As you may already have heard, Air Malta is currently in the middle of a rebranding exercise, which includes new uniforms for the crew and also a new livery which made its debut in September 2012. Things have been rather tough for this little airline in recent years: it is in an awkward position in that it has many masters and is trying to serve all of them equally well. A futile endeavour! There is the government and the national Maltese tourism industry which relies heavily on the carrier to bring tourist to its shores. But with the increasing popularity of the Maltese islands as a holiday destination, the competition for Air Malta has also increased. And then there is the obligation to provide connections for Maltese nationals wishing to travel abroad, albeit a very small niche market. One way or another, with the likes of Easyjet and Ryanair eating away at Air Malta’s leisure traffic, and Lufthansa and Emirates taking whatever is left, Air Malta finds itself stuck in the middle. The future will tell what will become of Air Malta.
Date: 17. August 2012
Airline: Air Malta
Seat: 10E, aisle on the emergency exit
AT THE AIRPORT
My narrative begins as I make my way to the viewing gallery on the reconstruction of what used to be terminal B at Zürich airport. It’s a lovely day and quite warm. But at least there is a slight breeze going to make the temperature outside bearable. I put my rucksack in a locker and pay the CHF5 entrance for the viewing gallery.
I really like the design of the building from the outside. From the inside it is a tad cramped. Anyway, there are steps leading down onto the roof of one of the airbridges, which allows you to get up pretty close to the aircraft.
Much to my shame I must confess that I don’t really take the heat and sun very well, despite the fact that I was born in Malta, where temperatures in excess of 35 degrees Celsius are not uncommon from late May to early November.
I arrive at the gate and surreptitiously peek at the screen displaying the DCS information for this flight: two passengers in Business Class, 115 passengers in Economy. Not a bad load considering the holiday season is over. In actual fact, from what I can tell from the conversations I pick up and the passports I can see, most passengers would appear to be Maltese anyway.
The Swissport agent announces that boarding will commence shortly. She also informs us that due to the incredible heat in the airbridge, boarding by seat rows will be strictly enforced to avoid people standing in the sweltering heat too long. And true to their word the two ladies proceed to do the most orderly boarding process I have every seen. No mean feat if a bunch of Maltese is involved.
I am greeted at the door by the purser, an elderly and very friendly looking gentleman. He looks like he could be your favourite granddad. The other crew member is a young lady with stunning features: black long hair and blue eyes. She’s quite a looker and she knows it. The entire crew is wearing the new uniform and I must say it is a vast improvement over what they had.
Initially I am seated on 9F, but then a couple takes the seats next to me and starts snogging wildly. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing against a good snog, but the mere sound of others slobbering all over each other makes me want to throw up. I look behind me to find the aisle seat on the emergency row is still empty, so are the middle seats. So I quickly ask a crew member if I can change. He tells me that sure I can, proviso I pay the fee for the extra leg room. The slobbering continues on row 9 and so I consent. The fee is EUR25. The seats are marked with the word ‘RESERVED’ written on the head rest covers.
Departure is from runway 28. Shortly after take-off we to a left turn to point the aircraft southwards for the Alps, the Med and eventually Malta. Our routing takes us over mainland Italy to Rome, from where set out across the Thyrrenian sea to Palermo in Sicily and from there on to Malta.
The crew is friendly and makes detailed announcements in Maltese and English, followed by a recorded message in German. Soft drinks, one beer or wine are for free. Any further alcoholic drink must be paid for.
There are two options on the flight today. The vegetarian one is a tomato and mozzarella salad on iceberg lettuce. On the tray there is also a small tub of butter and a small container with salad dressing, a large bun and a cupcake. The non-vegetarian option is cheese with ham, boiled eggs and tomatoes on a bed of iceberg lettuce. The dessert is an almond filled biscuit type thing. It’s a small meal but it serves its purpose on a flight of one hour and 50 minutes.
By the time we reach Palermo and we begin our initial descent, the sun has already started to set and the light outside turns a warm and balmy colour.
The approach into Malta is very atmospheric. As the aircraft dips its nose and the engines go increasingly silent to slow us down, a hush of anticipation spreads throughout the cabin as the tourists and Maltese alike peer out of the windows excitedly to catch a first glimpse of the islands rising out of the sea.
For most of the descent the aircraft flies head on towards Gozo, the northern island. Outside the passengers see only the vastness of the Mediterranean sea and the golden reflection of the sun dancing on the waves. But the then aircraft banks every so light to the left and suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, Gozo appears – the island of Calypso. The aircraft flies along the north-eastern coast of the island, then past Comino and then along the island of Malta proper. It’s usually at this stage the tourists cannot be amazed at how dry the island is and how few trees there are. The Maltese, like myself, look out and glance down at this small rock in the sea and attempt to conceal that yes, they are moved.
Eventually the aircraft reaches the south end of Malta. The right wing dips and we round Delimara point, pass the natural harbour of Marsaxlokk and eventually line up with runway 31 as we cross over St. George’s bay. And then we land and I am home.