M'sians Are Moved By This Mat Salleh's Story About Why He Still Prefers Malaysia Airlines
"Ma'af — this is a bit long..." so begins a post by a 'Stephen Riches' on a Facebook group about our national carrier, Malaysia Airlines
Given its reputation, you would be forgiven if you, too, like this writer, felt that the post was just another complaint against the airline that has been topping the passenger complaint list for the past two years.
However, the post quickly turned into what can only be described as one of the most moving stories of perseverance about the people who make flying MAS still a matter of pride for many Malaysians.
In his now viral post, that was written on the night of Wednesday, 27 November, Stephen Riches identified himself as "a Mat Salleh" whose "love for MH is like no other", addressing the national carrier with its two-character airline designator assigned by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
"I've been flying MH since it was MSA in the 60s. (yah...saya tua! hah). In the 80s and 90s, I continued to fly MH here and there as I lived in Singapore and now Thailand," he wrote.
"Then I was merely a blue Enrich member. Now I am Platinum Plus (whatever the + means!)"
In his post, Riches writes that while he has been a loyal flyer of Malaysia Airlines for almost six decades, the turning point came when he flew on the MH851 to Denpasar, Bali on 9 March 2014
It was the sister Boeing 777 to MH370 that only the day before had vanished.
According to Riches, following the disappearance of MH370 on 8 March 2014, unlike thousands of others, he didn't cancel a single booking that he had pre-booked with the national carrier when 370 disappeared.
"I had flown in the early morning from Bangkok on the MH797 and I recall virtually no one aboard that small 737. The fear was taking its toll on the airline. Irrational thinking, in my opinion," he wrote.
Riches explained that the crew members onboard the Malaysia Airlines flight were amazing, and while he had a little chat with them, he could see that they were "understandably numb with grief and disbelief".
"I remember the Golden Lounge was near-empty that morning," Riches' post goes on, where he describes one could "almost feel the sadness throughout KLIA"
"No one smiled except in greeting and it was robotic. The hearts, understandably, had no more energy," Riches recalled in his post, adding that he boarded the flight, which was almost empty.
"It was going to be a quiet flight.
"But - what was most striking was the professionalism of the crew. Each one of them, for sure, knew a colleague that was onboard 370. But they handed out the newspapers as normal with those screaming headlines. I thought to myself that an airline in the west would not do this."
According to Riches, despite what had happened to MH370, the crew members onboard his MAS flight decided to carry on as normal.
"After all, the world was talking about it and it would be absurd to try and hide it. They had a job to do and passengers and cargo to fly around. One of the flight attendants (FA) came to me after the doors closed.
"He said 'Good afternoon Mr Riches' and he handed me a menu and wine list but still he smiled and asked me for my choice of drinks post-take off," Stephen wrote on his post.
"I recall quickly folding up the newspaper in shame at having it open in front of him. He touched me on the shoulder and his eyes said 'don't worry'. No words were necessary.
"It was a quiet and sombre flight."
Riches recalled that during the flight, one young flight attendant spent most of the time in the front galley crying her eyes out. "Other crew you could see, hadn't slept and had been crying, too," he wrote.
Riches, who has been clocking 150,000 miles on average for the past four years and has clocked up 171,000 miles this year, wrote that from where he was seated in the flight that day, he could see through the gaps in the curtain the flight attendants talking and from time to time, hugging each other.
"They straightened their ties, adjusted their kebayas and headed back to work across the aircraft. I almost felt that I should not be there to witness their grief," wrote the loyal MAS flyer.
"The youngest flight attendant who was totally overcome with grief came out mid-flight to ask if I needed something. She apologised for not being attentive.
"'Oh no!' I said to her. Goodness me. I wanted to leap out of my seat and give her a massive hug. 'I completely understand,' I said. I told her that I was so sorry and there was absolutely nothing that I needed to which she managed a small smile and hurried back behind the curtains - apologising as she left."
He emphasised that it was this flight on 9 March 2014 that made him realise that Malaysia Airlines was going to be his airline for the future
"Just before we landed at Denpasar, a more senior flight attendant came to me, lowered himself to see me eye to eye and said 'thank you for being here today'.
"He smiled, shook my hand, and went to his position for landing. It was on this flight on the 9 March 2014 that I realised MH was going to be 'my airline' for the future. And it has been," Riches wrote.
"Because here they were doing what makes MH in the air such a great airline to fly. It's the people and the human spirit that they exude. The product is so-so, the food generally terok..."
It's all about the men and women that wear their uniforms with pride.
In his post then, Riches hopes that the management of Khazanah Nasional Bhd, the parent company of Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB), know that these people are the biggest asset that MAB has
"They're the biggest asset that MAB has and I hope Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the management of MAB/Khazanah know this. These people are ordinary Malaysians that have pride in their country, their airline and in my opinion, make them the best way to fly. That makes them extraordinary people in my mind given the continuing uncertainties," Riches adds.
He ends his post by thanking the crew in the air - or on the ground, describing them as the best.
"Terima Kasih. You're the best."
His post, at the time of writing, has been shared over 3,900 times
And with over 9,500 reactions from the group's members, the post has also garnered more than hundreds of comments from netizens who were moved by Riches' words.
"I always choose Malaysia Airlines... The staff and crew are always so helpful, generous, considerate, and mostly make me feel at home," wrote one.
While another, who identified himself as a former cabin crew on MAS, thanked Riches for his "touching story and his experiences with Malaysia Airlines".
Earlier this year, a father quit his job as a seasoned pilot at Malaysia Airlines just so he could fly with two of his daughters: