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(Australian Associated Press)
Australian travellers are being challenged to rethink their attitudes towards low-cost airlines.
Cheap doesn’t need to mean nasty, argues AirAsia X chief executive Nadda Buranasiri.
The carrier has just picked up its 11th consecutive gong as the world’s best low cost airline.
Driving through Paris after pocketing the consumer award at an international air show, Mr Buranasiri was mindful of changing Australian perceptions of low-cost providers.
“The cheap has to still be there,” he told AAP in the French capital on Tuesday.
“But when you say cheap, it comes with the expectation that it’s not going to be that great.
“We want to call ourselves value for money, and that’s the important thing that we are trying to do, especially in Australia.”
Australians are beginning to warm to AirAsia’s base rates, with 60 flights in and out of the country each week.
But its additional costs – for luggage, preferred seating, meals and entertainment – are a pet peeve among many holiday-makers.
Mr Buranasiri is leaving the door open to reshaping this add-on model in time.
“When you start having a mindset that what we are already doing is working then it stops your ability to improve,” he told AAP.
“If one day the business model needs to be revised or re-looked at, then we will not say to ourselves that it is not possible.”
Industry insiders also point to nagging problems with AirAsia’s levels of service when connections go awry and cancellations occur.
In response, the airline has rebadged its customer care department to be “customer happiness”.
It is also investing heavily in artificial intelligence in an attempt to gain more control over the problems.
A virtual agent called Ava will soon be tasked with handling general inquiries, checking flights and processing refunds.
“We still have the chat room and call centre but she is learning every day,” Mr Buranasiri said.
“Maybe we are getting there sooner than we think, in terms of making it a better experience.”
AirAsia is dipping its toe deeper into the Australian market with direct flights between Brisbane and Bangkok starting next week.
The route will soon be serviced by a new fleet of quiet, fuel-efficient long-haul planes.
AirAsia wants to expand its network into two or three more Australian cities with the long-range jets, but is treading carefully.
The carrier is also contemplating targeting regional airports with smaller planes in four years’ time.
Mr Buranasiri said the airline was still learning how to contend with pesky Queensland moths playing havoc with plane engines, and figuring out how to target its advertising to local consumers.
“We love expansion but we don’t want to expand too fast,” he told AAP.
“In every market, we need a learning curve. We’re in no rush to expand. We need to understand the market first.”
* Reporter travelled to International Paris Air Show courtesy of AirAsia.