FIRST IMPRESSIONS: My experience of flying low-cost carriers (LCCs) on domestic Asian routes has veered between the excellent and the slightly scary. Jetstar Asia has the considerable kudos of being part of the Qantas network, whose safety and service record were highly reassuring, recent dramas notwithstanding.
I left my hotel off Sukhumvit Road in Sukhumvit early on a weekday morning and the doorman easily found a taxi driver for the trip to Suvarnabhumi International Airport. In any case, traffic was light and progress was swift. I arrived at the check-in desk just ahead of the two-hour mark before the 9.25am flight. Check-in was swift and courteous. There were three counters open and I did not need to wait.
However, as I checked in my luggage, the scales showed them to be just above the 20kg limit. I then hastily repacked to bring me under the threshold.
This is one of the downsides of the LCCs, the flexibility of scheduled carriers and the advantages of frequent-flyer status on standard airlines meant I’ve very rarely been penalised when flying above the 20kg level.
BOARDING: As Jetstar offers no lounge access, I made my way toward the nearest café to my gate to grab some breakfast. I then headed to the final set of security checks and to the gate itself.
Unlike some European LCCs which do not operate seat reservations, Jetstar allocates passengers seat numbers and boards them in batches just like a full-service carrier.
Children and those with difficulties boarding are called first, then the rest of the passengers are boarded according to seat number. The process was smooth, plenty of ground staff on hand to assist, and we were soon boarded.
THE SEAT: I was allocated a window seat next to the emergency exit. This gave me considerably more legroom than on a normal seat. Additionally, the seat next to me was empty.
THE FLIGHT: As I was seated on an emergency exit row, flight attendants checked I was willing to assist if there was a problem and the standard safety briefing was given.
We took off just slightly behind our scheduled departure. Aware beforehand that no inflight entertainment would be available, I had made sure to pack my iPod and a book or two. Having taken breakfast at the airport, the absence of a complimentary meal was no great hardship, although a food and beverage menu for sales is available.
I settled down and had little difficulty passing the two-and-a-half hours to Changi Airport.
ARRIVAL: We touched down a few minutes past our scheduled arrival time and disembarkation was as swift and businesslike as our boarding.
VERDICT: This was an excellent flight. No frills but no spills. I felt perfectly safe and the cabin attendants were as professional as you would find on any major airline. The short-haul market is one where business travellers can dabble in using LCCs without incurring too much major risk.
But business travellers in Asia seeking alternatives to scheduled carriers are still nowhere near as well served as in North America or Europe. The real barrier to LCCs is the lack of flexibility in frequency and ticketing that the main carriers provide. Jetstar operates only one return flight a day between Bangkok and Singapore.
PRICE: A Jetsaver return ticket from Bangkok to Singapore is available online for THB2,650 (US$80).
This is not refundable or easily changeable, the more flexible Jetflex ticket will cost THB9,000 (US$270) for the same route.