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  • Graham

Review: Is AirAsia The World's Cheapest Lie-Flat Business-Class?

Today we’re on a flight I wouldn’t normally review; a two-and-a-half-hour hop from Sydney, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand, on low-cost veterans AirAsiaX.

...but at $259 per person, this might just be the cheapest reguarly-priced lie-flat seat in the world, and that's worth a closer look!

Part One - Booking

The background here is that during the height of Australian summer, AirAsia have permission to combine their services from Kuala Lumpur to Sydney and Auckland into a single flight routed KUL-SYD-AKL; you can book the full route, or just the SYD-AKL segment which is offered for sale as a fifth-freedom route.

If you book the full route - KUL-SYD-AKL - you're going to pay around $1,000 USD for business class, including priority check-in, baggage and boarding. For KUL-SYD alone, it's around $700.

For this short hop, their 12-seat business-class cabin isn’t sold as business, but rather as an optional seating selection on top of your economy booking. So, we had the option to pay $142 USD for regular tickets in Economy, or $259 for the same ticket with seating assignment in the Business cabin.

As far as competing business-class products go, we could have paid $750 USD - three times as much! - to fly in a very-slightly-better business product on LATAM's fifth-freedom route, or the same $750 USD to fly "armchair business" with Qantas, or over $1,000 for Air New Zealand's excellent lie-flat pods.

To be fair, the Air New Zealand product is consistently available at ~$500 one-way on weekends.

Still - for half the price of even the best possible price from a "regular" airline, AirAsia looks like a deal!

Our tickets included 40kg of luggage, and a hot meal aboard the flight, but as you’ll see below, that’s it!

Part Two - At The Airport

We checked in online 48 hours before departure, but had to show up at the counter to check our bags and go through passport check. We arrived to find Sydney International departures was an absolute mosh pit, due to the late-morning departure of every North American route as well as several widebodies to Asia-Pacific destinations, but the AirAsia check-in lanes were wide open and well-staffed. After dropping bags and verifying our paperwork, we were off to Australian exit customs in under five minutes.

Since these weren’t “real” business tickets, they included no priority security or lounge access, and since AirAsia isn’t a member of any of the major airline alliances, we didn’t have access to the excellent Qantas, Singapore or Air New Zealand lounges in Sydney.

However, the Priority Pass attached to my American Express Platinum card did include access to Aspire’s privately-operated “The House” lounge, near Gate 50. It’s a 5- or 10-minute walk from our outbound gate, but as we’d arrived with plenty of time, we stopped in for a quick bite and a drink before heading to the gate. I won't get into a full review here, but it's a stock-standard contract lounge, just enough for a snack and a drink or two if you've got time to kill.

For our 9AM visit, the offering was a decent-but-not-amazing breakfast of scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, toast and pastries, with congee and cereal available as well. The bartender had never heard of a mimosa, which was a bit of a surprise, but was happy enough to have us talk her through it!


We arrived at the gate for our scheduled 10:40 boarding call, just in time to see our inbound aircraft arrive and begin deplaning, so we wandered off to find seating and wait out the half-hour delay.

AirAsia are truly efficient in boarding the aircraft; one perk our upgraded seats did include was Zone 1 boarding, which in this case meant loading Zone 1 down one side of the partitioned jetway and Zone Everybody Else down the other, and holding us there for about ten minutes before sending us aboard via two separate bridges.

The downside is, we had to stand around a crowded jetway for 10-15 minutes after scanning our boarding passes at the gate. The upside is, once they finally let us aboard, they loaded a nearly-full Airbus 330 - over 350 passengers - in maybe 15 minutes. By contrast, I'm writing this aboard an Air Canada widebody flight that took about 40 minutes to board a little over 250 guests.

Part Three - The Seat

AirAsia’s Airbus 330 fleet is equipped with 12 business-class seats in two rows of a 2-2-2 layout.

The seat is an angle-flat design, as opposed to a lie-flat pod, but reclines sort of like a dentist’s chair, with similar comfort levels. It's the kind of thing you would have seen as top-of-the-line business class on mainline carriers maybe 15-20 years ago.

While the seat offers a ton of legroom in seated position, and made for a perfectly comfortable setup while I sat and worked, when I put the seat into "bed mode” it managed to turn a ton of legroom into… maybe the least-comfortable business-class experience of my life. And that’s including the Air Canada flight where the top half of the seat fell off mid-flight!

The gentleman across the aisle from me slept on his back, and was snoring happily five minutes after lunch, but side sleepers are completely out of luck as you’ll be folded sideways at a 10-degree angle.

Taller passengers will also want to consider that when sleeping on your back, the seat is not long enough to extend your legs fully; below, you'll see photos of my (6' 1") legroom when seated, and when reclined into bed mode.

Part Four - In-Flight Service

At this point, we depart from a usual premium-cabin review; aside from the seating, this is a low-cost-carrier flight in every respect, which is nothing to complain about given the price of the tickets!

Our tickets included hot meals from the “Uncle Chin” menu, which were also available for purchase onboard for 23 MYR (about $7 CAD). We were offered bottled water and a choice of tea or coffee, but had to pay for our Coke Zeros. Remember - this isn't "real" business class, and it was crazy cheap!

AirAsia offer a truly extensive buy-on-board menu for dinner and drinks, and even on this short flight the cabin crew were running back and forth keeping the party passengers supplied with tray after tray of 3-dollar Tiger lagers!

In-Flight Entertainment

No in-flight entertainment or wi-fi was offered on this flight. Our business-class seats did have universal power outlets that were enough to charge my Macbook while I worked, but that's it.

Arrival and Disembarkation 

On arrival at Auckland, we disembarked first as you'd expect from nearly any business-class product, but that was that; no priority services or fast-lane track.

Final Thoughts

It’s an interesting product, and when I say "you get what you pay for", I don't mean that as a a bad thing.

If I were evaluating this as a business-class product, I would consider it to be thoroughly outdated and towards the bottom end of all available business seats still flying, and if I booked this expecting to get a night's sleep on a 9-hour overnight flight like KUL-SYD, I'd be really disappointed.

However, as a $40/hr upgrade from Economy on a short daytime flight, it’s a clear and easy win, at a third of the price you’d pay for armchair business-class seats on a Qantas narrow-body.

Just goes to show - anytime you search for flights, it's always worth at least checking business prices!


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