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What to Expect When You Land at Changi Now

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

Singapore’s Changi Airport lost the top spot in Skytrax's annual list of the best airports for the first time in nearly ten years. It didn't slip to number two. Nope. Changi came in at number three. Ouch. In case you're wondering, Doha came in first followed by Tokyo.

So what's changed? In truth, COVID has taken it's toll. It used to be that you could get off the plane, go through customs, grab your bag and be in a taxi in about a half hour. All told, we'd walk in our front door in less than an hour after landing, even if we made a quick stop at a duty-free shop. That's no longer the case.

Traveling to the States

In July, my family and I traveled to the US. Back in the good ol' days, all the stores would have been open and the airport would have been buzzing any time of day. Sadly, that wasn't the case this time. We got to Changi around 6:00am and the airport was empty and stores were closed.

Returning to Singapore

After weeks trying to gain permission to return, we finally traveled back from the United States through Tokyo in mid-August. My husband's HR tried for days and then we got a slot with only 36 hours notice. We landed at 1:30am and there were maybe 20 people on our flight and I didn't see a lot of other travelers. Customs took on a whole new meaning. Besides just looking at our passports and FIN cards, the customs official had to check a ridiculous amount of documents. I actually felt bad for him. His job has obviously changed expotentially since all this went into effect. Plus, the entire airport staff has to wear protective gear during their whole work shifts, every single day. Ugh I was impressed with all of the passengers patiently waiting in line. Not one soul grumbled, except for my own kids. I think we all understood this is what it now takes to get back into Singapore.

The process

First, we had to prove we were vaccinated and show that we had permission from the Singapore government to return. We had to show our Singapore Arrival Cards and Health Declaration. Then, we had to prove that we had registered and paid for our hotel and PCR tests upon arrival. This is separate from the PCR tests we had to take in the US prior to departure. And yes, we had to show him our Trace Together apps. Traveling back soon? Here's a full list of what you need to know.

Once we got through customs, we were escorted to baggage claim where our bags were waiting. There was no wandering through the airport on the way to baggage claim either, no visit to any of the duty-free shops. We had to stay between some ropes and go exactly where were told to go.

From baggage claim, we went to get our on-arrival Covid tests. First, they scanned our QR code showing we had paid. Next, we visited a station where we got our labels printed and then we had the actual test. Each stop took at least five minutes. Remember, it was in the middle of the night and there were very few travelers.

Trip to quarantine

From the tests, we were escorted to a seating area where we waited with other people who had also recently arrived. After a bit, we were all led through a maze of ropes and herded onto a bus, all of our luggage had to go under the bus. Nobody told us anything and we had no idea where we were going.. We didn't find out where were serving our quarantine until the bus pulled up to the hotel. UPDATE: I just secured re-entry for one of our staff and she was able to choose her hotel for quarantine! Lucky her! Here's the list of approved hotels for quarantine.

Our stay? The Carlton City Hotel. Our bags were all sprayed with disinfectant and we had to watch a movie about the in-room Covid tests we would be taking. We finally got to our hotel room at 5:00am. Because there are four of us, we have two adjoining rooms which are small, but nice enough. The food is pretty bad and the WiFi worse. But we're managing.

Wrapping it up

All to say, the ease, speed and shopping that made Changi the best on the globe have all disappeared. We've gone from landing and getting home in under an hours to a three-and-a-half hour process. I think it's still better than some countries. I've heard horror stories about military escorts and bunkers for quarantine. Singapore at least is insanely organized — no surprise there. Still, I long for the days when Changi is back on top. It's a magnificent airport. I hope it can soon be the shining gateway to Singapore that it was built to be.

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