The local travel trade is calling for the reinstatement of MASwings’ Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan flights in Sabah, saying Sandakan was an easier sell when the service was operated by the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) subsidiary which offered better flight timings and interlining conveniences.
MASwings had stopped operating Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan effective January 1, although this route is also operated by AirAsia on a four-times weekly basis and twice daily by MAS via Tawau.
President of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (MATTA), KL Tan, shared: “Inbound agents are facing difficulties promoting Sandakan day excursion tour packages because AirAsia’s flight AK6499, from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu, departing on 1805 hours, does not operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.”
Tan pointed out that this is AirAsia’s latest flight departing from Sandakan to the Sabah state capital, and should this flight be full, tourists will have to take an earlier flight that departs at 14.45 (AK6495), which means they will have to miss half a day’s tour in Sandakan.
He continued: “Furthermore, tourists connecting back to Kuala Lumpur for their overseas connections will not be able to check their luggage all the way through as MAS and AirAsia do not share the same code and passenger privileges in the event of flight retiming.”
Diethelm Travel Malaysia’s managing director, Manfred Kurz, agreed, saying that Sandakan has become less attractive as a day trip destination since MASwings stopped serving the Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan route.
He shared: “We used to promote Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre and a city tour of Sandakan as part of a package. But with the current flight schedules we removed the city tour portion which makes it very expensive to travel all the way to Sandakan, just to see the orangutan.
“For our business, Sandakan is the second most important hub in Sabah after Kota Kinabalu as it is also the gateway to see wildlife in Kinabatangan.
“Reintroducing MASwings, with the same flight timings as previously, will be the perfect solution as it allows a full day tour in Sandakan and tourists with connecting flights on MAS and its partners will be able to check their baggage all the way through.”
The Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan route is among six routes in Sabah and Sarawak that MASwings cancelled effective January 1, 2019 to make way for commercial airlines as based on the new Public Service Obligations 2019 Agreement, enforced after the Malaysian Aviation Commission had conducted a study on rural air services in Sabah and Sarawak.
The study found that the six routes, operated by MASwings as well as commercial airlines such as MAS and AirAsia, had a high load factor of up to 86 per cent, which made it profitable for commercial airlines to continue flying these routes.
A decision was then made for MASwings to cease operations on these routes which the government will no longer subsidise. The routes are: Kota Kinabalu-Sandakan; Kota Kinabalu-Tawau; Kota Kinabalu-Miri; Kuching-Miri; Kuching-Kota Kinabalu and Kuching-Sibu.