This is a completely subjective, personal view of some of the various SE Asian airlines, as we fly around the area between February and June 2017. Keep checking in for updates!
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 unfailing 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.
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.
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!Coming next: SriLankan Airlines.
For regular travel information, and photos and reviews of places to go, sign up for our spam-free newsletter! We promise never to sell your email!