Flight Report: MNL-ICN-MNL on AirAsia Z2 884 and Z2 85 (February 2016 edition)

09Feb16 006 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL A320-200 Cabin

Unless an airline does something so phenomenally stupid that I slap them with a personal travel ban, I’d happily fly with them again – even on the same route and schedule as before. That’s why I found myself taking a third round-trip journey on Philippines AirAsia (Z2) this past Seollal weekend, between Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL) and Seoul’s Incheon International Airport (ICN).

For an earlier round-trip flight report covering the same airline and route, click here. Note that the two Philippine units of the AirAsia group – which formerly operated as separate entities – were consolidated into a single brand not too long ago, so bear in mind that “AirAsia Zest” (in that previous review) and “Philippines AirAsia” (in this current post) are pretty much one and the same airline. The new unified brand was reflected in the cabin announcements on both of my recent flights, with the crew consistently referring to “Philippines AirAsia”.

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 AND FARE TYPE
Unless otherwise indicated, all figures are in Philippine Pesos (PHP).

This was an online booking based on promotional rates, with a base fare significantly cheaper than one would pay on this route when purchasing a full-price ticket. Because of various personal concerns, I also wanted a bit of flexibility – namely, the right to change my flight date/time if needed – so I elected to pay an extra 1,450.00 per leg to upgrade my fare class to Premium Flex, which, at least on paper, offered the following advantages:

  • Free 20 kg of checked baggage
  • Complimentary inflight meal
  • Up to 2 date/time changes (this was the feature I was specifically after)
  • Free “Hot Seats” selection
  • Priority check-in, boarding, and baggage delivery
  • In the end, I didn’t need to change my flight details, but having the option to do so gave me peace of mind and seemed to make the extra cost much easier to swallow. The other stated advantages also helped in that regard, though in the course of this review we’ll examine whether each one of those promises was fulfilled.

    The total cost for the round-trip journey was PHP 16,870.00, broken down as follows:

    Basic fees/charges
    Fare = 13,020.00 (the Premium Flex upgrade is built into this amount)
    Airport fees/taxes = 1,640.00

    Additional fees/charges
    Travel insurance = 350.00
    Travel tax = 1,620.00
    Processing fee = 240.00

    ROUTE MAP

    SCHEDULE

    As of this writing, Philippines AirAsia’s published schedule lists four flights on the MNL-ICN-MNL loop, two for either leg.

    MNL-ICN

  • Z2 884 : 0710-1210
  • Z2 84 : 1455-1955
  • ICN-MNL

  • Z2 885 : 1255-1610
  • Z2 85 : 2055-0010(+1)
  • Not all schedules might be available at any given time, though. 84/85 are only listed as valid up to 26 March 2016, though that doesn’t discount the possibility of them being opened up in the future.

    Barring delays, the 884 and 85 combination that I chose for this trip might prove attractive for travellers seeking to maximise their time on the ground in Korea. The incoming flight gets into Seoul around midday (leaving the rest of day one available for work or sightseeing), and the return flight departs from Seoul late in the evening (also freeing up much of the last day). I do hope 85 is reinstated for later this year and beyond, as 885’s earlier departure reduces one’s available time in Seoul by a substantial margin.

    Looking at a couple of other budget airlines that ply this route, both of which only offer one round-trip schedule:

  • Cebu Pacific : The incoming flight arrives in Seoul after 8 PM. Definitely not good as this leaves almost no free time on the first day for sightseeing, especially after immigration/customs and the long ride to downtown Seoul (from 40+ minutes by train to over an hour by bus). If there’s a major delay and you land after the trains/buses have stopped running, you’re likely to end up with a huge taxi bill unless one of the few early morning buses serves your preferred stop. The return flight is better, leaving Seoul at 2135. That’s not enough to make up for the awful arrival time though, so I probably won’t fly with them on this route in the near future.
  • Jeju Air : The incoming flight gets into Seoul at 0440, probably the earliest available budget airline arrival on this route. The return flight leaves Seoul at 1935. Seems like a good combination (assuming one has no issue with the late-night 2350 departure from Manila), and I might actually give this airline a try on my next visit to Korea.
  • OUTBOUND FLIGHT: MANILA TO SEOUL-INCHEON

    Overview

    Airline and flight number : Philippines AirAsia (Z2) 884
    Route : Manila (MNL) to Seoul-Incheon (ICN)
    Date : Saturday, 06 February 2016
    Scheduled departure time : 0710 (actual – unknown, roughly on time)
    Scheduled arrival time : 1210 (actual – 1209)
    Equipment : A320-200. Seat maps are available on AirAsia’s official site and on SeatGuru.
    Travel class : Economy
    Fare type : Premium Flex

    At the check-in counters of Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s Terminal 3 – the main base for Z2’s international flights – a separate lane was provided for passengers with special needs and those flying on Premium Flex tickets.

    06Feb16 001 AirAsia Flight Z2 884 MNL ICN NAIA Terminal 3 Check In Counter

    Though a welcome convenience, the special lane inched along at a fairly slow pace, partly due to a couple of families who checked in en masse. Neither did it help much when the agent temporarily left his post to help at another counter – something to do with a system issue – thus holding up the queue even further.

    At the boarding gate, it was pretty much the usual race to get to the head of the queue first. No priority order was in evidence, unless it was belatedly imposed after I’d already gone through.

    As for baggage, the MNL check-in agent applied a yellow priority sticker to mine before sending it down the belt (another Premium Flex benefit). The problem was, after arriving at ICN, the lines at immigration were so long – big influx of tourists for the Lunar New Year weekend – that by the time I reached the baggage carousel, the bags from our flight were already sitting on the stopped conveyor, fully offloaded and ready to be picked up. Impossible to say, then, whether the sticker made much of a difference or not.

    Seating

    The aircraft was a single-class, all-economy unit with no cabin partitions. Seats were pretty much the same throughout, with identical black leather upholstery and red safety belts. Those in the first five rows and the two exit rows – designated as “Hot Seats” and sold at a premium – were topped with red covers.

    A better view of the cabin is available in the pictures I took on the return journey (see below).

    The flight wasn’t full, with much of the passenger load naturally concentrated in the less desirable non-Hot Seat rows (which passengers are assigned to upon check-in, free of charge). I was seated in 2A and had that side of the row entirely to myself, which meant that I had more room to make a mess in.

    06Feb16 005 AirAsia Flight Z2 884 MNL ICN A320-200 Seat

    I tried raising the armrests to make a bed – as I’ve seen others do – but I forgot to bring my travel pillow so lying down flat wasn’t as comfortable as it might have been. On the other hand, putting on extra layers for the winter chill of Seoul was much easier with the extra space.

    Legroom-wise, row 2 didn’t seem to confer any particular advantage. In all likelihood, only row 1 (and the two exit rows further back) had the benefit of more floor space.

    Sitting up front also put me at a decent distance from the noisy engines, and gave me a clear view unobstructed by the aircraft’s wing.

    06Feb16 006 AirAsia Flight Z2 884 MNL ICN

    If AirAsia had a business class cabin, I was sitting where it would have been, and it was certainly nice to have the small benefit of a great view that only premium passengers would normally enjoy. More concretely, there was also the convenient business-class-style perk of being amongst the first to disembark.

    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. Tablets are available for rent on long-haul AirAsia X flights to/from Australia (or so I’ve read), but our short regional hop of less than 4 hours’ duration didn’t have that option. In my case, I had a tablet with me and improvised as best I could.

    06Feb16 004 AirAsia Flight Z2 884 MNL ICN A320-200

    Not a bad stopgap measure, though I’ll try looking for one of those aeroplane tablet holders to make things easier next time.

    Service and Catering

    I’ve noticed that Z2 consistently charges less – way less – for inflight meals than its much bigger local rival Cebu Pacific, so I’m more likely to buy food from the former than the latter. On this particular flight, my Premium Flex upgrade came with a complimentary meal, which I selected online at the time of booking.

    My choice from amongst the available options: Pak Nasser’s Nasi Lemak. I tasted this Malaysian dish for the first time on an earlier Z2 flight and liked it – despite the small presence of seafood (which I utterly loathe) in the form of anchovies – so I figured I’d go with the tried and true.

    06Feb16 002 AirAsia Flight Z2 884 MNL ICN Meal Pak Nasser Nasi Lemak

    06Feb16 003 AirAsia Flight Z2 884 MNL ICN Meal Pak Nasser Nasi Lemak

    The portion wasn’t huge, but I ate a large breakfast at the airport earlier and was happy to treat this as a light brunch.

    The meal was served with a (small) bottle of water, much appreciated given the spiciness of the Nasi Lemak and the fact that I didn’t have to pay extra to buy a beverage. One minor complaint: the bottle was made for use with a straw and was filled in such a way that water leaked out as soon as the straw went in, so I had to quickly take a few sips to stop the flow.

    As for service, on a budget airline where cabin attendants can’t be expected to fawn over passengers like butlers, I observed nothing to either complain about or cheer wildly for. Interestingly, this particular flight had a Korean speaker on the crew: not surprising given the large Korean contingent in the passenger cabin, but inconsistent with the absence of a Korean speaker on the return leg which, if anything, had even more Koreans on board.

    A splendid winter trip in Seoul began after our arrival (my fifth visit to South Korea and the second during their festive Seollal season), which I’ll blog about in due course. For the moment, you can read about my previous journeys to Korea here.

    Now then, let’s have a look at the homeward journey, which took place a few days later.

    RETURN FLIGHT: SEOUL-INCHEON TO MANILA

    Overview

    Airline and flight number : Philippines AirAsia (Z2) 85
    Route : Seoul-Incheon (ICN) to Manila (MNL)
    Date : Tuesday, 09 February 2016
    Scheduled departure time : 2055 (actual – 2130)
    Scheduled arrival time : 0010/+1 (actual – 0035/+1)
    Equipment : A320-200. Seat maps are available on AirAsia’s official site and on SeatGuru.
    Travel class : Economy
    Fare type : Premium Flex

    Unlike MNL, Incheon International Airport had no priority lane for Premium Flex passengers. (The airport was so much nicer in every other regard that I didn’t have much reason to complain.)

    Like MNL – and perhaps other airports in the world – budget carriers were relegated to more distant, less conveniently located gates. It was a far better long walk here than in Manila though, with a people carrier and travelators that actually work making the transit easier.

    09Feb16 001 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL

    At the twin-door gate, a special Premium Flex sign above the right portal raised hopes of priority boarding, though this was ultimately not employed and everyone lined up to use just one entrance. Strange that the other wasn’t pressed into service, although I got on relatively early so I can’t say for certain whether it was opened later or not.

    09Feb16 002 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL Incheon Gate

    One class, one bridge.

    09Feb16 003 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL Incheon Gate

    09Feb16 005 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL Incheon Gate

    Let’s sneak a peek at tonight’s aircraft. Typical AirAsia A320-200, registration number RP-C8189. Relatively new bird at less than five years old, if this record can be trusted.

    09Feb16 004 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL A320-200

    Regarding luggage: a priority sticker was also attached by the ICN check-in agent, and it seemed to work in MNL as my bag emerged in relatively short order once the carousel began spitting luggage out. (Cargo offloading seemed to take forever to get started, though.)

    Seating

    I was parked in 1F on this flight, right up against the forward bulkhead, which meant a bit of extra legroom on top of the plum location.

    09Feb16 006 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL A320-200 Cabin

    09Feb16 007 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL A320-200 Seat

    Since I was on the first row, my tray table slid out from an armrest and there was nothing but a pocket in front of me. No space, then, from which to hang my tablet this time around.

    09Feb16 008 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL A320-200 Seat

    The return flight was considerably more packed than the previous leg – about two-thirds full, probably more – and I wasn’t alone in my row. In any case, the armrests on these front seats were immoveable due to the tray tables being stored inside them, so I couldn’t have spread out very much even if the neighbouring places were unoccupied.

    In-flight Entertainment

    Same as the outbound flight … meaning nonexistent (apart from basic reading material). I used my tablet for a few short moments and slept though much of the flight, so no real complaints there.

    Service and Catering

    I chose Nasi Lemak again for this leg, so I won’t comment on the dish in detail…

    09Feb16 010 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL Meal Pak Nasser Nasi Lemak

    …except to observe that the contrast between the professionally composed menu card and the real deal was somewhat, er, amusing.

    The sweet promise…

    09Feb16 009 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL Meal Pak Nasser Nasi Lemak

    …and the bitter reality.

    09Feb16 011 AirAsia Flight Z2 85 ICN MNL Meal Pak Nasser Nasi Lemak

    Nothing bitter about the dish itself, of course. Delicious as usual, except for those blasted anchovies.

    As for the service, apart from a couple of incidents on the flight that affected other passengers – and where, from my admittedly limited perspective, responsibility can’t be fully assigned to one side or the other – I can speak reasonably well of the cabin crew on this leg. An urgent request I made was expeditiously attended to, the meal service was efficiently done (though it took a while for the rubbish to be cleared away), and there was at least an effort to remain friendly and professional despite the stressful incidents I alluded to earlier.

    OVERALL IMPRESSION

    With my expectations duly managed – Z2 is a typical no-frills airline after all – I emerged relatively pleased with the experience. The fact that both flights were more or less on time certainly helped keep things in positive territory, notwithstanding various small hiccups and the spotty delivery of the promised Premium Flex advantages. (There were ground delays of about half an hour each at both ICN and MNL on the return leg, but neither seemed to be directly attributable to the airline.)

    All things considered, I’ll probably fly with AirAsia again on this route, though that likelihood might decrease if the attractive late-evening departure time of Z2 85 is no longer available.

    Cheerio.

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    2 responses to “Flight Report: MNL-ICN-MNL on AirAsia Z2 884 and Z2 85 (February 2016 edition)

    1. Pingback: Flight Report: MNL-ICN-MNL on Z2 884 and Z2 85 | Within striking distance·

    2. Pingback: Field Report: An Afternoon Stroll around Dongdaemun, Seoul, South Korea (06 February 2016) | Within striking distance·

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