SINGAPORE: As more countries implement travel restrictions aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19, more travellers find themselves having to cancel their flight plans. 

On Wednesday (Mar 18) the Government advised that all travel overseas should be deferred, a move aimed at reducing “the risk of Singaporeans being infected with the virus when abroad and spreading it to other Singaporeans when they return”. 

To assist passengers who have had to change their travel plans in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, budget carrier Scoot set up a “self-service refund” portal on its website, which aims to ease the process of obtaining refunds – in the form of travel vouchers.

A Scoot spokesperson told CNA it had received more than 24,000 refund requests on the first day of the portal’s operation, and refunded more than 8,500 customers.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) declined to say how many cancellations it had seen, though it had earlier said it was experiencing an “extraordinarily high volume of customer enquiries at our customer services centres, reservation and sales offices, and social media channels”.

SIA noted that for passengers who are unable to fly due to travel restrictions, it would waive all rebooking fees for tickets issued on or before Mar 15, 2020, for trips until the end of May. 

Mr Lester Hio told CNA the coronavirus outbreak put a damper on his plans for a short family getaway to Penang. 

However the 30-year-old, who works in publishing, said he had no regrets over having to cancel his vacation. 

“I was already planning on cancelling to Penang even before news of the Malaysia lockdown and the advisory to defer all travel,” he said. 

The Malaysian government implemented a “restricted movement order” on Wednesday (Mar 18) that, among other regulations, barred its citizens from going overseas and foreigners from entering the country for two weeks. 

“It’s the responsible thing to do, especially given that I have elderly parents at home and no trip is worth the risk,” said Mr Hio. 

(nstructions for passengers from listed countries to report to airport authorities are displayed in the arrival area, amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at Changi International Airport in Singapore on March 16, 2020. (Photo: Roslan RAHMAN / AFP)

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Others noted difficulties with having to change their travel arrangements. 

Researcher Basil Lee had initially booked a holiday to South Korea, but changed his plans after travel restrictions kicked in for the country. 

“I decided to move my ticket to Australia as I had friends there,” said the 27-year-old, who had planned to visit Sydney and Melbourne. 

He was forced to cancel the plan when it was announced on Sunday (Mar 15) that all travellers entering Australia country would have to isolate themselves for two weeks to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

On Thursday (Mar 19), Australia introduced even more stringent restrictions, barring all non-residents from entering the country. 

While Mr Lee managed to successfully cancel his flight from Singapore to Australia, he noted he is still “fighting a battle” on cancelling a domestic flight between Melbourne and Sydney. 

He believes there could be greater coordination between governments and companies in the tourism business on the implementation of such travel guidelines, noting for example that hotels had requested for a “do not travel” advisory before processing his refunds.  

“Having such coordination would make the nightmare of cancelling a lot less painful, and that phone calls do not need to be made,” said Mr Lee, though he noted having such announcements made one or two days before implementation made it easier for him to make the necessary arrangements. 

Airlines are seeing the fallout as an increasing number of countries putting travel restrictions into place to stem the spread of the coronavirus. 

Earlier this month, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned the COVID-19 pandemic could cost passenger airlines up to US$113 billion (S$162.7 billion) in lost revenue this year. 

On Tuesday, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said it would slash its capacity by 50 per cent, while JetStar Asia announced it would ground its entire fleet for at least three weeks. 

And in the United States, a number of major airlines are seeking a government bailout of more than US$50 billion (S$72.3 billion) due to a fall in demand for flights. 

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