Singapore Airlines (SIA) has restarted ferrying some passengers from the United Kingdom through Changi Airport in a tweaked format, after it received a limited exemption for a ban on short-term UK travellers.
Unlike the usual arrangement where transit passengers would alight at Changi before boarding another plane for flights to the two exempted destination countries - Australia and New Zealand - SIA has adjusted its offering to have a "same-plane through service".
This means that its planes from the UK's Heathrow Airport would stop for about 90 minutes in Singapore, where returning Singaporeans and permanent residents would disembark, before flying on to Sydney in Australia or Auckland in New Zealand, SIA told The Straits Times.
All long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with travel history to the UK within the last 14 days have been banned from entering or transiting through Singapore from 11.59pm on Dec 23, following the emergence of a new coronavirus strain there.
But SIA said late last week that it has received approval to fly passengers from the UK to Sydney or Auckland via Singapore, with several precautions in place.
These include taking a polymerase chain reaction test within 72 hours prior to their flight to prove they are not infected, and undergoing a pre-departure health assessment to ensure they do not have a fever and are fit to fly.
SIA added: "Transit passengers from the United Kingdom... will be segregated from other passengers while in the aircraft cabin from the start of their journey in the United Kingdom. Seat changes are not allowed at any point of the journey."
Sydney-or Auckland-bound passengers will remain in the aircraft while it is in transit in Singapore, during which cleaners in full personal protective equipment will clean the toilets and other parts of the aircraft cabin. They will avoid the section where transiting passengers are seated.
Other precautions that were earlier announced, such as a modified meal service, mandatory wearing of masks and crew wearing personal protective equipment, remain in place.
In the case of a passenger or a crew member feeling unwell, the person would be moved to a dedicated quarantine area within the plane. A cabin crew member in full personal protective gear will tend to the person, and the medical authorities will follow up immediately after the plane lands.
SIA also reiterated that its planes are equipped with high-efficiency particulate air filters. These filters remove 99.9 per cent of known viruses and refresh cabin air every two to three minutes.
When asked about the number of passengers who have flown on the same-plane through service so far, SIA said it does not comment on commercially sensitive matters.
Singapore's initial ban on transit passengers from the UK had sparked concerns that it would leave Australians who were looking to return home from Europe stranded. Hong Kong, another major transit hub for the UK-Australia route, had banned flights from the UK.
Independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie from Sobie Aviation said the same-plane through service is not unusual. "This is a way around to maintain some transit business without technically being considered transit," he said.
"A lot of SIA's passengers that originate in London are heading to Sydney and Auckland, so if you remove them, the traffic on flights from London to Singapore and from Singapore to Sydney and Auckland could drop significantly from what has already been a very low figure during the pandemic."