Malaysia Airlines has announced it will start using its Airbus A380 aircraft on special charter services for the annual Islamic pilgrimage of Hajj. Although Malaysia is a multicultural country, the official religion is Islam and approximately 60% of the country’s 28 million inhabitants identify themselves as Muslim.
Although Hajj doesn’t officially begin until August 30th, many pilgrims travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia with weeks to spare. Malaysia Airlines commenced its Hajj charter service today with a further 75 direct flights to Jeddah and Madinah from airports throughout Malaysia. This includes Kuala Lumpur as well as Kota Kinabalu, Johor Bahru, Alor Setar, Kuala Terengganu and Penang.
This year, Malaysia Airlines will be making use of an Airbus A380 and A330-300 aircraft for the charter service. The airline currently has six A380 aircraft in its fleet which are normally used for the carrier’s flagship twice daily service to London Heathrow (LHR). Forthcoming flights to Heathrow are not expected to be impacted by the decision to use A380’s on its Hajj service. In fact, the airline occasionally uses the aircraft on various charter flights.
Malaysia Airlines will be using an A380 with capacity for 483 pilgrims. Far fewer than what the airline planned not that long ago – In 2016 the airline toyed with the idea of transforming their superjumbos into an all economy layout to cater just for Hajj pilgrims. If Malaysia Airlines went ahead with that plan they’d be able to squeeze up to 853 passengers on each flight.
The idea came at a time when the airline was still reeling from the double loss of both MH370 and MH17 in 2014. The first tragedy, in March, resulted in the death of all 227 passengers and 12 crew onboard MH370. To date, the loss is yet to be explained. Just four months later and MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine – all 283 passengers and 15 crew were killed.
As Malaysia Airlines teetered on the verge of bankruptcy, the airline considered selling its A380 aircraft. But the timing couldn’t have been worse – it came at a point where airline’s around the world were shunning the superjumbo. As it turns out, Malaysia Airlines has been able to recover although it is still trying to work out how best to utilise the largest commercial passenger aircraft in the world.
Once the last Hajj service leaves for Saudi Arabia on 26 August they’ll be a short break before operations begin to bring Pilgrims back to Malaysia. The second phase is set to start on 7th September 2017 and will be complete by 4 October 2017.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.