A Day at Changi Airport, Singapore in the Age of Coronavirus

by | Feb 10, 2020 | Destinations, Places, Singapore | 0 comments

By the time I strolled through security at Iloilo International Airport, it was 8:30 pm, and I was already tired, but I had a long way to go before I got to Changi airport in Singapore. The activity could only be described as frenzied, as people did their best not to brush each other as they jostled through the aisles of seats. There was, after all, the Coronavirus going around, and you never can be too careful.

I wore a mask for most of the trip, mostly because my wife, Flora, didn’t want me to give the virus to the kids. I didn’t think I needed it, but I humored her.

wearing a mask at the airport
I almost forgot to put it back on after passing through security

On the way to the airport, I had thought of being naughty, buying a pack of cigarettes and sitting in the smoking-room while I waited, even though I had quit years before and hated the smell of burning tobacco. But, the room was closed, and I wouldn’t find out until Manila on the way back that President Duterte banned smoking in public places, and the smoking rooms had been shuttered.

It’s probably a good thing because the last thing I want to do is start smoking again.

My flight didn’t leave until 10:45 pm, so I kept myself busy taking selfies and posting on Facebook. My friends probably were tired of me posting about every little thing that happened, but I was having fun stepping out of my comfort zone.

The plane finally boarded, and I was quickly seated in an aisle seat near the front, row 4. Because it was a late flight, the plane wasn’t as full as it could have been.

inside the airplane
Near the front!

I flew Cebu Pacific Air because it was cheap. But, with your cheap ticket, you have to expect that the seats won’t be as comfortable and a few of the niceties of flying are removed. When the drink and snack cart came around, I remembered you have to pay for everything, which I didn’t think was such a big deal because I was flying inexpensively. The 100 peso coffee wasn’t very good, but how much can you expect at 30K feet in the air?

The thing about every time I have flown Cebu Pacific is that they understand good customer service. Everyone is so friendly and welcoming, the plane is spotless, and they really make an effort to make sure you are comfortable.

After three hours, we landed at Changi airport in Singapore.

The BIG Airport – Changi at 2:00 am

I’ve never been to this airport, and I only knew a little about it from the wonderful guide to Changi airport at sleepinginairports.net. I’d landed in terminal 4, and knew I could go to three other terminals if I wanted – Jewel, terminal 2, and Terminal 3.

I noticed on Booking.com that there was a nap room/lounge somewhere in Terminal 2, so I set out to go there. Finding my way out of Terminal 4 was no easy business, and I took a few wrong turns and got stuck in a little construction before I saw the sign for the tram. I was looking forward to the ride because it was supposed to go through Jewel, and I wanted to see the waterfall even though I had no plans to go there.

underground bridge at Changi airport in Singapore
The underground bridge. Changi was massive!

But the tram was closed, and I ended up lugging my backpack over the underground bridge and into T2. On the basement level, there was very little open, but I did find an ATM, which took a huge load off my mind. I was getting hungry and I knew I had to eat soon.

I wanted to find the Ambassador lounge so I could sleep for a while, but after checking every nook and cranny of the lower level, I couldn’t find it. I even asked a few of the construction workers, but none of them seemed to know anything about the airport either.

I finally found someone that said it might be up in the transit terminal, but I would have no way of getting in there.

So I gave up, hungry and irritated, and headed to T3 and greener pastures.

Terminal 3 in Changi Saved Me

I was looking for someplace to rest for a while, or better yet, a place to eat, and walked from one side to the other before I saw the Golden Arches. Just the feeling of comfort I got from the familiar menu and smells coming from the kitchen made me feel much better.

breakfast at McDonalds
Life is always better with a little McDonald’s

It turned out to be the best Egg McMuffin I’ve ever eaten, and the super large Coke washed away the dust from the road.

As I was eating, I spied an airport lounge across the way called The Haven by Jetquay, and it looked like a good place to go in search of a nap. The place looked fancy, and I was reluctant at first, not being a fancy person myself. But, inside was quiet, and the woman at the front desk was gracious.

The prices were much lower than I expected, with 5 hours in the lounge being around 50 SD. For my money, I could take a shower, eat breakfast, drink soda and coffee to my heart’s content, or just relax in one of the lounge chairs and use the fast WiFi. For a little more, I could have gotten a nap room, but I wanted to write a little bit since I had my laptop, and I figured I could doze in a chair if I need to.

Relaxing at The Haven by Jetquay
It didn’t take me long to get settled in at The Haven by Jetquay

The Haven was wonderful! It wasn’t packed with travelers, and I was able to work and post on social media without interruption. I took too much advantage of the drinks though, downed two coffees and three sodas, and was completely wired on caffeine. I never got the nap I needed.

I did rest though, and when my time ran out at 9:45 am I was refreshed and ready for the rest of my adventure.

Back to Terminal 4

My flight didn’t leave until that night at 7:15, so I had a lot of time to kill. The only problem was I didn’t have unlimited funds. I found out my flight would leave that night from T4, so I headed back there.

When I was resting in The Haven, I’d spent some time reading other Changi airport guides, like the Singapore Layover Guide: What To See And Do At The World’s Best Airport on AWOL and the Guide To Changi Singapore, The World’s Best Airport Since 2013 on Culture Trip, and I found out there was actually quite a bit to do in T4, so I was looking forward to spending some time there.

The airport was quite a bit busier than before, but still not so crowded that my social anxiety acted up. For someone afraid to travel by himself, this trip was turning out to be a breeze.

The bus ride back to T4 was nice at 3 am, but on the way back we were packed in, and I got a little lightheaded and sweaty from my nerves. No one seemed to notice though.

Riding the bus through the airport
The bus was a nice ride through the airport

I had only been on the arrival level earlier, and I found out there was a lot more going on in the departure area. A quick stop at the Cebu Pacific desk made me realized I had to kill time, so I found another McDonalds on the second level of the booking area.

The last thing I needed was more caffeine, but the Coke was ice-cold, and I was able to sit and get my bearings. On the level where I was, there were more restaurants, and further down was a food court. Later I ventured inside and found a place (but failed to write down the name) that served a prawn omelet and eggs seemed just about the best thing right about then. After I ate and headed back to booking, I spied some curry and knew what I was having for lunch.

I wanted to get in the transit area, because there was a lot more to see, and I heard there was a napping area where I could relax. I had been connected to the screaming fast Changi WiFi all day, and I thought I would check on my wife and kids at home.

But, I was informed I had to get my booking documents checked by Cebu Pacific before I could pass through immigration and security, and they wouldn’t arrive until 2:00 pm, so I had to kill some more time.

That is when I found one of the wonders of Changi Airport Terminal 4, the Petalclouds. These are six huge kinetic sculptures, suspended in the air near the back of T4, that move to a classical score specially created by BAFTA-award winning composer, Ólafur Arnalds.


I stayed for about an hour staring mesmerized by three of these, and if you are ever in T4, take a look.

Since I had some time to burn, I did something I shouldn’t have; I went for coffee at the O’Çoffee Club Xpress, even though my nerves were shredded by the caffeine in my body already. But it gave me a comfortable place to wait in the public area until my ticket agent would show, and the coffee was delicious.

coffee at O'Coffee Club Express
More coffee at O’Coffee Club Express?

At 2:00 pm, I talked to the agent, made it through immigration without issue and zipped through security. The only problem was I had a bottle of alcohol to cleanse my hands in the pocket I had forgotten to tell them about. The officer at security was nice enough but confiscated my alcohol because it was 50 ml over the limit.

This bottle of alcohol was the only other precaution I had besides the mask to fend off the Coronavirus, and I hoped I could get another in one of the shops in the transit area.

I found a drugstore, but all they had were these tiny alcohol wipes that were almost worthless, but I bought some anyway. I couldn’t find the liquid anywhere, so I spent the next few hours sneaking to the restroom washing my hands. Thankfully, Changi airport has super-clean washing facilities that are no-touch so your clean hands don’t get compromised.

Everything about Changi Airport was world-class. I’ve never been in a place so devoted to customer service and cleanliness, and if the rest of Singapore is anything like it, I’ll be back time and time again.

I was hungry again, so I went in search of curry at one of the stalls upstairs, and I found it at Chutney Mary’s. Now, I know it was supposed to be fast food, but I have to say it was just about the best curry and Na’an I’ve ever eaten. It was just the right amount of spice for the long flight I had remaining, even though I did take something so I wouldn’t be surprised later on. I almost went back for a second bowl, but I didn’t want to push my luck.

Curry at Chutney Mary's
I want more! Curry at Chutney Mary’s

I did see a smoking room, but by then had decided that I would keep my non-smoking promise and avoid cigarettes.

Next, I found a free lounge with all sorts of chairs. They even had ones that reclined enough for you to fall asleep. My anxiety at snoring too loud kept me from napping long, but I’m glad it was there because I got to stretch out, something I wouldn’t be able to do until I arrived home the next day.

A smile on Jason Weiland
My mug at the Terminal 4 gate

I found my gate, and a comfy chair by the window so I could watch the planes, and waited for my flight to board at 7:00 pm. I was not looking forward to the next two legs of my journey because I had middle seats, and I am a big guy. This flight would not be comfortable.

Overall, the Changi Airport was wonderful, and even though I had a long wait for my flight, I was never uncomfortable or anxious. It was cool, the WiFi was fast, the bathrooms were clean, and it was just about one of the best airport experiences I’ve had.

Going Home to Iloilo City

When I boarded the plane resigned to sitting uncomfortably for the next three hours, I didn’t expect there would be an open row and that the nice attendants would let me move over to a window seat where I could be more comfortable.

One weak coffee and a nap later, we arrived at NAIA in Manila. I remember arriving here eight years before from my first international trip to a hot and humid terminal. But, many of the issues with the airport have been fixed, and I am never anything but comfortable when I am in Manila. I had a 6-hour layover so it would be more waiting for me.

I was terribly tired.

Like all the other airports that day, they monitored your temperature to make sure you didn’t have a fever, but everything else was fine. I was anxious because the Manila airport is always packed. And my time through immigration and customs was nerve-wracking. But I found a Burger King and devoured a Whopper, Large Fries, and a Coke, and felt much better.

The wait was uneventful. The only thing open after security was a juice stand, so I got a mango and buko smoothie and found a place to rest my weary feet. Since not too many people had arrived yet and it was the middle of the night, I stretched out on a few chairs and fell asleep for a few minutes underneath the air conditioner vent.

Hardly anyone was at NAIA
Hardly anyone was at NAIA

Again after we boarded, I found another empty seat, so I wasn’t stuck in the middle, and the last hour to Iloilo City was calm and relaxing.

I’d come full-circle back to Iloilo International Airport, and I found Flora waiting for me outside, glad to see me.

The past few days had been a lot of fun, but also it was a way for me to get my feet wet and show my anxiety that traveling can be fun and not at all stressful. I am ready for the next trip. This time, I’d like to spend a few days in Singapore or Tokyo exploring, eating, and sightseeing.

But it was good to be back. I was home and I was happy.

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