy one.

A new in-flight entertainment system lets you stream content to your own devices. This means that seat-back screens have gone, but you’ll still be able to read, watch and listen to content – a big upgrade over the shorthaul experience in other parts of the world.

Malaysia Airlines CEO reveals new business class seat

From this summer – and as early as August – these will be joined by line-fresh 737-8 MAX, with 25 to be delivered in total. These will feature the same interiors as the older refurbished 737s for a consistent fleet experience.

Malaysia Airlines hasn’t been immune from production problems: “The MAX is delayed further. It was supposed to be May this year. And it’s been delayed every two weeks or so, now it’s August.” These aircraft will allow the airline to increase short-haul seats by 3.2% year on year for the next 5 years, for a smooth, sustainable growth trajectory.

This will be supplemented by another order in the next few years for further narrowbodies, in particular to service a new ‘city’ airport in Kuala Lumpur which will necessitate the provision of smaller aircraft such as the A220 or Embraer E2s.

“We envision about 14 airplanes will be there with the rest of the order at Kuala Lumpur International Airport …. we are very clear that as a national carrier we have to support the country by inducing economic growth through the vehicle of airports and so forth. But we are also mindful that Malaysia Airlines is a commercial entity; the new airport must not diminish Malaysia Airlines’ profitability. So, it is a balancing act which is quite difficult.”

Malaysia Airlines CEO reveals new business class seat

In the medium and long haul space, Malaysia Airlines is acquiring a fleet of 20 next-generation Airbus A330neo aircraft. These are eventually intended to replace the existing current-generation A330 fleet, although for the near term they will be used for growth, with 5.2% seat capacity increase year on year.

Just like the 737 MAXs, these neos have also been beset by supply chain delays. “To be honest, we could have taken delivery of this airplane in August, but because of a supply chain issue with the seat manufacturers we can’t move earlier than eighteen months.”

Also on Captain Izham’s shopping list is a further handful of A350s. “With the A350s, we will uplift our signature routes. We will uplift our services to Australia” – currently operated by A330s. This will also give it the capacity to carry out heavy engineering checks and refurbish the cabins on the A350s without an interruption in service on Malaysia’s most important international routes.

Could additional A350s open up a third daily frequency to London? Whilst it’s on Captain Izham’s radar, it’s not something he anticipates happening soon. “We feel the current capacity is just perfect” in the current economic environment of racing inflation and toppy oil prices. “But once the fiscal situation stabilises, I see this third frequency. But not yet. Then again, I don’t think we could get a third slot from Heathrow.” At least for now, additional capacity can be hoovered up by one-stop itineraries with Qatar Airways and other oneworld partners.

…. and a new business class seat

Even more excitingly, Malaysia Airlines will introduce a new business class seat with the arrival of the new A330neos in the Winter of 2024. Eventually, the plan is to reconfigure the A350 fleet with this seat as well, from 2026 onwards.

It will also spell the end for Malaysia Airline’s first-class-but-not Business Suites:

“At the moment, we enjoy four business suites, so we will get rid of those because that’s a lot of real estate on the aircraft.” There are no plans for a first-row business-plus seat such as the Retreat Suite Virgin Atlantic has on its aircraft.

Whilst I can’t publish any photos of the seat yet, I was able to see a preview. The seat itself is the Collins Aerospace Elevation, the doored version of the Super Diamond, which is the same seat that forms the basis for the British Airways Club Suite:

Malaysia Airlines CEO reveals new business class seat

On the A330neos, there will be 28 seats in business class with 269 in economy, of which 24 are extra-legroom seats. That’s an overall increase of one business class seat and six in economy versus the current A330s. On the A350s the increase will be larger thanks to the removal of the four Business Suites.

Malaysia Airlines isn’t reinventing the wheel here – this is a widely established seat with a long history. It is an evolution from the Collins Super Diamond seat you’ll find on Qatar Airways’ A380s and 787.

In fact, it’s one of my favourite ‘off the shelf’ seat types, with a uniform 1-2-1 herringbone layout that faces the windows. Unlike the staggered seat Malaysia Airlines currently offers with a multitude of different options (throne seat, two together, window etc) virtually every seat will be identical, removing some of the uncertainty about ensuring you get a good seat.

The only drawback from a reverse herringbone layout like this is that it is quite private and therefore less optimal for couples of families with young children, although I’m sure teenagers will love it!

The seat will come with a fully closing door, making Malaysia Airlines just the latest airline to install fully-enclosed suites in business class. They also feature Malaysia’s traditional Batik element in the seat surrounds. From the photo I saw this looks like it could be slightly embossed or raised, adding further texture to the seat, whilst the primary seat colour will be a similar dark blue to business class on the refurbished 737s.

Free wifi for business class passengers

More and more airlines are choosing to offer free wifi as a standard, rather than as fee-charging extra, and Malaysia Airlines will soon be no different.

“We’re giving free wifi to customers next month. You know then Singapore Airlines announced free wifi for all passengers last week and all of a sudden we become a follower.”

The service will be provided by Panasonic, although it’s not yet clear what restrictions will be in place and how the capacity will be distributed to all passengers. Still, it’s an exciting improvement that is beginning to make BA’s punitive wifi charges look outdated.


Overall, it seems that Malaysia Airlines is in a stronger position than it has been in decades. It certainly sounds like there are some very exciting passenger improvements coming in in the next two years that will enhance the Malaysia Airlines experience even further, from new business class seats to free wifi offerings.

Captain Izham is doing so with a strong eye on his bottom line. Whilst “challenges of interest rate, foreign exchange and fuel remains,” he is optimistic that the demand for air travel will remain at current high levels. “If you ask me whether the market will get softer or not, I’m confident the current trajectory will continue for at least the next twelve to eighteen months.”

“So if this trajectory continues, Malaysia Aviation Group should hit annual profits of more than 2 billion Ringgit (£345 million) by 2025.” This would mark the first time the airline has turned a profit in decades.

Comments (28)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • G says:

    Glad to see MH is having a turnaround.

    Anything about avios availability ex-LHR or the fact the majority of cash fares from MH’s own website in economy are ineligible for avios or tier points.

    • LittleNick says:

      I think if a range of MH fare codes are ineligible for BA TPs and Avios is a BA issue rather than a MH one but no doubt they could push BA to getting it fixed

      • David S says:

        Yes, I have four flights booked in early 2024 and even though I bought the most expensive and flexible Economy option, they are in Q which doesn’t even appear on BA’s earning table . What’s the point of them being in Oneworld ?

      • Nick says:

        Lol @ the naivety. MH have to pay for Avios being issued for their flights… Yes they could push BA to issue them, if they wanted, but the simple fact is they don’t.

  • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

    With the public still jumpy about MH as a proposition, I’m not sure I’d have gone for the MAX. Rather a double whammy of wariness, whether you believe justified or otherwise.

    • Rhys says:

      The Netflix documentary didn’t help, of course. I think it was fading from memory before that happened.

    • Paul says:

      +1 – though to be fair I found myself on one of those aircraft when flying to KEF. I wouldn’t book on one if I had a choice, but the reality is most people don’t know or care, and airlines change things all the time. Nonethe less an unpleasant flight
      Boeing however concern me greatly. The 737 Max is not the first time they have denied the fault was theirs. I have just read a fascinating account of the Lauda 767 crash in the early 90’s. BKK VIE and uncontrolled deployment of reverse thruster in flight. Boeing absolutely refused to accept responsibility and N Lauda demonstrated that their testing, which was accepted by FAA quell surprise, and which Boeing claimed showed this was a recoverable event, was flawed. They had tested at low level and low speed. Such an event in cruise was never recoverable. After this was accepted a lock was placed on the reverse thruster which could only be unlocked once the landing gear were on the ground.

  • Paul says:

    Streaming entertainment to you own device!!! No thank-you!! Just done round trip LAX HNL in domestic AA F with this rubbish! 6 hours trying to watch on my phone ( I don’t own an iPad) and while it undoubtedly works it’s rather a shabby downgrade of any product. Now the ability to stream from my device to a nice large screen is altogether a better option.
    In any event not sure I am ready to board MH any time soon.

    • Rhys says:

      6 hours is a long time – not sure if MH uses its 737s on routes that long. Certainly fine for a 60 min hop to Langkawi etc.

      • Dubious says:

        I hope they can roll this out in a consistent way. Pre-COVID it was always a lottery whether the short-haul flight would have IFE or not.

        That’s not an MH specific issue though – I find the same with other airlines. My last three flights (two different airlines, neither MH) that were meant to have onboard wifi / device streaming IFE encountered but the ‘system isn’t working today’. I hope MH will avoid this situation arising in their operations.

    • Rob says:

      No one has ever posted on HfP that they won’t fly Eurowings – a far more likely occurrence than flying MH if you live in the UK – even though it is 100% certain that a EW pilot crashed a plane and that the airline had failed to act on warning signs. Odd.

      • Jack says:

        I think because MH370 is still something of a mystery, there’s a lack of closure, leading to people still feeling hesitant around travelling with MH. Plus, the scale and duration of the coverage means it’s more prominent in people’s minds.

        I didn’t even know that Germanwings became Euromwings (smart re-brand!) so I would have no association with those unfortunate events until now. Also, HfP posts about MH fairly frequently, and Eurowings (rarely? never?) so I think it’s just more likely that these MH comments will pop up. 🤷🏻‍♂️

      • Dubious says:

        Personally I have never flown Eurowings and do actively avoid them. Yet it is more to do with the lack of StarAlliance benefits than the safety record…

      • His Holyness says:

        Careful, you don’t wanna hear from LHG’s lawyers :).

        Lubitz killed the 149 pax while flying for 4U, Germanwings. He did not work for EW. While 4U was setup under EW it became a separate company in 2002.
        The 4U brand was abandoned in 2015 and they operated wet leases for EW. 4U was completely shut down in April 2020.

        It is therefore untrue to say that EW had a pilot who crashed a plane and EW failed to act.

        EW have an excellent safety record, with no incidents recorded.

        • Londonsteve says:

          Thank you for the clarification. These things are more important than they at first appear, not having a legal connection with a tarnished entity is a highly relevant point.

        • Peter says:

          That’s like saying a BA Euroflyer pilot isn’t working for BA. While technically true, 4U, EW and LH are all part of the Lufthansa group and they moved the planes between the different airlines.
          I’m sure training and processes were quite similar.
          Btw it was already decided before the crash that Germanwings would be renamed to Eurowings (but most flights were still operated by Germanwings until they got gradually moved over to EW).

          • His Holyness says:

            EW is part of the Lufthansa Group the same way that IB is part of IAG. If an IB pilot deliberately flies into a mountain and kills everyone it is an IB flight, not a BA one. Likewise if SN do it, that’s SN.
            It was a prime 4U operated by, marketed by and sold by 4U.

            There were distinct differences in 4U vs LH, just ask Carsten’s brother, Matthias, he was head of Flight Ops.

  • Anouj says:

    “we are very clear that as a national carrier we have to support the country by inducing economic growth through the vehicle of airports and so forth“

    Imagine BA saying something similar !

    • Rhys says:

      The difference is that BA isn’t owned by the Government. Malaysia Airlines is. This is one of the challenges – and one of the reasons why MH has had a relatively difficult few decades – because the Malaysian government expects the airline to fly to X, Y and Z even if they aren’t profitable.

      Captain Izham needs to keep his shareholders happy.

      • Nick says:

        Funnily enough BA does exactly the same, with a network strategy that keeps its major shareholders happy. It just happens that this shareholder is a large airline with an oryx on its tail…

  • Dubious says:

    It is interesting to read they are planning to expand at Subang (I assume that’s where they mean by ‘city airport’).

    This might cannibalise the group’s existing FireFly operations, unless they mean that unit will grow.

    The timing is interesting as Singapore Airlines Group announced something similar fairly recently too (regional jets).

    • Rhys says:

      Yes, Subang – if it gets redeveloped as a City Airport.

    • The Jetset Boyz says:

      SIA’s regional jets order is driven by the fact there’s a few destinations they want to operate to, that doesn’t have a long enough runway for the B737s.

  • Numbnuts says:

    And squat about Enrich. Are you for real? Or this is quid-pro-quo for them sponsoring a certain event? A puff piece. Seriously disappointed and it damages your reputation of impartiality. Enrich, I guess, was off-limits for someone that writes about points?

    • Rhys says:

      Enrich came up, but our conversation wasn’t as interesting as the one about new aircraft/seats/wifi and how they dealt with the pandemic, which is why I didn’t mention it. As it’s fairly niche for most people, who are likely to be redeeming Avios via BA etc, it’s not top of our list, believe it or not 🙂 Even I don’t have an Enrich account!

      • Rob says:

        We’re not running an article about Enrich! It’s not even a UK Amex partner. I would have cut it even if it had gone in.

        • Mark says:

          Being an Amex transfer partner is like, step 1, for airlines to try to capture high-yield, long-term valuable pax. Maybe it’s time Enrich got serious about UK market? Or maybe they should switch to Avios? (there’s an interesting debate…)

          Still longing for BA (or VS?) to open up KL. The monopoly MH has on direct LHR-KUL means I am better off flying EK F for RM 35K return versus MH’s insane RM 40-70K biz class.

          In other news, EK Platinum is easy to achieve when you’re blowing RM 35K a pop!

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