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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Air Asia India flight experience-Chennai-Bengaluru

I’d done 2 trips with Air Asia earlier-once to Kuala Lumpur, one more to Bangkok. About a month ago Air Asia launched India operations, I experienced my first Air Asia India flight between Chennai- Blr and back last weekend.

In this post I am narrating my Air Asia flight experience and where possible compare it to my observation/experience with other low cost carriers in India.

When I’d booked ticket, for about Rs 900 per person round trip, all inclusive [ticket details here], the departure time was 8.10PM and arrival time was 9.10PM. I had not opted for any baggage check in as it came with Rs 199+taxes extra. Later DGCA forced Airasia to include 15kg free baggage allowance, which though appears as customer friendly move, forces airline to include baggage expense in base fare and even those who don’t have checkin baggage now need to pay for it indirectly.

One week before my trip I did web check in and took printout of the web checkin receipt. Somehow this printout only showed onward journey, not return trip- more about it later.

On the day of flight, while I was cross checking everything, realized that departure time is delayed by 40 mins to 8.50 PM. I had not got any SMS/email notifying this change of timing w.r.t original booking. I was little worried because I was relying on BMTC’s Vayu Vajra service to reach home from Bengaluru International Airport. If arrival gets delayed late into the night, my probability of finding a bus that goes closer home will be lower.

Anyhow it was little late to change my plans, I reached airport as per original plan, at about 6.30-6.45PM, keeping enough buffer for any delay/rush etc. At the checkin counter, I asked why is that incoming flight arrives at 7.35 and departs after 75 minutes, while Airasia is known to have 20 mins turnaround. I was told that routine maintenance work happens in this time gap. Not sure why they’re doing it this way- If Bangalore is AirAsia’s base it makes sense to house engineers in Blr, not in Chennai. Also why maintenance break in the middle of the day? Why not later in the night? Anyways, that is none of my business. I am sure people at Airasia know when to do maintenance and where to do it. They should be having some reason to do it this way. Also good that aircraft is getting checked before my flight.

Indigo allows you to proceed to security directly if you have done web checkin. But with Airasia is necessary to go to the counter and collect boarding pass. The elastic in the baggage tag was weak- 3 of the tags I tried failed- eventually picked up a baggage tag of spicejet airline, from a tray near security area. Note to airasia: If you try to save a few paise by procuring substandard baggage tags, passengers will waste more of it, negating the core purpose of cost saving. (Baggage tags worked fine during return trip)
Airasisa baggage tags- contextual image clicked using Moto E
Crowd at airport was very low, we cleared security formalities and began waiting. I was reading Anuradha Goyal’s Mouse Charmers.

7.50PM, boarding was announced, 1 hour earlier to scheduled departure. This sounded odd. For a moment I thought we will be departing as per original schedule.

We boarded, only to keep waiting. 8.20PM, no sign of aircraft moving. Pilot made customary announcements. Passengers still arriving. Understandably many passengers had arrived just in time for 8.50PM departure, so even if rest of the passengers and aircraft was ready to take off, everyone had to wait for passengers who came on time. I would have preferred to wait in the airport waiting area for another 30 mins and board by 8.20PM, than board at 7.50, sit in congested space and wait. We waited till 8.40 and then the first sign of aircraft movement appeared.

Aircraft was clean, new and red seatbelts on black seat looked great. No disposable cloth on the headrest. (Indigo and Spicejet have this disposable headrests, which are assumedly changed after each flight- if the previous passengers had oily hair or dandruff or loose hair, next passenger won’t have to receive them if the disposable piece of cloth attached to the head rest is replaced.). of course this adds to cost and replacing it turnaround time, hence I guess Airasia isn’t doing it. We have to trust their cleaning crew to inspect and clean headrests where required.

The inflight magazine, 3sixty was great. Had interesting articles, photos and information.

Once flight took off, it was a breeze. Many other airlines use their ATRs and Bombardiers for this short haul routes. These planes being slower, take close to an hour. Airasia is using an Airbus, which is much faster and can reach destination quicker. With an airbus, cabin crew hardly have enough time to server some drinks and snacks. By the time aircraft reaches cruising altitude, it is time to descend to Bengaluru. 9.05PM, Pilot announced descend. Takes about 30 mins to reach Blr, once aircraft is airborne. However Airasia still cleverly keeps a time of 1 hour while announcing schedules, so that they can always claim they arrived 20-30 mins earlier and delight the passengers. Good trick I must say!

We hadn’t ordered any food online [booking in advance saves 20%], nor bought anything in flight. Their food options and rates appear much better than that of rivals- spicejet and Indigo. However, not everything will be available on all flights. To a passenger behind me, crew told that only 4 snacks items are available since it is a short haul flight. In general, cabin crew appeared more energetic and happy to sell goods on board. Drinking water was free, which is good. (On board Chennai Bangkok flight we had to buy water)

There is a display area behind tray table- I guess airasia is planning to put some ads here in future and earn secondary revenues.

We arrived at 9.20PM, 30 mins ahead of schedule as per Air Asia, but since I was made to board at 7.50, wait till 8.40 for take off, I consider the time spent inside aircraft as total duration of flight, which in this case is 1 hour, 30 mins.

Thankfully Vayu Vajra service was operational in good numbers to various destinations even at 9.30PM, hence I got a bus close to my destination. Reached home by 11PM. End to end, it takes almost as much time as Shatabdi express.

Bengaluru to Chennai Return journey: I wanted to take Monday morning early flight. But that meant reaching airport at 4.30AM, getting up at 3 AM and paying a bomb to taxi service. Hence booked for Sunday evening return flight. Shande dropped us off at Mekhri circle and we took an empty cab returning to airport by paying Rs 200 per person. Taxi driver was curious if Air Asia is really very cheap. Told him that only first few seats on  every flight is generally cheap. He was also hopeful that it could bring him more revenue. At BIAL out of curiosity I asked Airasia ticket counter staff how much is the ticket fare to Blr on this evening flight. Rs 3450/- came the reply. So last minute fares in Airasia are at par with its rivals (or even more expensive in some cases, as rivals also have slashed airfares considerably to match AirAsia).

The boarding pass which I'd printed didn't show return trip. This was caught by airport security and I had to scramble for original ticket which showed return leg.

Airasia Counter staff at Bangalore airport came with pre-printed boarding pass. When asked I was told their systems are not yet fully ready, so they are printing it in their office (ticket sales counter) and manually cross checking and handing it over to passengers. I was told it may take 10 more days to get the systems in place.

Flight was almost full. Return trip was smooth as well. On time and ahead of time. Upon arrival aircraft was parked away from the gate-understandably for maintenance and we were taken to arrival area by bus.

Only 1st row seats have extra leg room (premium seats). Cabin crew were good.

Total expense for 2 people was Rs 1800 flight ticket + Rs 1100 ground transfer expense (Rs 260* 2 Blr airport to home + Rs 200* 2 City to Airport + Chennai ground transfer in public transport)

Total time: 1 hour Home to airport + 1.5 hours airport formalities +1 hour boarding+ flight+ disembarkation+ 1.5 hour Blr airport to home=  5 hours.
Flight
Shatabdi Express
Remarks
Expense (for 2 people)
Rs 2900, ticket + Ground transfer
Rs 1600 ( Rs 700 per person train ticket, + Rs 200 in public transport home to Rly station & back)
Flight ticket component may vary
Time
5 hours 
7 hours: 5 hours train time + 2 hours city travel- home to rly station & stn to home
City travel time could vary
Some food included
 Waiting to know their next destination

4 comments:

magiceye said...

Useful information and well analysed.

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Thanks Deepak

dalu1061 said...

Hi, have a doubt regarding the baggage checkin, i had not opted one but can i opt for one during the checkin at airport by paying for it or is it free upto 15kgs ??

Shrinidhi Hande said...

It is free upto 15kgs. You can checkin.

If you wish get it double confirmed on Airasia facebook page. THey are very responsive.

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