Bookings for Singapore-KL flights spike despite lack of VTL flight details

There will six designated VTL flights daily between Changi Airport and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Bookings for flights between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur have spiked in the past day, even though details such as the designated Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) flights are yet to be announced.

But many Malaysians in Singapore are still holding back in the hope that the eased border restrictions will be extended to land checkpoints soon.

The VTL, which will restart quarantine-free air travel between the two countries, was announced by Singapore and Malaysia on Monday (Nov 8) afternoon.

There will be six designated VTL flights daily between Changi Airport and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. More details about the scheme will be announced soon.

Talks on restarting quarantine-free travel via the Causeway and the Second Link are continuing in the meantime.

Ms Andhini Putri, vice-president for marketing transport and financial services at travel booking platform Traveloka, told The Straits Times that it had received a double-digit percentage growth in bookings for flights between the two countries after Monday's announcement.

Meanwhile, Expedia Group Brands' Asia head of communications Lavinia Rajaram said the platform had observed a 17-fold increase in terms of search volumes for flights between Singapore and KL.

The search volumes for accommodation in KL also increased by 60 per cent, she said.

According to flight data and analytics provider OAG Aviation, the KL-Singapore route was the busiest air route worldwide in terms of flight frequencies in 2019.

Malaysians in Singapore said they welcomed the chance to return home, without having to serve lengthy quarantine periods, after almost two years.

Public relations specialist Rachel Quek, 26, said she was excited to hear about the VTL.

The permanent resident, who married her Singaporean husband in June, added: "We wanted to postpone our wedding banquet until the borders are open, so the VTL got us thinking about whether my family can come over to celebrate our wedding together with my husband's family."

But she was also concerned that prices for flight tickets would be expensive, and hoped the land checkpoints will reopen soon to provide a more affordable option for Malaysians to return home.

About half a million people from both countries made daily trips across the land borders between Singapore and Johor before the borders closed in March last year.

Research fellow Lim Sin Mei, 36, who is the administrator of a Facebook group to help Malaysians return home during the Covid-19 pandemic, said many Malaysians in Singapore live in the southern part of Malaysia, such as Johor or Malacca. They would prefer to return home via the land checkpoints, she said.

"In the event of any emergency, I will consider taking a VTL flight back to Kuala Lumpur and returning home (to Melaka) from there," added Dr Lim.

"Otherwise, I will wait until January next year to see if there is a better option to return."

Beyond sparking hope of families reuniting, the VTL announcement also led to a spike in interest for business travel.

Mr Bertrand Saillet, managing director of Asia at business travel specialist FCM Travel, told ST that the firm has been receiving inquiries since Monday. He expects the level of interest to peak in the coming weeks.

"The year-end holiday season will also be an opportunity for strong recovery as a significant number of business travellers will choose to extend their trips for that short year-end getaway, even if it's a nearby destination like Malaysia," he said.

"The desire to get out of Singapore for a break is very strong."

Mr Kurt Wee, president of the Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, said the option of quarantine-free air travel to KL is welcome news for businesses, but said the most meaningful move would be for the scheme to be expanded soon to include those travelling via the Causeway and Second Link.

"For the business community, what is very important is the labour exchange and the intermediate and finished goods supply," he said, noting that this affects several industries such as services and the construction sector.

He said the border restrictions, which remain in place at the land checkpoints, had led to projects being delayed and manpower issues, among other problems.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong said the VTL scheme will be a welcome financial relief for Malaysians who work in the aviation sector, including airline crew and airport staff.

"Flights to other Asean countries are also currently under discussion," Datuk Seri Wee posted on Facebook on Monday.

Tourism industry players also said the air travel VTL is not expected to have an immediate impact on Malaysia's economy.

"This is a good start, but this will be used by those coming to visit families or business travellers mostly. We would not see any major impact in the first month," said Mr Abu Fadzil, the head of operations and customer service at Asian Trails Malaysia.

  • Additional reporting by Ram Anand Subbarao

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