Route: Perth to Denpasar, Bali
“Ended up with free accommodation at a five-star hotel in Bali… keen to join me?” read the text message two weeks ago.
Friends know I love a good holiday, especially one that costs me, well, nothing. There was no way I was going to pass up this opportunity.
The words from the boss were music to my ears: “If you have the leave, take it and have a great time”.
The words from my husband were a little more firm: “Get yourself off, but don’t spend a fortune”.
So, I found the cheapest economy class fare I could and booked this oh-so-very budget AirAsia flight to the land of the Bintang singlet.
Seat and Amenities
First things first, this is a low-cost carrier and as with most budget airlines it does exactly what it says on the tin – gets you there with as much spare cash for pool-side cocktails as possible.
The seats were in economy-only, 3×3 configuration and as basic as expected – no adjustable headrests here.
I had the aisle seat next to two six-foot-tall blokes who had no choice but to indulge in the ungentlemanly practice of “man-spreadding” to fit their knees behind the seats. As a, much more ladylike leg-crosser, I also found this a problem and found any slight movement left me kicking the seat in front of me. Anyone on the window seat who needed a visit to the toilet would need to evacuate the whole row to get past.
There was, however, a small recline and the 18-inch seat width seemed to be little issue for most passengers.
Blankets, pillows and eye pillows needed to be purchased from the cabin crew.
Customer service on board
The seats might be as basic as can be but the staff were as chirpy as you’d get on any of the major airlines.
Aside from the Burger King red uniforms, there was little that said “budget airline” when it came to the service.
The cabin crew smiled incessantly and quickly responded to calls for service. As with most evening flights on this route, where passengers have had a couple of hours to indulge in the airport bar, there were more than the fair share of rowdy and rude passengers.
The staff handled them with ease and a smile but perhaps could have slowed down the drinks service to the odd passenger who maybe didn’t need another beer when they were swearing at the top of their lungs down the cabin.
This aside, the service was as cool and professional as anything I’d seen on similar low cost carriers – and some of the more expensive ones too.
First, a disclaimer. Dietary requirements and the fact that I’d already snacked in the airport meant I didn’t need to order a meal on this flight.
The passenger next to me ordered a spaghetti chicken dish which appeared bland and dull. Others ordered instant noodles and other cheap and basic dishes. Given at least half of the passengers didn’t appear to be eating a hot meal, the service was fast. It took only 45 minutes for the trolley to reach the back of the plane and the efficient staff returned to collect rubbish 15 to 20 minutes later.
Like most other things on the aircraft, a no-frills approach was taken to the menu. But 3.5 hours is not long to go without a meal if there’s nothing to your liking.
On boarding I clocked some seat-back entertainment screens – brilliant!
But, disappointingly it was to turn out to be only a seat-back advertisement for a 75,000 rupiah “value meal”, the likes of which I would memorise by the time the 3.5-hour flight was over.
Aside from an in-flight travel magazine and the duty free shopping brochure, you’d have to rely on a book or your own music to pass the time. It would be a good idea to board with your device fully charged, since there was no USB port available.
If the price, economy-only seating and lack of business suits wasn’t enough of a hint you were flying on a budget airline, the advertisements were the dead giveaway.
The overhead lockers were plastered with primary-coloured advertisements for “aromatherapy creams” and, bizarrely given Australia’s biosecurity laws, honey.
The aisle was decked in a fetching red carpet, reminiscent of a 1980s British pub.
Yes, this flight was oh-so-very budget but when price is a factor and a five-star resort awaits you at the other end, it’s easily forgiven.
You really do get what you pay for on these sorts of airlines – and, as my husband will appreciate – I didn’t pay a lot.
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: Business Class
Route: Sydney to Washington
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat and Amenities
Qatar Airways has touted its Qsuite as the ultimate in travel for Business Class and you would have to say that it is very hard to beat.
It is very spacious, very private, and sports a sliding door to totally cocoon you from your fellow passengers.
One of the things that strikes you as you settle in is that it is very well designed and packed with neat features focused on making your trip as comfortable and productive or if you desire as entertaining as possible.
There are two business class cabins on the Boeing 777-300ER and the configuration is one-two-one with Qsuite facing both forward and backward.
On my two flights – QR907 and QR707 – I had both and preferred the backward facing which was closer to the window.
I had 4J, forward facing, from Sydney to Doha and 8K, rear facing, from Doha to Washington.
The seat in the Qsuite is 21.5 inches across and extends to a bed that is 79 inches long with fitted mattress and two pillows and is very comfortable for this 6ft 4in traveler.
There are also, as one would expect, a host of seat settings to set you up in your perfect position. There are four presets: lie flat, fully upright, take-off and recline.
A great feature is the secure storage compartment underneath a big padded armrest next to the seat and this holds the headphones and water.
It also has a smaller sub-compartment to secure things like glasses and passport.
Another important aspect is the countertop which is big enough to accommodate a laptop or iPad while you’re having your meal.
And talking if iPads and laptops there are plenty of charging options at your fingertips.
The privacy door is manual and is easily opened or shut and even in the opened position, you cannot see your fellow passenger.
A unique feature of the Qsuite is the center sets of seats that can be transformed into a double cabin with a double bed or a space for four people called a quad.
Passengers get sleepwear from London’s The White company and a superb amenities kit with socks, eyeshades, earplugs and Castello Monte Vibiano products such as moisturizer.
Razors and toothbrushes are also available in the four very well-sized washrooms serving the business class cabins.
These washrooms are great as you so often find this important space is too confined.
Customer service on board
The flight attendants on my two sectors were outstanding. I was looked after by Susie from Venezuela on QR907 and Arnold Mathias on QR707.
There is an on-demand ordering system through your IFE system but the flight attendants ensured that I never needed to bother with that.
The only challenge was what to order from the extensive selection of food and wines on offer.
The departure from Sydney was 3.30pm and thus dinner was on offer once we were at cruise. I started with Arabic mezze which is a favorite of mine and this selection did not disappoint.
This was accompanied by Pommery Brut Royal.
Next, I chose the Arabic chicken kofta with oriental rice accompanied with golden fried onions, cashew and raita yogurt – another great choice.
To finish, as the Boeing 777 slipped quietly over the Western Australian coast near Derby I chose Gourmet ice cream. Magnificent.
The next sector from Doha to Washington was a morning departure from Doha just after 8 am so breakfast followed as the Boeing 777 slipped over Iran.
I opted for a compote of fruit and yogurt followed by an omelet which was excellent.
I took lunch over northern Canada and selected smoked salmon for a light starter and then Arabic Mezza again but this time as the main meal.
Being a creature of habit I could go past the Pommery Brut Royal.
The daylight flight to Washington was effortless and very scenic. My flight crossed Russia, Latvia the Baltic Sea, north of Bergen, Iceland, Greenland and into Canada.
Qatar Airways Onyx system has over 3000 entertainment options and also features the airline’s state-of-the-art communication through OnAir mobile service.
Once the aircraft is above 10,000 feet, you can use your portable electronic devices (PEDs) and send SMS and MMS or access your email and browse the Internet to stay in touch with everyone on the ground.
Not on my flight but being installed on 777s and A350s is what the airline calls “Super Wi-Fi”’ which can reach speeds topping 50 megabits per second – better than many home broadband services.
The in-flight broadband uses Inmarsat’s GX Aviation technology.
All in all a superb experience and the Qsuite is in a class of its own backed up by genuine service from clearly dedicated staff.
Sure, they knew I was doing a review, but the genuine friendliness of the flight attendants and the attention to detail cannot be manufactured – it was from the heart.
- Geoffrey Thomas was a guest of Qatar Airways
Cabin: Business Class
Route: Singapore to New York
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900ULR
Singapore Airlines’ relaunch of the Singapore to New York nonstop, the world’s longest flight, has been hailed as a great success by passengers and media.
Key to that success for Singapore Airlines is the Airbus A350-900ULR, the all-composite twin-engine ultra-long-range jet that burns about 35 percent less fuel than the aircraft it directly replaces for this route the A340-500.
The aircraft is configured in a two-class layout, with 67 Business Class seats and 94 Premium Economy Class seats.
For the long flight there are two sets of pilots and after the arrival in the US, they have three days off before the return flight. And before the A350 sets off from Singapore they must have had 48 hours off.
Looking after the passengers will be 13 cabin crew and these crews get four hours off during the flight.
In premium economy, passengers will get three meals during the flight, while business class will get two larger meals and a non-stop refreshment menu throughout the flight.
Seat and Amenities
The business class seating on this aircraft is not the latest that was unveiled early this year for the A380 but nonetheless is very comfortable and still considered state-of-the-art.
The airline, however, has made modifications for this ULR aircraft adding more padding to the “sleep mode” of the seat.
The difference was noticeable and the bed was comfortable. I did get quite a few hours of sleep which is unusual for me on a plane. Mind you I have now discovered the best earplugs and those are ones I use for swimming, which are far better at eliminating all noise. So get some if tranquility is important.
Back to the seat. It is a great seat or lounge if you like but only has limited recline or the flatbed option which doesn’t suit everyone. I like to sit up or ar a slight recline so that does not bother me at all.
All the controls are within easy reach and everything you should want is at your fingertips.
Customer service on board
This is where Singapore Airlines excels and has done so for decades. The inaugural Singapore to New York flight was no exception either.
Sure they knew we were media but that added pressure as there were cameramen up and down aisles all flight asking them to repeat all sorts of delivery actions like serving meals or making up beds.
These constant interruptions never seemed to upset their routine and there was no noticeable delay in service delivery or that “Singapore Girl” smile which was delivered with sincerity all the way to New York.
Not long after take-off on the world’s longest flight, a marathon of food and wine started. And the order of things comes in a 32-page booklet, which covers the return journey.
The menu is different in that it is influenced by the partnership with the chefs and nutritionists from Canyon Ranch, one of the leaders in healthy living and wellness.
But there were also the traditional favorites from SIA’s own meal selections and creations by its International Culinary Panel of chefs.
The first part is called “Äfter Take-off” and consists of a main course with four selections, followed by desert.
The service was seamless and I chose the Pan Seared Head Snapper Fillet with Red Wine Vinaigrette. The snapper which was cooked to perfection.
About halfway through the flight the second meal service commenced.
There were three broad choices: Matt Moran’s Selection; Canyon Ranch Selection and the airline’s standard menu.
Canyon Ranch tempted passengers with a Prawn Ceviche and Lavosh for an appetizer, then Braised Pork with Citrus for the main course. A French Apple Frangipane Tart rounded up that healthiest of options.
Singapore Airlines’ describes the flight as an “Epicurean Journey” and that description is certainly apt.
I opted for the main menu for the lunch.
The starter was the famous Singapore Chicken and Beef Satay and it hasn’t lost any of its shine. This signature dish was followed by a Salad of Crab.
For the main course, there were 6 selections and I opted for the Beef Cheek in Red Wine Sauce. It was perfectly cooked.
Desert was a choice between Mango Cheesecake with Ginger Cookie Crump and Petite Patisserie.
There was an excellent selection of cheeses.
Of course, you could have selected, in the days before departure, options from the Book the Cook which appear to be almost endless.
The only issue I had was with the white wine selection which was a little surprising. There were two Chardonnays (both oaked) and one German Riesling. I would have thought given the increasing popularity of Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc one of the Chardonnays could have been dropped.
For this flight, Singapore Airlines has added another 200 hours of content. The airline has always been a leader in IFE and was the first to give all passengers seat back videos. For me, it was back to my iPad and a catch up on some favorite TV series.
Passengers can also stay in touch with high-speed in-flight WiFi service. The A350 is equipped with Panasonic Avionics’ new satellite modem that operates with its third generation satellite network. The service is capable of delivering higher-speed Internet to passengers.
This latest system will be rolled out to all the fleet over the next year or so.
Geoffrey Thomas was a guest of Singapore Airlines
Cabin: First Class
Route: Singapore to Sydney
In its biggest product revamp since the Airbus A380 launch in 2007, Singapore Airlines has given its newest superjumbos an all-premium upper-deck sporting six innovative first-class cabins with giant swivel armchairs.
Dubbed “Skyroom” suites they are just that. A first class “room” with a magnificent view.
In fact, you are almost lost in all the space, which takes a little getting used to but mind you I don’t travel first class very often and perhaps to a seasoned “pointy end” traveler the extra space is no big deal. But to my mind, even the most discerning traveler would be really impressed.
Seat and Amenities
The first impression of the first class Skyroom is that it resembles a “Flying Oval Office” on board Air Force One. For it is dominated by a massive swivel armchair designed by Pierre Jean Design Studio in France.
The 21-inch (53cm) wide electrically-controlled swivel seat can be turned around almost 120 degrees, and is upholstered in finest Poltrona Frau leather and can recline up to 135 degrees for just lounging around, which you tend to do in first class. I mean if there is 135 degree of recline, why not use it?
Passengers get a generous 3.23 to 4 square mtrs (34.7 to 43 sq. ft) of floor space, with the biggest suites being 1A and F.
I had 1A for my test flight!
Each suite is shielded from the aisle by two sliding doors. These are operated manually, as opposed to the electrical doors that have been a source of prolonged malfunctions on other airlines.
And the suites feature a 32-inch HD touchscreen monitor mounted on the wall, which can also be swiveled.
The seat is perfect and of course, there is a bed for a good night’s sleep. If you are traveling with your partner the screen divider can be lowered so that you can have a “double” bed sleeping arrangement.
Customer service on board
As soon as I boarded two flight attendants were at my whim and quickly poured a glass of Krug NV.
Singapore Airlines in-flight service and attention to details is the stuff of legends and this crew was no exception.
Sure they knew I was writing a review but their efforts were so natural it was as if every passenger was writing a review. Nothing was a hassle – everything was just effortless.
There are some things in life you cannot fake – and top class from the heart service is one of them.
As you would expect in first class the service is silver – in fact, it’s gold!
A leather-bound menu is delivered with a casual but classy air of “we are sure sir that every dining experience is just like this.”
“Of, course it is, this is a standard supper in the Thomas’ residence,” I thought.
I have two very great weaknesses when it comes to flying – top class champagne and caviar. I guess that it makes me no different to most.
So naturally, I opted for the Chilled Malossol Cavair. Malossol is a Russian word that literally translates to “little salt.” When Malossol is used to describe caviar, it means that the most idyllic salting process has been used to increase the shelf life of the highly perishable fish roe. But you all knew that!
It was as I would have expected perfection, particularly accompanied by Krug.
For main course – which is really a supper – I opted for something light in the Grilled Atlantic Cod Fillet with Shell-fish Sauce. There were four choices in all.
It was accompanied by sautéed vegetables and Parsley Potatoes.
Absolutely cooked to perfection. The fish firm but moist.
I could have of course opted for the “Book to Cook” option where the options are seemingly endless. You need to do that a few days out from travel and I forgot.
There were three dessert options but I needed a good night’s sleep so I passed on the Hazelnut Praline Savarin, Warm Apricot Frangipane or cheese selection.
Each suite has a 32-inch HD touchscreen monitor mounted on the wall, which can also be swiveled.
A wireless tablet is provided with integrated control functions for in-flight entertainment (IFE) and there is a separate handset offering in-flight IFE control.
The movie and entertainment options are arguably the world’s best with Singapore Airlines winning countless awards for its Krisworld product.
The new Skyroom has plenty of storage and workspaces as well as the fold-out flat bed measuring 76” by 27” (193cm x 68cm) which comes with mattress bedding, duvet, and pillows.
And the bedhead has a gas spring to elevate your head to watch a movie while in bed.
When slumber calls the bed is superb and before I knew it I was being awoken for breakfast by the steward. “Hell this has gone far, far too quickly,” I thought.
For the ladies, one of the two bathrooms, the more spacious one on the right side, has been fitted out especially with vanity table and stool, more mirrors and mood-lighting.
However, there is no shower.
All in all a magnificent experience and a must for your bucket list. Sure it’s more expensive than business class but there are deals to be done. Best piece of advice I can offer is get yourself a “really good” travel agent. They are worth their weight in gold – and they will save you a lot of gold coins.
Geoffrey Thomas was a guest of Singapore Airlines