So, Why Did Malaysia Airlines Ban Check-In Baggage Only To Allow It 24 Hours Later?

The move to limit baggage allowance affecting all flights to Europe was announced yesterday, 5 January.

Cover image via Charles Pertwee/Bloomberg

Malaysia Airlines (MAB) gave travelers to Europe a shock yesterday, 5 January, when it suddenly announced that no check-in baggage will be allowed for all its flights to Europe for safety reasons

In a statement on Tuesday, MAB cited the longer route, over Egypt airspace, and unseasonably strong head winds as limiting the airlines' ability to carry baggage in cargo.

"This longer flight path consumes more jet fuel and for safety reasons, Malaysia Airlines has had to impose temporary limitation on checked-in baggage allowance."

"Passengers who wish to check in their luggage will be able to do so, however, their baggage will only arrive later."

"Malaysia Airlines regrets the inconvenience caused to passengers and will deliver stranded baggage as soon as the situation permits," read the statement.

MAB has since reversed the ruling, first for its flight to London and eventually for all it flights to Europe within 24 hours from its first announcement

Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB) confirmed today that it has lifted its restrictions on check-in baggage for long haul flights to Amsterdam, London and Paris starting from today.

“Malaysia Airlines confirmed today that normal check-in baggage allowances are available on all flights across the network including services to Amsterdam, London and Paris,” it said in a statement.

“Based on its current risk assessment, done on a daily basis, the airline is now able to take a shorter route on European flights."

So, how exactly does flying to Europe via Egypt airspace, strong head winds, and baggage limit relate to one another? There are 3 key points to note:

1. Malaysia Airlines has been taking the roundabout route to Europe over Egypt rather than Iran since October 2015 in response to the threat of the Russian missile activity over the Caspian Sea

Rerouting a flight generally means taking a longer route, which may result in added flying time, fuel and costs. Apparently, FlightAware data shows that the MH20, a Boeing 777-200 flying from Kuala Lumpur to Paris has had a duration more than 15 hours this week, while it flew less than 14 hours in late December. Meanwhile, Singapore Airlines SQ336, which took a more direct path to the north only took an average of 13.5 hours to get to Paris from Singapore.

2. The unseasonably strong head winds could make the fuel run out faster

Image via Wikipedia

Strong headwinds cause flights to burn more fuel than normal and lightening the load reduces the speed of the burn.

The airline has recently had to operate a longer route to Europe, which -- combined with strong headwinds -- limited its ability to carry baggage and cargo, Malaysia Airlines said.

The headwinds over the last four days were in excess of 200 knots, which can add up to 15 percent fuel burn on a Boeing Co. 777-200 aircraft.

3. Differences between aircrafts

Boeing 777 Aircraft

Image via IB Times

MAB's flight to London after it managed to reroute its long-range Airbus A380 aircraft via Iran’s airspace. However, the Boeing 777 aircraft are being used for flights to Amsterdam and Paris, and they will also fly over Iran’s airspace. Unlike the B777, the A380 is able to withstand extreme weather conditions.

Mohsin Aziz, an aviation analyst at Maybank, based in Kuala Lumpur, said that Malaysia Airlines' Boeing 777-200ER, is an old aircraft that's been around for 17 years and can fly only 14 hours on a full tank. Newer engines can last up to 17 hours.

The Boeing 777-200ERs flown by Malaysia Airlines to Paris and Amsterdam have a maximum range of 6900 nautical miles, versus the 8500 nautical mile range of the A380 flown to London.

Based on the 3 points above, MAB may only have resorted to impose the check-in baggage ban as the airline considers it to be the most viable option at that point of time

However, travelers affected were obviously unhappy and shocked over the announcement

Image via Facebook
Image via Facebook
Image via Facebook

Experts and analysts were also puzzled over MAB's decision to limit baggage allowances

Tom Ballantyne, chief correspondent for "Orient Aviation" magazine

Image via Greenerskies

"It's highly unusual and bizarre but that's what we've got used to from Malaysia Airlines. By their reasoning all other carriers in Southeast Asia heading to Europe would not be able to check in luggage, too, if indeed what they claim is true," Shukor Yusof, analyst with Malaysia-based Endau Analytics, told AFP.

Aviation expert Tom Ballantyne, chief correspondent for "Orient Aviation" magazine, told CNN he's never heard of an airline taking such measures.

"Normally, if there's an issue with range because of headwinds, a carrier would reduce the passenger load overall," said Ballantyne.

Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor at Flight Global magazine echoed Ballantyne's sentiment, saying that airlines would usually limit number of passengers rather than checked baggages

Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor at Flight Global

Image via CNBC

"It doesn't make sense ... and it's probably going to cause a lot of passenger frustration," he said.

"There are other ways to reduce payload."

MAB COO Peter Bellew has responded by saying that the airline had chose to take passengers to their destination first even if it means their luggage will follow later since most flights are full at this time of the year

Malaysia Airlines chief operations officer Peter Bellew

Image via Astro Awani

Another option would have been to make a stop for fuel on the way, but Bellew said that was impractical as a short-term fix because the flight crew would have run out of available hours, meaning another three pilots and 12 cabin crew would need to be placed at a stop on the way.

"We would have to position crew at least 24 hours in advance to get crew rest," he said.

"If we wanted to do [fuel] stops, you would have to start to plan that 36 hours in advance which you don't know in this case with the winds. We were looking at that option yesterday."

Bellew said all checked baggage that had not travelled on aircraft with the passengers would arrive on Wednesday evening in Paris and on Thursday in Amsterdam before being delivered to the passengers.

As of now, Malaysia Airlines has resorted to use the flight path over Iran once again, as with many other airlines

After Russia fired missiles from the Caspian Sea into Syria, flying over Iran, several airlines, including Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways, temporarily avoided Iranian airspace. They eventually resumed flights.

Others, including United Airlines, cautioned their pilots to avoid Syrian and Iranian airspace while flying to the Arabian Peninsula or India.

Malaysia Airlines will end its flights to Paris and Amsterdam later this month, leaving London as its only European destination, as part of a restructure of its international operations.

Malaysia Airlines has been under intense scrutiny since MH370 went missing. The last two years have been difficult time for the airline:

You may be interested in: