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Asian carriers have generally offered lower fares (and better service) than their European or American rivals. Now they are starting to catch the wave of discount airlines, pioneered in the US and Europe. In South-East Asia, an ASEAN-wide open skies agreement is in the works, but in the rest of the continent flights are still severely restricted by bilateral agreements.
Asian carriers are generally much cheaper than their American or European rivals, and there are some great bargains to be had. The low-cost airline industry in Asia is sure to boom in the coming years.
Hong Kong Express
India's airline market is rapidly liberalizing. Four domestic low-cost carriers have started operations and many more are on the horizon. In addition, Singaporean carrier Jetstar Asia has started international low-cost flights from Singapore to Calcutta and recently announced flights to Bangalore.
Air India Express
Air India Express (http://www.airindiaexpress.in) is the low-cost spinoff of state carrier Air India. The carrier currently operates flights to Middle Eastern destinations Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat and Salalah.
Kingfisher Airlines (http://www.flykingfisher.com/), run by beer and liquor tycoon Vijay Mallya, promised models as flight attendants and in-flight entertainment in every seat. The airline currently flies from Bangalore to Delhi and Mumbai.
Spice Jet (http://www.spicejet.com) started operations in May 2005. The airline promises Everyday Spicy Fares for as low as INR 99.
Japan's low-cost carriers have had a rocky ride.
Skynet Asia Airways
South Korea's staid aviation scene was shaken up in 2005 when the first low-cost carrier started operation. (Needless to say, North Korea's aviation scene remains virtually non-existent.)
Jeju Air plans to start flights from the island of Jeju to various parts of Korea in 2006.
Air Arabia (http://www.airarabia.com/), the largest LCC in the Middle East, are based in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. A coach service connects Sharjah with Dubai for US$2.50. They fly to a variety of destinations in the Middle East, East Africa and the Indian Subcontinent. They operate a modern fleet. Their fares are often very good value, starting at 119 UAE dirhams (US$32) on some routes. They offer a connecting flight service.
They have just announced that they will be starting daily flights to Mumbai, India from the middle of March 2005.
South-East Asia has the most developed low cost carrier networks in Asia, with many operators and fierce competition. Note that at time of writing, Laos is not reachable by LCC.
Malaysian airline Air Asia (http://www.airasia.com/) has the distinction of having been acquired for 1 ringgit (US $0.25), but they have now grown to the largest (and most profitable) operator in the region. Originally founded by government-owned conglomerate DRB-Hicom, the heavily indebted airline was purchased by former Time Warner executive Tony Fernandes's company Tune Air Sdn Bhd for the symbolic sum of one ringgit on December 2nd, 2001. They operate on the now-classic model — open seating, Internet/phone booking and no complimentary refreshments.
They have bases in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru (near Singapore), Bangkok and Jakarta, operating flights throughout Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, as well as Macau and Xiamen in China, Phnom Penh in Cambodia, Hanoi in Vietnam, Manila in the Philippines and Singapore. They are currently eyeing Laos, India, and Sri Lanka for possible expansion.
Cebu Pacific Air
Cebu Pacific (http://www.cebupacificair.com/) flies primarily within the Philippines. Just recently started several international flights from Manila or Cebu to Hong Kong, Osaka, and Seoul. Further expansion is being planned that includes other South Asian or South East Asian Destinations, such as India, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.
Jetstar Asia (http://www.jetstarasia.com/) is a Qantas-backed LCC currently flying from Singapore to Bangkok, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Manila, Phnom Penh, Phuket, Siem Reap, Taipei and Yangon. Just recently, they've added flights to Bangalore, their ambitious expansion plans include Hanoi and Mumbai. It recently took control of rival ValuAir (http://www.ValuAir.com.sg/)
Indonesian Citilink (http://www.ga-citilink.com/) operate a domestic route network in Indonesia. Fares start from 125,000 Indonesian Rupiah ($15). Warning: this subsidiary of Garuda Airline does not currently accept cr card purchases online or at its call center, requiring payment via a limited number of ATMs in Indonesia or directly at their office in Jakarta.
Thai Airlines' low-cost carrier spinoff Nok Air (http://www.nokair.co.th/) flies domestic flights in Thailand and is planned to expand overseas as well.
Orient Thai (http://www.orient-thai.com/), who also use the brand One-Two-GO, flies domestic flights in Thailand as well as international flights to Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Seoul from both Bangkok and Phuket.
Note: Even by low-cost carrier standards, Orient Thai's on-time record is notoriously poor and their planes, particularly the 747s, are old.
Phuket Airlines (http://www.phuketairlines.com/)' ambitious plans to offer international service to London and Amsterdam have hit some turbulence after safety problems grounded much of their aging fleet. As of August 2005, the company operates only a limited domestic network from Bangkok serving destinations outside the THAI network as well as flights to Yangon (Rangoon).
South East Asian Airlines
Tiger Airways (http://www.tigerairways.com/) is a low-cost airline set up in Singapore jointly by Singapore Airlines and the people who started Ryanair. Services currently operate from Singapore to China (Macau), Indonesia (Padang), Philippines (Manila), Thailand (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Krabi, Phuket), Vietnam (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh), and they are starting flights to Australia, (Darwin) and adding a new destination in Vietnam (Danang). Fares start , for example at S$ 63 (roughly US$ 39) one way for Singapore - Bangkok.
ValuAir (http://www.valuair.com.sg) is the first Singaporean low-cost airline, started in Singapore by ex-Singapore Airline workers. Unlike the competition, they offer a few frills like simple in-flight meals. They offer flights between their home base in Singapore and Jakarta and Surabaya only. (Previous services to Bangkok, Hong Kong have been shifted to JetStarAsia (http://www.jetstarasia.com), but for Denpasar (Bali), Perth, Xiamen, and Chengdu flights have been stopped.)