Anyone who has ever flown with children knows that your needs as an adult and your needs with a kid in tow are very different beasts. And so it was, during the planning stages of our trip to Asia, that I searched for that little extra magic that is a necessity when my child is in the equation.
I do freely admit that the creature comforts my kid and I need are not seen as necessary by all. I know of families that travel way under our budget and are happy doing so. Alas, that is not my reality. My daughter needs that little extra. And so I found myself sitting in front of the computer comparing prices and services between two major South East Asia airline players: Bangkok Airlines and Air Asia.
Both airlines offer cheap flights, comfy planes and seats, and the ability to travel around S.E.A. in hours (sometimes in very little over an hour).
Of course, you pay for the speed and comfort of the plane vs. the bus (which will set you back $12 U.S. dollars (USD hereafter) for an 11 hour ride in 2nd class). But after taking the long flight to Asia, living it up in local guest houses, and enjoying amazing street food dinners for under $2 USD I think it’s ok to splurge on reaching your next destination with ease.
At the time of my research, Air Asia was offering a seat on their Bangkok to Chiang Mai route for $22 USD. Bangkok Airways was offering the same route, and practically the same time schedule, for $41 USD (a $19 USD difference). The similarities, however, stop there.
Air Asia departs Bangkok from the old Don Mueang (DMX) airport. Bangkok Airways departs from the main airport: BKK. While it’s true that there is a free and easy (though one hour long) connection between the two airports, the truth is that departing out of BKK makes it easier to connect to your next destination (since most major international/ transcontinental carrier flights arrive and depart from BKK). From the On Nut BTS stop, a taxi to DMX should cost $340 baht, while a taxi to BKK should set you back $370 baht and that’s including the $55 baht you’ll spend in tolls.
Air Asia might be a cheaper flight, but you have to add your baggage. If you travel with a small backpack (max of 7kg) you don’t have to worry about this, but most of us do not. I have a strict one carry-on bag policy for our travels and we still had to check in our bag with Air Asia. Bangkok Airways comes with one checked bag included (up to 20 kg). Not having to worry about paying the extra fee or carrying my luggage with me means a lot when I am also trying to keep track of an energetic kid. Well, that and the fact that the baggage fee with Air Asia is no small change. As I mentioned, you will be able to have one 7kg free carry-on bag, but your checked-in bag (up to 20 kg) is going to cost $9 USD. Unless you don’t pre-book your bag. Because if you check-in your bag AT the airport it’s going to cost you $25 USD! That’s right, more than the actual plane ticket!
Air Asia sells itself as a budget carrier. It certainly delivers on its product and we enjoyed our flights with them. No frills, but also no complaints. Bangkok Airways calls itself the “boutique” airline in S.E.A. Three main “boutique” experiences come to mind when I think back on our time with Bangkok Airways.
1. Airport lounge with free, fast WiFi (included for free with Bangkok Airways, not available on Air Asia)
2. Airport lounge with free snacks and drinks (included for free on Bangkok Airways, not available on Air Asia)
3. On board meal and kids entertainment stickers/ activity book. (Included for free on Bangkok Airways, can be purchased for an additional charge on Air Asia. A typical meal will cost you an additional $3-4 USD on Air Asia).
I don’t have to tell you that, in today’s flying world, these three are no small feat.
Every time we flew Bangkok Airways we were happy to show up early at the airport and partake in the pampering of its guests. We would head straight to its private airport lounge (only customers allowed), check in by showing our flight passes, receive our complimentary WiFi access code, and sit down on the lounge chairs to plug the phone and connect. Have a last minute email to send? No problem. Want to let mom/ hubby/ friends know your plane is on schedule? No problem. Hoping to catch one last episode of your favorite show on YouTube? No problem. Fast and reliable, the WiFi connection became a time to unwind and do last minute check ups before a flight.
Hungry? They have you covered there too!
Bangkok Airways offers a nice selection of traditional Thai snacks and finger foods in the lounge- in addition to more western options as well. There is no set menu and what you will experience varies by airport and date, but it is always tasty. As a westerner, it was very nice to be able to try more traditional snacks without the fear of ordering something we might not like. As a parent, it was awesome to be able to give my child a snack (be it a Thai cake or a western sandwich). Thirsty from all the snacking? It’s ok. There’s water and various hot and cold tea options and coffee. We even found popcorn at the lounge in Bangkok.
Before you know it, the monitor in the Bangkok Airways lounge will display your flight and where to board. Off you go- tummy full and internet obligations met. Boarding is seamless and, if you are traveling with a child, waiting for take off includes stickers to use with a small activity book. My daughter, at nine years old, got a kick out of the Bangkok Airways characters and still has her sticker book.
Once all the obligatory airplane safety demos are complete you will be greeted by an increasingly rare travel moment: the food cart. Not food for sale (as they will offer on Air Asia), not peanuts and water like other airlines do. No, the food cart has actual hot food in it! And it’s for every customer on board! (No need to be first class to get served). Now, I have to be honest, the food is a bit hit or miss. I’ve found that we liked what was offered to us about 70% of the time. The lounge food was actually much better. But, with a salad, a hot dish, and dessert, it was still a very nice gesture on an under an hour flight. Sometimes we would board the plane, play with stickers, listen to demos and take off, glance at the airline magazine, eat some of our on board food, and get everything ready to land! It was awesome! And I highly recommend that airline magazine.
As an adult traveler, almost any safe and reliable airline will do. It really does come down to price. But on our trip to Asia I got to experience this great “boutique” airline and I don’t think I can go back to the basics. We all have to get to the airport early, so why not enjoy the free WiFi and newspapers and TV at the Bangkok Airways lounge. We all get thirsty and snacky, so why not indulge on finger foods and teas at the Bangkok Airways lounge. All of these are a nice bonus for an adult traveler, but what I found is that they are a very welcomed addition if you are traveling with children. It makes everything go that much more smoothly, helping us parents reach our destination in a happy, ready to hit the ground and adventure mood. Isn’t that what we all ask of our airline?
I myself have no doubt that when we find ourselves in Asia again we will be boarding another Bangkok Airways flight.
*Note: we are in no way being compensated by the airline to share this story/ review. We simply enjoyed our time with Bangkok Airways and wanted to make sure we shared with other travelers.
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