Flying in Covid-19: Singapore Airlines Business Class (SIN-SYD, SQ241)

It has been 241 days since my last flight. This must be the longest stretch of time that I have been ‘grounded’ since my childhood school days. The past eight months has been scary, sad, depressing, boring, sometimes exciting and joyful too, but most of all, it has been a period of growth and self reflection. It has really taught me to never take seemingly simple things in life (such as a plane ride) for granted.

Many would have read about the (controversial) international arrival caps that the Australian government has implemented since July 2020. Between July and September, only 4000 citizens and residents were allowed to fly into the country hence every flight coming into Australia had only 30, 40 or 50 passengers onboard! This cap was increased to some 6000 per week a few weeks ago and it has helped to allow for more Australians to return home. This cap has put enormous stress on too many people stranded abroad because most airlines were prioritising premium passengers so you would hear horror stories of people being bumped several times over several months! I too experienced this first-hand despite holding a Business Class ticket, I was bumped once by Singapore Airlines (they called me some 36 hours before I was due to fly) and the next available flights a week later. I am very glad to be on this flight and by the time I post this review, I would have arrived and holed up in solitary confinement in a quarantine hotel.

My ride arrived to pick me up at 4:30am and I was at Changi Terminal 3 within 15 minutes. I was dropped at the kerbside of Door 4 and the feeling was surreal and perhaps, a little eery. There was only one other taxi driver unloading a suitcase for a lady in front of my ride. There was a not a single soul to been for miles!

I rolled my suitcase into the terminal and it too was deserted. A terminal that was handling 6000 passengers a day in January 2020 is now only handling hundreds every day. Instead a full row of check-in desks for premium passengers, there was only one open. Dropping off my bags at the desk was a breeze because I had actually driven all the way to the airport to personally check-in at the desk as soon as check-in for my flight was open. I was not able to check-in online and I simply did not want to risk being offloaded again.

After clearing immigration, I headed to the SilverKris Lounge where again there were more staff than passengers. It was too early in the morning so there were no retail shops open except for a few food outlets. Gone were the days of self-service buffets in the lounge. I had to order my food through a QR code and then pick them up at the counter when they are ready. Beverage service remains self-service so I could make myself a cup of coffee at the automated coffee machine.

I was too engrossed on my tablet and must have forgotten to check the time. Before I knew it, my name was called and I was rushed to the gate at the end of the terminal on a buggy. Not bad, won’t complain! I was the last to board but the flight was eventually delayed for another half an hour due to traffic in Sydney.

I was welcomed on board and shown to my seat. No help was offered to store my luggage or to hang my jacket away in the interest of limiting contact between crew and passengers. No hot towels were offered too. The usual blanket and pillow were already on my seat. Singapore Airlines has scrapped amenity kits for a while now but has recently announced that they will be offering them again on certain flights, unfortunately not on this flight. There were no ‘cabin’ slippers either.

Not long after take off, breakfast was served on a tray. Everything was covered and I had to remove the covers myself. The crew were not even allowed to move items on your table. I had requested for a glass of water prior to the meal service, and when she brought my tray, she told me to remove the glass myself before placing a table cloth and my tray on the table! Cutlery (in Business Class) were usually wrapped around in a napkin but I guess that is no longer hygienic enough today. They were sealed in a little plastic bag and came with a paper napkin instead! Food was decent but nothing to write home about.

Business Class passengers had access to 100MB of inflight wifi data on a complimentary basis and the speed was surprisingly good.

I managed to catch up on some snooze on the flat bed and before we knew it, we were approaching Sydney. There is usually always a second meal (a snack of some sort) on this leg but surprisingly, there was none served. Is that another cost cutting measure?

It was a short taxi from the runway to the gate, and whilst we awaited a biosecurity officer to board the plane, the crew distributed government documents relating to our quarantine upon arrival. The officer was onboard to visually check on passengers who may have obvious symptoms and when we were given clearance to deplane, the rest of the procedures were a breeze due to us being the only flight arriving at that time.

Checkpoint one was where a doctor spoke to each of us to determine our risk and our symptoms. The second checkpoint was where we were asked if we were bringing in anything illegal. It was a surprise to me because those questions were usually asked after immigration and baggage collection. It was only after that process when we were asked for our passports. The usual auto-gates have been turned off and all passengers are manually processed. Amazingly, it took less than a minute for each and I am guessing that is because all passengers would have been vetted and confirmed as Australian citizens or residents before they even boarded the plane.

Finally, we collected our bags and there were several custom officers who conducted random checks. We were then ushered out through a side door where we greeted by several very friendly defence personnels. I handed my suitcases to a young army officer who greeted me with a big smile and a very warm “Welcome Home”. He escorted me to the bus and we had a very friendly chat along the way. This must truly be a once in a lifetime experience – I mean, who would have thought that there would come a day that an army officer who has been trained to fight wars, is there to carry your bags?!

Whilst the airport did feel like a fortress with men and women in uniform – army, police, border force, medics too – the whole experience was very pleasant and efficient. It took us just 30 minutes from deplaning to being seated on the bus. If anything, I was more anxious about the 30 minute bus ride into the city. That feeling of not knowing what to expect as passengers are not told in advance of their accommodation for the next 14 days nor does anyone has a choice. Lady luck must have been on my side because I hit “hotel jackpot” when we pulled up just outside that big H. Yes, the Hilton Sydney!

Hilton Sydney
Hilton Sydney

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