Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Andrew Woodrow's view of Low Cost,High Quality and Simplicity in Malaysia.

The Low Cost Carrier Terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport is a bit of a surprise. Having been through the city's large, modern, and almost empty main terminals a number of times, I was expecting more of the same when queuing for the cheap seats.
The first hint you get that all is not quite as you would expect is when you follow signs for the cargo terminal, a couple of miles from the passenger ones. You go straight past that and roll up next to a vast, hanger-like shed. No steel and glass here, but masses of people swarming to the 72 check in desks lined up against the wall.
The check in queues are efficient, as is security, and within minutes you have been transported along with several hundred others through to the departure hall. And a hall it is,- another large shed, this time with windows out to the apron and a handful of shops. It’s healthily busy, in contrast to the main terminals on the other side of the airport. Plenty of standard airport chairs, 10 gates, and nothing fancy. Outside there is no sign of the main airport but over 20 Air Asia A320s.
The apron layout is, like the terminal, the work of a functionalist genius. Each of the 10 gates opens out to a long covered walkway running the length of the terminal and quite some distance in each direction beyond it. At right angles to this walkway are 6 further covered walkways, jutting out into the apron. Each of these walkways is the length of 3 A320 wingspans, so 6 of the aircraft, 3 on each side, park nose-in to each covered walkway at a time. The walkways are close together ,– just enough space to reverse an A320 out between the tails of the parked aircraft.  In total it’s possible to have 36 aircraft in a very small space . If Heathrow arranged its stands like this then BA could park all of its fleet at T5.
On leaving the gate you are told your ‘Bay Number’ and off you go to find your plane. The last bit between the walkway and the bottom of the steps is uncovered. There are no travellators anywhere, and one of the cabin crew stands at the entrance from the walkway to the bay to check you are getting on the right plane. No sign of any other ground staff, though a dispatcher appears just before the doors are closed with a manifest. He’s probably seen off half a dozen planes in the last half hour. In total there are two gate staff on each gate plus the crew member just before you get on the plane. On board, including the one sent to the bottom of the stairs to assist, there are 4 stewardesses who, given that the plane I am on is transporting a rugby team, are probably wishing they weren’t quite so young and pretty and wearing short skirts and tight tops.
It’s lean and mean and built on the assumption that passengers can generally look after themselves -  passengers do after all have a certain amount of self-interest in getting to the plane, - and don’t mind walking. Even so, both on the ground and in the air there are plenty of Air Asia staff around. The difference when compared to the European and US travel experience is that they seem to spend their working hours actually working, – which in this case means getting people to the right place, making sure they are fed and watered, and doing it with a smile.
The only criticism would be the incessant announcements that echo around the shed . I’m pretty sure they are as incomprehensible in Bahasa Malaysia as they are in English.


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