New airline to take rural flight bookings on Monday

By FLORENCE A.SAMY

PETALING JAYA: The problem of tourists not being able to get confirmed tickets on the rural air services in Sabah and Sarawak has been resolved as the new airline will open for flight bookings from Monday, seven weeks ahead of schedule.

Initially, FAX, the new airline contracted to manage AirAsia’s rural service, set a July 1 target for ticket bookings on the 99 non-trunk domestic routes.

Flight bookings for FAX would be available on its website http://www.flyasianexpress.com from Monday and in the interim, a temporary helpdesk has been set up at 03-866-04-399 and travel agents could submit manual booking requests to [url=groupbooking@airasia.com]groupbooking@airasia.com.

FAX has also enlisted assistance from AirAsia to enable flight bookings at all existing distribution channels including AirAsia call centres (1 300 88 9933 or 03-8660 4343), airport sales counters and sales offices nationwide, AirAsia said in a statement yesterday.

It is learnt that FAX is also negotiating with operators of computer booking systems used by travel agents worldwide to enable ticket purchases to be made.

Yesterday, The Star reported that thousands of foreign tourists could change their plans to travel here if glitches in the handover of key local routes from Malaysia Airlines to AirAsia were not resolved quickly. The country also stands to lose substantially in revenue.

The report highlighted concerns by travel agents and said Mulu National Park would be hardest hit as some 18,000 foreign tourists who booked their trip to the park, would cancel if their flights were not confirmed.

From Aug 1, AirAsia will take over the 99 routes from Malaysian Airlines as part of the Government’s rationalisation of the domestic air services sector. Both MAS and AirAsia will also take on 19 trunk routes each.

FAX would first be operating in 39 destinations in Sabah and Sarawak and would fly from Miri to Mulu 14 times a week and to Lahad Datu, another popular eco-tourism spot, 35 times a week from Kota Kinabalu.

General manager Mohamad Zahari assured the public that there would be little disruptions to existing bookings and that routes would not be cut as a result of this exercise.

He said AirAsia, on behalf of FAX, had appealed to MAS to withhold cancellations, which was two months ahead of schedule, until the details were announced as they needed more time.

We believe the situation in Sarawak and concerns from travel and tour operators could have been avoided if MAS informed the affected parties about the new airline taking over from its operations and made a decision to postpone its cancellation exercise for another two weeks, he said, adding that current flight schedules and connectivity would be enhanced.

MAS in a statement yesterday defended its move to immediately cancel bookings for travel on the 99 non-trunk domestic routes.

The national carrier said travel agents, tour operators, national tourist organisations and other relevant bodies, were informed of the intention early on to ensure that foreign tourist arrivals were not negatively impacted and flights were not disrupted.

Long haul tourists, travel agents and tour operators required a minimum of three months lead-time before they committed to a particular package, MAS said.

It will be irresponsible on our part to sell tickets on flights that we will no longer operate from Aug 1, said MAS managing director Idris Jala in a statement yesterday.

Some tour operators put out their promotional material a year in advance, having negotiated packages, which involve not only airlines but also hotels and ground operators.

Despite the minimum three months’ notice, we have only put the forward bookings into play on May 27, which is two months ahead of the Aug 1 deadline.

This was only done after we and the Government received reassurances from AirAsia that it would be ready to take on operations from Aug 1.