Cabin: Premium Flatbed
Route: Jeju, Korea to Kula Lumpur and Kuala Lumpur to Perth
Aircraft: Airbus A330
Low-cost carriers can be the stuff of knee-crunching nightmares but even tall people are guaranteed sweet dreams in AirAsia X’s Premium Flatbed cabin.
This was my first trip on a long-haul LCC in some years and the journey started easily with premium check-in channel in Jeju, South Korea, and continued with priority boarding.
I broke my trip in Kuala Lumpur for a couple of days before continuing on to Perth on the overnight service so didn’t get to experience a direct connection.
However, those traveling onwards could check their bags through and spend some time in the Red Lounge, which offers facilities such as showers, wi-fi, snacks and non-alcoholic drinks as part of the fare.
You get a generous 40 kg checked luggage allowance with the ticket but a measly 7 kilos of combined cabin baggage. There were cabin announcements on the plane of dire monetary repercussions for those who exceeded this limit but it was not policed on my flights.
The premium cabin was bright and clean and featured 12 older-style flatbed business seats with oodles of legroom in a 2-2-2 configuration.
Seat and Amenities
This is the kind of seat the folds flat but remains on a slight angle with a supporting footrest.
At 20-inches wide with a generous 60-inch seat pitch and a 77-inch full recline, it’s a comfortable seat even for a rotund, 197cm aviation writer. There’s an adjustable headrest augmented by a large pillow and a high-quality doona-style blanket.
Seat controls are rudimentary but effective and it was easy to adjust to a comfortable recline. There was a universal power point to plug in a laptop are other devices and a flexible personal light.
Customer service on board
Flight attendants hung up my jacket and asked when I would like my dinner. I opted for the post-take-off meal service. There was a bottle of water delivered at the start of the flight and another came with the food. Tablets loaded with films were handed out quickly and efficiently.
Service was brusque at the start of the Jeju-KL flight and non-existent for most of the rest of it. It was a little more personable on the KL-Perth leg but there’s room for improvement here.
I was told I should have used the flight attendant call button if I wanted to buy something, but I didn’t realize there was one until late in the flight when I figured out it was in the ceiling.
Nobody had mentioned this, which is surprising given that well-heeled premium passengers would presumably be a reasonable source of ancillary revenue.
My last experience in a premium cabin on a low-cost, long-haul airline was some years ago with Jetstar. Basically, I thought the hard product on AirAsia X was superior but the service was better on the Aussie carrier.
An uninspiring but edible chicken dish and water was part of the premium package and I wasn’t offered any alternatives on this flight. However, I got a choice of three dishes on a subsequent flight between Kuala Lumpur and Perth and chose a tastier Kung Pao Chicken.
Apparently, the best idea is order from AirAsia’s menu when you book and take your pick from the full spectrum of dishes. There are about 15 dishes ranging from cheese omelet and chicken sausage to chicken lasagne, Thai green curry and chicken sate.
The main course and bottled water turned out to be all that was included in the price but there was the option of paying for food and drinks from the wide-ranging menu.
A second helping of a main course will cost you MYR20 ($US4.78, $A6.73) while snacks range from MYR6 for soup to MYR 10 for a chicken caesar wrap and MYR12 for a Haagen-Dazs ice-cream.
I forked out a not unreasonable MYR 15 ($A5.05) for a can of Tiger beer, declining the three for 40MYR special. Spirits including Glenfiddich and Grey Goose vodka were available for MYR20 while a cocktail or a 187 ml Jacob’s Creek white or red cost MYR25.
The package includes a Huawei tablet with a couple of dozen featured films and, in my case, two TV series, two kid shows, a dozen games and a smattering of music. Mine shut down before the 5.5-hour trip ended but the screen was bright and sharp and it was easy to use
A weak point is the cheap earbud headphones. These don’t work well so take your own. However, we understand they are about to be replaced by Sony noise-canceling headphones.
AirAsia X isn’t a full service airline but it doesn’t pretend to be.
Overall, Premium Flatbed is a pretty decent way to travel once you get a handle on how it works and it provides a good bang for your buck if you get a decently discounted fare.
AirAsia X told us you could get a Premium Flatbed fare in coming weeks for about $A600 one way for the 8.5-hour journey between Melbourne and KL.
Using a three-week lead time, the AirlinesRatings/Skyscanner booking engine found the cheapest fare for a flight departing Melbourne November 21 and returning November 29 was $A2090 compared to $A3614 on Malaysia Airlines.
The price differential on Sydney-KL for the same dates was smaller: $A2325 on AirAsia X compared to $A2782 on Malaysia Airlines.
While there was a hefty saving from Melbourne, the Sydney decision would be a closer call so, as always, it pays to check all your options.
Nonetheless, AirAsia X is a worthy contender and, in a pleasant finish to the trip, the priority luggage label actually worked.
Steve Creedy traveled as a guest of AirAsia X.
Cabin: Economy Class
Route: Perth to Kuala Lumpur Return
AirAsiaX was the first medium to long haul low cost airline in the Asia Pacific region. Services commenced in 2007 and the airline has continued to grow both its route network and destination frequency.
I travelled on this AirAsiaX A330-300 not as a guest of the airline but on a family holiday and it turned out to be a great experiment to see how different generations interact with this new phenomenon in flying that shows no sign of slowing.
Dad loved the low prices, mum missed the blanket, the sister with kids wished for in flight entertainment and the boys really liked their meals! One thing we loved was that we could all afford to travel together overseas and as the slogan goes “now everyone can fly extra long”. The Malaysians love this airline, it’s done so much for tourism, but as with any low cost carrier there are tricks and tips to follow to ensure it all goes smoothly and stays cheap!
It’s fair to say that without their airline geek of a daughter, mum and dad probably would have ended up paying a lot more for their flights due to extra costs at the airport as well as on board and they wouldn’t have ended up sitting together. Low cost carriers, whilst not deliberate, do make a great deal off those in the population who are less “tech savvy” or unfamiliar with the low cost carrier concept. If this is you get someone to help you do your first booking – you’ll learn a lot and avoid being sprung with charges both at the airport and on board.
Seat and Amenities
AirAsiaX has added an extra seat to each row in the A330-300 resulting in 9 abreast seating rather than the standard 8 on this aircraft type. The result of this is a very narrow seat of about 16.9 inch. The seat pitch is fairly standard at 31-32 inch and seat recline is approximately 3 inches. At the time of booking it is recommended that you pre-book your seats (for a small fee) so you can sit together where you want. Half my family were on one booking and they didn’t pre-book seats. When they went to check in online they were separated across the aircraft. There are seats with extra leg room that come at a cost or seats in the quiet cabin but the best seats in terms of cost and comfort are those in the back 8 rows. Here the fuselage narrows meaning the seating changes from three sets of three seats across the aircraft (3-3-3) to a less dense 2-3-2 seating configuration. It is from the back of the aircraft that the meal service starts so if you get impatient waiting for the cart these are great seats. Being a low cost carrier, blankets, pillows and amenity kits are not provided however you can purchase on board for about AUD $25. My tip is to bring with you a large microfiber towel to act as a blanket as these are warm, compact and light weight, a ‘U’ shaped neck pillow, eye mask and ear plugs to make your flight more comfortable. On the overnight flight the lights are on ‘bright’ for a good three hours so that eye mask could come in very handy, there’s no dim cabin lighting here.
Customer service on board
Announcements – there were so many loud announcements! You can’t get off an AirAsia flight and say you weren’t informed of every meal service, time to fasten your seatbelt, landing, arrival, takeoff, duty free, bar closing, quarantine notice etc. These are fairly standard announcements but on an overnight flight they were just very loud and repetitive. I think we were told that we had landed in Kuala Lumpur some four or five times! Apart from that the service was fine and the security precautions and rules followed perfectly.
I was surprised at the taste of the AirAsiaX food. Some of it looks about as processed and rubbery as it can get but it tastes good and there is quite a wide variety of things to choose from if you pre-book meals online. Make sure if you have pre-ordered anything that you keep your boarding pass on you as without the boarding pass you won’t get the meal. On the flight to KL we booked two meals each, a breakfast and a lunch BUT both meals came together on the breakfast run. Thankfully the crew were able to hold our meals and re-heat them three hours later when we were ready for them ( and yes the food safety member of the family did have a problem with this until he tasted the satay, loved it and continued eating). If you are ordering AirAsia’s new big breakfast (or heart attack on a plate) it’s really quite filling and you probably won’t need a lunch meal. As with every low cost airline there is a variety of snacks and drinks you can purchase on board as well as a selection of fresh and hot meals but the only guarantee of getting a hot or fresh meal is to pre-book (you save a further 15% too so why not!). The meals are nice and hot and all come with a complimentary bottle of water, tea or coffee, plastic cutlery and a napkin. Besides with a purchased meal there is no comliemntary water offered.
AirAsiaX do not have any form of complimentary in-flight entertainment. Samsung Galaxy tablets loaded with TV shows and movies can be purchased on board BUT it is best if you pre-order your tablet at the time of booking to ensure you actually get one. Don’t rely on there being an in-flight magazine to keep you company either, I think we had one between three which may or may not be deliberate by the airline.
These are the things you need to do to ensure you have a smooth experience;
– Print your documents for proof of chosen seats and meals purchased.
– Domestic flights on the AirAsia network require you to have checked in and printed a boarding pass before arriving at the airport or you will be charged a check-in fee
– Pre-book as much as you can online before the flight to ensure you actually get what you want plus you get greater discounts online
– Pre-purchase checked baggage and stick to the baggage allowance – you will be charged if you don’t
– Take an empty bottle of water through security with you so you can fill up prior to boarding the plane otherwise you will be paying a lot for water as it is not provided complimentary.
– AirAsia and AirAsiaX operates out of Kuala Lumpurs low cost airport KLIA2
Low cost carriers are fantastic if you follow the rules and are prepared – where they come undone is when you have to make a change or contact them (with the exception of Scoot who have a great call centre). We did have to change a couple of the tickets whilst away and it wasn’t easy. To change the ticket would cost a huge amount of money to the point that two of the party ended up booking completely new flights as that was going to be cheaper. Travel insurance is a must when travelling on a low cost carrier because if you can’t make the flight the only refund you will ever get is the airport taxes. I should point out that any extras you have ordered – seats, bags, meals will also not be refunded.