Though I’ll deny it, truth is Australia is a LONG way away from much of the world and the shortest international flight I’ve taken out of the country was to Singapore, 8-hours away. Owch. Even in the best seats, that long sitting in tight economy seats really does my head in.
When I can, I’ll upgrade myself on long-haul flights. To afford upgrades, I travel internationally on a mix of frequent flyer points or discount Business class fares. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, an airline may even invite me to experience their premium cabins in return for me covering it on social media and this blog.
That being said, in my line of work, you can’t avoid flying economy. Most recently, I flew to Malaysia on what would have been a respectable and bearable 8.5 hours if I hadn’t been flying with AirAsia.
It was one long flight.
AirAsia X Economy
I’d paid AU$110 online to ensure that for both my flights Id be seated in 7C, the aisle seat of the first row behind Premium with a bulkhead. Despite being the last person on board there was a surprising amount of overhead space available. That’s where the good things stopped.
Sitting in my seat I noticed that the seats are uncomfortably narrow, clearly not designed for the bootylicious body of myself. As I strapped myself in, I noticed that I had to adjust the belt almost the whole way out just to fit it, a little too snuggly, across my waist.
While I was worrying about the side effects of my week long Mexican food binge with my housemate, I overheard the much thinner girl next to me remark to her boyfriend that the seats were a little too narrow. Okay, maybe it wasn’t the Mexican food.
Settling uncomfortably into the flight I began watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. Halfway into the second episode the food cart came along and the attendant demanded to see my boarding card. I freaked out wondering what Id done wrong.
Turns out, there are makings on the card stating what you had pre-purchased online (snacks, entertainment systems, etc.) and every time meals are served you have to present your boarding card.
I was presented with a sandwich. When enquiring what was inside the crew member inspected the package before declaring she didn’t know. Anxiously peeling back the plastic I realised it was a chicken and cheese focaccia, and surprisingly good as well. In addition to my sandwich, as part of the snack meal, I was giving a 300mL bottle of water.
After the meal, I managed to drift off but around three-hours into the flight, I woke up with a sinking feeling in my stomach and beads of sweat pouring down my face. Fumbling with my bag I gulped down a few sips of water and grabbed a Mentos to chew on before leaning back into my chair. I’d only ever felt like this twice before, both times resulting in fainting.
I tried to work out why I wanted to faint. I’d eaten and I had drunk a lot of water before I boarded the flight and no alcohol on board. It was only after running through my mental check list that I worked out why I was over heating. Reaching up to adjust the air conditioning vent in the panel above me I realised that there was none.
The A320 Air Asia flight from Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur doesn’t have an air conditioning vent above each passenger seat.
Flagging down a crew member I asked if they could check the air conditioning and perhaps turn it up. The girl said she would and walked away. Half an hour later, I had a similar sinking feeling in my stomach and asked another crew member if they could check the air conditioning who replied the same way. I had to accept nothing was going to happen.
When the girl next to me woke up complaining of feeling faint, I didn’t say anything. I just passed her the packet of Mentos and told her to drink some more water, as I ignored the creeping sickness spreading all over my body.
The Good of Air Asia X Economy:
- They’re cheap.
- They’re committed to arriving and departing on time.
- They have a huge number of (cheap!) connections across Asia.
- If you have a favourite seat, or want some extra space, pre-book a Hot Seat by paying online. These seats can be emergency exit or Quiet Zone of the plane. Best of all, you can also book these seats when you are already on board!
The Bad of Air Asia X Economy:
- You have to pay for everything with a credit card or cash (debit cards not accepted).
- The seats are a little too snug to sit in comfortable.
- The arms rest don’t move and there is very limited recline.
- There are no paper towels in the bathroom, just tissues.
- There is no leg room, and I’m only 5ft 7 (173cm) tall so its bad if I say that!
- I still can’t get over that there is no proper air conditioning onboard! (I almost fainted three times)
If I was forced to fly Air Asia back to Melbourne, I was I was determined to upgrade to Premium.
Work kindly changed my flight to the overnight flight and I arrived at the airport six-hours in advance to secure my upgrade since AirAsia doesn’t take any upgrade requests within 40-hours of flying.
With just one seat left in Premium I quickly rushed to change money to pay 899 Malaysian Ringgit (just under AUD$300) to secure my upgrade. I would have fist bumped the guy who served me I was so excited.
As he attached a fluro yellow sticker to my boarding pass and wrote, in blue ballpoint pen, APTU and crossed out my old seat number, replacing it with 1K, I asked him what it meant.
He responded confidently that the letters mean that I had bought an upgrade using OptionTown (the platform AirAsia uses to pre-book seats and meals, as well as making flight changes) and the yellow sticker was for security. I thanked him again and went to enjoy the last few hours with my Filipino friends who were enjoying the cultural tastes of KLIA2’s McDonald’s complete with free WiFi.
As check in wasn’t open, I had to wait a few hours to check on my baggage. The procedure took a little longer than I expected, but I didn’t think anything of it. Security and immigration were lax and slow and as I finally made it to my gate, I found the flight was delayed by half an hour as the flight had just landed.
Yes, the plane landed from Australia, had a 30 minute turn around, and then was flying straight back after a quick spruce up and crew change.
As I was boarding I realised that the part of the ticket with the seat changes and 1K written on it had been taken off me at the gate, only the stub in my hand. I explained this to the flight attendant who greeted me on board and she told me, rather abruptly, to sit down and well sort it out later.
I settled into the Premium sections pod-style seating, akin to Qantas business class but without the massage function, and hugged the soft but warm quilt and comfortable full-size pillow watching other passengers board.
There was plenty of leg room, particularly when sitting up, but when lying flat the bed was a little short for my 5ft 7 height. Most of all, I was thankful for the extra seat width and having no arm rests jammed against my hips after the economy flight over.
Before take-off the flight attendant came and spoke to both the woman sitting next to me and myself to explain there was no information about either of us upgrading our seats. We sat going through the same barrage of questions: How much did it cost? Where did we upgrade? Did we have receipts? – the list went on.
The girl next to me ended up falling asleep, pulling up her sleeping mask every time the stewardess came back to interrogate me with the same questions.
The relaxing 8-hour return trip to Melbourne became anything but.
I was interrogated four times by the same hostess with the same barrage of the questions, finally ending in “we have no record of your upgrade and don’t have your ticket with the seat number.” I knew she was just doing her job but I was beginning to get angry at the thought of 8 hours back in economy after forking out the money to upgrade.
Eventually, when I saw another lady taking a photo with her iPhone I remembered one important piece of information and I scrambled to find my phone. Being the dutiful blogger and aviation geek that I am, I took a photo of my ticket to post on Instagram and jumped over the sleeping body next to me to present it to the girl in the stewardess in the forward galley.
She was kind of taken a back but took my phone, citing that she didn’t know what the sticker or APTU meant, even after I’d explained to her three-times exactly what the customer service attendant told me.
A good half hour later same came back, clearly exasperated, and returned my phone to me without more than a thank you.
After the seating drama, the flight was fairly standard. An average meal was served complimentary chicken rice (literally chicken + rice) and a small packet of sauce, as well as a small orange juice. Two bottles of waters were handed out throughout the flight.
The seats were a little short when fully reclined but still comfortable enough to sleep on, though I did once again wake up feeling like I was going to faint because of the lack of cooling system.
I can only describe the landing as the worst landing I’ve ever had. The lady next to me and I both had packed our handbags and, I’m not sure about her but, I was waiting for the crew to do their final checks when I was going to ask them to put my bag in the luggage compartment above. Only no final checks were done.
The lady and I both gripped our bags tightly as we came in to land at Melbourne International Airport and, as I watched out the window, I noticed the black tyre marks, marking the place most other planes had touched down, fly under us.
As we touched down I was ready to cheer I’d survived AirAsia twice but the pilot slammed on the brakes.
I grabbed my bag and hugged it tighter with one arm as I gripped the centre console, trying to steady myself as I was flung forward and then back; the woman next to me scrambled to save her bag from falling off her lap.
A few minutes later, over the sound of mumbled complaints, the Captain got on the speaker to say that the rough landing was due to a shorter than average runway in Melbourne.
I searched runway length later that day to find that yes, Melbourne’s runway is shorter than Kuala Lumpur’s, but not significantly shorter than KL’s. In my mind, if its long enough to land A380s the biggest plane in the skies today its long enough to land the tiny A320 we were flying in. Excuses, excuses, excuses.
The Good of Air Asia X Premium:
- They’re cheap.
- You can upgrade online or at the airport should there be any seats available. You can also upgrade on board to Premium if there are any seats available.
- Priority Check-in.
- Complimentary 25kg checked baggage allowance.
- Seats that have a decent recline with plenty of leg-room.
- There are two power points in the center console (didn’t see a USB point).
The Bad of Air Asia X Premium:
- They clearly don’t have a good system of communication set up between check-in and cabin crew.
- Entertainment systems are not included in the price.
- There are no paper towels in the bathroom, just tissues.
- THERE IS NO AIR CONDITIONING ON BOARD!
- I’m somewhat concerned about the safety of Air Asia flights 30 minute turn around on an 8-hour flight… hrm…
KLIA2 The New Home of Air Asia
The much hyped KLIA2 terminal opened in May 2014. As the home to low-cost carriers, mainly Air Asia and some Lion Air flights, I wasn’t sure what to expect.
Each destination has specific check-in desks (Australia seems to be the X-row) and the check in lines a weren’t too long when I checked-in (3-hours before departure).
On the departure/check-in side, there are dozens of restaurants and a few duty-free stores. A short walk away in the attached shopping mall there are even more restaurants and better quality shopping, with more stores opening over the coming months.
My Philippino blogger friends and I wandered and ate (too much) before they finally had to check into their flight and we all went through immigration together to say our goodbyes and I had two-hours to wait til my flight.
There is nothing to do airside.
After the LONG walk to the cross-section of P and Q-gates I sunk into some of the uncomfortable seats and curled up to watch ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ on my iPad. Then, I had to take ANOTHER long walk to do second baggage screening and the walk down to the gate.
It took me nearly 30 minutes to walk from check-in to my gate. Three security points. Two passport checks. No trolleys to cart your bags until after the third screening point. A handful of mainly unopened shops and no place to just buy lollies or water for the flight. All of that combined really got on my nerves. People want to spend their money!!
One of the best parts about KLIA2 is the KLIA ekspres train that runs between the airport and KL Sentral. For the 28 minute journey you have comfortable seats, free 4G WiFi (sit in the middle of the train for best access) and the trains depart every 15 minutes!
If you want someone to help you get from terminal to the KLIA ekspres, consider taking the KLIA ekspres VIP service!
Air Asia is a budget airline, which means you receive budget service, even when flying in the Premium cabin.
Flying economy you’ll have to pay for any extras you want: food, drinks, entertainment systems, blankets, and pillows. They don’t hide this information on their website and, during the booking process, give you plenty of chances to visit OptionTown where you can buy these extra amenities.
One thing that really irked me onboard was that the bath room has no paper towels or flannels to wipe your hands on. Nope, you have the choice of flicking water everywhere, wiping your dripping hands on your clothes or tissues. Yes, tissues which will leave flaky white bits everywhere.
Don’t expect to see the flight attendants frequently. It took an hour, in economy, for the food to be served after the slow, painful process to marking off every.single.persons boarding card, and took them another two-hours to clear away the food.
In Premium, the food was served at a snail like pace and I had to flag an attendant down to clear away my meal because I wanted to sleep!
When I was wandering around during the flight, needing to stretch my legs after being cramped in economy, the crew were all squatting in the tiny galley and chatting. When they hear a noise, the curtain was pulled back. I was just standing there stretching but I was snapped at and glared at by two of the people sitting on the floor.
I wanted to love AirAsia, I really did. I wanted them to become my go-to cheap airline to get to Asia but even their Premium product was disappointing.
Will I ever fly Air Asia again? I will only fly AirAsia if I’m flying Premium and the flight is less than four-hours long, or maybe when I buy a AU$15 ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. Otherwise, I’d rather save my money.
Now its over to you: