I flew Lao Airlines Economy class on my recent return-visit to Laos and my experience was much better than on their predecessor Lao Aviation many years ago! If you are planning a trip to Laos, and you should, you might end up on one of their flights, so read on, what to expect from Lao’s national airline!
Predeparture: You can now book Lao Airlines online through their own web site or several online travel agents, making it much easier to select one of their flights. Their flight prices seem to be very much standardized, with little changes based on dates, times or time to departure.
Lao Air allows for a generous amount of luggage in Economy Class, including 20kg of checked baggage, a carry on of up to 7kg and a personal item – that’s better than most carriers these days!
LaoAir does not allow online check in, but the airports in Laos are all pretty small, easy and quick to navigate, so it’ll still be quick and painless. Despite my anxiety about the eticket, I was checked in quickly and without issues – and then had to wait for a while in the small terminal with nothing to do… the flight was somewhat on time – in Laos time is not really a prime concern and nobody is in a rush. It was a big change from my previous experience that there was a schedule and the departure time on the ticket, boarding pass, schedule board and at the gate were all the same!
Flight Experience Airbus A320: The service on Lao Airlines was just as friendly as in the rest of the country. The flight attendants got everybody into their seats and went through the safety briefing.
The A320 is configured similar to other full-service carriers, with a business class up front and an economy class configuration of 3-3 seats. While I couldn’t find seat pitch information, the legroom was generous and the number of seats on the plane suggests a 32 in pitch – which is more than most carriers in Asia these days. The seats are covered in bright green (p)leather, not my choice of colors, but clean and well maintained. The seats were overall comfortable and I’d consider it a step up from AirAsia or other low-cost carriers. This was another big improvement about my experience on the Chinese-made plane from yester-yester-year on my last trip!
The seats even had a personal TV screen in the headrest of the seat in front and a USB port to charge your electronics, but there was no program shown on my domestic flight and the equipment was not working.
With a flight time of under 45 minutes, there wasn’t a whole lot of service or entertainment I expected.
Conclusion: Lao Airline’s economy class is a pleasant flight experience and, based on the luggage allowance and onboard product, a step up from AirAsia and competitive with other regional, full service carriers. After my previous experience, the fact that it was “just another flight” and the plane almost indistinguishable from other full-service carriers (save for the bright green seats), was a big improvement and I would not hesitate to fly them again on a domestic flight within Laos, especially on the A320. While Lao Air’s safety record is still spotty (read Lao Airlines Facts & Figures), they are a much safer bet than a bus or boat for a cross-country trip.
It will be interesting to see how the prices for Lao Airlines develop, with more competition on international routes from AirAsia and Singapore Airlines. I’d be willing to pay a small premium over AirAsia, but the difference in experience is small. I’d prefer Thai Airways or Singapore over Lao Air, based on the experience and safety record, and would pay an equally small price premium.