No, it wasn’t my first time to London, but it was the first time flying into the UK capitol on AirAsia X, and as an added bonus, it was the inaugural flight too!
Yes…I was one of the lucky people on board ‘Excalibur’, the Airbus A340 bound to Stansted just a few weeks back on March 11. VIPs included the deservedly proud CEO of AirAsia X Azran Osman-Rani, Asean secretary-general Dr Surin Pitsuwan, British High Commissioner to Malaysia, local and regional media including representatives from Australia, Thailand and China and a few other invited guests.
After speeches were made in front of a large mock up of Big Ben and the houses of Parliaments, local musicians, and London guards then paraded the VIPs to the holding room before we were all guided to the plane with more music and cheering from our other excited staff (with maybe just a touch of jealousy!).
The flight took off on time and it ran as smooth as silk (well if not the Flight Attendants certainly didn’t let it be know there were any hic ups!). Now…I have been on a number of long haul flights and usually the passengers settle themselves down, plug in their head phones, watch film after film, or read their books or sleep….but the true culture of AirAsia shone through on the flight, and there was almost a party atmosphere on board. I guess everyone was just as excited to be on the inaugural flight, which sparked up conversation between themselves after meeting earlier over the coffee, tea, sandwiches and scones we served to them at the departure hall before boarding. And another difference was the lack of built in TV screens (although you could purchase hand held entertainment systems for a minimal fee of rm30/6GBP). Some people thought this would be a problem on the 13 hour flight but in fact I think it added something different to the flight – and more people were talking to each other.
It was actually the first time I had flown to London direct. I usually go through Dubai or Abu Dabi with other airlines which tend to be cheaper than the direct flights and I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the flight went. In between chatting to my ‘plane buddies’ I also managed to watch the recent Oscar nominated film Australia, and some classic TV series such as House, America’s Next Top Model the UK hit, and the revolutionary UK sitcom The Office.
The time flew by and suddenly the captain announced that we were soon to be arriving into Stansted. After landing a good 20 minutes early the plane taxied through two fire trucks spraying water over the plane before we were all greeted by AirAsia flight attendants waving British and Malaysian flags, and wearing their smart red coats to bear against the chill of the English weather. Amongst the big welcome committee also stood Group Chief Executive of AirAsia Tony Fernandes and none other than Prince Andrew himself!
The media and VIPs were speedily escorted to the Radisson Hotel beside the arrivals hall where press conferences were held and celebrations were made for the historical, ground breaking event that had just taken place; that Long Haul could be low cost AND high quality, and that AirAsia had become the gateway to Europe for not only Asia, but also Australia.
The celebrations continued that evening at Altitude 360 situated on the banks south of London’s Thames River with approximately 300 invited guests; even the Prince popped along to join in the party!
Thanks were given to the staff at Stansted airport for all their support, and a commemoration made to Laker Airways. Not only is Sir Freddie Laker Snr’s name painted on one of our planes, but his son, Freddie Laker Jnr was awarded free flights for life on AirAsia in recognition for his father’s profound affect on the Airline industry. Stars were also there to join in the festivities; UK pop group The Saturdays performed a number of their hit songs, as did Malaysia sensation Jo Flizo and the jazz artist Sheila Majid.
All in all it was a day and night of rejoicing – and everyone was revelling in the victory that AirAsia had done it; they had dreamt the impossible, believed the unbelievable and made it to London. And I for one consider myself extremely lucky to have been a part of it.
Now I can go back to the UK more often, and what I’m even more excited about is that my family and friends can come over and visit me in Malaysia and take the fantastic opportunity to travel and explore all of what Asia has to offer through the ever growing AirAsia network.