SilkAir is set to be one of the first carriers to reintroduce international flights to the popular holiday island of Phuket in early February 2021, as Thailand approves overseas arrivals through the airport for returning citizens and those from 56 countries willing to jump through a number of hoops for a tourist stay of up to a month.
This will be SilkAir’s eighth regular passenger destination from Singapore and the carrier’s second predominantly leisure route since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, with Maldives flights continuing to operate despite no formal leisure travel agreement for Singapore residents.
SilkAir will fly its Boeing 737-800 to and from Phuket twice per week from 4th February 2021, with an afternoon / evening service on Thursdays and a morning flight on Sundays.
From 4th February 2021
Flights are now bookable via the Singapore Airlines website or mobile app.
The airline also has approval to carry transit passengers through Changi both to and from Phuket, allowing eligible international travellers from further afield to make either one-way or return trips to the popular holiday island.
Like SilkAir’s twice weekly Malé (Maldives) flights, transit passengers are likely to make up the most significant proportion of those travelling on these Phuket flights, especially those who don’t have to worry about a quarantine period when they return home.
Other SilkAir routes
SilkAir lost a couple of routes from its temporary network recently, with Penang moving across to Scoot after a group network review and proposed weekly Da Nang flights never getting (far) off the ground – only one service actually happened in that case.
These Phuket flights will soon supplement the slimmed-down SilkAir network totalling seven other cities in Asia during February and March 2021, for a total of eight destinations.
The airline is exclusively using its Boeing 737-800s, with its leased Airbus A319s and A320s now stored and set for return to leasing companies and the Boeing 737 MAX 8 awaiting regulatory approval.
Though the first SilkAir MAX has now been returned to Changi, we expect it is more likely to be transferred straight into the Singapore Airlines fleet once local regulators sign off on its return to service.
Thailand’s (complicated) tourist visas
Thailand has been introducing a variety of ridiculously onerous requirements for tourists to visit the country over recent months.
These have included 60-day and 90-day tourist visas, which came with a string of requirements including quarantine, insurance cover, proof of income and a minimum 3-month stay in some cases!
Not surprisingly, only 825 people utilised the Special Tourist Visa in the first two months, hardly the resurgence the country’s struggling tourism sector needed.
Visa-free tourist visits are now possible
Since mid-December 2020, tourists from 56 eligible countries, including Singapore, France, Australia and the USA, are now permitted to visit Thailand without a visa.
Not much else has improved though. Here is the process:
- A negative COVID-19 PCR test result, taken no more than 72 hours before flight departure.
- A ‘Fit-to-Fly’ certificate from a doctor, confirming that you do not have any symptoms of COVID-19.
- Evidence of medical and travel insurance that includes COVID-19 (covering at least US$100,000 in medical treatment and a minimum of 400,000 Thai baht (~US$13,000) for other medical and accident expenses).
- A booking for your 14-day quarantine period on arrival at an approved (ASQ) hotel.
- Three COVID-19 tests while in quarantine, on days 1, 10 and 14.
The visa-free visit is valid for 45 days, so once you’re free of quarantine you’re eligible to remain in Thailand for around a month (though you can stay for less time if you wish).
There is a plan to reduce the arrival quarantine period to 10 days once Thailand has assessed data from its three-test programme (previously, only two tests were conducted).
You’ll still face quarantine on your return
Any applicable quarantine requirements will apply on return to your home country. For Singapore, that means a mandatory 14-day SHN period, served either at home (under certain conditions) or in a dedicated facility at your own expense, on return from your Thailand trip.
If you work from home and are therefore wondering whether it’s worth a 14-day quarantine in Thailand, followed by a holiday, then 14-day SHN at home on return to Singapore, do be aware you’ll still be on the hook for a paid hotel SHN stay on your return if the opt-out from dedicated SHN is revoked before you get back.
The list of countries/regions/places eligible for opt-out of dedicated SHN facilities will be updated from time to time depending on the public health risk assessment.
Travellers must be prepared that any prior approvals given for opt-out from dedicated SHN facilities may be revoked, and the prevailing border measures upon entry will apply, including stay in SHN Dedicated Facility (SDF) and payment, where applicable.Singapore ICA
Realistically as a Singaporean that means you can have a maximum of around 30 days freedom in Thailand but will spend a total of 28 days in quarantine to achieve it, possibly all of that in a hotel room!
Phuket joins in February
Currently it’s only possible to serve your Thailand arrival quarantine at an ASQ hotel in Bangkok, however from February 2021 this will also be possible in Phuket.
21 local hotels are now on the ASQ approved list, where you can book your two-week quarantine stay. These include the Anantara, the Banyan Tree and the Dusit Thani, so there are nice luxury options for those who don’t want to ‘slum it’ (though yes, before you ask, you do have to pay for it!).
You can book directly with the hotel of your choice, or for some hotels even via Agoda.
Qatar Airways will also start flying to the island from its Doha hub in February 2021, with the carrier likely trying to capture the bulk of the Europe – Phuket tourist demand.
SilkAir is restarting twice weekly flights to and from Phuket in February 2021, though that by no means indicates a resumption of fuss-free leisure trips to the popular island.
Remember the airline started flying twice per week from Singapore to the Maldives in December 2020, generating some excitement over whether this meant a travel bubble would follow, though the flights are simply serving transit passengers and a limited number of Singapore residents willing to undergo two weeks of paid SHN in a hotel on their return.
Thailand’s latest plan to welcome tourists is a visa-free stay of up to 45 days, with arrival quarantine, which can soon be served in Phuket.
We can’t see many (if any) of our readers being prepared to go to the time and expense of a tourist visit to Phuket under the mandatory quarantine process at both ends of the trip, even if the arrival quarantine is reduced to 10 days as suggested and the return SHN period in Singapore can continue to be served at your place of residence.
Furthermore, Singaporeans continue to be advised to defer all travel abroad.
That will leave these new SilkAir flights primarily serving transit passengers and Thai citizens returning home.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)