Flight Report: MNL-ICN-MNL on Z2 884 and Z2 85

13Dec14 009 A320-200 Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Manila

I’ve still got a massive backlog of unblogged trips to go through, but no worries: we’ll get back on track with those over the next few weeks. For now, let’s have another flight report – this one covering a round-trip journey on AirAsia Zest (Z2) between Manila (MNL) and Seoul-Incheon (ICN).

UPDATE (10 February 2016): I’ve written a new flight report covering a more recent trip taken with the same airline on the same route – click here.

Note: Schedule/route information, equipment type, and other details are accurate only for the specific flights reviewed here. This information may not necessarily apply to previous or future flights, even by the same airline under the same route and flight number.

OVERALL COST

This was an online booking based on promotional rates, with a base fare significantly cheaper than one would normally pay on this route. The total ticket price for the round-trip journey was PHP 13,334.00, broken down as follows:

Basic fees/charges
Fare = 3,334.00
Airport fees/taxes = 1,090.00
Fuel surcharge = 5,200.00

Additional fees/charges
Travel insurance = 350.00
Checked baggage (20 kg, both legs) = 1,500.00
Travel tax = 1,620.00
Processing fee = 240.00

ROUTE MAP

OUTBOUND FLIGHT: MANILA TO SEOUL-INCHEON

Overview

Airline and flight number : AirAsia Zest (Z2) 884
Route : Manila (MNL) to Seoul-Incheon (ICN)
Date : Wednesday, 10 December 2014
Scheduled departure time : 0710
Scheduled arrival time : 1210
Equipment : A320-200. Seat maps are available on AirAsia’s official site and on SeatGuru.
Travel class : Economy

Z2’s Manila-based flights are mostly operated out of Ninoy Aquino International Airport‘s Terminal 4, but their Seoul route is one of a few exceptions that use Terminal 3 instead. Ordinarily a hive of activity during the daytime, the building’s cavernous main hall was blissfully peaceful at the early hour I chose for my check-in.

10Dec14 001 NAIA Terminal 3 Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 884 Manila Seoul Incheon

Budget carriers normally use a cluster of gates located at the far end of the international wing, less convenient for passengers but probably cheaper for the airlines. After breakfast, I parked myself in the departure area near Gate 101 and settled in for a long wait.

10Dec14 002 NAIA Terminal 3 Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 884 Manila Seoul Incheon

Soon the darkened tarmac was flooded with sunlight and the appointed time for boarding arrived. Our plane was an A320-200, the standard workhorse of the Air Asia fleet.

10Dec14 003 NAIA Terminal 3 Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 884 Manila Seoul Incheon

10Dec14 004 A320-200 Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 884 Manila Seoul Incheon

One of the first things I noticed upon boarding the plane was a strange odour. It’s not easy to describe – vaguely unpleasant, but not overpowering, perhaps a little reminiscent of unwashed aeroplane lavatory (which, on reflection, it might well have been). In any case, by the time we took off it had pretty much dissipated, but it certainly didn’t give a very good first impression.

Neither did the rest of the cabin. Clean, well maintained, but clearly showing its age with slightly worn upholstery and off-colour plastic panelling. The window shade on my row was inoperable, forcing me to improvise with a menu card wedged into the window frame. Judging from the bilingual English and Simplified Chinese signs, I suspect that this was a secondhand unit that had once seen service with a Chinese carrier before being acquired by Zest Air (AirAsia Zest’s old brand).

Seating

The aircraft was a single-class, all-economy unit with no cabin partitions. Seats were pretty much the same throughout.

10Dec14 005 A320-200 Seats Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 884 Manila Seoul Incheon

10Dec14 006 A320-200 Seats Legroom Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 884 Manila Seoul Incheon

When I checked in online, the system originally assigned me a seat towards the rear of the plane, but this was changed on my request to exit row seat 14A at the airport counter. (Without charge, I might add. Perhaps not enough passengers were willing to fork over an extra PHP 400.00 to pre-book this plum position online.)  I’m not a large fellow and didn’t particularly require the extra legroom, but it proved useful in the end as I found it so much easier to put on my long thermal socks and retie my shoelaces.

10Dec14 007 A320-200 Seats Exit Row Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 884 Manila Seoul Incheon

10Dec14 008 A320-200 Seats  Exit Row Legroom Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 884 Manila Seoul Incheon

I mentioned earlier that the upholstery looked a little tired, but I must admit that I found the seat very comfortable indeed. Good back support, adequate width (bear in mind again that I’m not a big person), and the cloth covering felt better than the hideous leather hides that seem to be crawling into aeroplane cabins everywhere.

As an exit row seat, it came equipped with a tray table that slid out from the right armrest (rather than folding down from the seat in front). The table, whilst not exactly unkempt, didn’t seem like it had been thoroughly cleaned. I do hope it wasn’t neglected just for being hidden away in a concealed compartment.

In-flight Entertainment

As one might expect from a budget airline, the inflight entertainment system consisted of the in-house magazine and whatever else you may have brought on board yourself. Nothing to see here, folks – so let’s move on.

Service and Catering

I didn’t consume any of their onboard offerings, but one thing I noticed as I was purchasing my ticket was how reasonably priced their pre-booked meals seemed to be. Each hot entrée would have cost me about half the price of a similar meal on Cebu Pacific, and even the higher buy-on-board prices seemed much lower on AirAsia Zest than on its larger competitor. Given the cost advantage, it should come as no surprise that I eventually had a taste of AirAsia’s inflight cuisine – as we’ll see below in my report of the homeward journey.

As for the onboard service … not much to say about that, but then again, one can’t really say much about service on a low-cost carrier (given the limited scope on offer and the no-frills nature of their operations). I suppose one of the flight attendants seemed rather curt and humourless, for which the stress and overwork associated with budget airlines might not be an excuse – though I’ll take it as an explanation and let the whole matter slide.

A splendid winter trip in Seoul began after our arrival (my third visit to beautiful South Korea), which I’ll blog about just as soon as I’m done writing about my autumn vacation in Japan. For the moment, you can read about my previous journeys to Korea here.

Right then … fast forward a few days. After my brief holiday was over, it was time to head home. Let’s have a look at the return voyage.

RETURN FLIGHT: SEOUL-INCHEON TO MANILA

Overview

Airline and flight number : AirAsia Zest (Z2) 85
Route : Seoul-Incheon (ICN) to Manila (MNL)
Date : Saturday, 13 December 2014
Scheduled departure time : 2055
Scheduled arrival time : 0010 (14 December)
Equipment : A320-200. Seat maps are available on AirAsia’s official site and on SeatGuru.
Travel class : Economy

Seoul’s Incheon International Airport is always a delight to fly through, with almost everything a traveller would need (and lots more besides). It’s one of my favourites in the region and easily deserves its consistent rating as one of the best airports around.

Nothing hugely spectacular in the architecture itself, but where services and facilities are concerned, it comfortably beats most of the competition.

13Dec14 001 Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Airport Manila

13Dec14 002 Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Airport Manila

13Dec14 003 Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Airport Manila

13Dec14 003b Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Airport Manila

After a light supper, I made my way over to the gate and waited for the boarding announcement.

13Dec14 004 Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Airport Manila

A side view of our bird for this evening: another of the AirAsia fleet’s A320-200s.

13Dec14 005 A320-200 Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Manila

I had assumed that we’d be flying on an identical A320-200 to the one that brought us to Seoul a few days back, with its generic unbranded interior (possibly inherited from its old Zest Air days). Imagine my surprise when I stepped into the cabin and found it decked out in AirAsia’s trademark colours, with red carpets and black leather upholstery.

In addition to the distinctive interior, the bilingual English and Bahasa signs seemed to suggest that this bird had seen service on the mainline AirAsia fleet.

13Dec14 009 A320-200 Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Manila

Seating

The seats were fairly comfortable and the legroom was quite adequate, though bear in mind that I’m not a large fellow (bigger folk may find the space a bit cramped).

13Dec14 006 A320-200 Seat Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Manila

13Dec14 007 A320-200 Seat Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Manila

I did notice that the cabin wasn’t quite as pristine as it should have been. The seat, for example, still had a sprinkling of crumbs on it.

13Dec14 008 A320-200 Seat Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Manila

LCCs are known for relying on quick turnarounds to maximise efficiency, and this of course means less time for maintenance to take place – but I’m loath to excuse AirAsia for this oversight. Complete cleanliness is something I would expect from any airline, budget or not, and as a paying passenger I certainly shouldn’t be expected to shake out my own seat cushion before settling down upon it.

In-flight Entertainment

Same as the outbound flight … meaning nonexistent (apart from basic reading material). Let’s skip ahead to the meal.

Service and Catering

I didn’t pre-book any meals for this flight, but (as noted previously) the prices for hot courses didn’t seem unreasonable – and were in any case far lower than on AirAsia Zest’s budget competitor Cebu Pacific – so I decided to order something off the menu.

My selection: Pak Nasser’s Nasi Lemak (PHP 200.00), with a carton of cold Milo (PHP 90.00) to wash it down.

13Dec14 010 Nasi Lemak Inflight Meal Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Manila

Nasi lemak is considered by some to be Malaysia’s national dish, and given the AirAsia group’s Malaysian origins, this is probably the nearest thing they have to a signature inflight meal. I’ve never actually had nasi lemak before, whether on or off the ground … partly the reason why I decided to give this one a go.

I liked the fact that detailed information about the dish was clearly laid out on the lid. I did NOT like the fact that my tray looked as if it had been air-dropped from a military transport plane and then marched over by a platoon of soldiers…

13Dec14 011 Nasi Lemak Inflight Meal Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Manila

…before someone detonated a hand grenade inside.

13Dec14 012 Nasi Lemak Inflight Meal Economy Class Air Asia Zest Z2 85 Seoul Incheon Manila

Presentation? Total fail.

Portion size? Not as big as I’d have liked.

Taste? Interestingly, not as bad as it looked.

I’m no fan of seafood, but I don’t like wasting food either, so I scooped up the anchovies and downed them in one go, holding my breath as I did so to minimise the impact. With that out of the way, I worked my way through the rest of the tray’s contents and found them to be surprisingly palatable. The rich, dark red onion sambal really tied everything together and may well have saved the entire dish. Never mind that sambal can be made with shrimp paste (though I’ve no idea if this one contained the ingredient); I do have a mild crustacean allergy but can safely tolerate small amounts, and in any case I detected no hint of shrimp or even generic seafood flavour in the sauce.

Price and taste considered, I’d rate this meal a pass. I might even order it again – or perhaps two of the same to satisfy my appetite – if I should ever fly on the AirAsia network in the future.

OVERALL IMPRESSION

For the most part, these two flights were typical of what one would expect on a low-cost carrier: no frills, minimal service. Given the price paid for the journey, I suppose I got what I paid for and can call myself satisfied – and perhaps even mildly pleased with the onboard catering.

Provided that their fares remain competitive and the timetables fit well with my requirements, I’ll gladly fly again with AirAsia Zest on this route.

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3 responses to “Flight Report: MNL-ICN-MNL on Z2 884 and Z2 85

  1. Good review. I flew the same route (Incheon to Manila) with Air Asia Zest and found it to be quite unprofessional and almost tacky, especially compared with other Korean airlines – including the low-cost ones. I also had the nasi lamak meal which I found quite good!

  2. Pingback: Field Report: Unhyeongung, Seoul, South Korea (10 December 2014) | Within striking distance·

  3. Pingback: Flight Report: MNL-ICN-MNL on Z2 884 and Z2 85 (February 2016 edition) | Within striking distance·

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