Flying high with MAS

My respect for the cabin crew grew with each passing
moment of the long flight
Early this year, our family received the long-awaited wedding invitation from Jamie, our English nephew in the UK, who finally decided to tie the knot with his soulmate, Kimberly.  Jamie is the oldest of our nephews and nieces and this special occasion was a highly anticipated event for everyone, particularly by the aged grandparents.  Going to his wedding in August means a summer holiday for us and it got me all excited about the wedding, visiting relatives and experiencing the delightful English charm again.

I was in touch with my sister, the soon-to-be mother-in-law, who shared her excitement in emails and phone calls, describing the wedding gown, how she was planting sunflowers in her own garden, timed to bloom in time to make the bridal posy and putting her creative flair into the preparations for the big day.  A wedding also means shopping for suitable buah tangan or gifts for the bride and groom as well as family members in the UK and my choice has always been useful handicrafts that are proudly made in Johor.  Besides thinking of gifts and what to wear for the wedding, we also had to think about booking our flights to the UK. 

Our return journey was made more comfortable
by the cheerful service of the cabin crew
While my brother and his wife sorted out their leave applications to match with their children’s school terms, we started to check online for suitable flights to London.  The weeks seemed to pass too quickly but a decision must be made on our flights.  Around this time, the nation was still reeling from the tragic loss of flight MH 370 – an unprecedented incident that rocked the confidence of air travellers worldwide – but in spite of the prevailing uncertainties that plague our national carrier, we remained loyal to MAS and confirmed our flight reservations with them. 

Just weeks before our travel date, the airline was hit by yet another huge tragedy with the downing of MH 17 and our family grieved along with the nation as we were gripped by fear, anger and more uncertainties.  Over the next few weeks, there were reports of two other air tragedies that involved flights in Taiwan and Algiers and air travellers were understandably spooked and nervous as news reports surfaced.  In the wake of the tragic incidents, MAS graciously offered full refunds for any cancellations and while we were sad and disturbed by the tragedies, our faith did not let us be paralyzed by fear.  

At our departure from KLIA, there was a noticeably subdued atmosphere among airport staff and even among travellers.  On checking-in, MAS ground staff answered our queries frankly as they stoically carried on their duties.  Flight stewards and stewardesses warmly welcomed us as we boarded the flight and settled into our seats and a steward even paused to exchange friendly banter with us about a hot topic that we were reading in that day’s newspaper.

Cabin crew went about their duties stoically
Air travel will never be the same again and as the bereaved families affected by the airline’s double tragedies have my deepest sympathies, my thoughts were also centered on the airline staff and their families who were inadvertently plunged into adverse circumstances.  I must commend them because it takes a great deal of courage and commitment for the staff to persevere and uphold their pledge to serve passengers even though they may be personally affected by the tragedies.  If the nation can be touched by the grief and horror of the shocking news, I cannot imagine how much more the staff may feel for their colleagues and friends who are involved in the two tragedies.

I observed a sense of resilience among the cabin crew as they went about their duties professionally and my respect for them increased with each passing moment of our 12-hour-15-minute flight.  Our flights to London and back to KL were rather uneventful probably because the passengers cooperated well and did not want to put the crew through any unnecessary grief.  I must confess that the only high point for me in the flight must be in discovering a feature entitled “JB Cool” in the August issue of Going Places, the in-flight magazine that highlighted the chic businesses happening in Johor Baru’s Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and Jalan Dhoby!

JB's Jalan Tan Hiok Nee and Jalan Dhoby
were featured in the pages of Going Places!
It warmed my heart that our very own JB is truly “going places” and gaining exposure among international travellers on board our national carrier.  As I scanned the photos with the feature, I recognised the faces and places because I’m familiar with the merchants who are injecting new life into the heart of JB with their new businesses in old buildings.  I didn’t think it was wrong for me to feel a prickle of pride because this charming part of JB, that I frequent to introduce its uniqueness to my visitors, was being featured in this prestigious magazine!

The joy of a family reunion, a beautiful wedding and being tourists at interesting sights, kept us occupied but with modern technology, we stayed in touch with local news.  It struck a chord in our hearts when my sister-in-law announced at the dinner table that August 22 was declared the national day of mourning.  And on that day even though we were separated by seas in the UK, we stood together with the nation in grief and mourning. 

On our last day in the UK, we popped into the little village sweet shop for some jelly babies and when the merchant, who knew we were my sister’s visitors from Malaysia, heard that we were flying MAS, he expressed his sympathies for the airline as it virtually had no control over the horrific double tragedies.  I appreciate his kind comments because the reality is that as in any company, the airline is made up of people and many innocent people are hurting now.  They not only need our sympathies but our support and encouragement to valiantly carry on with their careers for themselves and the future of their families.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 10 Sept 2014

A reader, Ruby Raj, said: 

Loved your write-up as always.  I was in UK in July this year and flew by MAS as well.  That was just a few days before the MH17 tragedy.  I have always loved flying on MAS and always will.  Something I love to hear when flying home from abroad is hearing the words… “To all visitors, welcome to Malaysia and to all Malaysians on board, welcome home.”  Nothing beats the feeling when I hear this.


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