Travel and taxes are a bad combo

THERE’S a meme going around in connection with AirAsia’s two chartered flights to bring Harimau Malaya fans to Hanoi for today’s second leg of the AFF Suzuki Cup final against Vietnam at My Dinh Stadium.

The first of the meme’s four panels shows cheering Malaysian fans. The second shows a happy cartoon head and the AirAsia logo with the words “Special Flights”.

The third shows the same happy cartoon head with the Petronas logo and the words “Sponsored Fuel”. The fourth shows an angry cartoon head with the Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd (MAHB) logo and the words “RM35 Airport Tax Please!”

To get the context to the meme, read AirAsia Malaysia chief executive officer Riad Asmat’s tweet yesterday.

“Thank you @petronasbrands our official fuel partner! We’ll refund RM50 to every fan flying our special Hanoi charter flights on 14-15 Dec. Sadly, MAHB doesn’t share the same spirit – they’re still charging RM35 airport tax!” he wrote.

Petronas Dagangan Bhd managing director and CEO Datuk Seri Syed Zainal Abidin Syed Mohamed Tahir said when AirAsia announced the charter flights to Hanoi, Petronas was compelled to help out the fans.

“We have partnered with AirAsia to do our part for the national agenda. National support for the football team is strong.

“We hope the fans will have a good time and it will also instil some sense of patriotism among the fans,” he said.

The meme adds fuel to some KLIA2 passengers’ unhappiness over the fact that MAHB collects that same airport tax for both KLIA and KLIA2.

Last week at a swanky cafe in Subang Jaya, I had tea with a 40-something friend who uses KLIA2 frequently.

He is a traveller who can be described as “cost-conscious”. And he was the one who sent me the meme.

“Why do I need to pay the same amount (RM35) for airport tax in KLIA and KLIA2 when the two airports have different facilities?” he asked.

“The layout in KLIA2 is not traveller-friendly. I have to walk about 2km or 40 minutes to the departure gates, especially for my international flights.

“Whereas KLIA has a train to connect you from the immigration hall to the satellite building.

“How do you justify the same airport tax for both? It is not fair for passengers.”

I agree with him. I try to avoid using KLIA2 as I’m not a fan of the airport. I prefer KLIA as it is passenger-friendly, or the Subang Airport as it is uncomplicated and uncrowded.

To be exact, I am not a KLIA2 fan if I am a passenger but I’m a fan when I am waiting to pick up friends or family arriving at the airport.

The airport complex has a shopping mall and there are many restaurants or shops to occupy my time.

But it is a stressful experience if you are travelling, especially with family.

My five-year-old son will not want to walk on his own. I have to carry him.

Imagine carrying 17kg for about 30 minutes to the boarding gate.

My 80-something mother, who still can cut grass with a lawnmower at our half-acre house compound in Penampang, Sabah, also finds the walk strenuous.

Luckily, MAHB has provided travelators and buggies to ease my mother’s walk.

“The travelators and buggies are an afterthought,” said my critical friend when I told him about my experience using KLIA2.

“Certain gates are impassable to buggies and wheelchairs. In fact, you have to make one turn after another. There is a very high chance of first-time users getting lost and possibly missing flights,” he said.

Unlike me, who is a fan of KLIA2’s shopping mall concept, he said it was not passenger-­friendly.

“Passengers need more time to navigate the airport and they get ‘lost’. Business-wise it’s more sensible for a mall to be incorporated at KLIA where passengers have higher purchasing power.

“Not that low-cost carrier passengers are not rich, but they are mainly value seekers or bargain hunters,” he said.

He pointed out that some people mistakenly believe that the airlines pay the airport tax.

They, therefore, are not bothered by how much the KLIA2 airport tax is.

The introduction of a departure tax on international outbound flights from June 1 next year will be another deterrent for travellers, my cost-conscious friend told me.

In Budget 2019, the government proposed a fee of RM20 per head for those departing for Asean countries and RM40 for travel to other countries.

When I heard about it, I groaned.

“There goes my overseas travel,” was my immediate reaction.

The fee of RM20 for travel to Asean countries or RM40 for other international destinations may sound like a small amount for a middle-class family.

But when a family of four goes on a holiday, it adds up.

Yesterday, my frequent traveller friend sent me a report by think tank Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs on “Potential Deadweight Loss of Departure Levy”.

“This new departure levy will affect both the aviation and tourism sectors of Malaysia as it affects the price of flight tickets for Malaysians planning to travel abroad, as well as Asean and other international citizens planning to travel to Malaysia,” wrote Adli Amirullah and Irene van Eldik.

The report’s conclusion is titled “Is It Worth It?”

“Considering that the only positive effect of the departure levy is the increased tax revenue, whilst missing out on a portion of tax from reduced tourism and aviation simultaneously, you could doubt whether this tax would be worth it,” Adli and van Eldik wrote.

From a passenger’s point of view, no departure levy would be better for me as it would make overseas travel less expensive. Airport tax plus departure levy add up.

Opinion , Philip Golingai , One Man's Meat


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