Sunday, 4 August 2013

Let's Scoot outta here!

I'm a big fan of anyone who gives me more options to escape and see the world.

In recent years, this has taken the shape of budget Asian airlines extending their reach to Australia, particularly using Gold Coast Airport.

Last year, for my trip to Europe I used Air Asia X to fly to and from its Kuala Lumpur hub, before using another airline to fly return to Paris.  This made me realise how Australia to Asia flights are often more expensive than their longer Asia to Europe counterparts.

This month, I tried Scoot, a budget Asian airline that uses Singapore as its hub.

The most obvious appeal of both Air Asia X and Scoot is the price tag.  With return flights available for less than $500 (depending on time etc), they are not only an attractive option, but also hopefully put competitive price pressure on the traditional full-service airlines.

Both Air Asia X and Scoot position themselves as not only being "affordable", but also fresh and funky. With this in mind, both have developed a range of features and services that other airlines could well consider.

Two great things about Scoot and Air Asia X:

1.  New range of seating options
We're used to planes having economy, premium economy, business and first class sections.   However, Scoot introduces new types of seat options WITHIN its economy section called Stretch Seats (bulkhead or exit row seats) and Super Seats (which have more leg room and are at the front and end of the cabin).   Being tall, I was really impressed with the leg room offered by the Super Seats, which almost seem better than those in the ScootBiz section.  Naturally, you pay for the privilege of selecting or upgrading your seat, but the price isn't prohibitive.

Scoot's yellow Super Seats in economy

2.  The upgrade upsell
Often when the doors on the plane close, people scramble to claim the vacant roomier seats.  This doesn't happen on Scoot flights because if you want to take advantage of any seat other than the one on your ticket, you need to pay for it.   From check-in and throughout the early stages of the flight, if there are empty Stretch, Super or ScootBiz seats available, you are able to upgrade to these for a reduced price.   A nifty way for the airline to make some additional money and for customers to enjoy a last-minute change of mind.  I would love to see traditional airlines sell at-the-gate upgrades for their premium economy, business and even first class seats.  Air Asia X uses a "raffle-style" system where you pay to go into the draw to be upgraded to the flat bed seats in its Premium section (with your money refunded if you're not successful).

Two not so great things about Scoot and Air Asia X:

1.  You literally get what you pay for
On budget airlines, you learn early on that anything other than your seat comes with a price tag.  This includes an additional fee for things you might expect, such as luggage and inflight food, drinks and entertainment (which are usually pretty average so you'd be best to bring your own!).  But it also includes a fee for a cup (should you want to drink water from the free onboard drinking fountain) and a fee should you want to check-in early (more than three hours before the flight).  This fee-for-service approach need not be a deal breaker, but it's best to be aware so you can make your own choice before you step on board.

Basic inflight food, drink and entertainment offering means BYO

2.  Connections can be complicated

Budget airlines are predominantly point-to-point operations (eg. flying you from point A to point B).   But should you want to connect to another flight to point C, this can be complicated or involve additional time or fees.  Usually, budget airlines require you to clear customs at point B, collect your bag and then re-check-in for your flight to point C.  For an extra fee, Scoot offers ScootThru which allows you to check your bags all the way through (if all Scoot flights) and you still need to line up in the transit area to collect the ticket for your next flight.   Air Asia X has the added complication that it uses the same airport, but a completely different terminal (about a 20-minute taxi drive away) from the terminal used by all other airlines.  The schedules of budget airlines also often make it difficult to connect to another one of their flights without an overnight or lengthy stay in the middle.

Ultimately, with budget airlines you get what you pay for.

But as highly-competitive "new kids on the block", they're trying to be innovative with new features and services (for a fee) to make them stand for more than just "being cheap".

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