5.1 Surround Sound Babies


I recently had a whistle stop tour of Asia, from Hong Kong to Indonesia, finally to Kuala Lumpur. The flight to Kuala Lumpur was great, 12 hours working solidly, had room, great meal, service the works. Cathay Pacific were kind enough to upgrade me to Hong Kong. Drinking champagne into Hong Kong and what followed over the next three days of Chinese New Year will stay will me for the rest of my life. However, this blog post isn’t about that. It’s about my excruciating 14 hours of torture that Malaysian Airlines passed as “Malaysian Hospitality” from Kuala Lumpur to London.

A few hours after online check-in ‘opened’ I tried to reserve my seat. The online system just wouldn’t take me past a screen. No error message, upon clicking ‘next’ nothing would happen. Reload/relogin and the same thing. This resolved itself at 0645, where the √knack all, was available.

After a very speedy trip from downtown KL to Kuala Lumpur International, the first signs at check-in were dire. Using the business check-in desks (Sapphire status from Oneworld Alliance – consequence of flying BA a lot) I got the boarding card for the flight and apparently checked in my bags. Although as I was leaving, I hadn’t received a baggage tag and the airline assistant hadn’t apparently noticed the 20kg of Samsonite I’d lugged onto the conveyor belt.

I’d requested a seat with leg room or an aisle seat (I’m 6’6″/2 metres tall), however, they told me to speak to ticketing in the terminal. Upon entering security I asked for the same thing. I was informed that it would cost 7500 ringit (about £1500) for a better, business class seat. One of the things I’ve discovered since getting a mortgage, is that paying that sort of money for a seat upgrade isn’t probably not as needed as paying the mortgage. However, I was informed that the gate staff could be able to do something. They passed the buck onto the hosts and hostesses on the plane. Funnily enough they couldn’t do anything either.

The issue with them not being able to do this, was that they were too polite about it. A very nice hostess explained that the seating arrangement and legroom arrangement was designed for ‘asian passengers’. Ok fine. However what about Yao Ming.Potentially people from the Asia may be generally less tall, however Malaysian Airlines, you’re a global airline. Be ready for people over 6 foot to travel with you.

With a seat acquired and legs having slight movement issue, I shrugged them off and went into the normal flight routine; headphones, Economist and music playlists abound. Generally I smile and nod when someone sits next to me, cursory ‘hello’ and try to stay in my ‘zone’. I’d planned to add to the thesis over the flight, so being relaxed was an idea. The plane filled up and the safety announcement started to play. Then the piercing shrieks shattered through my eardrums.

I had two babies either side, two behind, joined a very young infant. As I looked around the mother with baby commented “You’re the unluckiest man on this plane”. Unsure if this was true, but it felt like it. Taking off the bassinets were affixed in front. The legroom became non-existent and it was impossible to move the movie screen. Slightly claustrophobic, it was very hard to move without knocking a baby trying to sleep, or person looking after said baby.

Getting the laptop out to work was difficult, but just possible, with the screen at an oblique angle. I started to tap away. With ‘The Thieves‘ (brilliant film!) on the screen the background noise was about manageable. Towards the end of the film, the sound of gunshots and diamond heist(ing) was broken by a chorus of unhappy baby. One started crying, then the other. Then all of them in succession. This continued for 4 hours. Nothing worked. Rammstein, Beethoven, Top Gear, Shantaram. You name it, I tried it. I asked the attendant if there was anything they could do, apparently there wasn’t. I tried to leave it an hour, fatigue was seriously setting in. Getting four hours sleep doesn’t bode well for a flight. The crying made sleep impossible, watching a film was hard – the noise just stresses, making it near impossible to concentrate.

Impossible to move, impossible to relax, being on your nerves wanting to sleep. It wasn’t a happy place. I requested to see the cabin services director, only to be told that he was resting. I sat on the stairs at the back for 3o minutes. After this shaved and washed, in an attempt to relax. Within 10 minutes of sitting back into the chair, the chorus was back, the situation was untenable. I requested for sleeping tablets, the best they had was Panadol. Was severely feeling let down by Malaysian at this point. Especially when the father of said child had been assigned another seat, from the overheard conversation between him and his partner, at his request, specifically for him to get some rest on the plane. Seriously Malaysian Airways, don’t let this happen again. Don’t inflict other’s spawn on others, inflict it on them.

The Cabin Services Director arrived shortly after. I was informed there was an aisle seat available and I could sit in it, surprisingly it has worse legroom, I didn’t care, it was vaguely quiet. However, this occurred six to seven hours after being on flight. Half way through one of the longest flights in the world. Why did it take so long? Why aren’t families assigned seats together? Why aren’t people with Oneworld status given priority on seats – this raises the question why should I fly with you if you don’t honour your status levels?

These questions have ruminated in my mind since. I hope that Malaysian Airlines can answer them. Otherwise British Airways and Oneworld more generally will need to clarify them. Genuinely I love the experience that BA provides (the reason I’m in Oneworld), code sharing is annoying, fine. However an experience like this has severely shook the sheen that flying with the Oneworld network and the value of the ‘status’ they’ve given me. This based off an earlier experience with American Airlines (another Oneworld partner). I hope they’ll answer them soon. Otherwise, it becomes a toss up between Skyteam and Star Alliance.

Written and submitted from Home.

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Author: Mark Iliffe

Traveller, Programmer, Geospatialist and Motorcyclist

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