Last month when traveling Borneo, I had the opportunity to take a number of domestic flights on Malaysian airlines and their regional affiliate MAS wings. Being accustomed to regional jets in the States I was prepared for no leg room, no overhead room, limited baggage space, and all the other joys that come with regional flying. However, flying MAS wings was actually a pleasant surprise!
My route on my MAS wing flights took me from Kota Kinablu (KK) to Mulu via Miri. The flight was the same going and coming and both were on ATR 72-500. The flight from KK to Miri was an early morning departure and the flight time was just over an hour. The connection flight to Miri was barely 25 minutes.
Check-in with MAS Wings is done through their larger subsidy, Malaysia Airline. All passengers on MAS wings can check bags, included in the cost of the ticket (take that Air Asia!). Check in at BKI was a breeze, but then again we had arrived at the airport about 5 hours early; not because we needed to, but we had taken an overnight bus from Sandankan and didn’t want to pay for a hotel room for only 5 hours. So we camped out on the airport benches until check-in opened. The airport was air conditioned and had plenty of places to stretch out and nap, so in all honesty we were pretty comfortable. In fact, it was crazy to see that the airport was actually open and it has a 24-hour McDonalds in it, despite there being no flights from 11pm and 6am!
In Malaysia, when checking in, one is required to take their check bags first to security to be scanned. The scanners are conveniently located at each check in area’s entrance. However, be sure not to bypass them because if you do not have the correct security sticker on your bag, you’ll be stuck returning to the security check before being able to finish checking in. Lucky we picked up on these and had our bags cleared by security and completed check-in in minutes. There were only 3 staff members working and a few people in front of us, but they were very efficient, polite and courteous.
Our group went onward to security so we could board our flight to Miri. The airport security was divided into two sections, one for flights within the state of Sabah, and another for international flights intra-Malaysia flights. We cleared security very quickly and easily. Security was nothing like the strip searches in the USA by the TSA, but instead shoes stayed on, laptop remained in the bag, etc. It basically was TSA pre-check, but for everyone! Then once past security you must go through immigrations. Odd right? We were traveling within Malaysia but we had to clear immigrations?!? I was confused!
The immigrations officers were very friendly and at the time of our arrival, there were only 1 traveler in front of us, therefore, we had no wait. I asked the immigration officer why I was going through immigrations, despite it being the same country, and they basically summed it up by saying that when Sabah and Sarawalk agreed to join Federation, they insisted that they still had control of their own borders. Consequently, everyone must clear immigration before traveling to the neighboring state. Interesting tidbit for sure!
I had time to kill so I meandered around Terminal 1. It was a large and very modern facility with a number of retails shops, places to eat, and small bars. Unfortunately, being still before 6am, most of these facilities were not open. I did stumble upon the Malaysian Airline Lounge, however per the lounge attendant, only those flying Malaysian Airline’s Business class or their highest elite members were eligible to enter. No status or credit card was going to get me into the lounge, so I thanked her for her time and returned to the nearly desolate terminal. As I wondered aimlessly, I also took notice that the other security check area lead to the same part of the airport! Therefore even those traveling within Sabah were mixed in with travelers heading to other states or even foreign countries. I thought this as a bit of a security flaw, but also didn’t think too much about it.
Boarding happened a little late, but it was very quick and efficient. We boarded the plane only 20 minutes before our scheduled departure time. Boarding passes were taken, however IDs were not actually checked. Despite the “security flaw” of all travelers being mixed together, those of us departing Sabah had immigration stamps on our tickets, so this somewhat solves that problem.
Boarding the ATR 72-500 required a walk down the jetway, down a set of side stairs and then a short walk across the tarmac. This variation of the airplane required rear door deplaning so everyone entered the plane from the rear. This was a bit strange to me, but I didn’t think much of it. It was actually nice to mix it up a bit. Upon entering the aircraft a friendly flight attendant greeted each person and offered a newspaper in either Malay or English! It was a nice touch and made me feel as though I was on a quality airline! I can’t remember the last time I got a newspaper in a US airline in economy!
As I worked my way to my seat I noticed something was very different about the plane. The very first two rear rows that I passed were “first class” seats. Instead of the first class cabin being in the forward part of the cabin, they were in the rear of the cabin; this would ensure that they were still the first on and off the plane. The only problem was the one bathroom on the plane was in the rear of the cabin, which meant a constant flow of traffic through the first class cabin by passengers in search for the leu. Also, from what I could tell the only difference between economy and first class on these planes was an additional inch or two of leg room; nothing actually worth paying for.
Within minutes, everyone was seated and we were pushing back from the gate, despite boarding the plane only twenty minutes before departure. The entire plane had boarded, sat down, and we had pushed back just in time for an on time departure. Absolutely Amazing! I feel like US airlines take eternities to do the same!
The ride was short and comfortable. Within minutes of being in the air the seatbelt sign was off and the flight attendants were in the aisles. They passed out peanuts to the passengers who were awake and offered juice or water as a beverage. Hot coffee was also available by request. The service was nothing impeccable, but any service on such a short flight is welcomed! Minutes later, our trash and empty drink cups were collected and we were descending onto Miri.
Flying MAS wings is different that most regional airlines. Surprisingly the overhead bins were decent size for a regional aircraft and because MAS Wings allows you to check up to 2 bags free of charge, there was no one gate checking items or fighting for overhead bin space. The seats were also very comfortable and the seat pitch was roomy! Unlike regional flying in the US, I actually had room to stretch out my legs! Even my friend who is 6’3” was comfortable on the regional aircraft! And that’s unusual because he barely fits into economy on regular planes! Not to mention, being saranaded by Kenny G on the overhead speakers was soothing during loading and take off!
Upon landing at Miri, we deplaned, went through immigrations, which again had no line, and then waited to re-board the same plane to take us to Mulu. We had a different flight crew to Mulu, but it was the same plane and the service was exactly the same. Free newspaper, peanuts once in the air and drink service. The only difference was the flight from Miri to Mulu was barely 25 minutes from takeoff to touch down! And yet, despite the short flight, the Flight attendants still provided drink service! The only option was Milo, but hey you can’t do much in 25 minutes!
MAS Wings makes regional flying good again and I would highly recommend them for short hops around Malaysia. They are efficient and friendly and have more passenger oriented amenities built into the ticket price than Air Asia. They only compete on a few routes, but often time have very similar prices as Air Asia. So before buying, make sure you check out MAS wings. Tickets for MAS Wings can be purchased on their website. Maswings.com.my or on the Malaysia Airwings website.
Another view while boarding
While aboard they asked me to take part in a survey reguarding the quality and value of their service
Clearly this MAS Wing Jet use to be part of MAS' FlyFly Fleet