You’re booked your VTL passage, you’ve accepted the PCR test costs, you’re vaxxed (and boosted), you’ve even trial slept in your face mask in anticipation of a long-haul flight. But are you really prepared to travel in the age of COVID-19? Here’s a secret: Make a contingency plan, accept that screw-ups may happen, and if (or when) they do, keep this list handy so you’ve got all the major travel scenarios covered.
No one wants to face this dilemma unprepared, so it pays to have a plan in place should the worst happen. Since you’ll need a negative PCR test before being allowed back into Singapore (and this can take upwards of two weeks), you’ll be incurring additional expenses. Contact your insurer immediately, and if you’ve got a travel insurance plan like ones from AXA or Sompo that include overseas hospital cash, COVID-19 medical, and quarantine expenses coverage, that’ll help ease the financial stress. Be sure to see a doctor for written proof that you’ve caught COVID-19 and a treatment plan (such as medication, quarantine and hospitalisation), and make sure you have everything documented, and notarised if necessary. You’ll need to call the airline and start the ball rolling on re-scheduling flights; though most airlines have done away with change fees, it’ll also depend on the class of ticket you’ve purchased.
Germs are everywhere regardless of how much hand sanitizer is being dispensed. However, thanks to a whole new industry surrounding smart sanitation measures (everything from in-terminal sanitation robots and antibacterial security trays to in-cabin air filtration systems equipped with HEPA filters and UV baggage tunnels), airports and airplanes have never been cleaner. Still, you can make your trip a little less nerve-racking by preparing your own in-cabin kit like this Airplane Pocket from Amazon to cover your seat tray, and bringing along 3M hooks so you don’t have to use the seat pocket but still have access to your earphones and toiletry kit.
When booking your tickets, it might be worth paying extra for some flexibility (in terms of change of dates, no rebooking fee, refund policy) as the Covid-19 situation is a dynamic one. Check if the airline offers hold fees for a small charge (i.e., they’ll hold your ticket and fare for 24 to 72 hours) if you need more time to decide. Currently, Singapore Airlines, United Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa, Delta, Etihad, and KLM extend to customers a 24-hour grace period after purchase, during which you can cancel your flight without incurring penalties (but usually only when the flight isn’t scheduled to depart within the next seven days).
It’s not news that Europe has gone into a sudden partial lockdown due to the rise in Covid-19 cases. Overnight, Denmark (a VTL-approved country) required all travellers from Singapore to quarantine for at least four days on arrival, regardless of vaccination status. Elsewhere, Austria announced a nationwide 10-day lockdown on 22 November, and Germany has already cancelled its famous Christmas markets. Unfortunately, fluctuating on-the-ground changes have become part of travelling, so being prepared to stay indoors (i.e., you should consider splurging on a nicer hotel room), planning for more outdoor activities (think hikes instead of leisurely Michelin-star restaurant meals) and knowing what food delivery services are available make a good plan of action. (Or pack some instant noodles as a back-up.) And depending on your comfort level, research a plan B in advance should case numbers rise beyond your comfort level (you can track them here).
Depending on where you are travelling to, you might need to get a digital country-specific vaccine passport. The good news is if you’re heading to the EU, Singapore COVID-19 vaccination certificates are now accepted. You won’t need one in the US or the UK, except to show proof of vaccination to enter certain indoor venues. Be sure to have a digital copy ready (preferably with a QR code) and make sure the following details are displayed: identification data, date of vaccine (name and lot) and date of administration, identification of the person who issued the certificate.
Airlines are grappling to get up to speed with the sudden return to travel, so you should anticipate that delays or cancellations may happen. Travel insurance is a definite must-have (and not just because some countries like South Korea mandate it), but because airlines legally aren’t obliged to guarantee their schedules. The good news is, if you’re travelling to or from an EU country like Germany, you are entitled to financial compensation upwards of 250 euros per passenger depending on how long your delay is. However, if you’re flying back from the United States, US-based airlines aren’t on the hook to provide any form of financial or compensation in kind (such as food, drinks, meal vouchers) due to a flight delay. As you shop around for travel insurance, take note of the provisions for delays and cancellations, so that you’ll know what to do if need be.
This is a scenario that happens more often than anticipated. The good news is many airports have dedicated on-site COVID-19 testing facilities to help ensure post-arrival and pre-departure tests can be done easily. According to this list by Business Traveller, there are airport testing facilities in London, Hong Kong, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Mumbai, Munich, Vienna, Zurich Istanbul, Dublin, and Berlin, but definitely check your destination pre-departure so you’re not caught off guard.
Don’t panic, just get online ASAP to look for another VTL flight home. According to the Singapore Airlines site, VTL flights are currently scheduled up to 26 March 2022, except for those from Brunei which run till 26 December 2021. If your ticket is issued before 31 December 2021, you will be able to rebook without paying extra, after 31 December 2021, you will be eligible for a one-time complimentary rebooking. If you end up booking a new flight, be aware that you might have to pay a premium: “More than 40 per cent of people would pay extra to be on a 100 per cent vaccinated flight or stay at a 100 per cent vaccinated hotel or resort, according to WalletHub’s 2021 Winter Travel Survey,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst. “We’ve seen cities have success with vaccine mandates, and applying the idea to travel – at least as a specialised service where certain flights or hotel rooms are reserved for the vaccinated – could prove to be a moneymaker for airlines and hotel chains.”
Before setting off to the airport, double-check with your place of accommodation or host to see if things have changed, or if they’ve closed to guests not currently checked in. Every property will have its own terms, but you should not be out of pocket for prepaid fees or penalties if the situation is classified as force majeure, defined as “unforeseeable circumstances that prevent someone from fulfilling a contract”. If you’ve booked an Airbnb, navigate to their Extenuating Circumstances Policy to see if your booking (regardless of your host’s cancellation policy) comes under covered events like changing government travel requirements, government travel restrictions, and declared emergencies and epidemics.
The short answer is: It depends and it can be complicated. Ahead of booking your trip, become familiar with individual on-ground restrictions (start with this post by The Mile Lion), because what applies in Canada (kids aren’t allowed to attend large gatherings) isn’t the same in Germany (kids under 12 years old have to self-isolate for five days), while in the United States, so long as a negative COVID-19 PCR or ART test is presented (within 3 days of departure), they’re free to roam around. Disneyland only recommends all guests be fully vaccinated but it’s not a requirement.