First quarantine-free flight from Singapore lands in Australia on Sunday (Nov 21)

Retired bank employee Flora Chng (left) flew with her son Benedict Soh, a 27-year-old bank employee, to Australia to visit her daughter - The Straits Times/ANN

SINGAPORE/MELBOURNE, Nov 21 (The Straits Times/ANN): For the first time in almost two years, Flora Chng, 68, was able to book an air ticket to Australia to visit her daughter, a permanent resident in the land Down Under.

Plans for a trip there were disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic as Australia had been under lockdown and had opened its borders only to New Zealand.

The retired bank employee took the first flight out of Singapore into Australia under a pilot reopening scheme on Sunday morning (Nov 21).

Under the travel pilot, Singapore citizens flying into Australia will not have to serve 14-days quarantine in a hotel after arrival in New South Wales and Victoria. Non-Singapore citizens do not qualify under this scheme.

"If Australia had not opened up for quarantine-free travel, we would not have decided to go on this trip," said Chng, who flew with her 27-year-old son.

They were among nearly 200 passengers who boarded the first flight out of Singapore into Australia under a pilot reopening scheme early Sunday morning.

The Straits Times understands that about 60 per cent of the 263 seats in the economy class cabin, and about 95 per cent of the 40 seats in the business class cabin of SQ237 were filled.

The plane, operated by Singapore Airlines (SIA), took off from Changi Airport at about 1.15am. The flight landed at Melbourne Airport at 11.08am local time (8.08am Singapore time).

Australia is limiting the number of arrivals in the initial stages of the pilot, which comes after Singapore started a Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme on Nov 8 to allow travellers arriving from Australia to skip quarantine.

At Changi Airport on Saturday night, long queues formed at SIA's check-in counters for the various SIA flights taking off, including the one to Australia.

People sending off friends and relatives waited near the counters but Changi Airport staff reminded them to maintain a safe distance from one another.

The Straits Times completed check-in and cleared immigration in about 15 minutes.

All passengers have to present their vaccination certificate and a negative pre-departure Covid-19 test result in addition to the usual immigration documents.

Passengers checking in at Changi Airport Terminal 3 on Nov 20, 2021. - The Straits Times/ANNPassengers checking in at Changi Airport Terminal 3 on Nov 20, 2021. - The Straits Times/ANN

Singapore citizens entering Australia under the pilot also have to fill travel declarations, apply for the relevant visa and download contact-tracing apps, among other measures.

Upon arrival in Australia, travellers will be required to take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test within 24 hours. The test can be done for free at government testing facilities in New South Wales, Victoria and Australian Capital Territory.

Another passenger on SQ237, Tan Jun Xiang, 34, said he had wanted to get out of Singapore for a holiday for some time.

The tax manager decided on visiting Australia over South Korea, as he has friends in Melbourne. The free PCR swab tests in Australia also meant that he would spend less.

"The airport feels back to normal, the whole process was quite seamless and immigration clearance was very fast," he said. "But I was worried that I did not do all the necessary declarations or applied for the necessary permits."

There were also passengers transiting in Singapore on the way to Australia.

Engineer Kent Tran, 43, who is based in Japan, was looking forward to meeting his family again. He said he had not been able to return home since the pandemic started due to strict caps on arrivals in Australia. These caps have been eased in recent weeks.

Tran added: "I used to transit through Singapore five to 10 times a year, so compared with the last time, Changi Airport feels like a ghost town. It is sad to see such a great airport being decimated like this." - The Straits Times/ANN

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