Air Malta has announced that hot meals and all drinks for Economy Class passengers (apart from 500ml of water) will require payment from 1 January 2015.
As such, Economy Class passengers on all flights will receive a complimentary baguette and 500ml of water (read: bread and water). Conversely, Club Class (Air Malta Business Class) passengers will benefit from an upgraded in-flight menu.
Air Malta has also stated that “a wide selection of good quality food items, including hot, will be available for purchase from cabin staff”. In order to reach this purported “good quality” threshold for their hot items, they will need to substantially up their game.
Apparently, the revised menu will save the airline some €4 million each year.
This isn’t quite as bad as it seems, but that’s largely based on how poor the current position is. The quality of the Air Malta hot food in Economy Class is terrible, while they currently charge for alcoholic drinks, in any event.
The obvious issue here is Air Malta losing even more of its “premium airline” status in the minds of the budget-conscious traveller. Frankly, when faced with the option of Air Malta, BA at a similar price or Ryanair at a third of the price, it is getting increasingly difficult to justify an Air Malta booking. As such, the commercial rationale for this decision is questionable.
Despite occasional murmurings, the continued failure of Air Malta to address its archaic frequent flyer programme, Flypass, is another example of its purported “premium status” simply not standing up to scrutiny.
In the immediate term, a further valid issue is the current complaints from those passengers who made an Air Malta booking prior to this announcement, for flights subsequent to 1 January 2015. These passengers were booking on the basis of a representation from Air Malta that a hot meal would be served on the flight. At the very least we would therefore expect such tickets to be entitled to a full refund, regardless of their flexibility, or a hot food allowance of some sort.
What perhaps upsets us most about this change is that Air Malta appears to be trying to manage costs by squeezing Economy Class passengers as much as they possibly can. The fact that they are simultaneously upgrading the Business Class menu and announcing that at the same time just seems like an additional slap in the face, and is frankly very poor Public Relations.
Air Malta is propped up financially by the Maltese government. As such, we fully appreciate that cost-savings need to be made. However, this is potentially very short term thinking. It may, theoretically, save €4m annually based on current passenger numbers: but you have to query whether that projected saving factors in the loss of revenue as a result of passengers jumping ship.
In summary, our firm belief is that Air Malta seriously needs to consider whether it is a budget airline or a premium airline, and provide for its passengers accordingly. Providing a budget airline service at premium airline prices may save costs on paper, but it is unlikely to be the long-term solution where people simply abandon Air Malta as a result.
The only silver lining for the value traveller is that this puts added value on the use of Air Malta KMiles for Club Class upgrades.