I realize that there is still much pain and sadness surrounding QZ8501, but I thought it would be nice to reflect upon what a fantastic experience I had recently flying with AirAsia on a flight from Bali (DPS) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL). This updated post was written prior to the Indonesia AirAsia tragedy in December, but was not published. It has not been edited. My heart of course goes out to the family and friends of those lost on flight 8501. While this is a celebration of what a great experience I had with the airline, I realize some may still be uncomfortable reading an AirAsia trip report.
Pre-written Trip Report:
AirAsia advertises that they are bringing flying to the masses and boy are they ever! It was by far my most unique flight simply due to the number of passengers who were most likely flying for the first time. They were loving every minute of the experience! I’ve flown on airlines all over the world, including small regional and low cost carriers, but this was an experience like never before. It was also probably one of the cheapest airfares I’ve ever scored @ $13.18 plus taxes and fees.
The fare was booked only a few days before with a base of $13.18 USD and airport taxes of $16.12 for a total of $29.30. I paid an additional $13.07 for up to 20kg (45lbs) of checked luggage. Malaysia Airlines also operates on the route but their fare for a flight 40 minutes earlier was $144 including taxes and fees and included up to 30kg (66lbs) of luggage for free.
Additionally, it was $1.96 to select a regular seat in advance and $10.35 for a premium seat (first 5 rows or exit row). There was also a processing fee of $2.94. I didn’t pay the additional fee to select my seat as the flight looked super empty. However, upon arriving at the airport and obtaining my boarding pass from the kiosk, I could see I had been assigned a middle seat with no other seats available. I went to the check-in counter and the agent informed me that the seats were blocked out but not actually sold. He gave me seat 14A, one of the emergency exit row seats! I also received my “boarding pass” which looked like a receipt from a fast food restaurant.
I had about 45 minutes until boarding and planned to grab some food, but as I walked by the lounges, I saw that they were accessible either with the free Lounge Club membership that I received with my Chase Ink Plus or with the Priority Pass card that some may have from their Platinum American Express cards. The Lounge Club allows for 2 free visits a year per card membership and I rarely use it (no longer a benefit).
Boarding was simple as there was truly no one on the flight! Being generous, there were probably about 40 people on the flight and I had the entire exit row to myself, as well as the two rows behind me, across from me, and in front of me. The flight attendants allowed passengers to switch seats but they were not allowed in the exit rows near me!
The seats were actually pretty nice with comfortable headrests and padded fake leather backs. Regular economy seats have a 29.5″ pitch and a width of 18″.
While the seats might be more comfortable than Ryanair or EasyJet, AirAsia uses several similar techniques to drum up additional revenue, including advertisements on the overhead bins and tray tables, a large menu of food and drink items for sale, and in-flight duty free shopping.
Reading through the in-flight magazine, I actually learned several interesting facts about AirAsia…
1) AirAsia won best low-cost airline in 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012.
2) AirAsia Citibank Visa holders get free AirAsia X(AirAsia’s international operation) flat-bed upgrades. What a great perk and the T&Cs don’t even seem to restrict the upgrade to certain fares types – AirAsia X Premium Flatbed upgrade only applies to AirAsia-Citibank Platinum Visa Credit Card for tickets purchased in any fare class with the AirAsia-Citibank Platinum Visa Credit Card. Upgrade is only applicable when a Cardmember redeems through AirAsia X Service Counter and it is solely based on seats availability. Upgrades are for one way only.
3) Kenny Rogers Roasters is still kicking all over Southeast Asia!
OK, back to my flight and how AirAsia truly is bringing air travel back to the masses…
There were definitely a lot of passengers on this flight who had never flown before. We had two (yes, not 1 but 2) occurrences of passengers getting up during takeoff to use the bathroom. If you perform a google search, this doesn’t seem all that uncommon. Passengers kept their tray tables down at all times, cell phones were on and ringing, and flight attendants made multiple announcements reminding passengers of the rules! I had never seen anything like it. Several Asian carriers tend to have passengers that choose to ignore announcements more so than carriers in other parts of the world, but this was ridiculous.
Once up in the air, the next announcement reminded passengers that no outside food or beverages were allowed to be consumed on the aircraft. They then asked all passengers who pre-booked food to raise their hands and present their boarding passes for validation.
The flight itself was smooth and I spread out across my exit row. While there was no in-flight entertainment system, my fellow passengers were amusement enough. The flight attendants were extremely friendly and made multiple service rounds. My only complaint would be the landing, by far the hardest I’ve ever experienced, though most of my low-cost carrier flights outside of the US tend to have hard and fast landings.
There was one last unfortunate surprise and shame on me for now doing any research prior, AirAsia lands at the low cost terminal in KUL. While it’s still a part of the same international airport, it’s a 20 minute bus ride to the main terminal where all high-speed train options into the city are located. There are multiple buses and most cost only $2. However, don’t expect much room for luggage (no under-carriage luggage) or assistance lifting your bag on-board. I wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere as it was already late at night, but I’ll know for next time to consider all options. Perhaps the extra $100 for the Malaysia flight would be worth it to some.
In any case, AirAsia was a mostly comfortable ride and had great people watching for entertainment. The crew was overly friendly and we departed and arrived early. For under $20, think about giving them a try for your next flight. That said, I don’t think I’ll be taking advantage of their Southeast Asia to Australia routes…