The inaugural ATB flight to Hong Kong is scheduled to depart tomorrow morning, and there’s been a fair bit of last-minute drama as to whether it’ll actually happen. That’s because Hong Kong has seen a rise in COVID-19 case numbers over the past week, including the all-important unlinked cases.
It’s now been confirmed that the travel bubble will go ahead as planned, but with some extra precautions in the form of an additional COVID-19 test upon arrival in Singapore. Singapore Airlines is also offering a full refund to all passengers with ATB flight bookings, should they no longer wish to go.
|Update: The ATB has now been postponed for at least two weeks, due to the resurgence in COVID-19 cases. Learn more here.|
Additional COVID-19 test in Singapore
Currently, ATB passengers are required to undergo 2-3 COVID-19 tests, depending on the duration of their stay in Hong Kong:
- Test 1: Within 72 hours of departing Singapore for Hong Kong
- Test 2: Upon arrival at Hong Kong International Airport
- Test 3: Within 72 hours of departing Hong Kong for Singapore (unless your return flight to Singapore is less than 72 hours after the second test)
Now, an additional COVID-19 test will be required on arrival at Changi, regardless of whether you’re visiting from Hong Kong, or a Singapore resident returning from your trip.
The CAAS provides some further information:
After the test, travellers must self-isolate in their place of residence, whether a hotel or a home (for Singapore residents), while waiting for the results, which will take about six to eight hours. They are to take private transportation, taxi, or private hire car from the airport to their declared place of accommodation.
How much does it cost?
The additional COVID-19 test in Singapore will cost S$196 per traveller, but the fee will be waived in the first week from 22-28 November 2020. This is no small amount, however, and adds to an already onerous testing regime.
|#1||Pre-departure in Singapore||S$170-200|
|#2||Post-arrival in Hong Kong||HK$499|
|#3||Pre-departure in Hong Kong*||HK$700-2,000|
|#4||Post-arrival in Singapore||S$196|
|*Children under the age of 12 are exempt from this test. This test not required if your return flight to Singapore is less than 72 hours after the second test.|
Depending on where you do your test in Singapore/Hong Kong, you might be looking at a bill of over S$800 per person. Imagine that multiplied by a family of four, and I think it’s safe to say the travel bubble is off-limits to all but the most desperate (or affluent) of travelers.
What does this mean for the ATB?
Nothing, yet. The ATB continues as planned, although it will be temporarily suspended for two weeks if the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked COVID-19 cases is more than five in either Singapore or Hong Kong.
If the seven-day moving average of the daily number of unlinked COVID-19 cases on the last day of the suspension period is five or less, the ATB arrangement will resume.
Singapore has not seen any community transmission of COVID-19 for the last 10 days, but Hong Kong has averaged a rate of 2.14 cases during the last seven days.
As stated by the CAAS, if Hong Kong has more than 22 unlinked cases within the next three days, the suspension will kick in with a 48-hour notice period. This is to avoid stranding travellers on either side- they’ll presumably have time to rebook flights and return within the window. Any traveler who returns after that cut-off will be subject to a 7-day SHN upon entering Singapore.
Singapore Airlines is offering refunds for ATB travellers
Due to these developments, all Singapore Airlines passengers with tickets on ATB flights will be offered a full refund, with no penalty fees. This can be found in the ATB FAQ section (emphasis mine):
Q: There has been a change in the Singapore- Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble requirements, will my flight be affected?
A: Our Air Travel Bubble flights will continue to be operated for now. Please note however that passengers on ATB flights entering Singapore will now be required to undergo a Covid-19 test on arrival. For more information, refer to https://bit.ly/35Rq5KE
Customers who no longer wish to travel on the ATB flights, will be able to rebook or request a full refund of their tickets, with cancellation fees waived via our Assistance Request form. The refund will be accorded to the passengers’ original mode of payment for unutilised portion(s) of their tickets (including non-refundable tickets).
Cathay Pacific has yet to issue a similar statement. In their ATB FAQs, they state the following:
Q: If the Air Travel Bubble is suspended, can I get a refund for my ticket?
A: If the Air Travel Bubble is suspended, we’ll ensure everyone mid-trip gets home by re-assigning them onto normal, non-Air Travel Bubble flights. Please note that normal quarantine procedures would apply.
We’ll also refund or change travel dates without charge for anyone due to travel during the suspension period.
It’s therefore safest to assume that you won’t be able to get a refund for a Cathay Pacific ATB flight at the moment, so long as the ATB continues as planned.
The additional COVID-19 test adds further cost to an already hefty testing regime, and I wonder how many passengers booked so far are actually traveling for leisure. From what I know, most are journalists, business people, or those with family in Hong Kong.
As you may know, I’m booked on the inaugural flight to Hong Kong tomorrow. I still plan to continue with the trip, although I’ll be taking some extra precautions which I’ll share in another post.
To those traveling on the bubble, be safe and vigilant.