From Adam Faris
As an aviation enthusiast and frequent flyer on Malaysia Airlines, I am closely watching the unfolding chapter of our national carrier’s catering services – which have captured the attention of many concerned passengers and citizens.
In recent years, it has become evident that our national pride has been on a steady decline when it comes to its in-flight meals. While passengers have become weary of the disappointments, and Malaysia Airlines acknowledges the inconveniences experienced by the passengers, the airline’s tough decision to end the 25-year catering partnership with Brahim’s Food Services (Brahim’s) must be applauded.
It is a vital step towards providing quality meals that reflect Malaysia’s identity. I understood that for Malaysia Airlines to move forward, there was no escaping the necessity of doing away with legacy contracts that were preventing the airline from competing effectively with the best in the business.
I have read with interest this catering saga, and it is clear that there is some confusion on this matter.
Firstly, it was Brahim’s that issued a discontinuation notice to Malaysia Airlines, giving them less than two months to formulate an alternative plan for in-flight meals – and not the other way around. This abrupt notice undoubtedly caught Malaysia Airlines off guard.
Secondly, it was reported that Malaysia Airlines even agreed to a hefty increase in prices charged by Brahim’s, with conditions that the quality and safety of the food must adhere to the standards set by the airline. Unfortunately, Brahim’s was unwilling to come to terms with the set conditions. The airline had no choice but to take immediate action.
Given the exceedingly tight timeframe, the task of securing a new meal provider proved to be a formidable challenge. This decision led to the introduction of box meals on certain flights, which subsequently stirred up significant discontent among passengers. This criticism may seem unjust considering the short notice provided to Malaysia Airlines by Brahim’s. Nevertheless, passengers’ frustration and dissatisfaction with the box meal arrangements were entirely understandable.
Thirdly, Malaysia Airlines faced undue criticism when information was misconstrued due to a lack of context, in particular when it was assumed that passengers had to bring their own meals. It was later clarified that passengers were indeed allowed to bring their own meals on board, but the airline will continue to provide pre-packed meals as part of their full-service offering. The airline therefore provides flexibility to accommodate those with specific dietary needs to bring their own food, which is a thoughtful act.
As Malaysia Airlines says that this is a temporary issue, granting the company some leeway during these turbulent times is equally important. What’s most significant, however, is that Malaysia Airlines has openly admitted its shortcomings and is fully devoted to rectifying them as swiftly as possible.
As a frequent flyer myself, I hold the belief that Malaysia Airlines is steadfast in its commitment to implementing necessary improvements promptly. Thus, I read with positivity that Malaysia Airlines has announced the arrival of 10 new hi-lift trucks, with an additional 10 to follow soon, all within a short period of time.
The company says it is now diligently working towards delivering quality in-flight meals and expediting the return of hot meal services to passengers, with the ultimate aim of fully restoring meal services by mid-November. If done correctly, I am sure loyal travellers will continue to support Malaysia Airlines’s mission to become better.
I would caution against Brahim’s Holdings Bhd’s willingness to work towards reconciliation as the airline should not rush into making any decisions or risk making the same mistake. In fact, I believe that the current situation presents an opportunity for Malaysia Airlines to chart a new course, especially to move away from the ramifications of this lopsided, legacy contract.
Get the best caterer and make the nation proud. I am happy, as surely other Malaysians are too, that it appears that the government is not influencing or interfering with these catering contracts. The new supplier must be able to deliver high quality products to passengers, and the deal must be profitable for the airline.
I appeal to the airline to undertake an open tender, make it transparent and be fair. Choose the best caterer and not crony partners and ensure that we are provided with the best services. The airline must revamp its in-flight meal offerings and provide passengers with a satisfying culinary experience. Again, if executed well, Malaysia Airlines can transform its in-flight meals into a selling point rather than a source of frustration. This will hopefully restore confidence in the airline.
Last year, news reports stated that the airline had returned to profitability with an operating profit of more than half a billion ringgit (RM556 million), breaking a streak of losses that had persisted for many years. This year, it was reported it would continue to make an operating profit. So far, it has registered half a billion in operating profit. This is good news.
I am surprised to read that Malaysia Airlines boasts substantial cash reserves of nearly RM5 billion. This fiscal turnaround was reported due to numerous re-negotiations with various suppliers, including Boeing and Airbus, and engine suppliers such as Rolls Royce. Every single one of them agreed to new terms and conditions, with the exception of Brahim’s. Malaysia Airlines should not re-marry Brahim’s. With such a strong financial footing, there’s no doubt that the airline is well-positioned to secure the best catering services.
However, I don’t think solving the catering issue is enough. Over the past decade, this once-prestigious airline has grappled with an ageing fleet, overcrowded market that translated to overcapacity and irrational pricing, and a shrinking list of destinations.
The collective weight of these issues has shaken the trust and loyalty of passengers who once regarded Malaysia Airlines as a leading global carrier.
Maybe we should cut the airline some slack as new planes should be coming soon. It is good to know the airline has launched an ambitious fleet modernisation plan, with the plan to introduce Boeing 737-8 aircraft this year, replacing its ageing B737-800 with the latest 24 units of B737-8 aircraft, in addition to newly refurbished B737-800 NG planes.
The B737-800 NG is my favourite, actually, as it allows the passenger to watch movies using the wireless inflight entertainment system (MH-Studio) on their own devices. Starting next year, it was reported that the new A330neos would also be arriving to replace the old fleet of A330s. These new planes, with a refreshing cabin design, must be matched with top-notch inflight meals, which I am sure and confident the airline can pull off.
It’s important to recognise that Malaysia Airlines represents not just a business entity, but also the nation’s pride and reputation on the global stage. Public support becomes increasingly vital, especially given the international spotlight on the brand amidst its current challenges. It’s time for our national carrier to rise to the occasion, one delicious meal at a time, while genuinely acknowledging and addressing the concerns of its valued customers and dedicating itself to resolving them.
As Malaysians, coming together in times of challenge has always been our strength. In the current circumstances, there is an opportunity for our collective support to rally behind Malaysia Airlines. This aligns with the spirit of our recent Malaysia Day celebration and a shared dedication to our national values and integrity. Malaysia Airlines once provided top-quality services and has won several global awards. It can do that again. I look forward to flying with them again soon.
Adam Faris is an FMT reader and a frequent traveller on Malaysia Airlines for the past 30 years.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.