Long line at SIA centre, more calls to tour agents due to VTL worries

Many rush to confirm bookings before curbs on quarantine-free travel kick in today

Singapore's newly announced restrictions on quarantine-free travel left some would-be travellers scrambling to confirm their flights or bus trips.

Long queues formed at the Singapore Airlines (SIA) service centre in Orchard Road yesterday, shortly after the announcement that airlines will no longer be allowed to sell new tickets for vaccinated travel lane (VTL) flights into Singapore from today until Jan 20.

At least one travel agency had to recall operations staff to the office to issue air tickets before 11.59pm.

Those who were in line at SIA's service centre in Ion Orchard told The Straits Times that they had been queueing for hours. They decided to go to the centre after they had difficulties getting through to the national carrier's hotline.

Mr Elvis Chua, 23, an under-graduate, spent about six hours waiting to make a few simple clarifications regarding his return flight next year from the United States, where he will be taking up an internship.

His friend, Mr Leo Chang Jing, 24, believed the long wait was likely because many people had turned up to try to get VTL tickets.

Mr Rahman, who declined to give his full name, had been in the queue for about four hours from 1pm when ST spoke to him.

"I am not here to get new VTL tickets. I am just trying to get my brother's name changed because of an existing error on his ticket," said Mr Rahman, who declined to give his age. His brother, a Singaporean in Bangladesh, plans to return on an SIA flight on Saturday.

Others told ST that some people in line had raised their voices in frustration over the long wait, but the staff at the centre were quick to calm them down, offering to take down their numbers and call them back as soon as possible.

SIA said that the high volume of queries meant that it may take a few hours for its representatives to attend to customers.

It urged customers who booked their flights directly with SIA to request for assistance using its online assistance form, as this will help its agents to focus on travellers with imminent flights.

Mr Ong Hanjie, managing director of tour agency EU Holidays, said he had to recall four members of his operations team to help issue flight tickets to customers before the freeze on new VTL ticket sales kicked in at 11.59pm.

There was a rush to confirm flight bookings and that tickets were issued, Mr Ong said, adding that customers had visited the travel agency's office in Suntec City after the news broke.

"We had an increase in calls from existing customers who had already booked tours with us.

"Most were worried that their vacations would not be fulfilled," he said.

There have not been any cancellations so far, he added.

Mr Jeremiah Wong, senior marketing communications manager of Chan Brothers, said sales of Chinese New Year and March holiday packages are not affected for now as the return flights fall outside the affected period of Dec 23 to Jan 20.

The first day of Chinese New Year falls on Feb 1 next year.

"Travel sentiments have no doubt been affected and the travel industry again has to bear the brunt of this new Covid-19 variant," he said.

Mr Ong Ci Cong, an administrative worker, had planned to cross the Causeway to spend Chinese New Year with his parents and grandmother in Kuala Lumpur after two years of being apart.

But these plans are now in jeopardy after it was announced that the number of land VTL bus trips between Malaysia and Singapore will be halved to 24 trips per day in each direction from Jan 21.

This means only up to 2,160 travellers will be allowed to cross the land border, instead of 4,320 now.

However, Malaysian bus operator Causeway Link has already sold land VTL bus tickets for travel from Jan 21 to 31, based on the earlier expanded quota.

These tickets will be honoured even if they exceed the reduced capacity, ST understands.

Mr Ong, 30, had booked a land VTL bus ticket to return to Malaysia on Jan 29 next year but because tickets for the month of February have not been released yet, he is worried he may not be able to return to Singapore if the number of tickets sold is halved.

"I will cancel my trip if I cannot get a ticket to come back. My job is more important," he said.

"I miss my family. It is a shame that I cannot go back to see them."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2021, with the headline Long line at SIA centre, more calls to tour agents due to VTL worries. Subscribe