Australian oneworld carrier Qantas has announced changes to its long-haul network from late March, pushing back plans to route its London services via Singapore until at least mid-June due to the complexity of testing requirements for transit passengers at Changi Airport.
Qantas had planned to reinstate its Singapore stopover on daily Boeing 787 flights between Sydney and London from the start of the northern summer season on 27th March 2022, but will instead continue to route these services via Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory.
Unfortunately Singapore’s testing requirements for transit passengers cause a headache for Qantas restarting its London-bound flights through the city, like they did before COVID-19.
“To streamline transit arrangements for passengers, Qantas will continue to operate the Sydney to London flight via Darwin instead of through Singapore until June 2022.”
Under current ICA rules, all passengers transiting through Changi Airport from Category 1 to 3 countries, including Australia and the UK, must have a negative pre-departure COVID-19 PCR or ART test taken within two days of their flight departure.
For travel from Australia to the UK, however, no pre-departure testing has been required for fully vaccinated travellers since 7th January 2022.
Routing the daily Qantas London-bound QF1 flight via Singapore would therefore add the unnecessary burden of a pre-departure test for all passengers, simply to transit at Changi.
This inconvenience would not only be unpopular with passengers, but would also put Qantas at a disadvantage to airlines like Qatar Airways and Emirates, both offering test-free one-stop routings for vaccinated travellers heading from Australia to London.
On the way from the UK to Australia there’s another testing complication for Qantas.
Australia’s pre-departure test requirement for fully vaccinated travellers arriving from overseas is one of two options:
- A PCR test within three days of departure; or
- A RAT (ART) test within 24 hours of departure
The problem for Qantas here would be that those choosing a pre-departure PCR test three days prior to their flight departure from London to Australia, which complies with Australia’s entry requirements, would not qualify to transit via Singapore, because the test has been taken too early to comply with ICA’s transit requirement (two days).
This would mean Qantas having to communicate a stricter pre-departure test requirement to all passengers travelling on QF2 (London – Sydney) services, and would lead to inevitable confusion and drama at the check-in desk on a daily basis.
Another issue for Qantas restarting this Changi stopover is likely to be the lack of additional Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) capacity for it to tap into on Sydney – Singapore and London – Singapore flights.
Currently there is a 50% cut in the originally planned daily VTL arrivals cap into Singapore, in place since 21st January 2022, meaning only 7,500 passengers can arrive via the quarantine-free lane each day.
Qantas wouldn’t likely be able to secure VTL approval for these extra flights at this stage, leaving it to carry passengers solely between Australia and London, or operate non-VTL flights into Singapore from Sydney and London, which would inevitably lead to passenger confusion.
A380s on Singapore – London from June
Qantas is still loading its daily QF1/2 service from Sydney to London through Changi Airport from 19th June 2022.
These will use the airline’s Airbus A380s, all of which have been refitted with the carrier’s latest cabin products including a significant upgrade to all-aisle-access in Business Class.
Qantas confirmed to Executive Traveller that this latest schedule change “doesn’t impact” these plans, so we should still expect to see the airline’s superjumbos offering both London and Sydney options every day once again from mid-year.
That should be good news for redemption availability in Business Class to and from both these cities, and hopefully the VTL concept will be long dead by then.
Qantas Singapore lounges
Qantas usually operates two lounges at Changi Airport, the Qantas Singapore Business Lounge and the Qantas Singapore First Lounge.
The Business lounge happily reopened on 3rd December 2021, becoming the only available oneworld lounge at Changi to do so since the start of the pandemic, though it has limited operating hours (around 4.30pm to 8.30pm).
A now-cancelled return of London flights in March would probably have seen Qantas reopen its excellent First Class lounge at Changi next month, though that also now looks set to be pushed back to mid-June at the earliest.
Another lounge complication? Passengers travelling from London to Sydney via Singapore wouldn’t even be able to use the lounges, since those with travel history including the UK are currently relegated to Changi Airport’s transit ‘holding pen’.
There’s a separate area for premium passengers, but by all accounts it’s shockingly bad.
Frankly this would be a significant deterrent for all passengers, let alone those flying in Business Class. I for one would choose a transit in the Middle East on this routing, and I’m sure Qantas fears many of its passengers would too.
In Darwin, Qantas is operating a temporary lounge facility for its eligible international passengers heading to and from London to spend their 90-minute layover.
The airline has also reopened its international lounges in Sydney, where all eligible passengers get to enjoy the First Lounge, and at London Heathrow, where it’s passengers can also check out the recently reopened Cathay and British Airways lounges in T3.
Qantas faces strong competition on its Australia – London ‘kangaroo route’ flights, and Singapore just doesn’t make sense as a stopover point while strict testing requirements apply for transit passengers, over and above those required for the final destination.
There’s also the issue of limited VTL capacity, making it unlikely Qantas can benefit from much point-to-point and fifth-freedom traffic on these services for the time being.
Then there’s the transit holding area arrangement for all passengers at Changi Airport in the London – Sydney direction, hardly the experience the airline wants to give its passengers.
It’s not surprising, therefore, that Qantas will continue operating these services with a Darwin stop for at least the next four months, allowing it to compete better with Middle East carriers and against Singapore Airlines, whose Australia – UK passengers face the same transit complications.
Qantas is clearly hoping that Singapore’s entry and transit restrictions plus testing requirements will be eased by June this year, when it’s scheduled to restart Airbus A380 service to and from London via Changi.
(Cover Photo: Qantas)