The opening of transit facilities come after an all-out ban on transit and short term visitors into Singapore since 24 Mar
Singapore earlier this week (19 May) announced that it will officially be ending its ‘circuit breaker’ on 1 Jun, and doing a slow re-opening of the domestic economy in a three-phase approach.
Later in the evening, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) also issued a media release announcing that it will be allowing transit passengers through Changi Airport from 2 Jun as well, after local lockdown restrictions ease.
Transit visitors banned since 24 Mar
Since 24 Mar, Changi Airport has banned transit passengers on top of barring all short term visitors in order to combat the spread of Covid-19. Of course, with no more leisure visitors and the absence of transit passengers, Changi’s passenger movements fell drastically. In April alone, Changi Airport only handled 25,200 passengers, 99.5% lower than the previous year’s 5.58 million passengers.
Changi will welcome transit passengers from 2 Jun
According to the CAAS announcement, transit travellers will be allowed through Changi Airport once again, but subjected to a few arrangements:
Firstly, airlines will need to submit proposals for transfer lanes through Changi Airport to CAAS. The proposals will be evaluated taking into account aviation safety, public health considerations, as well as the health of passengers and air crew.
Next, strict protocols will taken. For instance, transit passengers will be required to ‘remain in designated facilities in the transit area’ and ‘do not mix with other passengers’ while in transit.
I will be very interested to see how the airlines and Changi Airport manage this, given that the airport does not segregate arriving and departing passengers.
I would imagine that this means that transit passengers will have to be somehow segregated from the arriving passengers, sorted according to their onward flights, and taken to a specific waiting room while waiting for the next flight.
Given Changi’s unique arrangement of having gate hold-rooms, this can very well mean that passengers must proceed directly to their next flight’s gate hold-rooms to wait for their flights, which in all likelihood be a very long time away given how sparse flights are at this point in time.
What this means for airlines
While Changi Airport has long established itself as a premier air hub, realistically the only airlines that can take advantage of this latest developments are the Singapore-registered carriers, i.e. Singapore Airlines Group, and Jetstar Asia.
There are a few other airlines, namely Emirates, Qantas, British Airways, who have operated fifth freedom flights out of Singapore, but given the current situation it will be highly unlikely they will resume these flights.
Back to Singapore Airlines Group. The flag carrier will continue its skeletal flight schedule through the month of June, and a check on its website also showed that flights via Singapore (e.g. USA to Jakarta via Singapore) is not possible at this time. So there is a small possibility that Singapore Airlines may add flights at the last minute, but highly unlikely given the incredibly low demand for travel at this time.
Scoot, on the other hand, has expanded its destinations from just two in May (Hong Kong and Perth), to a bigger handful of six, including Ipoh, Kuching, Penang and Guangzhou.
With this latest development, airlines can start to sell tickets via Singapore in the near term, which opens up a lot of potential given that many countries are working towards opening essential travel lanes. The transit facility may also potentially help Singapore offer other foreign governments help in repatriation flights, via Singapore of course.
I can imagine why Changi Airport will want to reopen as soon as possible.
For one, some other hubs in the region, such as Malaysia’s KLIA, have kept their transit facility open in spite of Covid-19 brewing within their borders. While these countries have also stopped allowing visitors into the country, transit facilities are still available to facilitate passengers who still need to travel for one reason or another.
Therefore, by green-lighting this process at this juncture, this gives airlines – especially home carrier Singapore Airlines – sufficient time to put together a plan to facilitate safe transits without having to rush into it. The measures can also be designed in a phased manner: starting off with the tightest of them all, and subsequently loosened as the global Covid-19 situation stabilises, and when travel demand ramps up again.
I don’t expect that the airport nor airlines will be able to benefit from this change in policy come June, but at least this sets wheels in motion for a new stream of transit passengers from July. If anything, this will help position Singapore Airlines to capture the transit share again when the world starts travelling again.