BACKGROUND AirAsia X has introduced lie-flat seats in its Premium Seat cabin, the first for a low-cost carrier (see news).
By June this year, the airline expects to complete the retrofitting of its A330 and A340 fleet in order to offer passengers this roomier and more comfortable option on all its medium and long-haul flights from Kuala Lumpur to destinations in Australia, India, China, the Middle East and UK.
Business Traveller got first-hand experience of this latest offering from AirAsia X on a late-night service between Kuala Lumpur and Melbourne.
CHECK IN After a 45-minute cab ride from the Kuala Lumpur city centre, I arrived at the LCC Terminal in Sepang at 9pm, more than four hours before flight D7 2724 to Melbourne. This is AirAsia X's second daily service on this route and is one of the first in the its network to offer the new premium lie-flat seats.
As the check-in counters were yet to open, I took a seat near Aisle T on the left-hand side of the terminal where a handful of passengers were already waiting. At 10.10pm, I glanced at the flight monitor, which indicated I had to proceed to Aisle S, and there I saw a long queue had already formed in front of counters S36 to S39. I spotted the Premium counter at S35 and quickly made a beeline for it.
My baggage was tagged and boarding pass printed in five minutes. With a long flight ahead, I requested for an aisle seat. My baggage weighed three kilos more than it did three days before on my flight from Hongkong to Kuala Lumpur. Fortunately earlier, I had gone online to increase my baggage allowance from 15kg to 20kg for this leg of the journey so I didn't have to pay a hefty fee for going over the weight limit.
At 11pm, I was lining up at immigrations, which is located on the second level of the terminal. Before entering this area, one has to clear the security scanners.
The pre-boarding hall was well air-conditioned and featured a few retail shops that were still open despite the late hour – a DFS outlet, Delifrance kiosk and Books@LCCT. There was also the pay-in Premium Plaza Lounge.
BOARDING There were already a lot of people waiting at the gate. After some time, an announcement over the public address system advised D7 2724 Melbourne-bound passengers to proceed to the newly assigned boarding gate T18 just a few feet away. We had to endure another document check to enter the holding area.
Exactly an hour before the flight was to take off, boarding commenced with senior citizens and passengers with children being asked to go first. Passengers made a short walk across the tarmac to where the AirAsiaX aircraft was waiting and up the stairs, positioned towards the front of the aircraft while another was at the back.
THE SEAT The aircraft is a two-aisle Airbus A330-300 aircraft. The Premium section is right behind the pilot's cockpit, occupying Rows 1 and 2, arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration (A-C, D-G, H-K). This newly reconfigured aircraft has 12 Premium seats compared with the 28 Premium seats installed previously.
I purposely chose the aisle-located 1C on the left side of the aircraft even if I usually go for a window seat, which I find offers more privacy. I did not relish hopping over a fellow passenger in the dead of night to go to the washroom. Later on in the flight, however, I realised that with the ample space there would be no such problem.
The new lie-flat seat on this aircraft is upholstered in black leather, while the headrest and footrest sport contrasting red leather. Aside from the overhead light for reading, I had the option of using the personal lamp fitted into each seat. The seat is roomier with a width of 20in (45.72cm). The armrest separating the two seats is wide enough to put two drinking glasses. Whether upright or slightly inclined, the seat is designed in such a way to permit some privacy between you and your fellow passenger.
The table is stowed at the side of the middle armrest to one's left, and the seat control is located on top of the first armrest to the right. One key feature of the new seat is the power socket that allows laptop computers to be plugged (see picture above). This is a first in AirAsia seats and only available on the Premium lie-flat bed.
There is no other storage area for hand luggage aside from the overhead compartment.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE Seats in the first row allow for better access to the aisle, which is ideal for those who go visit the washroom a fair bit during the flight. The only downside is when the lights are turned down during a night flight, sleeping passengers on the aisle seats are likely to be disturbed by the light that flows through every time the curtain that separates the cabin and the front of the plane is parted.
THE FLIGHT When the last passenger was seated, the crew begun the pre-flight procedures. The captain went online to welcome us to the seven-hour-and-15-minute flight and then drew our attention to the safety demonstration being conducted at the front of the aircraft.
The plane took off slightly delayed at 1.30am. My seatmate was a Malaysian businessman travelling with his daughter to visit relatives in Melbourne. The two were in separate sections as the father needed the extra room to accommodate his bigger physique. Booking the Premium Seat and paying extra for additional luggage limit, pre-booked meals and travel insurance, he said, was worth the price as it was only slightly higher than the cost of an Economy Class Seat on a full-service airline.
Once we were at cruising altitude, the crew begun the inflight service. The menu consisted of nasi lemak, Smokey Chicken Barbecue and Vegetarian Szechuan Rice and a choice of sandwiches, beverages. White and red wine, champagne and beer are available, but are only served to passengers over 18 years of age. Passengers pay for purchases either in Malaysian ringgit or Australian dollars.
It seemed though that very few in my cabin, including myself, were interested in eating, and most of us quickly settled down for a shut-eye.
I pushed the seat control to the full lie-flat position. The seat was not fully flat but it reclined to an angle of 62 degrees. But it was enough for my legs to stretch out comfortably. It was 2 am when I fell asleep, and I woke up four hours later feeling completely relaxed and rested. I continued drifting in and out of sleep for an hour until the cabin lights were turned on and the crew started offering breakfast.
Not being a breakfast person, I went to freshen up. The toilet for the premium section is in the front and is located behind the cockpit. I heaved a sigh of relief to discover that the toilet is clean and dry, which is not normally what I encounter in long-haul flights. When I returned to my seat, I begun filling the immigration form and afterwards went back to reading the book I brought.
At 9.30am (11.30 am Melbourne time), the captain came online to say we were landing in half an hour. The plane touched down on Melbourne at 11.55am, fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.
ARRIVAL As the first one out of the plane, I quickly cleared Australian immigration, picked up my luggage at Carousel 5 and passed through customs. I was already out and waiting for a taxi to take me to the city just 30 minutes after our plane landed.
VERDICT A good premium product that delivers Business Class comfort at an affordable price.
CONFIGURATION 2-2-2 in Premium, 3-3-3 in Economy
SEAT WIDTH 20in/50.80cm (previously 18in/45.72cm)
SEAT PITCH 59in/149.86cm (previously 38in/96.52cm)
PRICE Internet rate for the Premium full lie-flat seat on D7 2724 in mid-March costs MYR2,026 (US$591)