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AirAsia (mis)adventure

AirAsia (mis)adventure

Ah, travelling on low-cost carriers is always an adventure.

Our AirAsia flight from Gold Coast to Kuala Lumpur boarded on time, but that was as far as our luck went. There must have been a head count discrepancy or something – the crew walked counted the passengers once, then a second time with manifests, then another time with boarding pass checks. The issue was evidently non-obvious because that entire cycle repeated another few times, with the exact same announcement asking us to stay in our seats and to please provide our cooperation.

It was an early flight so I mostly just dozed, but I swear we were there for at least an hour, after which we were clear to go but still needed to wait half an hour for the next available lift-off slot. I never did find out what the problem was. Given our tight connection (luckily, it was onto another AirAsia flight), that meant we arrived in KUL, got asked to run from one end of a fairly large airport to another, only to be told that the flight had departed “a very long time ago”, hurrah.

The flight itself was uneventful. It was just under nine hours and, as mentioned, we’d used the OptionTown bidding process (highly recommended) to score the middle seat in our row so I stretched out fairly comfortably despite the very narrow seats. We ended up in the last row of the section behind business class, which meant we had no windows but also no knees in our backs.

Seven selections from the AirAsia menu

Seven selections from the AirAsia menu – and my convertible bear / travel pillow named Muppet

As with most budget carriers, everything came with a price tag, from water to in-flight entertainment to blankets, but that was expected. Our pre-ordered meals were small and basic in the sense that they didn’t include any starters or desserts, but the flavours were okay and each item only cost around $5 AUD. (My recommendation is to get the fried rice for hunger and the coconut for thirst.)

I didn’t envy passengers who hadn’t booked meals in advance – the selection was severely limited, not only with food but with drinks too. We’d been excited to see umeshu and Asahi on the menu but both ended up being unavailable. Still, the food was enough to tide us over.

When we arrived almost two hours behind behind schedule, we and the other affected passengers tried to figure out where to go. There were people with connections all over Asia, all of whom got different (and in some cases, incorrect) messages about whether their connecting flight had been held for them. Since we’d missed the last AirAsia flight to HKG for the day, we spent a while in the transfer area while they made alternate arrangements. At that point, it was around 5pm in the afternoon, and I was actually quite excited about the opportunity to explore the city for an evening.

Unfortunately, the arrangements took over two hours. We waited, followed up, waited some more and essentially continued repeating that on autopilot until someone eventually came and led us on a half-hour walk through the airport with a few other stranded passengers. The staff member would periodically pantomime for us to halt, disappear for ten minutes, then return to pick us up again, and I reminisced over the times when I’d faced delays with airlines like Qantas, Singapore Airlines or even Jetstar, when things got sorted in a fraction of the time.

At long last, we ended up on a van meant to transfer us to our hotel – but just to make it interesting, the staff member had forgotten to actually inform the driver of our destination, so more time was spent chasing her down again for the details. We were told the hotel had been paid for and that tomorrow’s transfer had been arranged, but we were all a bit dubious by that point – it was a case of just waiting and seeing.

By the time we actually reached the hotel, which was definitely not a mere twenty minutes away as promised, it was past 8pm – roughly the time when we would have arrived in HK. The novelty of spending a night in a different city was wearing off because obviously, there wasn’t much of a night left. All I wanted was a shower, a dinner and a bottle of something alcoholic (not least because all our beverages of choice – alcoholic and otherwise – on the flight had been sold out) and I’d really felt like umeshu after seeing it on the menu. Lies, I tell you!

Nilai Hotel - deluxe room

Nilai Hotel – “deluxe” room

The hotel, Nilai Hotel, was nothing fancy – bare bones room, a bit worn and musty, without typical amenities like a kettle, shampoo or a TV. I pegged it at two star at best, which was disappointing, not least because our original hotel in HK would have been quite pleasant. Worst of all, we were in the middle of nowhere in a seemingly shady part of town – far enough from the airport to need to factor in transport time and traffic, but also far enough from the city that we wouldn’t have been able to sightsee without calling a cab. By the time we finished dinner – a mediocre affair, predictably – we decided to call it a night and get some rest ahead of our 4-something transfer in the morning. At least the hotel had actually been paid for.

(When we googled Nilai hotel the next day, we discovered that it was AirAsia’s go-to hotel for missed connections, and had plenty of one-star “terrible” reviews with horror stories about cockroaches, dirty sheets and the such. Fun times. I found myself recalling an evening in 2008, when I found myself stranded in Osaka by Jetstar. Everyone was taken to the a gorgeous hotel, and after ordering room service for dinner, I headed up to the panoramic onsen on level twenty-something and enjoyed the tranquility and relaxation of having the place to myself at a ridiculous hour of the morning. The hotel voucher from Jetstar covered most of my expenses, and I was a happy camper the next day. Bruno informs me that I’ve told him about that experience at least a dozen times…)

The next morning went fairly smoothly – without traffic, it only took twenty minutes to get to the airport, and the flight both departed and arrived on time. We spent most of the flight chatting with a Malaysian man who worked in the construction industry, particularly the procurement side, and had been part of projects like the London Olympics and the Hong Kong rail expansion. Even so, it was fantastic to finally get to Hong Kong by late morning, not least because the descent was quite beautiful in the daytime and very different from our usual evening descents.

Approaching Hong Kong

Approaching Hong Kong

Descent into HKG Airport

Descent into HKG Airport

We got through customs with the speed and efficiency we’d expect from the HKG airport, charged our Octopus cards and caught one of the buses towards Shatin in the New Territories. The ride was air-conditioned, uncrowded and quite scenic due to the unusually clear skies. Hong Kong tends to have a perpetual layer of fog and smog even on sunny days, so we enjoyed the views – as did a fellow passenger who sat blissfully oblivious to all my happy snapping.

From the airport to our hotel

From the airport to our hotel

One transfer at Shatin’s New Town Plaza later, we were at our hotel. The hotel itself is quite old but it’s been renovated quite recently, and is also quite close to where my grandparents live, so it made a good choice. To our delight, we walked into our allocated room and found ourselves in one of the coveted river-facing corner rooms, with fantastic views in two directions and plenty of natural light. After the youth hostel, Nilai Hotel and two days of planes and airports, it was wonderful to be in a place that felt clean and private. Hurrah for free upgrades!

Anyway, that takes us to the end of our journey to Hong Kong – I wrote most of it while in transit or waiting at transfer counters, so forgive the rambling. My conclusion about AirAsia is that it is a well-priced airline that generally provides the services required, but its systems, processes and staff really aren’t equipped to handle any kind of deviation from the norm. I wouldn’t necessarily avoid flying with them in the future, but I wouldn’t do it if I needed to be somewhere reliably – and I’d consider a type of travel insurance that would let me arrange my own accommodation in the event of missed connections.

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