Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Air Asia: "At Least We Didn't Crash!"

Man what a day I had yesterday. On my last full day in Indonesia I was forced to travel from Jakarta to Jogjakarta to get a re-entry permit so I could come back without having to endure the several-week-long nightmare I'm going to detail in the next post I write. My flight out of Jakarta for Taiwan was scheduled to leave at 2.20pm the following day. So I booked a flight on Air Asia at 8 in the morning, scheduled to land in Jakarta at 9am. I had left my bags, including my computer, all my clothes, and everything else at my buddy's apartment, figuring that I would surely have enough time to retrieve them and return to the airport. I was only going to be in Jogja for the day, and the stingy b*%&!@s at Air Asia charge you for checked baggage.

I arrived at the airport and everything went smoothly. I fell asleep as we were taxiing down the runway. When I awoke we were landing, and I thought to myself "man that was quick", and was getting all set to get off the plane when I noticed that we were landing back in JOGJA. "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!". It turns out that someone had forgotten to flip a switch or check the oil or something. So they called their engineer, and within about 20 minutes the plane was ready. Still time to do what I need to do. But guess what? The Indonesian Air Force Academy, which uses Adi Sucipto airport in Jogja, at that moment was having some sort of exercise, and they closed the airport for 30 minutes. So we had to wait. And wait. And when the airport finally reopened (after an hour) the Air Asia folks discovered something else wrong, and so we had to sit on the tarmac for 30 more minutes. All tolled we got to Jakarta at around noon, 2 hours 45 minutes late, leaving me not enough time get to Kuningan to get my bags before my afternoon flight (1). What was I going to do? My computer, my clothes, my phone, my keys, everything...gone.

However, in this life if you spend any more than 2-3 minutes feeling sorry for yourself before setting about to address the problem you're just digging a deeper hole, making it harder to eventually put the whole thing behind you. So I tried to figure out how I might be able to engineer the transport of my luggage to the airport. Of course, all the plans I came up with failed. So eventually I came to the tough conclusion that I was going to have to leave everything in Jakarta and pick it up when I get back in August. At first this seemed like an impossibility, but then as I thought about it became clear to me that there's nothing there I can't live without. The computer is probably the most inconvenient, but fortunately I brought a backup harddrive just incase I needed to access any data in Jogja. I've got an extra set of keys in Honolulu, and the phone, well, nobody calls me anyway. So I'll be alright. But it's definitely inconvenient, and there will be hundreds of small problems that crop up over the next couple of weeks because of this. I'm still alive, though, and I'm going home, which is the important thing.

I don't know why I put any faith in Air Asia in the first place. Because if something can go wrong here, it will. That's no joke. Airline management in Indonesia is so bad it's comical. But I still fly (because I have to), and for some reason I still expect them to be on time. I think to myself "it can't happen again, can it?" But it does. The problem is that the standard of service is so bad, it's so beyond your expectations in a bad way that your brain just can't cope with the crappiness of it. Hope springs eternal and despair is born anew.

So as a public service to all the would-be travellers, I've created the following guide to airlines in Indonesia. You can use this guide to pick the appropriate airline consistent with the level of misery, discomfort, and inconvenience you want to experience. Here goes:

Air Asia: A budget airline operating out of Singapore or Malaysia (what's the difference?). Among the cheapest, and probably among the most reliable, but I hate them. Plus they are arrogant ("Now Everyone Can Fly"; "The Best Airline in the World!") and they have sneaky ways to trick you into paying additional charges on their website.

Batavia is a big Indonesian carrier. I've flown with them a couple of times, and they seemed to be okay; only one of the two flights was late.

Garuda: Overpriced and undercleaned. This is Indonesia's "flagship carrier". Of course, they're not allowed to fly planes to Europe or the US. Hmmmm....

Lion Air: Lion Air is a budget option and they have frequent flights, but they are late about 80% of the time (in my experience) and their prices fluctuate wildly within hours. Still, as near as I can tell, this maybe the most popular carrier in Indonesia

Mandiri: Not bad. Comparable to Batavia.

Merpati: Crashes frequently. 'Nuff said.

Sri Vijaya: I've never flown SV, but chances are they suck.

Wings Air: Chances are if you have to go out to the eastern portion of Indonesia you'll be flying on one of Wings' turboprops. They are okay, but the planes smell funny and make odd noises.

But thank God for Taipei. That's where I am now. I think I mentioned in a previous post that China Air books transit passengers without charge in the Novatel near the airport if there is room available, and thankfully this time there was. The Novatel claims to be "5-star", but to tell you the truth it's probably closer to 4.6. They are seriously lacking in gold-leaf accoutrements. But it will do in a pinch. So I traded in some dollars for Chang-Kai-Sheckles (2) and made my way over to the hotel. After a good night's sleep I woke up to enjoy the wonderful complementary breakfast buffet, which includes as much bacon as you can eat.

Now I feel much better and the world doesn't seem so out to get me as it did before. It's important to focus on the positive things, like big mountains of bacon and the free nippers of 15-year-old scotch you can sample at the airport here. So bearing that in mind, I've come up with a new model for my new arch-nemesis Air Asia: "At Least We Didn't Crash!"

(1) Probably the funniest thing about this is that the Air Asia cabin crew had the gall to charge people for refreshments and food after causing them to sit in the hot airplane in Jogja for 2.5 hours. Nice, eh? High-class folks, those Air Asia peeps.

(2) Chang-Kai-Sheckles (CKS) is the currency in Taiwan.


  1. good one :). flying around Indonesia is an adventure, in a way or other. There is one more company which looks ok, at least it was when I used their service. Trans Nusa, I think they still exists and operates flights across Nusa Tenggara.
    Merpati, and those chinese airplanes they still use, ...hmm too many ( bad ) news on tv and newspapers.

  2. The airplane tickets are so expensive, and I think that if the flight is delayed or late or something else, they should give you some form of conpensation because you pay a lot for the ticket. It's their fault that they didn't check the oil on time, but at least they remembered and returned the plane.

  3. Russian Girl, I completely agree with you. I wrote them a letter of complaint, and despite the fact that Air Asia's website guarantees a response within 5 business days, I didn't hear back from them for a month. When they wrote back they referred to me as "Mrs. Keith" and informed me that they would not be held responsible for being late, and that they advise passengers to allow for delays of up to four hours.

  4. I love this story, mate! We should write an open letter to change their names into "Delay Air", then!