I am not biased against Air Asia. In fact I welcome their presence in the regional air travel market, as they would provide stiff competition to established full service carriers, forcing them to keep their fares in check. In fact, I'm glad they have started a Johor Baru (JHB) - Sandakan (SDK) service, because it'll mean my holidays in Singapore will be even more affordable. I recognise that with their low fares, it's often a case of "you get what you pay for".
The report you're about to read is not because of prejudice on my part. If you were in my position you'd likely agree with what I'm about to express. The point is that what happened could have been avoided if only Air Asia made the effort to avert them…………..
Flight No.: AK5162
From/To: Kuala Lumpur (Low Cost Carrier Terminal) - Sandakan (SDK)
The taxi driver quoted MYR70 when I flagged his cab, to get to the new Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) at KLIA. It was about 11.35 am, and we reached the LCCT at around 12.40 pm after a 4 or 5-minute refueling stop. Apparently, he had turned on his meter, and it showed MYR59.80 when I got down. He did pay about MYR4.80 for road toll, and if one adds MYR2 for extras for my 2 pieces of luggage, the MYR70 seems quite reasonable.
1240 Got off cab in front of the entrance to Domestic Departures. No trolleys nearby - had to walk about 20 metres to get one.
1245 The flight board indicates that the check-in counter for my flight is R38. After security clearance, I enter the check-in area, past a sign that prohibits non-passengers from entering such area. A 40-foot (using those floor tiles as a method to measure) long queue at R38 greeted me, and a similarly long Q was at R39. It turned out R39 was also a counter for my flight, but there was no mention of this on the screen above it. As for R38, the screen above it was blank too, for no one was manning it. Elsewhere at other counters, it was disorderly; snaking Qs were to be seen at virtually all the counters open for check in. Great, here I am, with Air Asia warning us that check in counters would close about 40 mins before the flight, and 75 mins before our scheduled departure, we have 2 40-feet long Qs. It seems the standard now is 2 counters per flight.
1253 The word "Sandakan" appears on the screen above counters R38 and R39
1254 It happened. I received a SMS, and my fellow queue mates also reached for their cell phones. My SMS read "Urgent!Flight AK5162 from KLIA(LCCT)- Sandakan on 2 Apr is now retimed [note that "delayed" is a dirty word to Air Asia] to 3.00pm(1500hrs)For further info pls call 03-78849918.Sorry for the inconvenience caused"
1308 I think I'm now 11th in the Q, an improvement from, say, 17th when I first joined it. I'm now 28 feet away from the counter.
1317 Only now do I notice it: for several minutes before this, perhaps, R39 was not manned at all. The pax in that Q look hopefully at R38, and a few of those at the front of that Q converged on R38. Soon we have a situation of 2 queues, but 1 counter, a sharp V-formation. Further to the right, at R46 and R47 (which served a Bintulu-bound flight) there were 2 staff but no more pax wanting to check in, but everyone seemed oblivious to the suffering at R38 and R39.
1324 The staff manning R38 walked over to the 2 staff at R46 and R47. Appeared to remonstrate with them on something.
1326 He returns to his counter. The staff from R47 comes over to R39, while the one at R46 walks away
1327 The staff manning R38 walks away towards the Departure Hall. In the same way that R39 pax converged on R38 earlier, the reverse has now taken place!!!!!!!!!!!!
1339 The R38 staff who had been gone returns, and hopes are raised, only to be cruelly dashed when he walks away again towards the Departure Hall barely a minute later.
1352 I'm now 10 feet away from the (R39) counter, on one of the arms of the "V". The Q behind me could be another 20 feet long. Near the rear of my arm of the "V" was a white-haired Caucasian gentleman, around 60 years of age, of whom I shall mention further down.
1356 A staff comes to R38, but it wasn't for the purpose of serving Sandakan-bound pax. Almost immediately, the word "Sandakan" disappeared from the screens above both R38 and R39.
1405 I'm now 8 feet away; there's only one Q now, not sure how the other arm of the "V" dispersed. I had been observing the expressions on the faces of my fellow queue mates, but on the whole they seemed stoic about the whole thing - unlike mine, there didn't seem to be any sour faces. Maybe they are what Air Aisa would regard as model customers i.e. those who accept that for low fares, hey, what else do you want? Or could it be that we Malaysian consumers are such a docile lot, that we don't complain vigorously when some large corporation screws us up? Can someone from Western countries tell me what the customer's reaction would be if they were treated like this?
1409 It's my turn finally!!!! My first piece of luggage weighed 8.5 kg, the second, 11.9 kg. Total = 20.4 kg, and I'm 5 kg overweight. The staff pointed to my lighter luggage and said "This one you hand carry, ah" He then explained that he was not accepting it as checked-in baggage because I would then be overloaded. (But it still goes on board the plane! Or is this non-charging for overweight a "goodwill gesture" for all our suffering? Some pax earlier also had their baggage "rejected" in such manner) Knowing that they charge MYR10 per kg, I didn't complain, rather, I welcomed it. [Could it be that had it been checked in and I had to pay, the payment process would further delay other pax in the queue, and so the staff was desperate to clear the Q as ASAP?] But it would mean I'll be boarding with 3 pieces of hand luggage - the "rejected" (cabin-sized) luggage, my laptop bag and 2 supermarket-size shopping bags (containing some perishables)!!! My laptop bag caught his eye, and he asked, is that your laptop inside? Most convenient answer: Yes. No further questions.
1410 He handed me my boarding pass and told me to go to Gate P5 IMMEDIATELY. No way, man. Not after being screwed by Air Asia into standing in Q for 85 minutes!!!!!!!!! All that queuing had made me so angry and hungry, I wanted something to eat, such that at that point in time I wouldn't have cared if I had caused the flight to be delayed!!!! this time, Air Asia, it'll be YOU who will have to wait for ME!!!!!!!!! But, Air Asia soon turned the tables on me........ read further below
1411 As I made my way to the food outlets, the flight board still showed the Q for Sandakan is R38. There were 3 outlets - McDonald's, Asian Delight and Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. Went to the latter, and the MYR7.40 for a chicken pie and MYR9.30 for a "large" hot chocolate sure beats the living daylights out of a MYR6 Air Asia sandwich and MYR4 cup of (instant?) coffee!!!!!!
Around 1440-1445, I entered the Departure Hall. As the aircraft are now parked at remote bays, there's no way of telling which plane is yours. I saw one just outside Gate P5, and (correctly) guessed it would be the one I'll be flying on. Some baggage was being unloaded from its cargo hold, so I assume it had just arrived. A catering truck was at its rear left door; funny, I thought they usually use the right doors.
1450 Then the thing about kiasuism kicks in. This is Air Asia's fault - not bothering to change their systems to allow for pre-numbered seating [I was on Impulse Air, a LCC in Australia, back in 2000, and they did allow for pre-numbered seating]. Those who desired some control over where they might sit, which is over 60% of the pax, formed a Q in anticipation of the boarding call being made, but even here, Air Asia had to screw us into standing in line for nearly half an hour.
1500 Saw a flight and cabin crew make their way onto our plane. The previous crew got down about 5-10 minutes earlier. So much for being "retimed" to 3.00 pm. The catering truck seems to be a permanent fixture at the rear door (2L).
1510 As Gate P5 was also to have been for a flight to Kuching, the staff, seeing a sea of humanity here, came on air and advised that the Kuching flight isn't ready for departure yet, so please take a seat. No one from the crowd seems to respond.
1512 Around this time, a A320 with the Manchester United livery taxiied in. The rest of the planes on the tarmac are B733s.
1515 At last, the boarding call is made. Families with children were given preference. After such a frustrating time in 2 Air Asia queues, everone was anxious to get out and onto the plane. It was now that an extraordinary incident took place. As you can imagine, with all the kiasuism, people were slightly disorderly about the boarding process. A white-haired Caucasian man, around 60 years of age, who was about 3 metres to my left, shouted at those behind and around him: Can you all move back a bit, stop pushing and be civilised, there's children there [Where, sir? I don't see no kids any more, they have all gone on board]..... come on, move back, move back, does it take a Mat Salleh to do this for you?
For a start, this gentleman was speaking to the wrong audience - he was already near the front of the queue, and there was no way those immediately behind or beside him could "move back", such is the "pressure" from further behind the queue - he should have gone towards the middle section to shout his orders. But that'll mean he will have to give up his position in the Q!
But I do sympathise with him, for he could well have been in the R38 Q longer than me, and therefore, just as annoyed - in fact, he was perhaps the third last pax to check in. With all the frustration, such an outburst was not surprising. So, let me join him in the spirit of empathy: AIR ASIA SUCKS!
Not only that, another reason for the boarding chaos is that Air Asia only opened one of the 2 glass doors, and so the width of the exit to the tarmac was a mere 2.5 feet!! And for the first few minutes only one agent was processing the pax boarding passes, hence the slow boarding. If only they had opened the other door and had a second agent there right from the start. It's not like there's no manpower - at least one staff was sitting at the staff counter near that exit door.
Which reminds me of the following observation: that staff was, during our boarding process, making an announcement that the flight to Kuching, which had been delayed, is expected to arrive at 1520 - they will begin the boarding at 1540. Uh, if Air Asia schedules their turnaround time for 25 minutes only, how can they finish boarding, and commence pushback, etc. in just 5 minutes? That staff went on to tell the pax that their plane would be a A320, and that "there are 50 more seats at the rear", as though to assure them they'll have lots of space. Wonder what that's supposed to mean? Sure, they can carry 180 pax compared to 148 on the B733, but what if all 180 seats have been sold out???
To state the obvious, there are no aerobridges here, and so Air Asia saved MYR85 on that. For those who didn't like exposure to the sun, umbrellas were offered. Boarding was thru only Door 1L, no staircase at 2L. Funny, I remember Air Asia saying that one of the key advantages of tarmac-based boarding/disembarking is that you can go in/out using TWO doors, making the whole process faster. They seem to be breaking every business principle for this particular flight.
Once on board, I settled for seat 12C, an aisle seat that's also on an emergency exit row (with more legroom than usual). The FA
ordered me to stow everything in the overhead bin, none must be in under the seat in front of me since it's an exit row.
1534 Pushback. I had noticed that at this low cost terminal, all the planes leave by having a towing vehicle push them back. I couldn't help thinking that with a bit of design modification on the part of the airport, they could leave (in a forward direction) by their own power, no need for pushbacks. Those towing vehicles cost money to operate, you know.
During pushback, the usual welcome address, almost similar to that on Malaysia Airlines, was made, plus an apology for the delay. Yup, we're 35 minutes delayed compared to our "retimed" departure time. I had noted that when I entered the Departure Hall around 1445, the plane I am now on was already on the tarmac. Around that time, I saw the ground crew unload all the baggage from the previous flight. Now, about 50 minutes later, this plane is finally leaving. WHATEVER HAPPENED TO
AIR ASIA's TARGET OF
25 MINUTES TURNAROUND TIME?!?!?!?!?! Or could it be that it's simply an unachievable target? Hence the numerous delays to their flights? Even Malaysia Airlines allows for 40 minutes turnaround time for the B734s!
1535 Begin taxiing
1536 Safety demo. Words used are virtually the same as those on Malaysia Airlines.
1543 Line up on runway. For about 60 seconds precious fuel is burnt, maybe to show that Air Asia may be low cost but they sure can afford to burn it!!!
1544 Takeoff roll, about 35 seconds later we are airbourne.
During takeoff roll, the overhead stowage compartment cover just behind me broke open, maybe it wasn't closed securely. (Air Asia and their cabin crew ought to have their knuckles rapped for not ensuring it's secure before departing.) Here, the pax in 13F did something that I don't know whether to say heroic or idiotic. We were in the middle of takeoff roll, and he unfastened his seat belt, stood up, tried to close the cover, with one leg over his girlfriend's thigh in 13D, the other on the floor. Fortunately everything turned out OK, but I suspect none of the Air Asia cabin crew knew what happened, for from their seats in the rear galley, they couldn't have had a view of the cabin.
1546 Fasten seat belt light goes off, and an advice on the pax's freedom, which sounds almost word-for-word from Malaysia Airlines, is given. It goes on to advice that food and drinks sales would soon begin, plus a dire warning that pax aren't allowed to consume food from non-Air Asia sources. Who cares? Especially after being screwed up into queuing for 85 minutes??
The rest of the flight was uneventful. After the food/drinks sales, another cart, laden with Air Asia-Manchester United co-branded merchandise, came down the aisle. Hardly anyone paid attention to it - don't they know that only a small percentage of their pax might happen to be MU
fans????. And even if I'm a MU
fan, I'd say, after today's experience, that Air Asia doesn't deserve to have it's name alongside my favourite club's name!!!!!!!!!
1805 Announcement: we will be landing soon, please fasten your seat belts, etc. etc. It then goes on to say that removal of life jackets is a very serious offence, hmmm, Malaysia Airlines doesn't have this kind of announcement. Hey, in fact, MAS even did away with explicitly mentioning the "death penalty" for narcotics smuggling!!!!! Looks like Air Asia is going the opposite direction! The FA
came round with a garbage bag, and I boldly placed into it the remains of my non-Air Asia pre-packed cup of mineral water in her full view. No reaction from her.
1816 Touchdown, and our flying time had been around 2 hours 30 minutes, 15 minutes less than usual. At least they made the effort to fly the plane faster. The announcement that we have landed, etc. came on. It went on to say please note Air Asia check in counters close 40 mins before departure (funny they should want to tell pax who are about to disembark), and that they are proud to announce that Air Asia is the Official Low Fare Carrier of Manchester United. On this note I wonder: will there ever be an Air Asia plane that will fly those (millionaire) MU
players around on their next Asian tour? At least for Malaysia Airlines a few years ago, their planes (an A330, I think) flew the Real Madrid team on their Asia tour, and they could claim that the likes of Ronaldo, Zidane, Figo (darn, why do I keep mentioning only those galacticos, when I fully agree with someone's sentiment that it's as though they are the only blxxdy people at the club?????) flew with them! Like I said earlier, after today's experience, Air Asia doesn't deserve to be associated with my favourite team (not that I'm a MU
1810 The disembarking was done through both doors. At least Air Asia's Sandakan staff showed that they can perform better than their counterparts at the much-vaunted new Low Cost carrier Terminal at KLIA, the new home of Air Asia!!
AN OPEN LETTER TO TONY FERNANDES (AIR ASIA C.E.O.):-
Dear Tony Fernandes,
I read somewhere that you're a CEO like no other, every now and then you get onto one of your flights and join the cabin crew in serving passengers (not that they need to be served much, since they've got to pay for it) on that flight.
But with what happened today, I was actually wondering: where the hell were you? If you had been around, then at least I might have had the pleasure of having the CEO of Air Asia himself doing the check in for me, and I would then have the opportunity to there and then tell him in his face how much I appreciate being made to stand in queue for 85 minutes!
I therefore conclude that your joining of cabin crew and sharing of their duties is not much more than an attempt to attract cheap publicity for yourself and your airline.
There’s a vast difference between hype and actually delivering the results, and right now, it seems Air Asia believes more in hype. It seems to me, for a start, that your airline’s target of 25 minutes for turnaround is simply unrealistic, hence the delays of 1.5 hours or so on 3 of the 4 flights that I have flown on Air Asia.
But don't worry, even as your airline is seldom able to deliver good results (especially flights sticking to schedule), you can always, at the end of the day, resort to the very tried and tested excuse of hey, we're a low fare carrier, what did you expect? This excuse will be very effective, I suppose, on my friend whose flight arrived at around 2300 hrs instead of 1645 a few days ago.
Fortunately, though, for this anti-Manchester United fan, MU
will have to be associated with your airline for the duration of your sponsorship.