Dhaka-Malaysia air fare soars past Tk 100,000

As the Malaysia labour market is to be closed for Bangladesh on 31 May, national flag carrier Biman Bangladesh Airlines is operating four special flights to ferry workers to the Southeast Asian country to tackle the last-minute rush, but airfare surged by five-fold past 100,000 taka, due to the Biman officials taking bribery.

Air fare is usually 20-25 thousand taka on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur route, but ticket prices increased by over three folds at the beginning of May, which further rose to 80,000-100,000 taka at mid-May.

Following the surge in airfare, Ether Fariel Hamid, managing director of Fariel Tours and Travels Limited, filed complaints with the Prime Minister’s Office. She alleged travel agencies can purchase no ticket for Biman’s special flights as no tickets are available on the global distribution system (GDS), allowing the Biman officials to take advantage of the situation to do corruption. Ticket price also crossed 100,000 taka, she said requesting the prime minister to intervene.

Ether Fariel Hamid told Prothom Alo that tickets become available on the GDS once officials are given 20,000-25,000 thousand taka as bribes per ticket and ticket prices surged from 105,000 to 110,000 taka.

According to Biman sources, the agency charges additional fare as the return flight is likely to be empty. The price starts at 68,000 taka for the Biman flight. Tickets were open and available online. Besides, Biman sent letters to the Malaysian authorities for operating four special flights but received no reply from the Malaysian authorities till 4:00 pm on Monday.

Tickets were not available on the Bimain website on Sunday and Monday. All tickets from 27-31 May were sold out.

Biman marketing and sales director (acting) Mohammad Salauddin said, “Tickets for the special flights were made available with an announcement four days ago, and 99 per cent of tickets have been sold via GDS. If we are informed who took bribe it will be easier to take action, and the licence of the agency should be revoked if they charge over 100,000 taka for a ticket.”

More than 450,000 workers went to Malaysia since the country reopened its labour market for Bangladesh in July 2022 following a gap of four years. The Southeast Asian country closed its door once again for Bangladeshi workers amid growing allegations by several international agencies over recruitment irregularities, labor exploitation and workers not getting jobs after arriving in the country. Kuala Lumpur, however, has given the workers with an approval until 31 May to arrive in the country.

In a journey to the same distance from Dhaka and Kolkata, airfare is higher from Dhaka than from Kolkata. It takes 3 hours and 55 minutes to reach Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, from Dhaka and 4 hours from Kolkata, but the airfare is Tk 24,000 to Tk 25,000 on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur route while the fare is Tk 14,000 to Tk 15,000 on the Kolkata-Kuala Lumpur route. And now, government and private airlines are charging higher prices taking advantage of the situation.

Migrant worker recruiting agencies’ association Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) said workers have to spend more to go to Malaysia due to the syndicate of certain agencies with a worker spending 450,00-500,000 taka. Now, ticket prices have risen abnormally, thus, uncertainty looms large over whether all the workers will make it to Malaysia at the end.

Air ticket selling agencies’ organisation Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB) said airlines charge additional air fare on the pretext of jet fuel cost and they increase it on various occasions. If ticket price rises at the state-run airline, all private and foreign airlines take advantage of it.

The expatriate welfare and overseas employment ministry should have declared in advance how many workers would be going to Malaysia and so the various airlines would take measures accordingly. No many are not able to avail tickets. ATAB has requested the airline companies to provide additional flights on the Malaysia route.

ATAB president Abdus Samad Aref told Prothom Alo that varous agencies are complaining to ATAB that they are unable to buy tickets for Biman's special flight from GDS. A Tk 30,000 ticket can't cost Tk 100,000. That is harassing the passengers.