I blogged on Friday about Air Australia – the newest airline operating in Australia. Today’s Trip Report is about my recent journey on board their only domestic flight: between Brisbane and Melbourne, the two hubs of Air Australia’s international operations.
Booking: 6 out of 10
As noted in my blog post, last Friday, the CEO of Air Australia, the newest airline in the country, has promised that the airline will bring “Simplicity”. Well that promise did not extend to fares, the booking process or to the website.
There are five types of fares (Sale, Saver, Flex Saver, Flexible and Business). I have already said Air Australia needs to ditch business class. I would then collapse the remaining fares into two: Saver and Flexible. Saver fares can be sold at sale rates. Air Australia was offerring $69 fares from Melbourne to Brisbane for February which indicates that they are not selling seats fast enough. They are now available for $89 each way. It is a really good deal, as a passenger, but it would seem to be unsustainable for the airline.
Seat selection starts at an additional $8 per passenger. I chose an emergency exit seat which Air Australia says on their website would cost me an extra $50. This is way too steep! On this booking, they didn’t charge me any fee for the exit row – I just paid the airfare. I am not sure when those charges will actually come into play or of there is a glitch in their booking system.
The booking process has way too many steps. It starts off easily enough with a clear search engine on the front page. This takes you to a calendar page for month and you then select your day of travel. From that point on, it felt all too complex. A simple airline needs a much simpler booking system.
The website (http://www.airaustralia.com/) needs simplification. It is a little too “messy”. It also needs more information marketing the airline or even showing where they fly e.g. a simple route map.
The website says “Online Check in is coming”, so I checked in physically at the domestic terminal at Brisbane.
Air Australia were a little difficult to locate at first. They are tucked between the Qantas and Virgin sections of the terminal, marked with temporary signs. There were two lines for check in: a completely empty one for business class (I blogged on Friday, that I think Air Australia needs to get rid of business class– more on that later) and a much fuller line for economy check-in. There were two check in agents and an agent at the service desk which I think was focussed on the business class line. The team were checking in the passengers very quickly, and efficiently.
At Check -In, Air Australia could be doing some up-selling. For example, offering business class upgrades or emergency exit seats, snack packs or rental cars to passengers. I think this is a lost opportunity for additional revenue from a captive audience.
Boarding: 8 out of 10
Security was straight forward. I got randomly selected for additional explosives checks. It happens to me so often, I am curious as to the percentage of passengers who are picked for this.
We boarded from an area which seemed to be largely for Jetstar. Our boarding was delayed by a few minutes which I had no anxiety over, as I was on holidays. I have, however, read of some horror stories about Air
Australia/Strategic delays. I know the airline has little capacity for something to go wrong. If I was travelling for business, I would think many times before flying Air Australia.
The same team that did Check-in handled boarding. The Boarding passes had the old Strategic branding on them.
We boarded the plane via the tarmac which I personally love, as it makes you feel like you are really flying. The airport noises, smells and tastes vibrate around you. I wasn’t in a wheelchair or on walking sticks or with small children, however. If you are in one of more of these situations, tarmac boarding becomes a nightmare and I would recommend choosing another carrier.
The first crew member at the bottom of the boarding stairs was very friendly. The Cabin Manager checking boarding passes at the door, was involved in a conversation with a tech guy and continued talking as he processed several passengers. I thought this very rude. The flight attendant in the middle was quite startled when I greeted her and didn’t interact back.
On Board: 9 out of 10
Air Australia Airways is using A320s on this sector. They are both older planes being 19 and 20 years old. Air Australia lease the planes from international leasing companies.
On board are eight business class seats and 144 Economy Class seats. Compare that to Jetstar operating same aircraft in Australia who cram 180 passengers on board. Business Class pitch is 38″, the same as Jetstar’s A320.
In economy, Jetstar have 28″ seat pitch. Air Australia say they offer a 29 inch seat pitch. This is only an inch more. On my flight, it looked like even more spacious. This could have been because the plane was less than a third full -with no passengers in business. I asked one of the crew if they got many business passengers and he said “none“, then added “we had two last Friday!” Ammunition for my campaign for Air Australia to forget about Business Class!
As mentioned previously, I was in the emergency exit and the leg room was of course, excellent. I was interested that the crew moved passengers into the emergency exits. While a very nice gesture, if I had paid $50 for my exit row seat, I would be annoyed less likely to purchase such a seat next time
Meals: 7 out of 10
You can pre order a cooked meal and buy a range of snacks on board. The website says that breakfast is: Grilled Chicken Pattie with Sautéed Chat Potatoes and Mushrooms, Roma Tomato. Lunch/Dinner is Roasted Chicken, Chat Potatoes, Seasonal Vegetables. I hope they update these regularly otherwise some passengers would get sick of having only these meals to choose from.
There was no major push to sell items. This could be an important source of revenue for the airline and announcements drawing people’s attention to what is available and offerring deals could generate some helpful cash.
Entertainment: 3 out of 10
There was one movie for the whole plane shown on the small monitors through the cabin. Not enough in today’s age. Because we were late, the cabin crew handed out the headphones for free
The crew were very understated and low key. They were highly professional and friendly. They took safety seriously checking for fastened seat belts, clearing bags from the emergency exist etc. Their uniforms look cheap though. As the flight attendant was making his pre-landing announcement, he dropped his folder scattering pages in the galley area. This came across with an “oops” and some giggling but he pressed on with the announcements nonetheless.
Landing and Takeoff: 10 out of 10
Both landing and takeoff were smooth and uneventful. We landed into Melbourne’s Tullamarine airport from the North.
My rating overall: 74% (3.7 out of 5= making them an average airline in my rankings)
Positives: Check in, Fares, legroom
Negatives: Tarmac Boarding, Website, fares, entertainment
Would I fly them again? As a leisure passenger for a fare of $69, $79 or $89 v $155 or $157 for Qantas or Virgin, then yes. The woman next to me on the plane had flown to Brisbane with Tiger and was flying back with Air Australia, purely on the basis of price.
At $504 their Business class fare is way less than the $799 and $949 the competition is charging, but comes with no frequent flyer status accumulation, no lounge and the risk that if your flight is severely delayed, you are screwed. As a Business passenger, overall, no, I would not choose this airline.
What amazed me was the complete lack of selling of Air Australia. This is a new airline. There was, however, no outlining of its advantages and features on board. I heard no announcements encouraging people to tell their friends. There was no advising of their destinations or their offers. No competitions to get people to sign up to mailing lists. Air Australia need to build a brand. To do it, they need to enlist every passenger at every opportunity.