SINGAPORE: In light of the MERS outbreak in South Korea, flagship carrier Singapore Airlines (SIA) will waive cancellation fees and administration fees for refund, rebooking or re-routing for customers holding confirmed tickets to and from Seoul's Incheon Airport, it announced on its website on Wednesday (Jun 10).
In a sales circular, Singapore Airlines said the waiver is valid for all commercial Singapore Airlines fare tickets issued on or before Jun 9, for travel on flights to and from Seoul up until Jun 28 (inclusive).
Low-cost carrier Scoot, which is owned by SIA, will also allow customers travelling on specific dates to rebook their travel dates free of charge. "Guests with bookings made on or before June 3 for travel to Incheon up to June 15 (inclusive) have the option to rebook either to another Scoot destination or another travel date. The change fee will be waived but the fare difference will apply," a spokesperson said.
In a notice on its website on Tuesday, Cathay Pacific, which runs daily flights from Singapore to Seoul, said it would not waive cancellation fees for flights to South Korea, or offer refunds.
However, it would waive rebooking and re-routing charges for all passengers travelling to and from Seoul, Busan and Jeju, with tickets issued on or before Jun 8, regardless of fare type. This applies to confirmed bookings with Cathay Pacific and Dragonair, for travel between Jun 9 and Aug 31, Cathay Pacific stated.
Rebooking and re-routing charges will be waived if requests are made on or before Jun 19, the airline said. Revised travel dates must be on or before Oct 31, and subject to flight availability, Cathay Pacific added.
Korean Air has stated on a MERS advisory on its website that a refund or date change penalty may be charged in accordance to a passenger's ticket.
South Korea on Wednesday reported two more deaths due to MERS, and 13 more cases.
Singapore's Government has not issued an advisory against travel to South Korea, but on Tuesday announced temperature screening measures for passengers arriving from South Korea at its airports.
SINGAPOREANS CALL OFF TRIPS
Ms Rachel Fong was among the few who decided to cancel their trips following news of the MERS outbreak in South Korea. The 22-year-old undergraduate had been planning to head to Seoul to catch a music festival and celebrate her birthday with her friends.
"We actually decided to change our plans quite late because we were kind of hoping that the MERS situation wouldn't be this severe," she said. "But when it got to this, such a stage, we decided, my parents decided that it's too risky for me to go.
"Even though there was no travel advisory issued, MOE (Ministry of Education) did decide that schools had to cancel and postpone their trips to Korea. So that indicates how severe the situation is and my parents were not going to take that risk," she added.
Mr Huang Ban Chin also called off his work trip to South Korea.
The Chief Operating Officer of a wellness company in Singapore, which specialises in direct selling of skincare and wellness products, was supposed to go on a site visit, as the firm has an office comprising seven South Korean staff in Seoul.
Mr Huang said he is also adopting a wait-and-see attitude for another upcoming trip to Shanghai, China, which reported its first case of MERS two weeks ago.
"I think the real concern at this point of time is not so much about whether we will be inflicted with the disease or not, but it's really about the inconvenience if things escalate and coming back would be a hassle," he said. "We would be subjected to quarantine."
Travel agency Dynasty Travel said less than a hundred of its customers have cancelled or changed their trips to South Korea. However, it noted that June is not the peak season for travel to the country, as holidaymakers prefer to visit during the year-end winter season.
"We have about 20 per cent who have opted to cancel, or deviate to other destinations such as Taiwan, Japan and Australia," said the director of marketing communications Ms Alicia Seah.
"Travel agents are middle men, we act on behalf of airlines, hotels, transportation overseas, so cancellation fees are not within our control and at this juncture in time, with no travel advisories nor travel bans against visiting Korea, we will have to impose cancellation fees accordingly."
TRAVEL AGENCIES TAKE PRECAUTIONS
For those who are still travelling to South Korea, travel agencies like Chan Brothers Travel said precautions are in place. The agency has about one tour group a day flying to South Korea this month.
"We acted immediately," said the senior manager of customer service Reshel Chan. "We went to buy masks to pass to our tour leaders, and also wet wipes. During the courtesy call, when we have to call our customers - a reminder call before departure - we will also tell the customers that they can bring along sanitiser and during the trip, before every single meal, we remind our customers to wash their hands."
"We have been constantly contacting our tour leaders and also our tour guides to ensure everything is in order. We message them to have hourly updates on what's going on, how the situation is," added Ms Chan.
Two local tour operators who handle groups from South Korea told Channel NewsAsia that some organisations - including corporate groups and schools - have cancelled their travel plans to Singapore.
One said about a hundred people, or about 20 per cent of its customers, have cancelled their trips. They, however, also noted that this is not the peak season for travel in Korea as the summer holidays begin in July.
MOE had recently said all school trips to South Korea have been postponed or cancelled. Students who went on trips to South Korea have also all returned.
MOE added that all schools are currently equipped to manage an acute outbreak and will be further supplemented should the situation require it. Standard procedures and measures include temperature taking and contact tracing, as well as closure of schools and home-based learning.