DIY Eurobusiness on LCC Tigerair beats regular biz on short flight

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In Australia, as elsewhere, securing extra comfort in the air can be tricky. For a recent one-hour trip I needed to take from Hobart to Melbourne, low-cost carrier Tigerair came in several hundred dollars cheaper than the competition, even with the usual ancillaries — a seat reservation up front, priority boarding, a hold bag, and a heavier cabin bag — thrown in. I also didn’t need to be at my destination within a few hours of the scheduled time: Tigerair is improving its historically poor ontime record, but it’s still something to factor into a flight decision.

But 29” pitch is tight, even on an Airbus A320 with its wider frame, and it doesn’t help that Tigerair hasn’t stumped up for space-saving slimlines. And with Tigerair in the middle of a transition from A320s to 737s, it was pot luck on whether I’d be cramped sideways as well as lengthways, even for a shorter flight.

(As it turned out, I was right to be concerned.)

Reviewing my options for a bit more comfort, I found that all the exit row seats were filled, and since I prefer to avoid the front row (I don’t care for the narrower seat resulting from in-arm tray tables) I looked into booking a spare seat next to me. In essence, I was creating the same business class experience as almost every European airline offers, but for a fraction of the price: all in, for both seats and pretty much every ancillary Tiger offers, $133.12, plus $10 for a mini-bottle of sparkling wine.

Booking was relatively simple: had I decided on the extra seat at the time of booking I could just have booked a ticket for passenger SEAT/EXTRA, but it was easy to ring the call centre and order the extra seat, which came with its own PNR. Somewhat frustratingly, the extra seat also had to select the same ancillary package, so my invisible friend got an invisible piece of cabin baggage and to invisibly board in the priority queue. A passenger purchasing the extra seat isn’t, however, allowed to actually use the cabin baggage allowance, which sticks in the craw somewhat.

Rotation
At the airport, the flight was slightly delayed, but I have no major complaints apart from a lack of updates during the extra wait. The extra seat didn’t faze anyone at checkin or boarding, although the flight didn’t board until five minutes before the departure time. Then it was outside, up the airstairs (which is normal for Hobart, since there are no jetways) and onto the plane. Onboard, cheery and enthusiastic crew welcomed me on board and assisted other passengers with their cabin baggage. Having preboarded, overhead space wasn’t an issue for me, although it filled up quickly as others boarded.

Tigerair’s seats are very tight — 29” is so cramped that I, at 6’2”, couldn’t sit with my legs pointed forwards, so had to sit side-saddle like the dainty Downton Abbey dowager that I truly am, even on one of the airline’s newest aircraft.

Frankly, as elsewhere, I’d’ve paid good money for an ultra-slimline like Acro’s Series 3 or Recaro’s BL-series. Overall, I was very grateful to have the extra seat next to me, and reassured by my decision to ensure my comfort — especially when our plane took an extra 15 minutes to taxi and take off because it was rush-minute at Hobart, turning the 60-minute flight into a 90-minute trip, including the wait and trundle at both ends.

In the air, the service was friendly and polished, with the crew happy to sell me a celebratory (if overpriced — $10 is the usual price for a full-sized 750ml of this one) bottle of Aussie sparkling wine, which went down fine super-chilled over ice.

The plane could have used a good clean, but my LCC philosophy is that I’m getting on a bus with wings, and I modify my expectations of the airline allotting time for cleaning during turns accordingly.

At Melbourne, it was down the stairs and into the shared-use low-cost carrier “shed”, terminal 4, which was perfectly pleasant (not least since we parked up at one of the closer gates). Baggage popped out almost instantly, and my bag was one of the first off the mark.

All in all, compared with economy on Qantas or Virgin Australia at more than double the price when I booked, let alone their business class fares, I was pleased with my DIY Eurobusiness product, and I’d do it again. Indeed, I’ve already booked another two flights with them. It seems to me, though, that it might make sense for Tigerair — and other airlines — to make the process easier, with the extra seat an option as an ancillary. If you can fill your aircraft with fewer people for the same price, why wouldn’t you?

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