As I had never been to Malta before and I found some very good fares with Air Malta in November of last year, I booked tickets for me and my wife to visit the island for five days in January. I checked in online for the flights on the day before travel. When travelling out of Vienna, you can only check in one person at a time, which is a minor inconvenience. I got us seats 5A
and 5C, hoping that the middle seat would remain empty so that we could be more comfortable during the flight. On the day of travel it was snowing heavily in Austria so I was happy that we were already checked in, as the drive to the airport took longer than usual, although we still had to drop our bags at the counter.
The boarding pass stated that the gate was A15, although the screens said A12. In the end, neither of the two gates appeared to be for the Malta flight. Upon asking an Austrian Airlines gate agent she said she couldn’t see the flight in the system because their system was different to Swissport’s (?) In the end the boarding gate turned out to be A13, and this little mess-up the start of an odyssey to get to Malta…
14 January 2009
Air Malta flight KM513
ETD 11.25 ETA 15.20
ATD 13.25 *T/O 14.00 ATA 18.00
Our plane to Malta
Boarding was completed on time with only 20 passengers, some of them having Zurich as their final destinations. The aircraft had arrived from Malta at 09.30. It was obvious however that we would be delayed because of the weather conditions. Having sat in the ground for some two hours, our plane was covered in snow, as were many aircraft around us. In his first announcement, the captain said we would be delayed for 40 minutes. Several announcements later, we finally started the engines at 13.25 to taxi to the de-icing platform. De-icing also took ages, with about six aircraft waiting for their treatment. So we finally lifted off from runway 29 some two-and-a-half-hours after our original time of departure.
I wrote a letter to Air Malta about the travel experience and I will paste it below, as it really tells all there is to say about these flights:
Letter to Air Malta
I recently flew on Air Malta for the first time. As an aviation professional and enthusiast, I enjoy trying out new airlines. I am sorry to say though that my first experience with Air Malta was not a pleasant one.
My wife and I were booked on flight KM513 from Vienna via Zurich to Malta on 14 January and KM512 from Malta to Vienna on 18 January.
I checked my wife and myself in online via your website the day before the outbound leg. All went well until receiving the boarding pass, on which it stated that the flight would leave at 10.30. However, when I booked the flights, it said departure would be at 11.25, and also the Vienna airport website mentioned that time. So I had to call the Air Malta call centre to get the correct time confirmed, which turned out to be 11.25.
The day of departure there was heavy snow at Vienna Airport and consequently heavy delays. We boarded on time and in the end sat on the ground for 2.5 hours (this of course was not Air Malta’s fault). During this time, the crew did serve a drink and some biscuits but consequently, once en-route from Vienna to Zurich, only water was served. I assume the pack of biscuits was what we were supposed to get on this flight? Also, this service was only started once we had begun descent into Zurich. On a 55-minute flight with some 20 passengers on board, I fail to see the reason why the service should be left so late.
In Zurich we had to stay on board to make the turnaround as fast as possible. In my opinion the passengers could have easily been allowed to go into the terminal building to maybe get something to drink or to eat, as we basically had been left starving. When the new passengers boarded (also about 20 in total) they were all handed newspapers. But once boarding was completed, none of the passengers who had already been on board were offered a newspaper, although the crew had plenty of them left. And we were the passengers who had been sat in the plane since eleven ‘o clock that morning!
The catering on the flight from Zurich to Malta was meager, just a sandwich and a chocolate cake, but at least it was more than we’d had until now. I must point out that the crew seemed very uninterested in their job, not once smiling and even chewing gum while handing out the catering boxes. I can understand that they may have been annoyed or tired because of the delay, but that unfortunately is part of our business. It shouldn’t be a reason for the crew to behave less professionally.
The in-flight entertainment consisted of a video showing surfers in Hawaii and Tahiti, which basically showed the same thing over and over again. This was extremely boring and could hardly be called “entertainment”. Finally, I noticed that the cabin lights were not dimmed upon landing although it was dark outside; as far as I know, dimming the cabin lights with a night landing is a common safety procedure in international aviation.
It is only fair to note that the return flight to Vienna was much better and everything went smooth. The online check-in worked fine, we were offered newspapers upon boarding, the departure was on time, the crew were much friendlier and communicative, the in-flight entertainment much more interesting. The in-flight catering was the same as on the ZRH
leg but at least my wife was offered a sandwich with cheese only after asking the crew for something without meat. The only negative point about this flight was once again that the cabin lights were not dimmed for landing in the dark.
So, to conclude, I am glad to see that the bad service during the flight to Malta was not representative of the company’s work ethos. However, a flag carrier represents a country, and I think you should put more effort in ensuring that your passengers receive a good treatment at all times. Our stay in Malta was truly fantastic and we have seen that the Maltese are very friendly and open people. We do look forward to visiting Malta again in the near future and, if we fly Air Malta again, hopefully we will have an all-round great experience next time.”
(end of letter)
We landed at Luqa Airport at 18.00. There was a bus waiting already at the remote stand, but to my surprise this was only for the four business class passengers on the flight. We “normal folks” had to wait another ten minutes for another bus to arrive, and then another ten minutes for the cabin crew to join us going to the terminal.
At least the bags arrived safe and sound with us and we picked up our rental car to go to the hotel in Sliema. Trying to remember to drive on the left-hand side of the road, we eventually found our hotel after negotiating the maze of little streets. But the challenge was worth it: the hotel we had booked for four nights, the Palace Hotel, was superb and probably the best hotel I ever stayed in (from my travels in some 40 countries all over the world.) I can definitely recommend it to anyone staying in Malta.
Always a mighty sight
The absolute highlight of my spotting at Malta
During our stay we visited the airport several times for some spotting (there is a small but handy viewing platform south of runway 31 / 13, just opposite the passenger terminal building). We also paid a visit to the Malta Aviation Museum in Ta’Qali, which I think is an absolute must for any aviation enthusiast and for anyone interested in the period of World War II
. The museum has a small but fascinating collection of aircraft and some other vehicles, engines, photographs and uniforms. There is also a little shop to buy books, DVDs, badges etc. But most importantly, the museum is run by volunteers who are passionate about keeping alive Malta’s past and heritage. We had the pleasure to speak to Anthony, who told us fascinating and at the same time saddening stories about the courage and bravery of allied pilots during WWII
as well as the resilient Maltese residents, who have endured the biggest bombing campaigns during the war.
This little guy is taking a sunbath on the rocks
Still quite a few of these driving around
The Spitfire of the Malta Aviation Museum with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine
Here is an anecdote I heard from the museum curator I would love to share with you:
A French tour group was being taken by bus along some sites on the island. When they approached the gate of Valletta, some of them said to the guide that the Arc de Triomphe in Paris was larger and much more impressive. To this the guide answered: “Sure, but we didn’t have to make it big enough for Hitler to march under it.”
I thought this was hilarious!
18 January 2009
Air Malta flight KM512
ETD 15.45 ETA 18.00
ATD 16.00 ATA 18.00
Well, everything to be said about the return flight is in the letter above. Everything was pretty good this time. So this was clearly a case where I experienced two extremes in term of service with Air Malta.
Our little holiday in Malta turned out to be the best holiday ever and, needless to say, I am already on the lookout for good offers to go there again in the near future.