AirAsia is the pioneer of regional low-cost airlines in Asia. The Malaysian-based company started taking off as a popular air carrier in the region around 2001, and now it is the largest low-cost airlines in Asia. In addition to their main hub in Kuala Lumpur, AirAsia also has a couple of subsidiaries, Thai AirAsia based out of Bangkok, Thailand, and Indonesia AirAsia based out of Jakarta, Indonesia. They currently provide routes that cover 400 destinations in 25 countries.
My first exposure to AirAsia was during my Southeast Asia trip last year. We were planning on visiting several countries and traveling independently, so low-cost airlines came up as considerations for the travel. Most of the travel segments were pretty short distance (less than four hours), so we didn’t care as much about special in-flight service or extra-comfort (which would be more of a factor if we were traveling long distance). The primary factors considered were safety record, timeliness, and cost. Anyone traveling in Southeast Asia region with these factors considered would include AirAsia as an option. We looked at AirAsia routes for the travel itinerary that we’re planning, and found that it would work for two of the segments (Bangkok – Phnom Penh, and Singapore – Jakarta), but not for the other segments. Primarily because of the scheduling and routing — you get the low cost by traveling AirAsia but you’re paying in terms of longer travel times or inconvenient departure times (some of the routes would require us to transit in Kuala Lumpur in the middle, so a direct flight that would take only 3 hours may end up to be a more than 8 hour-trip). It’s pretty similar to what you find in the US with low-cost airlines like Southwest Airlines. Great service and great price, but at times may be inconvenient travel itinerary.
One interesting planning fact I learned from my cousin Kristi who had used AirAsia to visit several destinations in the region is that you can get ridiculously low fare if you can and are willing to book the flight way in advance (up to one year in advance). They would have limited seats that were deep discounted (more than 75% off), but with condition that you have to do advance purchase, and it’s not refundable/exchangeable. In some cases, the price was low enough that some people would go ahead and purchase the tickets even if it might mean they couldn’t use it and would have to waste it.
Another interesting tip to know is that the price is low because there are many things that are offered as ala-carte options to purchase (like extra luggage weight and in-flight food service). Today many US carriers impose extra luggage fee and charging for in-flight food service, and that received negative feedback from the customers. I guess that’s because people are used to having those services as part of what they’re expecting from air travel that taking those away (or charging extra for those) naturally would cause negative reactions. With AirAsia and other low-cost carriers, the low expectation is set upfront as a consequence of getting the airfare at lower price, so then their customers can opt to pay more to get the extra convenience (e.g., for us we paid a little extra for luggage weight allowance so we didn’t have to worry about getting too close to the standard limit and getting penalized for overweight).
The actual travels on AirAsia were actually quite uneventful. It was interesting to observe that when we checked in, instead of given the boarding pass in the typical ticket-size print outs, ours looked more like a grocery/store receipts. I guess either way it has barcode so it doesn’t really matter — and they don’t have to get specialized printers to print those.
Both our Bangkok – Phnom Penh and Singapore – Jakarta trips left and arrived on-time. The flights were quite normal and somewhat like a typical flight experience for frequent flyers — courteous flight attendants who at a couple of occasions walked the aisle to offer in-flight food service for purchase (we were not allowed to bring our own food items to the flight). There were no in-flight entertainments, though for the short flights, this didn’t really matter.
The photo below was taken at Changi Airport in Singapore before we left for the last leg of our trip. I noticed the AirAsia tagline on the plane’s livery, ‘Now Everyone Can Fly.’ For us, we were fortunate enough that the cost of the air travel really didn’t factor in as much into the planning of our trip. But I could see how this tagline would ring true for many people who previously wouldn’t be able to afford traveling internationally when the choices available were limited to the major international airlines.