Thursday, 20 August 2009

Torture seats

When my wife and I flew AirAsia X to the Gold Coast in not-so-sunny Queensland in Nov 2007, it was just four days after the innovative, low-budget, long haul airline had made its inaugural flight there. Then, the airline had no aircraft to call it own and had to lease a plane from a nameless, full service carrier from somewhere for their service.

I had recalled commenting to my wife that the seats were not bad: they were configured eight to a row (2-4-2 configuration), wide enough and had enough length (pitch) for us to stretch our legs comfortably during the eight-hour flights. But despite the TV console at the back of every seat, there weren't any entertainment. Luckily, I had my trusty minidisc player and a Sudoku book which was quickly filled up to kill the boredom of the journey.

By now, AirAsia X has already taken delivery of its own planes. They are flying everywhere -- Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth, Taipei, Hanzhou, Tianjin, London and now Abu Dhabi -- at a fraction of what normal, full service airlines charge. But AirAsia X's low prices come at a cost to the traveller. An uncomfortable cost. The airline has compromised the seat arrangements to squeeze the most mileage from the plane's real estate (it's now nine in a row, a 2-5-2 configuration). What this means, according to what I've been reading, is that a) the seats are now narrower, b) the seat pitch is now shorter and c) the seats cannot recline at all. In short, AirAsia X is attempting to pack as many passengers as possible into their planes and squeeze the most profit from people who are being packed like sardines. Some people uncomplimentarily call it "cattle" class. This can be a very rude surprise to unsuspecting travellers.

Of course, not having the chance to fly AirAsia X again means that I cannot verify their seats for myself. Not that I want to put myself under torture for the experience. However, a simple Google search can uncover many of the comments and complaints about the low-budget carrier's seats.

Fortunately, one of my old chess kaki's suddenly emerged to email me that he had returned recently from Taipei by AirAsia X. He was blogging about his experience and he wrote (with obvious tongue in cheek):
The Taipei International Airport is a marvelous place to be at even when having to wait a couple of hours to catch an flight back home to KL. For a mere USD 150 or return so I was flying AirAsia X on an ultra modern Airbus (as you can see below, plenty of leg room too).
Plenty of legroom, he said. I would have believed him if not for the photos that accompanied his post. Yes, he took a photo of his seat and from what I can see, it was really bad. I wonder how people can stand being cooped up in this seat for hours during long-haul flights. You cannot stretch your legs, you've got to sit upright, your knees almost touching the back of the seat in front of you and you can't even turn left or right. I told my wife that unless AirAsia X replaces their seats with better width and pitch, nobody's going to catch me flying with them in the foreseeable future. For a few hundred ringgits more, I will choose the more spacious and comfortable normal fare carriers!

To be fair, I should also add that all budget airlines generally fail to provide comfort to their passengers. I've heard that the seats on JetStar are equally bad. At least, the seats on AirAsia's regional flights can be reclined very slightly. Not much but still reclinable. Not so JetStar's. They are all upright. So don't think that low budget travel is a boon. Maybe it is so for those in their 20s or 30s. But once you pass that magical age of 50, you like some comfort to go wih your holidays. In my opinion, being herded like cattle is not a creature comfort. It's likely to do more harm to my health than the relaxation that holidays are supposed to give.

(Oh yes, I'm still travelling Air Asia on the short haul between Penang and the KLIA LCCT. For that one-hour flight, I can endure the slight seat reclination. Still bearable.)


stephen said...

I have to agree with you on this. If the flight is short, then that discomfort is bearable. But if you take a flight lasting more than 3hours, its going to be a big issue.A non reclinable short pitch config seat is torture.I didn't believe it when someone told me this.looks like its true.

Jeffrey Chew said...

All for budget airlines...long or short haul.