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MALÉV Hungarian Airlines
by Luigi Vallero

Malev coach flyer

 PHOTO: LUIGI VALLERO

Airline:   MALÉV Hungarian Airlines
Flights:   MA463, MA402
Sectors:  Prishtina [Prishtinë] (IATA: PRN/ICAO: LYPR)– Budapest (BUD/LHBP) to Rome [Roma]-Fiumicino (FCO/LIRF)
Aircraft:  Boeing 737-800, Fokker 70

After many years of war, the landlocked Republic of Kosovo [Republika e Kosovës] and its capital city Prishtina [Prishtinë] continue to be a relatively inaccessible place, with road links to neighboring Albania [Shqipëria], Montenegro [Crna Gora],  Macedonia [Makedonija], and Serbia [Serbija] usually a rather uncomfortable affair. Air connections to the rest of Europe are gradually increasing through the country’s only commercial airport (PRN).

MALÉV Hungarian Airlines, profiting from its status as a 'Balkan countries expert', is among the few European legacy carriers providing a reliable service enabling connections across Europe via its efficient Budapest hub.


Check-in

Inside the compact former Yugoslav-era terminal, check-in was straightforward, my electronic ticket being processed in exchange for two boarding passes all the way to Rome [Roma], travelling economy on the first sector and business class on the last. Once through customs I was quickly through security and immediately afterwards found myself in the small gate area, where the half-full flight MA463 was already boarding. MALÉV provides a daily connection from Budapest to Pristina, usually operated with Boeing 737s, on this day it was a Dash 800 (HA-LOC).

 

Malev coach flyer

 PHOTO: LUIGI VALLERO


Boarding

The aircraft was reached by a short walk across the tarmac. I was greeted by a cheerful lady, who also featured in the current in-flight magazine 'Horizon'. MALÉV’s cabin décor of dark blue leather-covered seats highlighted by bright green curtains and seatbelts, with white paper headrest covers, provide a modern and clean image. Most passengers appeared to be diplomats or military personnel. Announcements over the PA were made in Hungarian, English, as well as Albanian, the national language of Kosovo. As soon as I had taken my seat, 4B, immediately aft of the cabin divider, I was offered a choice of international newspapers.

 

 

In-flight

Because of the late arrival of the aircraft, we were off blocks at 1517, 12 minutes behind schedule. Airborne from Runway 17 six minutes later, we climbed briskly to avoid the mountain range to the southwest of the airport. Thanks to the overhead monitors showing the progress of our course, I soon realized the peculiarity of the routing. Despite Budapest being northwest of Prishtina, in order to avoid Serbian airspace we had to fly south, heading to Skopje, capital of Macedonia, then head east toward Bulgaria, proceeding north to Sofia. From there the flightpath brought us on a north-northwesterly course toward the Romanian cities of Timisoara and Arad, before finally heading to Budapest. This exercise almost doubled the distance between PRN and BUD, justifying the 1hr 35min scheduled for this flight.

 

Malev coach flyer

PHOTO: LUIGI VALLERO 

In-flight service began shortly after we had settled at cruise level, and in the economy cabin consisted in a simple offering of a packet of pretzels, along with orange juice and hot drinks, adequate for the hour of the day. At any time the friendly cabin attendants were available for drink refills. Skies were almost completely overcast until we crossed into Hungarian airspace, where the afternoon haze nevertheless precluded clear views of the ground. After a slightly bumpy approach we touched down at Ferihegy Airport at 1640, and were parked at a remote stand four minutes later, having almost completely recovered the departure delay.

 

Malev coach flyer

PHOTO: LUIGI VALLERO

Transit

Passengers were quickly whisked by bus to the Non-Schengen Terminal 2B, passing through a wide array of MALÉV aircraft. In fact, most of the airline’s fleet was on the ground at its home base at this time.

Inside the terminal, most passengers followed the transit signs highlighted by a green line: we nevertheless were required to pass through security once again, which undoubtedly constitutes a pain for passengers, especially when connections are tight. Once beyond this checkpoint, I had half an hour to reach Gate 24 for Flight MA402 to FCO, with a scheduled departure time of 1750.

The 'new' terminal at BUD is modern, pleasant, and efficient, providing good opportunities for shopping and eating, with excellent views of the airport activity.


Re-boarding

Passengers once again reached the aircraft by bus. Owing to a discrepancy in the passenger and baggage load counts, a bag  identification check was organized on the tarmac. This dismissed the chance of an on-time departure.

Upon entering the Fokker 70, we were greeted by the two female flight attendants. I settled into seat 1A. The business class section (called 'SkyClub') is cosy, with only 12 seats arranged in a 2+2 configuration. These Skyclub seats are the same AvioInterior ones used by Alitalia on its MD-80s, possibly the most comfortable in their class, with features such as movable lumbar and head support, extra width, footrests, and small retractable glass holder tables.

As soon as I had taken my place one FA took my coat, shortly afterward offering—in fluent Italian - a welcome drink of water, orange juice, or Champagne. This arrived promptly, in a real glass, followed by a selection of financial newspapers and magazines.

An apologetic captain, welcoming everybody with a 'Buonasera', announced we were ready to go, and that probably a few minutes would be recovered en route. We pushed back at 1801, and four minutes later moved under our own power to the runway, taking off at 1809.


In-flight

Having reached cruising level, cabin service started with a refreshingly hot 'o-shibori' towel. A hot dish followed, served on china and linen, consisting of a tender and moist beef filet mignon in a creamy sauce with vegetable ratatouille and Hungarian gnocchis. A good pinot noir was included in the choice of Hungarian wines. Dessert was an elaborate dark chocolate pastry with wild berries; tea was served using a different tray. Liqueurs and digestifs were offered after we had begun our descent. My Baileys on the rocks was served in another real glass.

 

Malev coach flyer

PHOTO: LUIGI VALLERO

Final approach was through a downpour and we landed at a rain-soaked FCO at 1938, reaching our remote stand 11 minutes later.


Overall impressions

On both flights I had the feeling of being in the hands of very professional crews. The second leg, in particular, was extremely pleasant thanks to a cabin crew who went the extra mile by delivering with warmth an already distinct and contemporary in-flight product.



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