As I travel around Asia in particular I have flown with a number of airlines and each vary with their offering and service so I thought it was time I blogged about my experiences on the regions airlines.
Airlines nowadays are split into national carriers or low cost airlines and Asia certainly has its fair share of both. Firstly, let’s talk about the high end offering, mainly from the national carriers but also those that want to compete in that market.
Thai Airways has been under the spotlight in recent years. It has been reported it is losing money and CEO after CEO have tried to reverse the losses. In my experiences of travelling on Thai Airways the service is good, the legroom is certainly up there with many high end and national carrier airlines but it is certainly not cheap. The meals, particularly for very short trips and domestically are woefully inadequate and you often just get a sandwich box. I try to avoid this airline if I can these days but sometimes I have to pay up if I really need to be somewhere.
Bangkok Airways competes directly with Thai on many services and its promotional materials certainly want to promote their service mindset. What does differentiate Bangkok Airways is the lounge access for everyone. You buy your ticket and you can go to an economy lounge, which is great if you are in a busy airport like Suvarnabumi in Bangkok which is extremely busy at the best of times. Bangkok Airways is also not cheap but I would have to say not as expensive as Thai. I like the planes, decent amount of legroom, so if I want to pay a bit extra for the trimmings Bangkok Airways would be my first choice.
Other National Carrier/High End Airlines I have flown with Royal Brunei Airlines which I consider one of the worst in the region, but quite cheap compared with other national carriers. Their service is very poor and you are often kept waiting with no explanation if delayed. The meals are not nice and although piping hot, often too hot, they don’t really cater for an International traveler. Singapore Airlines is a very good airline, nice planes, good legroom and decent food, but expensive on a par with Thai Airways.
So now let’s look at the cheaper Low-Cost no frills airlines. This is of course what most travelers are likely to travel on when moving around Asia. There are a number of Low-Cost airlines and they vary widely with their offering, here is my rundown of a few of them.
Air Asia is probably one of the best known low-cost airlines in the region, and is one of the oldest serving the most routes. Based in Malaysia but now with sub branches in Thailand and Indonesia Air Asia has an enviable network. What Air Asia prides itself on is the itemized cost of everything they sell. The seats, the luggage, the food, insurance and of course the optional extras. You can take or leave whatever you want with Air Asia. The great part of this is that if you are travelling a short distance and only have a carry-on bag you can get a very cheap flight. If you need luggage or have a stopover then other airlines are slowly beginning to compete with them in these areas.
Lion Air is probably my personal favorite of all the low-cost airlines. Lion Air is very competitive with Air Asia in Thailand for domestic flights and international to Indonesia. It is a branch of Malindo Air from Indonesia which makes travel between the 2 countries inexpensive. They have a number of offers throughout the year, plus, what you get with Lion Air that you don’t with Air Asia is 15kg free check-in luggage. This makes them very competitive on the routes they compete with other Low-Cost airlines where checked baggage is not included. What I really like about Lion Air though is that every time I have flown with them, and it has been quite a few now, I always get put in the emergency exits. The emergency exit rows have phenomenal leg room, they are in the middle of the plane so you are not the last one to leave in any event. This may be as a westerner they try to put them in the emergency exits, whatever the reason, I don’t care, it really is great.
Other Low-Cost Airlines include Nok Air, Thai Smile, Firefly, Tiger Airways to name but a few. Thai Smile is the low-cost version of Thai Airways but to be honest it isn’t that much cheaper. It just serves some of the routes Thai Airways won’t do domestically so is definitely up at the higher end of the low-cost price range. Nok Air is a favorite of the backpackers heading down to the south from Bangkok and offers very cheap flights but very limited service. The Leg room is extremely tight and flight times are often late at night or early in the morning. Firefly and Tiger are both based out of Singapore and offer pretty much the same experience as Air Asia albeit with less routes.