Airlines, travel agencies say customers with confirmed bookings not affected by freeze in new VTL ticket sales
SINGAPORE: Travellers with a confirmed booking on a vaccinated travel lane (VTL) flight will not be affected after Singapore authorities announced a freeze in new VTL ticket sales from Thursday (Dec 23).
Those with confirmed bookings may proceed with their travel, Singapore Airlines (SIA) said on Wednesday, adding that transit passengers are also not affected by the new directive.
"Customers who wish to transit via Singapore on VTL flights during this period may continue to book their flights," said the airline in response to CNA's queries.
From 11.59pm on Wednesday, SIA will stop accepting new bookings for all VTL flights into Singapore that are scheduled between Thursday and Jan 20, 2022.
There is no change to existing VTL or test requirements, and travellers with existing bookings may enter Singapore without quarantine as long as they meet all VTL requirements, it added.
SIA and its sister airline Scoot operate VTL flights from more than 20 countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia, India, South Korea, the US, Australia and a number of European countries.
Jetstar said in its latest travel advisory that customers with existing VTL bookings may enter Singapore quarantine free if they meet all VTL requirements. Transiting passengers can continue to make bookings on VTL services, with the exception of VTL services from Kuala Lumpur.
Jetstar has VTL services from five destinations to Singapore, namely Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Darwin and Melbourne.
Malaysia Airlines said no new VTL flight tickets will be sold from midnight on Dec 23, and that it will continue to honour pre-existing VTL tickets that have been purchased.
It advised passengers who wished to travel via the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore VTL flight to "do so immediately", adding that sales of tickets will close by 11.59 pm on Wednesday.
"Travellers must ensure they fulfil the conditions and requirements under the VTL by air programme, failing which they may be denied entry to board," said Malaysia Airlines.
"Customers will still be able to book flights on non-VTL flights, subject to the travel and health requirements at the arriving destination."
Since the start of VTL flights between Singapore and Malaysia on Nov 29, Malaysia Airlines has operated daily return flights "with a healthy load factor", especially for the holiday season up until mid-January 2022, the airline said in response to CNA's queries.
TRAVELLERS MAY "WAIT AND SEE"
Travel agency Chan Brothers said that existing customers booked on confirmed tours will not be affected as the freeze does not apply to those who already hold tickets for a VTL flight.
"As Omicron curbs wreak havoc, travel sentiments no doubt have been affected and the travel industry again has to bear the brunt of this new COVID-19 variant outbreak," said Mr Jeremiah Wong, senior marketing communications manager at Chan Brothers Travel.
He added that they "remain optimistic" and will continue to monitor the evolving situation closely.
A spokesperson from SA Tours said that the agency had anticipated that the VTL flights would be suspended and did not accept any bookings for December and January.
"Our plans have been to start our tours in March and so far, we are not changing that but will monitor the situation closely," the spokesperson said.
Ms Stella Chow, a senior manager of marketing at Hong Thai Travel, said that the news came as a surprise.
"However, we understand the overall COVID-19 situation is still very fluid and we will need to adapt to changes quickly," she said.
When Omicron cases emerged, the tour agency contacted its customers who booked December trips and gave them an option to postpone their trip to February during the Chinese New Year period, she said, adding that all their customers have taken up this option.
"We believe that customers’ mood will be affected by this news and many may choose to wait and see before making bookings," she said.
"(Although) we still expect the road to recovery to be a bumpy one, we know that leisure travel will come back as it’s already part of Singaporeans' lifestyle."
Ms Kelly Toh, head of marketing and public relations at CTC Travel, said most of its leisure tours in December have been postponed to February or March next year. She added that customers understood that the tightened measures are "necessary for our community and country".
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Wednesday that Singapore will freeze all new ticket sales for VTL flights and buses between Dec 23 and Jan 20 next year, amid a "rapid spread" of Omicron cases in many countries.
MOH said on Monday that there have been 71 confirmed Omicron cases detected in Singapore, comprising 65 imported cases and six local infections.
There has been an increase in the daily number of imported COVID-19 cases in December, with 54 imported infections reported on Tuesday.
"Our border measures will help to buy us time to study and understand the Omicron variant, and to strengthen our defences, including enhancing our healthcare capacity, and getting more people vaccinated and boosted," said the Health Ministry on Wednesday.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said it will enhance safety measures for all airport workers who interact with arriving passengers. Airport workers who interact with passengers must don enhanced personal protective equipment, including N95 masks and face shields, it added.