AirAsia announced that they have received FAA approval to start flights to the United States. That makes them the second Asian low-cost carrier, after Cebu Pacific, based in Manila, Philippines, to get approval to fly. Low-cost carriers like Wow and Norwegian Air have brought increased competition and low fares to North-Atlantic routes – can these carriers do the same for Trans-Pacific flights?
AirAsia X (Malaysia) was very proud to announce that they have received clearance from the FAA to fly to the US. AirAsia X is the long-haul subsidiary of AirAsia, operating out of Kuala Lumpur. The approval is specific to their Airbus A330, the only plane AirAsia X is currently operating. In their press statement, they announced that they are considering flights to several US States, including Hawaii.
Given their current fleet of A330 with a range of just over 6,000 miles, they can (barely) reach Hawaii from their hub in Kuala Lumpur or could operate flights via Tokyo to Hawaii or the US mainland, most likely the West Coast, with airports like San Francisco, Los Angeles or Las Vegas.
Air Asia has been rated the best low-cost airline by SkyTrax for six years running and AirAsia X has a 6-out-of-7 safety rating and I would not hesitate to fly with them. What makes it especially interesting is that AirAsia X operates a Premium Flatbed Seat (their business class on a budget) on their Airbus A330, which is a great alternative to the crammed economy class and a bargain for what it offers.
And, while mainland Chinese carriers have regularly offered fares between the US and Asia in the range of $500-600, the super-low fares AirAsia often promotes will add more pricing pressure on this market and I welcome the additional competition.
Given their hub in Kuala Lumpur and the limited range of their Airbus A330, this is not too exciting for US travelers, as you’d have a stop in Tokyo and would have to backtrack from Malaysia to most of South East and East Asia. It does provide an opportunity for travelers from Malaysia, Singapore and parts of SE Asia to travel to Hawaii or other US destinations at a budget.
As the press release states, this is all at the planning stage and given their fleet plans, I wouldn’t hold my breadth till flights actually start.
UPDATE: AirAsia X is moving faster than I expected and planning to launch flights from Kuala Lumpur via Osaka to Honolulu starting June 28th! Flights are not bookable yet. As expected, this is mostly interesting for KL based travelers, so I won’t be trying this out anytime soon!
Air Asia (falsely) claims in their press release to be the first low-cost carrier to receive approval to fly to the US. Actually, Cebu Pacific Air, the Filipino low-cost carrier already has approval to do so and is looking into flights to the US. They have started to fly to the US territory of Guam and – because they also fly the Airbus A330 on long-haul routes – their plans are focused on Hawaii as next step. They tend to serve destinations with a large Filipino population, making Hawaii a good choice, although it won’t help US travelers with transpacific flights, unless they continue from Hawaii to the mainland. I think flights via Honolulu to San Francisco would be a great option for Cebu Pacific and I’m routing for them.
In competition with AirAsia X, Cebu Pacific lacks a premium cabin – and 9+ hours in their slimline seats with 29in seat pitch are far from comfortable as my much better half found out on a flight from Manila to Sydney! But Cebu Pacific does benefit from a more strategic location in Manila: From Manila you can easily reach all of South East Asia from the US without backtracking. Just like with AirAsia, Cebu Pacific is planning their route expansion carefully and it’ll take them a while to actually launch those routes.
Overall, this is great news for travelers looking for low-cost travel to Asia. The arrival of low-cost carriers like Wow and Norwegian on transatlantic routes has driven down fares drastically and while I wouldn’t expect as big an impact in Asia, due to the location of Manila and Kuala Lumpur and the existence of low-priced Chinese carriers, the competition can only help in lowering fares over the Pacific. Stay tuned for updates – I will write about any route announcements from these carriers in the future!
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