Shot of empty seats aboard MAS not fake, photographer insists

A screengrab of Leanne Marotta’s Twitter post showing a picture of a near-empty flight out of Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, which she has insisted is real.
A screengrab of Leanne Marotta’s Twitter post showing a picture of a near-empty flight out of Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur, which she has insisted is real.

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 28 — A Malaysia Airlines (MAS) passenger who snapped a picture of a near-empty flight out of Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur has insisted it is real, according to an Australian television station’s report.

Leanne Marotta, whose picture went viral after it was shared on Twitter, told SBS TV that it was taken about two to three hours mid-flight, and estimated around 60 people on board.

She stressed that her flight was a direct flight and not headed for transit, and that the pillows and blankets were scattered in the picture as the flight crew told passengers they could take any seat they wanted.

“I remember clearly asking the gentleman when checking in at around 5:30am at MEL (Melbourne)why there was no one at check-in,” she was quoted as saying in the report.

“He basically told me that it was because it was early in the morning, but I have never seen so few people around when checking in. There was absolutely no waiting time to do this,” she added.

The report says Marotta was aboard flight MH146, an early morning direct flight that departs from Melbourne at 7:40am and arrives in Kuala Lumpur at 2:15pm.

Pictures of empty rows of seats on MAS flights have been making the rounds over social media and media websites like Mashable.

Masterchef UK 2014 winner Ping Coombes hit out at the media for misrepresenting a picture she posted on her Twitter and Instagram accounts by suggesting that MAS was flying almost empty planes after the MH370 and MH17 double disasters.

Ping tweeted yesterday that her flight was in fact full, and that her picture was meant as a gesture of thanks to the airline for upgrading the seats for her and her family.

The past few days have seen British tabloids like the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror also publishing the pictures, including the one posted by Ping.

The beleaguered national flag carrier is already facing a massive restructuring to stem huge losses following the two disasters.

While there have been cancellations and bookings are down, it has not flying almost empty planes.

Deep job losses, route cuts and a change of leadership are expected to feature in a restructuring plan being prepared by Malaysia’s government for announcement as early as tomorrow, when MAS also reports second-quarter results. Likely the last before being delisted, the numbers are expected to show plunging ticket sales and heavy losses even before July’s shooting down of MH17 over Ukraine.

As state fund Khazanah Nasional, the majority owner, prepares to take the company private and inject efficiency into the airline, it must tackle crumbling staff morale and win over the powerful main labour union if turnaround efforts are to succeed.

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