Flights

Think Thrice Before Selecting a Low Cost Carrier For Your Holiday

 

With their cheap fares and no-frills service, Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) have made air travel much more accessible to all of us. Globally, EasyJet, RyanAir, JetBlue are some of the popular LCCs that offer great connectivity at low fares. Closer home, Indigo has built a formidable reputation of providing excellent services at reasonable fares. In recent years, international LCCs have also entered the Indian market, the most visible among all of them being AirAsia.

Before I continue, I would like to state that this is not a rant against LCCs, but an account of my own recent experience with Air Asia that has led me to pen this post.

During October 2017, I was looking for tickets to Bali for a short trip in December. AirAsia, which had resumed its services to Mumbai after a 5 year gap (having discontinued its flights to Mumbai in 2012) was advertising their Bali flights quite aggressively. After a quick comparison with other carriers, I decided to book on AirAsia, not because they offered the cheapest fare, but because their flight schedule was the most convenient for a short break. Their slick website made the booking process fairly easy, except for the fact that one had to pay an additional charge of ₹ 1800 to use a credit card for making the payment (GeekTip: you can avoid this charge if you make the payment via netbanking).

Air Asia Mumbai Bali Promo (image courtesy Times of India)

So far so good, but Mother Nature had different plans. Mount Agung, a volcano on Bali, erupted five times in late November 2017, causing thousands to evacuate and disrupting air travel with hundreds of flights being cancelled. I had no option but to cancel my plan and contacted AirAsia’s call centers. I was told that AirAsia does not entertain cancellations (despite this being an act of God) and I had the option to change the dates or retain my full amount in a credit account that had to be used within 180 days. I obviously opted for the later. However, my hotel, which was already pre-paid was not as considerate and decided to deduct 1 nights stay before making the refund. That cost me ₹ 27,000.

Image courtesy @passport4two on Instagram

In early February, the volcanic activity in Bali had subsided and I decided to re-book our trip for April/May. Despite checking three months in advance, the fares on AirAsia were much higher than what I had paid originally. After trying for several dates, the most viable options were for Mumbai – Bali on April 26 and returning on May 1. For these dates I had to shell out ₹ 18,000 over what I had originally paid (for three tickets). I told myself that April/May was peak season during the summer holidays and higher fares were only natural. Within less than 10 days of this booking, on February 17, I received an email from AirAsia stating that my return flight from Bali to Mumbai had been cancelled as part of a network restructuring and my new options were (excerpted from the original email):

Option 1: Rerouting: Reroute to the nearest AirAsia destination to Mumbai within 7 calendar days from original date of travel without additional cost and subject to seat availability; OR

Option 2: Credit Account: Retain the value of the fare in a credit account for future travel with AirAsia. The online Credit Account must to be redeemed within 180 calendar days from the date of issue, for a travel date of your choice; OR

Option 3: Move flight: Change travel date to no later than 29 April 2018 on the same route without additional cost, subject to seat availability.

Option 3 was not feasible due to work days and option 2 was not viable because AirAsia had suspended it’s service from Mumbai! So I opted for option 1 and after a lot of checking, decided to re-route to Delhi. The process of re-routing was horrendous to say the least. I made umpteen calls to their India service center, and each time they re-directed me to their website and encouraged me to file a support ticket for the re-routing. The explanation being that the Bali – Mumbai flight was run by AirAsia X, its Indonesian subsidiary and the Indian call center of AirAsia had no ability to update and make the re-routing in their systems. I raised at least three different support tickets that went unanswered for weeks.

Finally, I reached out to their Facebook page and my re-routing to Delhi was confirmed. I then used my frequent flier miles (thank you Jet Airways) to book the Delhi – Mumbai leg. Not counting the miles that I had to use because of AirAsia, the taxes on these award tickets cost me ₹ 2500. A quick calculation will show that by then I had already spent about ₹ 50,000 in addition to what I had originally paid for the tickets.

A day before the travel to Bali, I received yet another email notification from AirAsia stating that the Mumbai – Bali flight was delayed by two hours. By now I was skeptical if this flight would actually take off from Mumbai. I logged onto their site to check-in and was surprised that I was asked to pay ₹ 950 per seat just to sit together or else we would be randomly assigned seats. I know well that airlines charge for priority seats that have more legroom, etc. but for sitting together?!? I silently cursed Tony Fernandes and was in no mood to make any further contributions to AirAsia’s bottomline and made a defiant choice that we would sit on the randomly assigned seats!

The plane from Mumbai did actually take off and, although we were delayed, we reached the lovely island of Bali (more about our lovely holiday in Bali).

A post shared by Aashish Sharma (@travelgeek.me) on

After spending four awesome days in the island paradise, it was time to head back home. The flight from Bali to Kuala Lumpur was delayed by over an hour and all the while I was dreading that we would have to spend a night at KL airport, if we missed the connection to Delhi. Upon landing in KL, there was no AirAsia staff visible anywhere and we ran to our gate and reached just in time before the gates were ready to be shut.

A post shared by Jeffry Ali® (@jeffryali) on

Image courtesy @jeffryali on Instagram

The KL to Delhi flight took off late and I had a bad feeling that we were going to miss our connecting flight from Delhi to Mumbai. And that’s just what happened. We pleaded with fellow travelers to allow us to cut the immigration line (we got dirty looks from everyone), the wait for our bags was endless and despite a last minute dash, the flight was closed and we missed our flight to Mumbai.

A post shared by Chandni Kumar (@thetalkstudio) on

Image courtesy @thetalkstudio on Instagram

Dejected, I went over to the Jet Airways counter and was informed that award tickets can’t be reissued. I not only lost those miles but had to shell out, wait for it,  ₹ 19,000 for two tickets from Delhi to Mumbai (which was never part of the original plan and was because of AirAsia’s damn network restructuring). In all, I ended up spending almost ₹ 70,000 extra than originally planned.

Some may argue, that this may be a freak case (Mount Agung blows once every 50 years). But I have had a bad experience on another LCC, Bangkok Airways. For now, I have sworn off LCCs, because their so-called low prices are just not worth the mental stress. I need reliability and accountability, for which I am more than happy to pay for a full service carrier. And of course, I love my lounge access, premium boarding and the friendly flight attendant greeting me with “Welcome aboard Jet Airways, Mr Sharma”.

A post shared by Jet Airways (@jetairways) on

Image courtesy @jetairways on Instagram

What has been your experience with Low Cost Carriers? Let me know in the comments below.

All photos are for representative purposes only.

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