Airline Hong Kong Express criticised after scrapping Kota Kinabalu flights

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 August, 2014, 4:56am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 August, 2014, 12:59pm

Low-cost airline Hong Kong Express has come under fire over its handling of inquiries about its decision to scrap services to Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia - a year after it started flying there.

The airline announced a week ago that flights 791 and 792, to and from the tourist destination in Borneo, would cease to operate from October 26. It said the decision was announced on the day it was made, and that about 500 passengers holding return tickets would get either a refund or a ticket to a different destination within three days of their original trip - subject to paying any difference in the fare.

However, one would-be passenger, Alexander Czarnobaj, said he had emailed the airline six times and received only a standard pro-forma reply from customer service.

He plans to visit Borneo with his two children in early November and had already booked accommodation and local tours, as well as the HK$2,800 air tickets.

"This trip is now going to cost some HK$5,000 more than my original plan," he said . "I don't think I should be the one who bears the burden of this expense as it's entirely due to incompetence and lack of goodwill by Hong Kong Express."

The airline started the thrice-weekly flights last October, but said "weak market demand" and a "challenging" business environment since April had led it to suspend the route to the capital of Sabah state. It said passengers were told of the available options by email and SMS.

"The decision to withdraw from Kota Kinabalu was not taken lightly and followed an in-depth and ongoing review of the market situation," the airline's spokeswoman said.

The city, gateway to Mount Kinabalu and several national parks, is also served by direct flights from Hong Kong by AirAsia, Dragonair and Malaysia Airlines.

The decision came amid controversy over an Airport Authority incentive scheme offering discounts on landing fees for carriers launching new routes.

The South China Morning Post reported yesterday that almost half of the new routes launched under the New Destination Incentive Arrangement scheme, since its introduction in 2004, were no longer running.

The airline's spokeswoman said it was offered no incentive by the Airport Authority for the Kota Kinabalu service.

The company relaunched as a low-cost carrier last year and flies to destinations on the mainland, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.