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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.