When the Sarawak state election was held in December last year, Syamim Arshad did not go home to vote as the price of flight tickets was too expensive.
For Syamim, who has worked in Kuala Lumpur for seven years, applying for leave was also a problem.
“Initially, I wanted to exercise my responsibility as a voter,” she said. “I was about to purchase a ticket to come home.”
But taking leave then would have eaten into her annual quota, leaving her less time to spend with her family during Hari Raya.
“Very few have the privilege of long leave,” Syamim said. “The timing was not right.
“Sarawakians usually apply for at least a week of leave because we want to spend more time with our family.”
Now, with Hari Raya just around the corner, Syamim is determined to do what she must to afford a ticket home to Bintulu this time.
With much of the country still struggling to recover from the economic slump triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, this will not be easy. Syamim works two jobs just to make ends meet during normal times, sometimes taking on a third as a Grab driver to generate some extra cash.
Her two main jobs give her a total of RM4,500 a month, but expenses easily take up at least half of this amount.
She usually spends RM600 on groceries, another RM300 on food at work and RM400 for petrol. Now, though, she has slashed her budget for groceries as the price of essential food items has nearly doubled.
“I’m trying not to buy any groceries apart from what I really need,” she told MalaysiaNow in a recent interview.
“I have to pay the rent, which costs about RM1,200 a month, plus RM200 for utility and internet bills and RM80 for maintenance fees. Even if I earn RM4,000 a month, it’s not enough.”
Already, she is behind on rent as she needs the money to pay her credit card bill.
But by hook or crook, she is determined to board a plane back home for Raya.
“I must go back to see my parents,” she said. “Because of the pandemic, it has been two years since I have celebrated Hari Raya with my parents.
“I miss them so much.”
While complaints of airfares soaring during festive seasons are nothing new, Syamim is confident that she will be able to find a flight that will not cost her an arm and a leg.
“I checked the prices,” she said. “There are many that are still reasonable.”
The cost of a Malaysia Airlines ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Bintulu on April 25, for example, is about RM254.
Zarith Sofina, who also works and lives in Kuala Lumpur, said even if flight tickets are overpriced, Sarawakians will still fly home to celebrate the festive season.
Zarith is particularly excited about going back to her home town in Kuching this year as she will be bringing her baby with her for the first time.
She agrees that a week is the minimum length of leave to take on such occasions.
“The price of air tickets is expensive during festive seasons but this has been the case since the beginning,” she told MalaysiaNow.
At the moment, a total of 619 flights enter Sarawak on a weekly basis, including international flights from Singapore and Brunei.
Sarawak Transport Minister Lee Kim Shin recently said airlines had been requested to offer reasonable fares while Sarawakians in the peninsula should plan their journey ahead of time instead of waiting until the last minute.
“This is because most of the airlines use the dynamic pricing mechanism in their revenue management where prices will respond to demand as informed by the Malaysian Aviation Commission.
“We trust that airlines will reciprocate to the decision made by the Sarawak disaster management committee in approving more flights into Sarawak and play their pivotal role in facilitating the movement of people and goods at reasonable rates as well as supporting the government initiatives to accelerate the revitalisation of our economy,” he said.