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Man pretending to be an AirAsia flight at a Udonthani rock landmark

Phuket Hub Gains Another AirAsia Spoke

Saturday, December 19, 2009
NOW THAT would-be refugees are taking to the air because fares are so cheap, it's plain that AirAsia really has lived up to its motto, ''Now everyone can fly.''

It's true that sometimes it's difficult to tell where the bus ride ends and the plane trip begins but then, that applies to the fares, too.

We still can't quite figure out how AirAsia manages to expand its network across the region at crazy prices, and we are not alone. The traditional airlines don't have the answer yet, either.

AirAsia, though, is prepared to deliver by taking risks . . . and taking people where they want to go.

To highlight the new four-times weekly Phuket-Udonthani service that begins on Monday, December 21, AirAsia packed a posse of Phuket journalists up to the north-east to see what people will find when they get there.

That's why the AirAsia lot are so clever: they not only promote the destination's assets, they also make sure the media are on-board. They also offer packages that include accommodation.

Why would you fly from Phuket to Udonthani, then? Well, for 1550 baht, you get there for about the price of a bus fare, but a whole lot faster.

And what do you do when you get there? Well, you can make the jaunt a visa run by taking an 80-minute bus ride to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, the country just up a bit and to the right of Thailand.

By a stroke of good planning, Vietiane sits on the Thai-Laos border. Here, life is definitely more casual. And the French influence is clearly still alive.

Salaries are small by comparison with Thailand, and life is so sweet that everybody sleeps for an hour during the day, we were told.

Laos Beer is among the world's most highly regarded and well-priced, which perhaps accounts for everyone enjoying their nap.

Shopping in Laos is like flying AirAsia: suddenly the prices are what you can afford. Silverware necklaces and bracelets and earrings are of high quality. So is the local fabric.

The temples in Udonthani are well worth a visit, too. Bangkok's renown Emerald Buddha originated from up here.

There will be plenty of people looking to fly south, too. AirAsia CEO Tassapon Bijleveld told journalists that about 40,000 expats, many of them married to Thais, live around Udonthani. It's the gateway to French Indochina.

A whole lot more expats live on Phuket with wives from Udonthani, or nearby Isarn provinces. One local airline tried to establish the route, but could not make a go of it.

Khun Tassapon thinks that AirAsia, having done its research, can keep the route up and flying.

The way the airline business is going, the whole industry may soon rely on the AirAsia approach to keep the industry in the air.

Jetstar Airways, the budget airline for Qantas, is in talks with AirAsia about a potential joint venture aimed at cutting costs.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a spokesman for Jetstar said the two airlines are ''looking at ways we can further cut costs through economies of scale.''

We can only guess at what might happen next. But if the price is right, we are prepared to fly wherever they wish to take us.

The author flew to Udonthani and travelled to Vientiane as a guest of AirAsia.
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