South East Asian Airlines

This is a completely subjective, personal view of some of the various SE Asian airlines, from our experiences of flying around the area between February and June 2017.  In no particular order:

SriLankan Airlines:

SriLankan has a wide range of operations. I chose them when we were planning our flight from Singapore to England. It’s a long flight, and I really wanted to get business class, but didn’t want to pay Singapore air or BA prices! I checked lots of options: premium economy on the full price airlines, then I found SriLankan, and discovered their business class fare was quite reasonable. I think I recall it being similar to premium economy rates on bigger airlines. Ok, sold! From Singapore we had a 3.5 hour flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka, and then about 10-12 hours on to London. In Singapore, the carryon x-ray security check is at the gate, so it’s not so convenient to spend time in the lounge, as you really need to allow enough time to get through that x-ray check. We didn’t have too long to wait, and the gate seating was fine. Business class on the first leg was comfy seating, 2:2 configuration on Airbus 321. Drinks were offered as we boarded, with small bottles of water waiting at each seat. Food choices were good. Comfortable flight, with excellent cabin crew.

In Colombo we were invited to use the Serendib lounge, which was comfortable, and had a great lunch buffet, together with good coffee (espresso machine). Wifi connection was a bit iffy.

Boarding was a bit haphazard, with no noticeable separation between economy and business class (not that I care, but some people do!) We boarded between business and economy class, and as I turned left and walked to my seat, I realised there were other people who had boarded at the front, and were walking down towards me! Oh well, we got it sorted out! We were on an Airbus 330-300 with a herringbone seating arrangement of 1:2:1. Chris and I were in the middle two seats. If you were sitting here, but travelling alone, there was enough privacy separation between the two seats. I was surprised there wasn’t as much personal storage space around the seat. I could see places they could easily have put in shelves or cubbyholes. They do offer a USB charger port and a power point at each seat. There’s a personal light, a pillow and light blanket, and the seat is a full lie flat bed. It was a daytime flight, so I didn’t try to have a full sleep, but it was lovely to be able to relax, lie back, put my feet up. IFE was in a fairly large screen that popped out from the seat in front. Selection of films and TV was ok, but some more up to date offerings would be good.

Food service was excellent! Drinks offered on boarding. Menu at the seat. Quality was really good. Cocktails, wine, after dinner drinks, coffee, tea, lots of offerings. Menu said sandwiches were available between meals – I didn’t get to test that, as the meals were very satisfying! Cabin crew were lovely, polite, friendly, helpful, efficient, but left us alone after meal service. Chris’s screen was not working, they reset it a couple of times, it worked finally. They tried hard, and were most apologetic.

For a “low-cost carrier” it was excellent. Unless you have miles or freebies, I wouldn’t bother with the higher priced carriers for business class! If you can stretch to this, it’s well worth it for a long haul flight.

We were given a ticket to fast track passport control, and after landing at 8 pm, were waiting in the car park for our ride at 8.30 pm!

Garuda Airlines:

Garuda is the flagship carrier of Indonesia, and we flew them on several legs between the Indonesian islands. Since all the flights we had booked were pretty short, we stayed in economy, but did pay a bit extra for bulkhead seats, to get the extra legroom.  Depending on which equipment they’re operating, you may have a choice of business class on some routes. Business class seats definitely looked larger and more comfy than economy, so if you’re flying a long segment, it might be worth paying more for the space and comfort.

I got a flight change notification of a pair of connecting flights from Labuan Bajo, via Jakarta, to Yogyakarta, about three months before the flight date. The flight change resulted in a misconnection (the second flight now left before the first flight was due to land!) I attempted to contact Garuda various different ways, without success. Online chat kept saying no-one was available. Phone calls cut off in the middle of hold. Emails went unanswered, or got a standard reply of “Please use online chat or phone us!” After several days of trying, I finally got a live person on the phone, who told me that there was no way they were going to change our flights and fix the misconnect, as the flights were bound to change again! Well, having been in the travel business, I knew that was quite possible, but there were two possible choices that would have worked, and I could see the availability was wide open, so I was pretty fed-up that they flat out refused to fix it! However, there was still time…

We arrived in Bali about a month before we were due to take the misconnecting flights, and I found their customer service office. It took a long time, and two people conferring, before they finally managed to change our flights, even though I had already researched it, and knew exactly which flights I wanted! Seat assignments were another struggle, but we finally got some. Didn’t get bulkhead (that I had paid for) on both flights, but I was tired of talking by then.

The other irritating thing is that I’m 100% positive Garuda messed with our seat assignments. My MO is to book aisles across if it’s a 3-3 configuration. On every flight, we ended up with aisle and middle. Not cool.

However, Garuda has good coverage of flights throughout the Indonesian islands, appears to have a good safety record, is not the cheapest carrier, but still has reasonable fares. Cabin crew were unfailingly friendly and helpful. Food of some sort was served on even the shortest flight! I have to say it was pretty inedible though 🙁

Economy class seating was as expected, ok, recline and headrest were ok. Bulkhead is definitely the way to go for more legroom, if you don’t want to spring for business class.  20 kg of checked luggage and 7 kg of carryon was perfectly fine for us. Carryon was not weighed or measured.

Air Asia Business Class:

In February we flew from Sydney Australia to Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon in Vietnam, with a long connection in Kuala Lumpur. We chose Air Asia. As a low-cost carrier, it offered a well-priced premium option with “lay flat” beds, on the longer Sydney to KUL leg. The seat was not quite lay flat, but certainly reclined a very long way, and with leg and foot rests, pillows and a duvet, it was a significantly more comfortable way to fly several hours than in the usual cramped economy seats. Service was attentive, food was good, and we were handed tablets as our IFE.  The Air Asia lounge in KUL was comfortable, with free wifi, and breakfast was brought out around 6 am. The section from KUL to Ho Chi Minh City was not in lay flat beds, but comfortable, wide business class seats. We found it a good experience, with a decent balance between high-priced traditional carriers’ business class and the tight squeeze of economy class. Oh and check-in is MUCH quicker in Premium class!

Air Asia Economy:

Our first of several Air Asia economy segments was a short hop from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan (both in Malaysian Borneo). Checked in online, received a bar code with instructions to scan at the airport to print out our boarding passes and luggage tags. When we got to the airport at KK, we queued at the “Self Check-In”, where the staff member assisting told us that was the baggage drop, and we had to go and queue up at another line to print our tags! Very confusing signage, although the staff were helpful, and the process didn’t take too long, although it was frustrating!

We paid the fee for “Premium Flex” to get bulkhead seats with more legroom, and were glad we did. The rest of economy looked pretty tight on seat pitch. Premium Flex also buys you 20kg of checked luggage, two free flight changes, and a free meal, which on this 45 minute flight was a quickly eaten chicken pocket pie! As you would expect with a low cost carrier, there is a sliding scale of charges for checked baggage – no free checked baggage here! We decided that it was more cost-effective to pay the bundled fee for Premium Flex to get 20kg of checked luggage and bulkhead seating. Premium Flex gets you express boarding, as long as you’re quick in the queue – there seemed to be an awful lot of people booked in Premium Flex! (The meal was very incidental!) Premium Flex also gives you access to the lounge, which will be useful on our next flight which features a long layover in Kuala Lumpur! Cabin crew were helpful and polite, and it was a very short flight.

Malaysia Airlines:

We flew Malaysia Airlines from Hanoi to Kota Kinabalu, with a layover in Kuala Lumpur. We did bid for a business class upgrade on the longer leg from Hanoi to Kuala Lumpur, but it wasn’t accepted. When we boarded, business class was full, so obviously our bid wasn’t high enough! However, we had paid for bulkhead seats, so we had sufficient legroom. Seats were comfortable, cabin crew was efficient and polite. It was fine.

Vietnam Airlines:

While in Vietnam, we took a couple of short flights on Vietnam Airlines. We flew from Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City to Da Lat, and from Da Lat to Da Nang. These flights were +/- an hour each, so we stayed in economy class, which was perfectly acceptable. Flights were on time, service was good with bottles of water passed out immediately. If you use a search engine, be aware that many travel agents use a similar name, so be sure to go the airline’s own site, and not a look-alike!

Keep checking back as we add in more SE Asia airlines! We’ve now left SE Asia, so until our next visit there, this review page is complete. Thanks for reading!

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5 thoughts on “South East Asian Airlines”

      1. To me there might be more to see on the trip & people to meet than Hue has to offer.I’m going to take a bus to my hotel in BA to make it more of an adventure.

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