Sunday, September 30, 2012

Kids-Free Zone: Another Reason to Dislike Air Asia

Air Asia X is following the lead of Malaysia Airlines and banning kids in certain sections of the airplane. Starting in February 2013, the long-haul arm of Air Asia will start offering the Quiet Zone. Perks include soft lighting, rows at the front of the plane and "minimal noise with less disturbance." Oh yeah, no one under 12 years is allowed to enter the Quiet Zone.

There are already so many reasons why I dislike flying Air Asia. Is this a sign that I should finally give up on them?

Seat layout for Air Asia's Quiet Zone
The little green bars are baby bassinets
Is it really a Quiet Zone?
For anyone booking seats in the Quiet Zone, take a look at the seating chart. There's a baby bassinet two rows in front of the Quiet Zone and another one behind the bulkhead at the back. So, primo babyzone bookends the Quiet Zone. Unless you are also getting a Cone of Silence, will Air Asia be able to deliver on their promise? If your seatmate gets a little too chatty, do you get to point at the Quiet Zone sign and shush him? That laughing couple the next row over? Kick them out. For those people who say, "I didn't spend all this money on a flight just to have it spoiled by loud children," may I suggest that you'd be more comfortable on one of Air Asia's private chartered flights. Then you can fill the plane with people of your choice. Isn't that what you're really after? Getting to pick and choose who deserves the privilege of flying with you.


If you're not familiar with Air Asia, they're a budget airline based in Malaysia. It's the Asian version of Southwest Airlines except with less frills. Much of what bugs me are the cost-cutting measures that make it so cheap.

No free drinks
Nothing is free on Air Asia. Don't expect a little bag of peanuts or a drink. Not even water is free. (Although in their defense, this is typical at Malaysian restaurants.) One small bottle is only US$0.30, but it just irks me to have to hand over money for water when it's complimentary on other airlines. To exacerbate my annoyance, some airports like Singapore make you dispose of liquids at the gate waiting area.

Carry-on luggage must not weigh more than 7 kilograms (15.4 pounds) combined.
Air Asia has a weight limit for carry-ons, and yes, they will check it. When I realized that my rolling suitcase weighed 3.2 kilograms (7 pounds) empty, it was time to dig out my light duffel bag. The kids were a little perplexed about why they couldn't bring along as many books as usual. I felt like we were prepping for backpack camping where every little ounce counts. (For the record, I have never gone backpacking.)

Bags may not be checked through to final destination.
My friend took an Air Asia flight from Penang to Taiwan which had a stopover in Kuala Lumpur. Imagine her surprise when she discovered that her bags would not be transferred to the second flight even though it's on the same airline. She was supposed to retrieve her suitcases in Kuala Lumpur and then re-check it in to continue to Taiwan. Her original layover wasn't long enough to do this, so she had to change to a later flight at an extra charge. Air Asia now has Fly-Thru flights where they'll handle the baggage transfer for you, but it's only on specific routes.

Your passport must be valid for 6 months after travel date.
To enter Malaysia, your passport must be valid for 6 months. Air Asia also requires this in order to leave the country. Last December, we flew back to the United States with plans to renew passports. Air Asia refused to sell us tickets because the passports were only valid for 5.5 months after our departure. I called Customer Service, fully expecting to change their minds by explaining that we needed to leave because our passports were expiring. Nope. I ended up booking our flight on Cathay Pacific which had no such restriction. But these tickets were about US$400 more. With the 5 of us, that was an extra US$2000. Ouch.

Kuala Lumpur's Low Cost Carrier Terminal hits new lows.
This is the worst run terminal I have ever been in. None of the Arrival/Departure info screens worked, so we didn't know our gate or flight status. We tried using the Air Asia iPhone app, but it wasn't updated. None of the gates had our destination on it. In this large waiting area packed with customers, Air Asia employees were scarce. When I finally found one, he pointed to a gate labeled with another city than the one we wanted. Our departure time came and went with no announcements. We had no clue what was going on! Finally, the speaker crackled to life and told us it was time to board. It turns out that the gate the man had indicated was right but no one had changed the sign.


Cheap prices keep luring me back.
Why don't I finally give up on Air Asia if they bug me so much? Their prices are incredibly cheap, and they fly nonstop to many places we want to visit. Other airlines are at least twice as expensive, and I'm buying tickets for five people. Boycotting them would effectively place family travel outside of our budget -- no more quick getaways every few months. Using Air Asia is one of the reasons why we travel now more than we did in America. Air Asia, I just can't quit you.


  1. So for the Quiet Zone, I imagine Air Asia is charging more for these seats? I could see this being a big draw. You have met my daughter, right? She is LOUD. She may be nonverbal, but she screams when angry, happy, frustrated, and excited, aka all the time. Can I sit in the Quiet Zone and leave Ellie towards the back? Maybe Andrew too, he snores pretty loudly so that isn't "quiet" either. Airlines are looking for every little way to make money. Maybe we need to start paying $ to pee. That is amazing about the Passports.

    1. Actually, the only extra cost is the Pick-Your-Seat fee which is the same for any seat on the plane. That's surprising to me. If you don't pay this fee, it's open seating. I wonder what they do if kids get on board and the only seats open are in the Quiet Zone.

  2. Air Asia seems to attract a disproportionate amount of families who never bother to parent their children on planes. Nine times out of ten I'd far rather be sitting next to someone's child than a drunk businessman but for me Air Asia really is the exception. Maybe it's because there are a disproportionally large number of kids on AA planes, maybe its because the airline attracts people who don't often fly, and maybe its just me, but all of the bad kid encounters I've had in the air have been on AA flights.

    We're talking multiple kids watching really loud cartoons on iPads with no earphones, etc. When we flew from KL to Christchurch there was a five or six year old throwing things and drinks all over the plane and then started jumping over seats. His parents never said a word, not even when he jumped on J's tray and spilled his red wine everywhere. It's hard for me not to think of that kid when I read this.

    1. I imagine they get so many families because it's cheap. Business travelers can have their companies pay for the nicer airlines. As a mom, I think the other parents who make no effort to control their kids are the ones who give the rest of us a bad name. Personally, I give parents credit for making an effort even if they aren't 100% successful, especially with the younger ones. We're always very aware of our kids' behavior, make them use headphones, and correct annoying behavior. I can see why that jumpy kid upsets you. I wonder if American kids being used to restraining car seats helps airplane behavior whereas most kids in Malaysia aren't accustomed to staying in their seats while traveling. I guess you'll definitely be in the Quiet Zone.

    2. I really have no issue with kids on planes. (And when we have kids ourselves, you've given a lot of hope that we can continue traveling afterwards). It's just annoying when there is no parenting whatsoever going on, which does seem to happen quite a bit on AA flights. You might be onto something with the restraint thing. Malaysia Airlines has recently banned kids under 12 from first class and business class and maybe they're following suit?

      Like you though, I can't quit them. Who can say no to $200 r/t to New Zealand?

    3. Come to think of it, my friend who couldn't check her bags through also commented that taking kids on Air Asia was more difficult than on other airlines. Cathay Pacific has back-of-the-seat entertainment centers and kids activity packs. Of course, they were also much more expensive.

  3. This airline reminds me so much of a US airline I hate flying but keep doing so because they're cheap and they fly to small airports we like and those close to ski places and National Parks. I'm with you on saving money so I'll tolerate Allegiant Airlines $2 water bottles, carry-on charges ($15) and seats that don't recline among other things. We've flown Europe's version too -Easyjet.

    I'm not sure how much of a Quiet Zone Air Asia will have but good luck in trying. They sure have some major restrictions though. I'd totally fly them if we make it your way :)

  4. Oh my, I hadn't heard of this until now. They are certainly not living up to their all inclusive tagline of "now everyone can fly".

  5. I avoid Air Asia if I can but admit better connection (direct flights) can lure me in. I'll gladly pay $50 more for someone else (and probably even $100 for the right other airline but not so happily), but a direct flight is best. I can see if I was paying for a big family the cost would matter more. I like Tiger and Firefly better and Malaysian Airline flights are sometimes fairly cheap (other times really expensive).


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