Singapore Changi International Airport (SIN) – Phuket International Airport (HKT)
STD: 13:05 (GMT +8) ATD: 13:11 (GMT +7)
STA: 13:50 (GMT +8) ATA: 13:52 (GMT +7)
Aircraft: Airbus A320-200 (HS-BBY – delivered new on 12/29/2016)
Flight Date: February 8, 2017
Seat: 25C (moved to 25 D/E/F)
Class of Service: Economy Class
Seat Type: Standard Economy
Seat Pitch: 29 inches
Seat Width: 18 inches
Meals: Full buy on board service for hot and cold meals, beverages and snacks. Option to pre-purchase also available.
In-Seat Outlets: No
I was excited to head to Phuket then onwards to Bangtao – I mean who wouldn’t be when you’re headed to a secluded tropical beach in Thailand with all the fresh seafood and Thai food readily on offer right there, on the beach? And to top it off I was traveling with a good friend from college who I hadn’t seen in a long time. Life was good.
Arrived at the airport at around 11:30 for the 13:05 departure but needed to check in with a staff member due to visa check requirements and also checked bag payment verification. Air Asia impressively takes up all of island 13, the last island at Changi Terminal 1 but today given how quiet things were only three desks were open with over 10 self help kiosks for Thai and Singaporean nationals lined up right next door. The line was three people deep and as expected each group/person took forever to check in – either they didn’t know about the additional checked bag charges, tried to haggle their way to the ‘hot’ seats up front (early board, early de-board) or were confused about one part of the process of the other. Nonetheless, we only waited about 15 minutes before we were checked in speedily and boarding passes were issued without fuss.
T1 at this time was quiet and we sailed through immigration, though we did see folks getting ‘randomly’ searched pre immigration clearance which thankfully didn’t apply to us. Given how (typically) seamless the whole process was, we were airside by 11:50 with a full hour to enjoy the delights that Changi has to offer.
Both of us had some odds and ends to take care of which we did promptly. New iPhone charger in hand (it’s neon blue!) we headed to this new awesome art deco style bar called The World is Flat – brand new addition to Changi T1, having just opened a week prior.
There are several things that makes this venue stick out: firstly, it’s not a dive bar, an Irish pub, or any iteration of the sort – your typical airport bar fare. There’s a very extensive beer list, but they also offer artisanal cocktails and a wide array of spirits and liqueurs of which the friendly Filipina bartender will happily make you cocktails of. Secondly: There’s an outdoor deck! For you smokers out there, this is probably a godsend and for freaks like me, the smell of A1 jet fuel and the sound of those engines and APU’s did me in. And finally, it’s centrally located just out of immigration in between the C and D piers – the staff also allow you to take your drinks into the larger public lounge that’s just adjacent to the bar if you want a view of the tarmac without the sounds and smells of being outdoors at an airport.
We both settled down with gin martinis with dehydrated oranges, which were beautifully made and we got ready for the wait. It almost felt as though we were at a Business Class lounge given the atmosphere – except we were paying about $20 for a drink.
Changi is notorious for opening gate holding pens extremely early – then announcing ‘boarding’ a ridiculously long time before actual boarding – which in Air Asia’s case, given their short turnaround times, sometimes means the screens will show ‘Last Call’ before the aircraft has even landed. So for all travellers leaving SIN, take note and do not stress. Besides, this is where the Flightaware app comes in handy – I was tracking the inbound and saw it wasn’t due to land till 12:50, a bit behind schedule – so at 12:45 and two gins martinis digested we leisurely strolled to gate D37 for boarding.
The timing was perfect as we cleared security and into the pen just as HS-BBY was pulling in. It always astounds me just how quickly Air Asia can turn their planes around and still have them looking immaculate upon boarding. Sure enough just 10 minutes later boarding started in earnest, with a cabin crew member standing at the door to the jet bridge doing a last check on boarding passes before walking down to the plane.
Being a Thai Air Asia flight, we were welcomed aboard by our Air Purser for the day who smiled and did a ‘Wai’ at us – all crew including flight deck were from Thailand. We made our way down to the way back of the aircraft – the crowd was quite rowdy today and took their time horsing around during boarding. Thankfully the crew weren’t having any of it and did a good job of making people stow their bags and get seated as quickly as possible. The mix of passengers was essentially a dollop of Singaporean and Thai people here and there with the vast majority of passengers being tourists from either Europe or Australia with locally based expats mixed in between.
The flight was surprisingly full for a mid-week mid-afternoon flight, though I suppose Singapore-Phuket is always a busy sector for Air Asia. Doors were closed just a few minutes behind schedule which was impressive – and I was very happy to see the row across remained empty – one of only two rows on the plane that weren’t filled. Plopped myself on the middle seat, 25E thereby blocking both the aisle and the window. Perfect.
The seat, while well padded, is still quite a tight fit. Rows on either side of the aircraft had the same pitch.
As efficient as ever, the crew went through the motions of securing the cabin for departure – and boy were they meticulous, noticing and catching every hidden phone that was still turned on, every slightly reclined seat or any carry on that was protruding – ever so slightly – from below the seat in front of them. Safety demo done manually, 100 announcements on the various promotions Air Asia is offering and we were on our way to Thailand!
We had a bit of a taxi to the active runway so despite being relatively quiet it was still about 15 minutes before we were cleared for take off. I took this time to take in my surroundings. The plane was brand spanking new and it showed – barely over a month old, it featured Airbus’ signature sharklets and was spotless inside.
The loud upbeat pop music on the PA, the bright red carpets and slick black leather seats and of course the cabin crew all dolled up and in tight fitting red skirts all fit the Air Asia brand – but that didn’t distract me from just how tight the legroom was. My knees were touching the seat in front of me and the person (read: child) behind me’s every movement was well documented by my back and bum. That said, I was more than happy for a 1.5 hour hop. These planes to 5 operate flights to China too though – in which case, nope…not a chance.
There’s a plethora of content in the seat pocket including a rather comprehensive inflight magazine, a duty free catalogue and an extensive buy on board menu. While appreciated, it did also cut into the little leg space offered, truth be told.
And off we went on our 1:45 hour journey from Singapore up through the Peninsular Malaysia and through Southern Thailand into the Andaman Sea and finally to Phuket.
The crew sprung into action immediately after take off, as fast as they could. Seatbelt signs remained on for a bit longer than usual because whilst the initial climb out was smooth, the subsequent 15 minutes were the bumpiest I’ve had in a while – a bit uncomfortably so in fact where the rowdy plane fell silent for a bit as we passed through the bad weather.
Once we leveled out and things smoothed out a bit, the crew were in the aisles with the pre-purchased buy on board items that people had selected at booking for a nominal price. The dishes were warmed and dished out with a cart rolling up from the rear galley to the front. From the forward galley, another trolley stocked with drinks and purchases to be made in flight was rolled out, with all four crew in the aisle at once.
Sitting in the back of the aircraft, this meant it took some time for either of them to reach me – and since I hadn’t pre-ordered a meal, it took even longer – about 45 minutes to be exact. Foreseeing this, I took a chance to dip into the loo and found it clean, well maintained and stocked with the necessities but obviously with no amenities. Totally fine.
Finally it was my turn and feeling a bit peckish I decided to try out one of Air Asia’s famous buy on board items.
For those not familiar, Air Asia is rather known around these parts for offering a very solid in flight dining menu at extremely reasonable prices – hot meals coupled with a cold drink are usually priced between $5 to $8 dollars. Take that United!! Additionally, they’ve carefully curated their menus with dishes from Malaysia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, India and the Philippines. Impressive.
Now, Air Asia is known for their famous Nasi Lemak, created by celebrity chef Pak Naseer from Kuala Lumpur.
Having tried this dish before, I can vouch that while it doesn’t anything like that photo, it is indeed absolutely delicious.
Being a flight to Thailand I wanted to get in the mood and order their Thai Basil Chicken on offer, served with rice and a fried egg. But by the time the crew got to my row they were out of everything, and all they had was the Singapore Chicken Rice. So note to self and all of you: pre-order your meals because supplies are limited! On reflection this makes sense given the huge variety they have on offer and the space constraints of an A320 galley. That said if you’re remotely hungry it’s worth to grab a bite to eat especially if your flight is catered from Thailand (this one was) – the food is indeed quite good.
Settled with the chicken rice, paid the modest fee and topped up with a small bottle of wine to go along with the chicken. They were out of the white wine I wanted, so red it was – once again, another reason to book your meal and drinks at booking!
The rice came in your traditional airline disposable casserole dish but with no tray – everything was handed individually. It was heated up to the exact right temperature – for those who might not be familiar, this dish is meant to be served at room temperature – not cold, but not piping hot either. It puts some people off eating lukewarm meat but for me it’s a childhood favourite.
It also came with a very spicy but very authentic ginger garlic hot sauce that went perfectly with the meal – I was a very happy man at this point.
As I tucked into the dish I realized just how much it tasted like any traditional hawker stall in Singapore – so top marks to Air Asia for getting this dish so right! I suppose they do deserve the reputation they have of having some of the best catering in South East Asia, especially for a low cost carrier.
I had the wine which was passable at best – not great by any means. But at THB 180 (about $5) for a 1/3rd bottle, I can’t complain and it did its job. I enjoyed it well enough with a cup of ice. Classy, I know.
From then on out I just enjoyed the beautiful views out the window as we tracked up the Straits of Melacca, and as the gorgeous islands of Southern Thailand came into view I just got more and more excited for the trip.
Multiple runs by the cabin crew were made both to clean up loose items and to offer further food and duty free sales. Impressive what these ladies can do on such a short flight with about 180 passengers on board. Their American counterparts sometimes don’t even offer service ‘due to the short duration’ of the flight – not so in Asia.
More idyllic islands come into view and we hear the distinct sound of the engines pulling back and the nose pitching down, signalling initial descent into Phuket. Vibes get giddier at this point.
The cabin is once again efficiently secured for landing, last minute arrival cards are handed out to those who missed the first pass earlier in the flight, and the crew take their seats for landing as we commence our final approach over The Andaman Sea and into Phuket International Airport.
An extremely smooth landing and we roll down the runway to the end, turning off with a view of the stunning sea on the other side.
This is deliberate on the pilots’ part of course, given that the international concourse is on the far end of the runway.
We dock at a remote gate and once again as expected disembarkation takes a bit as people dally about and surprisingly the rear doors aren’t used for passengers but staff to board and clean the plane.
We get into what is a modern, clean and well laid out airport and we clear immigration just in the nick of time – a flight from London is just disembarking and we can see the swarms of passengers already approaching, Aeroflot from Moscow has just landed and the daily Emirates Boeing 777 from Dubai is due in about 10 minutes time. Those immigration agents will have their work cut out for them and I don’t envy them one bit.
Bags are already on the belt when we arrive, and we clear customs with minimal fuss to greet the staff from the Outrigger who take us to their arrival lounge where cold towels and drinks are doled out – a fitting end to a very pleasant trip over from Singapore to Phuket – all for a mere $72 to boot!
I don’t have a single bad thing to say about the whole process of getting to Phuket, especially at this price point. Silk Air was asking a good $500 more for the route – a 1.5 hour flight. It’s no wonder that Air Asia continues to thrive, offering such a seamless and comfortable product for these short hops around Asia. Again, if it was a longer flight I would likely pay the premium to fly on a full service carrier (not to mention the FF miles) – but for these sorts of trips, Air Asia fits the description of what you want and are looking for to a tee.
Check in: 8/10 – Pretty seamless, it did probably take longer than it should have but that’s more on the passengers than the staff. Perhaps one or two more desks could have been open, given that a vast majority of passengers didn’t qualify to use the self check in kiosks.
Lounge: N/A – but the bar was on point 😉
Boarding: 9/10 – Efficient is the word here – started late but still closed doors only a few minutes behind schedule – for nearly 180 passengers that’s great.
Food: 9/10 – If Asian comfort food is your thing, you’ll feel right at home on Air Asia (though they do offer more traditional western fare such as sandwiches and crisps as well).
Seat: 7/10 – Padding is great, but legroom is tight. But what do you expect on a low cost carrier and on a ticket which you’ve paid $72 for?
Cleanliness of aircraft: 10/10 – Spotless. This aircraft was delivered on December 29, 2016…so that probably helped too.
Crew: 8/10 – They were on their game – they’ve been to this rodeo before. Knew what they had to do, did it on time and procedure. They must be exhausted at the end of a working day having completed something like 7-10 sectors. Not the most polished but definitely very competent.
IFE: N/A – the views out the window and the book I quasi-read don’t count, I suppose.
Elite recognition: N/A – I have an Air Asia BIG membership but rarely ever use it as my flights with them are few and far between. No elite recognition though even if you were from what I could see.
Flight Timeliness: 9/10 – can’t really complain. Not perfect marks because we were a bit behind, but only just. Hardly consequential.
Overall Rating: 60/70 (85%) ★★★★★