A few years back I was sitting at my desk booking passengers on various cruises around the world, when I overheard the guy next to me talking to his mate about heading off on a two month South East Asian adventure, country hopping with Air Asia. This was the time when getting to remote Asia required several long days of hard going bus travel and the idea of flying anything except Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific, was questioning your sanity.
With that in mind, I couldn’t help but interject and ask who is Air Asia? His response was that they were a new airline that he had never flown before and was going to give them a trial in a few weeks time. I said if he survived, he should send me a message telling me of his experience. The good news is that he is still alive today and ever since then, I have flown with Air Asia over thirty times from locations such as Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia and even London.
So, who is Air Asia?
Air Asia is owned by a group of private stakeholders (including Richard Branson) and was the vision of Branson’s former financial controller for Virgin Airlines, Tony Fernandes. In its current form, Air Asia has been operating for the past ten years and flies to over twenty five countries located primarily on the Asian continent.
In short, Air Asia is a budget airline which hubs out of Kuala Lumpur’s Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) which is the budget section of Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport. When I first started flying with Air Asia, LCCT was nothing more than a tin shed. However today it is crammed full of duty free shops, fast food restaurants, hotels and busy travellers.
The best way to describe the standard of Air Asia is that it is similar to the likes of Easy Jet and Jetstar. The airline has a reasonable sized fleet of modern aircraft, fitted out to put bums on seats with no extra frills.
I’m just shy of 6ft and I find the leg room is adequate for short haul flights; however everything else comes at an expense. From food, entertainment, blankets and seat selection, you will need to pre-order or pay on board (higher price) for everything. I found though that for most destinations out of KL, you won’t require many of these extras as you’re only in the air for a few hours.
Air Asia’s on time performance is mixed. Whilst I’ve never been delayed with any flight with this airline, I have met many travellers who have been delayed or had their flights cancelled. Recent stats that I’ve found suggests that the airline has between a 60% to 70% on time performance rating for most routes.
Which brings me on to safety and let’s face it, this is probably the main concern of flying any airline in South East Asia. Safety is really subjective and I don’t like to say an airline is safe or not, as I don’t have the skills or knowledge to give that advice. However from my experience working with a certain other airline based in Asia, the main issue you have to be concerned about is maintenance and where it’s completed.
Now whilst I feel reasonably comfortable with maintenance done out of KL, Air Asia also has two smaller fleets hubbed out of Jakarta and Bangkok which are owned by various other airlines (branded with the Air Asia motif). It’s worth noting that Indonesia is notorious for its maintenance, with airline licenses often being revoked by European and Australian aviation safety bodies for failing to meet standards. However currently, Air Asia flies to both Europe and Australia and if there were any safety concerns, these aviation bodies would have stepped in.
Overall I feel relatively safe and comfortable (as much as you can be on a budget airline!) when flying Air Asia. It feels no different to when I use Easy Jet to fly around Europe or Jetstar in Australia. I hope this helps to give you an idea into who Air Asia is and if you’re after alternative budget flight options, check out our post on the top five budget airlines to fly in South East Asia.