Airline Review: Does Tiger Airways Still Suck?

Airline Review: Does Tiger Airways Still Suck?

Tiger Airways was once known as the worst budget airline in Australia. In recent times, the company has made some drastic changes to improve its reputation and claw back former customers. We were recently invited to test the airline on a return flight from Sydney to Melbourne. So has the Tiger changed its stripes? I put my body on the line to find out.

I’ve had a tumultuous relationship with Tiger in the past. The last time I recall flying with the airline was a few years ago when online check-in wasn’t available and my flight was delayed for several hours in Melbourne. Suffice to say, my impression of Tiger was not amazing and was compounded by the fact I still see friends complaining about the company on my Facebook feed.

This provided inspiration for an article on how to avoid flying Tiger Airways earlier this month. In an interesting turn of events, Tiger Airways got in touch with us afterwards with an offer to test-ride the airline to see first hand why they don’t suck. Challenge accepted. With that, I took a flight down to Melbourne.

First, a price comparison

For flights down to Melbourne, Tiger is generally the cheapest airline to fly with followed by Jetstar, depending on the time of day you’re looking to fly out. The price difference is usually around $20. At the higher end of town, you have Virgin and Qantas which can set you back an extra $50-60, if not more.

In other words, you will likely save some money if you opt to fly with Tiger. But as the old adage goes; you usually get what you pay for. Whether this translates to an acceptable service is what we’re here to find out.

Before the flight

I got up at 5.30am to get ready for my 7am flight. Already I was feeling grateful that Tiger now supports web check-in so I could avoid the queue at the airport. Another change that I’ve noticed is the airline now gives you a 7kg baggage allowance for free, something that you used to have to pay for. Passengers can boost that allowance up to 12kg if they pay an extra $18.

I arrived early at the terminal to observe the boarding service and to speak with a few fellow Tiger flyers to gauge their feelings about the airline. To my surprise, the boarding process actually happened on time. I was half expecting there to be a delay.

I watched as Tiger attendents diligently made customers check the size of their bags to ensure it was the acceptable size for the storage in the overhead compartments. I’m a huge fan of this as I’ve often had to scramble to find a place for my bag because some idiot had brought a carry-on bag big enough to fit a grown child and took all the overhead compartment space.

So far so good. As the passengers pile onto the plane, I stayed back to speak with Mark MacKinnon and Terry Zhao, both of whom are also flying solo down to Melbourne. Mark flies Tiger once a year and besides once getting lost trying to find the Tiger terminal in Melbourne, he didn’t have much to complain about. He does admit that when he spoke to friends about the airline, their opinions are generally at the negative end, but he himself is sufficiently satisfied with the budget airline.

Terry, on the other hand, is a Tiger Airways convert. He started flying the airline last year when he started his new job. He travels frequently for business and likes the price as well as the convenience of Tiger Airways.

“I used to book Jetstar but then I realised Tiger is not expensive so now if I have to fly to Melbourne or Brisbane, I just go through Tiger,” Terry said. “I trust it for work travels.” His flights have been delayed in the past but he said since he usually takes the first flight out of Sydney, he generally doesn’t experience delays.

After gathering enough intelligence, I made my way to board the plane.

In the air

If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed about Tiger, it’s the seats. I still find them uncomfortable to sit in and thanked my lucky stars that it’s only a short trip down to Melbourne.

Having woken up so early to catch the flight, I was desperate for some shut eye but the seats barely reclined and trying to sleep upright was not pleasant. I guess it was for the best as it gave me more time to take in the flight experience.

For food and beverages, Tiger has really upped its game and even offers gluten-free and vegan options. It’s not gourmet food, but for a budget airline, there’s quite a few options. Mind you, the food is expensive. I ended up forking out $5 for a small tube of Pringles.

Service-wise, I was very impressed with how nice the flight attendants were. Every one of them beamed me a genuine smile as they walked past and was happy to answer my queries. I don’t even get that kind of service on some of the bigger airlines that do international flights.

While there was a bit of a delay during take-off, I was pretty satisfied with the flight experience.

That T4 terminal in Melbourne

Remember how Mark said he had issues locating the Tiger terminal in Melbourne? On the return trip, I quickly understood what he meant. Tiger flights go through the T4 terminal, which is still under construction. This makes it very difficult to navigate and parts of the place are still very much construction zones. I wish there were more signage to guide people to the right place to enter and so on.

But for parts of the terminal that has been completed, it certainly does look nice. There are some decent shops and cafes inside for waiting passengers, which is even more impressive than the terminals that Jetstar uses down in Melbourne. It would be great to return once T4 is completed and see it in all its glory.

Final word

I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting much from Tiger Airways before I took the trip down to Melbourne. Having done so, my opinion of the airline has definitely improved. I’m not saying it’s perfect, as there’s only so much you can expect from a budget airline, but if a friend books us a holiday flying Tiger Airways, I won’t have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the terminal.


  • I flew Jetstar for the first time a few weeks ago. Was pretty impressed despite what i’ve heard from other people. Maybe these budget airlines are striving to become better.

    • Jetstar are generally pretty good once you’re on the plane. It’s all the other stuff you’ve got to put up with before the flight that annoys people.

  • Hi Spandas, do you think that considering you were offered a free flight specifically for the purpose of a review that Tiger staff would have been on the lookout for you to make sure your experience was as smooth as possible?

    • Yes, I did consider this. Which is why I asked for the opinions of other passengers and observed the service Tiger was offering to other people. I did mention this in the article.

      • I definitely would agree that they would have treated you a bit better. I flew with them two weeks ago from Perth (Only flight I could get within the week with a seat for my wife and I). When we first clicked on the flight a return trip was $650 however by the time we added luggage (as no allowance was given in our fair) plus all the taxes, online booking fees and the credit card surcharge the flight jumped to $750. This is only $50 cheaper then if we were able to book with virgin which supplies food, drink and entertainment on the long flight from Perth to Melbourne. When we got on the leg room was ridiculous and I’m only just 6ft and when the person in front of me reclined I had to spread my legs over to my (luckily short) wife’s space. The plane was also filthy there was something smeared on the back of the seat in front of mine. I could understand Tiger for a short flight but when you’re on a long flight it’s still as shockingly bad as ever.

  • I still can’t quite bring myself to fly Tiger after they left my 80-year-old grandmother stranded in Brisbane on my wedding day. Her flight had been cancelled but no effort had been made to contact her or rebook her flight. I’m sure plenty of people have had good experiences, but I can’t get passed the image of my nearly blind grandmother trying to figure out why she couldn’t get to Melbourne.

    • Well it was a bit silly to have her fly the day of. In the process of planning my own wedding and anyone expected to travel is arriving a few days early, not the day of. Leaving travel to last minute is a big no no, because even if they make an effort to find say another flight, it could be a lengthy delay and they’ve missed the whole thing.

  • yeah the worst part of tiger is definitely the melb terminal, haha. apart from the plane looking like it was the same one used in Flying High and the terminal, all was well.

  • I booked a flight mel->Syd return a few weeks ago for a weekend away. The flight there got cancelled four hours before takeoff time, leaving me scrambling to book a replacement on short and expensive notice. On top of that they refused to give me a refund despite no replacement flight being available and attempted to fob me off with a voucher for the amount I paid. Only after threatening ombudsman did they quietly refund me.

    My takeaway is that Tiger is fine, until it’s not. People who have had nothing but positive experiences are just one cancellation away from concentrated loathing, and based on the amount of complaints, it’s probably just around the corner.

  • You can call me spoilt… but charging $5 for a small bag / tub of Pringles is pretty crazy outrageous… Non-reclining uncomfortable airplane seats are quite annoying too. I’ll take Qantas any day over doing that. Fast and easy check-in with no waiting..easy terminal to navigate.. modest semi decently tasting food… points… may not be budget budget but for $50 the slighter comfort is worth it.

    • I just checked 09/09 as a random date and one way from SYD-MEL is $69 on Tiger and $160-200 on Qantas, so yes you are definitely paying for those luxuries.

      Don’t get me wrong I dislike Tiger and will generally always fly Virgin, but it’s hard to argue them on their price point (if you actually get to your destination :)).

    • So, you’re complaining about non-reclining seats and a few posts above you there is someone complaining that their last flight was ruined because the person infront of them reclined all the way back for the whole flight…

  • “…but the seats barely reclined and trying to sleep upright was not pleasant”

    On a short haul flight, reclining your seat is viewed by many frequent flyers as bad manners. Anything under 3 hours, it’s polite to keep your seat upright and keep your fellow passengers’ suffering the resulting reduced space to a minimum.

    That’s probably why they don’t allow the seats to recline much – they’ve already packed you in like sardines and any movement of the seat backs would prompt a lot of abuse.

    • I didn’t know this and I fly often, although I fly red eye flights and it’s usually Darwin to Brisbane or Sydney so it’s long flights anyway.

    • Yep, nothing worse than walking into a plane… shoving your carry onto an already filled overhead section, sitting down and 4 seconds later having the jerk in front of you kick back his chair before the plane has even locked the doors 🙁

  • Er you guys do know that Jetstar will beat any Tiger flight price on the same day by 10%… no brainer!

    • Hi there!

      There are certain situations where you can’t use price beat. For example, when you need to fly at a specific time and Jetstar doesn’t have a flight that matches that time.

      Hope this helps!

  • After what my friend went through with Tiger.. I don’t think i’ll be flying them even if they have the cheapest tickets.. Here’s what he shared:

    “Dear faceless/nameless staff at Tigerair. I have experienced the worst customer service ever with your airline. Attached are photos of the pram which your staff damaged. This pram is used for our 2 year old son who suffers from Mitichondrial Disease. The day after our return from this trip we emailed your customer service line and have received no reply until tonight (attached) from your insurer – that’s 6 weeks! This is the most unacceptably poor service I have ever received. The replacement wheel cost $34. Unfortunately, this incident will be broadcast to family and friends who I will ask to reconsider flying with your airline in support of our son.”

  • “…to improve its reputation and claw back former customers.”

    “Claw back” customers?? Sounds painful! “Win back” might be better in this context.

    (Just a suggestion. That’s all. I know some consider it a dick move to comment on turns of phrase — this one struck me as odd, is all.)

  • As someone mentioned before, once you are on the plane, tiger is fine.
    As a Melbournian, the terminal Tiger were using was crap and its the reason I dont fly them in general. Since they have moved, I am hoping things improve a bit.

    As for flight delays, Tiger use their fleet to its maximum capability. This will mean that early flights should be on time or have little delays, however if something happens, it will have a domino effect on the rest of the day. SO, you are better flying Tiger in the mornings.

    Virgin and Qantas have bigger fleets so they are more likely to shunt you to another flight or recover from delays quicker.

  • Another change that I’ve noticed is the airline now gives you a 7kg baggage allowance for free, something that you used to have to pay for.

    Nope, they never have charged for carry on, in fact the recently reduced the carry on allowance from 10 down to 7.

    We regularly fly Tiger, book ahead, follow the sales and you will save, but be prepared for some delay. It all comes down to planning ahead. Like the article said you usually get what you pay for

    And definitely agree that you shouldn’t recline the seat on a short flight, it’s just rude.

  • I must say I have had much better experiences with Tiger than I have with Jetstar.
    I’ve had three Jetstar flights cancelled at the last minute and a couple delayed by over an hour.
    I did have one Tiger flight cancelled but I had no trouble getting a refund.
    But far and away the worst domestic experience I’ve ever had goes to Virgin, they have cancelled flights on two occasions and refused to do anything at all to assist.
    When we missed the dreaded Sydney curfew they offered no accommodation, just told us not to go too far away from the airport and keep an eye out for a text message.
    Didn’t get a replacement flight out till 8:00PM the following day. No apologies, no compensation, nothing.
    I’d prefer Qantas but their prices are way too high for me to justify, it’s not $20-30 it’s often more than double.

  • i am shocked to hear it will cost me $50 to change my fight from tuesday to wensday as it only cost me around $90 in the first place ,witch turned out to be more on my bank statment

  • Never had any issue with Tiger airways – not once. However, I only need to travel with Jetstar once and no more. Have NEVER come across any airline in the world where the stewardess says she can’t help me lift the hand luggage as she can’t break her back and that’s the policy.

    • She helps you, freak accident and pulls a muscle or throws her back out in the process…then she’s incapacitated and can’t perform safety duties (remember, smiling and serving tea is not their number one priority)…cabin staff down by one and so the flight can’t meet federal air safety regulations regarding minimum numbers and so gets cancelled. Has happened to me before when a flight attendant came down with the flu. If you can’t lift it yourself, check it in..simples.

  • Below average airline with a below average attitude. This will be the last time I use them. Flight delayed 3 1/2 hours from Melbourne to Sydney. Refund does not apply unless it’s a 4 hour delay. Staff could not care less & won’t bump me on another flight. Taking ‘budget’ flying to an even lower level ! Whilst waiting, another flight is delayed for not having enough cabin staff…..are you kidding ? Should have known better after previous issues I’ve had. Unless you fly a day earlier & set your expectations at zero………AVOID !

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