Mandatory Quarantine 2020: Part 1 – The Long, Tiring Transit in Changi Singapore

transit holding area changi singapore airport

(The “Transit Holding Area” at Changi Airport in Singapore is huge, spacious and well equipped. If your transit time is short, this will be an ideal place to catch your breath and get a quick rest before your flight. However, if your transit time is long, this is not a good place to catch your sleep and rest)

The direct flight from Malaysia was banned due to the increased COVID19 cases but we had another alternative which is flying to Malaysia via Singapore. The downside of this route is a long transit in Singapore.

transit holding area changi singapore airport food inflight

(It was an evening flight and by the time we boarded and got down to our seats, it was time for dinner. We were certainly not disappointed with the choice of meal on offer. It was a good start to see the meal had spicy sambal as one of the dishes) 

The flight from Cambodia to Singapore was about 2 hours and it was a smooth flight. I was asleep most of the time as there was nothing much to do. There was no inflight entertainment and since it was night, there was nothing to see on the outside. 2 hours passed by very fast and soon we were landing in Changi airport. The landing was slightly bumpy initially but the pilot managed to correct his landing soon after.

The moment we landed and still taxing to the arrival gate, some idiots started to stand up and taking out their luggage from the overhead compartment. Once we stopped and the seatbelt sign was switched, more passengers started to stand up and “clogging up” the pathway.

However, the passengers were not allowed to get off the plane and soon a guy who looked like an airport staff started to appear at the front and asked all passengers to sit down first.

transit holding area changi singapore airport

(Obviously, some people don’t understand instructions in plain English – they continue to stand on the aisle despite being instructed to sit down until they are called. I am not sure what they are trying to achieve here other than delaying the disembarkment)

It took several announcements before everyone sat down at their seat and waited for further instructions. Due to COVID19, the airport has arranged controlled escort of passengers on transit from their plane to a specialised Transit Holding Area so that transit passengers would not be roaming around and create possible infections.

transit holding area changi singapore airport

(No time to do any shopping at the duty-free shops as we were closely escorted by the airport staff and forced to keep up with the group)

The passengers were arranged in groups of 20 passengers and each group would be closely escorted by the airport staffs who take us along the airport terminal, all the way to the Transit Holding Area. It was a long walk from the gate to the Transit Holding Area and often we had to wait for the last passenger to catch up with the group.

The Transit Holding Area was a large holding area and was controlled so that no one goes in and out without any permission. It was crowded by the time we arrived at this place and we were allowed in after the staff at the front had checked our boarding passes and registered our names.

transit holding area changi singapore airport

(The Transit Holding Area has one of the cleanest toilets around but I did not see any facilities to take a hot shower. The small, hard sofa, however, was not one of the best around to get good rest)

We walked around to look for a place to put down our luggage and quiet enough to catch up on sleep before our final flight to Malaysia. There were 3 of us so we were initially found some sofas towards the back to sit down to wait out the 11 hours transit.

The men’s room was not far away so I took the opportunity to go and wash my face, empty my bladder and brush my teeth. I felt a bit fresher after this.

There are stalls & self vending machine within the Transit Holding Area that sells food and drinks – it was however not cheap and when a colleague of mine bought some food with USD, the change was given in SGD.

The place has a few places where you can charge your smartphones – I managed to charge up my phone and also power bank so that I will have enough “juice” to last my time here and also for the next flight and till we can check into the quarantine centre. There is a small playground in the middle.

transit holding area changi singapore airport

(This was done in the plane – a green ribbon tied to our hands to identify us as a transit passenger. It was a simple and cheap method to ensure that the airport staff can easily be identified)

There are some “dark” areas where the lights have been dimmed so that passengers who wanted to sleep can do so without them facing bright lights.

And this is a problem for the airport staff who calls the passengers to line up at the front to be escorted to the next flight. For every departing flight, the airport staff had a tough time to look for missing passengers who are likely to be dozing off. It is worse if you are alone and there is no one to wake you up.

(It was fun watching these autonomous robots cleaning up the place non-stop and knowing when there is something in front)

Worried that I may also doze off and miss the flight, I decided to stay put at the main area sofas where it is brightly lighted. Initially, the place was crowded with other passengers and whilst the chairs & sofas were arranged with gaps from one and another, social distancing was tough to achieve.

But the time draws towards midnight, the number of passengers at the Transit Holding Area started to reduce. Soon there was plenty of empty space around the place and we can choose where we can want to lay down to sleep.

transit holding area changi singapore airport

(Plenty of facilities at the Transit Holding Area such as charging points like the one here which has both adapter and USB charging points. At the back, you can see one of the food stalls in case you are hungry and desperate enough to pay through your nose) 

My other 2 colleagues found a long bench at the back to sleep but I maintained myself at the front. Just to be sure, I set alarms on my smartphone so that I can wake up before my departure time. I don’t want to be one of the missing passengers. It was not comfortable sleeping on the hard sofa but I have slept in worse places before.

I woke up a long way before the alarm rang and just to ensure my colleagues were awake, I buzzed them. Soon the flight to KL was announced and the passengers were requested to line up at the front for verification and confirmation. We were arranged in groups and once again, escorted back to the departure gate.

To be continued in Part 2

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