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Updated Review on Firefly Airlines

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Since I was a little boy, flying has been something that I extremely enjoyed. The feeling of being at 35,000 feet in the air and being transported by one of the best invention ever made by human being is a sensational feeling. Despite not able to fulfill my dream of becoming a commercial airliner pilot, I still enjoy flying as a passenger. Those days back in 1990 when the PLUS highway was not a straight south-north stretch, going back to my grand parent’s house in Alor Setar was a long 6-7 hours drive. Hence ‘balik kampung’ trip was always via Malaysia Airlines, since it was the only airline flying this route at that time. Nowadays, I’m still flying here and there for work and holiday and I still enjoy every second of being in a plane.

In the year 2001, came the concept of low-cost airline in Malaysia, stripping all the fun and glamour of flying all in the name of offering lowest possible price to the consumers. In Malaysia, low-cost airline was an evolution to the airline industry with Air Asia gaining market shares at the speed of a jet-plane sending wake-turbulence towards Malaysia Airlines.

The emergence of Air Asia has opened the door for healthy price wars that brought ticket prices down which has benefited consumers including myself. I got to travel cheaply across Asia and many who never ever been on a plane also got the chance to feel the thrill of flying but one thing for sure is Air Asia has redefined the word “Air Travel”. Flying has lost the touch of being FUN and GLAMOUR. People no longer dressed up and look forward for a flight. People no longer treat ‘the journey’ from point A to B as part of the fun. Instead flying was brought down to the level of ‘taking an express bus’ where people rush to get seats, free seating etc (although this has no longer a problem with AK)

At the booming height of Air Asia, Malaysia Airline finally counter-attacked via it’s wholly-owned subsidiary, Firefly Airline. Dubbed as a “Community Airline”, Firefly capitalized on un-tapped or under-tapped routes from its hub in Penang and Subang. When they first started, I thought that this could be the ‘answer’ to my wish that cheap fares and fun air travel can be offered at the same time.

Firefly’s Aim:

Our aim is to bring communities closer by overcoming geographical constraints, link the world to the communities we serve, and contribute to the economy of the communities by bringing trade and tourism.

Almost two years down the road, I’ve flown with not less than 20 times with Firefly and have nothing except good comments for the airline.

See my other reviews on firefly airline here and here.
a) Subang-JB during its first few days in early 2008.

b) A more recent flight on the new ATR-72

After flying so many times with firefly I think it’s fair for me to share my overall experience and some suggestions which I think firefly should look into to further improve their quest to capture more market share.

    a) The Routes and Destinations

Firefly has a quite vast route networks with flights originating from either Subang or Penang.

In general, I always see that Firefly focus on tapping four types of communities. It’s refreshing to read new destinations and additional frequencies being introduced.

The Tourist/Holiday Goers community
This is a market segment where tourists and Malaysians that want to visit Langkawi, Phuket, Koh Samui at an attractive prices. There is an all-year long demand for this and the demand just boost up during school holidays and holiday seasons. I see this as a lucrative market for Firefly, indirectly being a feeder to it’s parent company.

The ‘Balik Kampung’ Community
This is the segment that applies to those who want to visit relatives or go back to hometown, attend weddings etc. I’ve been on Firefly once to Kuala Terengganu just to buy some songkets for my wedding and return the same day.

The ‘Indonesian Workers’ Community
This segment is another profitable segment. There are an ever increasing number of people travelling on flights to and from Indonesian cities. Malaysians rely on the workforce of Indonesian especially for constructions and domestic helpers hence these flights serving Medan, Aceh, Pekanbaru and Padang help to transport these workers at a very reasonable price.

The ‘Business Community’
Connection with major cities such as Penang, Subang, Kuala Terengganu, Johor Bahru and soon Alor Star, Singapore provides the perfect commuting option for executives to travel across Malaysia. I find it more comfortable, quicker and cost efficient to fly on Firefly on my bi-weekly travels to my company’s JB’s office. I noticed many familiar faces on flights that I took indicating that people are actually utilizing Firefly for business trips.

    b) The plane

When I first started flying on Firefly it was on the classic’s Fokker-50 fleet. Problematic (but not dangerous) and a fuel guzzler, the Fokker-50 planes were beyond its ‘greatest era’ and has brought hiccups to Firefly tight scheduling when it first started. However this is the past and Firefly has moved forward and now operates a 100% ATR-72 operation.

I love the ATR-72. It’s a comfortable turboprop plane. Malaysians especially those in peninsular) are so used of flying jet airliners (Boeing 737 for MH and A320 for AK) hence many wrong perceptions were made on ATR-72 and turboprop aircrafts as what I observed when I spoke to people concerning my flights with Firefly.

One of the famous wrong perception is that turboprop is a dangerous plane. ATR-72 is an airplane that is widely-used throughout the world. It has a reputable safety records and the assembly line complies with international safety standards with backup systems for all crucial systems. Being a ‘light’ plane, ATR-72 flies at lower altitude (usually 15,000 – 20,000 feet on my SZB-JHB flights), hence it is more exposed to clouds and turbulence. Sure it gets bumpy and rough on bad weather but rest assured that the pilots know what they are doing. I’ve seen some great maneuvering to avoid clouds ensuring comfortable ride most of the time.

Perfectly safe ride just like any other planes

The sound from the engine can cause a bit of discomfort during take-off but it’s only for a few seconds.

The seats on-boards Firefly are leather seats and can be reclined quite comfortably. The seat pitch is as narrow as Air Asia but for flights less than 2 hours it is acceptable.

One thing to note is the overhead compartment is much smaller compared to those on Boeing 737 or Airbus A320. Malaysians are well-known to bring back huge bags on-board hence making life difficult for the poor cabin crew and other passengers.

Seatings are pre-assigned during check-in. With the small number of passengers, boarding the airplane is fast and easy. No need to rush and queue ala Air Asia.

Also note that, boarding is always from the single door at the rear of the plane hence if you’re traveling with a senior-citizen or disable, try requesting for the last row on the plane.

    c) In-flight Service

With 2 cabin crew serving not more than 70 passengers, in-flight service reflects the quality inherited from Malaysia Airlines. Dressed in elegant white blouse and orange skirts, Firefly’s cabin crew is much more professional and friendly in doing their jobs compared to some low-cost airline that has the mentality of (you pay cheap, you get cheap basic service).

You don’t have to carry a single cent when you’re flying with Firefly as juice/coffee/tea and snacks (usually muffin) are served free of charge making serving fast and consistent.

One nice touch on Firefly cabin is the background music being played during boarding and upon arrival. It’s own collection of top40’s Malay and English songs provide some sort of fun into the whole flying experience.

In-flight updates are part of the SOP for the pilot giving out updates on weather en-route, ETA and other relevant information. This is again ‘all the small things’ that matters 🙂

    d) The price

Price is an important decision factor for the consumers and point of revenue for the airline. Firefly pricing strategy is not super low as per Air Asia but it’s usually 50-60% cheaper than the full fare price on Malaysia Airlines. I believe their current prices are competitive and not too cheap neither too expensive.

    e) The Subang Skypark

The airline has grown from a Penang Hub operation to add Subang as the new hub. Subang’s strategic location is a charm to the airline and proven to be a HUGE advantage to the airline. Subang airport still have its edge being the ‘city airport’ due to its proximity to many commercial areas such as Damansara, Subang Jaya, Shah Alam and even KL City itself.

Personally I’ve seen senior management of public listed companies flying on Firefly due to its close location to commercial areas in Klang Valley. Many are willing to pay a bit extra for the comfort of not having to travel to LCCT and KLIA. Being close to the cities also allow Firefly to time its flights to leave as early as 6:30am. These red-eye flights or what I called ‘rubber-tapper’ flights are acceptable since passengers don’t need to travel the obnoxious distance to reach LCCT or even KLIA.

Since Subang Skypark is transforming into a regional business jet hub, I believe it will also boost Firefly brand to be associated with business community. I felt good the last time I arrived at Subang SkyPark with less crowds, spacious design and comfortable facilities.

The only drawback is the accessibility to the airport. There are taxi services and normal bus services (Rapid KL) but it would be great if Firefly can collaborate with MAS to provide regular (every 1-2 hours) shuttle busses connecting Subang to KLIA. This will further spur the concept of Firefly providing the feeder traffic to its parent company.

    f) Marketing

Firefly’s brand, marketing and PR team have been doing well building the Firefly brand and associating it perfectly to different market segments and communities. I always find the newspaper and email advertisements, road shows during Matta Fairs, catchy billboards and buntings have disseminated the message quite well. It managed to ride on the existing awareness on the concept of low-cost traveling created by Air Asia. Consumers in Malaysia are already aware of the low-cost concept and what Firefly has to do is just to communicate to the consumer on what makes Firefly different and better compared to Air Asia.

Moving forward, I would love to see Firefly further improve their operations and marketing to capture a bigger piece of the market-share cake from the competitors. A few of suggestions I think Firefly should consider:

– to provide shuttle transfer connecting Subang Airport to KLIA, providing feeder traffic for both Firefly and Malaysia Airlines.

– to have more focus promotion and road tours at universities and colleges located in Subang, Shah Alam, Damansara as students are potential long-term customers that travel frequently back to hometown or for holidays.

– to engage bloggers as the new medium of communication. Nothing beats word-of-mouth recommendation (in this era, its word-of-blog). Air Asia has its own blog, so does Malaysia Airlines. I would love to see Firefly having its own corporate blogger or someone from the public to write about its flights, it’s people and it’s operation (Hint: ME! ME! Me! I’ll do it for free…hehehe)

– to build relationship with companies by establishing key accounts management that allows special rate to executives of the companies and also payment via company accounts rather than employee’s credit card. This could be an opportunity for Firefly as agencies/companies such as Petronas, Iskandar Malaysia etc have executives travelling between Firefly destinations very frequently.

– to continue expansion to new routes not covered by other airlines (Subang – Kuching, Subang – Singapore) as well as venturing into a new hub at south part of Malaysia (JHB perhaps?). This will allow flights from JHB to Jakarta, Kota Bahru, Kuala Terenganu and even Kuching.

– to introduce Online Check-in. It’s a simple concept and the platform/software is already being used by MAS. I believe this is a great ‘nice-to-have’ feature as it will attract more business executives who do not want the hassle of being in the airport for too long (1-hour prior to departure). Online-check-in also helps to reduce ground staff dependency and long queue at counters. A general bag drop and tagging counter is sufficient to cover for all destinations for online check-in passenger. Online-check in also allows passengers to check in for return flights which is very ideal for day trippers like me.

– to link up with Enrich. Loyalty programmes like Enrich and low-cost does not blend well. It’s always seen as a liability that adds cost to the airline. However Firefly should start consider having a frequent flyer programme so that customer’s loyalty can be managed and retained. A simple approach is to link up with MAS’s Enrich and gain a reduced amount (for example 50%) of the actual miles/distance. The system is already there and won’t burden the company that much. As for lounge access, dedicated counters etc, those can be introduced at later stage. At this point I think it’s sufficient to just have the option for passenger to get some miles from Firefly flights.

Firefly has a bright future in-front of them. I would continue to follow the progress and blog about my experience with this little airline. Interestingly Firefly will be starting to fly to Alor Star end of this month. Subang to Alor Star was my very first flight that I took many years ago when I was a little boy. Maybe it’s a co-incident but to me it’s a positive sign than ‘Fun and Glamor’ is back in air travel, thanks to Firefly!

35 Comments

  1. wm March 26, 2009 at 12:05 am

    haiya you ah.. make me feel like hopping on a Firefly now

  2. Azuan@Office March 26, 2009 at 9:09 am

    You should. Everyone should try.

    On certain routes you can get very cheap return flights (less than RM100) that you can use to go on a day-trip and explore Malaysia! Zooom Malaysia 🙂

  3. wm March 26, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    like?
    fly to penang. stalk nicol. fly back.

  4. azuan March 26, 2009 at 2:58 pm

    Can also. While you’re there can go for the famous ‘line clear’ Nasi Kandar, visit the cool Feringgi Beach, check-out the classic ferries, bridge and many more.

    Now i sound like a Zoom Malaysia ad.

  5. wm March 26, 2009 at 8:12 pm

    heh. yea you do! 😛
    soon i WILL be old enough to go backpacking!!

  6. wm March 26, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    new business idea *ding ding ding!* 😛

  7. Azuan@Office March 30, 2009 at 10:00 am

    I flew SZB-JHB on Friday morning and JHB-SZB the enxt morning. A delightful experience as always.

    One new thing is the “No-luggage Check In Counter” now available in SZB. Useful for people like me 🙂

    The last few days, i’ve been getting people visiting the blog looking for reviews on Firefly. If you find the info above useful, please let me know by cometing here 🙂 thanks

  8. Jimmy USJ April 8, 2009 at 11:57 am

    This is good point of information on the airline. But you fly on AK as well? How do you compare?

  9. azuan April 8, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Yes i fly on other airlines as well including Air Asia.

    They are equally good but i like Firefly simply because:

    a) Great ATR aircraft – Smaller than A320 and 737 hence less time for boarding and queuing and waiting

    b) SZB Airport – A real City airport. Near to everywhere even KL City!

    c) The service is consistent – you get the fun version of 5-star cabin crew. Can;t ask for more

    d) Competitive pricing. I don’t want to pay double the price just to travel on old Boeing 737 or cramped A320.

  10. azuan April 13, 2009 at 1:38 pm

    Check out “BawaKu Terbang” video by Fabulos Cats!

  11. Poziah Abd Kadir April 20, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Will be flying to Kuantan on Firefly next week.

    thanks for the info..I feel so much at ease now 🙂

    Zee

  12. azuan April 20, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Salam Ms Zee,

    Glad you enjoyed the review. Enjoy and have a safe trip to Kuantan, one of the newest destination for Firefly flights from Subang 🙂

  13. Comment Poster May 30, 2009 at 10:30 am

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  14. azuan June 10, 2009 at 2:01 pm

    Firefly now flies to Singapore. 🙂 Starting from less than RM100! That’s as cheap as Express bus!

  15. TOLANIC June 11, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Hey man. I like your review about Firefly. =)

  16. Aina June 15, 2009 at 9:34 am

    Hi there,

    Thank you for the very positive and informative review on Firefly.

    We here in Firefly are highly appreciated for the review. Do spread it yea!

    Keep updated about US. 🙂

    Thanks again!

  17. Aina June 15, 2009 at 9:43 am

    Hi again,

    Thank you for your suggestions. We are in the process of coming out our corporate blog. So stay tune!

    Besides, you can follow us on Twitter and also add us on Facebook for quick updates about Firefly promotions and etc. 🙂

    Do leave comments or suggestions for us to improve.

    Spread the word. 🙂

    Thanks

  18. Azuan@office June 15, 2009 at 11:04 am

    It’s always a pleasure. Being a frequent flyer with FY, this is the least that i can do 🙂

  19. Edward June 16, 2009 at 10:05 am

    Wah bro azuan, not bad! Your passion towards aviation is now noted by them. Keep up the good job. Whenever i have friends or visitors from overseas asking about budget airline in Malaysia, i’ll forward them Firefly’s website and your website!

  20. Albert September 19, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    My flight from Aloq Staq (Kedah style lol) to Subang was a breeze… so cool!

  21. AB October 20, 2009 at 10:09 am

    Thanks for the reviews-not much info about them out there in the www.

  22. Fluggesellschaften Check-in January 11, 2010 at 10:53 am

    I have to go to JHB almost twice a week, I have been traveling with firefly since long, Every flight has been lot of fun 🙂

  23. Light Aircraft Charter February 9, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Great post again mate. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. It doesn’t have to be hard yet mose people fail to realize the basics.

  24. Charter Jet Prices March 6, 2010 at 8:36 pm

    You made some good points there. I did a search on the topic and found most people will agree with your blog.

  25. Koh Samui Tourist Guide March 14, 2010 at 8:03 pm

    Been to Koh Samui twice now, first time was in April 2000, then back at New Year 2006. What a phenomenal holiday spot! It caters for everybody: if your searching for neighborly Thai people there is masses of them,if you want better off thai food there is plenty and night life is excellent. If you want a low-cost holiday, you can have it – if you need an expensive vacation, you can have it as well. My dad is really in love with the place and has just bought into a massage shop over there. My kids love it as well. What a fantastic place to celebrate New Year!

  26. David July 26, 2011 at 11:07 am

    Nice post. I study one thing tougher on different blogs everyday. It would always be stimulating to learn content material from different writers and observe slightly something from their store. I抎 want to use some with the content on my weblog whether or not you don抰 mind. Natually I抣l provide you with a link on your web blog. Thanks for sharing.

  27. FireFly Cancel FLights September 18, 2011 at 11:31 am

    Now Firefly cancel jet routes like KUL to KCH, JHB to KCH and KUL to BKI without notice! Imagine you booked your ticket several months in advance only to be told (some not even informed) that the flight is cancelled.

    Furthermore, they do not offer replacement flight on MAS but they only refund back your money. If you bought RM9 fare, you only that get pityful amount. Imagine a family of 4 with all travel hotels and arrangements planned to be told last minute that their trip was cancelled. They have to fork out more expensive tickets on AA or MAS.

    When ppl complain on their FB page, they start deleting and banning people off their page.

    Is this Community airline? Pls help spread the world:
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/FireFly-Malaysia-Passengers-Deserve-Better/274621505889844

  28. Kimwah January 2, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Hi! Azuan,

    Glad to knpw that you are a flight enthusiastic and I am one too. Love to follow your site and do hope we can exchange note and be able to view in close view of the aircraft too.

    Regards,
    See

  29. Jayan May 11, 2012 at 2:27 am

    I was doing a research on Firefly and amazed at the details that you have assembled and uploaded. You have done a thorough homework. Keep up the good work. Cheers

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