I wanted to write an article about my recent travel experience regardless of the outcome, and I wanted to write it to help those who are going to be travelling during this time, or are even thinking about it. We’re in our third year of the pandemic and I hadn’t seen my family in two years. Regardless of the situation, I was going to take any opportunity I could to go home to see them.
That being said, there’s a few things I wish I knew before flying. Even though I had friends that had flown before me, there were new developments every day with the Omicron variant that definitely kept me on my toes.
My main concern was coming back on a VTL (vaccinated travel lane) flight, meaning that when I returned to Singapore there was no need to quarantine. This was paramount as I had face-to-face training booked at work. I was going for two weeks, mainly because I’d already taken a lot of time off for our wedding and staycays, but also because I am a licenced financial services consultant in Singapore- I cannot legally work or give financial advice in other countries and if I was out of SG for too long I would run into tax issues.
VTL flights were CRAZY expensive- one BA flight was about $6,000. I love my family but was not about to pay that. So, I found a cheaper way to fly via Berlin with Scoot, return VTL, pretty cheap. I also booked a pre departure test for the UK, booked a day 2 test for when we got there, completed our passenger locator form and my VTP (vaccinated travel pass). I would recommend printing everything off for a smooth transition, and I even printed off all travel itinerary, insurance and our marriage certificate (he’s a Singaporean so I knew I could come back on a family ties lane if there was another lockdown).
With all our documents ready and check-in online done it was time to head off. Thank goodness we got to the airport early because, even though we had already checked in, it didn’t matter. We still had to queue and have Scoot check all our documents, which was fine and didn’t take too long, but they seem to have more staff ‘assisting you’ at the automatic booths than for the Covid checks, which seemed counter-productive, and our assistant kept pressing all the wrong buttons, so it would have just been easier to do it ourselves. But once check in was done, everything was easy and the flight to Berlin was pretty smooth.
That’s when the panic started. We only had a two-hour layover in Berlin (which was totally my own doing; we landed at 9am and all other flights to England weren’t until 7pm, and I would rather take my chances than sit in an airport for that long). The issue was that, because it was self-transfer with two different airlines, we had to go through passport control, collect our bags, check them in again, go through security and then immigration a second time before boarding our next flight. This was the most stress I’ve experienced in a long time, and if it weren’t for the kind family in front of us at immigration letting us past, we would have missed our flight. Anyway, we got our connection just in the nick of time and arrived safely in Manchester.
Being At Home
I am not over exaggerating when I say that seeing my mom at Manchester Airport for the first time in two years was like something out of Love Actually. I cried, she cried, and there was a tonne of people in the exact same situation, embracing each other after years of being apart. It was at this moment that I realised that all of this was worth it. It was like time had stood still and nothing had changed being back at home. It was also very special because this was the first time my husband was coming home with me and had met my parents face to face.
Whilst I was home, I met friends, got my booster and went to a club. Although I will say that because of my constant fear of Covid, we were super careful; wore masks EVERYWHERE, constantly hand sanitised, stayed in small groups and sat by ourselves with masks on in the club (lame I know). The UK had become very lax about the situation, with no one really checking vaccination status or wearing a mask. And to some extent I agree with the majority that it does need to be taken as an endemic now, but I had a flight to catch in two weeks.
During the trip I had several friends cancel on their plans because they had tested positive and were self-isolating. I was happy to hear, however, that they weren’t taking long to recover and had little to no symptoms. Governments worldwide didn’t see the positive side, however, and with news that Europe was shutting their boarders the panic started to set in. Our flight back to Singapore was again via Berlin and it wasn’t long until EasyJet cancelled our flight from Gatwick.
Then Singapore announced that it was suspending all VTL sales…we had 4 hours to frantically book flights. I found a pretty reasonable booking with Turkish Airlines arriving in Singapore on the 1st January.
We flew back from London and, after a lovely time with family and friends, we got our lateral flows done in Boots somewhere in Piccadilly, did our Health Travel Declaration for Singapore and stayed next to Heathrow Airport.
The gentleman at the Turkish Airlines desk was incredibly helpful and the document check was very smooth. Everything from that point to Istanbul went very well and felt like normal flying times. When we got to Istanbul we had to have our VTL documents checked again, which was fine for us but not for all- there were people being told they had to say in Istanbul Airport, others on the phone to their respective embassies and some being interrogated about their trip to Singapore. I genuinely think this happened because Turkish Airlines doesn’t make it clear on their website that the flight is a VTL- I had to trawl through several websites to confirm and the VTL flight only happens in January once every two weeks. And if you weren’t from Singapore, how would you even know what a VTL is?
Everything when we arrived in Singapore was smooth- we got our bags quickly, and, although I hadn’t pre-booked my PCR, it was quick and efficient. We got home and awaited our results…the morning came and my husband got a call from MOH saying that he had tested positive on his PCR. This came as quite a shock as we were both negative before we left, my whole family had tested negative and we are now testing negative on ART tests. Hours later I still had not received my results. But eventually they came in and were positive too. We now both have to quarantine for ten days (from result, not from test, so essentially 11 days), which I am pretty upset about. For some context, it came out in the news that those on non-VTL flights will no longer have to do a PCR on arrival, and self-isolate for 7 days. If they test positive on an ART they have to isolate for 72 hours or until they test negative. Please tell me why for VTL it is a 10 day quarantine, regardless of how soon you test negative?
All in all I am very happy I went home and nothing will take away that time I spent with friends and family. However, I do feel that the VTL scheme is just a way of making money- ticket prices are insanely high, the number of tests is insurmountable and the PCR upon arrival was $125, which I got the results well after 24hrs instead of 6-12. And on top of that I still have to quarantine longer than if it was non-VTL. The level of extra documentation and stress made flying incredibly nerve-wracking. I used to be a frequent flyer and travel a few times a month- this trip I was incredibly anxious, panicked and it was overall such an unpleasant experience. Also, if I knew I was going to test positive anyway, even after all the many precautions I took, I probably would have cared less and relaxed a bit more.
Here’s to 8 more days stuck inside!