Singapore Changi Airport (ICAO code SIN, IATA WSSS) is one of those airports that you can fly to, turn around to go home again and consider yourself as having been on a holiday. It is a destination in its own right. Flying from Australia, you can expect to end up in Singapore if you fly Qantas to Europe (till March 31), Singapore Airlines, Scoot and even some Emirates flights. It is a major hub connecting Australia to the world, so many other airlines will grant you the gift of a Changi transit whether you like it or not.
What’s there to do?
The answer to that question depends on how long you have to spend at Changi. On the shorter end of the scale, you may find yourself having to run from one gate to another. It’s a big airport, and if your airline hasn’t foreseen your tight transfer they may not have prepared a shuttle for you, leaving you to hotfoot it on your own steam. This is likely any time you have a connection time of under an hour.
If you have one to two hours, drop into the cactus garden (Terminal 1), sunflower, orchid and fern gardens and koi pond (Terminal 2), butterfly garden (Terminal 3) or spend some time milling around the myriad shops in the transit area. The electronics shops are good for neat travel gadgets, and the duty-free shopping for spirits is some of the cheapest you’ll find anywhere.
Two to four hours will give you time to have a quick dip at the rooftop pool (Terminal 1) – this is one of my preferred ways to spend time at Changi. There’s something special about breaking up a long trip with some sunshine and a poolside drink, and then slipping into your airplane seat with a faint hint of chlorine reminding you of the pleasure. That pleasure will cost you a reasonable SGD13.91 and includes a non-alcoholic beverage, towel and shower facilities.
If you have the luxury of four to six hours, catch a movie at Terminals 2 and 3 – there is a wonderful 24-hour cinema that shows a fairly good movie selection, and it’s completely free. The difficulty is in making sure you don’t get too comfortable and fall asleep…
A transit of over six hours during the day will give you the opportunity to do a free day tour around Singapore. Look for the Singapore Tour counters in terminals 2 or 3 and book yourself in for a tour. You’ll be given a trendy little sticker to wear, then guided through immigration (make sure you have at least 6 months’ validity on your passport and can legally enter Singapore) and then onto a bus. You’ll be whisked around the sights of Singapore without breaking (too much of) a sweat, and then deposited back at your terminal in time for your departure. It’s a good way of seeing this incredible city if you absolutely can’t afford a proper stopover.
Transfers in Changi are generally a breeze. If you have been checked all the way through by your original airline, simply look for your departure gate and make sure you’re there when it opens. There are three terminals at Changi airport, and getting between them is easy. Look for the Skytrain signs – these are free, driverless trains that trundle between the terminals every few minutes, so it’s never a long wait. The ride between the Northern ends of terminals 2 and 3 is particularly pleasant, so if you have time to kill and comfortable shoes, why not go for a ride?
If you don’t have a boarding pass for your next flight and are flying a full-service airline, you’ll need to find the transfer desk for your next flight (you can check this here) and check in there. Your bags will be transferred to your next flight without you having to exit through immigration and customs.
If you are flying a low-cost airline such as Tiger, Scoot or Air Asia, you may need to exit, collect your bags and check in for your next flight as a separate journey, however for a fee, Scoot and Tiger offer thru-checkin on some routes. Check with your airline to see if this is available, as it’s a great time saver and leaves you with more opportunities to explore the airport.
If your connection sees you spending the night at Changi, there is an excellent transit hotel in each terminal operated by the same company. In Terminal 1, you are free to use the pool if you are a booked guest, but use your time wisely – bookings are in time blocks, with the minimum 6 hours in a budget room starting at a reasonable SGD47.08, with subsequent hours charged at approximately SGD14 per hour.
The hotels are airside, which means you must not collect your bags or go through immigration unless you have a boarding pass to come back in. If your baggage has not been transferred through to your next flight and you are unable to transfer right away (for example, Qantas to Jetstar Asia), you can always leave your bags on the carousel and check into the hotel upon arrival. Your bags will be collected by Lost and Found and kept in storage. In the morning, go to the transfer desk, and when they check you in a message will be sent to Lost and Found , who will retrieve your bags and put them on your next flight for you. Now I should stress that this is the official line given by the transit hotels, and while it has mostly worked for me, it doesn’t always. It’s worth telling the transfer desk agent to double-check that your bags have been retrieved from Lost and Found and are indeed on their way to your next flight.
Finally if you are going to be at Changi airport in the near future, it’s worth downloading their app (even while you’re in Changi – there’s free wi-fi for everyone) to help you navigate around this incredible city-airport. There is also a wealth of information at the Changi Airport website.