2012 is supposed to be the end of the world – according to the Mayas. I do not believe in that. But 2012 actually turns out to be the end, for at least a part of the world: for those of us who have ever worked at Malév Hungarian Airlines or somewhere in the Hungarian Aviation Industry.
3rd of February, 2012. The date when Malév - the 66 year old Hungarian Airlines - disappeared from the skies. At some point in its history it was part of the North-American skies, the Asian skies, the Middle-Eastern skies and the African skies. But most importantly, Malév was always part of the European skies. And it was proud of it. Malev was also proud to become a European Union flag carrier in 2004 – but ironically this status put the latest nail in its coffin. A coffin that was started to be built about 20 years ago, sometime in the early 1990’s, after the political change in this part of the world.
One thing you need to know though: while the politicians were working hard on building this coffin, most of the employees (I’m sorry, but I can’t say ‘all of the employees’, only ‘most’ at best) were working against it. So most of the employees believed in a Hungarian National Airline, and believed that it can be operated in a professional, profitable way. Maybe even an efficient way. So what went wrong then? you may ask. I believe that the 20 year old last chapter in its history – that ended with the complete disappearance of Malév yesterday – had one root problem: ever changing top management. 21 years – 17 CEO’s!! (But this will most likely be a different post in this blog in the near future.)
Anyway, while growing up, I built about 70 plastic planes, and watched airliners at Budapest Ferihegy Airport Terminal 1 observation deck a few times. I was really jealous of my father visiting his best friend in Stockholm with an SAS DC-9. Then at the age of 8, my parents couldn’t take me away from the observation deck of the Frankfurt Airport for more than two hours… I was amazed by seeing so many planes and identifying each flag carrier by their tail design. Then at 11, I flew for the first time in my life – and like most of the Hungarians older than 15 – I had my first flying experience aboard Malév. It was a Tupolev Tu-154. I was so excited about this flight, that I threw up – funnily after we landed in Rome… I can still remember that the flight attendants on that flight were extremely nice and helpful. Really.
Then I flew about 10 times with them before I joined Malév in 2003. On my first interview (with Szafi) I was told that we would try to save the airline with the new e-business solutions, but it may not be flying in one year. I convinced myself that it was a great opportunity to be a member of the team that may save the Hungarian National Flag Carrier – especially being fresh out of the university, without a family to support, just starting my carrier. And I’m glad I convinced myself of this risk, as I had enjoyed 3 great years there – plus I met so many wonderful people, including my wife!
I really had the privilege of getting to know so many people across the whole company while working with the BPR part of the team who introduced online booking – and later e-ticketing. I became friends with colleagues at the Pricing Department, Scheduling, Domestic and International Sales, the Ticketing offices, the Call Center, Finance, Marketing, Legal, Communications, Airport Operations in Budapest and at a number of stations we flew to – just to mention a few. As an aviation enthusiast employee, I had of course met and talked to a number of Malév pilots and flight attendants as well. Some of these people have moved on over the years and are now working at other companies, but some of them just lost their jobs – yesterday. I truly share their feelings as much as possible and wish them strength and all the best in the coming days, weeks!
On the other hand, we must also talk about realities. I hate to say this, but such an airline with so many CEO’s and ever changing strategy over decades, was destined to die. We all knew this. We just didn’t want to believe it. And we were all shocked when as an employee first heard the ‘rumours’ that we may not get our next salary. Then the ‘old folks’ told us ‘Don’t worry, this has been happening at least once a year for the last decade, there is always a solution!‘ And we tried to believe them, but then waited for the next salary with nervousness. And it was transferred. Then a few months later it happened again. It got transferred again. For the third time I already felt like the ‘old folks’ – no worries, this is just a small panic. And it would probably go on like this for the latest newcomers for years to come – only if the EU would not rule out financial help by the state. They say this is to protect competition. From the Budapest flight market one thing has disappeared yesterday: the main competitor. Meaning that there will be no real competition from now on, as the other flag carriers flying to Budapest will be the sole carriers on their respective routes. Who will stop Lufthansa to raise their fares to Hamburg or Frankfurt, or BA to London, or Air France to Paris – when there is no other airline flying there from Budapest? What will the EU say now? Also, if there is no state-aid for the Air Carriers, why can be state-aid for banks when they are in trouble? Or for car manufacturers when they are in trouble? Why not for Air Carriers when they are in trouble? Like Spanair a week ago and now Malév. Who will be next in a week’s time? CSA Czech Airlines? LOT? SAS? Is the EU protecting competition, or is it protecting the three large European Airline conglomerates (Lufthansa group, Air France-KLM group and BA-Iberia group) and low-cost carriers?
Malev is now gone. From the skies. Physically it only remains in the Airplane Museum at the Budapest Liszt Ferenc Airport – unfortunately no Boeing 737 NG planes will ever be exhibited there, as they were all flown back to the lessor ILFC last night already. But it remains in the hearts of those who ever worked there. And for those who are just now joining the world outside of Malév, I can guarantee one thing: You will continue to talk about Malév as ‘us’ and ‘we’ for decades to come. Trust me, I know, because I do that all the time, too.
Rest In Peace, Blue-Nosed, Malév Hungarian Airlines!