AirAsia is one of Asia’s biggest low cost carriers, which has really put a lot of pressure on airlines like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. AirAsia has several divisions, though AirAsia X is their longhaul operation based out of Malaysia.
As of now they have a fleet of 22 A330s, though they have another 76 A330s and A350s on order. Their A330s are in an extremely dense configuration, with 377 seats, and nine seats per row in economy (rather than the standard eight). They do have 12 “premium” seats though, which are angled flat.
As of now AirAsia flies within Asia, to the Middle East, Australia, etc. However, for a while they’ve been looking to expand beyond that, and in particular, to the U.S. It looks like that might finally happen.
AirAsia X has received clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration to begin flying to the U.S. Per AirAsia’s press release:
The airline is the first Asian low-cost carrier to secure approval to operate scheduled passenger flights to the US.
The approval allows AirAsia’s long-haul, low-cost sister airline to operate services to any destination within the US.
AirAsia X is currently considering flights to several US states including Hawaii as part of its route expansion plans.
AirAsia X Group CEO Datuk Kamarudin Meranun said, “This is a major milestone for AirAsia X. Our expansion up until now has concentrated on Asia, Australasia and the Middle East, and we are excited about our first foray into an entirely new market as we look beyond Asia Pacific.”
As you can see, they’re considering Hawaii as their first U.S. destination, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially as it’s closer to Asia than the mainland.
The fact that this is Asia’s first low cost carrier to get clearance to fly to the U.S. is pretty significant. U.S. carriers already face competition from low cost carriers on domestic flight and on flights to Europe (including from Norwegian and WOW Air), so now that tough competition will expand across the Pacific.
However, in practice I’m not sure what effect this will really have. Transpacific flights are already as cheap as they’ve ever been, and you can regularly find ~$600 fares between the U.S. and Asia. I’m not sure how much lower a low cost carrier can go, even when we’re talking about an airline with cabins as dense as AirAsia’s. Without higher yield business travelers, I imagine it won’t be easy to turn a profit on a U.S. mainland to Asia flight.
While I’m sure AirAsia will fly to Hawaii soon enough, it’ll be interesting to see if they expand to the mainland, given the challenges of turning a profit on such a long flight for a low cost carrier.