Monday, January 15, 2007

Balik Kampung Fever

AirAsia’s £1.40 flights to Manchester has got the Malaysian community there looking forward to going home every weekend.

THE mood was, so to speak, almost euphoric. One could actually sense the excitement sweeping across the Malaysian community in Britain over the past week.

Imagine being able to fly home every weekend – thanks to AirAsia X’s extraordinary deals from as little as RM9.99 (£1.40) from Kuala Lumpur to Manchester.

Granted, the RM9.99 tickets may well be limited to a lucky few based on, among others, an early booking pricing system as with most other budget airlines.

Like the case of London’s Hoxton Hotel where its 600 room nights priced at £1 (RM7) were snapped up within 2½ hours of its offer, the same will probably be true of the RM9.99 tickets.
Having said that, the average fare – depending on the season and time of booking – is still expected to be very much lower than the normal RM4,000-RM4,500.

Suddenly, everybody, especially the 12,000 Malaysian students in the UK, are planning to balik kampung as often as they can.

At the stroke of a pen, South East Asia’s first long-haul budget airline has brought Malaysia so much closer to Britain as never before.

Above all, Malaysia’s second national airline has taken the world’s aviation industry by storm with what AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes described as its “revolutionary rates”.

Coming hard on the heels of Oasis Airlines, which flies from London to Hong Kong for as low as £75 (RM525), AirAsia X is set to give its rival a run for its money.

For the over 700 Malaysian students in Manchester, it took some time for what many regard as the best news this year to sink in.

According to the city’s Malaysian Students Society chairman Vince Chong, he thought somebody was kidding when he saw the RM9.99 deal over the BBC.

“That’s the best news I’ve heard in a long time,” he said, adding that many members were discussing the prospect of flying home almost every weekend.

Chong, from Gombak in Selangor, said he even told his parents that they would now have “no excuse” not to fly here and celebrate Christmas with him.

He commended Fernandes for his brave but brilliant strategy, saying one could hardly buy a bar of chocolates, let alone a decent meal, with £1.40 in Britain.

“If he can do it, it’ll be a major achievement not only for AirAsia X but also for Malaysia as a whole,” he added.

Manchester-based Malaysian Research Group of UK president Dr Kamarul Rashdan Salleh said the cheap fares would enable Malaysians from all stratas of society to visit Britain.

“Now, even entire families can afford to fly here during summer or in winter for the snow,” he said in lauding AirAsia X for fulfilling its corporate social responsibility to benefit the community.
Dr Kamarul said both Malaysian and British professionals, especially those living in the Midlands and Scotland, could also fly to Malaysia more often for research purposes and to enhance their contacts.

Apart from Manchester, he suggested that the airline could also fly to Ireland to cater to the large Malaysian community there.

Salford and Manchester Umno Club chairman Noraini Noorazman said many members’ families in Malaysia had contacted them to make plans to fly here.

“Everybody’s excited with the direct flight since MAS scrapped its service from Manchester to Kuala Lumpur last year,” she said.

Since then, many students had been flying by United Emirates, KLM or Qatar airlines from Manchester to Kuala Lumpur, rather than travel to London’s Heathrow Airport.

“Now, our members are planning to balik kampung every weekend if it's RM9.99,” she quipped.
UK Umno chairman Dzariman Ibrahim said four of his schoolmates in Kuala Lumpur planned to take advantage of the cheap flights to visit him.

“I’m sure passengers would not mind bringing their own food and drinks such as nasi lemak or teh tarik,” he said, adding that many would also be prepared to pay for the food on board.
Malaysian High Commissioner to Britain Datuk Abdul Aziz Mohamed hailed the increased accessibility and affordability as a good thing for Malaysia.

“It will result in greater interaction and strengthen contacts between both countries,” he said, adding that the spin-off effects would benefit the trade, investment and tourism sectors.
As Overseas Malaysian Executive Club (Omec) president Datuk John Lim puts it, AirAsia X had indeed stamped its mark by flying to the UK.

“Over and above, the cheaper flights would encourage more British tourists to venture out to Malaysia instead of just flying over to Europe,” he said.

With the phenomenon of low-cost budget airlines flying all over Europe, it’s refreshing to see a Malaysian airline making its debut here.

After all, if anyone can do it, Fernandes can certainly pull it off, given his uncanny knack of making even the most extraordinary things work.

Source : STAR
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