Malaysia Air Lifts Ban on Baggage a Day After Unprecedented Step

Malaysia Airlines Lifts Baggage Restrictions
  • Moratorium affected flights bound for Paris, Amsterdam
  • Ban was a `ludicrous' move by airline, says Endau analyst

Malaysia Airlines said the temporary limits it imposed on checked-in baggage for European flights have been lifted, less than 24 hours after the unprecedented announcement attracted widespread criticism.

“All Malaysia Airlines flights from Kuala Lumpur to London, Paris and Amsterdam from tonight, 6 January 2016, will resume flying its normal route,” the carrier said in a statement on its website. “Normal baggage allowance has also been restored.”

Late Tuesday, the carrier told long-haul passengers they should fly without checked-in luggage on European flights, saying unusually intense headwinds were jeopardizing planes’ ability to reach cities in the continent even with a full load of fuel.

The baggage policy flip flop is the latest in two tumultuous years for the carrier, starting with the mysterious disappearance of MH370. The plane’s remains haven’t been found, despite the world’s biggest search for a missing plane. The airline’s website got hacked, losses mounted and another aircraft was downed in Ukraine. Malaysia’s government then had to take the airline private, fired employees and appointed a new chief executive to restructure.

“Based on its current risk assessment, done on a daily basis, the airline is now able to take a shorter route on European flights,” the carrier said in a separate e-mailed statement. “Malaysia Airlines maintains that safety is of utmost priority in its operations and will not hesitate to adjust its flight path based on its daily risk assessment.”

The airline has recently had to operate a longer route to Europe, which -- combined with strong headwinds -- limited its ability to carry baggage and cargo, Malaysia Air said. The headwinds over the last four days were in excess of 200 knots, which can add up to 15 percent fuel burn on a Boeing Co. 777-200 aircraft, it said. All baggage is being shipped to affected customers in Europe.

“The reasoning has made them look odd, it’s pure stupidity,” said Shukor Yusof, founder of Endau Analytics, an aviation consultancy firm in Malaysia. “It’s ludicrous. Malaysia Airlines have been flying to Europe for decades. Over the last 30-40 years was there no bad weather?"

Tuesday’s baggage plan was widely criticized on the Internet.

"Sad to see this Malaysian icon crumble with service excuses like this," Patrick Khoo, who identified himself as a traveler from Kuala Lumpur, wrote in a Facebook posting.

As part of a turnaround plan, Chief Executive Officer Christoph Mueller agreed last month on a mammoth deal with Dubai-based Emirates. The plan gave the carrier access to Europe without incurring "monumental losses," Mueller said in an interview at the time.

Malaysia Air’s no-baggage plan, which wasn’t adopted by any other Asian airline, comes even as global oil prices have declined to around their lowest in a decade. Singapore Airlines Ltd. increased baggage allowances for all classes starting in November 2013. Passengers flying on Singapore Air’s suites and first class can check in 50 kilograms of bags, those in business class 40 kilograms and economy class 30 kilograms.

Singapore Air and Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. have no plan to change their checked baggage policies, the carriers said in e-mailed statements.

Malaysia Air initially advised people flying to Europe that the new rule would apply from Tuesday night local time until further notice, before issuing a further advisory suggesting restrictions would be limited to Paris and Amsterdam flights using Boeing Co. 777 planes on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Services to London using long-range Airbus Group SE A380 superjumbos can operate as normal using a shorter route after the airline updated a “risk-assessment matrix” with new data, it said.

Passengers affected by the moratorium on checked-luggage were to be limited to a single carry-on bag weighing no more than 7 kilograms (15 pounds) in coach and two pieces totaling as much as 14 kilograms in business class and first.

Malaysia Air has been under intense scrutiny since MH370 went missing almost two years ago. Last month, the airline began investigating why Auckland’s air traffic control was provided with a wrong flight plan after the pilot questioned the air route.

The carrier’s "Bucket List" advertisement campaign in September 2014 sparked criticism across social media. The airline later said it will stop the "inappropriate" campaign in New Zealand and Australia.