KUALA LUMPUR: AS Christmas approaches, Malaysians from Sabah and Sarawak are facing a formidable obstacle: skyrocketing airfares.
With travel costs soaring to unprecedented levels, individuals and families must reconsider their holiday plans and employ resourceful strategies for a memorable yet budget-friendly celebration.
For Sabahans and Sarawakians who are working in Peninsular Malaysia, concerns about the considerable costs associated with returning to their hometowns for the festive season are mounting.
Catherine Irene Milton, 25, who works in Petaling Jaya, highlighted the challenge of dealing with an inflated airfare, but acknowledged that she had no choice.
"I have already bought tickets to return to Sarawak, but the cost is quite high. The round trip for me to celebrate Christmas exceeds RM1,000," she said.
"The prices consistently soar like this every time a celebration approaches. We, anak perantau (those who live outside their states) still have to endure this."
Ercy Grace, a 24-year-old media practitioner at the national news agency, shared her plans to return to Sabah a day after Christmas.
"I have made plans for Christmas, allocating funds for preparations, including the flight ticket.
"However, I'll celebrate it here in Kuala Lumpur first with my close friends and relatives before flying back to my hometown."
Ercy noted that she has yet to purchase the return ticket to Kuala Lumpur as she was waiting for the airfare to decrease, citing the expected government subsidies.
"My ticket to Sabah costs around RM500 and is not cheap. The government announced that airfare would go down slightly with the subsidy.
"So I'm waiting for it to be enforced before I grab the return ticket," she said.
It was reported that the government planned to subsidise flight tickets from Peninsular Malaysia to Sabah and Sarawak during festive seasons.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke said his ministry was studying how to provide subsidies for flights to the two states a few days before the celebrations.
Several students at public universities who were also planning to return to Sabah and Sarawak for the festive season were relieved by the government's assistance.
A final-year student from Universiti Malaya, who wanted to be known only as Abbegail, said she would not be able to return to Sabah without monetary assistance for students, such as FLYsiswa.
"The total cost for return tickets was almost RM800, but thanks to the FLYsiswa initiative by the government, I could save some money," she said.
"However, it has gotten worse. During my earlier years, a ticket would cost me less than RM200.
"Nowadays, RM200 is considered to be the standard price.
"If not for FLYsiswa, I might have given up."
On Aug 15, the government introduced a subsidy initiative worth RM300 for public university students to buy flight tickets for domestic routes between the peninsula, Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan.
Meanwhile, Christian Bryan Johniu, who is currently in his second year of studies, has chosen to celebrate Christmas on campus instead of returning home due to the high airfare.
"This marks my second consecutive year of missing Christmas with my family because the ticket cost is beyond my budget.
"Unfortunately, I cannot afford such an expensive trip.
"Fortunately, I have friends in a similar situation, and we have decided to celebrate Christmas together, exchanging gifts to uphold the festive spirit even though we are not at home."