Flying with Singapore Airlines in the Australia-Singapore bubble

What’s it like to travel on a ‘vaccinated travel lane’ (VTL) flight between Sydney and Singapore?

By David Flynn, November 10 2021
Flying with Singapore Airlines in the Australia-Singapore bubble

Soaring high above the clouds, there’s little sign of the pandemic which tore up the air travel rulebook in March 2020.

Indeed, on the first flight between Australia and Singapore under the two countries’ ‘vaccinated travel lane’ (VTL) agreement – a travel bubble by any other name – things are already almost back to normal. It’s only on the ground where you notice the bumps.

And let’s be up front here: there’s rather a lot of them, even more so than for any other international destination.

There are Covid tests before your departure and upon arrival at Singapore; there are online forms, such as the mandatory vaccinated travel lane pass; there’s the need for travel insurance with at least SGD$30,000 of Covid-19 cover. 

Executive Traveller joined on Singapore Airlines flight SQ212 from Sydney to Singapore to see what the new Australia-Singapore travel experience is like.

Be prepared...

Under Singapore’s strict ‘vaccinated travel lane’ (VTL) system, the carefree pre-pandemic mode of ‘book a flight, pack a bag and go’ has been replaced by an assortment of permits, passes and proof of both your vaccination and your Covid-free status.

Thankfully it’s all made a lot easier with the checklist at Changi Airport’s free Safe Travel Concierge website, which outlines exactly what you need to do, and when, with helpful links as necessary.

All the same, there’s enough to do in the lead-up to your flight that you can’t leave any this until the last minute – even the vaccinated travel pass must be applied for no less than seven days before your flight – and should also bring a printout of everything with you to the airport.

Arriving at Sydney Airport ahead of Singapore Airlines’ morning SQ212 flight, a dedicated 'pre-checkin team’ was sighting necessary documents such as the Australian international vaccination certificate, the results of a Covid-19 test taken within the last 48 hours, and the Singapore-issued vaccinated travel pass.

In addition to reminding travellers that they’ll need to undergo a Covid PCR test on arrival at Changi Airport, the staff were suggesting that passengers pre-book their test online.

(And why would’t you? It costs no more, and it avoids the risk of being caught in a logjam if flights from any of the dozen other VTL other countries land around the same time.)

If you’re organised, with all your paperwork tucked into a handy folder, this whole pre-checking process should be a pitstop of just a few minutes, provided you’re not caught in a rush of fellow travellers.

Once this preliminary check is done, the actual checkin proceeds just as it used to – and before long you’re through the passport control and security checkpoints and find yourself in a terminal that’s obviously a lot quieter, and with fewer shops open, than two years ago.

From December 1, Singapore Airlines' Sydney lounge will be open for all flights.
From December 1, Singapore Airlines' Sydney lounge will be open for all flights.

At the time of writing, Singapore Airlines’ Sydney SilverKris Lounge are in a ‘soft reopening’ phase and unlock their doors three hour before the airline’s evening flights, and the neighbouring Air New Zealand Lounge – which is usually available to SQ travellers, under the airline’s shared membership of the Star Alliance – remains closed.

Singapore Airlines tells Executive Traveller that its Sydney lounge will once again open ahead of the morning flights from December 1.

Both the business class and first class lounges have been refreshed with new floors and lighting during the coronavirus closure.

Also refreshed are their menus, with the food and drink service now aligned with Covid protocols, such as hosted service with a la carte menu replacing the buffet.

On board Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A350

Our flight was on one of Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A350-900 jets: these quiet, roomy twin-aisle aircraft are arguably the most comfortable way to travel.

While some A350s are fitted with SQ’s long-range business class seat, most Australian flights feature aircraft with a medium-range or ‘regional’ business class seat.

There are no apologies to be made here, unless you’re in nit-picking mode.

The 1-2-1 layout means that every passenger has direct aisle access; the seat is wide and comfortable, with ample personal space including a shelf and storage cabinet; it’s fronted by a generous 18”  video screen; and if you need some shuteye, the seat converts into a fully flat bed.

However, the staggered design of Singapore Airlines’ medium-range business class seat means that only half of the ‘window seats’ are right next to the window, with the shelf between the seat and the aisle.

The other half are directly adjacent to the aisle, with that shelving unit between the passenger and the window.

Want to be sitting right next to the window? Choose an A or K seat in rows 12, 15, 17 or 20.

The seat map for Singapore Airlines' A350s with medium-range business class.
The seat map for Singapore Airlines' A350s with medium-range business class.

Likewise, the paired middle seats have a staggered arrangement in which only every second row sees the passengers sitting closest together: those are seats D and F in rows 11, 14, 16, 18, 19 or 21.

The inflight experience with Singapore Airlines is almost exactly as it was in those fondly-remembered pre-pandemic days.

The crew – all fully-vaccinated – don protective eyewear along with masks, and many of the inflight meals arrive under a hygienic plastic cover.

A complimentary Care Kit available when you board the plane, and also on request, includes a face mask, hand sanitiser and disinfectant surface wipe.

For what it’s worth, we find these simple blue medical masks are the best to wear during a flight: they're lightweight, comfortable, and they ‘breathe’ well.

Singapore Airlines' business class seat provides ample personal space for each passenger.
Singapore Airlines' business class seat provides ample personal space for each passenger.

Breakfast on our morning flight came out around one hour after 9.15am takeoff.

This began with a selection of sliced fresh fruits, granola with Greek yoghurt and cherry compote, and a bakery item (the fruit, yoghurt and granola were each delivered under a plastic cover). 

Healthy starters on Singapore Airlines.
Healthy starters on Singapore Airlines.

That was followed by a choice between Nasi Lemak (shown below), warm Belgian waffles with bananas in butterscotch sauce, and a ‘cheese and chive omelette with chicken sausage’.

Nasi Lemak for breakfast on Singapore Airlines.
Nasi Lemak for breakfast on Singapore Airlines.

There was no second meal service own this eight-hour flight, which was due to reach Singapore at 2.15pm – just an assortment of snacks with the option of instant cup noodles.

(Wondering what will be served on your upcoming Singapore Airlines flight? Enter the date, flight number and travel class at inflightmenu.singaporeair.com.) 

Singapore Airlines’ inflight WiFi system offers a range of packages, including 100MB of free data (normally US$10) for business class passengers and two hours use of messaging and chat services – including the popular WhatsApp, WeChat and Line apps – for any KrisFlyer members in premium economy or economy (normality US$4).

We clocked the WiFi connection at 1.7Mbps download: definitely slow by most standards, but still sufficient for basic Web browsing, email, messaging and social media.

Singapore Airlines’ KrisWorld in-flight entertainment system remains loaded with all the movies, boxed set TV shows and music you could want, and can be driven using your smartphone instead of the in-seat controller.

In fact, with your KrisFlyer frequent flyer number entered into your booking and the Singapore Airlines app, before you set foot on board you can peruse the content library in advance to create a list of shows to watch.

Welcome (back) to Singapore...

Arriving on time at Singapore’s Changi Airport Terminal 3 meant returning to the realities of the Covid controls put in place to establish the Australia-Singapore vaccinated travel lane.

But again, this was far less burdensome than you might expect – and we can generally put that down to the famed Singaporean efficiency.

The on-arrival Covid PCR test at Singapore's Changi Airport.
The on-arrival Covid PCR test at Singapore's Changi Airport.

If you’ve completed all the necessary online forms – essentially the Vaccinated Travel Pass and SG Arrival Card & Health Declaration – those have already been lodged in the system against your passport, so you’ll proceed through Immigration as you usually would, collect any checked luggage, then head past security and follow the signs to the ‘Covid 19 Swab test’ facility. 

The on-arrival Covid PCR test at Singapore's Changi Airport.
The on-arrival Covid PCR test at Singapore's Changi Airport.

Housed in a large shelter just outside the terminal, you’ll join a queue, and – being a smart traveller who’s already booked and paid for your test ahead of time – show your booking QR code.

The on-arrival Covid PCR test at Singapore's Changi Airport.
The on-arrival Covid PCR test at Singapore's Changi Airport.

After being directed to a testing cubicle you’ll undergo a quick nose-and-throat swab, and then you’re clear to proceed to your accommodation, where you have to stay in your room until receiving a negative result from the test.

We’d been warned this can take 6-8 hours, although an email containing the ‘all clear’ message landed around 7.30pm, just five hours after the test was done.

So yes, a trip from Australia to Singapore now presents quite a few hoops to jump through. There’s nothing insurmountable – it just takes time, organisation plus around $450 for the three Covid PCR tests (one before the Australia-Singapore flight, one on arrival at Singapore, and one before the return flight to Australia).

We can see that $450 overhead per passenger being the biggest impediment – it’s a hefty whack on top of your airfare and accommodation, and it’ll put just about any family holiday out of reach.

But nobody expects those PCR tests to remain in place forever – even in the short term, they could well be replaced by less expensive rapid anti-gen tests, similar to those now being accepted by many other countries.

In the meantime, Singapore Airlines expects to see plenty of Australians visiting Singapore as well as travelling further afield on the airline’s global network, with its flagship Airbus A380 slated for a return to Sydney on December 1.

Update: since this article was first published, Singapore has relaxed its stance on pre-flight testing as of November 12 for all VTL countries to allow the faster and less expensive antigen rapid tests (conducted by ‘trained professionals’ rather than self-administered) instead of PCR testing. However, visitors must still undergo an on-arrival PCR test.

The author travelled as a guest of Singapore Airlines.

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

16 Jun 2017

Total posts 37

Great article,but sounds like too much hard work. What is the deal if you are only transiting SIN?

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

29 Jan 2011

Total posts 163

I too would like to see a write-up of what happens if you're only going to be transiting through Changi Airport.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Nov 2021

Total posts 2

Then you just have to abide by the rules of the destination country and singapore airlines. So in this case a test leaving Australia and then wherever you end up..for example Thailand. Test in Australia, travel, transit in Changi with ease and then land in Thailand and test.

This article mentions only rapid antigens being required for departure from November 12th though which is interesting, will be far easier and cheaper!

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

Transits through Changi will depend on your destination, it's not something we can or would cover in a single article, especially as countries are changing their rules – as soon as one destination changed its condition of entry the article would be out of date and thus unreliable. and there's no way we can be Contiually checking for updates and revising such an article. So if you have a destination in mind, you'd be better off checking for the rules around that specific country.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

29 Jan 2011

Total posts 163

Thanks for the response David.

I'll be in transit from the UK through to Sydney on a SQ flight that's designated as a FEPO (for Eligible Passengers Only) flight.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Aug 2017

Total posts 120

Good review thanks David. While it’s good to see things starting I would hope the testing requirements will become less and less and I am sure they will as time goes on. As you rightly point out if a couple wanted to visit SG for a few days or a week $900 in testing would put most off. Right now it looks best suited for business travellers and reuniting families, students etc not a weekend haunt.  But it’s a start and hopefully things will move rapidly in regards to just a test before flight will be sufficient which seems to be the standard. 

Actually Singapore already changed its rules to permit rapid antigen testing before your Singapore-bound flight from 12 November. Unfortunately not many (any?) companies in Australia provide this service, so I still have to get a PCR test for an upcoming trip.

Interesting that SIA paid for a whole bunch of press from a bunch of outlets to demonstrate how hard and expensive this process was, putting off an number of undecided people.

Well done I guess?

31 Oct 2017

Total posts 4

David's experience mimics mine.  It's not hard against the option of not traveling.  I have another two trips booked.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Oct 2016

Total posts 4

So is this article suggesting no outgoing Business Class young on the morning flights?

What's the definition of a soft opening? Is it servicing passengers on morning flights or?

I travel in two weeks...thanks in advance

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

09 Jun 2016

Total posts 12

Only one meal, and one that looked small at that? It used to be the first meal was significant, the second a sandwich or small dish.

24 Jun 2020

Total posts 22

I wonder if the personalised Fast Track is still available to get you through immigration in a hurry and they can complete all the forms.  I loved this service and well worth it if there are many other planes there and could be especially worthwhile in the Covid world.

31 Oct 2017

Total posts 4

David, great article as usual!  Your experience was quite similar to my own VTL flight from LAX on SQ.  I have another two VTL flights already booked.

10 Nov 2021

Total posts 3

Interesting article.  I'm heading back to Singapore next week on this SQ flight so this is very useful.

Trying to find travel insurance that states it meets the 30K requirement is proving troublesome - no one seems to state that they specifically cover SG requirements.  Can anyone recommend a provider that meets the requirement?

Thanks

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Oct 2016

Total posts 4

Yes Chubb has insurance available and is around $40 for 10 days

10 Nov 2021

Total posts 3

Thanks, crakyl.  Purchased now.  Much appreciated

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

Hi Bew996 - I ended up choosing from the three Singapore insurance providers listed at https://safetravel.ica.gov.sg/health/travelinsurance – prices vary slightly depending on your age and length of stay but they all have the necessary $30k of Covid cover and prices start at around $20!

10 Nov 2021

Total posts 3

Thanks David.  Purchased!

16 Feb 2017

Total posts 24

Very informative article - well done. The comment re the medium range / regional A350's - they're the ones without Premium Economy ? Does it mean that if your Australia to SIN leg of a flight to Europe doesn't have PE - then you can't book PE on the SIN/Europe ? SIN legs either ? (I believe the answer is you can't) ?

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

Hi Grahama33 – that's correct, these medium-range A350s lack premium economy.  

26 Mar 2020

Total posts 45

Hi David - Will you be doing a Destination review while in Singapore to tell us what its like their (level of restrictions etc)  and what you can or cant do while in Singapore in this new Covid World

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

Hi Travellz – no plans for that, as conditions can and do change quickly – some revisions were even announced while we were in Singapore, and I'm sure more will follow soon.

Air New Zealand - Airpoints

05 Nov 2014

Total posts 60

Two issues here.

Firstly, the extremely high infection levels in Singapore mean that you may well fail your test 72 hours prior to departure from Singapore. If you do, you are detained in a Raffles Medical detention centre at your own expense.

Secondly, the on-arrival testing matches what Australia’s National Plan required - which NSW and Victoria have abolished. We now have the astonishing situation in which arrivals from Singapore fave fewer restrictions in Australia than they did in Singapore!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2014

Total posts 129

No second meal service on an 8 hour business class flight with Singapore Airlines? Whats up with that?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Aug 2014

Total posts 129

This is a great and timely review. Thanks David. Very informative. 

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 508

Any of the signatures warm moist hand towel preflight service?

Where is the outrage on optional cup noodles in j class service (mind you at least there is at least one proper meal) 

26 Mar 2020

Total posts 45

Their meal service has definitely been paired back - Australia to Singapore services always used consist of two meal services (1 x main service and 1 x lighter service) on all flights.

Seems like Singapore Airlines will now only do one meal service for the 8 hour flight


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