Budget airlines are opening up more destinations to savvy, inquisitive travellers all the time. But when you’re travelling with budget airlines, it’s important to know what you’re buying into before you step on the plane. Here’s what we found flying AirAsia for the first time.
Travelling well is as much about managing your expectations as it is choosing the right place to go. Whether you’re going full 5-star or ‘adventure minimalist’, a little bit of research beforehand will save you from shocks and surprises that can turn a vacation on its head.
And that’s exactly how you’ve got to treat flying these days.
With budget cuts, fuel and airport fees, and an ever more competitive market, airlines – even the full-service ones – are changing their service levels. This means knowing what you’ll be getting onboard will shape your holiday and let you prep for this stage properly.
What’s it really like to fly AirAsia?
First off, it’s very important to remember that AirAsia is a budget airline. Flying AirAsia will not have the same bells and whistles you get with full-service airlines. However, some bells and a couple of whistles are still available. You will have to pay extra for them though.
What you get with your basic ticket is a seat and cabin luggage allowance. It’s not much, but neither’s the price of the ticket! From there, you can add extras on to your base fare.
Exactly like all other budget carriers, you can pay for checked luggage. You can also choose to prepay for things like food, the entertainment package or a pillow and blanket. It is cheaper to pay for these things before you complete your booking than after.
Alternatively, you can just take stuff onboard with you and save your money for when you’re on the ground at your destination.
Service onboard is friendly – much friendlier than we were expecting. We’ve heard from friends that the staff efficiency bordered on brusque, but I think there have been some serious training sessions at AirAsia; we were made to feel very welcome.
However, it is a no-frills service no matter your seat selection, so if you want snacks, extra drinks, a blanket or pillow and you haven’t pre-booked them, bring them with you.
AirAsia’s booking system is a bit like a build-your-own pizza! You start off with the basic ‘cheese and tomato’ seat and hand luggage allowance, and from there you can add any ‘topping’ you want.
I was quite surprised by how customisable and flexible the system is. I’m sure other airlines have this too, but I’ve never seen it so easily accessible. They also have a good FAQ page.
From your basic seat and hand luggage, you can add a range of checked luggage amounts, entertainment, a meal, blankets and seating options from there. You can also add things like travel insurance and the airport-to-city shuttle bus service transfers.
There’s also Optiontown, where you can pay to be in the running for some pretty cool upgrades. For a fee, you can enter the draw that gives you the chance to ‘win’ a FlatBed seat.
Otherwise, you can pay to be in the draw for an ESo – Empty Seat option. This means you could get a spare seat or even a whole row to yourself.
If you don’t win, you get the money back a few days later.
Importantly, if you do buy into Optiontown, don’t check in online before your upgrades have been confirmed either way. This can negatively impact your chances.
And as far as upgrading goes, you can still pay for FlatBed, Quiet Zone or Hot Seat options at check-in – or even when you board. I suppose AirAsia’s message here is it’s never too late!
AirAsia seat options
Here’s a quick rundown of the different seats available on AirAsia flights.
When we flew to Thailand with AirAsia, we had the new FlatBed seats they’ve had installed in their AirAsia X longhaul flights and new fleet of planes. These 12 seats recline electronically to either a comfy armchair or all the way back to an angled flat bed… hence the name!
You can fiddle with the controls to make the seat fit you. You can adjust the footrest’s height and length, and the angle of the seatback independently, or you can just press the three preset buttons. It’s very well designed.
The seats are also wider and there’s enough room to stretch out, though your feet are under the seat in front when you’re out flat. Still, the sealed units of each seat means it doesn’t matter if the person in front is reclined or not – a perpetual fear of mine when I fly. I hate it when the person in front of me tries to feed me their headrest while I’m enjoying my inflight meal!
We both slept pretty much the whole 7-½ hour flight to Kuala Lumpur – AirAsia’s hub city. The seats are still seats at the end of the day, not real beds like you see on business and first on full-service airlines. Even so, it’s the first time I’ve flown like this and I’ve got to say, it’ll be hard going back to a regular seat.
With your FlatBed seat also comes a complimentary bottle of water, a pillow and blanket. The blanket is more like a duvet and is awesome by the way. So soft and thick – It was one of the main reasons we slept so well.
You also get fed. The food is surprisingly good – even for aeroplane food. They serve you a Malaysian dish like a nasi dadang and chicken curry, Hainan chicken rice or nasi lemak. You choose these meals when you book your seat. If you upgrade last minute, these meals are subject to availability.
With the FlatBed seats, you also get 40kg luggage allowance, priority security, priority luggage claim, and priority check-in and boarding. The priority check-in and separate security line at Sydney was the best. I hate queuing in those lines.
However, it’s important to remember this is not business class. There’s no service during the flight other than the booze, mealtime, duty free and trash carts that go through the rest of the plane. Of course, as you’re at the front of the aircraft, there’s more of a chance to catch an attendant’s eye – and they do get to you quicker than in the main cabin, but that’s it.
To be honest I prefer that. We’ve both flown business class before and if you’re trying to sleep, the constantly proffered food and drink (plus my greed of saying yes to all offerings) means I sleep a lot less than I expect to.
There are also no screens with the seats. If you’ve paid for entertainment, you get issued with an iPad where you can watch movies and play games from. Again, I prefer this too. If there’s a choice of films to watch, I’ll force myself to stay awake and watch as many as I can. This removes all temptation!
Quiet Zone seating
Directly behind the FlatBed section is the quiet zone. This area is separate from the rest of the plane, and has ambient lighting and a bit more legroom than the standard seats. It also acts a noise and foot traffic buffer to the FlatBed section.
You can add on a quiet zone seat for about $20 when you’re booking.
These seats are in the standard seat and quiet zone section, and have extra legroom or are exit row seats. You also get priority boarding with them.
I’m not going to lie to you, these seats are pretty tight. There’s not much space in front of you, and if – as Mrs Romance was – you’re next to a passenger with an ugly case of ‘manspread’, you’ve got to pull out some moves to get comfy.
If you don’t add on anything else to your standard seat ticket, I’d recommend adding the entertainment package as there’s less chance of getting a good sleep in these seats. We flew in the standard seats on the domestic Thai flights and the short legs between Malaysia and Thailand.
The standard seats for these 1 – 2 hour flights are absolutely fine.
By the way, no need to worry about Mrs R; in the time it took to fly from Bangkok to Phuket, she’d sorted that manspread guy out good and proper!
Over all, our experiences onboard all 5 AirAsia flights were positive – even down to surprisingly smooth landings the pilots made.
If you’re looking to save money on your flights and you can do without the free alcohol, movies, blankets and kids’ care packs you get with full-service airlines, you can’t really go past AirAsia.
And with a growing number of destinations they’re flying to (around 120 cities in 28 countries), these guys are looking very viable.
Have you ever flown AirAsia? What do you think of the FlatBed and Quiet Zone seat options? Tell us on the comments.