Isn’t it nice when something in life exceeds our expectations? That feeling of getting more than you bargained for, or when someone over-delivers and it comes as a complete surprise, writes Scott Armstrong.
Welcome to the business model of Air Asia X, the low-cost Thai airline which has just launched its new service from Muscat to Bangkok, flying three times a week.
Low-cost and long-haul conjures images of being crammed on to Ryan Air for seven hours, however Air Asia X’s offering in this price range comes as a totally refreshing change, being as it is a genuinely enjoyable experience to fly with them.
The key driver of this is the staff, both on the ground at check-in and especially the on-board crew because the passenger is treated with a respect and courtesy normally reserved for business class on premium international airlines.
The warm smiles and deft service of the Air Asia X team put the traveler at ease even before they have stepped on board the A330 flight, which itself over-delivers on space, ambiance and comfort.
Anyone who has flown, for example Ryan Air, will remember the sweaty blue plastic leather effect seats and the garish dark blue and bright yellow colour scheme, but the interior on Air Asia is calming, with comfortable seats and soothing tones. One could almost be forgiven for forgetting they were on-board a ‘low-cost’ operator at all.
This is amplified by the seating options on board, in economy one has the choice (for a small extra cost) to be in the Quiet Zone. Soft ambient lighting, faster service for meals, and overall less noise on the six-hour flight, this is one way to ensure a relaxing journey. One can then opt (to pay) for one of the Hot Seats which offer extra legroom too.
However if you want total comfort then Air Asia X’s Premium Flatbed option is for you, being ‘business class on a budget’.
Here again the airline under promises and over-delivers. So before you get on board you know you won’t have the endless flow of bubbles that other business class flights offer, you won’t get fine china and crystal glasses, you won’t even get in-flight entertainment.
But you do get a super comfy angle-lie flatbed starting from Omr132 one-way – that’s an impressively low fare for what is a real luxury.
However Premium Flatbed actually delivers a business class experience – despite (and in some cases because of) the stripped back experience.
Focusing on your seat for six hours, the Premium Flatbed reclines with all the same degree of flexibility as any other flatbed seat in other, more expensive, business classes. So you can go fully reclined, upright, laid back with the feet up etc. You also get a pillow and duvet to add to the comfort. Add to that a privacy screen separating you from your neighbour and your own reading light and you are already on to a winner.
The lack of in-flight entertainment can be compensated for by packing your laptop as you have your own power socket to keep it, and the rest of your devices, charged.
As for the lack of fine china, ok when the meal is presented to you in the tin-foil tray with a plastic fork perhaps your hearts sinks a little, but then you are totally unprepared for how delicious the meal actually is. Honestly it is good as anything served on many premium lines, it just comes in a little more basic presentation. Premium Flatbed comes with a meal included, but there is also a (very reasonably-priced) menu from which you can order more, plus drinks, if you remain hungry or thirsty. The crew also ask when you when you would like it served, so you can eat before sleeping, or they’ll wake you a short time before landing should you wish.
It’s all ridiculously civilised for a ‘low-cost’ experience, no wonder SkyTrax awarded Air Asia X the World’s Best Low Cost premium cabin and premium seat.
Having polished off your food after watching (or reading) your own choice of entertainment, you plump up your pillow and pull on your duvet in the surprising amount of space and lie there, serenely calm, thousands of feet in the air, thinking ‘this is one of the most enjoyable flights I have had’. You don’t think it for long before you drift off to sleep.
Added bonuses of Premium Flatbed is the generous 40kg luggage allowance, plus priority check-in and priority boarding, plus you can change your flight free of charge up to two hours prior to departure.
All in all the passenger arrives in Don Mueang International Airport, some 30 minutes from Bangkok central, feeling as fresh as any other airline, just with a significant amount more left in their wallets to enjoy the sites and sounds of Thailand’s most famous city and beyond.
Facts & Figures
Thai AirAsia X operates flights from Muscat to Bangkok and connects on to Singapore, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Phnom Penh, Yangon, Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Bali. It also operates local flights to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai Province in northern Thailand, Hat Yai, Krabi, Phuket, Narathiwat, Nakhonsithammarat and Surat Thani in southern Thailand.
In addition to direct flights, AirAsia X provides transit services, helping passengers reach other cities in Thailand through the Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok.
The airline’s destinations include Krabi and Phuket, two popular beach destinations in Thailand, and attractive northern cities, including Chang Mai and Chang Rai.