Bring back the good old days

Despite the overhauls and billions spent, it is not impossible for MAB to become the country’s ultimate flag bearer once more


DURING its glory days, Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB) could easily attract many to join the carrier. Members of the crew were considered “mini celebrities”.

If you were from the smaller towns, you would score brownie points if your neighbours knew you were a flight attendant with the national carrier. If you were single, you may very well land a father- and mother-in-law.

But it is a totally different story today. If you join the company as a cabin crew, many view you as an over-glorified waiter. Such remarks are hurtful to the men and women who don the colours of the national carrier.

Nevertheless, that is the reality. Ask any of the still serving and former cabin crew members, and they’d tell you that they had to work extra hard.

In fact, some crew members feel they are no better than the waiters serving food on Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd’s Electric Train Service coach. You have the uniform. You serve the passengers with a smile and enjoy a less lucrative pay packet.

The major retrenchment several years ago at MAB had upped the displeasure.

Many staff had expressed their disappointment openly, especially on social media. It was an agonising time for the staff who had gone through so many restructurings.

In 2014, sole owner Khazanah Nasional Bhd unveiled a 12-point plan to enable the then Malaysian Airline System Bhd (MAS) to be profitable within three years. The company was also taken private and a fund of RM6 billion was promised.

Under the plan, 6,000 employees were axed and several key stations such as Frankfurt, Paris, Istanbul and Los Angeles were erased from the map. Many staff had to leave the company.

Despite the establishment of the Corporate Development Centre to train these former staff, many — including senior flight stewards/stewardesses — eventually went into e-hailing.

Those who are fortunate, like pilots, engineers and technicians, had better prospects as such skills are in demand globally.

Well-trained and highly skilled employees were pinched by airlines from the Middle East and South-East Asia.

Those who were not part of the culling joined other respected brands in the aviation sector — Singapore Airlines Ltd (SIA), Emirates, Qatar Airways Co QCSC, Etihad Airways and AirAsia Group Bhd.

As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side.

Fast forward to the current situation, MAB and SIA recently signed a memorandum of understanding to increase their working relationship. The agreement would see the two national carriers exploring a wide range of strategic partnerships on their existing code-share agreement that covers flights between Malaysia and Singapore.

The two carriers were once “one”, before the divorce came following the split of Singapore from Malaysia. Thus, the proposed partnership is nothing strange. It is like a union of the old.

The companies were the spawn of Malaysia-Singapore Airlines (MSA) after Singapore and Malaysia decided to run an airline in 1966.

However, the joint ownership of MSA ended in 1972 after the separation of Singapore from Malaysia. Malaysia created MAS and Singapore chose SIA.

Following the separation, MAS had carved a name for itself. It was recognised for its five-star in-flight services. The carrier became the pride of the nation. It was the country flag bearer. Similarly, SIA also grew into a global success story.

The brands became two of the most respected airlines in the world. Passengers who expect to travel in style, to be served like dignitaries and enjoy excellent hospitality will choose these two carriers.

In fact, both carriers had operated shuttle services between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The open skies policy in 2008, however, was the final nail to the coffin and ended the ties between the two airlines.

That is history. In the last few years, MAB has been trimming its cost, offering cheaper airfares and downgrading its offerings on board. Despite the overhauls and the billions spent, the company is still reeling in losses.

Many had commented on the service quality of the carrier compared to yesteryears. Some had even compared its offerings to other low-cost carriers.

Many had suggested that MAB should work up to its former self — a premium airline — to compete with other full service airlines like SIA, PT Garuda Indonesia Tbk, Emirates, Thai Airways International pcl and Qatar Airways.

If Garuda could rise from its doldrums and remain a pride to Indonesians, it is not impossible for MAB to do the same and become the country’s ultimate flag bearer, again.

Rahman Daros is the supplement editor of The Malaysian Reserve.