Malév Hungarian Airlines -- the name being an acronym of the Hungarian Magyar giközkeledísi Vállalat -- is the national airline of Hungary. The accent indicates that the E is long, so the name is pronounced (approximately) Mol-ayv. Malév's international airline code is MA.


Malév's origins are somewhat convoluted. Companies like Aero Rt. (founded 1910), Magyar Æeroforgalmi Rt. (MAEFORT) and Magyar Légiforgalmi Rt. (Malert) are clearly spiritual forebears, but the devastation of World War II temporarily ended all Hungarian civil aviation and these companies along with it. Thus, the official founding date is March 29, 1946, when the Hungarian-Soviet Civil Air Transport Joint Stock Company (Magyar-Szovjet Légiforgalmi Rt. aka Maszovlet) was formed. The initial fleet consisted of 21-person Li-2 passenger aircraft (the Soviet-licensed DC-3) and 3-person Po-2 "taxis", used for precision air mail: sacks of mail were dropped from the aircraft when flying over the destination! In 1950, Malév's base of operations moved from Budaörs to the newly opened airport at Ferihegy, where it has remained ever since.

On November 25, 1956, Hungary purchased all the Soviet shares of Maszovlet and Malév was born. Operations gradually expanded, with flights extending to nearby countries and, following the 1968 purchase of jet-propelled Tupolev Tu-134s from the Soviet Union, into all of Europe and the Middle East as well. After the revolution of 1989 and the advent of democracy, Malév started to ditch all its Soviet-era planes and it now runs a fleet of 18 Boeings, mostly refurbished 737s but with two 767-200 ER's for long-haul flights, and a few Fokker 70s for short hops.


As of December 2001, Malév flies to 43 cities in 35 countries, with 50 to 60 flights daily. Generally speaking (and excluding budget airlines like Ryanair), Malév offers the cheapest fares in Europe, its primary competition being the Czech national carrier CSA. (For example, the cheapest Helsinki-Zürich and Helsinki-Tel Aviv flights around are both operated by Malév via Budapest, with CSA's prices practically the same but all other carriers being 20-30% more expensive.) The price to pay is in the amenities: movies and music are available only on intercontinental flights, the food ranges from underwhelming to pathetic and seating is a bit cramped (although I've seen much worse). Things are naturally better in what Malév entitles "Sky Class", but paying for business class pretty much negates the price advantage... On the plus side, service has come a long way since the bad old days, and Hungarian wine makes even meals of one oversized chicken nugget with cold french fries go down much better.

Malév has not joined any of the large airline alliances (yet?), but has code sharing agreements with KLM, Northwest, Finnair and others in the oneworld camp. Malév also has its own frequent-flyer program entitled Duna Club, "Duna" being the Hungarian name for the Danube river, offering the usual panoply of bonus flights and executive lounges.


Malév's corporate site
Malév's onboard magazine Horizon (December 2001)
6 Malév flights during the last half year

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