News Scoot Singapore Airlines

Scoot now banned from Hong Kong for 2 weeks, SIA pulls transit option to the city

Just as SIA's ban comes to an end, Scoot has now picked up an embargo on carrying passengers from Singapore to Hong Kong for the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, SIA has decided not to carry any transit passengers to Hong Kong until further notice.

Hot on the heels of Singapore Airlines picking up a two-week ban on flying passengers to Hong Kong after breaching one of the city’s strict COVID-19 rules, low-cost subsidiary Scoot has now been prevented from flying passengers to the city for 14 days from 16th April to 29th April.

The news comes just as Singapore Airlines is allowed to carry passengers to Hong Kong once again, from 17th April 2021 onwards.

According to a Hong Kong SAR government statement, Scoot fell foul of the same rule that resulted in SIA being banned from taking passengers into the city in the first half of April.

“A passenger flight (TR980), operated by SCOOT arriving from Singapore to Hong Kong on April 11, had two passengers confirmed to have COVID-19 through specimens collected at the DH’s Temporary Specimen Collection Centre, with one passenger who failed to comply with requirements specified under the Prevention and Control of Disease (Regulation of Cross-boundary Conveyances and Travellers) Regulation (Cap. 599H).

“The DH thus invoked the regulation to prohibit landing of passenger flights from Singapore operated by SCOOT in Hong Kong from April 16 to 29.”

Government of Hong Kong SAR Press Release, 15th April 2021

Scoot’s daily Hong Kong flights are operated by Boeing 787-9 aircraft as TR980 / TR981.

TR980 will now operate as a cargo-only flight from Singapore to Hong Kong from 16th April 2021 to 29th April 2021 inclusive, but will still carry passengers on its return trip as TR981.

Scoot has confirmed the ban in a media statement.

“Scoot confirms that on 14 April 2021, we have been asked by Hong Kong authorities to suspend our daily passenger service from Singapore to Hong Kong from 16 – 29 April 2021 (dates inclusive). Our passenger service from Hong Kong to Singapore is not affected.”

Scoot

Details on the passengers

Scoot also confirmed that the three passengers in question on the flight were all transiting from other origin cities, via Singapore.

“Two transfer passengers on flight TR980 on 11 April 2021, who carried valid negative pre-departure COVID-19 test results, tested positive on arrival in Hong Kong.

“A third transfer passenger on board the same flight had negative pre-departure COVID-19 test results, and also tested negative on arrival in Hong Kong. However, this passenger’s test and travel visa supporting documents were found to not fully meet Hong Kong’s regulatory requirements.”

Scoot

As with the Singapore Airlines case earlier in the month, this therefore seems to be an unfortunate combination of one or two positive test results in combination with a (separate) passenger documentation issue on the same flight.

“Scoot will work closely with our ground handling agents to reinforce our protocols and staff training in conducting document checks at our departure points, and to ensure that the passengers we carry are in compliance with all regulatory requirements.”

Scoot

SIA and Scoot aren’t the first to be banned

As we mentioned when the Singapore Airlines ban kicked in earlier this month, SIA and Scoot are far from the only ones picking up these 14-day embargoes on delivering passengers into Hong Kong.

Recent 14-day bans include:

  • Air India (BOM): Banned in Oct 2020
  • Air India (DEL): Banned four times (Aug 2020, Sep 2020, Oct 2020 and Nov 2020)
  • British Airways (LHR): Banned in Dec 2020
  • Emirates (DXB): Banned in Jan 2021
  • KLM (AMS): Banned in Dec 2020

Local carrier Cathay Pacific has also picked up several bans on individual routes for breaching the strict thresholds.

Just in the last few days, Emirates picked up a second ban, for bringing five passengers into Hong Kong who tested positive for COVID-19 on a flight from Dubai via Bangkok on 11th April. The carrier is now prohibited from bringing passengers into Hong Kong from those two cities between 13th April and 26th April.

Emirates flights from Dubai and Bangkok are also currently prevented from carrying any passengers into Hong Kong. (Photo: Emirates)

The rules are now tighter

Until 13th April 2021, the 14-day flight bans in Hong Kong were imposed by one of the following criteria being triggered:

  1. A passenger fails to provide correct information about their health/travel history combined with one or more passengers testing positive for COVID-19 on arrival
  2. Five or more passengers on the same flight test positive for COVID-19 on arrival
  3. Two consecutive flights from a location each have three or more passengers who test positive for COVID-19 on arrival.
  4. Three or more passengers test positive for COVID-19 on arrival on any two consecutive flights on the same airline from the same location.

These rules were tightened with effect from 14th April 2021:

  1. A passenger fails to provide correct information about their health/travel history combined with one or more passengers testing positive for COVID-19 on arrival
  2. Three or more (was five or more) passengers on the same flight test positive for COVID-19 on arrival
  3. Two or more (was three or more) passengers test positive for COVID-19 on arrival on any two flights on the same airline from the same location in any 7-day period (was two consecutive flights)
  4. Five or more passengers with the COVID-19 N501Y mutant strain are confirmed by arrival tests from any flight(s) originating from a specific country within a 7-day period will result in all flights from all airlines departing that specific country being prohibited from landing in Hong Kong for 14 days (new requirement)

As previously mentioned, it’s worth noting here that in common with the recent Singapore Airlines suspension, Scoot also fell foul of the first rule in the list, which has not been changed.

Both Scoot and SIA temporarily lost their approval to fly passengers into Hong Kong for a small number of COVID-19 cases, combined with a paperwork issue. (Photo: Kwok Ho Eddie Wong)

Singapore Airlines won’t carry transit passengers to Hong Kong

In a separate announcement earlier today, Singapore Airlines has opted to cease carrying transit passengers on its daily passenger flight from Changi to Hong Kong, effective from its services restarting on 17th April 2021.

The airline’s sole passenger flight from Hong Kong to Singapore (SQ883) each day will continue to carry transit passengers connecting to other SIA Group destinations, but SQ882 from Singapore to Hong Kong will carry only origin-destination passengers on board (no transit).

From 17 April 2021 until further notice, Singapore Airlines will stop carrying transit passengers departing from Singapore to Hong Kong due to new regulatory requirements in Hong Kong. Services from Hong Kong to Singapore remain unaffected, and passengers originating from Hong Kong will be allowed to transfer through Singapore Changi Airport en-route to their final destinations.

Singapore Airlines, 15th April 2021

Scoot has not made a similar announcement at this stage, however we checked several valid connecting itineraries on the Scoot website and it appears that the low-cost carrier will also cease permitting transit passenger arrivals into Hong Kong, even once its passenger services restart in a couple of weeks.

How it relates to the Air Travel Bubble

With Hong Kong’s COVID-19 cases now at very low daily levels following the ‘fourth wave’ of infections in the city, talks are well advanced on a new start date for the Air Travel Bubble (ATB) between the two cities, for quarantine-free, all-purpose trips in either direction.

Luckily, according to Singapore Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung, any designated ATB flights would operate on a different criteria (special testing regime and no transit passengers), and would therefore not be affected by any 14-day flight suspension, such as these ones recently imposed on SIA and now Scoot.

It’s not clear at this stage whether the passengers who tested postitive for COVID-19 or had documentation issues on this Scoot flight were transit passengers or not, though it seems likely they were (as with the SIA flight).

The new strategy to not carry any transit passengers on Singapore – Hong Kong flights will protect Singapore Airlines and Scoot against picking up further bans relating to documentation issues, where lapses in checks have potentially occurred at overseas stations.

Even though this would not affect any designated ‘bubble flights’ between the two cities, it would also not look good from a PR perspective to have some of your other passenger services banned while trying to encourage people to fly on the ATB, and at the same time convince passengers that the two things are not related.

Scoot passengers will be rebooked

Scoot has advised us that passengers travelling on affected TR980 flights during the suspension period will be provided with re-booking or a full refund.

Summary

Singapore Airlines and Scoot have avoided the regularly-imposed passenger flight bans into Hong Kong during late 2020 and early 2021, but this month it’s a rather embarrassing ‘double whammy’ for the group, with both carriers unable to carry passengers at some point during April 2021.

Indeed on 16th April 2021 (tomorrow), neither carrier is permitted to fly passengers from Singapore to Hong Kong, handing the SIN-HKG route exclusively to Cathay Pacific for the day!

Transit passengers seem to be where the problem lies, with boarding checks at overseas airports not necessarily as thorough as those being made in Singapore, so it appears as though the group has vetoed all transit routings to Hong Kong via Changi while the risk of bans remains.

This will be particularly important because of the upcoming ATB, which will be a hard sell for passengers if further bans on the route occur, even though designated bubble flights would not be affected.

(Cover Photo: Boeing)

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