Low-cost long-haul carrier Air Asia X has finally announced the launch of flights from London Stansted to Kuala Lumpur, with lead-in fares starting from £99 one-way including taxes.
Announcing what Tony Fernandes, the ebullient founder of Air Asia X called “the worst kept secret in the airline industry” (see online news July 30), the Malaysia-based airline will commence five-times weekly flights on March 11, using Airbus A340-300 aircraft configured for 286 passengers.
The carrier says it will look to increase this to a daily service “in the near future”, and indeed Fernandes said he believed the carrier could eventually serve the route with “five to seven daily flights”.
Tickets will start from £99 each way inclusive of taxes and charges, and when Business Traveller checked today “Promo” economy fares were available at this price on most days in March and April next year. This compares with a return fare in the region of £650 with Malaysia Airlines during the same period.
To enable it to charge such low prices, Air Asia X charges for “extras” including in-flight food, amenity kits, checked baggage and advanced seat selection. The A340-300 aircraft will be configured with 256 economy seats (with a seat pitch of 32 inches) and 30 “XL” seats (60-inch pitch), which the carrier says will offer “the spaciousness and comfort equivalent to business class seat[s] on legacy carriers' without the extra frills like check-in desks and airport lounges”. Fares for the XL seats will start from £549 each way, and Fernandes said he was “keen on putting in flat beds” in the future.
Fernandes said that Air Asia X would offer travellers onward connections across Asia with its established sister short-haul airline Air Asia, although through checking of baggage would not be possible until the carrier moves to the forthcoming Low Cost Carrier Terminal at Kuala Lumpur International airport (KLIA) later next year. He added that while no formal links have been established with low-cost carriers such as Ryanair to offer onward travel for European-bound travellers, Stansted was picked “because of its great low-cost connectivity across Europe”.
Asked why he believed the low-cost, long-haul concept would work, following the demise of no-frills carrier Oasis Hong Kong Airlines earlier this year (see online news April 9), Fernandes said that (unlike Oasis), Air Asia was an established brand with 86 planes and a hub at KLIA. He added that Air Asia X’s routes to Australia’s Gold Coast airport (commenced in November 2007) disproved the theory that “you can’t charge for food on long-haul flights”, and said that one of the major differences between the carrier and other unsuccessful low-cost long-haul airlines would be the ability to feed into the short-haul network at KLIA.
London is the carrier’s fifth long-haul destination, after the Gold Coast, Perth, Melbourne and Hangzhou (around 100 miles southwest of Shanghai). For more information visit airasia.com.
Report by Mark Caswell