Japan recently launched its newest budget airline, ZipAir, to compete with other low-cost Asian airlines attempting to expand into the region. ZipAir promises affordable base fares coupled with quality service to Narita airport. In the United States, the ZipAir flies from Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, and Honolulu. Having recently flowed with them on a trip to Japan from SFO, here’s a comprehensive review of my journey with ZipAir.
💵 Booking Process and Fare
The booking process was seamless and user-friendly but can get a little confusing since there are various fare options and add-ons to tailor the journey according to personal preferences. The base fare for a seat and your flight, which includes free amenities (wifi, entertainment to stream from your phone etc) is cheap– it can cost about $400 round trip. Seat selection, water and meal options, and extra baggage allowances (check-in and carry-on) can be added at an additional cost. See more details on the baggage allowances below.
🎒 Carry-on: on ZipAir, you can have two carry-on bags for free as long as the total weight is not over 7kg (15lbs) and the carry-ons are within the size limit. Your carry-ons are weighed at the check-in counter and given a ZipAir carry-on sticker tag. If they are overweight, you’ll have to pay overage fees.
Supposedly your carry-on weight limit (7kg) includes any Duty-Free shopping you do, however, I have not seen the airline staff re-weigh the carry-ons after the initial weighing at check-in.
🧳 Checked bags: Checked bags incur an extra cost, which varies based on weight and destination. ZipAir allows baggage purchases up to a maximum weight of 30kg (approximately 65lb) and imposes a size limit, with dimensions not exceeding a combined sum of 203cm for length, width, and height. See ZipAir’s baggage allowance page for more information.
Check-In and Boarding
🎟️ Check-in is done in person. The check-in counters at the airport open for your flight 3 hours before the flight departure time. During check-in, the airline staff weighs your check-in and carry-on luggage and provide you with your boarding passes.
From my flight experience, boarding happens from the back first from SFO to NRT after priority boarding. From NRT to SFO, it went from Priority/Assisted boarding to All Passengers to Last call. It is not quite clear if there is a specific process.
Thankfully, due to the specified carry-on baggage limit, there’s usually plenty of overhead space available, minimizing the need to rush and secure space early during boarding. It’s worth noting, though, that on outbound flights from NRT, the scenario might differ. Tourists often have extra bags from Duty Free shopping, which can lead to more limited overhead space. I didn’t have any issues but it is something to keep in mind, especially if you plan on traveling with larger carry-on bags.
Cabin Comfort and Amenities
🛩️ Plane: The plane is a well-maintained, medium-sized plane (787 Dreamliner) with three rows of three seats.
💺 Seats: The seats are simple, functional and comfortable for a budget airline with the typical legroom of an American airline economy class (ex: Southwest). The tray table is very user-centric and thoughtful in design. It makes great use of its small footprint– there are coat hooks, chargers, pull-down fold-out trays, and several storage nooks for your phone and small electronics. See this reel for a visual.
- Free Wifi: Every ZipAir flight comes with free on-flight wifi. The wifi can be really spotty and I have sen a lot of people having trouble connecting to it. I had to enter the address (wifi.zipair.net) in my web browser on Chrome to get connected. The captive portal does not launch automatically for me and Safari was throwing a security certificate connection error when I tried redirecting from their site to connect to the internet.
- 🎥 In-flight entertainment: There is a limited selection of in-flight entertainment that you can stream from your personal devices.
🍽️ The on-flight meal is chosen during the booking process. There are only 2 choices per flight and they may not accommodate dietary restrictions (for example, my flight to Japan offers the choice of a chicken or beef dish, which is not vegetarian-friendly).
Food on the flight is served within the first hour of the 10-ish-hour flight. Keep track of your boarding pass because the flight attendant will need to check it before serving you your pre-selected meal.
The portion size is relatively small, so if you are someone who needs more food, definitely bring snacks with you or you can order some in-flight. The in-flight meal is not great but it is also not terrible. You pay for the convenience. I personally recommend bringing your own food, especially if you are flying out of Japan since there are so many great bentos you can purchase at the train stations.
Meal from SFO to NRT
Hayashi Beef: the beef has good flavor but the rice was mushy and bland.
Mushroom cream pork: there is oil separation in the cream sauce and the rice is a bit mushy and gummy but the overall flavor was OK
Meal from NRT to SFO
Gyudon: beef is comparable to fast food chains (like Yoshinoya) but the rice was extremely mushy
Soba was overall very solid.
Summing up the ZipAir flight experience, it’s undeniably a solid choice considering the price point. For budget-conscious travelers, opting for upgrades like baggage and seat selection (if you are not flying solo) is a must. Remember to bring a water bottle to refill at the airport for the plane ride, as water is not included.
When it comes to food, it’s passable but not exceptional. With an approximate cost of around $10 at the time of booking, considering an upgrade for the convenience might be worthwhile. Alternatively, bringing your own snacks or meals may be a better option.
Overall, ZipAir offers a solid travel experience at an affordable rate. It’s a smart choice for those seeking a balance between cost and comfort. With a few strategic choices, like opting for upgrades and planning ahead for meals, ZipAir can provide a satisfying journey without denting your budget.”