Due to the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, Singapore has decided to delay the launch of Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) agreements with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, These were originally set to begin on 6 December 2021.
Nonetheless, VTLs with Finland, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Sweden have gone into effect today, bringing the total number of two-way quarantine-free travel arrangements to 16 (Brunei and Indonesia do not offer quarantine-free travel to Singapore residents at the moment).
|🌎 VTL Agreements|
|From 14 Dec 2021|
|From 16 Dec 2021|
|*Brunei and Indonesia do not currently allow Singapore residents to enter without quarantine|
Deferment of VTLs with Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE
The MOH issued a statement yesterday saying the following:
As a precautionary move to reduce the risks of importation and spread of the Omicron variant to Singapore, we will be deferring the commencement of the VTLs for Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE until further notice.
This is in view of their proximity as transport nodes to the affected countries of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. We will provide more details on the commencement of these VTLs at a later date.
On first glance, the rationale seems sensible since Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Doha serve as major transport hubs for travellers from Southern Africa.
However, Qatar Airways has already suspended passenger flights from Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have made similar moves, and given how there are already reported cases of Omicron in Europe, it’s only a matter of time before we see some cases here too.
The VTL with Turkey (another major transit hub) has remained unscathed, but that could be because it was scheduled to start later on 16 December. Hopefully, we’ll have a better picture by then of how efficacious existing vaccines and treatments are for the Omicron variant.
What if you’re already booked to fly?
Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad have been offering some excellent Business Class fares of late, and if you bought one earlier this year, you might have thought you hit the jackpot when the Qatar/UAE VTLs were announced.
But COVID-19 has a talent for the sucker punch, and the latest developments may require you to change your travel dates. Here’s each airlines’ flexibility policy, for your reference.
|Qatar Airways Flexibility Policy|
Qatar Airways is offering the following options to passengers with travel completed by 31 May 2022:
- Hold on to your ticket
- Ticket validity extended to two years from date of issue
- Unlimited changes
- Change the travel date or destination within the same class of travel as often as you like with no fees (fare difference applies)
- Voucher worth 10% more
- Convert your ticket into a voucher with 10% bonus value
- Ticket refunds
- With waiver of refund penalties and no-show fees
Qatar’s policy is notably more generous because refunds are offered even for non-refundable fares (see bottom of page 3).
|Emirates Flexibility Policy|
Emirates adopts the following flexibility policy:
For tickets issued on or after 12 October 2021 with a travel date on or before 31 May 2022
You can keep the ticket you’ve already booked and use it later. We’ve extended its validity for 24 months from the date of your original booking. Your ticket will be accepted for any flight to the same destination in the same booking class within the same cabin with no extra fees during this period.
For tickets issued between 1 April 2021 and 11 October 2021 with a travel date on or before 31 May 2022
You can keep the ticket you’ve already booked and use it later. We’ve extended its validity for 24 months from the date of your original booking. Your ticket will be accepted for any flight to the same destination or within the same region* in the same travel class within the same cabin with no extra fees during this period.
*Emirates regions: Africa, Australasia, Europe, the Far East, China, the Gulf, Middle East and Iran, Indian Ocean Islands, North America, South America, West Asia
Refunds will be processed according to the fare conditions advised at the time you purchased your ticket.
|Etihad Flexibility Policy|
Etihad is offering passengers the following flexibility options:
- Etihad Credit
- Receive the full value of your flight as a credit towards future travel, valid for two years
- Rebooking by 31 May 2022
- Rebook your trip to any destination in the Etihad network, with no change fees (fare differences apply)
- Keep an open ticket
- If your flight has been cancelled, you can keep an open ticket until 31 May 2022, and if your open ticket hasn’t been used within 12 months of the first cancelled flight, you’ll be entitled to a refund
Refunds will be granted if the following conditions are met:
- Any Etihad Airways flight on your ticket has been cancelled and you purchased your ticket directly with Etihad Airways or a travel agency in Australia, Canada or the USA, or your ticket originates in the European Union (including Switzerland and the UK).
- Your ticket has an original travel date on or after 1 October 2020 and a flight on your booking has been cancelled.
- You have received a positive COVID-19 PCR test result (you must present your test result in line with country regulations). You can request a refund between 96 and 24 hours before your flight departure time.
- Travel is restricted by government regulations and you are unable to travel. You can request a refund a maximum of 14 days before your flight departure
Note that the deferment of the VTL does not fall under the last bullet point- the Singapore government is not saying you can’t travel through Abu Dhabi, it’s just saying it’s choosing not to grant an SHN waiver to such individuals at this time.
|SIA Flexibility Policy|
Singapore Airlines is already offering unlimited complimentary changes to all award and commercial tickets issued by 31 December 2021.
|Date of Change||Remarks|
|On/before 31 December 2021||Unlimited free changes|
|From 1 January 2022||One free change|
However, passengers who booked VTL flights from Dubai from 6 December 2021 onwards may seek a refund of the unused portion of their ticket.
What if you’re currently in Qatar, Saudi Arabia or the UAE?
Singapore residents (including pass holders) can still return home from these countries under Category II requirements. This involves a seven-day SHN at home, or in a hotel room.
However, entry to short-term visitors from these countries will not be possible until the VTL commences.
The MOH’s statement also made reference to a review of existing border measures, with more details to be announced soon.
Off the top of my head, some changes I can think of include an upgrade of pre-departure testing from ART to PCR, or a return of the day 3/7 PCR tests. Neither is great, but still better than going back to mandatory quarantines. It’s also possible that existing VTL arrangements may be suspended if Omicron cases surge in a particular VTL country.
While I certainly hope that this will be much ado about nothing, we’ll have a better picture in a few weeks’ time.