About 250 passengers enter S'pore on first two flights under expanded VTL scheme

Passengers at Changi Airport after arriving on Flight SQ329 from Amsterdam on the morning of Oct 20, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Flight SQ329 from Amsterdam, operated by Singapore Airlines, had touched down in Singapore at about 6.35 am. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Passengers at the baggage claim area in Changi Airport's Terminal 3 after arriving on Flight SQ329 from Amsterdam on the morning of Oct 20, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - About 250 passengers arrived in Singapore on Wednesday (Oct 20) morning, on the first two flights under the expanded quarantine-free travel scheme for travellers vaccinated against Covid-19.

Flight SQ329 from the Netherlands, operated by Singapore Airlines, touched down at Changi Airport at about 6.35am with about 80 passengers on board.

About an hour and a half later, SQ317 from London landed, with about 170 passengers.

The first flight had departed from Amsterdam at about 11.30am local time, or 5.30pm Singapore time, on Tuesday.

The Straits Times team at Terminal 3, where the flight landed, noticed that those who arrived were mainly single travellers or couples.

There were at least three families with children.

There was an equal mix of Asians and Caucasians.

Movement controls were tight at the arrival hall. Passengers were directed through an area cordoned off from the public.

They were seen being ushered by airport staff who were clad in disposal gowns, masks and gloves to take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test before being directed to a specific taxi stand or pick-up point for their transport out of the airport.

Family members or friends who had come to receive passengers were told to wait in a separate area.

After meeting the passengers, those who drove had to take one of two lifts - not accessible to other members of the public - to get to the carpark.

Only three people were seen at the waiting area when ST was there between 6.35am and 7.50am.

SPH Brightcove Video
Thwarted by the pandemic, the Mullens' daughter had not seen her grandparents in the Netherlands in over two years. On Wednesday (Oct 20), the family returned to Singapore from their long overdue visit - with no need for quarantine.

One of them, Mr Harald Mullens, was waiting for his wife and daughter, who were returning from a visit to their relatives in the Netherlands.

The 47-year-old Dutch citizen, who works in the food and beverage industry in the Republic, said his wife had initially intended to take another flight back to Singapore.

Passengers at the baggage claim area in Changi Airport's Terminal 3 after arriving on Flight SQ329 from Amsterdam on the morning of Oct 20, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

But they switched to SQ329's flight when they found out no quarantine would be needed upon arrival in Singapore.

One of the flight's passengers, Mr Paul Wolhoff, 58, told ST that he was in Singapore with his wife Winnie Yeo, 59, to attend his mother-in-law's funeral and visit their relatives here.

"Normally we visit (Singapore) every year during Chinese New Year, and sometimes on another occasion," the banking consultant said.

But the Dutch nationals could not do so due to the pandemic, with the last time they were here being early last year - before the Covid-19 crisis hit the Republic.

Mr Wolhoff also said they were initially intending to make use of the travel scheme to visit Singapore again during next year's Chinese New Year, but had to bring forward their trip after receiving news of his mother-in-law's death.

They would be staying in Singapore for two and a half weeks.

Passengers at Changi Airport after arriving on Flight SQ329 from Amsterdam on the morning of Oct 20, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The Netherlands is among eight countries that Singapore opened up Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) to from Tuesday - the Republic's biggest move to reopen its borders since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The other countries are the United States, Canada, Denmark, Britain, France, Italy and Spain.

Singapore had earlier opened up VTLs to Germany and Brunei on Sept 8.

The VTL scheme allows vaccinated travellers on designated flights to enter the Republic quarantine-free.

But they must take a PCR test before departure and when they land at Changi Airport.

The eight countries that Singapore opened up to from Tuesday, as well as Germany, have also allowed travellers from the Republic to fly over on any flight without having to serve quarantine there.

Singapore will also jointly launch VTLs with South Korea on Nov 15.

The first VTL flight from the US, SQ23, has departed from New York and is expected to land here at 5.20am on Thursday.

Ms Tina Di Cicco, a passenger on the flight, told ST that she and her husband were returning to the Republic after visiting their two sons in New York, where her elder son is working and the younger one is studying.

Ms Tina Di Cicco and her family in New York City. She and her husband will be returning to Singapore on Oct 21 after visiting their two sons in New York. PHOTO:MS TINA DI CICCO

The entrepreneur and investor, who is an Employment Pass holder in her fifties, has been living with her husband in Singapore for about 11 years. Her sons had previously studied here before leaving.

Ms Di Cicco last saw her eldest son, 25, in 2019, when both children returned here to celebrate Christmas.

Her younger son, 22, came here again last year for several months, at the height of the pandemic. He left in August last year to resume his university studies in the US.

Ms Di Cicco and her husband had originally planned to return to Singapore via Germany, where they would have to quarantine for 21 days.

But when the VTL flights from the US later opened, they booked the first flight back in case restrictions changed.

Ms Di Cicco said she got to travel with her family around and outside New York, and sees the now-quieter city in a new light.

"The VTL opened a world of possibilities for people to see their families and do business again," she said.

"Despite the uncertainties and challenges of planning and preparing for travel, I think it's well worth it and it's a sign of hope that things will be invigorated soon."

Editorial note: The story has been updated for clarity.

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.