Apprehension in air travel drags airlines’ recovery process

Airlines are facing an uphill task to fill seats to maximum capacity, as consumers feel safer and more comfortable to drive


THE recovery process for most airlines might take longer than projected due to travellers’ apprehension to fly due to Covid-19, despite the gradual reopening of interstate and international borders.

Malaysian Inbound Tourism Association (Mita) president Uzaidi Udanis said airlines would still face an uphill task to fill seats to maximum capacity even after the removal of social distancing restrictions on flights by the government.

He said queries for air travelling are still low, as people feel safer and more comfortable to drive.

Uzaidi said most local tourists prefer short-haul destinations during the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) to limit the risk of Covid-19 contagion.

“The announcement that allows flights to operate at full capacity was just made last week. Therefore, it is quite soon to see any increases in bookings. Still, consumers are also cautiously picking their travel destination.

“Like any other countries that are adversely affected by Covid-19, travellers are considering short-haul vacation instead of the long journey although it is within the country.

“There are few upticks on the business trips but we are yet to see the same pattern for leisure travellers,” Uzaidi told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) in a phone interview recently.

The tourism sector is the most badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with an estimation of up to 60% loss of the earlier estimation of RM100 billion tourist receipts that were projected in conjunction with the Visit Malaysia Year 2020 campaign.

Mita represents some 2,300 tourism companies in Malaysia with about 3.5 million workers in the industry.

Due to the implementation of MCO on March 18 and the government enforced travel ban, many airlines have started to lose demands while ticket prices have also gone up due to lower volume.

In April, Malaysian Aviation Commission (Mavcom) revised downward its forecast of passenger traffic in Malaysia by between 36.2% and 38.1% year-on-year in 2020.

The regulator also reported cancellation of about 13.6 million seats or 12.3% of annual scheduled operations by airlines operating in the country since the Covid-19 outbreak this year.

However, as the country reported a lower spread of Covid-19 cases, the government has slowly re-opened most of the economic sectors including tourism in the RCMO, which started on June 10.

It was followed by an announcement that allowed all public transportation to resume at a full capacity of passengers instead of only half-full before. This includes operations for domestic flights.

The government also hoped that the increase in capacity would allow airlines to lower ticket prices, which have been sold at an exclusive rate due to a lesser frequency of flights during MCO.

Last week, Malaysia Airlines Bhd had announced that they will increase its domestic and international connectivity beginning June and July respectively to facilitate essential travels locally while responding to other countries’ lifting of border restrictions. The company only operates about 15% of capacity now.

Following the resumption of domestic travel, low-cost carrier AirAsia Group Bhd has launched an unlimited pass campaign starting from June 11 until June 13.

Priced at RM399, the pass enables holders to redeem unlimited flights across 16 destinations within Malaysia, for travel up to March 31, 2021.

AirAsia stated that over 12,000 flights have been redeemed in the two days campaign and decided to extend the campaign for another two days to June 15, in response to overwhelming demand.

Malindo Air has also resumed flights to almost all its domestic destinations effective June 12, with the reinstated scheduled services include daily flights from Subang to Kota Baru, Penang, Alor Setar, Johor Baru, Kuala Terengganu, and Langkawi.

However, as ticket prices may remain an obstacle for airlines sales to take off, Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents VP Air Transportation Shazli Affuat Ghazali said the association is expected to meet airline representatives to iron out the issue.

“Airlines are currently prioritising on how they can come back from losses and one of them is by selling more premium seats in the plane.

“It must be noted that they are also struggling as we are yet to open the international borders and work within the limitations of the domestic market.

“Besides, we also need to build trust again with the consumers due to the issue of refund of tickets raised before. We will address this in the discussion later,” he told TMR.