I Travelled From Singapore to Vancouver During a Pandemic—Here’s What It Was Like
Additional reporting by Andrea Saadan.
As a frequent flyer, I had never imagined staying in one country for an extended period of time. Since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, I have been grounded in Singapore for over 18 months. That’s quite a record for me.
Due to my mother’s deteriorating health in 2020, I started to make plans to fly home to Vancouver. After months of trying to dodge lockdowns and lengthy quarantine requirements, I finally made the decision to fly back last month and booked my tickets—three days before my flight, in fact.
Booking my tickets
I had done a lot of research prior to my flight because there weren’t a lot of flights to Vancouver from Singapore, due to the ongoing pandemic. I usually fly by Singapore Airlines but the only available flight required two stopovers, including one in Los Angeles when I’d have to wait at the airport overnight. I definitely did not want this. Plus, I had initially wanted to fly over in December but because infection rates were so high in the US, I delayed my decision.
Eventually, the most convenient flight was via Japan Airlines. In fact, it was the easiest for me as well. I booked it online and even though I booked three days ahead, it didn’t really matter because flights can change any time now. They may not operate even on the day itself due to the dynamic changes at border control.
At Changi Airport
I had an early flight and had to be at Changi Airport Terminal 1 by around 6am. I expected it to be very quiet. However, the eerie part about it was realising how the airport was just… dead. Shops weren’t open and there was basically no one around. You would have thought that Starbucks would be open, but no—nothing was open.
Not even some of the restrooms.
At the JAL counter, it was a little painful because travelling to Canada requires three different types of documentation now. You must have your negative Covid-19 test results ready and taken 72 hours before the flight, a three-night hotel booking for quarantine in Canada, an 11-night self-isolation booking after your quarantine, and registered on Arrive Can, a mobile app you need upon arrival in Canada. It’s something like our Tracetogether app in Singapore. I also had to pre-register and pay online via FlyClear for a Covid test to be taken upon arrival in Canada.
Empty Terminal 1
Checking in at the airport
Taking off on my JAL flight
The plus side was that I was able to travel from Singapore to Narita on a near-empty flight—there were maybe about 15 passengers altogether on the entire flight. The food was also served well and no sharing was allowed, of course. Due to social distancing, it also meant that I had an entire row to myself. You were also not allowed to leave your seat unless you had to go to the bathroom. A mask must be worn at all times except at mealtime.
Transiting in Narita
To put it shortly, it was really scary. For the first time ever, I travelled to Tokyo and there was no one at the airport. It was like a ghost town. Nothing was open; among all the duty free stores, only one was open. All the sushi and ramen eateries that I was familiar with were closed. All you could do was go to your boarding gate and wait there. Basically, I thought it was just so different from what I was used to. After not travelling for almost two years, and then reaching an international airport where I thought I could get a bowl of udon before my next flight—it was startling to realise things have changed so much.
From Narita to Vancouver
It was a consolidated flight so this meant there were more passengers onboard. However, the number was still much smaller than a typical flight out of Japan. There were only around 25 passengers for the second leg of my journey.
Landing in Vancouver
At the airport, I took my test that I pre-registered for upon landing and proceeded to one of the designated hotels. Unlike in Singapore, where you’d be transported to a specific quarantine facility assigned to you, I just booked a taxi and made my way to the hotel on my own.
First three nights of quarantine
Honestly, I felt like I was under house arrest. The highlight of my day was the collection of my food once it arrived outside my hotel room door. But I wouldn’t complain because I had booked the hotel and the room type by choice and it was lovely; there were large windows so I was lucky to be able to watch the sunrise and appreciate the scenery outside.
Remaining days in quarantine
So I checked out of the hotel and proceeded to serve the rest of my quarantine in self-isolation. In Canada, you’re allowed to self-isolate in your own home or any other quarantine facility. I chose to book a one-bedroom Airbnb apartment and spent 11 days there. This part of my quarantine was actually quite enjoyable. I rented a place that had an office and kitchen so it was much more comfortable. My family also came by to deliver food and wine—but these were left at the door, so it was totally contactless.
There was a lot of Netflix and yoga involved this time—in fact, I may be a size smaller now!
I also appreciated the solidarity and the niceness of everything. Additionally, I had to work during quarantine but I had to switch my timings to match the working hours in Singapore. This meant that I worked from 6pm to 3am in Canada. But it wasn’t that bad as time went by pretty quickly.
Food-wise, it was convenient for me because I just ordered my supplies from a local supermarket. It was a lot easier for me because I had my own kitchen to cook in. I expect my quarantine in Singapore to be less ideal because it will be three weeks in a hotel room—and I’m not exactly looking forward to that! Once my quarantine at the apartment was completed, I was allowed to just leave the premises on my own and made my way to my family home.
First day out at Central Park, Vancouver BC
Key takeaways from this journey
I think anyone who needs to carry out essential travel must check documentation ahead of their flights because every country has different requirements. Make sure you read everything thoroughly. Previously, I could check-in at Changi Airport and drop off my luggage in under five minutes. It took me more than 30 minutes to check-in at the airport this time because of all the documents that had to be checked and double-checked. Have everything ready and printed out. Don’t take for granted that you have them on your phone because it’s not the same—print everything out for convenience’s sake. You should also allow for time in case others in front of you would potentially miss documentation.
The other thing to be prepared for is the unexpected emotional impact that an empty airport might cause. It is a mixture of sadness and fright, a feeling that you never thought you’d encounter. Airports are always buzzing with activity and the spirit of travelling is there. And, I felt the emptiness all the way from Singapore to Vancouver. So I wouldn’t say that travelling during a pandemic is fun.
As for my journey back to Singapore, the main thing that I am dreading is not knowing what to watch on Netflix! Jokes aside, I am grateful that I was able to make this trip to reunite with my mother with the support of the governments involved, my colleagues, family and friends. I do secretly wish that there will be new shows on Netflix Singapore though! If anyone has recommendations, feel free to share them with me!
- ImagesSusana Tsui/Tatler Singapore