SINGAPORE - When Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Saturday (Oct 9) that travel curbs would be further eased, Ryon Chan, 17, rushed down to the Singapore Airlines (SIA) service centre in Orchard Road.
His parents had entrusted him with a special task - to reserve four tickets to the United States so that they can attend his eldest brother's convocation at the University of California, Berkeley on Dec 18.
His brother, 24, is also celebrating his birthday the same day he is graduating with a business degree.
Speaking to The Straits Times, Ryon, a Year 5 Anglo-Chinese School (International) student, said: "We 'die die' must go. We came down today just to reserve tickets; you can do it only at the counter or via the hotline."
Ryon also visited the SIA website but did not expect that it would be hit by technical difficulties following PM Lee's announcement.
Travellers fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will, in the coming weeks, be able to visit 11 countries without quarantine and with fewer swab tests, under the Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme.
These countries, whose Covid-19 situations are stable, are Brunei, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, Britain and the US.
From Oct 19, vaccinated travellers from Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain and the US will also be able to enter Singapore without quarantine.
When ST visited the Ion service centre at 6pm on Saturday, a few people were seen waiting outside but left after being told by SIA staff that there were already 40 to 50 people inside.
ST understands that there was an expected waiting time of three hours.
Others such as Mr Kumar, 50, decided to book tickets online instead.
Mr Kumar, who declined to give his full name, was trying to buy a ticket for his 19-year-old son, a first-year mathematics and computer science student at the University of Chicago, to fly home.
He said: "Now that there is no more quarantine, he can come back during his winter break. His friends and family are all waiting for him here and he misses our labradoodle."
Pent-up demand for travel has shot through the roof, with families prepared to pay as much as $5,000 for a business-class ticket to London.
This was originally the plan for freelance writer Eileen Chua, 50, and her family of four. But they decided to go to Paris instead because fares were slightly lower.
The last time the family went on a holiday was two years ago, when they visited Australia.
They will take a train or flight to Britain so that Ms Chua's 12-year-old son can watch his favourite football team Tottenham Hotspur play in matches.
Ms Chua said: "Dad and son will probably watch football while my daughter and I may watch a few plays."
When asked why she is willing to pay so much to travel, Ms Chua said it was also because she wanted to support Singapore's national carrier, which has exhausted the $8.8 billion in gross proceeds raised from its rights issue in June last year.
Ms Chua said: "I want to support SIA now. As a Singaporean, we need to have that loyalty to our country."
With the Republic set to open borders further, Ms Chua is unfazed by the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Singapore and around the world.
She said: "Basically we have to live with it, because no one is going to be spared. When kids get the virus, it's not really a big deal because they are mostly asymptomatic. Moreover, my husband and I will be getting booster jabs soon."
In response to queries from ST, SIA on Saturday said: "Singapore Airlines has seen very high demand today for our Vaccinated Travel Lane flights.
"While we had anticipated this and added more resources at our customer servicing points, our agents may take longer than usual to respond to queries or attend to customers due to the high demand."
Customers are advised to check flight schedules, book flights and manage their bookings via the Singapore Airlines website or mobile app.
• Additional Reporting by Toh Ting Wei
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.