Early Christmas for VTL travellers? Daily arrivals cap could be the Scrooge

Some airlines see feverish flight bookings, but starting limit of 3,000 arrivals a day on VTL flights may not satisfy pent-up demand

Oct 11, 2021

AIRLINES are seeing a surge in demand and interest as travel-starved consumers rush to lock in their travel plans, lured by the beguiling prospect of quarantine-free travel.

However, in the face of pent-up demand and the upcoming festive season, capacity may be insufficient, given the daily cap of 3,000 arrivals across the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme.

From Oct 19, Singapore is launching eight VTLs with countries in Europe and North America - namely, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. This is on top of an upcoming VTL with South Korea that will take to the skies from Nov 15. The latest additions will expand the existing pool of VTLs, which presently comprises Germany and Brunei, from two to 11.

Independent analyst Brendan Sobie of Sobie Aviation reckons that capacity could turn out to be insufficient - given the daily cap - especially on peak travel days and for certain destinations. "Some destinations will sell out quicker than others," he said, pointing to routes such as London.

Sobie added: "Capacity is being artificially constrained by the cap and the rule requiring passengers to take dedicated VTL flights, which limits options and competition. Low fare and saver award seats may not be available, leaving only higher fare classes as demand exceeds the limited supply."

The global pandemic has dealt the airline industry its biggest crisis to date as border closures worldwide paralysed operations and left airlines bleeding red ink.

Singapore's borders have been largely shut to leisure travel since March 2020, so news of the expanded VTL scheme has had exuberant consumers rushing to cement their travel plans over the weekend.

Airlines that The Business Times spoke to reported keen interest from travellers.

"SIA has seen very high demand for our VTL flights," said a Singapore Airlines (SIA) spokesperson, adding that the flag carrier had ramped up resources at all of its customer servicing points in anticipation. Even then, the SIA website crashed for a few minutes on Oct 9, while queues were seen at its service centre at Ion Orchard.

"Nonetheless, it has taken longer than usual for our customer service representatives to attend to customers," she added, apologising for the inconvenience caused.

A spokesperson for SIA's budget arm Scoot told BT that it has received "positive response for its Berlin VTL flights" following its sales launch. The first VTL designated flight from Berlin to Singapore will commence on Oct 20, allowing "affordable leisure travel between Europe and Singapore," the spokesperson added. The budget carrier is also preparing to launch a VTL flight between South Korea and Singapore.

Roland Coppens, general manager for Air France KLM (South East Asia and Oceania), said: "Following the announcement of extending more VTL flights to Singapore, Air France and KLM have had a very positive response, and we are receiving many inquiries through our call centres, social media and our travel agency partners."

The group is in the process of updating its reservations systems to include the designated VTL flights and will start accepting bookings for the VTLs this week. Coppens added: "We anticipate a resurgence in travel demand from and to Singapore."

The additional VTL destinations come at an opportune time with the peak travel season approaching and have been well received by Singapore travellers, said Lavinia Rajaram, Expedia Group's regional head of communications.

Search traffic for flights to Seoul spiked by as much as 180 per cent on the Expedia Singapore website over the weekend after the VTL with South Korea was announced. In addition, search traffic more than doubled for other popular destinations such as Vancouver, Frankfurt and London.

Rajaram said: "Vacation-deprived Singapore travellers have been eager to reunite with family and friends, and the possibility of 11 vaccinated travel lanes feels like Christmas came early for us."