CHEAP FLIGHT: the drama of LCCs in Japan

Ever heard of AirAsia’s “now everybody can fly”? LCCs or low-cost carriers have indeed changed the way people travel and they have arrived in Japan–quite belatedly compared to other parts in the region. This is what CHEAP FLIGHT, an NTV special aired in March, is all about.



CHEAP FLIGHT is about a flight attendant of a major Japanese airline who was reassigned to a budget airline that was newly formed by her company and a Chinese firm. The budget airline is called Cherry. She resists it of course especially when she is thrown into an entirely different culture of cost-cutting and “no frills” service. The drama stars Takeuchi Yuko as the “demoted” FA (or CA = cheap attendant) and Osamu Mukai as the “stingy” airline manager.

The plot all seems familiar. Two years ago, an LCC called Peach was formed in Japan as a joint venture between ANA and a HK-based group. Last year, the first flight of Peach took off. It created a big fanfare in Japan because the fares sought to rival that of the train and the buses.

The Japanese are perhaps Asia’s most sophisticated travelers. They have been traveling across the world before the era of LCCs and was the #1 tourism target group before the Chinese rose to prominence. Ironically, low cost travel is something new to them and the drama shows that not all Japanese can afford to fly.

I’m sure most everyone have tried flying budget airlines. I do and I don’t mind if it’s a short haul flight. It was a shock though at first to have people scrambling for seats as soon as they get on the airline (this was before the LCCs started selling seat reservations) as if they were scavengers on a hunt. It was also vexing to make sure my checked luggage won’t go beyond 15kg. Then there was the in-flight food that you had to buy as if you were in a baseball game and there were vendors going around with tubs of drinks and popcorn. No frills indeed.

And as many of us discover through experience, it is more practical and far less expensive in the long run to fly regular airlines when you don’t have to buy your seat, pay for additional luggage or food. And most of all, when there are flight delays or for some reason, you are unable to get on the flight, rebooking or refund won’t feel like you are joining Johnny’s lottery for an Arashi concert ticket. Not to mention, the mileage that you get from, say, Star Alliance, which is a very important factor why I still choose to fly regular airline most of the time.

CHEAP FLIGHT tries to show the side of the budget airline, the plight of the FAs who have to deal with passengers used to being pampered on regular airlines and finding themselves multitasking including cleaning up before the passengers of the next flight board. There’s also the issue of how much time they have for the “turnaround”. In Cherry’s case, they only have one aircraft that needs to service several routes throughout the day so turnaround time is very important. If one flight is delayed, it’s a domino effect. And now you understand why FAs of LCCs herd their passengers with so much urgency as if there was a fire somewhere and yet when there are delays, you barely even hear a word from them. “Do not apologise” is the mantra of Mukai-kun’s character.

It’s not all bad though when flying LCCs. It does create a level playing field for passengers and in turn spur economic activities in those destinations. As they say, traveling to see different places and experience other cultures is an education that textbooks won’t teach you. It makes us more tolerant of our differences with others, and hopefully, that tolerance would extend to the “no frills” culture of LCCs. As one of the FAs in CHEAP FLIGHT advises Miharu (Takeuchi-san’s character), we just have to “reset” our way of thinking. And if that means bringing your own food and blanket, and having to pay extra for seat reservations and additional luggage, then think of it as your own way of contributing to the economy. Otherwise, fly the regular airline.

As to the cast’s performance: with apologies to Arashi’s Nino, Takeuchi Yuko needs to “reset” her acting.  That coy element in her acting was still cute in PRIDE and BE WITH YOU, but it started to wear off in NATSU NO NIJI where she played a single mother and yet was acting like a bumbling teenager. Same thing in CHEAP FLIGHT. It was squirm-inducing to watch her childish interpretation of the role… and that scene where the FAs dance during the flight (something that actually happens in real life), she looked like she was in a pre-school play. Kiritani Mirei gave better performance than her, but then again, it also reminds me of her character in NATSU NO NIJI. I hope the girl is not being stereotyped. Mukai, on the other hand, was given so little to do except look smug and strict. If there’s one thing I liked about the drama, it was the OST with Western songs like American Pie, Lisa Loeb’s Stay, Time After Time, Eternal Flame,  A Thousand Miles and Des’ree’s You Gotta Be.

Ranking for this post is Cherry RED.

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3 thoughts on “CHEAP FLIGHT: the drama of LCCs in Japan

  1. Is Nino in this show? Ugh, why does he make it so hard for me ever to watch his dramas? Unfortunately, Takeuchi needs to stick to crime drama or stronger female characters. I truly didn’t like her at all (as an actress), until Strawberry Night.
    I knew this was a pass, but thanks for the confirmation.
    And I’ve never been on that type of budget flight! Wow. I could see that type of experience zapping my love for flight travel quick. Airlines are definitely changing but paying for seats, less than 30pds for CHECKED luggage?! No. My sister couldn’t travel anywhere ever again!

    It’s not all bad though when flying LCCs. It does create a level playing field for passengers and in turn spur economic activities in those destinations. As they say, traveling to see different places and experience other cultures is an education that textbooks won’t teach you. It makes us more tolerant of our differences with others

    I’m glad there are benefits though. Not sure I’ll ever try it but something to log away and try when I don’t have far to go or press to get there.


    • nope, Nino not in this drama. just Osamu Mukai.
      so wait, you’re saying Takeuchi fares better in crime dramas? I haven’t watched STRAWBERRY NIGHT, but you got me curious. I liked her in PRIDE but that’s like more than a decade ago, her roles and acting should grow up with her. but just my opinion lol

      regarding LCCs and regular airlines… considering that you have to pay for every move you make when booking LCCs, it’s cheaper and more practical to go for the regular airlines. not to mention you also earn miles. LCCs are really just for short flights, when you won’t be sitting cramped for long hours and entertaining thoughts of jumping off the plane hahaha as they say, you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.


      • Haha! Thanks for the tip!
        And yes, Takeuchi is wonderful in Strawberry Night. But did I say crime drama specifically? Oops my bias popped out again. I meant, the “type” of character. I loved the character/squad dynamic so much, I gushed over that drama on my blog several times last yr. Lol. But I actually hated her in PRIDE … if that helps.

        And a craft should benefit from an actors’ maturation and experience… That’s all I’ll say about that.


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