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30 September 2008

AirAsia & Scuba Divers: A Love-Hate Relationship

By Hisyam

As a scuba diver based in Kuala Lumpur, who loves to explore remote dive locations in the region, AirAsia has been crucial in the choices of dive destinations available to me.

I remember being one of the few lucky ones that manage to fly with AirAsia to Balikpapan from Kuala Lumpur in early 2006 to go to Sangalaki – a dream dive destination for most divers since it is synonymous with Manta Ray (Manta birostris). And yes we saw lots of Mantas, especially whilst snorkeling, with the Mantas swooping below us. You could even see them from the boat, as their wing tips and small dorsal fin (at the base of the tail) breaks the surface, when they filter-feed just below the surface. Now with AirAsia flying again to BalikPapan (from Jakarta this time) I expect plenty of divers to take advantage of this opportunity. To get to Sangalaki, you have to fly to Berau from Balikpapan, you can get more info from Sangalaki Dive Lodge.

Pulau Weh, north of Banda Aceh is another dive destination made feasible by AirAsia. Prior to AirAsia flying to Banda Aceh, divers must fly to Medan and make their way north by flight or bus just to experience diving in Pulau Weh. Pulau Weh, being a dive location in the Indian Ocean is definitely worth a visit, especially to see the difference in marine species as compared to Malaysian waters. Pulau Weh is also famous for its meadows of sea fans (check out Batee Tokong), I have never seen so many sea fans, growing close to each other, continuously from depth of 25m to well below 50m (I didn’t go beyond to see where they end). The flight to Banda Aceh only takes 90 minutes, which is shorter than going to Tawau for Sipadan.

Manado is the latest dive destination served by AirAsia. The world famous macro heaven, Lembeh Straits, near Manado is now available, direct from Kuala Lumpur – so now divers have no more excuses not to go and see the weird & wonderful creatures there. Highlights would be the psychedelic-coloured Rhinopias or weedy scorpionfish, the hirsute Hairy Frogfish and the alien-looking Bobbit Worm.

I’ve also made other trips with the help of AirAsia such as Komodo & Alor (via Bali) and Raja Ampat (via Jakarta). So you see, I’ve had a very long relationship with AirAsia, from the days of the used 737s to the brand new A320s (I miss those extra legroom seats near the wing on the 737).

However, somehow I feel this love is not reciprocated by AirAsia. The controversial Sports Equipment fee (RM40, used to be RM30) for our essential dive gears has caused much anger and heated arguments at check-in counter between divers and the counter staff (that are just doing their job). So in the interest of keeping our relationship going, I would like to appeal to Tony and the team at AirAsia to review the fee or give additional baggage allowance if we check in our dive gear. Because with AirAsia, everyone can dive! (at remote, dream dive destinations).

  • Soon Yean

    Hi Hisyam, being a diver myself I share the same view as you. And being an AirAsia staff i personally approached the relevent parties to seek further clarifications. Reason for a sports equipment charge is for proper handling as usually these items are oversized and require careful handling compared to the usual square baggages.

    I noted that the advantage of a sports equipment fee is your sports equipment check-in allowance is 15kg and does not contribute to your 15kg normal baggage check-in allowance.

    If you distribute your equipments and clothings evenly among your travel party you can go up to 30kg allowance (15kg for normal baggage and 15kg for sports equipments). In a normal circumstance if you check in 30kg normal baggage you’ll be subjected to baggage handling fee (RM5 per bag-if you prebook) and excess bagggage RM15 x 15kg = RM225.

    All the baggage does contributes to the total carriage weight of the flight and directly impacts fuel burn so the charge in a way is justifiable and for some is better if they arrange their baggage correctly. :)

  • Fiona

    Hi Soon Yean,

    The “solution” to distribute the equipment and clothing doesn’t make sense when traveling as a single person.

    I found it very frustrating getting clarification on this. Since you’ve done some legwork, does it mean that each travelling diver is allowed 15Kg of clothing allowance and 15Kg of sport baggage? Why not combined to a total 30Kg allowance?

    How do you suggest a single traveller pack?

    Additionally, I was NOT allowed to carry my regulator or any of my dive equipment on board the plane even though I was well within my 7Kg limit. What’s up with that?? Regulators cost tons of money to purchase and are a diver’s lifeline under water; they are normally hand carried on board if divers are checking in soft dive bags, and assuming they do not exceed the weight allowance. Being denied this is unreasonable.

    Suggest they issue a special bulletin to divers to explain the luggage policies clearly. What exists today is rife for mis-interpretation and long arguments and I’m more than ready to bail.

  • Hisyam

    I understand the rationale for AirAsia to charge for “special” handling of our dive gears. But what I’m asking for is AirAsia to treat divers as “normal” by NOT charging us additional fees for our dive gears.

    The Sports Equipment fee definitely penalizes divers with total baggage weight of less than 15kg. And what angers most divers is that we are being discriminated against, especially when we are also going on holiday, just like most of AirAsia customers (who may be checking in oversized & unusual shaped baggage). By the way the maximum luggage size allowed by AirAsia is 81cm height, 119cm wide and 119cm depth – most dive bags complies with this limit, so the oversized argument is invalid!

    Perhaps it is best for AirAsia to clarify to their counter staff what exactly is the policy concerning divers. After all, whilst we divers support AirAsia, I hate to think that we have to fly with other airlines just because of the “special” treatment that AirAsia gives to our dive gears.