Airfare prices may decline as more flights allowed

The exorbitant prices for the upcoming Christmas and holiday season that coincide with the Sarawak state election were criticised in social media recently

by S BIRRUNTHA / pic by TMR FILE

AIRASIA Bhd has clarified that the airline’s higher airfares, specifically to Sarawak was due to the limited flights to the state due to the Covid-19 containment measures implemented before.

“AirAsia’s operation is all about economies of scale where we need to achieve a high passenger volume so that costs can be spread among a sizable number of passengers, allowing us to offer travellers low fares and giving them great value for money,” AirAsia Malaysia CEO Riad Asmat (picture) said in a statement.

“Historically, our average fare for flights between Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia has been around RM160 per one way per passenger. This takes into account the highest fares and the lowest, including when we offer zero fare promotional sales,” he added.

The exorbitant prices for the upcoming Christmas and holiday season that coincide with the state election scheduled for Dec 18 were widely criticised by social media users recently.

Riad explained that AirAsia’s pricing model is similar to other airlines around the world and is based on supply and demand.

He added that the company had to abide to the limited flight frequencies imposed by the Sarawak state disaster management committee (SDMC) and this resulted in a reduced supply of flight seats. Due to AirAsia’s demand-based dynamic pricing mechanism, it was inevitable that the derived prices were seen as unfavourable to buyers at this time.

He reminded that this was also the same mechanism that AirAsia used to offer guests promotional fares from as low as RM99 one way earlier in October.

“As a general rule, fares will be higher closer to the travel date and during peak holiday periods when our flights are already near 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 noted.

Riad said that for the record, AirAsia used to fly over 300 weekly flights into Sarawak pre-Covid, connecting Kuching, Sibu, Miri and Bintulu to Kuala Lumpur (KL), Penang, Johor Bahru, Kota Kinabalu and various other destinations in Malaysia.

He added that just for KL to Kuching alone, the airline used to fly between 12 and 15 flights daily on this hugely popular route before Covid, but with the latest approval, AirAsia will be flying five daily flights between KL and Kuching which is a 67% reduction in its capacity due to the restrictions by SDMC.

“Many guests had been able to grab our low fares when we ran a special promotion at the end of October with flights from KL to Sarawak, selling from as low as RM99 one way.

“We comprehend that demand is there but at the moment we are unable to meet it until more flight approvals are given,” he said.

He noted that the airline has received confirmation from the Ministry of Transport Sarawak (MoTS) and SDMC for an additional 42 weekly flights from Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah into the state for a limited period ofDec4toJan5.

This has brought the fares down from around RM1,000 one way to below RM200 for a KL to Kuching flight and the tickets were very quickly snapped up, the airline said in a recent statement.

AirAsia said it has been continuously engaging the MoTS and has submitted applications to per manently increase its scheduled flight frequencies from Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah into Sarawak on several occasions since early this year, including the latest request submitted last week which included the operation of extra flights for the upcoming holiday season, Christmas and Chinese New Year.

Meanwhile, Riad noted that AirAsia is appealing to MoTS and SDMC to also approve its request for extra Chinese New Year flights, and to remove frequency restrictions on all the approved flights entirely to enable the airline to better manage cost efficiency and lower the fares for passengers.

On Saturday, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong had told airlines and relevant parties to take immediate actions to lower airfares for travellers without the need for the federal government and its agencies to unduly intervene in the operations of these enterprises.

He said that the government acknowledges the concerns and feedback raised by the public over exorbitant airfares ahead of the upcoming holiday season this year end and early 2022.

Specifically, many travellers have expressed outrage over the unusually high airfares to Sarawak.

“The government would also like to remind all industry players to refrain from hiking airfares to address the widespread public perception that this is being done by airlines to recoup losses due to the pandemic,” he said in a recent statement.

On this matter, Wee said that the Ministry of Transport had actively engaged with industry players and state governments including Sarawak to increase the frequency of flights to all destinations against the backdrop of the ongoing efforts to contain Covid-19 nationwide.

According to the minister, Malaysia Airlines Bhd had pledged to add additional flights to Sarawak in December, which should result in reduction in fares to the state.

The Malaysia Aviation Commission and the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia are also prepared to approve more flight frequencies.

Additionally, the SDMC and MoTS have also decided to increase the frequency of flights into Sarawak from 223 to 307 flights weekly for Malaysia Airlines, FireFly Sdn Bhd, AirAsia, Malindo Airways Sdn Bhd, and Scoot Tigerair Pte Ltd (Singapore airline), starting Dec 4, 2021, to Jan 5, 2022.

“We hope that the state government would expeditiously bring the number back up to 502 as it was before the pandemic impacted air travel,” the minister said.