‘Singapore’s Changi airport was empty!’

TE Raja Simhan Chennai | Updated on February 14, 2020 Published on February 13, 2020

A cleaner sterilises trolleys at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, following the outbreak of a new coronavirus in China, in Sepang, Malaysia.   -  Reuters

As China’s Coronavirus pandemic toll rises, thousands of travellers cancel tickets for travel via SE Asia, Hong Kong


Indians travelling abroad are thronging the Gulf transit airports of Dubai, Doha and Kuwait, staying well clear of the South East Asian (SEA) transit hubs of Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand as well Hong Kong in East Asia due to the Coronavirus pandemic. This, in turn, has pushed up airfares to the US or Europe via Gulf airports by 15-20 per cent, whereas there are no takers for flights via these South East Asian airports and Hong Kong.

Vyjanthi Krishnan was supposed to travel from Chennai to New York via Singapore to visit her children in June but cancelled the ticket and instead booked via Dubai. This is the case with thousands of others. Even those who are planning to come to India have postponed their trips, said travel agents.

There are no takers to the US via transit centres in South East Asia (SEA) such as Singapore, Malaysia and Bangkok. Everybody is opting only through Gulf airports, said Shanmugapriya Thyagarajan, Joint Managing Director, Embassy Travel and Tours. “There are a large number of cancellations of flights to the US or Europe for travel in June, July and August via SEA transit airports,” she told BusinessLine.


“Changi airport was empty,” said Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing Director of budget airline SpiceJet. He was in Singapore recently.

Such is the concern that a customer who had booked a flight to Sydney via Singapore, which is the most convenient transit travelling point from Chennai, cancelled the ticket and asked to be routed via Dubai, which is quite a round-about route, she added.

Big decline

People are also avoiding travel due to hassles and delays in international airports due to screening for the virus. “There could be a 30-40 per cent decline in international traffic,” she added.

இந்த கட்டுரையை தமிழில் படிக்க இங்கே கிளிக் செய்யவும்

Giving a comparison in airfare between Gulf and SEA transits, Thyagarajan said the return ticket price for travel in June from Chennai to New York by Emirates Airlines is ₹93,000 (via Dubai) as against ₹65,000 on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong. Similarly, the airfare on Singapore Airlines to Sydney via Singapore is ₹70,000 as against ₹97,000 by Emirates via Dubai, she added.

P Murugesan, Director, Pioneer Aero Travels (Madras) Pvt Ltd, said nearly 1.5 lakh people leave Chennai every week to global destinations. Of this, nearly 40 per cent is via SEA airports. However, this traffic has completely stopped and migrated to the Gulf airports. The worst affected are the workers flying to Singapore and Malaysia from Chennai, he said.

Due to the heavy rush, even African airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines are going full, connecting US destinations via Addis Ababa. Looking at the current trend, some of the Gulf carriers may even consider running additional flights to clear the huge rush, he said.

Travel restrictions

Following the Coronavirus outbreak, various countries have already imposed travel restrictions. Some national carriers have also announced flight suspensions to China.

India suspended its e-visa facility for Chinese travellers and foreigners residing in China. Air India has suspended its Mumbai-Delhi-Shanghai flights and reduced Delhi-Hong Kong flights while IndiGo suspended its Delhi-Chengdu and Bengaluru-Hong Kong flights.

Similarly, Australia denied entry to foreign travellers who have left or passed through China in the past 25 days even as Jetstar suspended flights to Hefei, Guiyang, and Xuzhou, and Qantas suspended all flights to Mainland China.

Over 25 other countries, including the US and Japan, have issued travel restrictions and many airlines have suspended operations to China.

Published on February 13, 2020

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