Asian carriers launch “fly-for-free” scheme


KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (eTN) – It sounds too good to be true in today’s climate of plunging stock markets, toxic loans, crashing financial system and sky-high oil price: you can fly for free. But it is true, you can to-day travel for free in the Asia Pacific region.

Singapore and Kuala Lumpur may soon become an “exclusive preserve” of low-cost flights, following fierce competition in what is about to become the world’s busiest flight sector, between the two international flight hubs, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Breaking free from the shackles of a tightly-controlled and costly sector for a good part of the last 50 years, the sector is now seeing an implosion of free – or zero fare – flights, following calls of opening up the skies and liberalization of flights between the two countries.

By December, when the route is fully liberalized, carriers will be free to fly “as many flights” as they wish, ending what has essentially been a monopoly by national carriers from both countries, Malaysian Airlines and Singapore Airlines, once charging as much as US$280 for a return flight ticket. Singapore Airlines operates 42 flights weekly, while Malaysian Airlines operates 50 flights splitting revenues but bearing their own costs.

Malaysian-owned AirAsia, a name synonymous with low cost flights in the region, is taking on its competitors on the route, by recently announcing an additional four flights daily, offering a total of 51,000 free seats. “We are not only offering free seats, but also waiving fuel surcharge. Passengers only need to pay airport taxes and administration charges,” according to its market press release.

In August, AirAsia X from the same stable, announced it is offering 1 million free flights from its home base Kuala Lumpur to the Gold Coast in Australia. It also announced starting flights to Melbourne, to be followed by the ‘kangroo route’ onwards to the UK by March 2009.

While AirAsia will not see competition from home, its Singapore competitors will see fierce competition for passengers between its two “designated” carriers: Tiger Airways and Jetstar Asia. There will be a “mix and match” of flights originating from Singapore, shared by the carriers flying the route.

Also offering free – or zero fare – seats to their passengers, Tiger Airways announced it will operate up to five flights each way daily, offering 40,000 seats a month each way, starting from December 1.

Jetstar Asia, meanwhile, confirmed it will increase its schedule to 19 flights a week, starting December 1.

The fiercely competitive route, opened up following liberalization of the air space which officially started on February 2008 with only one flight a week allowed to be operated by “designated” carriers from both countries, will likely see more “bizarre” offers in the bid by a carriers to take on competitors now that flights are offered for free.

On a comment AirAsia X will start charging passengers based on how much they weigh, CEO Azran Osman-Rani, joked, “The move could help Aussies lose weight. We never planned nor even considered charging passengers by weight.”