Any budget travel junkie who's passed through, or is based in Southeast Asia has more than likely flown Air Asia on at least one occasion. With slogans such as "Everyone can now fly" plastered across their all-but-discrete flaming red fleet, this low cost carrier claims to have unbeatable prices. A visit to their website will reveal the latest red hot promotions which range from transcontinental flights for under 100 usd or even 12,000 free tickets for you. Yes, YOU! How fabulous!
Having flown with them countless times, particularly since moving home to Thailand about 3 years ago, I am committed to never flying them again and here are 12 reasons why (in no particular order):
1) It's not actually cheaper. While base prices appear lower than competitors, they don't include taxes, airport fees, seat allocation, or any luggage allowance whatsoever. If you forget to book some luggage space in advance, be prepared to pay 3-4 times the regular fees at the airport upon check-in. They'll also try to slip in some travel insurance online during checkout unless you uncheck the box. Tricky.
2) It's a dry airline. No beer, wine or spirits are served on any route. Need I say more? For some, reading further may not be necessary.
3) Boarding from the Tarmac. I suppose docking fees must be out of their budget so close to all embarkation involves walking outdoors through sweltering heat, herded like cattle. Even in the shiniest and sophisticated international airport. This is one of the many reasons I always travel with wet wipes. You're likely to need a dry shower by the time you actually step on board. Oh, and if you paid for a so-called "hot seat" which includes pre-boarding privileges, these seem to go out the window the moment you step onto the Tarmac when it becomes a mission to not get tackled on your way to the plane. Also make sure you get on the right plane. My cousin almost ended up in Bangalore instead of Bangkok.
4) The worst hub known to man. Most people imagine KL as this uber-modern Asian destination with awe-inspiring skyscrapers and chic hotels. The airport doesn't seem to fit this image and can be described as make-shift at best. Resembling a few non-descript conjoined airplane hangers, I can almost see the duck tape holding everything together. Also impossible to maintain effective temperature control. At least there are McDonald's and Starbucks. Did I mention the swarms of flies everywhere? And I mean everywhere. Best try not this think about it as you're scarfing down your happy meal.
5) When flying within Malaysia, their home country, you have to pay to check in for domestic flights. Yes, really. 10 ringit (about 3 usd) per person. Oh, and they only accept cash in ringit, so you're going to have to withdraw money, or visit a money changer outside the check-in area and pass through security again. How fun. Double-check that the inept security agents actually put a security sticker on your bags or else you get to pass through again! Hooray! (My first experience here involved passing the same security 3 times!)
6) While most airlines seem to have accepted checking in for connecting flights from your first check-in point since the dawn of commercial aviation, this still seems a far-fetched and complicated concept for Air Asia. On a recent flight from Chiang Mai to Bali with a stop in KL (their hub) I had to retrieve my luggage, pass through immigration, check-in again, and then "leave" Malaysia. After doing a giant tour of the airport, I ended up steps away from where I started. When I asked for a rationale, the staff said that I can only check through if the flights are booked together on one booking. Of course, the Air Asia website makes this impossible as it only allows you to book one flight at a time, not a route. You can avoid this by buying your ticket at the airport at an inflated price they said. Of course, that means promotions won't apply. At least you can get some extra stamps in your passport and appear to be a more seasoned traveller. I personally value my blank pages.
7) Fake promotions. 200 ringit (about 80 usd) from KL-Adelaide is one of the headlining promotions starting today on their website. When you actually try to book it, flights within a one-month range at any price are not even available. Maybe they sold out already and Adelaide needs to prepare for a massive tourist influx from KL in the month of October. Lets try another one then. 39 ringit (just over 10 usd) all-in from KL to a plethora of Asian destinations in August. Oh... even though most Asian capitals are on the list in the homepage promotion, when you click through to the details, only a couple of domestic flights to places I've never heard of like Johor Bahru have this rate. KL-BKK is supposedly 129 ringit all-in so let's try. Lowest I can find is 263 ringit. I think you see where I'm going with this. I could go on, but I'm worried about my blood pressure.
8) They're just not good people. It doesn't matter if you're on a flight that's only half sold. The staff will always insist that it's fully booked and sandwich you in between 2 mainland Chinese who seems to be having high-volume interactions with half the people on the plane. Actually, they're just having a discussion amongst themselves. Be discrete if you want to switch seats. If you even dare head for a so-called "hot seat" prepare to be tackled by a fair-skinned Malaysia lady-in-red who weighs no more than 90 pounds. I wonder how they handle strapping Aussie chaps. Moreover, at the check-in counter during my latest check-in, I requested to use some packing tape to secure some luggage straps and the agent quickly responded "we don't have any" when it was in plain view. I had to ask 3 times. Really? I even offered to pay for it familiar with the carrier's fee-friendly policies. I think he gave it to me just so I would shut up.
9) Their website rarely works. I gave up on trying to actually use it or the app since 2010. Pages don't load, bookings disappear, promotions are false, credit cards declined etc etc etc. I have more hair on my head as a result.
10) Their luggage allowances and overweight charges are unforgiving. If you're like any average Asian who loves to shop while traveling maybe you need to start taking a scale with you. Even a fraction of a kilo overweight will warrant the embarrassing and inconvenient event of opening your luggage at the counter revealing your dirty laundry and bizarre purchases to half the airport who glare at you judgmentally as you delay the queue. On my most recent flight I opted to pay my excess baggage fee of 15 usd per kilo (total 60 usd) instead of revealing to my fellow travelers that I had collected several kilos of black volcanic sand. Can you put a price on memories I ask? Apparently Air Asia can and that price is 15 usd per kilo. Pretty steep for budget don't you think?
11) In-flight service, or lack thereof. Regardless of how long your flight is, and they even have routes from KL-Paris, you are offered absolutely nothing in-flight, not even water. Sure you can buy some for double a fair price, but the change will be in Ringit regardless of your currency and they don't accept coins. It would all be better if I could just order a vodka tonic. Oh wait, I can't. Maybe I'll pay 10 usd for a emblemed blanket instead so I don't catch pneumonia on the flight.
12) There's a lot of advertising, and I mean everywhere: the back of the tray table, the storage compartments, every single printed material, even in the toilets. As a visual person I find this incredibly off-putting and invasive. I once (and only once) stayed at a Tune Hotel (Air Asia's sister chain) and was surprised that I was being sold a trip to Kota Kinabalu from the sanctity of my thrown. It's just wrong.
So will I fly Air Asia again? No. Have I said that before? Yes. That's why I felt compelled to express myself in this written tirade. Air Asia, I hate you and everything you stand for and without this 6-hour layover in your hellish hub, this poetic prose may never have come to pass. On my last check-in I suggested they start charging for inflight oxygen. Why should breathing be free? The agent did not appreciate my sarcasm.