With a significant expansion of the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) network into Singapore last month, Singapore Airlines has posted a record passenger performance since the pandemic obliterated travel in April 2020, with over half a million passengers carried in December 2021 and a 50% overall load factor.
That compares to 272,000 passengers carried and 32% load factor in November 2021, which itself was an improvement on the month before, as the VTLs started to expand.
The Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group saw a significant step-up in passenger demand in December 2021, on the back of a continued expansion of its Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) services and the year-end travel season.Singapore Airlines
Low-cost subsidiary Scoot also saw a doubling of its own passenger volumes and load factor between November and December 2021, thanks to a smaller but still growing VTL network.
Here’s how the operating statistics looked for Singapore Airlines during the last three months, with a clear increase in capacity and improvement in passenger loads.
|Operating Results: Oct-Dec 2021|
December’s figures, not surprisingly, represent the airline’s strongest monthly performance since the pandemic hit, with a 20% capacity hike compared to November 2021, and a doubling of passenger totals.
In fact SIA carried 28% of its annual traffic for 2021 in December alone, the last 31 days (8%) of the year.
In terms of load factor by region, again it’s not surprising to see that North America and Europe saw the busiest Singapore Airlines flights in December, with practically all services operating under well-established VTL arrangements.
SIA load factor by region
- USA / Canada: 60.2%
- Europe: 57.9%
- West Asia & Africa: 55.8%
- Australia & New Zealand: 40.8%
- East Asia: 29.3%
At the end of December 2021, Singapore Airlines was operating passenger flights to 85 cities globally, 13 more compared to the end of November 2021.
SIA’s low-cost subsidiary Scoot has been reporting abysmal load factors over the last year, as low as just 6% in February 2021, largely due to its focus on South East Asia routes, where strict border restrictions have remained in place until recently.
The introduction of the VTLs, however, has generated a big improvement for the airline, which was filling each of its flights around a quarter full of passengers on average last month.
|Operating Results: Oct-Dec 2021|
Load factors on Scoot’s recently reintroduced India flights boasted the best load factors by region during December 2021, at 29.1%, even though none of them are designated VTL flights in the India – Singapore direction, meaning travellers faced seven days of home quarantine on arrival.
Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs)
Here’s how Singapore Airlines progressively added VTL flights from 17 cities during November and December 2021:
SIA’s Latest VTL Cities
🇲🇾 Kuala Lumpur
🇰🇭 Phnom Penh
🇰🇭 Siem Reap
In addition, Scoot launched VTL flights from Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne, Sydney and Seoul during the two-month period, in addition to its existing Berlin VTL route.
Of course Singapore Airlines was impacted by the temporary suspension of new VTL ticket sales, announced in late December 2021, with little notice to travellers.
On 22nd December 2021, Singapore announced the suspension of new ticket sales for VTL flights for the period from 23 December 2021 to 20 January 2022.
Existing bookings on these flights were not affected and VTL services continued to operate as scheduled. Ticket sales have continued on VTL services for travel from 21 January 2022 onwards, but based on an arrival quota that has been cut by 50%.Singapore Airlines
One positive aspect, apart form the fact that the suspension has now been lifted, is that the announcement caused a surge in flight bookings on 22nd December 2021 itself, as travellers rushed to beat the four-week suspension for new Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) ticket bookings.
The analysis was by ForwardKeys, an analytics company that uses global ticketing data from online bookings, travel agencies and airlines to determine travel trends.
A 50% quota on the original daily arriving VTL passenger cap remainms in force at the time of writing, limiting the scheme to 5,000 passengers per day.
Earlier this month the Singapore Ministry of Health said “we will continue to review the local and global COVID-19 situation and adjust our measures accordingly”, when referring to the entry limit.
Group-wide capacity for Singapore Airlines reached 45% of pre-pandemic levels in December 2021, a big shift from the 34% recorded only two months earlier.
The airline expects to maintain similar levels throughout January and February 2022.
Based on the current published schedules, the Group expects the passenger capacity for January 2022 and February 2022 to be around 47% and 45% of pre-Covid-19 levels respectively.Singapore Airlines
We should see the SIA Group back to 50%+ capacity levels compared to pre-COVID in the months ahead, as VTLs hopefully expand and travel restrictions are further eased. By the end of 2022 we are of course hoping for even higher levels than that.
Obviously we are still nowhere near Singapore Airlines’ pre-pandemic capacity and passenger volumes, with the airline carrying over 2 million passengers on 88% full planes back in December 2019, but this latest set of results shows that the VTLs are generating promising improvements month-on-month.
SIA itself carried over half a million passengers in December 2021, and registered a network-wide average passenger load factor of over 50%, which is impressive when you consider that 50 of its 85 routes still do not offer any VTL services.
Even Scoot is seeing a nice bounce from quarantine relaxations closer to home, including on Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur flights.
Whether this positive trajectory can continue into early 2022 will now largely depend on further countries being granted VTL status by Singapore, and the daily arrival caps being increased.
Ultimately we’re hoping for a complete cancellation of the VTL concept in the months ahead, replaced with a “vaccinated / boosted can arrive from anywhere” style approach, which would truly allow both Singapore Airlines and the Changi Air Hub to restore their former glory.
(Cover Photo: Plane’s Portrait Aviation Media / Malcolm Lu)