Review: Airlines in Southeast Asia

Cathay Pacific Anime Airlines in Southeast Asia

The other week, I attended a travel event and someone in the audience asked the panel of travelers to recommend the best airlines in Southeast Asia. Specific airlines were not recommended, so I felt a review of six airlines servicing Southeast Asia was in order.

Six Airlines in Southeast Asia

Cathay Pacific

I flew Cathay Pacific from Toronto to Hong Kong. Though it was a long journey, everything typically boring about a flight was made somewhat interesting by Cathay’s creative team.

Anime cartoons played out the safety procedures, featuring smiling characters that happily buckled up and stowed away their briefcases. Fancy menus were distributed, though the word economy was printed on the cover to remind us lesser folks of our caste. And the welcoming announcements were delivered by Cathy of Cathay. Brilliant.

Not only were the thin stewardesses a reprieve from the big-hipped Western flight attendants who knock you as they maneuver down the aisle, but Cathay stewardesses announce things like “Mind your elbow” when they’re coming through with the cart and use titles like “Madame” or “Sir” for their customers. Besides the friendly staff, here are some other perks:

  • They have the best entertainment system with movies, television shows, kids channels, video games, and iPad chargers.
  • First class seats are like sovereign island nations designed by a libertarian.
  • For neurotic passengers who back-seat-drive, Cathay even had an outside camera to monitor the pilot.

Cathay weaknesses:

  • They handed out an 8 page in-flight survey with about 30 questions to a page. For some reason my wife felt obligated to fill this out and watching her do so was painful.
  • They featured a movie that was centered around September 11th. This is not the sort of genre you want to explore from the fuselage.
  • The food was terrible. (“It’s airplane food,” is not an excuse. On El Al and Qantas, I was ordering seconds.) My mushroom chicken dish was one of the most horrible things I had ever eaten.

Air Asia and Jet Star

Air Asia (which I flew from Hong Kong to Phuket, and from Bangkok to Bali) and Jet Star (which I flew from a few times in Vietnam) are the Asian equivalents of America’s ghetto Frontier Airlines. Plus, they charge for everything. Even water. But, on a positive note, you can fly for cheap.

Bangkok Airways

This little airline is a treat to fly. They offer inexpensive flights, a very attractive flight crew, glossy in-flight publications (which are also featured in Thailand’s best resorts), dinner service on a 55-minute flight from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, and the greatest flight preparation video with an ensemble of singing and dancing fashionable flight attendants. Additionally, while waiting in the terminal, Bangkok Airways served complimentary sandwiches, desserts, and coffees. I love you Bangkok Airways.

Laos Airlines

It’s the middle ground between Air Asia and Bangkok Airways. Before purchasing my ticket, I read that they didn’t have the best flight record, but I took the risk and survived to write this post.

Qatar Airways

They claim to be a five-star airline. But Qatar, which I flew from Bali to New York, with a stopover in Doha, was worse than Air Asia and Jet Star. The fact that it was a 28-hour flight didn’t even play into the equation. I’ve taken numerous flights that were more than a day and not one was as atrocious. Here’s why Qatar Airways sucks:

  • My in-flight television did not work for half of one flight. After five hours of waiting for the system to be fixed, I asked to be moved. “Sorry there are no seats available in coach,” the flight attendant informed me. “How about up front?” I suggested. “Oh no. Moving you up front would not be fair to the other passengers.” Of course, but is it fair to me to look at a screen vibrating with static for fourteen hours?
  • Then the flight attendant spilled an entire bottle of red wine on my lap.
  • The food was horrendous, but a tad better than Cathay’s.
  • When we arrived in New York, we found my wife’s bag destroyed by the airline.
  • I wrote to customer service and they politely said “Fuck you” and offered me 3,000 points if I registered for their frequent flyer program.

If you’re visiting Southeast Asia, you can either book weeks or months beforehand. Or you can keep a loose itinerary and purchase a flight a day or two in advance.

Posted on by Noah Lederman in Asia

2 Responses to Review: Airlines in Southeast Asia

  1. Juliann

    Ugh. You, too? I have been on two international flights on which my inflight movies didn’t work. Talk about bored. I finished my book within the first half hour and had nothing to do. But it wasn’t Qatar; it was United.

    • Noah Lederman

      Figures. Same alliance. Did you get the measly 3,000 mile offer, too?

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