Last post I mentioned I caught a good deal on a flight to Singapore from Air Asia. I’d considered flying with them last year when a friend and I took a trip to Bali together, but with the extra baggage fee cost in the end we decided to pay a little more for service and comfort, and booked with Malaysia Airlines instead. (Relax, this was way before they got a bad rap for losing an airplane.)
This time around I took Air Asia up on their offer. It was my first time booking with them and flying out from Haneda Airport, so I didn’t exactly know what I was getting myself into. Reading other Air Asia reviews beforehand, going in my expectations were pretty low. To my surprise, although I didn’t care much for Haneda Airport, Air Asia’s service far exceeded my expectations and even rivaled or surpassed other airlines I’ve paid “normal” fare for.
If you’re flying out from Tokyo on Air Asia, Haneda is where you’ll need to go. It’ll probably involve taking the Keikyū line from Shinagawa to one of the international or domestic terminal station stops.
The Good: If you live in the greater Tokyo or Kanagawa area, you’ll probably find Haneda Airport a lot more accessible than Narita. The train ride from Shinagawa is pretty short and I had no problems finding a seat on the train. I found the airport itself wasn’t as busy as Narita. It was easy to find the Air Asia counter and the Haneda staff I encountered were all very pleasant. Lines moved efficiently and quickly. There was even a sectioned off area for charging your phone or laptop at the gate, which was a nice added convenience.
The Bad: Coming from a rural area, the buses running to and from Haneda are few and far between. I had no other choices but to hop a shinkansen to Shinagawa after work, and not only was irritating having to change trains 3 times with my luggage, it was also more expensive. Since Air Asia doesn’t offer any kind of free meal I figured I’d eat dinner at a restaurant or cafe in Haneda before catching my flight. To my disappointment, I didn’t see any kind of eatery in the immediate vicinity of the terminal before going through security, and there were only two fast-food style cafes I passed before reaching the elevator down to my gate. I ended up getting a really pathetic-looking “Mexican hot dog” from the nearest one for a lack of any better options. Narita houses a ton of different shops at varying price points, eats, and useful services no matter which terminal you’re in. The hours I usually end up spending there before my flight really fly by. That was not the case with Haneda. Even though the wait before boarding time was less than an hour, I quickly got bored and called Mr. J to shoot the bird. Unless you like high fashion brands or duty free shopping, you probably won’t find much to interest you while you wait.
Air Asia operates in low cost carrier terminals and by passing on savings to the customer in part by not having to pay extra fees to park their planes right up to the gate.
At Haneda, you’ll need to walk out of the gate when boarding begins to a shuttle bus waiting to taxi you to where the airplane is parked and boarding will commence. In Kuala Lumpur, there wasn’t a shuttle bus so getting to the low cost carrier terminal required a bit more walking, and despite how hot it was there each time I went through, most of the terminal stayed un-airconditioned.
If an Air Asia flight isn’t full, you might be offered to sign up with OptionTown and apply for business class or better seating at a discount. Business class for only 10,000 yen ($100 USD) extra you say? Sure! I wanted to hit the floor running in Singapore, and a goodnight’s sleep on a decent bed could only be beneficial. Upon sign up they promise a final decision 3 days – 4 hours before your flight. I lucked out and my application was accepted, but they barely made the promised response deadline. As they say you need a printed copy of the OK’ed upgrade confirmation for check-in, I would have been in trouble if I’d already been at the airport or on my way there when the response came. (Although nobody even glanced at my copy of the e-mail when I checked in, so maybe it was just written as a formality. 😉 )
The flight itself was nice. Being a budget airline, it seems like parents might find it less child friendly, so I was happy to see there were few children on the flight and at no point during my flight did I have to put up with screaming babies or kids kicking the back of my seat. No children hate intended; I love kids, but it’s nice to have an enjoyable flight without them every once awhile. The business class service was great, and even included a free meal that hadn’t been advertised with my upgraded fare.
Understandably riding back in economy, the service wasn’t as good as business class, but I thought the headrests on the seats were comfier than usual and I didn’t find the seats any smaller than other major airline economy class seats like I’d been lead to believe. Each flight left on time and landed 30 minutes to an hour earlier than scheduled, which was wonderful. All the Air Asia flight attendants were ridiculously good looking! I don’t know if it’s some kind of loophole hiring throwback to the 60s or 70s when appearances mattered if you wanted to go into airline service industry, or was just pure coincidence.
The only complaint I can muster is that none of the flight attendants were very helpful when I requested a pen to sign the customs form. Apparently they don’t keep any spare writing utensils on board and no one was keen on letting me borrow their pen for even a second, so make sure you’ve got your own.
Also, if you do plan on purchasing something on board but haven’t pre-booked, be aware that while they seemed to accept a wide range of currencies, change on both flights was only given back in the currency of whatever major hub the flight operated from. For both of my flights, that was Malaysia ringgit. This didn’t bother me because it gave me a bit of spending money without the hassle of exchanging currencies during layovers at Kuala Lumpur, but I think it miffed a few people who only had larger bills to pay with.
Would I use Air Asia again to travel? Yes! It was cheap, convenient, and reliable. I’m not a picky or special needs traveler and just needed to get there and back in somewhat decent comfort. They’ve definitely made Asia a lot more accessible on a budget, and now I’m already planning that trip to Malaysia and Thailand that I’d been putting off in my mind for some years now.
If you’re interested on how Singapore was, I’ll be making a two-part post on it the coming month so check back later!