I just flew the Auckland to Singapore route for the first time in three years, and a few things have changed in that time. The effects of the pandemic continue to be felt for the travel industry, and even for frequent travelers travel can feel a lot more stressful than it used to be.
For Kiwis wanting to connect to Asia, UK and Europe, Singapore Airlines is currently one of the main airline choices. A good thing then, that their signature hospitality, impeccable safety record and great inflight experience hasn’t changed.
Here’s what you need to know if you’re heading to Singapore anytime soon. As with all things at the moment, travel rules are constantly changing, so check with official government websites before booking and embarking on travel.
72 hours before your flight
If you are fully vaccinated and planning on heading into Singapore, you’ll still need a pre-departure PCR or RAT administered by a trained professional at least two days before departure. You’ll also need to complete documentation to show you have a Vaccine Certificate.
You’ll need to submit an arrival card and e-health declaration via the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) website at least three days prior to departure, download a Track & Trace app and purchase travel insurance with S$30,000 worth of cover for Covid -19.
There’s a pretty comprehensive tool here that should help answer any specific scenarios for travellers: safetravel.ica.gov.sg/arriving/overview. Since I only planned to transit in Singapore, I did not have to complete any of these steps.
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48 hours before your flight
Singapore Airlines has a new mobile app that allows you to check in, order inflight meals, receive flight updates and even control your inflight entertainment system while on board. I’d recommend downloading it beforehand. There’s an auto-check-in feature that will complete this step for you 48 hours before your departure time. In my case, it wouldn’t generate my boarding pass because there was no way to verify the documents required to enter India – my final destination.
At Auckland Airport
The airport was much quieter than I’ve ever seen. I had to queue old-school-style so that a check-in official could view my documents. I’m only transiting in Singapore and then heading on to India, so I had to show them my international vaccine certificate, as well as an official document the Indian government requires travelers to complete.
On the day I flew out the airport was moderately busy, but there was very little open. The duty-free section and some of the luxury brand stores were staffed. However, there were very few options open for travelers to get a pre-flight meal. After international security, Vantage Bar and Best Ugly Bagels were the only two options. The queue to get a bagel suggested that it would benefit the airport to consider a way to open a few more food outlets.
My flight wasn’t as busy as others on this route have always been pre-Covid, but it certainly wasn’t an empty flight. Boarding wasn’t any different to how it used to be, except for the instructions to remain masked at all times, except when eating or drinking – this was also a requirement at the airport.
I was lucky enough to get an upgrade to Business Class, which significantly eased my anxiety of catching Covid on the flight, but I shouldn’t have been that worried anyway as Singapore’s cabins are fitted with HEPA filters, and the airline has been awarded the highest 5-Star rating in the Skytrax Covid-19 Airline Safety Audit.
The inflight experience has slightly changed however, to minimize contact between passengers and the cabin crew. You won’t receive a paper inflight menu, for example, and instead can view it on the mobile app or the inflight entertainment system. You’ll also be given a care kit containing a face mask, hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes to use on your surroundings – something I always did even pre-Covid (hello Naomi Campbell!).
You can also use your mobile phone to control the entertainment system, forgoing the need to touch the controller. There are also no newspapers or magazines – all these can be downloaded via the mobile app should you want to read them. The inflight service remains faultless, with genuine warmth shown by the cabin crew, as well as a palpable excitement at the return of the travel industry.
At Singapore Airport
Changi Airport is busy, but certainly not the bustling hub I remember pre-pandemic. I’m in terminal 3, where all flights from New Zealand land. Not all shops or eateries are open, much like in Auckland Airport. A coffee shop, Pret A Manger and Burger King are among the only eateries open. A fair few of the luxury brand stores are closed but duty-free stores selling perfume and alcohol were booming. Sadly, the butterfly garden was closed.
If you’re transiting longer than a few hours in Singapore, it’s worth getting a pre-departure test as you’ll need that to explore Jewel – a shopping, dining and entertainment complex that’s part of the airport. Because Jewel is also open to the public you’ll need to fulfill Singapore’s entry requirements to get there.
The Ambassador transit hotel in terminal 3 is worth it for long layovers too. The rooms are basic, but clean. You can’t beat a proper sleep and a hot shower to break up long haul travel but if you have a long layover like I did, I’d recommend heading into the city.
Terminal 1 has a transit hotel with a swimming pool, but I recommend booking this more than two weeks out. I’ve never been able to find room availability otherwise.
The new SilverKris Lounge at Terminal 3 was busy, but the space is huge, and has sections for solo travelers looking to get some work done, families traveling together, places to nap and showers. There’s also a bar, barista services and warm food and snacks on offer. You won’t find live cooking stations or a buffet as pre-Covid, but it’s still a great space to while away time before your flight. It’s all wheelchair accessible too.
Currently, (correct as of April 4, 2022) Singapore Airlines operates passenger services to Auckland 10 times weekly, with daily services operated an Airbus A350-900 long haul aircraft, and three times weekly operated by partner Air New Zealand, and to Christchurch four times weekly with an Airbus A350-900 long haul aircraft.
If you’re a bit apprehensive about international travel at the moment, that’s understandable, so was I. But every precaution has been taken to ensure the health and safety of travellers. Your experience may be slightly different, there are more forms to fill out, extra precautions to take, and the overall experience is not as carefree as it once was, but it certainly feels great to be back out exploring the world.
The writer was a guest of Singapore Airlines