SINGAPORE: Flights from Singapore to Hong Kong on Nov 22 were sold out on Wednesday (Nov 11) several hours after Singapore's Transport Ministry announced the start date of an air travel bubble between the two cities.
A check on Google Flights at around 4pm showed no seats were available on either Singapore Airlines (SIA) or Cathay Pacific on Nov 22, a Sunday.
From Nov 22, travellers on air travel bubble flights between Singapore and Hong Kong will not have to serve quarantine or stay-home notice - a significant relaxation of travel restrictions after months of strict border controls due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nov 22 is also the second day of the year-end school holidays in Singapore.
READ: Singapore, Hong Kong air travel bubble to start on Nov 22 with 200 travellers each way per day
For a start, there will be only one air travel bubble flight a day but this will be slowly increased. Travellers must test negative on COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction tests within 72 hours before departure.
Prices on SIA's website for economy class fares departing on Nov 22 steadily increased from about S$800 at 10am on Wednesday to more than S$1,100 at about 3pm.
SIA return fares in economy class between the two cities ranged from S$314 to S$533 for the week starting Nov 14 – just one week from the start of the air travel bubble, according to the price graph on Google Flights.
READ: Singapore, Hong Kong air travel bubble 'important step' for ongoing recovery of airline industry - SIA
“We have seen an increase in bookings since the Government’s announcement about the air travel bubble flights. However, we are unable to reveal any figures due to commercial sensitivity," said an SIA spokesperson in response to queries.
Earlier, the national carrier had announced that the inaugural air travel bubble flight from Singapore to Hong Kong on Nov 22 will be SQ890 departing at 10am, with another flight on Nov 23 at 8am. The first flight from Hong Kong to Singapore will be on Nov 23 at 12.55pm.
From Dec 7, SIA and Cathay will operate daily return air travel bubble flights between Singapore and Hong Kong.
The inaugural flight from Hong Kong to Singapore on Cathay Pacific is CX759 on Nov 22, which usually departs Changi Airport at 9.10am. The return flight is CX734.
Searches on the Cathay Pacific website showed that air travel bubble flights in the week of Nov 22 were mostly booked out. Economy fares were going at more than S$900 by late afternoon.
The flights will be operated on Airbus A350-900s for both airlines.
As part of the air travel bubble arrangement, SIA and Cathay Pacific will be offering a month-long special in-flight menu of local dishes from both cities, such as dim sum, soya sauce chicken noodle, carrot cake and nasi lemak.
READ: Requirements for Singapore-Hong Kong air travel bubble not meant to be 'totally symmetrical': Ong Ye Kung
The experience of flying will be quite different from before the pandemic, with travellers required to don masks on the flights and measures to reduce direct contact between crew and passengers, such as the removal of hot towel service.
"The air travel bubble arrangement is an important step for both Singapore and Hong Kong as we rebuild from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and supports the ongoing recovery of the airline industry," said SIA CEO Goh Choon Phong.
The route between Hong Kong and Singapore was the among the busiest international air routes in 2019 with 13,654 flights a year operated by four carriers, according to travel data provider OAG.
Cathay Pacific chief customer and commercial officer Ronald Lam said: "We believe that this will be a milestone showcase for the opening of more, similar air travel bubbles with other popular destinations in the region and beyond.
"We look forward to welcoming our customers aboard our first travel bubble flights for a festive getaway as we head towards the popular Christmas holiday season."