Tiger Airways: not so vicious after all

Gasps of horror followed whenever I mentioned the airline getting me to my weekend Gold Coast getaway.

Tiger Airways (Cue ominous music).

After booking unbelievably cheap flights - two return tickets from Sydney for $180 - and vowing to spread the word about the cheap holidays to be had, I soon learned of the Tiger taboo.

Apparently, the airline's reputation is pretty bad, which may have something to do with a Channel 7 television program, Airways, dedicated to showing its mishaps.

Thankfully, I'd never watched the show but concerned family and friends were keen to fill me in on the horror stories: lengthy delays, hidden baggage charges and evil check-in staff that charged late fees to those who missed the cut-off by seconds.

With the tickets already booked, I exercised caution, weighing my carry-on bag to ensure it was below 7kg and arriving at the airport two hours early, as the Tiger ticket clearly instructed passengers to do.

After a smooth check-in with friendly staff, hardly the minions of Satan I was expecting, I wondered what all the fuss was about.

But once on board what really earned my affection was the way staff reacted after I'd thrown up and briefly passed out during the flight, bringing me tissues and iced water.

The return flight was much the same, except thankfully, without the travel sickness.

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We stretched our legs after being upgraded to spacious emergency exit row seats, arrived at Sydney Airport half an hour ahead of schedule and check-in staff even overlooked our bloated, overweight baggage on the way home.

Upon returning, I got online to watch old episodes of Airways and was immediately confronted by a woman named Sylvia, angry after a seven hour delay, and warning viewers: "Don't fly Tiger airlines".

A later episode featured a devastated mother-of-five stranded after her second Tiger flight that week had been cancelled.

Less heart-wrenching were stories of customers fuming over being charged a fee for arriving late at check-in and a woman irritated by the charges she incurred for having a bag that was 12kg overweight.

It's hard to believe the airline would consent to such bad publicity, considering the program airs during prime time at 8pm on Sunday night and is popular among viewers.

According to Tiger Airways' Consumer Communications Manager Vanessa Regan, the program allows the airline to get exposure, both good and bad.

Regan says the program makes up for the five-year-old airline's low advertising budget, kept low in order to keep the cost of airfares as minimal as possible.

It's a case of any publicity is good publicity, or, as Regan puts it "at least everyone's talking about us".

"When Channel 7 approached us, the value of the placement of that program is worth something like $40 or 50 million if you were to buy that," says Regan.

"But obviously it's not all positive. For us to be involved, you have to take the ups and the downs and they have to show a hugely disproportionate amount of drama for the show to be popular.

"If you're not paying for it, you kind of have to just let the production team choose and they try and get a balance of good and not so good.

"I always liken it to that surf rescue show Bondi Rescue, there's always shark attacks and things dying and drowning and going missing on the beach and that basically never happens either when you go to the beach," says Regan, adding that crews filmed intensively for months at airports around Australia to capture the drama on Airways.

Although the airline cops some heat when customers vow to never fly Tiger again on national television, the program does allow them to explain their policies to prospective travellers.

As it turns out, the airline is strict with its policy of shutting check-in 45 minutes before boarding because the staff that check passengers in are the same staff that board passengers onto the flight.

Re-opening check-in for the late-comers would delay boarding and delay departure, unfairly punishing all passengers.

Regan says the Singaporean-based airline is working through its teething problems, having only operated in Australia since November 2007.

One hurdle, for example, is dealing with customers that don't understand how airlines work, that delays and cancellations can be experienced on other airlines.

"When you're offering $28 fares consistently, you're opening yourself up to a whole new market. Some of these people have never flown before," says Regan.

"We always try to work with the program to explain the policies and procedures at the end so that people understand that, 'oh, ok, that person actually was wrong because they turned up late'.

"Everyone wants the low fares but if they understood the rationale of why these policies were in place, they probably wouldn't be so upset, they'd just make sure they followed them," she says.

While luring us in with dirt cheap prices, the goal now for the Aldi of the airline industry is to get customers to their destinations on time and hassle free, in order to keep them coming back for more.

At the same time, would-be passengers need to read the instructions provided when they book their flights and adhere to the rules.

How to make the most of a Tiger flight

Things you should know before flying Tiger Airways:

As your ticket clearly states, check-in opens two hours prior to departure. It closes strictly 45 minutes before departure so do yourself a favour and get there on time. If you are late to check-in, you are not allowed to board the flight. If you wish to transfer your ticket to another flight - if seats are available - you will be charged a fee of $70.

If your bag exceeds the weight limit that you paid for when booking your ticket, you will be charged, a lot. Your ticket allows you to bring a 7kg carry-on bag and a laptop, but you can pay for check-in baggage while booking your flight. Weigh your bag to ensure it complies with what you're entitled to bring on board.

There are some snacks and drinks available for purchase on the flight and they are reasonably priced. There's Pringles, mixed nuts or hot noodle cups as well as soft drinks and alcoholic drinks including beer and wine.

Within Australia, Tiger flies to Adelaide, Alice Springs, Brisbane, Canberra, Gold Coast, Hobart, Launceston, Mackay, Melbourne, Perth, Rockhampton, Sunshine Coast and Sydney. Internationally, Tiger flies to Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, China, The Philippines, India and Vietnam.

Depending on which airport you fly into, check what the taxi or bus fare into town might be. It could cost more than the flight.

If your flight is delayed or cancelled or your son incurs an expensive parking ticket while waiting for you to arrive (it happened in an episode of Airways), the airline will not compensate you. It won't pay your parking fee and it won't put you up in a hotel.

The writer was NOT a guest of Tiger Airways.

AAP

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