Airline Carnage In Southeast Asia Reaches New Dimensions
Mar 23, 2020

A growing number of Southeast Asia airlines are suspending flights or even completely grounding their planes as multiple governments have decided to introduce strict immigration regulations in an effort to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest to announce a tough measure was Singapore Airlines, which said on March 22 it will be cutting its global capacity by 96 per cent and ground almost all of its fleet, including regional carrier SilkAir, in response to the coronavirus crisis, which management describes as “the greatest challenge” the airline has ever faced.

This will result in the grounding of around 138 Singapore Airlines and SilkAir aircraft, out of a total fleet of 147. The airline said its low-cost carrier Scoot will also suspend most of its network and ground 47 of its 49 aircraft.

“It is unclear when Singapore Airlines and its subsidiaries can begin to resume normal services, given the uncertainty as to when the stringent border controls will be lifted,” the airline said.

Singapore-based budget carrier JetStar announced that all its services have been suspended from March 23 to April 15. The airline has also asked staff members to take paid and unpaid leave during this period and has cancelled annual bonuses and annual wage supplement payment.

Malaysia Airlines is also cutting a majority of its overall network, following the nationwide “Restriction of Movement Order” imposed on the nation between March 18 and March 31. Malaysia Airlines Group CEO Izham Ismail said that the airline has cancelled more than 4,000 flights amid the coronavirus pandemic.

AirAsia has said it is limiting international flights during Malaysia’s lockdown and will also reduce domestic flights, subject to change depending on the pandemic. The airline implemented a ten-per cent salary cut for its department heads, a temporary move for the upcoming six months to implement cost-saving measures in coping with the pandemic. Pilots over the age of 60 will also be retired by the company, while all employees are given the option of up to three months of unpaid leave.

Thai AirAsia suspended all international flight services in accordance with travel restrictions being enforced by various governments. The suspension will affect all international services up to April 25. All domestic flights and services are still in operation.

AirAsia Philippines cancelled domestic and international flights to and from Manila and Clark airports due to the lockdown of Luzon until April 14. AirAsia’s affiliates in Indonesia, India and Japan are also limiting flights.

Bangkok Airways in March 22 announced is temporarily suspending many domestic and all international flights until further notice. The airline’s network is serving Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.

Thai Lion Air will suspend international and domestic flights from March 25 to April 30.

Thai Airways announced the cancellation of flights to and from 12 countries, six of them in Europe. Employees are encouraged to take unpaid leave until June 30, while company executives’ salaries are being reduced by 15 to 25 per cent until August. In the midst of the crisis, the carrier’s president announced his resignation. According to observers, the heavily indebted airline could be one first prominent victim of the virus crisis.

Philippine Airlines has also limited domestic and international flights but is currently still operating limited international services to help foreign tourists to leave the country and overseas Filipino workers return home or get back to their work destinations. At least 300 ground-based and management staff were laid off in late February amid the virus crisis in an effort to reduce costs for the airline.

Cebu Pacific has announced that it will suspend all flights and close all ticketing offices until April 14. The carrier is also laying off 150 newly-hired flight attendants as a response to financial pressure from collapsed travel demand.

Vietnam Airlines suspended all international flights until at least April 30 as the country’s government banned all international flights into the country. Domestic destinations will still be served, but the carrier is checking the body temperature of all passengers on all domestic flights, while all passengers also must wear face masks on board.

Budget airline VietJet suspended its flights to major Southeast Asian destinations. The carrier is still taking bookings and flying domestic routes within Thailand by its associate Thai Vietjet Air.

Garuda Indonesia has suspended a number of international flights, but still serves destinations such as the Netherlands and Australia “to facilitate the mobility of Indonesian citizens who are returning to Indonesia from both countries.”

Indonesia’s Lion Air has temporarily suspended its international flights from and to Malaysia until March 31 following the Malaysian government’s decision to lock down the country.

Royal Brunei has stopped flying to several destinations in Malaysia and said it was currently reviewing other routes.