A day after including India among countries on its Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) programme, Singaporean officials say the benefits of quarantine-free entry may not be available for Indians taking Air India’s Vande Bharat flights, unless ongoing talks on a special bilateral arrangement result in an agreement.
In a detailed document on Frequently Asked Questions on VTL, Singapore has said only commercial scheduled passenger flights are eligible to be designated as VTL flights and since the Vande Bharat Mission flights are government charter relief flights, they are not eligible. India has thus far not reopened regular international travel and has restricted flights to only those from 28 countries that have negotiated an “air travel bubble” system with the Government, that don’t include Singapore.
Chartered repatriation flights
“As Vande Bharat Mission flights are chartered repatriation flights , they are not eligible to be designated as Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) flights,” the statement released said, adding that negotiations with the Ministry of Civil Aviation are under way to work out a compromise that would allow a ‘partial’ restoration of international flights for Singapore as a ‘temporary’ measure.
In a separate statement on Tuesday, Singapore International Airlines on Tuesday asked passengers to be ‘patient’ while the negotiations were concluded.
“We remain guided by the authorities on our passenger services to and from India, and seek our customers’ patience and understanding while bilateral air travel arrangements are being finalised.”
As a result, travel agents say Vande Bharat passengers to Singapore will still have to undergo a 15-day quarantine, and those hoping to avail the quarantine-free flights still have a wait ahead of them. There are 74 Vande Bharat flights of Air India planned between November 18 to March 26 as per the latest schedule.
According to its Government notification, Singapore decided to open the VTL system for Indians on November 29, along with countries like Finland, Indonesia, Malaysia and Sweden, adding to about a dozen countries that already send travellers there without quarantine requirements.
Flights from Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai
Singaporean media had reported on a surge in bookings for SIA flights after the announcement of the VTL programme and a press conference by Transport Minister S Iswaran who said the Singapore Government aimed two flights a day each from Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai by Nov 29. Travel agents in India also said they were eager for the return of regular flights.
“We look forward to the resumption of commercial flights to and from Singapore as it is a popular destination for weddings, conferences and tourism. Moreover, the Vande Bharat flights are prohibitively expensive. They are priced between ₹70,000 to ₹1,00,000, which is at least five to six times more than the regular air fares,” said Subhash Goyal, Chairman, STIC Travel Group of Companies to The Hindu .
As The Hindu reported on Sunday, the Government is under growing pressure from international airlines, foreign governments and the tourism industry to revert to pre-pandemic travel given the limited availability of flights under the bubble system, and soaring airfares.
“We are in discussions with the relevant Indian authorities to finalise a temporary, bilateral arrangement which will allow a partial resumption of commercial scheduled passenger flights... we nevertheless look forward to the full resumption of air links in line with our bilateral Agreement on Air Services as both countries further reopen borders in a safe manner,” the statement released by the Singapore Government said.