First flight from Germany under quarantine-free scheme lands in S'pore

Aviation journalist Andreas Spaeth was one of the passengers on board the first VTL flight from Germany. PHOTO: ANDREAS SPAETH
Singapore Airlines flight SQ325 from Frankfurt touched down at Changi Airport at 5.36pm on Sept 8, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The first flight ferrying 100 passengers from Germany travelling under a quarantine-free scheme has landed at Changi Airport.

SQ325, operated by Singapore Airlines (SIA), touched down at 5.36pm on Wednesday (Sept 8). It departed Frankfurt at about 10pm local time on Tuesday, or 4am on Wednesday, Singapore time.

The plane was expected to land at Terminal 3 at 4.25pm on Wednesday, but arrived later due to a reroute to avoid Afghan airspace.

SQ325's landing marks the start of Singapore's Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme, which is open to Brunei and Germany.

Vaccinated travellers under the scheme will take up to four Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction tests in lieu of quarantine, and have to follow other conditions like taking designated VTL flights to Singapore.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said it has issued passes to travel under the VTL scheme to 1,412 travellers from Germany as at 11.59pm on Tuesday - 621 passes were issued to short-term visitors and the remaining 791 passes were issued to long-term pass holders.

Fully vaccinated Singaporeans and permanent residents do not need to apply for a pass to enter Singapore under the VTL.

One hundred travellers - comprising 57 short-term visitors, 15 long-term pass holders and 28 Singapore citizens and permanent residents - arrived on the first VTL flight on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, for Brunei, CAAS has issued 47 passes to short-term visitors and seven to long-term pass holders. Seven short-term visitors and five Singapore citizens/PRs are expected to arrive on the first VTL flight from Brunei on Thursday.

Germany-based aviation journalist Andreas Spaeth, 55, who was on the first VTL flight from Germany, told The Straits Times he was happy to travel again on an SIA plane, and praised the airline for its service on board.

He was travelling to Singapore as part of a media trip organised by SIA and the Singapore Tourism Board. He had first visited the Republic in 1986 and last came here in 2019.

"It's very heartening to get a feeling of more normality coming back to travel life, being able to go to Singapore again," he added.

Mr Spaeth said the immigration and Covid-19 testing process after he landed in Singapore was smooth sailing. But he was concerned that the administrative work required before the trip, such as booking the PCR tests and preparing the vaccination certification, might be too onerous for those who are not digitally savvy.

On whether he was concerned about the risk of Covid-19 infection here, Mr Spaeth said: "I feel safe in Singapore; the measures here are stricter than in Germany, and I am fully vaccinated... I am fairly confident that one can have a good time here."

A passenger of flight SQ325 collecting his baggage at Changi Airport, on Sept 8, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

While Brunei remains closed to leisure travel, Germany has been open to travellers from the Republic since October last year. This means Singapore residents can use the VTL scheme to travel without quarantine in either country.

The VTL's successful start has brought relief to travel agents and would-be travellers, who had feared the scheme might be derailed, as with the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble.

The bubble for quarantine-free travel was supposed to launch last November, but was delayed several times on the back of unstable Covid-19 situations in both cities. It was cancelled last month without a single flight taking off.

Mr Steven Ler, president of the National Association of Travel Agents Singapore, said the first VTL flight has been a breakthrough from the unsuccessful air travel bubble with Hong Kong.

He added that the reopening to Germany is a good start for international leisure travel, with travel agents already receiving inquiries for trips to Germany for year-end holidays.

"We hope to see things pick up a lot more, and that will give a lot more confidence to those who are still adopting a wait-and-see approach."

Teacher Angelina Tan, 50, who migrated to Germany from Singapore, has applied for the scheme to visit her family. Her last trip to Singapore was in January 2020.

She said the scanning of vaccination codes during the application was slightly complicated, although she managed to do so.

Meanwhile, some Germans based in Singapore have booked tickets on VTL flights to meet their families in Germany after a long time apart.

A 49-year-old startup co-founder who declined to be named said she and her husband have not left Singapore for almost two years, due to issues like quarantine and re-entry requirements.

Her husband has since flown to Germany to visit his mother, and will return on a VTL flight on Sept 13.

Another German, a 35-year-old scientist who only wanted to be identified as Anna, said she decided to book a VTL flight as she has been separated from her family for nearly two years.

"That was my opportunity to fly back home and return without worrying about being stuck in Europe," she added.

"With the VTL... I am not restricted by the availability of the quarantine hotels in Singapore."

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