One Of The World’s Busiest International Routes Is Less Than 300km Long


With a flight distance of just 296km or 184mi, the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore route is one of the busiest international services in the world. Or at least it was in 2019, before the devastating events of 2020. Let’s look at this route and find out what makes it so busy and lucrative for airlines.

The route is so busy that even large widebodies compete on the short-distance flight. Photo: Brisbane Airport Newsroom

2019 data: Not indicative of current events

It should be made clear that the data we are reporting on comes from 2019 – which truly seems a world away from where we are now. The list(s) of busiest routes (both international and domestic) is published annually by OAG and is even separated by region. It’s an interesting report – and one that Simple Flying has done some significant analysis on.

Malaysia Airlines used widebody aircraft on this route as well. Photo: lasta29 via Flickr

A look at the numbers

According to OAG, Kuala Lumpur to Singapore was the 2nd busiest international route in the world next to Hong Kong-Taipei. The report shows that 5,560,894 ‘seats’ were offered on this route for 2019, 2.4 million fewer than Hong Kong-Taipei, and just 80,000 more than the 3rd busiest service, Jakarta-Singapore.

It may hold 2nd spot for the ‘busiest’ international route, but it takes the top spot for the ‘toughest’ international route. That’s because a total of nine carriers compete with one another, offering a total of 29,993 flights last year.

What stands out the most is the incredibly short distance between the two cities, less than 300km.

Ethiopian Airlines 787
For Ethiopian Airlines, the extremely short 40-minute flight is flown by a Boeing 787-8. Interestingly, it’s not the only widebody on this short route. In fact, Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia X, and Singapore Airlines operate widebody aircraft between the two cities. Photo: Ethiopian Airlines

The airlines competing on this service, at least in 2019, included:

  • Singapore Airlines
  • Silkair (soon to be absorbed into Singapore Airlines)
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Ethiopian Airlines
  • AirAsia X
  • AirAsia
  • Scoot
  • Jetstar
  • Malindo Air

For starters, Malaysia and Singapore have significant economic and cultural ties with one another, stemming from close historical ties. Economic migration is fairly common, especially for Malaysian nationals seeking higher-paying work in Singapore.

So with a distance of less than 300km, why are so many airlines competing against other forms of travel? Here are just a few factors:

  1. Singapore is not automobile friendly. It’s certainly possible to drive between the two countries with a drive time of around four hours. However, with Singapore essentially existing as a city-state, its small geographical footprint and stringent traffic-management policies heavily discourage automobiles. Those traveling to Singapore can avoid expensive parking and congestion charges by leaving the car at home in Malaysia and instead benefit from the country’s extensive public transportation network.
  2. Flights connect the rest of Malaysia to Singapore. Travelers would have lengthy drive or train times coming from other parts of Malaysia. For example, driving from Penang to Singapore would be over eight hours. While there is the occasional direct service between these two cities, travelers will find their preferred flight time by connecting through KL and the many frequencies available.
  3. Other modes of transport take longer. While traveling ‘internationally’ in much of continental Europe is borderless thanks to the Schengen Zone, a hard border exists between Malaysia and Singapore. Thus, taking the train, bus, or personal car will add the same amount of time queuing for customs as you might encounter going through airport security and customs when flying. The flight between the two cities is just 40 minutes and transportation time to and from the airports would be about 40 minutes each, for a total of two hours. Add to this the requisite time for check-in, security, customs, and boarding, and you’re still going to get to your destination sooner.
  4. It’s very affordable. Even though bus and train prices are affordable as well, the factors above combined with great pricing from budget airlines mean that flying is made practical and affordable.
Flights are ridiculously cheap between the two cities thanks to hefty competition. Photo: AirAsia

Have you ever flown between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore? Would you add any other reasons to the list to explain the route’s busy-ness? Share your thoughts in the comments.