In a surprising move, Malaysia has opened its doors for visa-free travel to Indian passport holders, alongside Chinese nationals. While Indian tourism has rebounded significantly, the same cannot be said for Chinese tourists, and both are yet to reach pre-COVID levels. India stands as the fifth-largest source market for Malaysia.
Known for its tourist-friendly environment and straightforward visa application process, Malaysia has always been an attractive destination. The recent announcement of visa-free travel has sparked interest among tourists, prompting thoughts of combining a visit to Malaysia with trips to neighboring countries.
Flight options to Malaysia
Malaysia is among the few countries where Malaysian carriers have exhausted their rights to India, resulting in limited utilization by Indian carriers. Currently, the only daily flight operated by an Indian carrier is by IndiGo, connecting Chennai to Kuala Lumpur.
On the Malaysian side, four carriers—Malaysia Airlines, Batik Air Malaysia (formerly Malindo), AirAsia Bhd., and AirAsia X—offer over 170 weekly departures from 11 points in India. These include all six metro cities—Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad as well as five destinations covered by the India-ASEAN open skies agreement: Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Trichy, Kochi, and Trivandrum.
Malaysian carriers have been expanding rapidly to India, with recent launches to Amritsar by Malaysia Airlines and upcoming resumptions of flights to Ahmedabad and Trivandrum. AirAsia has also announced flights to Trivandrum.
As Indian carriers explore new routes and airlines from other countries, such as Vietnam, penetrate the Indian market, the hubs at Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Singapore may face increased competition. The visa-free regime is expected to provide Malaysian carriers with an advantage in overcoming these challenges.
Flight details by carrier
- Malaysia Airlines: Amritsar, Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Kochi (from December 1), Trivandrum
- Batik Air Malaysia: Amritsar, Bengaluru, Delhi, Kochi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Trichy.
- AirAsia: Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Kochi, Kolkata, and Trichy.
- AirAsia X: Delhi, Amritsar.
With 42 weekly frequencies from Chennai, 23 from Delhi and Kochi, 22 from Trichy, 18 from Bengaluru, 15 each from Mumbai and Hyderabad, 11 from Amritsar, 10 from Kolkata, and twice a week each from Ahmedabad and Trivandrum, the flights are well-distributed. IndiGo operates seven weekly flights from Chennai, while the remaining 176 weekly flights are operated by Malaysian carriers.
Under the ASEAN open skies arrangement, flights are allowed to 18 destinations, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see more flights being added by Malaysian airlines.
Challenges on the Indian Side
Currently, IndiGo is the sole carrier offering flights to Malaysia, with a modest seven weekly flights. The airline previously operated flights to Kuala Lumpur from Delhi and Bengaluru but has not reinstated these routes. This could be indicative of the airline prioritizing profitable routes amid aircraft shortages.
Air India Express and Jet Airways have also operated flights to Kuala Lumpur in the past. The market primarily caters to transfer passengers heading to ASEAN and Australia and the Indian diaspora, with a concentration in Tamil Nadu. Trichy and Kuala Lumpur had the highest frequencies between India and Malaysia before COVID.
While Malaysia has remained a secondary choice for travelers, often paired with a visit to Singapore, the current push for visa-free travel may change the landscape. As countries strive to attract more travelers, a visa-free regime opens the door for spontaneous trips over long weekends. The question remains: will Indian carriers seize this opportunity to add more flights? This could be an opportune moment for Air India Express to re-enter the market!