Sunday, January 23, 2022

Outstation Sarawakians eager for Christmas at home stumped by sky-high airfares

Ticket prices of RM1,200 and above mean that many may be forced to remain in the peninsula over the festive season this year.

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Sitting alone in front of her laptop in her small rented room in Kuala Lumpur, Claudia scrolls through airline websites, trying to find the cheapest available flight to Sarawak.

For four years, she has lived on her own in the capital city where she moved when she was 21 in order to earn a living.

Every year since then, she has flown home to Kapit twice a year, to celebrate Christmas and the Gawai Dayak festive season with her family.

The only exception was last year, when the Covid-19 pandemic shut state borders and disrupted travel in Malaysia and across the world.

Now, with borders reopened and interstate travel allowed for the fully vaccinated, Claudia is trying her luck.

But whether she will be able to go home for the first time since Covid-19 struck early last year remains to be seen as ticket prices have soared tremendously since she last boarded a flight.

“The cheapest one-way ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Kuching for one person was about RM1,200,” she told MalaysiaNow.

“This does not include add-on fees like check-in luggage and transportation to the airport.”

She is still looking for a flight that will fit her budget, hoping against hope that she will be able to make it home to see her family this year.

“But the prices are just ridiculous,” she said. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”

Claudia is one of hundreds of thousands of Sarawakians working away from home. Like her, many are struggling to find a way home for Christmas but are stymied by the exorbitant price of flight tickets.

When Covid-19 travel restrictions were enforced throughout the country in March last year, many domestic flights including to Sarawak were cancelled.

While domestic travel saw a strong recovery, the Delta outbreak which caused a surge in new infections meant the reintroduction of many restrictions which had a heavy impact on the airline industry.

Slow aviation operations following this double whammy have been blamed for the hike in airfares.

To address the issue, Sarawak Transport Minister Lee Kim Shin said the state disaster management committee had approved an increase in flight frequency to Sarawak, from 223 flights to 307 weekly from Dec 11 onwards.

But even before the pandemic, the price of air tickets from the peninsula to Sarawak had been on the rise.

Like Claudia, Nicole too is working in the peninsula and eager to return home for Christmas.

The 35-year-old said he did not think the overpriced airfares would stop him from flying back to his family.

He told MalaysiaNow that some of his friends would also be willing to pay any price as long as they could spend time with their families this festive season.

But such enthusiasm may not extend to exercising their right to vote in the upcoming state election.

Many young people working in the peninsula told MalaysiaNow that they would not apply for leave to fly back to Sarawak to vote on Dec 18.

They said they are not convinced that their vote will make any significant change.

“It looks like a waste of time,” said Sasha, who runs a small business in Kuala Lumpur selling Sarawak layer cakes.

“It’s better for me to stay here and earn more money, which will help me buy things for my family in Kuching before I go back for Hari Raya.”

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