JHB: Johor, Malaysia to DMK, Bangkok AK 1807 Departure: 19:25
Arrival: 20:42 Distance: 1,399 km -869 miles 755 nautical miles
I know it is not yet the end of the year yet but my award for the worst flight, out of 107 so far for the year goes to Air Asia Malaysia. I rate each flight I take for every factor from Booking to Check-in right through to deplaning and keep a tally of my rating using Flightmemory.com. The scores averaged out gives me the ranking of flights, airlines and airports.
Clear and easy to use, I like Air Asia’s booking engine. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, I especially like their Lil Miss Red online help feature. One of the friendliest ways an airline has set up their FAQs.
Like all discount carriers, Air Asia openly tries to sell passengers a range of extras. I like that open-ness. I hate airlines that end up forcing you to buy insurance etc without knowing you have done it. First up, the airline offers “Value Packs” which bundle luggage, meals and choice of seat. Their Premium bundle includes lounge access when leaving Kuala Lumpur.
Then comes luggage, meals, and comfort kits separately. I am impressed that Air Asia default is a no luggage option. Previously. the airline automatically selected the 20kg luggage amount (and charged you for it). Other airlines could learn from this.
Followed by the dreaded insurance!
Check In: 6/10
Online check in was pretty smooth. Once checked in, we got a message from the airline that we needed to present ourselves for a “Document Check” at the airport.
JHB (Senai International Airport), an Air Asia hub since 2003, was a new airport for me. We easily found a bank of Air Asia ticket machines which spat out a boarding pass with the words “document check” required. There were no human attendants so we followed the signs to the departure hall. This necessitated placing our larger bags through baggage screening to get into the departure area. An un ncessary step, we found out later.
After waiting in the Air Asia line for ten minutes, we were informed by the lovely staff we could go straight to immigration. That was what was meant by Document Checks! The procedure varies so much from country to country, airport to airport. If I was confused here, how many less frequent travellers would be confused as well?
The entry line into the boarding area consisted of two parallel queues leading to the same room. The line on the left was for domestic passengers and the line on the right was for international customers. In the next room were two sets of identical desks. At both, document checks were carried out. An ID card or passport is needed for domestic flights and passports are compulsory for international destinations. Then both sets of passengers merge again. It was the oddest set up I have found!
No lounge access is available with Air Asia at Johor Airport. Mistakenly we assumed we could get food easily in the terminal area and had by passed the food options in the airport entry area. Unusually, for a Malaysian airport, food options were limited and bizarrely for an international airport, none of the places serving food accepted credit cards! We had spent most of our Malaysian Ringitts, so exchanged the few we had left for a drink from a very grumpy shopkeeper in the airport convenience store.
We discovered when the Air Asia plane arrived, that we would not be using the gates instead walking down stairs to the tarmac. I assume this occurs because the airline wants to save on airport fees?
With the announcement we were boarding, a queue with multiple entry points and lots of pushing in instantly developed.
On the tarmac, there was no indication for passengers as to which door they should go to so most passengers headed for the front stairs. At the bottom of the stairs, an Air Asia employee checked boarding passes, allowing those seated in rows 1 to 14 up the front stairs and sending everyone else to the rear boarding stairs. Signage and announcements may have reduced this step and sped up boarding.
There was not a staff member welcoming passengers at the actual door of the aircraft.
We easily found or emergency exit seats and sat down to watch the chaos of a fully laden plane. Most passengers had minimal luggage so luggage compartments were relatively free and people were seated quickly except for those wandering up and down the aisles to the lavatories. (The terminal does have toilets).
After a while, a staff member strolled languidly down the aisle. As he closed the luggage compartment doors, we saw him actually looking at the luggage and even handled one to have a closer look at one of the luggage tags on it. The same flight attendant then coughed over the heads of passengers! He spent most of the flight coughing over passenger’s heads without covering his hand or wearing a face mask- even during meal service.
The Plane: 3/10
Air Asia lives by the maxim of cramming as many seats into the metal tube as they can. On their A320, they squeeze in 180 people. Seat pitch is an excruciating 29″ and width 18″. By comparison, SAS seats 168 in a one class configuration and American 150 in three classes. (American gives standard main cabin passengers 31″ of leg room).
Air Asia designates the first five rows and the exit rows of their A320 as Hot Seats. In theory, they allow passengers to board and exit first. I am not sure that applied on this flight. Note: only the first row of the first five and the over-wing exits have any extra leg room and Exit row seats do not recline. I was grateful for those extra couple of inches.
The plane is decorated with advertising space on the overhead lockers. It looks a bit like a subway train! (See pic below)
There is one lavatory at the front and two at the rear giving 60 people per restroom. Do your business on the ground if you can. They were all very busy on this flight (even during periods of turbulence).
My emergency exit seat is one I am very familiar with, as I have sat there on multiple airlines for decades. The flight attendant assigned to brief us on the exit procedures was astoundingly bad. Told us we were sitting in an emergency exit and that we would need to help if there was an emergency. He then said if there was a crash then we were to press the call button and he would come and instruct us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The flight attendants treated the main safety briefing as a joke. They giggled through it. They shouted comments in Malay across the heads of the passengers. At one point the joke was clearly so funny that the flight attendant nearest to us was doubled up with laughter. True, most passengers were paying no attention but even so! I think this was the worst safety briefing, I have suffered through in my years of flying. I had little confidence that anyone would have any idea of what to do if we went down. As Air Asia suffered a hull loss not even two years ago and rival Malaysia airlines has lost two aircraft in recent years, one would think there would be some element of seriousness.
Mid-flight, the captain switched the seat belt sign on as we went through a period of turbulence. After an announcement and a cursory glance to see if seat belts were on, the staff vanished to the galley. Passengers kept on with their routines: kids ran up and down the aisles and people went to the bathrooms. A group of three people chatted standing in their seat row a few rows in front of me. No wonder people get injured when planes go through turbulence.
As we landed, a child was bouncing on his seat two rows ahead of us and numerous passengers took off their seat belts as we touched the runway. Heaven help them if we had a stiff braking or a go around .
I already have concerns about Air Asia safety and this flight in no way reassured me.
Like other low-cost airlines, you cannot get anything on board without paying. The Air Asia staff made two announcements cautioning people from eating outside food on the flight. I did not see people eating outside snacks but I was not sure the cabin crew would have done much if there were people eating outside food. I have never seen Air Asia staff stop people from eating non-airline food, despite the announcements.
As this flight was over 75 minutes, both hot foods and snacks were served. You can pre-order meals on air Asia which we had not done -thinking being Malaysia we would have had plenty of food at the airport. The pre-ordered meals were delivered first and then the staff made another run to sell meals and snacks. The gentleman next to me asked for a spoon for his pre-ordered curry three times before he got it – fifteen minutes after he had been served his meal.
The cart came around a second time to sell food. There is a comprehensive menu in the seat pocket but no explanation was given as to what meals were available from that menu. The staff did not seem inclined to want to serve anybody. There was no service with a smile apart from the banter and jokes between the crew members hauling the trolley.
We wanted a Bahn Mee but it was not available. We switched to Uncle Chin’s chicken and rice. This was a very reasonable 15 Malaysian Ringgits. (about $USD3.35). Scoot charges $USD16 for the same dish.
Then came paying! At this point I discovered Air Aisa do not accept credit cards for meal transactions. They do accept cards on their Air Asia X long haul services but not on the shorter hops! Thankfully they take a massive range of Asian currencies. I paid for my meal in Australian dollars and got the change (rounded down) in Malaysian ringgits
Unlike Scoot, the chicken rice served by the airline was incredibly edible. It was an enjoyable choice. It looked less appetising than the illustration in the menu, however:
I had a delicious Japanese Calipis (milk based beverage) with it.
AirAsia does not provide any entertainment, apart from their in-flight magazine. No TV. No power or USB outlets. No wifi (although it is coming). They also sell goodies on board, such as phone chargers, perfumes, children’s toys and games and model aeroplanes.
Never been more thankful for a safe landing! There was no farewell greeting from staff.
My Flight Rating: 31% (1.5 out of 5). In summary, an uncomfortable journey in a crammed, cramped aircraft with unwelcoming staff.
About the Airline: Originally began flying in 1996, the airline almost collapsed in 2001 when it was bought by Tony Fernandes for about 26 US cents. He turned the company around and today, Air Asia is now the largest airline in Malaysia by fleet size (170 planes- mostly Airbus 320s with some Airbus 330s for long haul) and its 165 destinations.
My overall rating of AirAsia : 56%. This also makes them my 56th favourite airline, equal to Tiger.
Skytrax: Skytrax has named Air Asia, as the world’s best low cost carrier for eight years in a row including 2016. They give them a three star rating. Skytrax customers give them a score of six out of ten. If this is the best, what is the worst low cost carrier like?
Safety Rating: Airline ratings gives the carrier 3 and 7/8 out of 7. This is barely a pass in my mind.
Frequent Flyer Program: Air Asia’s Big program allows you to accumulate 1 point for every 2 Malaysian Ringitt (45 US cents). This fare would have accumulated around 250 points. The minimum redepmtion for a flight from JHB to Kuala Lumpur is 4,500.
Positives: The Chicken Rice (which I paid for), the booking system.
Negatives: The “Welcome aboard”, The plane, The seat, Entertainment, the coughing flight attendant
Would I fly them again? No. I mean it this time.