First low-cost Asian airline cleared for flights to the US

Posted at 7:45 AM, Jan 24, 2017

HONG KONG (CNNMoney) -- Get ready to squeeze on board for low-cost flights between the United States and Asia.

Malaysian budget carrier AirAsia says it's gotten the all clear from U.S. authorities to fly its jetliners to American airports -- the first low-cost Asian airline to do so.

Founded by charismatic businessman Tony Fernandes, AirAsia pioneered the low-cost model in Asia, delivering rapid growth as it undercut bloated legacy carriers in the region with its no frills approach.

The U.S. flights will be operated by its long-haul affiliate, AirAsia X, which currently focuses on destinations in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Africa.

The airline says it's considering flights to several U.S. states including Hawaii. It's hoping it will have more success in the U.S. than it did in Europe, where it abandoned flights to London and Paris in 2012 because of weak demand.

For U.S. travelers who are willing to pass up some of the comforts of international flights, AirAsia's services could offer a cheaper route to Asia.

AirAsia X operates a fleet of Airbus A330-300s fitted out with 365 economy seats and -- for those willing to spend more -- 12 "premium flatbeds," a kind of low-cost business class. Economy passengers currently pay extra for things like meals and baggage allowance.

AirAsia's safety reputation took a hit in 2014 when a plane operated by its Indonesian affiliate crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 people on board. Indonesian investigators blamed the pilots' response to a technical malfunction for the disaster. gives AirAsia Indonesia just two out of a possible seven stars for safety -- but AirAsia X fares better with six out of seven. That's more than some U.S. low-cost carriers like Southwest Airlines, but less than top international carriers like United and Qantas.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about AirAsia's U.S. plans.

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