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Air Asia

Low Cost, Not Low Quality – Air Asia Tokyo to Bali

Just throwing it out there. I like Air Asia. There really aren’t any surprises. In a way, consistency is a bit of luxury. You get exactly what you pay for, nothing more, nothing less.

Booking

Honestly, Air Asia is typically so cheap that I don’t even bother looking at award options. Perhaps a bit naive, but I can’t imagine any award redemption being worthwhile when the cash price for the 7 hour Japan to Indonesia flight is about $175. That’s like flying from New York to Paris for less than $200. Furthermore, those are PEAK SEASON fares. It’s really hard to beat. Of course, it goes without saying that you should still try to maximize any credit card earnings. I paid with my Chase Sapphire Reserve earning 525 Ultimate Rewards and being charged $0 in foreign transaction fees. Other great options include the Sapphire Preferred, Amex Platinum or Citi Prestige.

For those new to Air Asia

To be fair, the term low cost carrier has lost a bit of it’s meaning in recent years. In the US, both Southwest and Spirit are considered low cost. One charges for a carry-on, while the other’s prices rival those of full-cost carriers. So where is the line drawn? Does the existence of a premium cabin make an airline full-service? How about the ability to get free soft-drinks or reserve a seat. The reason I point all this out, is that Air Asia ticks some full service boxes, and also a lot of discount carrier ones

As mentioned above, you get what you pay for. So what exactly is that? Well, if you simply purchase a ticket, you get a ride in a $150 million dollar jet for you and your carry-on bags. Think Southwest here, minus the checked baggage allowance, free snacks and in-flight entertainment. But, you can turn your discount ride into something premium-like for a relative bargain, see below:Air Asia Quiet Zone

The hot seat selection doesn’t sound like much, but boy it is. They’re nothing more than pre-assigned “desirable seats”…things like bulkhead and exit rows. All others are first come, first serve. That alone doesn’t necessarily mean a ton, except when you combine it with the fact that these seats don’t “open up” once the passengers with pre-booked seats have claimed theirs. I’m convinced that most passengers would put up with standing room only if it meant saving $20 on a 6 hour flight. So you’re very likely to be the only person in the row.

Next up is the presence of the Quiet Zone. The name is pretty self-explanatory. It’s the 2nd best place on the aircraft to get some shut-eye, after the Premium Flatbed cabin. Per Air Asia:

Who can sit in the Quiet Zone?

  • Guests aged 10 and above.
  • Guests who are not travelling with guests under 10 (child or infant).

I’m acutely aware that not much divides travelers more than the idea of children on an airplane. Some find the idea of a child-free zone appalling, others would consider it bliss. All I know is that not much ruins a flight quicker than a screaming baby. I understand it’s frequently worse for the parent than the surrounding passengers. But if I can just avoid the whole situation, I will.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but the fact that Air Asia rarely bends the rules for any passenger is somewhat refreshing. The source of much frustration when flying is the perceived lack of equity among passengers. One passenger gets singled out for an unwanted TSA massage, while watching others walk by, and that person feels cheated. Likewise, imagine the on-board calamity if one family, traveling with children, were allowed in the Quiet Zone while another was not. That won’t happen on Air Asia. They’re stickers for rules. Believe it or not, it actually works well.

Air Asia Window
XT 402 over the Bali coast

Check In

Air Asia is a predictable airline. You always know what you’re going to get. The good, and the bad. Unfortunately, I have yet to experience a smooth check-in at the Air Asia counter. I typically travel with my SCUBA gear. As a result, I always prepay the “sports equipment” baggage tier. Why sports equipment is classified in a separate category is a mystery. To anyone at the check-in counter it would appear just like any other piece of luggage. Nobody at Air Asia knows either.

Nevertheless, the pre-booking of sports equipment confuses the counter agents every. single. time. The discourse almost always follows the same pattern:

  1. The agent weighs your checked baggage an informs you that you’ve exceeded your allowance
  2. You inform the agent that you’ve in-fact pre-paid the sports equipment fee and are under the weight allowance
  3. The agent looks puzzled and taps a co-worker/boss on the shoulder for a second opinion
  4. After talking about it for a second they ask for some documentation
  5. You show them the email confirmation from Airasia.com
  6. They look even more confused and type some things in their terminal, and then a light bulb goes off
  7. Agent: “aaahh, this is sports equipment!? May I ask what kind?”
  8. Me: “its equipment for SCUBA diving”
  9. Agent: “oh, in that case no problem”

Once would be annoying, twice would be a coincidence. But I’ve had this pattern repeat itself 4 times. Other than that, check-in proceeds as usual.

It’s worth noting here, that purchasing the Premium Flex package grants you access to the priority boarding line. This is nothing to shake a stick at. Given the amateur-ish performance of Air Asia’s land-side crew, the general economy check-in lines can be substantial. Typically, you’ll see just as many agents working the premium line as you see working the econ line. Considering only a handful of passengers opt for the upgrade, you’re unlikely to encounter any wait.

Boarding

Unless you’re one of the few with a pre-assigned “hot seat” or a premium cabin ticket, seating on Air Asia is first come, first serve. Much like Southwest here in the US. But without organization, it’s actually a bit of a cluster. Frequently you’ll witness a line of passengers trying to negotiate their way to the front in an effort to snag a window/aisle.

Conversely, and in yet another reason to opt for the Premium Flex upgrade, passengers with pre-assigned seats board via a dedicated queue. It’s somewhat akin to domestic priority boarding. Furthermore, on aircraft capable of boarding via double jetway, as our A330 was, premium passengers board via the forward ramp.

Air Asia Service

On my NRT->DPS flight I found the on-board service excellent. Technically, you’re not supposed to bring outside food/drink on the aircraft. However, as I inadvertently walked down the jetway with my just-purchased Starbucks iced vanilla latte, I was greeted with a mischievous smile as the FA made eye contact with my beverage. Like we both knew it shouldn’t be there, but also that it wouldn’t hurt anyone. This contradicts my previous statement that Air Asia crews are sticklers for procedure. Nevertheless, in this case I was happy to see them bent.

This leads me to one of the few operational issues with Air Asia. I believe they are a bit over the top when it comes to airside purchased food and drink. They literally let you bring nothing. Well, there might be some exception for medically necessary nutrients. I get the point, they want you to purchase their product on-board. It’s not a charity after all. However, not even making an exception for bottled water, necessary to sustain life, is getting a bit shameless.

Air Asia Quiet Zone
The quiet zone really was dead quiet

After taking our seats/the safety briefing/departure, nothing really happened for a couple hours. There is no complimentary beverage cart, and truth be told, barring any incidents, you really don’t have any contact with the FA’s. In my opinion, no contact means no problem. I appreciate they don’t do things like awkwardly asking if I’ll trade my good seat for a bad one to accommodate some family who can’t bear to be apart for a couple hours.

In-Flight Entertainment

There is none. Makes it easy to plan. Buy an iPad or a Kindle Fire(Amazon) and load it up with Netflix. It’s what ends up happening on airlines with AVOD half the time anyway. Also invest in a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Many swear by the Bose Quietcomfort 35’s(Amazon). I’m pretty happy with my Sony’s(Amazon).

Eating

Meals are ordered when you purchase the Premium Flex package at time of booking. Everything is chosen in advance. Even your flavor of soda. This might sound a bit over the top, but it works. How many times have you been seated near the rear of the cabin, only to be told the meal you’d like is not longer available? That doesn’t happen on Air Asia. If 25 people have pre-ordered a Coke, 25 people will get a Coke. Likewise regarding one’s meal choice.

On this specific flight, I chose the “Nasi Kuning”. How that translates to English is best left for a professional. All I know is that it was very tasty. Honestly better than the business class meal on my recent United Polaris flight. I couldn’t tell you what was in it exactly, but whatever it was rated near the top of re-heated airlines meals when it came to taste. Oh, and I loved that they didn’t hold back on the spice.

If you like Fancy

You’re in luck, Air Asia has a business class. Or at least something like it. They call in their “Premium Flatbed” product. I’ve never actually heard them refer to it as anything else. It looks decent, especially for the price. For roughly $600 each way, I should have booked it. Life is full of regrets like that. Purchasing the Premium Flex package gets you most (if not all) the benefits of the flatbed product without the angle-flat seat. Not wanting to leave totally empty handed, I did grab some pics after that cabin had deplaned.

Air Asia Premium Flatbed

Final Thoughts

As previously hammered upon, there is no better example of “you get what you pay for” than Air Asia. This is by no means meant to be negative. So often, people’s opinion of a customer service experience is driven by how their expectations compare to their reality. You’ll rarely hear people complain about customer service at a gas station, simply because the bar isn’t set very high. Air Asia is an ala-cart airline. If you purchase a ticket, and nothing else, that’s exactly what you’ll get. Furthermore, if you purchase 20kg of additional baggage allowance, you’ll get 20kg, not 21. In a way, I believe that providing customers exactly what they pay for is the best example of service. Sure, it’s nice to hope for that premium upgrade to clear. But more often than not you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. On Air Asia, you’ll never have this worry. And, for this reason, I continue to highly recommend them for any inter-Asia flight.