My only experience with Air Asia was a flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok a year or so ago. I remember it as pretty ordinary with the exception of some smaller incidents. Not more than one could expect when saving a little bit of money by flying a low cost airline.
So when my brother and I was about to make our reservations from Bangkok to Tawau on the Malaysian island of Borneo, and Air Asia provided the fastest method of getting there, It never crossed my mind not using their services again. Well, I surely will think twice about doing that next time.
It all really started when we logged on to their website. There we was told that as Air Asia is a point to point airline company we can only make reservation for one distance at a time. So first we checked if there was available tickets on the four distances we needed and when that was confirmed we started to make the reservations. What a frustrating process.
The concept of Air Asia seems to be that they shall trick people into believing that they always are incredible cheap. You see their advertisements where they offer trips for like 1 US$ or something and it’s hard to understand how they make money on it. Well, the chance of you getting one of those trips to 1 US$ is slimmer than slim. When you check out their website you will see that the offer you are given is much less attractive than what they often advertised. It is still cheaper than a ordinary airline company so you will go with it. Click one more page and taxes will be added together with a express boarding fee (so you can get on the plane before everyone who has not bought this, it is needed when you are two people or more and you would like to sit together). And then insurance is added, if you do not want it you must remove it as it is added as default. Easier said than done as the website crashed almost every time we tried to remove it, and seemed to work fine if we didn’t do it.
Took us forever to make the reservations as we didn’t really want the insurance they offered from AIG, as we had our own. In the end it was just easier to make the reservations with the insurance as the website at least would not crash and we got worried at that stage that we would not be able to make all the reservations we needed. So finally the reservations was done and confirmed.
Next was the airport in Bangkok. We checked out from our hotel so we would arrive on the airport with more than two hours before the flight should depart. This would allow us to check in, have some breakfast and maybe take a fast look trough the tax free shops to see what they had on offer. We’ll we was wrong. When we arrived there was an incredible queue with people waiting to see the only two open Air Asia desks for this flight. And it went slow. Incredible slow. Almost slower than you can possibly imagine.
I guess the main reason for why it went so slow was that Air Asia needed to earn some more money on their customers as the ticket was still a bit cheaper than a ordinary airline. So they weighted all luggage in order to see if there was anything they could charge for. As we had weighted our luggage on the hotel and was assured that we was within the 15 kilo each that was allowed, we did not worry. But it surely slowed down the queue when all was weighted, discussions was made and then it seemed that most passengers was given a note to pay for excess luggage. When we got to the counter they found out that we had 0,9 kilo too much and wanted to send us away with a note to pay for 1 kilo excess luggage. We said it could not be correct as we had weighted it and that it was well within the 15 kilo we was allowed per person. A long discussion followed with a compromise that we could remove 0,9 kilo from the luggage and carry as hand luggage.
First of all it was more than strange that we had 0,9 kilo excess luggage as we had weighted our luggage and together we should have a couple of kilo less than the 30 kilo we could bring in total. We had packed with the weight in mind as a former colleague of mine had warned us. Then it is funny that 0,9 kilo in check in luggage is no-no, while to bring it on the hand luggage is just about fine. It all shall on the same airplane I believe.
Anyway, when we finally was checked in we had 20 minutes before the flight would depart, so we had to run all the way to the gate. No time for the planned breakfast, tax free shopping and so on.
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at the low cost carrier terminal, where the airport claim to have won several prizes for the best airport in Asia. Not sure who voted but I would say that Singapore is light-years ahead. It was simple and there was like almost nothing there.
After immigration we had about 2 hours before our next distance to Tawau. So we thought it would be best to find the Air Asia queue for that flight as soon as possible, and then get something to eat. We could find no information on what desk we should queue until we asked a security guard who checked around for us. We got to the desk he told us and the queue was at the same length as it had been in Bangkok. It was two hours until the plane should depart and according to their own conditions they should have been open now. Well they was not.
The queue just got longer and the frustration for the passengers was noticeable. It was now one and a half hour until the flight should depart and the desk was still closed. People started to form several queues and those who had waited the longest got upset, many started to yell at each other. One hour and a fifteen minutes before the flight should depart Air Asia decided to open the desk for check in.
When we got served the flight should depart in 20 minutes and we felt we was in a hurry again. Now the luggage should surely be fine as it had been weighted at the hotel and we had removed the 0,9 kilo they claimed we had of excess luggage in Bangkok the same day. Our luggage had not been opened after that, just transported to the new check in. Well, now we had 3 kilo to much all together. When we tried to explain the case we was simply asked if we would pay or if they should remove us from the passenger list. We got a note and went to see a supervisor before we agreed to pay. We found the supervisor who told us we had the choice of either pay for the excessive luggage or stay in Kuala Lumpur. When we tried to explain the case for him once more we was told that the flight would soon depart so we had to make up our minds if we wanted to be on it or not. We paid.
We rushed each other to the gate and went straight into the queue for boarding. But nothing happened as the Air Asia boarding crew watched TV. Five minutes after the flight should have departed we was told that the aircraft was delayed and that we would have to wait. There was one small tax free shop and one small cafe connected with the gate. The cafe was out of everything that could be eaten but had plenty of tea and coffee. So we ended up with a pack of M&M each. Two hours later we was on the flight to Tawau.
While on our dive holiday we did not think too much about Air Asia and all the stress they had given us on the way down from Bangkok. We simply enjoyed the fantastic diving, great resort we stayed at and all the good people we met. But most good things come to an end so it was soon time to think about our tour stop over in Kuala Lumpur and then Bangkok. We did not buy anything else than two t-shirts while we was in Tawau, and we packed more in our hand luggage than we had had done on the way down. When we weighted our luggage on the resort we had just a little more than 28 kilos with us to the airport.
On the airport in Tawau not only did they claim we had 3 kilo excess luggage again, now they wanted a fee for handling sports equipment as well. We had not been asked that before so it was new to us. We was now under attack on two fronts so we decided to fight back on only one front. It all ended with us paying for 3 kilo excess luggage and not paying for handling of sport equipment. They claimed it was sport equipment as we had with us some two pairs of fins, masks and snorkels.
We had a great time in Kuala Lumpur and went out to the airport to join our last flight of the journey and get back to Bangkok. We had the same bags with the same weight and was charged for only 1 kilo excess luggage this time. Maybe they had mercy on us after they had sucked us dry on so many excess luggage charges.
In Bangkok we was very happy with the time we had in the air with Air Asia. Got no complaints at all there, the flight attendants was brilliant. The same cannot be said about the ground staff Air Asia got. We found them to be extremely arrogant in most cases. Air Asia is in our view a great company to fly with as long as you fly with almost no luggage at all, and avoid as much contact as possible with their ground staff. Especially their supervisor on the ground in Kuala Lumpur who threatened us as the first thing he did when we wanted to make a complaint.
I know a lot of people are happy with the services of Air Asia, but if you are going on a dive holiday and balance your weight at the allowed 15 kilos you might be in trouble. If we combine all the costs we had with Air Asia we would probably not have saved much at all compared to using Malaysian Airways for an example. All we saved was some flight time as Air Asia fly direct to Tawau, and for that we had to pay with frustration and stress.
(This is a post originally written in December 2007 – and moved here from my old website)