Becoming Familiar with Travels in an Unfamiliar Environment

Travelling between Singapore and New Zealand during COVID-19

Becoming Familiar with Travels in an Unfamiliar Environment

Travelling between Singapore and New Zealand

For many business travellers before the pandemic, going on a business trip was as easy as grabbing your cup of everyday coffee. Something we had perhaps taken too much for granted. On a recent trip I had to take due to personal family reasons, I experienced the journey in a completely unfamiliar environment, which made me wonder how the new norms for future travel would be like.  

This is by far the longest time I have gone without boarding a plane in 15 years, and like a lot of you, I am extremely passionate about travelling. This flight experience was one that I may never experience again in this lifetime.

Since April, there has been no flights and it was impossible to fly between Singapore and New Zealand. On June 9th and 14th, Singapore Airlines resumed their Singapore-Auckland and Singapore-Christchurch routes respectively. Only NZ citizens, Permanent Residents, or those on pre-approved essential travel permits (health workers etc) can enter the country and all arriving passengers would be placed in a government-funded 2-week isolation stay at a hotel.

Checking out the check-in experience at Singapore Changi Airport

Check-in experience at Singapore Changi Airport

The itinerary for this trip was Singapore to Christchurch, New Zealand at a 11pm departure on a Sunday night. I decided to arrive a little early at Changi Terminal 3 (8.45pm) as I expected there may be additional check-in requirements.

The airport terminal was like a ghost town. The few staff who were around seemed genuinely excited to help and I guess for many of them, any sign of return to travel is welcome! There were two staff manning the check-in desks and with no queue, it only took a total of 5 minutes to get my boarding pass. When I asked if there were many passengers on the flight, the staff said there should be ‘less than 15’. I breezed through immigration with no further questions asked.

At the boarding gate, there were eight to nine staff at security point. Everyone was very enthusiastic with a lot of friendly questions! When I settled into the gate lounge, there was only one other person with me, and the number of passengers slowly grew to five. This will probably be the only time I get to enjoy experiences onboard an A350 with only five passengers!

Onboard experience redefined

Onboard experience redefined 

Onboard, there was approximately 13 staff (including four captains in the cockpit). Every crew member was wearing a mask and we were each given a small care pack that contained a bottle of sanitiser, two wipes and a mask, to be worn at all times during the flight. 

Meals were served almost as normal with two choices, except that drinks were served at the same time, on the same tray and not separately as it had been done in the past, in order to minimise contact with passengers. The crew was extremely attentive and in a conversation with one of them, she said this was her first time back to work in three months. In fact, almost everything looked the same onboard, except the lack of hot towel service, reading materials, and passengers!

The long-awaited arrival into Christchurch

The long-awaited arrival into Christchurch

Our plane was the first international flight into Christchurch since March. When we arrived, there were a few excited staff and Ministry of Health officials waiting to greet us. Temperatures were taken and everyone was marked with an ‘A’ (strict quarantine for those who displayed covid-like symptoms) or ‘B’ (managed isolation in a hotel with no symptoms). Marked with a ‘B’, I boarded a bus that was taken to Commodor hotel where I was isolated for 14 days. Quarantine is mandatory and government-funded for all incoming passengers into New Zealand.

During my 14-day quarantine, I was tested twice for COVID-19; once on day three and again on day twelve. I was allowed to take walks between 9am and 4pm everyday within the fenced perimeters throughout the 14 days but masks must be worn at all times; however, no one was allowed to leave the premises.

On day 14, I had a final health check and was given a departure time. This was subject to being tested negative for both the COVID tests I took during the quarantine (those who were tested positive during the 14-day quarantine would be immediately transferred to the nearest hospital).  During check-out, I was escorted out of the hotel by a military personnel before finally being released into freedom. For the first 3 days upon release, I received daily calls from the Ministry of Health to monitor my condition and ensure that I was feeling well with no symptoms.

This is certainly a once in a lifetime experience for me, and it is a big change from what myself and many regular business travellers are used to. However, I believe that with adequate preparation in safety and procedures, along with the right expectations and mindset, business travel in a new normal will become possible again, especially as we start to see border restrictions slowly being lifted across many destinations around the world.

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