The Far Side team has to split up. It’s been a crazy two months and three countries.

“Can I move seats later,” I ask the Air Asia hostess, on a flight from Saigon to Kulur Lumpur.

“Sure, wait till we get flying”, says the hostess

They are serving food. “You can’t sit here.”

I ignore them and ask where the toilet is.

They repeat. “You must move, you can’t sit here.” It is the red seat after all, and now everyone can fly, some more comfortable than others.

Then I order two coffees, and they repeat again. “You can’t sit here,
you must move to the black seats.”

We looked around in disbelief and saw all these hot seats vacant. The trouble started when we checked in and the woman put at the opposite end of the plane.

Another Australian said, “But there is no one sitting on them.”

We sat in the red, or hot seats. There were about 20 of them available. The ones we sat at were the exits, which normally must have someone sitting on them.

At this stage, the hostess didn’t do anything about it. She was moving the lunch trolly down the aisle. Eventually we were given the ultimatum, move sets now, the black ones, or i’ll call security at the airport. But she didn’t point any seats out. We did move to some black chairs, one row behind where Anne was sitting.

I told the Air Asia woman who I wasn’t aware of the red seat regulations. She droned on: “The red seats hot and more expensive, you must vacate or I will call security when we land.”

I had been told.

Go ahead and do it, I said. The sensible thing would be just for her to arrange for a seat for us.

Talking about security was very bad form. It’s not like we were drunk or threatening anyone with a plastic fork. The sensible thing to do was to say, “Well I’ll find you somewhere to sit.” At the end of this ordeal, we didn’t really want to order any food. What’s more, Air Asia have let me sit in hot seats before on other flights.

A Japanese woman is taking up three chairs who shifted from another seat. She said to Anne,” You are meant to be up there.” Ann said, “The man in that seat smells very bad.” She acted like we did. She got her shoes and went back to where she came from. She pulled many faces. And feigned that she was slighted. She was!

But we’d have none of that, and Anne says . “I just hope she is on an Air Asia flight to Japan. WIth luggage and everything, I might as well go with Malaysia Airlines. If I went with Air Asia, I would have had to pay for a Japanese hotel.” Anne is carrying the banner for the Far Side in Japan, and I’m back to Australia.

“I’ll make a direct call to Mr. Fernandez,” I told the hostess. “This is outrageous,” I added. “He hands out a phone number for all of his staff and valued clients.”

Anne said on her flight from Saigon to KL a few years back, she could use the Dong to buy food. Not on this trip.

“The check-in girl in Saigon didn’t have the sense to put us together in Saigon, since we both checked in at the same time,” says Anne, who is the sensible one here.

“I’m so sorry about the red seat incident,” I told the hostess as I departed the plane. But the Irishman, with bandages around his arm, who stunk of beer, and was rightly pickled, says, “I really needed the red seat.”

And he got it.

How did you get into the red seat, I asked him.. He said, “I was really sick.”

I’ll remember that one next time I’m flying Air Asia, who is really slipping in their standards.

“It’s not like they were understaffed,” said Anne. ” They only got a plan half full and many attendants. Sell your Air Asia shares, the quality is slipping.”

We commented on the layout of the Air Asia magazine. It’s gone all glossy. “Instead of having sudoku and articles by the captain about flying, it’s turned into a plastic global blather,” commented Anne.

The hot seats are so hot, that they’ll get security to talk to you about it at the airport.

Everyone can fly.

But not in the red seat.

We arrive in KL, happy to back in the land of Malays.

I spoke to a Malay man who had his lighter confiscated in Saigon.
I told him I managed to get eight lighter’s through the x-ray machine on a little tray, and just picked them up. “They frisked the women ,any sound of metal being detected they wanted to search us.,” he complained.

When I complained about the Air Asia hostess, his eyes glazed over. “Don’t criticize the Malaysians.” He felt hard done by at the Saigon Airport.

I meet a daughter and mother on the flight to Perth who flew on the same “red” seat flight. A brief and fleeting and interesting meeting.

I’m looking for another vacant seat. Can’t see any red seats, but run into the daughter. “Sweety,” she says to me. “You can sit there.” She points a vacant seat. But he warns me about the guy behind me. ” He’s all nasally. The kind of guy who says everything he is doing. “Listen love, I’ll put the bottle there.”

I said I could compete with him with coughs and nasal noises. “Good luck sweety,” she says, “but just be careful.” The Taiwanese sitting next me has flight sickness.I suggested she move in front of him. She has left me. I’ve been to the toilet twice now. And I know she is getting sick of me moving across her.

Mum pipes up. “Your eyes look blood-shot sweety.” I said it’s been a long day. And she can see I’ve had a long night before the day.I stay in my seat, and ponder on customs who will confiscate my cigarettes.

Air Asia did get us to our destinations, but I’ll be looking at cheaper flights with Tiger.

“You can’t beat that 10 dollar flight from Singapore to Phnom Pehn.” says Anne.

“You can’t, and no red seats on Tiger!” I reply.

But nothing comes close to Indonesia’s Lion Air.

The plane nosed up, then nosed down.” I flew from Surabaya, the plane nosed up, then the Captain of Lion Air spoke for nearly half an hour about turbulence, “You let me take care of the bumpy spots, and enjoy the ride.”

That was a safe flight. The flight from Bali to Jakarta just didn’t happen.

This flight grounded for over 20 minutes. It went to take off and then the Captain said, “We have a problem with the plane. It won’t be long before we leave and God willing we are all safe.” I wasn’t prepared to risk it and I was really fucked up. Besides, my boys in Denpasar wanted to take me out to a karaoke joint in Sanur, Bali. I got out of the plane and called Mohammed, one of the owners of Moshi Moshi furniture.

I got my refund. Other’s wanted theirs. A Chinese Indonesian man was getting upset in the tiny office. He threatened to bash up the staff if he didn’t get his refund. Every one can fly, but not stylishly. At least Lion aren’t anal about their red seats, and have more routes, and cheaper prices than Air Asia who at times forgets it’s in the budget market.

Another flight to Jogjakarta with Lion Air, the cheapest airliner in Indonesia. My flight was for 1.45 in the afternoon, leaving Jakarta. I checked in on time. Then I was told there was a half hour delay. “Lion time” said one punter, who must be use to their delays. I heard another announcement of another half hour delay. I showed my phone to the staff to make sure this was correct. Then I went out, and had a cigarette and coffee. Twenty minutes later, I go up to the counter to see if there is another delay. The flight had just left I was told, in a very indirect way.

Then staff promptly took me out of the boarding area. This is not looking good. But no one dared explain what had happened. I had to assume I had missed my flight. I was taken into their management room. Waiting. Then three pissed off Indonesian ladies came in. They had missed their flight because Lion Air had changed the gate number without any announcements.

My name wasn’t called out over the speaker to say that the flight was leaving. We were pretty much told tough shit and pay 90 percent of the flight. I was given the same answer. I said that was unsatisfactory and argued, ” Your staff told me twice, two separate occasions, that there were 30 minute delays, that adds up to one hour delay!” Still he wouldn’t budge, and I was looking at paying 90 percent of another flight. Ok, time to bring out the big guns. “I’m a travel writer.” The threat made, response seemed imminent. Haha, such a lame call, I agree, but it’s getting the results needed.

Then the man rushes back to his office, and comes back with a better deal. ” We can give you 50 percent off.’ I saw the three ladies who missed their flight to Denpassar, and told them about my deal. “Make sure you don’t have to pay the departure tax again!”

I paid my 150 thousand Rupiah, half the price of a ticket. So that brought my ticket expenditure to almost 500 000 which is what Air Asia would have charged me but at least I made it to Jogjakarta, the land of Batik and architectural magic.

Air Asia says Everyone Can Fly, but Lion says , We Make People Fly, and never forgets it’s origins, a budget airline.


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