SINGAPORE (Nov 4): When Singapore Airlines announced an expanded code-sharing agreement with Malaysia Airlines (MAS) on Oct 30, some members of SIA’s KrisFlyer and PPS Club loyalty programmes must have been unhappy.

It has been 47 years since SIA and MAS separated in 1972, and the former has risen to great heights. The iconic Singapore Girl representing the airline’s excellent service has been the focal point of SIA’s differentiation.

This service extends to the age of its planes, with SIA having one of the youngest fleets in the world, averaging about seven years and seven months, according to its in-flight magazine, SilverKris. Meanwhile, MAS has restructured its fleet to be younger, with newer aircraft such as the Boeing 737 Next Generation and Airbus A330-300. Its propeller fleet, however, is considerably older, and the loss-making MAS has been unable to commit to a provisional deal to buy more Boeing B787 Dreamliners.

The difference extends to the hard product on MAS’ flights. In airline parlance, “hard product” refers to seats, screens and other fixed fittings. While the code-sharing agreement is starting off with short-haul domestic destinations on MAS’ network, the hard product on MAS’ flights have yet to be updated, with only a cabin refresh announced in August this year.

While passengers may be able to bear with the older hard product on short-haul flights, such as the popular Singapore-Kuala Lumpur route, they may not feel the same when it extends to long-haul destinations. The gap between SIA’s updated seats and one-two-one business class seat configuration and MAS’ older seats and even older two-two-two business class configuration would be even greater. 

Perhaps the most disappointing experience for SIA purists would be for an SIA flight to land at Kuala Lumpur International Airport from a destination outside of Singapore. SIA has long benefited from having its home base at Changi Airport, which has consistently been voted as the world’s best. Service standards at KLIA may not match that at Changi.

SIA can benefit from the network effect with this tighter arrangement with MAS. However, its passengers used to the top-rate service the airline delivers will not appreciate the dilution in their travelling experience. – By Benjamin Cher

Malaysians are funny people. They grumble non-stop about domestic politics, yet most are ferociously patriotic when abroad, ready to defend their cendol as being better than Singapore’s chendol.

They will also jump to the defence of their beleaguered flag carrier, Malaysia Airlines (MAS), which is intrinsically tied to their identity and national pride. Before AirAsia entered the scene, it was MAS who would announce “Welcome home” to the Malaysians on board upon landing. 

Today, MAS is undergoing a really tough period, having suffered multi-year losses as well as lasting reputational and financial damage after the tragedies of MH370 and MH17 in 2014, leading eventually to its privatisation under Khazanah Nasional.

The airline is still burdened by massive losses. The government is now preparing to choose a strategic investor and a decision will be made by early 2020 at the latest, Minister of Economic Affairs Mohamed Azmin Ali has said. 

The enhanced code-sharing arrangement announced on Oct 30 with Singapore Airlines (SIA) is seen as a win-win. However, scepticism abounds. While MH370 and MH17 are tragedies, they were incidents that followed years of mismanagement at the national carrier. 

MAS’ problems go deeper than what mere code-sharing agreements can resolve. Yet, SIA is perhaps exactly what MAS needs. The Singapore flag carrier has earned a reputation for its high standards (a recent video on how it sets grooming standards for its stewardesses has even gone viral) and the Singapore Girl has a long string of awards to show for it.

No doubt, SIA purists may balk at the idea of the SIA brand being diluted by this partnership with MAS. Yet, while our two nations have had our differences, it is undeniable that it makes economic sense to collaborate and resource-share in an ever-shrinking aviation market that is being buffeted by rising costs, stiff competition from budget airlines and price-sensitive travellers.

Nevertheless, reservations must be had over how this will affect consumers — will they still be able to access competitive prices and not fall prey to a monopoly? 

For now, however, this patriotic Malaysian living abroad welcomes the partnership. – By Pauline Wong

See also ‘Getting Malaysia’s aviation reset right