I have been flying Air Asia for half a decade and saw it grow from a small operation in a tiny cargo terminal to what is now Asia’s biggest airline.
Out of about two dozen flights, almost all were positive and I liked the airline’s commitment to simplicity, low cost, and punctuality. I also liked their innovative yet somewhat understated marketing that is light years ahead of anything else in the region (Tony Fernandes learned from the Virgin Group).
The staff are young, helpful and, to some extent, enthusiastic, instead of old, grumpy and dangerously feminist (as most US and EU airline staff are now).
However, the airline has become a victim of its own success. Something has happened that just made me reconsider flying with them. Here is my personal ‘horror list’…
- The crowds are menacing. Despite the new terminal, immigration at 5 AM took 90 minutes with just a few immigration officers for a hall of 5,000 people.
- The typical AirAsia customer is now either 85 years old, under 5 years old or seems to be on the first flight of her/his life.
The amount of stress that goes into boarding a routine flight is mesmerizing.
- Flights are full, to the last seat.
This comes as no surprise, though, and frankly is every airline’s goal but AirAsia is so good at it that there is no space to stretch out.
- You can’t use your headset or your phone during takeoff or landing (even in airplane mode).
This is outdated legislation and even if that’s the current Malaysian state of things, why enforce it outside of Malaysia?
- The agents need better training.
The agent at the transfer desk would not print me a ‘boarding pass’ because my flight wasn’t a connecting flight – huh? The gate agents would not print me a ‘boarding pass’ because they didn’t know how… really?
- The seat pitch is too tight.
This hasn’t changed but boy is it uncomfortable to be in a middle seat of an A320 for 6 hours, with no power, no food, and no (free) drinks. None of this is new, though.
So in conclusion, AirAsia is doing its job but the sheer amount of other travelers (who often frankly shouldn’t be on a plane) make the AirAsia experience very stressful.
Here are some alternatives:
- NokAir (though I haven’t flown them yet).
- Vietjet – I liked them, though sure enough, they will have the same problems.
- Jetstar (boy those planes are old!)
- Garuda Indonesia (Google Flights and Orbitz often show ticket prices that are 100% higher than on www.garuda-indonesia.com, so book there at a better price).
- Citilink, Sriwijaya Air, and Lion Air. It feels like the Indonesian discounters are really as bad as taking the bus (and their safety records are shaky too).