With the United Kingdom suffering a severe wave of COVID-19 infections from a new and more contagious strain of the virus, many countries have clamped down on accepting those who have recently visited or live in the country from crossing their borders, with Singapore being no exception.
Since 23rd December 2020, only Singapore citizens and permanent residents who have been in the UK during the last 14 days are permitted to enter or transit Singapore.
This move most prominently affected those flying the popular UK to South West Pacific routes, such as London to Sydney, with some families finding themselves split up between those eligible to fly and those not.
Singapore Airlines now has a solution for these travellers that satisfies the authorities and restores this key traffic component on two specific routes:
- London to Auckland
- London to Sydney
This requires the airline to operate the same aircraft on designated London – Singapore flights that then go on to fly from Singapore to Auckland or Singapore to Sydney, with a minimal transit time at Changi.
While passengers destined for Singapore will disembark as usual and a crew change will take place, those continuing their journey to Australia or New Zealand will remain on board throughout the transit. They will also be seated separately from London – Singapore passengers.
The first passengers to take advantage of this new option were on board SQ317 from London to Singapore on 29th December 2020, according to the Australian Financial Review. The same Airbus A350 aircraft (9V-SMK) continued to Auckland as SQ281 the following morning after a 90-minute turnaround at Changi.
The following day SQ317 was paired with SQ211 to Sydney, with a slightly longer turnaround of 2 hours 40 minutes in that case, offset by a shorter second flight for a quicker journey overall.
Aircraft used for SQ317 flights have been continuing to operate to Auckland and Sydney on alternate days in line with the above schedule.
It’s more complicated, but not much
These itineraries are nothing new – they were always timed this way to facilitate quick London – Australia / NZ connections, though the difference this time compared to before is that there’s no opportunity for passengers to stretch their legs in the terminal or get a shower in the lounge between flights.
Currently, most passengers in transit at Changi are escorted to a ‘Transit Holding Area’ or transit hotel before being taken to their onward departure gate. This was also the case for UK to Australia / NZ passengers until 23rd December.
For Singapore Airlines, the complication is assigning the same aircraft to specific flight combinations. Previously, you’d rarely board the exact same plane to continue your journey in these cases, even when the planned aircraft type was the same.
There are also additional cabin security checks for the new crew boarding at Changi, while passengers remain on board with their hand luggage prior to general boarding, though this is something the airline is already used to dealing with (e.g. in Johannesburg, before a Cape Town flight).
24 hours on the same plane is a long time
We miss flying but the thought of 24 continuous hours on board the same aircraft is a painful one, even in Business Class.
Combine that with mandatory mask wearing for nearly the entire journey, except when eating or drinking, and there will be some bleary-eyed and highly relieved passengers disembarking these flights in Auckland and Sydney.
Unfortunately with airlines like Cathay Pacific simply cancelling their London flights over the coming weeks there is little alternative choice remaining for those who still need to travel, with SIA services representing one of the few UK to Australia / NZ connections.
With transit passengers making up a large proportion of SIA’s passenger loads on London to Singapore flights, the latest restrictions enforced just before Christmas were a blow to the airline, currently operating the route twice daily.
This solution is now allowing Singapore Airlines to carry transit passengers to two key cities, provided they don’t get off the aircraft at Changi, though it means 24 hours on the same plane for those travelling via this arrangement.
We certainly feel for passengers enduring such a long journey without a decent opportunity to stretch their legs, but it’s great that Singapore Airlines has been able to quickly restore this connection for them at a time of very limited travel options.
The airline has stated the new transit flights are primarily for those with existing bookings, whose plans had potentially been altered due to the suspension, but we noticed some seats on upcoming flights still available for booking.
(Cover Photo: Singapore Airlines)