Flight test: Tiger Air

ROBERT UPE
Last updated 05:00 29/03/2014
Tiger Air

UP, UP AND AWAY: Tiger Air.

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Tiger has had its problems, but this flight is a bargain.

THE ROUTE Melbourne to Perth

THE PLANE From April 15, the airline will have a fleet of 13 A320-200 aircraft flying around Australia, with an average age of five years.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME None.

UP THE BACK OR AT THE POINTY END? It doesn't matter, it's all economy on this low-cost carrier. However, the exit-row seats in rows 1, 12 and 13 have more legroom than the other 162 standard seats. I'm unexpectedly offered exit-row seat 13D at check-in. To buy this online as an extra would cost A$35 (NZ$37.50).

TIME IN THE AIR Three hours, 38 minutes. We depart and land about 15 minutes late. On the return journey we are an amazing 25 minutes early, presumably thanks to tailwinds.

THE SEAT STUFF A 3-3 configuration. Standard seats have a 74cm pitch, 50cm width. Exit-row seats have a 99cm pitch, 50cm width.

BAGGAGE ALLOWANCE Two carry-on bags allowed, weighing no more than a combined 10kg. Pre-paid check-in luggage starts from A$15-$20 for 15kg, depending on the length of the flight. Excess baggage charges start at A$20 (ouch) a kilogram.

COMFORT FACTOR The seating feels tight but is a bit roomier than A320s operated by Jetstar and AirAsia. But really, what do you expect from a budget airline? I've paid an astonishingly low A$161.95 return to Perth, purchased months earlier. The greatest discomfort is a grotty eating area at Tullamarine's T4 terminal where Tigerair is based. The terminal is getting a makeover that's due to be finished next year.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT There's an inflight magazine, Tigertales, but no movies, radio or music. BYO.

THE SERVICE After watching argumentative airline staff and passengers on TV shows like Air Ways, Airport and Airline I arrive at the terminal ready for battle. But if you follow the rules (the strict baggage restrictions, check-in 45 minutes before departure) things remain harmonious. On board, it's another story. Flight attendants take it up a notch with their sense of humour and are very helpful, even assisting with overhead cabin baggage. The food-and-drink service is delivered without a hint of the dismissive and rushed attitude that I've encountered on other airlines.

FEEDING TIME The airline's menu of wraps, sandwiches, snacks, alcohol and other drinks has a cheeky dig at Qantas celeb chef Neil Perry. "Our new Tigerair menu is not designed by Neil Perry or served on designer plates, but that means it doesn't cost $25 for a sandwich," the menu states. I opt for Tigerair's A$9 triple-deck chicken sandwich, including pesto and mayo, and it is pretty good.

ONE MORE THING Tigerair has just introduced online check-in, part of the airline's new approach to better service since it rebranded last July when Virgin Australia took a 60 per cent stake.

THE VERDICT Tigerair has had its problems - recently an Adelaide-Melbourne flight had to turn back because of engine problems and in 2011 the entire airline was grounded by CASA - but this trip goes without a hitch. And it's a bargain.

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FREQUENCY Up to three times daily each way. (Daily Sydney-Perth flights also started last December.) See tigerair.com.au.

Robert Upe flew at his own expense.

- FFX Aus

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