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Low cost flights are not just a European thing; they are growing all over the world and perhaps nowhere more than in the east; India and South East Asia in particular.
One of the biggest players in the Far East – if not THE biggest – is Air Asia, with a fleet estimated at nearly 200 planes, that’s bigger than Ryanair (source: Wikipedia).

Unfortunately; they seem to share the same customer treatment ethics as Ryanair: ‘treat ’em mean to keep ’em keen’…

Air Asia have a similar ‘no frills’ offer to that of Ryanair: no allocated seating, strange and often changing luggage rules, limited rights if they want to change anything, probably no rights if you want to change anything.

On a recent trip to the Far East I used Air Asia 4 times, 3 of these trips were problematic:

  • The first check in (to Bangkok) was chaotic and incredibly slow, whilst some of the fault could be laid with other passengers, the situation was worsened by Air Asia only having one member of staff to check a whole flight in.
  • The second set of flights (KL to Langkawi) was equally chaotic; having queued for over an hour; on reaching the check in desk we were told that we were in the wrong queue, this desk was for a flight that had departed already – ?!?!?
    This didn’t match the information on the departure screens; but nevertheless we had no option but to re queue in the ‘correct’ lane. Turns out there was a delay – at that point, of about an hour.
    Having eventually checked in and made it to the gate; there was a further delay; but around 2 hours late we were seated and ready for departure… only to be told that ‘something was wrong with the paperwork’ and we had to get off the plane. We all trooped back to the departure lounge, and about 15 minutes later endured another ‘scramble for seats’ as we were boarded onto a new plane.
    Eventual departure 3 hours late – on a flight of about an hour.
    Now, during this flight one of us noticed that Air Asia are so proud of their on time departure record that they offer $55 for any late departure over 2 hours (in flight magazine, about page 83, and on their web site). This article also mentions it, amongst other woes concerning the outfit.
    I have made 4 attempts to claim this refund so far – it is proving somewhat difficult – surprise…
    Three attempts via their website (with logged call references) and once by phone. During the phone call I was told that they had no record of the delay – which is a worry – I thought airlines would have to keep fairly detailed records of aircraft that had failed to take off; for whatever reasons: technical, paperwork or whatever…
    No joy so far but they promised to sort it by Tuesday 20th January; watch this space.
  • The final flight was back from Langkawi to KL; on arriving at the airport no flight was listed on the departure board… so checking with the Air Asia desk, we were told that schedules had been revised and that the flight was now 3 hours later… ‘if you check the terms and conditions we are allowed to do this’ – fine; but as they insist on collecting all your contact details; how about using them?
    Actually the terms and conditions are quite exhaustive in their favour – as you can imagine – I don’t know what they just don’t replace the whole lot with ‘we can do what the f*** we want and you can f*** off if you don’t like it, please sign here to say you agree’.

The budget airlines have shaken up the previously cosy world of air travel – a few years ago it was largely dominated by national players with protected routes and sky high fees. It’s great that this has been shattered and that flying is now much more affordable – in cash terms…
But we seriously need more competition, some of these ‘low cost’ operators are growing so big that they are becoming virtual monopolies – and offering the kind of shite service you expect from a monopoly.
The low prices being charged are effectively a barrier to competition; as any new entrant to the market would need a hefty cash cushion until profits could be built over time – risky business…

Nevertheless, a balance will be found, many people I know (and me) will only travel with certain airlines if there is absolutely no viable alternative – its the only way to fight back; don’t use them.

Remember the cost of your travel is not only the cash you hand over, its the time they take off you. Air Asia took at least 7 hours off me during the last trip – and that’s longer than I spent flying with them… To me that is quite expensive – I charge quite a lot per hour…

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