Tuesday, December 13, 2011
AirAsia: not so cool anymore
Going through just a few screens, filling a limited number of fields and clicking some buttons one could choose date, destination, number of passengers, one way or return, could select their favorite flight among the available options, enter their personal data, the credit card ones and that was it. As I said: fast, simple, transparent and fair. No free meal and no seat allocation, true, but their prices were dirt cheap, really unbeatable on some routes.
This took by surprise the traditional carriers that lost large shares of the market while AirAsia, from a small player of the low cost niche, became one of the sector leaders. A real success story for Tony Fernandes, the Malaysian who, from a Warner Music manager, after acquiring an almost bankrupt state owned airline, got to be one of the richest and most innovative Asian entrepreneurs.
Little by little the disbanded forces of the enemies managed to reorganize themselves, filling the gap, while AirAsia incredibly decided to waste its resources of know-how and excellent reputation accumulated over the years, starting to make some of the same mistakes that had forced their competitors to give up their leading positions, plus others whose copyright its management is fully entitled to claim.
Prices went up until they matched and - for some routes and time frames - even exceeded the ones of the traditional airlines, whose offer in terms of quality of aircraft and service is better, while the characteristic features of a low cost carrier where all retained: meals, insurance and seat allocation are still provided upon the payment of a fee. Topping this up with other silly stuff, often hard to understand, such as the Xpress boarding, the counter check-in and the Big shot ID (what does that mean?). Not to mention the last master touch: the credit card payment processing fee, meant to subsidize the investments made to increase the security of online transactions, something that AirAsia, being a company that processes the vast majority of its sales with this procedure, should have the duty (not just morally) to provide free of charge.
The most annoying thing, however, is that all these non-free services are automatically assigned to the user who is purchasing a flight, who, in case he were not interested, would have to deselect them manually, sometimes following procedures that are little clear and very twisted.
As I wanted to corroborate all this with an example I recorded a simulated online purchase of a one way flight from Bangkok to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Initial price: $76.95. The final one turned up to be almost 60% greater! Insurance, meal and seat allocation strictly not included.
Just to make a comparison, websites like Edreams and Opodo, on the same date, were offering Turkish Airways and Qatar Airways flights (very high quality airlines) for the same or even cheaper price. Obviously all those services that AirAsia was charging for were in this case included. And the final price was just a little higher than the initial one.
There goes the video with comments (watch it on Youtube, not here). Enjoy it.
Photo of AirAsia plane by en-shahdi (CC)