PSA: Qatar Airways may require 48 hours (not 2 days) COVID test for travel to Singapore

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Taking Qatar Airways to Singapore? Be advised: certain outstations are incorrectly interpreting Singapore's PDT rules.

If you’re travelling home to Singapore on Qatar Airways, here’s something important to note: certain Qatar outstations are incorrectly applying a stricter 48 hours pre-departure test (PDT) requirement, instead of the actual 2 days. 

This led to a last-minute scramble for one unfortunate MileLion reader flying out of Frankfurt airport, who later emailed Qatar Airways to complain and was told that the ground staff had applied the rules correctly (they hadn’t). 

While the distinction may be less crucial for those taking ARTs, it’s still worth being aware of.

PDT to Singapore: What are the rules?

PDT for travel to Singapore must be taken within 2 days | Photo: ST

Back in November 2021, Singapore made two important changes to its PDT regime:

  1. ART results would now be accepted as pre-departure tests
  2. The window to do a pre-departure test was changed from 48 hours to 2 days

Naturally, all the focus was on (1), and why not? ARTs are a fraction of the cost of PCR tests, and a lot more convenient to do. You could arrive slightly earlier for your flight and do the PDT at the airport even.

But (2) is an equally important change, and one that few outlets picked up on. In fact, a lot of websites still use 48 hours and 2 days interchangeably- they’re the same, aren’t they? 

No. In the context of PDT, 48 hours is not the same thing as 2 days.

To illustrate, suppose my flight to Singapore departs at 9 p.m on 14 February 2022.

  • If the PDT window is 48 hours, my PDT result must be taken from 9 p.m on 12 February 2022 onwards
  • If the PDT window is 2 days, my PDT result must be taken from 12.01 a.m on 12 February 2022 onwards. 

See the difference? A 2-day window is more generous than a 48-hour one; in fact, a 2-day window can be up to 72 hours (OK fine, 71 hours and 59 minutes if you want to be technical) depending on the circumstances.

ICA states this in black and white themselves:

The pre-departure COVID-19 test must be taken within 2 days before departure for Singapore. To illustrate, if the pre-departure test is taken on 1 November 2021, it will be valid for departures up to 3 November 2021, 2359 hours.

I’m glad you grasp the concept, because Qatar Airways certainly doesn’t…

Denied boarding experience at Frankfurt Airport

Frankfurt Airport

A MileLion reader recounts an unpleasant experience at Frankfurt Airport, when travelling to Singapore on Qatar Airways via Doha. 

I took a professionally-administered pre-departure ART in Cologne on 19 January at 10 a.m, before checking in for a flight that departed from FRA on 21 January at 12 p.m.

At check-in, the staff first insisted that Singapore requires a PCR test, not an antigen test. After I advised them on the updated rules, they insisted that the pre-departure test I had was invalid as it needs to be done within 48 hours of departure.

I showed the station manager the official ICA page but they refused to change their minds, and I had to rush to do another antigen test at the airport for 29 Euros. Just to prove a point, I showed the immigration officials in Singapore my original ART result (the one taken on 19 January) on arrival and it was accepted without any issues. 

I sent a complaint to Qatar Airways asking them to reimburse me for the unnecessary expense, but Qatar insisted the staff in Frankfurt had applied the rules correctly. In their words, “Qatar Airways cannot be held liable for any disruption to your travel plans resulting from incorrect travel documentation. All travellers countries must present the negative result from a COVID-19 PCR or Rapid Antigen Test performed within 48 hours prior to departure.”

Upon further escalation, I received the following email, Our response is based after an investigation on the issues you raised. We are sorry for the inconvenience that you had encountered and can fully appreciate how unsettling this situation must have been for you. Our report confirms that the staff rechecked the test and turned out that the test was not Valid to travel for Singapore hence take another antigen Test from the nearby center. All travelers’ countries must present the negative result from a COVID-19 PCR or Rapid Antigen Test performed within 48 hours prior to departure. Although we understand that this is not the resolution you sought, kindly note that we will be unable to oblige your request”

After reading this account, I emailed Qatar’s regional head of PR for a comment, but did not receive a response. Attempts to clarify the requirement with Qatar’s customer service led to this comedy routine of a back and forth.

Click to enlarge

I’m not so much concerned about one individual frontline staff member getting the rules wrong. Annoying as that is, it happens. I’m much more concerned that an investigation by Qatar (assuming one was actually done) concluded the rules had been applied properly. 

Does it really matter?

The distinction between 2 days and 48 hours is arguably more important if PCR tests were the only acceptable PDT.

In some countries, turnaround times of 36-48 hours for PCR tests are not uncommon, which is cutting it way too close for comfort. 

However, given that ART results are ready in 15 minutes (even counting the certificate issuance, the whole thing should be less than an hour at the very worst), it’s much less of a problem. It’s even feasible to get your ART done at the airport, just prior to check-in. 

Unless your journey to Singapore involves a long transit, it’s unlikely you’ll be pushing the upper limit of 48 hours with an ART.

❓ How does the PDT window work for connecting flights?

If the total transit duration for the trip is:

  • <24 hours, the 2 days will be counted from the departure of the first leg
  • >24 hours, the 2 days will be counted from the departure of the last leg (i.e. the flight to Singapore)

It’s more the principle of the matter for me. Airlines should be briefing their employees properly, and it’s not right when customers know the rules better than the staff. 

Conclusion

Qatar has yet to join the VTL scheme- its original joining date of 6 December 2021 was pushed back indefinitely due to Omicron. This limits the amount of connecting traffic it carries to Singapore, and consequently, the number of people affected by this misinterpretation. 

However, it’s bound to come to the forefront once Qatar joins the VTL and Qatar Airways starts operating VTL flights to Singapore. One hopes that by this time, the staff will be properly cued in to requirements.

Has anyone else encountered similar instances with Qatar (or other airlines) when flying to Singapore?

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Abc

Nice in Qatar to avoid liability, and blame the customer for their errors. ICA does give a number of examples on their website to illustrate what they meant.

Tbh SG should just specify 72hrs. That way everyone gets the full 72hrs before departure, not just those fortunate enough to depart their first leg after 11pm. The reason I can think of for the days concept is if they had been having problems of test reports specifying the date of swab but not the time…

Jerry

So … until further notice it is then better to vote with one’s wallet and avoid this airline.

asprino

the use of days instead of hours also address the issue of some certificate only have the date but the time of the sample collection. that’s a fundamental difference

Tim Leon

if you want to goto SG, take SQ Airlines. Simple as that. All other airlines sucks.

Jake

Thank you for sharing the screenshosts from that completely awful customer service experience.

I hope someone forwards it to Akbar Al Baker and that heads roll; it’s the only correct action for him to take. And of course also the station manager in Frankfurt, and whomever is responsible for not reimbursing EUR 29.

Bruno

The difference between 48h and 2 days on ART’s could still be important when doing a very short trip and planning to use a single ART certificate for both the entry into the destination country, and the return to Singapore .

Spoon

Not surprising at all. That’s what you get when you patronise the ME3. Rock-bottom prices propped up by oil money. and questionable customer service (and employee welfare).

Freddy

I think many airlines might have the same problem. There are so many different test requirements and they change fairly frequently. It’s difficult to make sure every outstation of every airline is updated with all the changes.

The websites of AF and KL indicate a PCR test is required for VTL. That is wrong. I’m not sure if they will insist on that during check-in. It’s best just to fly SQ…

Roland

Had a flight on 4th of Februar from MUC-SIN-BKK and checked regulations for transit several times including official websites like https://safetravel.ica.gov.sg/transit/overview it’s clearly stated that if travel history falls e.g. in category II one can take a PCR Test OR a professional performed Swab Test.. Guess what: after online check in I received an email from Singapore Airline where they informed me, that every passenger doing a Transit in Singapore has to present a PCR Test not older than 48 hours. Even the check In Agent at the airport asked for it.. thankfully I had the official rules printed out… Read more »

Lars

Let’s be honest: QR stations in Germany SUCK when it comes to interpreting Covid rules. I’m using QR frequently from MUC to IKA (and other destinations occasionally) and each time I check-in at MUC they make up another “issue” that doesn’t align with the rules. Just this week I used a different PCR test provider than usual and the result came without a QR code. Not an issue for going to Tehran as it’s not required. A QR code is only required when traveling to Isfahan (and even that only started last week) + in general for the vaccination certificate,… Read more »

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