Thai AirAsia 3207
Bangkok (DMK) – Chiang Rai (CEI)
Depart: 1:55 PM on Sunday January 3, 2016
Arrive: 3:15 PM
Duration: 1:20
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Seat: 21D (all economy plane)

Are low-cost carriers safe? Are the flights on time? How much leg room is there? Do you really have to pay for water? Can you get around the high baggage fees? What entertainment options are there?

I don’t fly Emirates First Class or Thai Business Class for all my flights. On short hops, I usually book the cheapest ticket I can. Within Europe and Southeast Asia, that is almost always on an ultra-low-cost carrier that offers a dirt cheap fare and then charges for everything like seat selection, food and drink, baggage, even using a credit card to purchase your ticket.

When I figured out where I wanted to go in Thailand, I searched Wikipedia for each city’s airport(s) to figure out which airlines fly the routes I wanted. Then I went to each airline’s website to search for the all in ticket price in Thai baht, which is often a bit lower than just searching in dollars on Kayak. (Purchase with a credit card with no foreign transaction fees like the Citi Prestige® Card.)

It turned out AirAsia was cheapest on all three routes I wanted to fly–Bangkok to Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai to Krabi, Krabi to Singapore.

AirAsia’s fares include one carry on, not to exceed 7 kg (15.4 lbs), and one personal item. Seat selection, checked bags, and food cost extra.

Seat selection starts at 70 baht ($2), but I am a cheapskate, so I didn’t select one.

Checked bags start at 300 baht ($8.50) for 15 kg (33 lbs). Even though I knew my carry on would weigh more than 7 kg and that checked bags cost a lot more at the airport, I decided not to pay for a checked bag, hoping I could sneak my overweight bag on board.

I did pre-book two meals for myself and my friend, since most entrees are under $4, and I thought we might not have had a chance for lunch before the flight.

Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 11.17.52 PMAirAsia, like all low-cost carriers, flies out of DMK airport in Bangkok instead of BKK where Thai Airways is based. DMK and BKK are about the same distance from central Bangkok, though BKK is more convenient because you can take a train there. We took Uber to DMK, which is a flat 570 baht ($16) from the city. I had already checked us into the flight and printed our boarding passes, so I aimed for us to arrive at the airport 75 minutes in advance, which ended up getting us to the gate more than an hour before the flight.

AirAsia allows online check in up to 14 days before departure. I waited until my three flights were all within that window and checked in for all three at once. For some AirAsia flights, you have to pay a fee to check in at the airport instead of online. You can see whether your AirAsia flight has such a charge here.

Checking in online had the advantage of allowing me to avoid any AirAsia employees until I had my boarding pass checked at the gate. Since my bag was overweight, I was only too happy to avoid the check in counter with its scales.

At check in, my bag was not measured or weighed. Lesson learned: if you check in online and print your boarding pass, you should be able to skirt carry on baggage weight restrictions.

Our flight took off from a remote gate, so we boarded a bus, and we were driven to the plane.

As I mentioned, I was too cheap to pre-book our seats, and we were assigned an aisle and a middle seat about 2/3 of the way back.

Rows are squeezed together on AirAsia’s planes. Seat pitch is 29″, which means 2″ less leg room than United, American, and Delta economy. My legs firmly dug into the seat in front of me, but this is much less of a problem if you aren’t 6’4″. And for 61 minutes in the air, I can handle a cramped seat.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.57.12 PM

Immediately after take off, the pre-booked meals were served. I had ordered fried rice with chicken satay and green curry chicken. Each was served with a free 100 ml water and small note pad.
Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.57.45 PM

The meals are pretty small. I would describe them as a light lunch. They are about half what I would normally eat, but I am a bit of a glutton. Most people would be satisfied with the portion.

I was surprised that the chicken satay also had shrimp and fish on top of the rice. I don’t like seafood, so that became my friend’s meal. I had half a satay, and I thought it was delicious. (It’s no Malaysia First Class satay, but what is?) She said the shrimp was sweet, which doesn’t sound like the right adjective for shrimp, but she did eat the whole meal.
Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.57.57 PM The green chicken curry was mediocre. Not long ago, I had a theory that all Thai food was of the same quality because I was always equally satisfied with my curries in the United States and in Phuket, but I have had varying quality dishes on this trip, and this was on the low end. I did eat it all though. It wasn’t that bad.Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.58.08 PM

After the pre-booked meals, the flight attendants offered food and drink for purchase. Even water costs money.

There are no entertainment options on board. In 2016, I think that’s a good thing. Not having TV monitors saves weight, which means the plane uses less gas and the fares are lower. Bring your own book or load a few TV episodes onto your phone, tablet, or computer.

My friend and I were joking that this rectangle on the back of the tray looks a bit like a television. I have no idea what it actually is, but it is of course not a television.
Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.57.23 PMThat didn’t stop me from worriedly saying to a flight attendant, “Excuse me, my TV isn’t working” or her from trying to plug in her USB. (We’ve got Dad jokes for days.)Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 8.57.31 PM

We touched down a few minutes ahead of schedule in Chiang Rai, and deplaned through a real gate. We were on the curb in a few minutes and at Le Meridien Chiang Rai 15 minutes after that.

Bottom Line

Fly low-cost carriers in Southeast Asia and Europe. They are cheap. You give up a little in comfort, but the cost savings on a short flight are too tempting to pass up.

The flights are just as safe as with any airline, since all airlines have to follow strict government regulations.

The biggest concern is that low cost carriers often fly a route only a few times a week, so that any delay or cancellation can leave you stranded for a long time. Luckily on this route, AirAsia flies five times a day, so any cancellation could be easily re-accommodated.

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