Changi Airport Oneworld Qantas

Qantas shuns Singapore stopover on London flights over testing requirements

Qantas will continue to fly its 'kangaroo route' Sydney to London flights via Darwin until June, due to Singapore's transit testing policy.

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.

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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.

Testing woes

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.

Transit passengers at Changi must undergo a pre-departure COVID-19 test. (Photo: Changi Airport)

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.

Transiting through Dubai on an Australia – UK itinerary is test-free. (Photo: Dubai Airports)

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:

  • PCR test within three days of departure; or
  • 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.



 


 

VTL woes

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.

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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 is operating Airbus A330s on VTL flights into Changi from Australia, but it probably wouldn’t get an increased allocation at the moment. (Photo: Qantas)

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.

(Photo: Heathrow Airport Limited)

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 A380s feature the airline’s latest Business Class seats. (Photo: Qantas)

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.

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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).

The Qantas Singapore Business Lounge reopened on 3rd December 2021. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

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.

Qantas Darwin temporary lounge. (Photo: Qantas)

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.

Summary

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)

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15 comments

  1. Shame. This is a setback to the recovery of the Changi hub and appears entirely self inflected by Singapore’s overtly conservative Covid policies.

  2. Why not make Darwin the permanent stopover hub? Much better than involving a third country. (Also, what is VTL? You never explain that)

    1. I agree Darwin far better than stop over, rather than in Singapore for many reasons.
      Number one we’re already tested pre flying out.

      Lining up for tests in Singapore would be a nightmare. Couldn’t think of anything worse.
      Not too mention the long delay.

      However it does seem a little strange this new idea of delaying flight stop over, it would be long hours. Obviously money making as well.
      There’s no need to stop in Singapore.

  3. Singapore got hit really hard by Delta because of transit passengers in Changi last year. The current policy seems to have come after that.

  4. Singapore needs to relax and join most of the rest of the world. I chose Qatar Airlines rather than Singapore Airlines because Changi treats transit passengers like pariahs

  5. I was only saying to my wife last night that Singapore is risking becoming completely irrelevant for air travel. The rest of the world is opening up, whereas they think that progress is ‘adding more VTLs’.

  6. Singapore is simply tying up their own hands by adding more and more complicated rules such as VTL and testing while the rest of the world is opening up. Singapore is already more than 90% vaccinated and local COVID cases are much more than imported cases which make these red tapes totally irrelevant. For already 2 years, flight crews have to stay locked up in their hotel rooms when they’re flying overseas. Such is the sad state of affairs.

  7. It’s nice to see that Qantas management is taking practical steps to ease the pain of flying in todays environment. Why not make Darwin a permanent hub.

    1. It’s a nice ‘stop gap’ solution for Qantas at the moment, but realistically a city of 150,000 people in the Northern Territory is never going to compete with a 5.7-million population global financial hub (no offence to Darwin!).

      Singapore stopover will be back, eventually!

  8. I had a very poor experience transiting Singapore on 8th February. I flew from Sydney to Berlin on 25th January (negative PCR test at Sydney Airport), and had no problems in transit in Singapore. However, when I returned 2 weeks later via Singapore, it was a nightmare. I had taken a PCR test in Berlin (negative), but that made no difference in Singapore. When we arrived, a team of airline officials in full PPE gear entered the plane, and divided all the passengers into groups depending on their final destination. Those passengers staying in Singapore were herded off first, then those to Melbourne were given blue ribbons around their wrist, then Sydney passengers were forced to wear a green ribbon. We were then herded like cattle into a separate holding lounge, which was small and crowded. There were no shopping facilities, no food available, and one machine dispensing water, but you had to have a container to put it in. Eventually, they advised us if we wanted food, we could order it online, and it would taken between 60 minutes and 90 minutes to be delivered from another terminal. What was concerning, it that in this crowded “holding pen for the diseased”, new passengers were arriving from other destinations, including flights from Africa. Eventually, we were herded under escort to the gate. I was told upon enquiry, that Germany was a high risk country (as was Australia & all of Europe). Very poor treatment! 🙁

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