AirAsia Airbus A320 - Photo: AeroIcarus | Flickr CC

AirAsia Airbus A320 – Photo: AeroIcarus | Flickr CC

I’ll be the first to admit it.  I was naive.  I really didn’t think it could get worse than our low-cost carriers (LCCs) here in the U.S.   I mean, I’d suffered Spirit’s kneecap-busting 28-inch seat pitch.  I’d waited an hour-and-a-half to retrieve my bags from Frontier’s severely understaffed operations at DFW.  I’d paid for my carry-on bags, seat assignments, drinks, and everything else imaginable.  How bad could it be?

During our recent trip to Thailand, my wife and I wanted to travel from Krabi (KBV) in the south of Thailand to Chiang Mai (CNX) in the north of the country.  Although I enjoy different flying experiences, I certainly did not go looking to fly AirAsia. There are several operators offering tickets for this route; however, AirAsia was the only airline flying this particular route nonstop.  Wanting to make the most of our limited vacation time, we chose to take the shortest option.  The tickets were ridiculously cheap by U.S. standards – about $35 each.

My first hint of trouble came when I tried to check-in online the morning of our flight. I wanted to make sure that my wife and I had seats together and pay for our checked bags. When I logged on, I was able to make these selections, albeit with some trouble.  Getting assigned seats cost about 200 Bhat ($6) each.

Our checked bags would have been about 300 Bhat ($9) each. Not bad, and pretty much in line with what I expect from an LCC. But the problem came when I tried to pay.  Try as I might, I could not get the system to accept payment without error.  So, I tried – again and again – for nearly an hour before giving up. Oh well, I figured we’d get it resolved at the airport. Wishful thinking.

AirAsia's Pricing Structure for Checked Baggage (1 USD = 33 THB)

AirAsia’s pricing structure for checked baggage (1 USD = 33 THB)

We got to the airport quite early.  I had given us a lot of taxi time to get from our hotel in Ao Nang, however the trip went faster than expected, getting us to the airport nearly three hours prior to our flight.  When we went to the AirAsia counter we were told that they were not yet accepting check-ins.  Okay, I thought, no problem, we’ll just wait it out.  We grabbed some coffee at a shop near the check-in counter and watched the line grow and grow before they finally decided it was time to start checking people in about an hour and forty-five minutes prior to the flight.

When we finally made it up to the front of the line, we were told that since we had not paid for our checked bags before, the price had now increased threefold, and was 900 Bhat ($27) per bag – nearly doubling the price of the original tickets.

My objection that I was unable to pay the fee online due to their computer issues fell on deaf ears. Adding insult to injury, we were sent to another desk across the airport terminal to pay this fee.  After standing in another line and finally getting that fee paid, we were then sent back to the original counter (and its increasingly long line) to get our boarding passes issued.  But, alas, we finally had boarding passes in hand.

Thai AirAsia A320 at Krabi KBV) Airport Photo:David Delagarza | AirlineReporter.com

Thai AirAsia A320 at Krabi (KBV) Airport – Photo:David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Now onward to the gate.  Wait, there’s no gate printed on this boarding pass. Okay, what do the monitors say?  Nope, no monitors in the terminal building.  Plan C – let’s look out the window and find an AirAsia plane.  Okay, I see one way on the other side of the airport at Terminal 2.  That can’t be right, does the plane really leave from a different terminal than we checked in at?

After asking around, apparently so, but only if you do not have an international connection (Thai airports separate international passengers at origin and destination, even for domestic connections).  Okay…  So we walked to the other terminal section, cleared security, and made our way to the gate area.  Despite being a rather busy airport, all flights at Krabi Terminal 2 share a common waiting area and gate door.  Although there was an AirAsia aircraft just outside, there were no AirAsia personnel in sight, so we again waited.

Thai AirAsia A320 at Krabi Airport Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter.com

Thai AirAsia A320 at Krabi Airport – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

Half an hour before the flight was scheduled to leave, there was still no one from the airline around. Are we in the right place? I asked around and found several people also waiting on our flight who were just as confused.  Finally, a single gate agent showed up and held up a sign for “Chiang Mai.”

She took our boarding passes and motioned us to a hallway outside the plane where we were to wait some more. Finally, we were led out on the ramp to board the plane. The complete lack of communication at this point was a bit frustrating, but at least we were finally boarding. And the AvGeek in me always loves ramp boarding.

2015-07-14 19.02.54

Me at 6’1″ in AirAsia’s tight seats – Photo: Bonnie Sarkar

I had been assigned an aisle seat (thank goodness) near the back of the plane. I took my seat, or tried to.  I have been in some tight and uncomfortable seats before, but this time I physically did not fit into the seat.  As a 6’1″ flyer, I do love to complain about tight seats, however in this case the seat was physically too small for me. Supposedly this is a 28-inch seat pitch; however, I have to say it felt significantly tighter than Spirit’s 28-inch pitch.  Even the 5’8″ girl sitting next to me was complaining about not fitting into the seat. [Editor: when we first saw this picture on Twitter, we thought it looked like Sasquatch taking his first flight.]

Aside from being extremely uncomfortable, the two-hour flight itself was unremarkable. I chose not to purchase any of the offered food or drink on board, although the meals I did see people eating did not look too bad.  It’s worth noting that food is available for pre-order online at a significantly cheaper rate than on the flight itself (although I should temper that with my experience paying for bags).

When we arrived in Chiang Mai, we exited the aircraft via air stairs and were bused to the terminal building.  Our checked bags arrived remarkably fast, and we were soon on our way into Thailand’s ancient capital.

Gratuitous Krabi Beach Photo Because That's Why I Suffered on AirAsia in the First Place - Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter.com

Gratuitous Krabi Beach photo, because that’s why I suffered on AirAsia in the first place – Photo: David Delagarza | AirlineReporter

So all things considered, was it worth it?  I really didn’t book this airline because it was cheap, I booked it because it was fast and made sense for our itinerary.  Flights in Thailand, especially during the green (read, rainy) season are ridiculously cheap.  Even considering the steep checked bag fee, the flight cost less than $60. Would I do it again?  I probably would, as a little discomfort in the seat and annoyance at paying a bag fee is worth half a day’s vacation time to me.

Next time, I would probably pay for the (relatively) bigger seats up front, and I would definitely pay the bag fee in advance.  Heck, I might even go all out and pre-order some food next time.  Bottom line, had I gone on the website in advance and paid roughly $20 for bags, bigger seats, and even some food, I would have had a much better experience.  After all, when the base fare is only $30, you’ve got some room to splurge.

ASSOCIATE EDITOR - DENVER, CO. David is a civil engineer by training and trade, but his head is in the clouds. A licensed private pilot and skydiver, he grew up around airplanes and airports. He calls Colorado home, but travel is in his blood. You can find him sitting in coach with his wife and toddler on the way to their next great adventure. Email me at [email protected]

http://www.airlinereporter.com/author/davedlg/
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32 Comments
donaldK

I have flown AirAsia this year and it was not too bad. I did pay for the exit row and had lots of leg room. The flight crew blocks off the exit row so that only the ones who pay can sit in these seats. I was the only person in any of the 12 exit row seats so I had lots of room. Flight was not bad for the price I paid. YMMV.

I think the reason why the seats were much more cramped than Spirit despite the seat pitch being the same is because they’re not the new slim-line seats, which give you a lot more legroom for the same seat pitch, albeit at the cost of severe back pain.

I haven’t been on any US “LCCs” (in quotation marks as US airfares are anything but low) but even the better European LCCs like Easyjet charge you much more to pay additional fees at the airport, so I always pay for any extra fees at the time of booking to avoid any trouble later on. Yes it is gouging, but unfortunately that is how LCCs do their business and the only way to avoid being ripped off is to abide by their rules however unreasonable they may be.

Having flown AA many times in Malaysia and Thailand, I’ve never had any issues like you did.

Maybe you were unlucky.

Chris N.

I’m Thai and I’m 6’0″ tall. I too had trouble fitting into these seats after my company booked me on Air Asia since what we usually fly on, Nok Air, was fully booked on that day. The seats are definitely designed for normal Thai sized people.

Not long ago I had to fly with them again from DPS-DMK because I had to catch a domestic flight from DMK. I made sure that I paid 300 baht extra for the bulkhead seat. I think for the majority of the routes that they fly, the width and pitch of the seats are sufficient.

John O.

I’ve flown them before from BKK to SGN and it was an absolute disaster of an experience. Horrible customer service and massive frustrations. I will never fly them again if I have an option to fly any other reputable carrier such as TG or SQ (and pay double or more!).

LCC’s arenot the perfect way to travel by air. but then you get what you pay for. It allowed most people like me in the Philippines to travel domestically faster and safer than the former mode of sea travel. It also allowed the average Filipinos to purchase affordable tickets for travel to other cities in Asia which would not have been possible before.

Hey Leo,

This is exactly the huge benefit of airlines like AirAsia… it allows people, who previously could never fly, the ability to be able to fly!

David | AirlineReporter

Hence AirAisa’s motto, “Now Everyone Can Fly”.

Can’t see how it’s Air Asia’s fault if your bank card can’t make the payment and if you need to be picky about seats and bags then manage your booking a few weeks in advance of flying.
And yes if having long legs get row 12 or row 14.
Easy stuff if you do the preparation, read the rules and don’t assume the rest of the world is same same as USA.

I wish it had been as simple as a problem with my bankcard. I tried several different cards on several different devices, and kept getting errors at different points in the process. And really, I’m not complaining about the check in problems, computer problems happen (just ask United). What I am complaining about is the threefold increase in checked bag fees between (trying to) check in and arriving at the airport – that is really just gouging, plain and simple. And, yes, US LCC’s do the same thing, but not on quite so dramatic of a scale.

You’re right, a lot of this is “lesson learned” stuff – that is a lot of why I wrote this piece. Had I realized just how tight the seats would be, you better bet I would have paid for the bigger seats. Had I realized that check in could turn into a debacle, I would have managed it from the comfort of home a few weeks in advance. Had I read this piece in advance I would have been much better prepared – and I hope that someone who reads this before flying AirAsia in the future will be. As you point out, most of the problems I encountered are things that an educated consumer has control over.

Re:

” What I am complaining about is the threefold increase in checked bag fees between (trying to) check in and arriving at the airport – that is really just gouging, plain and simple. ”

AA are well known for discouraging passengers from wasting time at the check-in .. for real price gouging take a look at what AAX charge Australians for seat and bag selection.

I agree with one thing, the seat pitch is really little and I suffered too even on the 45 minutes flight from DMK to REP.

I had no proplem though to book the luggage with the flights.

Also when we flew from Krabi we had no problem to find the gate.

By the way, Chiang Mai has never been the capital of Thailand or Siam but of the northern kingdom of Lanna. “The old capital” normally refers to Ayuttaya.

Wolfsburg

Personally Airasia is definitely the best LCC in this region considering the service level and pricing factor… The truth however is that lccs are going to charge every penny on the customer that never do their homework… I believe thats how an LCC operates…

I think Nok AIR is much more better in Thailand considering service level and pricing factor with free snacks and 15kg free check-in baggage allowance

Wolfsburg

Nok Air do provide free snack but there is no option for passenger to get a full meal in case somebody is hungry. That’s why I appreciate AirAsia’s effort to make full meal available to purchase on board and the price is not expensive yet the taste is not too bad.

Hi David, thanks for you posting. As somebody 6’4″ I feel your pain about the seat size but compared to non-ULCCs I don’t think AirAsia is too bad. I’ve only flown in the “Hot Seats” once and that was on a 5 hour flight. AirAsia has gotten a lot better over the past 3 years. They used to leave things like travel insurance automatically checked and I can only imagine how many travelers paid for it not even knowing.

Like any airline, the more you fly them the more you understand the booking and boarding process. We’ve been in and out of Asia for the past 3 years working on our travel blog and fly AirAsia so often that booking process is on autopilot. I would suggest pre-booking meal if you fly them again; it just easier.

We have noticed if you don’t pay in the local currency, ex Thai Baht, you can experience issues with paying for things like checked bags. That was a try, try again lesson.

I haven’t been in the US in 3 years which means no Southwest or Spirit flights in some time. I do think though that, for the most part, the Asian ULCCs and LCCs are enjoyable to fly. Just my two cents.

Regards,

Eric

Thanks for the comments. I believe the biggest lesson learned for me is to not wait until 24-hours prior to the flight to get the add-ons paid for. I knew what I was getting into with the bags, and was perfectly willing to pay the bag fees. I just had not factored in potential computer issues day of. In this case, it would have been much cheaper to pay for an extra bag than to wait until arriving at the airport. Live and Learn.

JL Johnson

Fun piece. Love the editor’s note 🙂

JL | AirlineReporter

🙂 Watch you — you might be next!

David | AirlineReporter

wayne2000

I found spirit seats to actually be comfortable. I think the lesson with these airlines is to do nothing extra. Don’t pay for carry on, bring gym bag. Don’t pay for seat assignment. If you need this stuff go through a regular airline. If I were over 6 feet tall I wouldn’t fly these airlines they aren’t for everyone.

Hey Wayne,

In most cases, even if you do pay for all those things, you still end up saving money over other airlines. And even on “legacy,” airlines, one can end up paying quite a bit in extra fees as well. No matter what, it is all about planning ahead and determining what might be worth paying for!

David | AirlineReporter

Graeme H

I have flown with Air Asia (Malaysia) on the following routes :

PEN-LGK : A320 : 9M-AFV (Queens Park Rangers Livery!….as a Liverpool fan I was delighted it was not the Man United livery)
LGK-KUL : A320 : 9M-AQD
KUL-SIN : A320 : 9M-AQE

I thought the airline offered a very efficent service, from the booking process to onboard the aircraft. I booked 1 as checked baggage, and order a whole host of other things (as a aviation fab of course, I wanted ‘branded merchandise’)

The seating was comfortable – I am 5’11, the crew were welcoming and friendly. I was overall very impressed by the airline, and would have no hesitation in using them again.

Jonas Hutter

I love this! Great stuff!
First of all – I share your pain and agony. I am 6’6” and have problems in planes with 30+ inch seat pitch. I can’t imagine sitting in 28.
And here I have had a question – maybe Cranky can find out more about this: What happens when a passenger cannot fit into the seat (beacuse he/she is too tall, not too “big”!)? What if a passenger cannot fasten the seatbelt because his/her butt is stuck in mid-air above the seat because the knees are already massaging the back belonging to the passenger sitting ahead?
I don’t really think it is fair to “just pay more” (as “oih” suggests). Why should I pay more only because I happen to be tall? And with the purchase of a ticket I bought the right to be transported by the airline. Who is at fault when they are not able to do this?
Thanks!

Jonas Hutter

…ooops. Sorry. Wrong website. No offense David! Question still lingers though… ^^

That’s a philosophical discussion for the ages – do we spread out the cost of things that are beyond one’s control to everyone, or do we hit people with whatever their actual costs are regardless of whether it’s their fault or not? Kind of an analogue for socialism vs. free market capitalism, huh?

Unfortunately, just because your femur doesn’t physically fit between the seats doesn’t mean you cannot (uncomfortably) occupy said seat. Given that the whole LCC model is essentially on the free market capitalism side, I doubt any LCC would be willing to give you the big seats just because you happen to be taller.

In fact, I bet we’ll see it go the other way. My guess is we’ll see some LCC somewhere in the world start charging by the pound, after all, it does physically cost the airline more to fly bigger people. It’ll be entertaining to watch the weigh-in at the check in counter. “Oops, looks like you ate too much on vacation and gained 10 lbs – that’ll be $50 please”

Jonas Hutter

Thanks for your answer.
However, my question isn’t as much about
“any LCC would be willing to give you the big seats just because you happen to be taller”
but if they HAD TO give those seats to me because I don’t fit into their ‘normal’ ones and, for example, am not able to buckle up.
To your last point: Isn’t there an airline (somewhere in the Pacific?) that already does that? And I could understand that. But again: That argument is about weight, not about size/length. There is a possibility (or they sometimes even have to) for …um… ‘wide’ people to buy two seats which are next to each other. But that does not work for tallness – I cannot buy two seats behind each other and deinstall the first one.
That would be a really interesting conversation with a cabin/seat engineer – build a seat that can be taken out in 1 minute to create leg room for a tall person…?

Joerg D

I’d say the author puts it all straights in the last para. He did not make his homework, which is a must when flying an LCT. Had he booked an exit row seat and his luggage in advance, all would have been fine. Not booking your luggage in advance? … all the way in Thailand and you don’t know in advance that you’ll have luggage to check in? Hm.. Most importantly, he paid peanuts for the flight. Where in the world can you buy a ticket for that money in the first place? And still fly a very young Airbus A320. He paid less than for a coach (bus) ride for the same route. He should be happy he didn’t have to stand up and hold a hand-rail at that price;-)
All he frustrations at he counter are justified. I have flown AA many times. I book my seat and meal. All fine. But the ground service of Air Asia is a disaster indeed. But always remember: they don’t mean it personal. They follow procedures. They are not paid that well either. And again: you get what you pay for (35 bucks).
If you know “how to fly them”, Air Asia is a great LCT purely due to its route network and prices.

It seems dumb in retrospect, but the reason I didn’t pay for checked bags well in advance is that I had no idea how many we’d have. I had logged on and checked things out, like I do for every flight I take. I figured (wrongly, it turns out) that I’d deal with it when I checked in. I should have paid for one bag for each of us, as it turns out, I would have been correct.

Hello freeloader peers!

Indeed low cost flying can be dirt cheap when booked ahead of time or by checking punctual promotions. However be wary that when adding all the extras to the basic fare void of any gratuities, it may cost more than a regular scheduled airline.
Mind you that Norwegian is smart in featuring airfares including amenities, so one knows what to get for the paid price upon completion of the purchase. That Scandinavian C° operates the Dreamliner 787-8 from BKK to its 3 hubs of CPH, STO & OSL, featuring young Asian cabin flying staff. Onward connate flights via a quick transit, allow same day air journey to the final destination. Convinced or puzzled, dare argue! Thank your for your attention, you may return to your activities!

Wayne2000

Jonas,
On the Spirit A320s, the first row is 2×2 while all the rest of the rows are 3×3, so you could pay extra to get the first “first class haha” row and have extra leg/size room. So they could accommodate you on Spirit at least.

David, did you notice if your flight had a 2×2 or similar row?

All the rows were 3-3. The “hot seats” (the first few rows and exit rows) had some additional legroom, but that was the only thing distinguishing them from every other seat on the aircraft.

m . daly

it seems since brexit result yesterday trying to book a flight on line with air asia in the currencies of the uk £ & € euro currency is not possible when you click book the payment quote appears in evey other currency except the 2 mentioned.

any attempt of getting a reply from air asia is met with silence .

it smacks of discrimination to me ?

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