AirAsia Hot Seats Flight Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur

Our AirAsia flight experience involved a lot of queuing and some hot seats!

Part 1: How Thai Visa Waivers got us to Kuala Lumpur – Click Here
Part 2: AirAsia experience Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur.  This Post.
Part 3: Visiting Batu Caves and Petronas Towers – Click Here
Part 4: Back to Chiang Mai. Click Here

Our AirAsia flight from Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur cost $90US pp. It was our first AirAsia experience so I’ll try to describe it in detail.

AirAsia is a low-cost carrier based out of KL. All of their planes with the exception of their long-haul (AirAsia X) fleet are single-cabin Airbus A320s. But the cabins do have what they call ‘hot seats.’

Hot Seats

Hot Seats in bulkhead row 1 and exit rows 12 and 14 (there is no 13) have extra leg-room. The Hot Seats in rows 2-5 get you early boarding and, of course, early deplaning. But the seat pitch looked the same as the rest of economy to me.

Book hot seats in advance or at check-in. Flight attendants strictly enforce the sanctity of the hot seat. Trying to poach an empty hot seat either while boarding or during the flight results in near-immediate ejection from them.

We had read a bit about the cramped experience in regular economy seats so treated ourselves by pre-ordering exit row 14 seats for $12US pp.

AirAsia App

I also downloaded the AirAsia app. It looks sharp:

AirAsia app

But was basically useless:

But useless. Never could see my booking nor boarding pass

The night before our trip I tried to print boarding passes so we could hopefully avoid some queues, but the passes printed without barcodes rendering them useless as the app.

Luggage Allowance on AirAsia

We traveled very light for the short visit: just our small backpacks – meaning we’d have no worries about strict bag weight limits. And when I say strict, I mean STRICT.

You can pay for checked baggage in different increments and price ranges, but for carry-on you get 1 piece of hand baggage that cannot exceed 56 cms x 36 cms x 23 cms ( 21.5 x 13.5 x 9 inches) which is slightly smaller than what’s allowed on most European carriers – plus a purse or backpack.

However, the COMBINED weight of these two items must not exceed 7 kgs (~15 lbs). Even though we packed very light for our digital nomad adventure, just my bigger carry-on wheeled backpack would still have been over this carry-on limit by 1 kg. I don’t know how much my smaller backpack weighs, but that would have been over the combined limit too.

And lest you think you can sneak by being 1 kg over, we saw people having their carry-ons weighed at the check-in window, at the security checkpoint and also at the gate.

Airport and Boarding

When it was time to go we waived down a red truck to take us to Chiang Mai Airport. The driver took a circuitous route. But it was flat rate of 50 Baht ($1.60US) pp so we assumed he was accounting for traffic.

Red Truck to Chiang Mai airport

Boarding Pass – Stamped Paper or Bust!

At the airport we found the AirAsia windows. There were only 3 – and the queues were MASSIVE. I queued up while Lisa went to look for an automated check-in kiosk. Teamwork, baby!

The AirAsia windows are so far away that you can’t see them in this photo

10 minutes later Lisa returned triumphant with printed boarding passes in hand!

We smugly left the queue and went upstairs and stood in line for security for about 10 minutes. Security at the front of the queue checked our passes and found them to be lacking a document check stamp that could only be obtained at the AirAsia windows.

Alas, a rookie mistake that cost us 20 minutes of extra queuing!

AirAsia kiosk
The lone AirAsia kiosk on the Domestic side of Chiang Mai airport terminal. It says Out of Service when I took this photo but it worked for Lisa.

Pro tip: At Chiang Mai airport there is an automated AirAsia check-in kiosk in the seating area of the DOMESTIC side of the check-in area.

However… for international flights a boarding pass doc-check stamp that can only be obtained at an AirAsia international check-in windows is required.

Same requirement applies if you print your boarding pass before arriving at the airport.

Having a printed boarding pass MAY allow you to use the Premium Flex queue to get your doc-check stamp if you are not checking luggage.

We went back downstairs, stood in the queue patiently, got our boarding passes stamped and were through security about 35 minutes later.

Finally at the front of the queue!

Avoiding a Blizzard and Boarding

DQ Dogs for the win…and the heartburn!

Anticipating such setbacks we had budgeted plenty of time at the airport. But after all the queuing we were starving. We settled on Dairy Queen hot dogs (no bun…and no Blizzard, natch!) with cheese for me, with chili and cheese for Lisa. They were, um…food? We didn’t see much else in the way of food at the international gates.

We boarded first since we had hot seats.

We got to our seats on the very full flight and dutifully put our small backpacks under the seat in front of us.

10 minutes later the flight attendant told us they were not allowed there – since we were in an exit row nothing could be at our feet (not even a small purse)…but by then the overheads were full.

Rookie mistake #2!

After some discussion the FA found some overhead space over row 9 or so and we were off.

Pro Tip: Since you can’t keep your carry-on under the seat in front of you in the exit row, the bulkhead row 1 is the best hot seat row. It has get leg room. You get on and off the plane first and there is no disadvantage of lack of underseat storage since underseat storage not allowed in the exit row either.

Food Service

As with flights everywhere in the world other than domestic US flights (or international flights on US carriers) the seat belt light went off almost immediately. Yes, huge pet peeve of mine with stupid US carriers.

Service works like this: passengers who pre-order (and pay ~$3US) get their meal and a cup of water delivered on the first service pass. Although the flight attendants have a list of pre-orders by seat number, you nevertheless must present your boarding pass to confirm you bought the meal – and you get a stamp on your boarding pass when the meal is delivered.

Between the doc-check stamp and the meal stamp, I am thinking this is why their mobile app is not really a thing: they loooove stamping that paper boarding pass!

During a second pass by the flight attendants they sell any meals left over on a first-come first-served basis, along with drinks and other snacks.

We had pre-ordered the meal. It was fine. 90% of the meal was rice which is a low carb/keto no-no but at least we could eat the small pieces of chicken.

Otherwise the flight was uneventful and we landed in KL right on time. 

Arrival – And Lisa’s Queuing Superpower

But we weren’t quite finished queuing yet!

The lines for immigration into Malaysia reached the back of the immigration area. The KL terminal 2 immigration takes a ‘worst-practice’ approach to queuing: each officer station has its own line rather than a single queue for all officer stations.

Another long queue – this time for Malaysian immigration

This is where Lisa’s consulting super-powers kick in every single time.

After pointing out how inefficient such a queuing system is from a lean process perspective, Lisa carefully studies the number of people in each queue, whether each person in each line is likely to have a quick processing (‘all it takes is one problem child to screw a line,’ she always says) and how efficiently/quickly each lines’ immigration officer is working (are they chatty? overly-thorough? or just going through the motions and stamping away?).

As a result of her dynamic real-time analysis, we switched lines 3 times.

And, as usual, we got through immigration far more quickly that if we had stuck with our original line. 

See, this is why Lisa is my travel hero!

Bottom Line

All in all, with the understanding that you are on a low-cost carrier and so there WILL be queuing, the AirAsia flight experience is a good one…especially with a hot seat, pre-ordered meal and lightly packed small bag.

By 9:15pm we were in KL at our AirBnB and heading out for a late dinner….

View from our AirBnB upon arrival

…but that’s a story for the next blog post!

Part 1: How Thai Visa Waivers Got us to Kuala Lumpur – Click Here
Part 2: AirAsia experience Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur.  This Post.
Part 3: Visiting Batu Caves and Petronas Towers – Click Here
Part 4: Back to Chiang Mai. Click Here

AirAsia exit row
AirAsia Hot Seat
Hot Seats


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