No matter where you travel in Southeast Asia, you have plenty of options when it comes time to pick an airline. (View our rankings here.) In fact, Asia has some of the world’s best (and worst!) small airlines, with many of them operating huge fleets with domestic and even international hops from country to country, city to city, and island to island.
Taking out Qatar Airlines (one of the best in the world but based out of Doha) and all of the airlines in the Middle East, India, Japan, and most in China, we’re left with this short list. There are only a handful of top airlines for those who want to fly in and between Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines.
Those top airlines include:
- Singapore Airlines (again, one of the best in the world, but you could buy a plot of land for the cost of a Singapore-USA first-class flight!)
- All Nippon Airways (ANA) out of Japan.
- Cathay Pacific (based out of Hong Kong, and good airline at a fair price for long hauls).
- EVA Air (out of Taiwan, and same goes as above).
- Thai Airways (pretty good food! But the seats are a little small).
- And Asiana (from Seoul, South Korea).
You also have plenty of discount airlines that operate all day, every day, and those are the ones that backpackers, tourists, and budget travelers usually frequent (including me).
One of the most popular of those discount airlines is Air Asia. However, what you save in price you’ll lack in quality, comfort, and convenience, but the juice is still worth the squeeze for short routes.
Actually listed as Air Asia Berhad (although I’ve never heard that last part), it’s Malaysia’s largest airline, both in fleet and passenger volume. Based out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it’s a low-cost alternative that travels to an impressive 165 destinations in 25 counties!
Incredibly, Air Asia has been named the world’s best low-cost airline nine years in a row through 2017.
One of the ways they so efficiently reach such a long list of destinations in so many countries is by breaking their airline into local affiliates based on country. For instance, you can fly Thai Air Asia or even Thai Air Asia X for long-hauls, Philippines Air Asia, Indonesia AirAsia & Indonesia AirAsia X, Air Asia China, Air Asia Vietnam, Air Asia India, and more.
Some of these help account for regional differences in business, travel, and even culture. For instance, since Air Asian is based out of Malaysia (a predominantly Islamic nation) and flies between many Islamic cities, they don’t serve any food with pork or any alcohol, in accordance with Shariah law.
Apparently, Shariah law has a policy against decent leg room on flights, too, because I’ve found Air Asia’s small island hops to have a comically-bad lack of leg room and small seats. That’s not a big deal on short distances, but be careful before booking for longer routes!
They also can be delayed or canceled a good deal and have high rates of misplacing baggage, so it’s a good idea to opt for trip insurance when booking.