Hot topics | Coronavirus pandemic

As ASEAN airlines increase flights, COVID travel restrictions ease as COVD travelers' restrictions

As ASEAN airlines increase flights, COVID travel restrictions ease as COVD travelers' restrictions

  • Summary:
  • Malaysia and Vietnam resume domestic flights after a suspension of domestic services in 2014.
  • Singapore, Thailand, and Fiji restrict international travel to a certain extent.
  • Airlines still operating well below pre-pandemic capacity, even if they do so at a rate comparable to pre-1988 levels.
  • 2021: $11 billion, $2.4 billion in 2022 -IATA: Asia-Pacific carriers to lose $111 billion and $2.6 billion if they fail to meet targets. 2025: IATA estimates that Asia Pacific carriers will lose $1.1 billion.
  • "With COVID fatigue, getting out will be easy," says a Singapore traveller. "At COVD-related stress, going out should be enjoyable."

This year, Asia-Pacific airlines have lost billions of dollars due to COVID-19 transportation freezes, with jets grounded in Singapore. As some of the world's most stringent pandemic-related travel regulations are eased, they're increasing flights and ticket offers.

As countries like Malaysia and Vietnam allow domestic flights to resume this week after months of strict restrictions, Asian travel agencies and carriers told Reuters they're seeing a rise in bookings and travel inquiries as they see fewer cancellations.

India is lifting a domestic capacity cap, while Singapore, Thailand, and Fiji are allowing vaccinated international travellers from select countries to travel without quarantine. read more

While IATA (International Air Transport Association) anticipates a major increase in Asia-Pacific international travel "later in 2022" - forecasting cumulative losses of $11.2 billion this year, reducing to $2.4 billion next year carriers from AirAsia Group (AIRA.KL) to VietJet Aviation (VJC.HM), Singapore Airlines (SIAL.SI), Fiji Airways and Qantas (QAN.AX) are already expanding capacity.

"The most important thing is that practically all governments in the Asia-Pacific region, with perhaps one or two exceptions, are abandoning their COVID-zero approaches and moving to a sort of COVD normal framework," said Association of Asia Pacific Airlines Director General Subhas Menon.

"Vaccination rates are also beginning to rise."

While curbs are easing, a full return to normal operations is still elusive. IATA estimates that global aviation industry losses from the epidemic will be $200 billion for 2020-2022, while losses in Asia alone were close to $50 billion in 2020. In August, international travel in the Asia-Pacific region was about 4% of its usual levels, with about 4 percent of it in August.

The relaxation of restrictions will allow for some tourism, but at first it will be a relative sluggishness: Thailand expects only around 100,000 foreign visitors this year, up from nearly 40 million in 2019.

Still, there's an increasing demand from those who've long wanted to be able to take a vacation overseas.

Dickson Ng, a 24-year-old Singaporean consultant, said he intends to visit Europe in January.

"We don't know if these VTLs (vaccinated travel lanes) could be rescinded, but right now there's opportunity and COVID fatigue, so I think getting out of the country will be beneficial," he added.

Meanwhile, Fiji Airways has had thousands of bookings since the country on Sunday announced that it will open borders to vaccinated travellers from some destinations on Dec. 1, the vast majority of which are from Australians, according to an airline spokesperson.


Several airlines are already offering bargain fares.

VietJet, a Vietnamese low-cost carrier, is offering some free domestic one-way tickets, including taxes and fees, while AirAsia in Malaysia has fares as low as 12 ringgit ($2.88) as it expands flights.

AirAsia said traffic to its mobile app has risen by more than 140 percent since the government relaxed domestic travel regulations.

Singapore has capped the number of arrivals under its VTL programme at 3,000 a day in total, albeit merely 1% of pre-pandemic traffic, which has kept ticket prices higher.

Chan Brothers Travel, a travel agency in Singapore, said that inquiries for VTLs have risen 50 percent in the last week, with VCLs being added to more countries including South Korea, the United States, and Britain.

Return economy-class fares from Singapore to South Korea have nearly doubled from S$800 in the past, according to a spokesperson at Singapore's Dynasty Travel.

"Some travellers may wait for the initial price increase for flights to pass, but by the first half of 2022, we can expect quite a number of people to take to the skies," she added.

($1 = 4.1630 ringgit)

($1 = 1.3544 Singapore dollars)

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