Dear Insights on Southeast Asia
I have enjoyed reading this new blog for a while. As a contribution to the blog, I am writing to share my flight experience from the UK (London) to Southeast Asia (Cambodia) via Singapore. I hope this experience is worth sharing to readers who wish to fly from the UK or Europe Cambodia. In this journey, I will also compare how the UK or probably even the whole EU, handle travellers to contain COVID-19 at London Heathrow Airport with Southeast Asian nations (Singapore, Cambodia). After experiencing about nine months lockdown and living in a square room and coping with stress, last month, I decided to travel to Cambodia, my home country, as I see COVID-19 in the country was not much worse compared to the UK, between 16,000-19,000 cases per day. However, the recent outbreak in Cambodia has disappointed my plan, but I have to fly because I already paid for the airfare.
Almost two months ago, before flying or choosing airlines, I did some researches and asked friends who had experience of a long-haul flight (up to 15 hours in total to exclude layover). I chose Singapore Airline. There are flights via South Korea, Thailand, and Japan, but I chose Singapore Air in term of airfare, service and safety measures.
A month before my departure, I prepared 4 3M/N95 masks (1: for inflight, 1: transit, 1: another flight, and 1 when you landed in Cambodia), a transparent face shield, hand sanitiser jells, cough sweets, and diarrhoea and flu tablets. I like cough sweet the most, even I am healthy, but it is very dehydrated on 13 hours flight from London to Singapore. I took immune pills two weeks before the flight to boost my immune system. I BELIEVE THIS IS ESSENTIAL EVEN YOU DO NOT TRAVEL BY AIRE. I STRONGLY RECOMMENDED N95 Mask as in the photo. Unlike other masks, this one is much convenient because when you speak your lips will not touch the mask layers. Imagine 13 hours flight, you will smell YOUR OWN MOUTH and get sick by that.
To the Airport. Compared to public transportation: buses and underground trains, I would spend some money on a private taxi, or Uber to be safe. Travel alone is better than with unknown herds using public transpiration services. You may know that the spike of COVID cases in the UK is linked to public transportations. London underground is a crowded since they do not have proper seat arrangement, social distancing and space between travellers to avoid close contact.
At London Heathrow. I arrived at the airport about 2.5 hours before the flight. At Terminal 2, there was no standard social distancing arrangement besides queueing from the passenger drop off section to the check-in counters. Not many cared about social distancing, 2 or 1.5 meters apart from each other, even FACE COVER (they called it that, not a mask; I FOUND FACE COVER unhelpful) is compulsory inside the terminal. At the check-in counter, I was asked to present a health certificate: COVID-19-free. I was exempted since I was travelling to my home country (I will explain that it is not helpful at all). After checking in, I went through a security check, and again there was no proper arrangement beside lining, not even 1.5 meters apart. THIS MIGHT BE THE CASE WHY THE TRANSMISSION RATE IN THE UK or EU increased sharply after first or second waves or lockdown.
Inside Heathrow’s departure terminal: Shops are opening, and as you know, BLACK FRIDAY remains, and you can still enjoy duty-free shopping. Discount everywhere. You can kill time and wander around shopping, and some of them do not respect social distancing.
Before boarding: I had temperature checked by Singapore Airline staff and was called by our row and seat number to board the flight, to avoid the crowd. Before entering the plane, each of us gets a health kit bag containing a hand sanitiser, a mask, a wipe, and a bottle of water.
In the plane: we were arranged to sit with empty seat/ space in between seats we were assign (unless you know each other you can chose to seat together). IT IS AN EXCELLENT IDEA, and I FELT SAFE instead of sitting next to an unknown person (I MET a CAMBODIAN STUDENT FROM AUSTRALIA said her flight from Brisbane to Singapore arranged seat the same mine). ONE IMPORTANT NOTE is that if you could check online and select your preferred seats would be great. I DID SELECT SEAT in advance. I would recommend those at the EXIT AREA, LAST ROW, and ROW against the laboratory seats to avoid being SURROUNDED. If you cannot do that, you might be lucky to sit next to those EU/UK citizens who have COVID-19-free certificate. I WOULD FEEL SAFE TO SIT NEARBY THESE FOREIGNERS WHO HAD TEST NEGATIVE to board the flight. Test negative for COVID-19 is a must to travel to another country that is not your home.
Layover in Singapore. It was very unfortunate that I had 8 hours of layover in Singapore. All passengers were disembarked row by row, about 3-5 rows at a time. Those who transited at Changi Airport were well directed by a guide to the transit hall. TEMPERATURE WAS TAKEN as soon as you disembark, and BEFORE ENTERING THE transit HALL. Wrist bands were given to identify us as layover passengers. There, we were not allowed to move around like in London. If you want to eat and shop, you need to order online (there is a banner instructing how to do so). Duty-free shopping need to be placed at least 8 or 12 hours in advance. I THINK THIS IS WHY SINGAPORE COULD CONTAIN COVID-19 TRANSMISSION and or imported CASES. To avoid a close contact with other passengers, I located myself somewhere at the corner of the hall.
SINGAPORE-CAMBODIA: Before boarding, we were again asked to queue about 10-20 passengers each line with at least 1 m apart. They rechecked our temperature. A number of Cambodian flocks flown (mostly) from Malaysia joined us. The guide/staff navigated and led group by group to the security check. AGAIN, We were given health kit as we board. But, UPON BOARDING I WAS DISAPPOINTED THAT THE AIRLINE (Silk Air, a regional subsidiary of Singapore Airlines) did not follow the long-haul flight standard mentioned above. All seats were occupied except three rows left empty as the flight attendant told me that they reserved for quarantine or in case if anyone gets sick they would isolate him or her there. I AM DISAPPOINTED that we were asked to stay apart during the transit but HAD TO PACK US TOGETHER in a tinny Airplane. EVEN MASKS are still compulsory, but we sit close to each other. From HERE YOU DO NOY TRUST your CAMBODIAN FELLOWS since, like me, THEY DIDN’T COVID-19-Free certificate. IT seems Singapore does not care when they send travellers out of their country. THIS MIGHT BE THE CAUSE of COVID-19 transmission and importing CASES to CAMBODIA. The Government of Cambodia should instruct incoming flights to follow space inside the plane.
FOOD dining is the most CONTAGIOUS time in this small flight. When foods and drinks were served, everyone removed masks and dug in. THIS IS a risky time, but I DID NOT EAT UNTIL the nearby passengers ate. BUT, I WAS LUCKY ENOUGH TO SIT NEXT TO A FOREIGNER. AS I TOLD YOU BEFORE, THEY WERE ONCE TESTED NEGATIVE up to 72 hours before boarding the flight.
LANDING in PHNOM PENH. Again, DISAPPOINTED since passengers compete to get out of the plane, and the cabin crews did not advise them to disembark row by row like the long-haul flight. NO SOCIAL DISTANCING at all.
IMMIGRATION CHECK and COVID-19 TESTING. I think many have written on this aspect, I should not spend more time on this. We had to fill out health status and condition and presented to the Health Officer to inspect. AGAIN, WE NEED TO line up, and there was no social distancing practice (by passengers). YOU KNOW THAT THE AIRPORT IS SMALL; it cannot follow Singapore. From there you will be given a form to fill out your choice of QUARANTINE ACCOMMODATIONs: Free and private hotel. In the form, you must include your personal info, and contact information (phone and e-mail). As I once heard about the condition of free accommodation, I CHOSE HOTEL as I will need to work during this period. AS I SAID BEFORE, it is a must now that all passengers are required to quarantine 14 days at the hotel and the free accommodation, not two days to get the test result and check out to quarantine yourself at home.
I proceeded to collect my baggage and presented the health information form to the doctors who interviewed where about I would stay after the quarantine period (part of the contact tracing). From there, samples were taken from your mouth and noise. You will be asked to remove your face mask. Upon the samples were taken, you must wear you mask immediately as I believe it is where people were asked unmask; it can be a CONTAGIOUS area. DON’T be scared, ALL DOCTORS and OFFICERs were equipped with Personal Protection Equipment’s (PPE).
Transferring to the hotel was complicated as well. AGAIN, NO SOCIAL DISTANCING AT ALL. It was confusing as not many officers could speak English well. Some foreigners joined different queues: hotel and free accommodation. It took about 2 hours to get ready on the bus to the hotel. Both foreigners and Khmer passengers were frustrated with the arrangement. I THINK IT IS TYPICAL BUSINESS AS USUAL IN THIS COUNTRY.
I will tell you more how I felt when I was transferred to the hotel. It is again a typical thing. Stay tuned!
If you have questions, please comment and I will respond.