Why is Everyone Abandoning Malaysia Airlines? Seriously.

If you could book an economy-class flight with the near guarantee that you would enjoy a full row to yourself at a steeply discounted price, would you do it?

Of course you would, right?

Ok, what if the airline offering this sweet deal was suffering through a severe crisis? What if a couple of its planes had gone down over the past several months, killing all of the passengers on board?

What if the airline was Malaysia Airlines?

It seems most travelers are avoiding Malaysia Airlines like the plague, and as a result the airline is hemorrhaging cash and finds itself in serious jeopardy of no longer existing. And it also seems like most everyone accepts that this mass exodus from the airline is to be expected.

But why? Why would travelers avoid Malaysia Airlines. Why would people who are typically economically motivated pass up incredible economy-class deals on nearly empty flights?

It seems to defy reason.

I feel desperately sorry for MAS and it’s staff and crews, a great airline with excellent service. Clearly the loss of the two 777’s with all onboard has taken its toll, unsurprisingly. ~MrMichael

Again, my question is, why is it unsurprising that the vast majority of travelers would cease to fly this airline? Sure, it suffered two very tragic and very odd disasters, but it is also widely hailed as a terrific airline offering a great service:

They’re a great airline. I really hope they come through this (and I hope without re-branding, though I suspect they may feel that’s unavoidable – but it would be a shame). ~JonHirsch

MAS is a great airline and product suffering from 2 unfortunate issues. ~K1ngston

MAS is an outstanding airline! Due to the unfortunate incidents, I personally have increased by bookings with the airline as a show of support. ~JETCRUISER

So we have a great airline offering deep fare discounts flying with lots of empty seats. Take away the two exceptional disasters (if only we could) and it wouldn’t make sense at all. Add the disasters back in and everyone seems to generally agree that it makes perfect sense.

  • Is it because an absolutely enormous percentage of the population believes in jinxes and bad juju? That bad things happen in threes?
  • Or perhaps it is more rational. Are people assuming Malaysia Airlines will go out of business any day now – despite most evidence to the contrary – and so they aren’t purchasing tickets for fear they will lose their money and their ride?
  • Maybe people aren’t taking Malaysia Airlines flights out of a sense of guilt – not wanting to take advantage of deals and comfort at the expense of those who fell victim to the tragedies. Neglecting that this reaction will only serve to more quickly doom the airline, and everyone who works there.
  • Another, possibly slightly more rational consideration – maybe we as a collective species are hard-wired to react this way. No matter how unusual the circumstances of the disasters, we want to send a message to other carriers that flights going down will not be tolerated. Further, maybe most people believe that no matter how odd the circumstances of the disasters, perhaps the airline isn’t being run all that well and it really is riskier to fly them as compared to other airlines.

I’m not a psychologist, a behavioral economist, or a neuroscientist, so I really have no idea what is going on inside travelers’ brains. I know this though, if Malaysia Airlines served a route I was planning to fly and offered me a good price, I would jump on it. In part because it would help the struggling carrier, but if I’m being honest I would also enjoy a row to myself at a good price. And from a superstitious/oddsmaker perspective, I would think, “what are the odds this airline would suffer yet another catastrophic event in the near future.”

What about you? If you are avoiding Malaysia Airlines, please share your reason why. If you have flown them recently, please share your experience. How was your flight? Was it mostly empty?

And why do you think so many travelers are turning their back on this airline, and the deals and comfort currently on offer.

Read the thread in its entirety: MAS losing over US$2 million a day

Image by gurmit singh. CC BY-ND 2.0.

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  1. I checked out of curiosity some prices ffor Europe – KL with Malaysia airlines to see the great prices, and on no route are they the cheapest. Also their website flight search does not work at all for me. Third, what is a “not so good” airline one where the FA are a bit rude, one that has constant delays or one which lost 2 airplanes in a few months? I’m sure that if other large company would have been in the same situation they would have reacted diffrently at least in terms of price management. I would take a Malaysia flight from europe if the price is 300-350 EUR/roundtrip (something that you can find in sometimes in Asian flight sales from EU/Middle-eastern companies).

  2. No it is much more simple than that … majority of people are superstitious babies who don’t understand even the tiniest bit of statistics and probability.

  3. Because airlines in financial trouble will take more risks – like fly over dangerous parts of the world rather than be cautious. What other risk are they taking to cut costs?

  4. I am reminded of the experience my parents had. They enjoyed various parts of the world that were unpopular because of troubles and so trips were deeply discounted. Worked well until a kidnap episode in the Philippines a few years ago. If my folks had not made the right judgement on that day they might have ended up dead like half the other folks in their party. If have a bad feeling why not follow that instinct?

  5. What routes are you seeing with cheap Malaysia Air rates? Trying to get from Malaysia to Australia on November 5, here is what I get:

    Kota Kimbalu to Perth: Malaysia Air $609 nonstop or $472 1-stop, Singapore $376 1-stop
    Kuala Lumpur to Sydney: Malaysia Air $626, Air Asia $147 (both nonstop)

    Malaysia Air fares are actually much higher in these cases.

  6. There is also the uncertainty. If you are booking for a flight next month, or a few months from now….there is uncertainty if MAS will still have that flight. Even if they survive, they are going to be shrinking so your flight might get cancelled, or the flight times might change a lot.

    Another issue is that one of the losses is STILL unexplained. A problem with the plane/maintenance? A problem with MAS pilots/crew?

    Uncertainty breeds fear.

  7. @Boris and @Tea Man – you both make very good points. I readily admit I did not personally perform fare comparisons as you rightfully have, rather I took some other reports at face value:

    Wild About Travel – “They have been attempting to fill planes with cheap fares. We have been finding fares way below discount carrier Air Asia.”

    One Mile at a Time – “Malaysia Airlines has some crazy low fares at the moment. At first I assumed they were mistake fares, but given their current situation I actually don’t think they are. … Most of the low fares have been found for travel originating in Singapore, as discussed in this FlyerTalk thread.”

    FlyerTalk – “MH: SIN-KUL-HKT/MNL/REP/SGN (SE.ASIA CITIES) $30 onwards”

    Based on your findings though, perhaps there aren’t enough discounted routes to make a dent.

  8. It’s simple: I will pay 2,3,4x as much to fly an airline that hasn’t had two planes go down this year. It honestly doesn’t matter how cheap the flights are or how great the service is. Regardless of whether or not it was the airline’s fault, I won’t risk my life on an airline with their history.

  9. besides not researching and finding that the whole premise of your article is untrue (not many discount fares to be found)…

    it’s about judgment. the company has poor judgment- something that’s a big problem when you’re trusting them with your life. given the poor judgment in the 2 incidents, AND the fact that they’re losing tons of money, might they be making poor judgment calls on maintenance and other critical safety issues? idk, but there is a reason i don’t fly tiny airlines in 3rd world countries- because i have no idea if the plane is safe nor if the crew is competent. MA isn’t in this category, but the question is the same…

  10. It’s easy to blame it on irrational superstition. But we don’t know what happened to flight 370. It could have been mechanical, intentional or foul play. Also flight 17 flew over a conflict region while other airlines were flying around it. One could argue there was no negligence on the part of Malaysia Airlines. But I’m sure there’s a lawyer out there who would successfully argue otherwise. Besides, irrational superstition is not limited to certain ethnic groups. I was on a United Express flight from Nashville to Houston. After we landed a women raised her hand and yelled, “Oh thank you Jesus,” as if Jesus waved his invisible magical wand and the plane landed itself.

  11. It’s easy to blame it on irrational superstition but perhaps people fear there’s something unsafe about the airline. We still don’t know what happened to flight 370. Could’ve been mechanical or something more nefarious. Flight 17 flew over a conflict region while some airlines avoided it. Therefore one could argue the risk was known.

  12. @abby – I didn’t personally perform fare comparisons, but the sources I cited related to the low fares are certainly credible and so I don’t think the “whole premise” of the article is untrue.

    In fact, based on the comments in this thread and on Twitter, I would say that the following is becoming more clear:

    • Superstition/a general sense of unease, concerns about the airline management/operations and concerns about the airline’s ongoing reliability all play a part in travelers’ decisions not to fly Malaysia Airlines.
    • Had Malaysia Airlines more quickly implemented significant fare discounts on more, or even all, of their routes, they might have been able to stem the tide of losses. This isn’t to say they wouldn’t have suffered losses at all – they most certainly would have – but there are a lot of travelers who would have taken them up on deep discount offers and so while they still would have lost money, they might not have been flying with mostly empty planes.

    Essentially, there were too many reasons, valid or otherwise, to drive customers away and not enough to motivate others to flow in. In the end, the delay in dropping prices and the limited way in which Malaysia Airlines is doing so might prove to be the last bad decision the current management team will make.

  13. I’m based in KUL so a lot of this is very relevant to me. Unfortunately the discounted fares seem to be from SIN. Flights from KUL and domestic Malaysian flights are still as expensive as before. aside from convenience there’s still very little to entice me to fly MH.

  14. Great airline, would fly them again in a heartbeat. I flew 3 flights in May and enjoyed great service and on time performance. Would recommend to anyone. Just a bit of bad luck is all, it can happen. Still a great airline.

  15. 1) For most of us, they aren’t cheaper. They may be offering some specials, but they aren’t even competitive ex Korea. If you are choosing between Malaysia or Cathay Pacific, which would you take?

    2) I don’t really care why they are in trouble: they are in trouble. Why should I take a risk on an airline that may not be flying? All the credit card guarantees in the world will not make up for an airline that may very well strand me somewhere. Sure, I’ll get my ticket price refunded, but that isn’t going to cover the walk up fare to get home. Not worth the risk.

    Am I sympathetic to Malaysian? Yes. Will I pay more and take the risk of their failing while I am traveling? Not a chance in the world.

    Malaysia was having problems before they lost an airplane in unexplained circumstances. I wasn’t willing to fly them before the first accident, I’m certainly not willing to fly them now.

  16. As someone who flies 1/4 million miles a year, I’m passing on flying MH. Something fishy is going on. I don’t believe that the loss of 2 777 is sheer coincidence. And the fact the MH is keeping their mouth shut about a lot of things doesn’t intrigue me to want to give them business. Also miss superstitious here knows that “3 is a charm” when it comes to unfortunate events… 😉

  17. I’ve flown MH three times this year (all before MH370 disappeared) and I enjoyed the service. I have one more MH flight coming up in December but we’ll see if MH will still have the flight.
    You have to understand that the main market for MH is SE Asia, not USA. A lot of people from that region tend to be superstitious etc. and given how MH handled its poor communication with MH370 (especially to the relatives of its Chinese passengers), I’d think the average Chinese person would never fly MH ever.
    In addition, it seems to me a lot of the cheap MH prices are ex-SIN, which tells me they are trying to get passengers from SQ.

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