Keen to return residence, Singaporeans based mostly in Hong Kong begin reserving flights earlier than journey bubble begins

SINGAPORE: The moment Ms. Xianna Lock got wind of the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble, she went straight to the Singapore Airlines website to book flights to Singapore for Christmas and Chinese New Year.

The 36-year-old Singaporean and her husband have lived in Hong Kong for three years. The last time she visited Singapore was in March, just before Hong Kong closed its borders to curb the spread of COVID-19.

She is now excited about the prospect of coming home.

“How did we feel (after hearing about the travel bubble)? Yes, finally! “Said Mrs. Lock CNA over the phone from Hong Kong.

“Because we’ve come back to Singapore many times in the past three years. To suddenly give up the habit … and I mean, you are also worried about your family members in Singapore because it was a difficult time for everyone too. “

READ: COVID-19: Singapore and Hong Kong reach agreement in principle to establish bilateral air travel bubble

Singapore and Hong Kong announced on October 15 that they had reached an agreement in principle to create a bilateral air travel bubble.

Full details of the agreement, including the date of implementation and execution of the COVID-19 tests, are yet to be announced.

However, the air travel bubble exempts travelers from quarantines or notices at home if they are negative for the coronavirus in mutually recognized PCR tests (Polymerase Chain Reaction).

Unlike Green Lane or Fast Lane agreements with other destinations, the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble has no restrictions on the purpose of travel, which paves the way for leisure travelers. You also don’t need a controlled itinerary.

READ: Fast Lane, Green Lane, Flight Pass: What You Need To Know About Singapore’s COVID-19 Travel Policies

While Singapore residents can return home under the current circumstances, those traveling from Hong Kong are required to give seven day notice to their place of residence.

The notice period to stay at home was previously 14 days in a dedicated facility, but it was shortened effective October 15 after Hong Kong was added to Singapore’s list of Low Risk Countries and Regions.

These restrictions made it difficult for Singaporeans to take time off to travel home.

With an isolation period of 14 days in Hong Kong, that’s roughly the number of days an employee has vacation, said Ms. Su Weiying, who has worked in Hong Kong for nearly six years.

FILE PHOTO: Cathay Pacific Airways aircraft can be seen at Hong Kong International Airport in China on September 6, 2019. REUTERS / Amr Abdallah Dalsh / File Photo

Despite the lack of details on the Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble, Ms. Lock and her husband decided to reserve their seats as the Chinese New Year is the most popular time for Singaporeans in Hong Kong to travel home.

Many expatriates who feel “cooped up” in Hong Kong also fly out in December, she added.

Ms. Lock said she’s been away from home for so long because of the pandemic that she cherishes moments she shared with her family, such as sitting down for dinner or playing with her niece.

“And just being able to be back in Singapore and eat your local food. For us, I think we’ve been away from Singapore for so many years, that’s the only thing we always miss when we’re gone, “she added.

Months of separation and delayed flights

It’s a feeling that many Singaporeans who live and work in Hong Kong share.

Shortly after the travel bubble announcement, Ms. Joanne Tan, who has not been back since March 2019, began looking into flights to Singapore.

She had recently given birth and her priority was getting home so her family could meet her eight-month-old girl.

“I had planned that during my maternity leave I would take the time to bring my baby with me, show it to everyone and spend time with everyone there,” said the 34-year-old. “But then that obviously didn’t happen.”

“So it was only my parents who managed to come to her three days before the Chinese New Year when she was born. It was a bit sad that I couldn’t go back and most of all that I couldn’t bring my baby back to meet her family. “

Without the need to quarantine herself with her daughter, it would make the trip easier, Ms. Tan added.

READ: Singapore-Hong Kong Air Travel Bubble Suspended As COVID-19 Cases Rise: Ong Ye Kung

It was a time of uncertainty for overseas Singaporeans who had to postpone and cancel flights as the COVID-19 situation developed worldwide.

Ms. Lock, who used to return monthly to Singapore, had to cancel several flights between April and July.

While she and her husband initially tried to be optimistic about keeping their June or July tickets, soon after their April and May tickets were postponed, they decided to simply cancel the rest of their flights.

“(After April and May tickets were postponed) We thought you know what, let’s just cancel them all because there’s no point rescheduling an appointment for another date if you’re not sure you still can fly. So we just canceled and got a refund instead, ”she said.

Ms. Su has postponed her flight to Singapore several times.

She originally planned to return in March, but as COVID-19 cases increased in Hong Kong and Singapore, she postponed them to May.

Then she pushed it back to July and then back to October because of Singapore’s “breaker”.

“At that time, the (airline) actually suggested why not cancel and book another flight, since the postponement can only take place by one year. Given the speed I’m deferring, I can simply cancel and book again, “said Ms. Su.

In the end, Ms. Su decided to cancel the ticket and return to Singapore on another flight. She came home in September using 14 day notice and is currently based out of Singapore.

Even so, the 36-year-old said she was “thrilled” when she heard about the travel bubble.

The relaxation of travel restrictions “opens many doors for companies to discuss and make creative agreements” about work, she said, adding that some employees could make arrangements to work from anywhere.

“I am very excited about my friends who are planning to come home so they can spend more time with family than in a hotel,” she added.

Since nothing is set in stone, Ms. Lock is prepared for all eventualities.

“We know it’s very fluid,” she said. “The only thing we can do is first of all position ourselves in such a way that, if there is a travel bubble, we can at least book the flights.”

“In the event that it explodes in Singapore or Hong Kong and they get that travel bubble under control, we’ve accepted that this will be the new norm, so don’t put our hopes high and try to plan everything, either tell all of our friends that we will be back for these dates.

“I think you only feel like you’re going home when you’re at the airport and probably getting on the plane. Then it could hit you, okay, great, I’m going back to Singapore now. But until then, I don’t think we’re trying to get excited about it, ”she said.

Like Ms. Lock, Ms. Tan said she looks forward to local food when visiting Singapore.

“I have a list,” she said with a laugh. “I made a list of foods that I have to eat. I’ve been making a list for a year.”

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