AirAsia to increase flight frequency to Sarawak


PETALING JAYA: AirAsia Malaysia will increase the frequency of its domestic flights to Sarawak ahead of next month’s state election and Christmas holiday season.

Following confirmation from the Sarawak Transport Ministry and the Sarawak State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC) yesterday, the airline will have an additional 42 weekly flights from the peninsula and Sabah into the state for the period between Dec 4 and Jan 5 next year.

This would bring the fares down from around RM1,000 one way to below RM200 for a Kuala Lumpur-Kuching flight, it said in a statement yesterday.

Its chief executive officer Riad Asmat said its average fare for flights between Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia used to be about RM160 for a one-way trip.

“As a general rule, fares will be higher closer to the travel date and during the peak holiday period when our flights are nearly full.

“Buyers have already taken up to 90% of our capacity on most flights. The limitation on the number of flights available in the market is a key factor that has pushed the prices higher across all airlines,” he said.

Riad added that pre-Covid-19, AirAsia used to fly over 300 weekly flights into Sarawak, connecting Kuching, Sibu, Miri and Bintulu to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Baru, Kota Kinabalu and various other destinations in Malaysia.

“Just for Kuala Lumpur-Kuching alone, we used to fly between 12 and 15 flights daily on this hugely popular route before Covid-19, but with the latest approval today (yesterday), AirAsia will be flying five daily flights between Kuala Lumpur and Kuching, which is a 67% reduction in our capacity due to the restrictions by SDMC,” he said.On another matter, barriers such as quarantine rules, fear of Covid-19 and cumbersome standard operating procedures have clipped the wings of many fully vaccinated Malaysians from flying overseas.

To remove such obstacles, airlines have suggested a number of measures, including doing away with quarantine rules for those fully vaccinated and approving the use of Antigen Rapid Test Kits (RTK) for Covid-19 screening as an alternative to the costlier Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test.

Riad said a key issue was the administrative burden and the additional cost of PCR tests, which is required before every flight.

“The tests can cost as much as or even more than the cost of the airfare on a Kuala Lumpur-Singapore flight,” he said regarding the requirement for a number of tests for each traveller.

“Globally, the cost of PCR tests has decreased significantly over the past two years in countries such as India, Dubai, Indonesia and Thailand, but they remain high comparatively in Malaysia,” he said in a statement to The Star.

Riad added that in many countries, RTK tests were increasingly being accepted as pre-departure or on-arrival screening tests.

The success of the Langkawi travel bubble also highlighted that saliva self-test kits were equally reliable, cheaper and more convenient for screening passengers, he added.

Removing quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated international travellers and standardising health procedures and requirements across Asean would also provide a welcome boost, he said.

Following the government’s move to do away with interstate and international travel restrictions for fully vaccinated Malaysians last month, Riad said there had been positive demand for airline services.

“Bangkok and Phuket routes are performing well with minimal quarantine restrictions for Malaysian travellers,” he noted.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents some 290 airlines, recently called on governments to simplify air travel by permitting quarantine-free travel for those fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The IATA also recommended that governments enable quarantine- free travel for non-vaccinated travellers who have a negative pre-departure antigen test result.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA) president Datuk Tan Kok Liang said: “Different SOP by different countries, a number of PCR tests, quarantine rules, the fear of testing positive for Covid-19 in a foreign land, cumbersome processes and fluid Covid-19 conditions are some of the challenges facing Malaysians who travel overseas.

“While waiting for the easing of (international) travel procedures, travelling domestically looks like a better option.

“However, factors such as expensive domestic tickets during high season and the use of dynamic pricing mechanisms by airlines need to be looked into,” said Tan.

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