Cabin fever hits new heights

Malaysia Airlines’ first class has been given a plush redesign by Priestman Goode. Clare Dowdy tries it for size

In the struggle to stay afloat after the horrors of 9/11, different airlines have been forced to take different tacks. Malaysia Airlines opted to go for the premium market, which involved rethinking the seating, dining and entertainment on offer in first and business class cabins. As a consequence, $70m (£37m) has been earmarked for the upgrade of its Boeing 777-200 and Boeing 474-400 fleets.

A significant part of this upgrade was handed over to Priestman Goode, which was able to get its teeth into the B474s’ first class cabins. But this has been no quick, Changing Rooms-style fix. Unusually for the cost-conscious airline industry, the cabin has been stripped right back so that the consultancy could start from scratch on absolutely everything, even the wall panels.

Those in the industry describe Malaysia Airlines’ previous first class offer as bordering on the retro, making this upgrade all the more timely. The Priestman Goode design has certainly given the airline an aesthetic edge: both the cabin and its furniture now have a real visual coherence about them.

The genuinely integrated first class cabin has a whiff of the private jet about it. There’s lots of space around the seats, and each has a so-called ‘buddy seat’ opposite. This means that once the substantial and tasteful wooden dining table has been flipped into place (no nasty plastic tray here), dining á deux is a comfortable reality.

The seats themselves are a real innovation, for Malaysia Airlines at least, as they allow travellers to lie out on a totally flat, 2m surface, with the hope that, after a good night’s sleep, business folk will be able to start work the minute they’ve disembarked.

The seat-cum-bed is manipulated via a cluster of push buttons in the arm panel. The plethora of icons and arrows may momentarily fox the first class virgin, but they are standard fare for any frequent premium flyer.

Priestman Goode has managed to inject an element of privacy without obscuring the cabin’s sight lines or completely cutting the passengers off from each other. The atmosphere is one of quiet confidence, which cannot be said for the exterior of the inaugural flight. To celebrate the new interiors, Malaysia Airlines allowed itself to get carried away with the red paint. A garish hibiscus flower was splashed all over the fuselage, with the airline’s various logos and straplines applied on top. Let’s hope that was a one-off.

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