Asian Budget Airlines – and why NOK made me wanna NOK myself in the head

One of the beautiful things about living in Asia is the abundance of Asian Budget Airlines that have been springing up over the past decade, making travel out of Taipei cheap and convenient. I’ve had the pleasure of flying some of the good ones and had frustration when flying the bad. Cebu Pacific is next on my list.

Next month I’ll be making the quick flight from Taipei to Manila on my first adventure with Cebu Pacific Airways. The flight is only around two hours but, according to my friend Nadine who recently flew them, the delay will likely be twice as long. Both ways. I’ll be packing an extra dose of St. John’s Wort and meditation podcasts.

Here’s a quick review of the good, the bad…and NOK

Air Asia – definitely my favorite for flights within Asia. I’ve flown them frequently and have never had a problem or even a slight delay. Their planes are new and fares are usually low if you do a little research. Last year I flew Air Asia nonstop from Taipei to Bali but, sadly, that route has now been discontinued. From Taipei, they offer non-stop flights to Kota Kinabalu or Kuala Lumpur, one of their hubs with convenient connections all over Asia. They also have a hub in Bangkok with convenient flights all over Thailand and beyond, many times cheaper than taking the train.

V-Air This Taiwan-based budget airline popped up a few years ago with non-stop routes from Taipei to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Macau, and Busan. Their planes were new, fares were wonderfully low, and they were adding new destinations every other month. But apparently, the fares were too low since they now plan to cease operations on October 1, 2016. Trans Asia will take over some of their routes. (Check their website for any last minute “going-out-of-business” deals!)

Trans Asia Airways – I was forced to fly them to Macau after buying a ticket on V-Air shortly before they discontinued that route. I was a little nervous since they had just become infamous for doing an airplane cartwheel across a Taipei highway, but the flight to Macau went smoothly. And we made it home again without any cartwheels or unexpected water landings. They have low fares and great routes, just a slightly shaky safety record.

Tigerair Taiwan – With headquarters in Taipei, Tigerair Taiwan is one of the big dogs in the growing pond of Asian Budget Airlines. I flew them from Taipei to Bangkok and was impressed – cheap, comfortable, and on time. (Tigerair is based in Singapore with “affiliate” airlines in Taiwan, the Philippines, and Australia. )

NOK + Scoot = NOK-Scoot – the dreaded Budget Airline Code share

My experience with NOK Air seriously made me just wanna NOK myself in the head.

My friend and I were traveling within Asia during the tail end of Chinese New Year and with limited options, we chose NOK Air, mainly for the price. Big mistake.

The NOK Air code share maze…
The day before our return flight from Bangkok back to Taipei, we had finished our last minute shopping and decided to deal with the baggage situation for our upcoming flight. Sitting in our favorite Bangkok café, we each went to the NOK Air website and searched for the clues in the game of “How to pay NOK for baggage before getting to the airport”. After 30 minutes of searching, we had no luck. I have 28 years of experience in the airline biz and I still had no clue.

The next step in this game – a phone call to NOK Air (Scoot-NOK/Scoot). The first time we tried, the call wouldn’t go through. I tried again later and was on hold for 10 minutes, listened to lots of music and ads, and was disconnected.

Resuming our google research, I found a few more clues – baggage information broken down by route, specific dates, fare type, and method of booking. It would’ve taken a “Masters in Bag-ology” degree to truly decipher this top secret coded information. However, one thing appeared fairly clear: they allowed one bag to be checked free! Mystery solved!

Later that night, we arrived at the airport two and a half hours early and found the line already snaking through the check-in area so we joined the end of the conga line. An hour later we reached the front. “You haven’t paid for your checked baggage”, she informed us in a politely robotic voice.

We had just come full circle in this code share maze.

I calmly tried to explain our baggage research efforts while my friend showed her the website that said: “one bag free”. The check-in agents and their blank, expressionless faces merely pointed to the other counter where we could pay for the checked bags. No apologies, they simply claimed that the website we viewed was NOT theirs – it was “Nok-Scoot’ which was totally different than “NOK”.

NOK Air duck

We scratched our heads. Huh? All of the emails we had received prior to departure were from NOK-Scoot, a code share agreement between two equally incompetent budget airlines. However, at NOK check-in for our “NOK-Scoot” code share flight, the baggage rules we found online were strictly for NOK-Scoot but didn’t apply to NOK? (Whatever…)

Reluctantly, we joined the line at the baggage booth where the guy behind the bullet-proof glass hand wrote a receipt for the baggage charge, adding an extra fee for not paying it online in advance which, he advised, you can only do 48 hours or more before departure. HE WROTE IT BY HAND! They don’t even have a real computer system! I had a flashback to the early 90’s when we wrote baggage claim checks by hand! It made me question the competence of the entire operation and scared me just a little!

We made it back to Taipei, safely, at around 6 am – just in time for rush hour. I needed another vacation.

Advice: avoid NOK, Scoot, and any combination of NOK + Scoot

Other Asian Budget Airlines I have not yet experienced:

Sometimes these budget airlines do not show up in a Skyscanner or FareCompare search so it’s best to check their websites directly for any fare sales.

Sunset over Borneo
Sunset over Borneo on Air Asia

Jetstar Asia Airways – based in Singapore with a hub in Japan

Peach – Japan

Vanilla Air – Japan

HK Express – Hong Kong

Lion Air – Indonesia

Spice Jet – India

Air Busan – South Korea

Have you flown any of these?

Any advice or Asian Budget Airlines Horror Stories to share?

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