Grrrrr: Singapore Changi’s Absurd Boarding Pass Rules

Filed Under: Travel

Update: Here’s a full explanation from an airport representative regarding the official policy for accessing terminals at Changi Airport.

I briefly interrupt my trip report to bring you a “live” update from Singapore. I’m flying Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, and wanted to check out the new Qantas First Lounge.

Want to guess how many buses and trains I took to make this happen? 10 (T-E-N). Why? Because Changi Airport has some arbitrary, inconsistent rules when it comes to boarding passes.

The Premise

Cathay Pacific operates out of Terminal 4 at Changi Airport, while the Qantas Lounge is in Terminal 1. The two terminals are connected airside, past immigration.

One thing that makes Terminal 4 unique is that it has a central security checkpoint, rather than security being at each individual gate (as it is in the rest of the terminals). That shouldn’t matter, though, since you’re allowed to access any terminal with a valid boarding pass, but apparently only if you’re willing to jump through some hoops.

Round 1: No Mobile Boarding Passes

I had my Cathay Pacific mobile boarding pass and headed to the Terminal 1 security checkpoint. There the officer informed me that I could only clear security here when flying an airline out of Terminal 4 if I had a paper boarding pass. A mobile boarding pass didn’t qualify.

Huh? I figured this wasn’t the officer’s fault, so wasn’t about to argue with her. Now that I think about it, I remember a situation in the past that involved complications with mobile boarding passes at Changi, though I forgot the exact details.

“Okay, so if I go to Terminal 4 and get a boarding pass printed I can come back here and go through security?”


Round 2: Trains, Buses, Buses, And Denials

Getting between Terminal 1 & Terminal 4 isn’t fast or seamless. You first have to take the SkyTrain to Terminal 2, which is easy enough.

From there you walk a bit, and then you have to take a bus to Terminal 4. The bus isn’t particularly pleasant. They wait until the bus fills up to the point that you feel like you’re on a Tokyo subway during rush hour.

It took a total of 30 minutes for me to get to Terminal 4.

I had my boarding pass printed at the Cathay Pacific counter, and took the bus back to Terminal 2. Why didn’t I just enter through Terminal 4? Because I’d still have to take a bus and train, and I’d have to clear security an extra time.

Furthermore, I wasn’t convinced they’d let me go from Terminal 4 to Terminal 1, while a security officer had at least confirmed to me I could clear directly at Terminal 1.

I took the bus to Terminal 2, and decided to try and go through immigration there (since Terminal 1 & Terminal 2 are easily connected airside).

“No, if you fly from Terminal 4 then you can only clear security there.”

That contradicts what the previous officer told me…

Back To Terminal 1 We Go!

Okay, this was getting ridiculous. At this point I figured I might as well go back to Terminal 1 and find the same officer who denied me the first time, since it seemed quicker at that point.

I took the SkyTrain back to Terminal 1 and found her. Great!

She looked at my boarding pass.

“This doesn’t work, you need to have the airline stamp on the boarding pass.”
“What airline stamp?”
“They need to stamp this.”
“But you told me I just needed a paper boarding pass to clear here, and I got the paper boarding pass.”

Again, I figured arguing with her wouldn’t help.

Back To Terminal 4 We Go!

Then I went through the whole annoying process again — I took the SkyTrain to Terminal 2, and then took the overcrowded bus to Terminal 4, which took nearly 30 more minutes.

Back To Terminal 1 We Go!

At that point I cleared security and immigration in Terminal 4, and then tried to find the transfer bus.

From Terminal 4 there’s only a bus running to Terminal 2, and it only runs every 24 minutes. So I had to wait a while, but fortunately I found it.

I was at least thrilled to not be denied, since at this point I was fully expecting that I could only go between terminals during a leap year while doing a handstand.

After that long wait and bus ride, I took the SkyTrain back to Terminal 1.

Then after using the Qantas Lounge I had to go through that same process again, taking the SkyTrain to Terminal 2, and then the every-24-minute-bus to Terminal 4.

Bottom Line

I’m more amused by the whole situation than anything. I wasted over two hours due to an arbitrary rule and misinformation. What should have been a single bus ride and single train ride turned into a total of 10 train and bus rides.

I guess this isn’t surprising in Singapore, a country that has a lot of rules. But at some point you have to wonder just how silly these are. I can’t clear security in Terminal 1, but I can clear security in Terminal 4, then go to Terminal 2, and then go to Terminal 1? Is that airline stamp suddenly not important anymore?

Alrighty then…

On the plus side, I’m happy to report that the Qantas First Lounge was very much worth visiting… wow!

Has anyone else dealt with Singapore’s arbitrary boarding pass & terminal rules?

  1. Oh Ben, if you lived in Singapore you’d realise this is only the beginning. Singapore markets itself really well, but you soon realise just how incompetent the place is and how incapable its people are of making decisions…common sense is not easy to find.

    Singapore looks great; it’s clean and safe, but intelligent it is not. It’s a country that thrives on rules and the second you deviate from the 99.9% they simply don’t have the intellect to understand or process your request. Don’t be fooled by the marketing.

    And yes I’m Singaporean haha

  2. Basically, from my experience, you can only clear the initial security from the terminal you’re flying from.

    The airside transportation between terminals is really designed for arriving passengers who are transitting to a flight at a different terminal.

    Some Asian cultures have a problem giving you a direct “No” (I’m from that sort of background) so unfortunately you probably met a security officer who was trying to be polite!

  3. “Has anyone else dealt with Singapore’s arbitrary boarding pass & terminal rules?”

    Ask those people who got arrested at Changi for buying fake boarding passes to enter the terminal 😉

  4. I have been wanting to know for the longest time. So can you go from terminal 4 to terminal 2 all airside?

  5. On my recent 6x back-and-forth between Australia and Europe, I passed through DOH, DXB, BKK, SIN, and HKG – Lucky me! And I have to say all things considered, HKG is now my #1 favourite airport in the world, having taken over from SIN which has been my favourite for the past decade. One of the reasons was the multiple terminals and security rigmarol. Although I did not experience what you did, unfortunately I’m not surprised.

  6. Careful lucky if you criticize Singapore there can be serious repercussions. You are a known blogger and they don’t take kindly to these kinds of posts.

    And don’t mess with Changi Security I remember many years ago during customs at the gate a man in front of me asked the security what are you looking for? dangerous items? and laughed. the officer dragged him and his family out and they missed the flight. That was shocking.

  7. Lateral thinking and problem solving are not prized in Singapore… following the rules is a national pastime.

    The ID check requirement is a hassle.

    For what it’s worth, you can download Grab (Uber of SEA) and get between terminals cheaply and easily in around 2 mins.

  8. It’s always better to have a paper boarding pass in my view. And it only takes a minute to get one or print one.

    Phones can be flakey.

  9. While you were at Terminal 1, you could have just walked across to Jewel and print the (paper) passes from the early check-in machines and/or counters – regardless if you have done the online/mobile check-ins.

  10. If I’m not traveling domestic in my own country or doing a route I’ve done very often, I always want to have a airline issued boarding pass. It’s just safer and common sense. Changi remains the best airport in the world by far. I’ve experienced HKG during the busy time when there’s a holiday in the mainland, and I missed Changi.

  11. Asia in general is particular about paper boarding passes in my experience. I have gotten turned away with a mobile boarding pass countless times.

  12. I was once detained at SIN for 45 minutes by immigration officers for the serious offence of having in my possession a duplicate boarding pass.

    They let me know in no uncertain terms that I had made a grave error of judgement for not destroying my previously issued boarding pass or not informing the check-in agent when I was re-checking my bags that I already had a boarding pass for that flight. As one of the previous comments suggested, SIN are completely anal about the possibility of forged boarding passes being used to go airside.

  13. “Skytrain to T3 is near Row 1” is in a photo near the top of this article. What is a “row”? Not sure I’ve ever heard that terminology on my travels (limited to mostly the US and Europe).

  14. Not nearly as annoying as US security nonsense. I am guessing your issue stems from flying out of terminal 4 since it is free standing from terminals 1,2, and 3. Just like if you were flying out of the international terminal at ORD but want to get to terminal.

  15. Not nearly as annoying as US security nonsense. I am guessing your issue stems from flying out of terminal 4 since it is free standing from terminals 1,2, and 3. Just like if you were flying out of the international terminal at ORD but want to get to terminal C.

  16. Ha, I had the boarding pass problem in JFK. Cathay mobile boarding pass was denied by TSA. Had to get a paper boarding pass.

  17. Only issue I had in Changi was the crazy 90 min prior to boarding duty free purchase rule. Really annoying and no leeway.

    Worst part was I stopped on the way to the lounge after arrival and looked. Then said I would come back on my way to the gate and they didn’t say a word about it.

  18. I didn’t realize until I saw the photo of that carpeting that in Singapore they are fond of dropping acid. You should have tried that so you would have enjoyed the adventure.

  19. Singapore resident here. The stamp (“chope”) thing is pretty random- my sometimes my husband and I both check in online and one of us is ok and the other not (same passport country) and needs to visit a desk.

    T4 is really designed to be for O&D from that terminal only. To be honest I’m not sure why they don’t just flat out make that the rule and then everyone would know where they stand. For a “normal” traveller there is really no reason to visit the T123 complex on a T4 departure, especially as the Cathay lounge is T4 is really lovely. Well done for your perseverance !

  20. @Rich – row refers to check-in row in the departures hall

    As a former expat in Singapore, I could praise Changi all day compared to what we have anywhere else in the world, but I couldn’t agree more that some of the rules and T1/2/3 to T4 connection isn’t fast or seamless at all. I hope someone from CAG reads this and gets up to speed with mobile boarding passes.

    I have cleared security and immigration from a different terminal (1/2/3) many times without issue.

    There are so many fundamental issues with T4 that it is now one of my least favorite terminals in the world. Period. I don’t know what happened to Singapore’s famed efficiency and building ahead, but the long walks, frequent bussing for widebody aircraft, and bus connections all point to a very shortsighted and bandaid solution to capacity.

    A few weeks ago I came in on a VN A350 and an elderly British couple behind me on their first visit exclaimed “This is Singapore?!” before disembarking via stairs. Seriously, Changi, step up your game.

    All that said, the CX lounge in T4 is fantastic and I like how you don’t have to take out your laptop when going through security.

  21. @Troy guess you were flying to Aus or somewhere? Most destinations don’t have that rule, only somewhere that requires it to be delivered to you at the gate. The logistics of that require the early cut off

  22. I think @Sam G has it right so that’s why I didn’t even try this same maneuver when I was in a similar situation 7 days ago at Changi. I too had the Cathay flight to HKG but wanted to use my Oneworld Emerald status to visit the Quantas lounge, starting from the Crowne Plaza at T3. When I realized how circuitous the journey would be (and assuming I would need a paper boarding pass), I decided against it. I had an extra SGD$15 left over from the trip and wasn’t planning to be back any time soon so used it to take a cab directly from the hotel to T4 (to avoid the sardine-can bus and concomitant waiting times) and just went straight to the Cathay Lounge in T4, which was quite pleasant. Maybe not quite as nice as the Pier First (or even Pier Business) at HKG but by no means terrible.

  23. Changi has a butterfly garden. All JFK has is salmonella and despair.
    Oh and Changi has a lot of rules.
    Oh and YES JFK has TWA.

  24. I’m guessing this is meant to stop people who only visit lounges and don’t fly out. Singapore has arrested people for this. In 2015 I was flying United out of SFO on a ticket a buddy gave me. Problem was it had his name on it. So I purchased a refundable Southwest ticket because I was 18 and wasn’t swimming in money or available credit to purchase a $1000 ticket that would take 7-10 days to show up back on my account. Southwest and United fly out of different terminals and weren’t connected air side. The TSA agent could care less. I did this several times but now when I look back, it was stupid because in an emergency or secondary, I’d have gotten in big trouble.

  25. Ben,

    Went through the same nightmare two days ago. I don’t think the main issue is the mobile boarding pass, as I had a similar experience with a paper boarding pass! I think you do actually need a physical boarding pass was so they can affix these huge stickers that say T4 on the the back of the boarding pass when doing the transfer bus.

    In my case, I printed my Cathay ticket at the self-serve kiosks in the Jewel. I then proceeded to enter through Terminal 1. Denied. I thought it was just the security agent, so tried again at Terminal 2. Denied again. This time they actually scanned the boarding pass and it gave an error message, so it’s not the agents but the tickets are actually blocked from entering anywhere but Terminal 4.

    Like you said the transfer bus is every 24 minutes, then it takes another 10-12 minutes to get between Terminal 4 and 2. On the way back you have to go through security again, but in my case after the fire alarm went off as I was ready to go downstairs so they told me to wait. I thought they would tell me when the bus was ready. Nope, they actually caused me to miss the bus because they had no clue what to do with a fire alarm going off. I get the impression I could have just ignored them and proceeded downstairs as they don’t really care/communicate with the bus departure downstairs.

    I thought 3 hours would be plenty of time to go to a lounge in Terminal 1 and make it back to Terminal 4, it turns out this barely left any time and wasn’t worth it. If anyone intends to do this horrendous transfer bus from Terminal 4, I would suggest 5 hours minimum as it’s really inefficient and more like transiting a third-world country.

  26. Your scenario is not a typical one – normally people go to the lounge of the airline they are flying, so terminal hopping is not required. Plus, as all airside transit is interconnected I’d enter security at the correct terminal and then do the hopping airside. But yes, the security officer should inform you correctly and give you that suggestion.

  27. What my parents said about Singapore 40 years ago is still true today, based on both my experiences and this adventure. The place LOOKS like the future, but it’s the future run by people from the 19th century.

  28. @Dt,

    I was able to clear T1 with a T2 boarding pass multiple times

    (Did early check-in at Jewel, entered via T1 immigration. Agent at immigration exit reminded me every time that I will depart from a different terminal

  29. Boo hoo hoo, it took me a while to go to another airlines first class lounge in another terminal, wah wah.

  30. You took 10 buses to get to a lounge? I thought you were trying to lower your carbon footprint. Do you get a pass for making global warming come faster because you’re an A-lister?

  31. I always print boarding passes and my itinerary when traveling outside the US. You never know when mobile boarding pass won’t work or when they expect to be able to see your return flight info, etc.

  32. Abe, I’m pretty sure those buses were going to be running regardless of whether he was on them. It had literally zero impact on the climate. Nice attempt at $hit-stirring though.

  33. Not the point of your post I realize, but given there was also a big hoo-haw article about Changi in NYT today, it seems a litle contrarian but realistic to point out that one stop and a dollar or two on the lite rail and you could be at a real community centre with extensive food hawker center, wonderful kopi shops, etc. No airport – not even Changi – beats the actual place.

  34. I fly Cathay as a Marco Polo member. I’ve got a lot of miles. I fly other up and down airlines in SE Asia for quick junkets. They all highly recommend a physical paper boarding pass. Those are written on at transfers with various scribbles (easily forged) as we do here in the US. Those scribbles allow folks to glance at transit progress. My passport isn’t stamped when I transfer (hence exit and enter a country), so the ticket serves. My guess is that anyone intent on illegally entering or exiting a country would use a “transfer”. Electronic tickets are theoretically easier to track. They are certainly easy to pass from phone to phone. As I fear a phone crash, theft or loss also can lose my e-ticket, I simply carry physical copies overseas. Where possible, I do both.

    I have always been advised to carry physical copies of boarding passes by airline employees checking my documents. Sometimes, you won’t be admitted or allowed to exit without them. No reason to comment in detail about Cathay in Asia, but many of their employees aren’t allowed to enter Chinese airspace over FB posts. I am beginning to think we should consider any cross border travel as a gift and not a right.

  35. Reminds me of Johannesburg where I and my partner got identical boarding passes with the same name and seat, and security had no issue with it..

  36. The issue isn’t Singapore…it is these gargantuan airports where each area runs to a seperate set of rules when it comes to security. On top of that, has anyone noticed that people tend to interpret rules differently ? Not sure how you solve that one.

  37. Everytime I visit Singapore, I get pulled up at immigration and have to be re fingerprinted and photographed, like a criminal. This happens both incoming and outgoing. It’s so annoying. Considering I have no criminal record and am just a tourist.

  38. There’s a new Tiger Beer official restaurant/bar/shop in Terminal 4 that I wanted to try but alas, was also told by the information booth in T2 that it was a no-go.

  39. There are many airports where you can’t get between terminals. Count yourself lucky. #firstworldproblems

  40. Ben – Changi is great as long as it’s all done in Terminal 1 !!!! Departing arriving and transit !!and thankfully you gave the lounge a thumbs up

  41. My Changi highlight is arriving at one terminal (forgot which one) at a gate only a few meters away from the immigration checkpoint just to be told to go to another terminal for immigration because that’s where the plane was “supposed“ to land according to original schedule.
    As for mobile boarding passes I was once told by an agent in front of the security check point heading for a MH flight that SQ is the only airline at SIN which is allowed to use mobile boarding passes. … because “this is Singapore”.

  42. Good thing u have highlighted security glitches that impedes smooth and friendly connectivity between Terminal 4 and other terminals. SAT shd take note of this administrative redundancy to eradicate time wasting and frustrating inconvenience to travellers. Until this is done, Changi Airport is not the best yet.

  43. Can anyone answer this:
    Flying out of SIN to Tokyo on a 8am flight from T1
    Would like to use the Transit Hotel overnight. Can one check in with Japan Air the night before your flight and not on the same day

  44. Terminal 4 is a strange creature: a totally unnecessary full-service rebirth of the original Budget Terminal, to which Changi lured CX and KA, two full-service airlines that are strictly O&D, probably with significant financial sweeteners. The terminal is plush in the Changi style but is otherwise poorly planned, and is totally not designed to serve transfer passengers to other terminals, or anyone wanting to visit Jewel (surely a dwindling number) or use public transport, .

    Ben, your adventure hit precisely at this weak spot, but of course you represent a tiny minority of OneWorld elites who fly CX and want to try the QF lounge. But through that you finally saw the ugly side of everyone’s favorite airport.

  45. Pretty sorry to hear this ordeal! But unfortunately like many of your readers have pointed out, Changi isn’t exactly built for people to lounge-hop. The security regime at Changi unfortunately is mandated by the airport police and the penalties are very high for the security officers who let things slip through, so I think many officers will rather err on the side of caution.

    To address OT’s comments on T4 – T4 was built as an interim solution to the overcrowding in the existing three terminals. It will take at least another 10 years before Terminal 5 is up, and there’s hardly any headroom left for Changi to grow its pax numbers so T4 help to ease off some of that load. I would rather this than to deal with overcrowding down the road.

    I won’t say it’s poorly planned – it’s the best they could do with that space and it’s precisely _not_ supposed to serve transfer passengers.

  46. Initially I thought it was a major screw up on their part, however, after reading that there was an actual bus that brings you to Terminal 2 from the airside, you could have just asked what was the best way to get to Terminal 2 from the information counters instead of just being ahead of oneself thinking you could have gotten around the airport via you “own” rules. If you did a search online beforehand you would have gotten the information as well. Don’t assume stuff works just because you think it should work “your” way. Every airport and country has it’s own set of rules and regulations that passengers have to follow, the internet exist for a reason, just look it up and you will get your answers, if you could spend hours writing biased reviews, I don’t see why you can’t spend a few minutes checking for information on the airlines or airports. Stop trying to create bad impressions of airlines / airports just because you think it should work or function YOUR way. Self entitled bigot much?

  47. Yup, something similar happened to me. Ironically both my flights were at terminal 4.

    I had taken a return flight to KL from SG via Air Asia to collect some goods. Had approximately $200k worth of taxable (if I exited) goods in my hand carry. I had booked a second flight to HK from SG via Cathay so I didn’t want to exit the transit area.

    Reached terminal 4, but I wasn’t allowed to go to the airside departure area even though I had a mobile boarding pass.

    I ended up having to take the airside shuttle bus from T4 to T2, dropped my luggage off at the luggage storage. Exited T2, took the shuttle to T4, got a boarding pass at the check-in counter, got to T4s airside departure area, took another shuttle to T2 to collect my stuff, then took the shuttle back to T4…..

  48. Welcome to SIN, this is real.

    U are lucky to be able to make it to the T1 qantas F lounge given that u are flying from T4.

    It could have been worse. Someone commented that you should only be able to enter airside from your departing terminal, and given yours is the isolated T4, you are lucky to be able to get into T1.

    They could have denied you till the end, and cite their rights to do so.

    This is SIN, and be thankful u were allowed through. Really.

  49. The other thing is no one checked your boarding pass on air side from t4 to t2, and from t2 to t4?

    I would have thought it might be another barrier.

  50. The immigration process at SIN is also Very Inefficient and border to be Stupid.

    On a recent overnight transit from PER to HKG via SIN, when at arrival I told the workers standing around the eGates that 90% of the time the machines could not read my finger prints so seeing the human at the counter is necessary. A Western lady also told those workers the same thing. Does not matter – we both were forced to try the eGates at least 5 times with 5 failures – the doors wont open. Period.

    So we were finally sent to the human counter on the far side, very far side. Where there were at least 5 or 6 officers behind the counter, chatting. But nobody gave us even a glance when she and I arrived. I was so mad I said to the closest guy loudly that someone needed to process my entry now because I had a hotel shuttle to catch. It was until then one officer sauntered over to start the process – slow and lengthy, still had the picture taking finger printing process… End result was, we missed the hotel shuttle which only ran once every hour…

    The next morning to clear the immigration, I was picked aside for further processing – it was so far out of sight that my husband could not see where I was and he was getting worried. There were several of us requiring further processing, for completely unknown reasons. It took 10 min to get thru.

    The experiences were so unpleasant that I would avoid transit at SIN by all means.

    The tiny City State looks good on the surface but just a little scratch under the cover, it is not that good. Just an example – I have seen no one gives his/her seat on the metro for elderly or pregnant woman. All young people were just sitting in their seats, talking or playing on their cell phones when there were elderly people standing thru the ride. In most other places, from Hong Kong to Taipei, and in Europe, even in Russia, often more than one passenger would promptly give up his /her seat for elders or pregnant woman or mother with small kids. Not happened in Singapore the few times we took metro. What kind of education / culture this place has?

  51. T4 is a mess and the transfer between terminals is clunky, uncomfortable, badly signed and slow. It is fine as a low cost terminal but the real problem here is how CX got tricked into locating there instead of with the other full service airlines. The CX lounge in Changi is fine but easily the worst of all the new gen CX lounges. The gates CX use could not be further from the lounge. These are all first world problems but the upshot is that I have started flying SQ to and from HK to avoid having to use T4.

  52. T1-2-3 in theory you can pass through any immigration check point to airside. The issue will be if you have any kind of boarding pass except a counter printed one – this MAY get rejected without a “stamp”. Then if you’re in the wrong terminal that is going to be a hassle. Far easier to clear immigration in the correct terminal and then you are free to move between terminal 1-2-3 airside.

    The only exception is SQ as they are in T2 & 3, so you could use either quite happily.

    BTW the same is true for immigration if you don’t have checked bags, if one hall is packed out then you can use another one (T2 should be especially quiet currently)

  53. @Andrew that is one screw up with T4 for sure. Cathay has to use the widebody gates which are at the end of the terminal. At the very least they should have located their lounge down there, so you could leave once you could see boarding was underway

  54. @miafll
    I live in Singapore as a westerner in my early 60s. I travel exclusively via public transport for my daily commute and for leisure (includes MRT to/from Changi for flights to Europe, SEA, Australasia). Following a knee operation that became overly-complicated I have been forced to use either a pair of crutches, then a single crutch and then a walking stick for the past 6 months (until yesterday – my first aid-free day!). I have been embarrassed by the insistence of Singaporeans of ALL AGES on EVERY JOURNEY BY TRANSIT who have offered me their seat, even when I respond with me taking a 2-stop connection. Your experience is unfortunate but I can vouch for the unfailing consistency of politeness and consideration shown to me…..Try repeating my experience on London Transport and many other metro services globally!

  55. I am quite surprise as expert and frequent traveler you do not aware that T4 in Singapore is totally disconnect from the main terminal.

    One should not expect to use lounge in the main terminal when travel in T4. Technically you should not even enter through T1 as you have no business there. You created the confusion for the security agent as they have to deal with the “exception”.

    So if you encountered a problem when you were doing something that you should not do, stop complaining.

  56. Nobody in their right mind would go through all that just to see the Qantas First lounge. You obviously did it because it’s your business and your livelihood depends on having unusual experiences to write about. Objective achieved.

  57. Hi Lucky
    First time posting here…
    I’m flying to Singapore in a few weeks on United from SFO. On the return to LAX, I stop in Tokyo Narita on Air Japan. I’ve got questions!!
    *can I exit in San Fran to sight-see and leave my carry-on in a locker on the international side?
    *During layover in Tokyo, can I do the same thing and use a locker?
    *My first time in Asia and a solo female traveler…will I be ok navigating around (sign have English translation)?
    Thanks in advance!

  58. @ABE – Eff off with the carbon footprint…. unless your laptop and internet are completely run from the sun… and you are a vegan -YOU ARE THE ENEMY enough of your effing BernieSanders

  59. @MH Unfortunately T4 was initially designed with the intention for Budget Airlines, not full-service carriers like Viet, Korean n CX

  60. Most of us Singaporeans are too busy and can’t be bothered to do what you did. Obviously u mist lived very relaxed life.

  61. Singapore Changi Airport T1,2,3 are connected and thus provides seamless connectivity be it for shopping, resting, going to lounges or flights. T4 is a different location all together, and when T5 comes, good luck to you. Just stick to visiting lounges that’s at your departure Terminal to spare yourself the hassles or fly out via the airline/airline lounge of your choice. This article doesn’t make sense to the normal folks.

  62. One thing I need to explain is that Singapore is a popular spot for human smugglers where they exchange boarding passes in transit so they’re rather anal on security. Singapore is also a target for terrorists in the region, so even more security checks. Then we have the ones who buy cheap air tickets without intending to board, which is is an offence. These people range from idiotic Kpop groupies to people who want to shop duty free. Add that to the fact that Terminal 4 wasn’t designed to be integrated to the rest of the other terminals, you’ve got a troublesome journey for your plan.

  63. If you are in Singapore, follow the rules of Singapore where security and safety have high priority. If you want a non-standard service or an experience, expect a delay or addl scrutiny. Look at the positives of tge airport not the negatives. Changi airport & terminals are just Great.

  64. Once had a 6 hours layover in SIN and had the idea of taking a taxi to drive me and my wife&kid around the city for sightseeing for 75mins (with running taxameter of course). Had to argue with the driver, because this was something uncommon. Eventually he realized that this was a good deal for him and accepted the ride. It turned out to be a great value also for me: approx. 50 USD total, a good talk with a Singapore native, no hassle of a public sightseeing bus.

  65. @ Haj — a) The airport doesn’t have a published policy on where you can enter the airport, as far as I can tell (I checked their website for that b) I *was* following the directions of the security officer, who then backtracked when I returned.

  66. @ Mark Cheng — Reviewing airlines and lounges is my job. As much as I do appreciate a good lounge, I can assure you I don’t usually spend hours trying to gain access to one. 😉

  67. @ Mizraggy — Signs should be pretty clear, so that shouldn’t be an issue. I do believe both SFO and NRT have paid luggage storage facilities, so that could be an option if your layover is long enough.

  68. @ Dave Brown — I did it not because “my livelihood depends on having unusual experiences to write about,” but rather because I review airline lounges.

  69. @ Edward — a) I was aware that it’s a disconnected terminal b) I asked several other people familiar with the new setup before going, and they all said you can move between terminals c) the policy is that you can move between terminals, because they had no problem letting me go from T4 to T2 by bus, even though I had a T4 boarding pass d) I was told inconsistent information by the same agent.

  70. @ Flyingfish — They did, and I explained there was a lounge in another terminal I wanted to use, and they said that was fine. I was fully expecting to once again have issues, so thank goodness I didn’t.

  71. @ Carina — I’m not sure which of my “assumptions” you’re referring to? I happened to be at T1 (since I was at The Jewel), so I didn’t really go out of my way to get there. Then a security officer (who I would assume is more knowledgable even than someone at an information desk) told me that I could pass through with a printed boarding pass. So I followed her instructions, and then she changed her mind.

    That makes me a “self entitled bigot?”

  72. “That shouldn’t matter, though, since you’re allowed to access any terminal with a valid boarding pass, but apparently only if you’re willing to jump through some hoops.”

    You should make it clear that the only pax able to access *any* terminal are those with a valid *T4* boarding pass. A T1-T3 boarding pass will not get you to T4.

  73. If you explain that you’re going to T1 to buy Irvin’s salted egg they might understand it better and will let you in. They let me in T1 under that pretense. Again I understand your frustration as there’s no set rules and consistency.
    Next time just go in T4 clear the security there and go to T1.

  74. Changi airport should develop a Skytrain service between terminal 4 airside and terminal 2 airside like they have between terminal 1,2 and 3. Passengers can then connect to T1 and 3 from here. The means transiting passengers won’t have to wait 25 minutes to take a bus.

  75. @ John – Unfortunately that’s not possible as T4 is disconnected from the rest of terminals by several buildings in between, such the SAT catering building, dnata building, and also logistics facilities. I’m sure CAG must have considered a train link somehow, but that is simply not possible. I’m also certain that CAG must have provided lots of incentives to lure CX KE and VN over.

  76. I’ve heard the following joke twice from Singaporeans, though with Hong Kong as the comparator on one occasion and the US in the other:

    “In [Hong Kong/the US], unless something is specifically not allowed, it is permitted.
    In Singapore, unless something is specifically permitted, it is not allowed”

  77. @Ben – Yet again, “whom you assumed”, under such circumstances you don’t assume. How can a security officer who is in charge of security be more knowledgeable than someone at an INFORMATION desk? It is not called an information desk for nothing, if you would just take the initiative to ask the information desk, it wouldn’t have taken so much of your time even if it meant waiting for a 25 mins bus at T4 instead of running around. In future, google how an airport functions before writing such a review or should I say a rant. I have had problems and have gotten lost at airports a couple of times and asking the information desk has always helped solved those issues much faster and smoother, I’m appalled that a season traveler like you is still not aware of this. I would not say the security is right in this matter as well, however there were also faults on your part.

  78. @ Carina — So I shouldn’t rely on the security officer to tell me who can go through security? Really?

    It’s actually funny you mention the security desk person. When I went back through T4 the third time I asked about the bus to get to T2. She told me that she thought it wasn’t possible to take it, though when I went down there, the security officer said it was fine.

    If I had relied on the information from the information desk, I wouldn’t have gotten there…

  79. @TMT: No, it goes like this:

    In the US, everything is permitted unless specifically forbidden.
    In Singapore, everything is forbidden unless specifically permitted.
    In Hong Kong, everything is permitted even if it is forbidden.
    In China, everything is forbidden even if it is permitted.

  80. @Carina

    “How can a security officer who is in charge of security be more knowledgeable than someone at an INFORMATION desk?”

    Well, you see, people at INFORMATION desks are generalists. They know where bathrooms, restaurants, airline desks, etc., are located. Often they are called “travelers aid stations” and manned by pleasant semi retired who know where security is located by do not have a clue about more arcane security policies.

    Sorry you are “appalled” at the tought of relying upon security to answer questions about . . . . security.

    p.s. you are a shrew.

  81. Hello Ben,

    Well, that’s a very good article! Please somehow post and tag Changi Airport Group (CAG) on Facebook or LinkedIn!

    A matter of fact, the security personnel at the various terminals are outsourced to private contractors like Certis Cisco, Aetos etc. Many just goes about daily by not thinking!

    The next time if you need to clear any doubts or require assistance, my best bet will be to look for those airport duty terminal managers from CAG! Please do not rely on those security personnel or even information counter.

    Back to your main topic, yes I can confirm with a valid T4 departure boarding pass, you are allowed to travel between the terminals at airside (think passengers on transit with Codeshare airlines!)

  82. Immigration and airport security has become significantly complex since 9/11. It is a huge maze of operations and it’s complexity occurs out of orchestrating the whole airport community of so many fluid parts, many agencies, and not to mention those thousands of airport workers.

    With the complexity in mind, the departure and arrival journey of course is designed for 80 percent of the travellers who are expected to go through a defined route.

    It is not possible to expect a smooth, pleasant, and seamless journey for the remaining 20 percent who choose to explore restricted areas intra-terminals, or those with an explicit agenda without making known and planning in advanced of their intention. Each of the officers she encounters I bet has little idea of her entire intention and intinerary of exploring T1 and T4 – and I’m sure that resulted in “inconsistent information.”

    I wouldn’t be sorry to say that the author misfortune occurs when she has a out of usual airport exploration itinerary, and failing to make known her entire situation and intention to competent authority – and had only done so in hindsight.

    It is simply not possible to plan and satiate 100 percent of the population with the same and equal smooth and seamless experience especially in an environment that is complex in nature.

    If the author had on the other hand made it through easily and fuss-free, that would have been a cause for concerns. That again, leads to another round of lambasting.

    The departure and arrival journey in Changi, and as with other airport, had been thoroughly planned and designed with many considerations and limitations. We often hear of how passengers are from the fuselage to their hotels in less than 30 minutes and that should be what Singaporean should continue to be proud of.

  83. Whine whine blah blah
    Try JFK or LAX
    Jeezus what idiot would go to another terminal just to experience another lounge?! Seriously
    CX has a far better lounge than QF

  84. The main issue stems from the different security screening. If you enter via T1/2/3, security screenings are done at the gate, whereas at T4 it is centralised. So if they let you enter T4 via T1/2/3, they are literally letting an unscreened unchecked person enter a post-security screened area. You must try to understand that T4 is built as a test terminal for new automated check-in counters and new centralized screening system, so it isn’t as well integrated with T1/2/3. I believe your case does not happen too often, as most people traveling out of T4 would just stay there and not go to the other terminals to use their lounge or whatsoever.

  85. For someone who flies so much you should already know most people do not show up at a different terminal to board a plane in another terminal. Changi Airport is glorious in how connected the terminals are. That said If you had simply asked (the locals know this) ahead what the best option to explore T1 from T4 you would simply have shown up at T4, printed the boarding pass, cleared security and then bus then skytrain to T1 then lounge then back to T4. The error was improper planning on your part and showing up at T1 so it’s entirely not the airport’s fault regardless of what you were told mobile boarding pass or not, aviation rules follow international laws they are not arbitrary to Singapore, the security guard is highly trained and gave you the absolute correct information. The boarding pass is not a ticket to an amusement park it is a right to enter an international protected zone for the millions of other people who want peace of mind that they are going to travel safely to their destination. You showed up at the wrong terminal in the first place. Navigating around humongous land areas takes time so of course the bus is going to wait for airplane loads of passengers. Blaming all this for something as trivial as your curiosity to check out an airline lounge that is literally entitlement bs to the max.

  86. This is all just poor service design, not the fault of one the planets more successful small, but mighty Nations. Rules and frustrations in airports is normal (ever been to JFK? ) with public safety goal #1. All countries have rules, it’s about whether they are practiced or enforced.

    The newish Singapore Terminal 4 has many flaws and as a resident, I avoid using it. The lack of train connectivity and use of a bus system to the other terminals is a remnant of the old “Budget Airline” terminal which was a bad concept from the beginning. Alas it was torn down and Term 4 was born on the same spot a few years ago. Sadly the budget for thus project focused on retail, nice plants in the budget and sadly, very few moving sidewalks and no train to connect to Terminals 1,2,3 or the public transit (MRT) system or the new Jewel mega-mall at Changi.

    All of this will be history once the new Changi opens in the next decade. Stay tuned!

  87. Some of the comments abv are not so truthful. But never mind.
    It is highly unusual for traveller whose flight leaving fm T4 want a chk thro at T1. I hv travelled thro Sg Airport countless times but not once try to chk in at T1 when my flight is leaving fm T4. It is also not possible as internally we walk to the boarding chk point fm the immigration and not all boarding chk point of T1 to T4 are linked.
    2nd, for security reasons, such chking in is discourage. Since Airports are alway very sensitive areas, it is understandable that there will be very atrict rules. It is not surprising at all that you hv to go thro so many steps, though, the misinformation is unnecessary and the Airport Security shd do better, then just a sorry.
    3rd, since you are a travel blogger why didnt you go straight to Qantas and ask them to get u thro to see their 1st Class Launch ?
    4th, Sg is safe is not just by luck but by hardwork and well thought out strategy. But however good a system a country may hv, it still req co-operation from all travellers. Otherwise the system will fail. All are design for the safety and well being of the travellers.
    Traveller save and travel smart.

  88. @Ckcgo Yes you can go to Terminal 2 from Terminal 4 airside provided you have at least 2 hours before your flight. reason being, waiting time for the shuttle bus at the transfer lounge is around 20 minutes each time, travel time is around 10 minutes. When you come back to depart for your flight in T4, the gates are generally far to walk to especially if you’re taking Cathay Pacific/Korean Air/Cebu Pacific as these airlines usually have wide-body aircrafts.

    e.g. if your flight departs at 1400hrs, make sure you check-in at by 1100hrs, by the time you go through security, is around 1200hrs, which gives you sufficient time to take a bus to T2.

  89. Haha that’s typical singaporean… key traits are (1) kiasi (scare to “die” or do sth wrong), (2) kiasu (scare to “lose” or fail or be disadvantaged compared to others) and (3) cover backside (ie dont rock the boat, follow whatever process to the dot and dont challenge)….

  90. Nothing is easy in Singapore and the intransigence in the service industry is infuriating. No is I swear it’s an island of people who never made it out of their Terrible Twos.

    Though not quite as bad as your experience Lucky, my eyes got a Olympic workout in eye rolling when I connected airside from T1 (QF) to T4 (CX)…

    Train to T2, walk, walk, walk, walk, and get to the transfer area where the security person ask to see my arriving QF boarding pass and my departing CX ticket (since I didn’t yet have a boarding pass). Security person inspects said documents and proceeds to write down my inbound and outbound flight information on a chart, and then puts a transfer sticker on my QF boarding pass. I go through the X-ray then take the escalator down to the waiting area for the transfer bus. There’s only 2 of us waiting there the every-24-minutes transfer bus. When it’s to board, the driver call us over
    , but first he needs to see the sticker that was put on the boarding pass. Keep in mind the only people who are down there waiting are passengers transferring to T4, with the one, and only one, bus service operating from there- the bus to T4. Were not talking about a downtown Greyhound station here.

    Arrive at T4, where the there’s another document check by a security guard before you can go up into the terminal, but this time, you need to have a paper boarding pass. I get redirected to an unstaffed CX transfer desk that has a phone to call a rep. A rep comes down within 10 minutes and gets me a paper boarding pass and I can finally get through the Pearly Gates of T4.

  91. Just off a flight from PEK where I spent 1 hour transferring from T2 to T3 (for a perfectly regular/speedy transit with no lounge shenanigans in btw). Landside bus journey felt more like a trip into the city itself

    Articles like this show how high standards/expectations have come to be of SIN when perfectly regular features of airports around the world are criticized just cuz they’re in SIN

    Just off top of my head can think of at least 5 major intl airhubs (NRT, LHR, PEK, CGK, MEL) necessitating lengthy inter-terminal landside transfers and don’t think lucky’s gonna be penning an article everytime he passes through those.

  92. Changi is a wonderful airport but not without flaws. One of the problems for this case is the way T4 is set up and also that some of the security personnel aren’t exactly sure of things themselves.

    It IS possible to clear immigration at T1 (for example) even if your flight were departing from T2 or T3. I’ve done that before and when I was once denied (I wanted to clear immigration at T2 for a flight departing in T3), I wrote in to the airport and got clarification that I could and that they would improve the briefing of their security people.

    This was before T4 came about so I don’t know if the same rules apply here. I do wish they would say something about it officially on the website or elsewhere. Maybe an email to the airport would get this cleared up.

  93. I actually had the opposite experience.

    Somehow, I checked in electronically, check bag, tagged it myself, went to gate and didn’t have security until the gate.

    Maybe this has changed it was 3 months ago, but it seemed extremely efficient.

  94. Only got yourself to blame for being stupid enough to aim for a T1 lounge when flying from T4. But hey at least you got an article out of it

  95. The critical trade off every airport must make is between user experience, security, and cost. Most US and European airports are secure and cost-conscious but a horrible experience. Changi prides itself on user experience while fulfilling its security mandate. This has come at great cost to the taxpayer, but justified given the spill over effects to the rest of the economy.

    But the fundamental tradeoff between user experience, security, and cost remains. Transfer within T1-2-3 is seamless but a sky train to T4 benefits few and is a massive capital outlay. Far better to say, invest in ensuring that 95% of passengers clear immigration and security within 12 minutes. This is also why the system is not designed to allow passengers to “sightsee” in a neighbouring terminal. It is a shortcoming but one that I would gladly accept (in lieu of further increases in departure tax).

    The security dimension is an additional consideration. As someone pointed out changi faces real threats – look at how easy it is to murder someone with VX in the airport of a neighbouring city – but changi does its best to keep security processes unobtrusive. Most airports take boarding passes seriously – first and foremost it is an authorization for you to get to your flight- everything else is secondary. I fully expect that “irregular” behaviour (like yours) must be subject to additional checks and hoops to jump through

    Finally, I’m sure that the folks at Changi are reading this and will try to improve. If you had asked for help to use a T1 lounge when you had a T4 flight I’m sure someone at Changi would be able to help you… there are lots of passenger service ambassadors around. But giving directions is simply not the job of security personnel, who should not be distracted from their primary task of keeping you safe.

    Perhaps Lucky could draw up a review comparison between inter-terminal transfers at hub airports worldwide. I, for one, have had horrible experiences at LHR and so-so ones at Frankfurt. This would be useful reading for many travellers and the folks at CAG.

  96. @geoff Abe is quite conservative in his political views. He pretty much does this everywhere he posts. Stirs up controversy, then plays the victim when challenged. You can read some NWPlatinum’s greatest hits on Flyertalk (if you can catch them before the mods delete them). He even brags about the arguments he has started here.

    Since he’s widely regarded on FT as an “ask-hole”, my best guess is that Ben quit answering his thousands of email questions, and he’s bitter about it.

  97. So this is the airport rated No.1 in the world all the time? Ha, thank you. Reading about this experience, I prefer HKG or BKK all the time. Even FRA is a seamless experience to this.

  98. The only airport I fly thought that has such idiotic wi fi that you have to physically present your passport for the password and it only lasts for 2 hrs and you have to go through the process again.
    Singapore airport is really not that great but they do market themselves well.

  99. Ben,

    I got through Terminal 1 security.

    If you’re ever at T1 again with a mobile boarding pass, proceed to Jewel’s Early Check-in (ECI). At the ECI, go to the the manned counters for a paper boarding pass. Or if you’re a kiosk check-in boarding pass, also proceed to the manned counters for the “chop”.

    With that chop, a T4 boarding pass will clear security at any of the T1-T3 terminal security.

    From there it’s a quick hop by Skytrain to T2 & the airside transfer bus at gate F51

    Hope this helps

  100. This is an uncommon experience which applies to a minority segment of traveller, trying to straddle terminals. For the vast majority of travellers, Changi remains one of the best airport experiences in the world. Amusing how one person’s T4 experience has grown into full on Singapore bashing. Yes we’re a nation of technocrats and yes there are rules – stay here long enough and you learn how to make the system work in your favor. If you can’t then it’s really easier to toe the line.

    As a Singaporean who travels roughly 2/3 of the year and has been to the whole spectrum of airports, I can only say a bad day in Changi is still better than a good day in most other airports. My record time from deplaning to exiting immigration, is 6 minutes. So bloody glad to live here.

  101. I’ve had a similar experience last year… I kicked and screamed having to shuffle between terminals to get back airside and finally understood what went on. I flew in from KUL (T2) and had 10+ hours to kill, and so I thought I’d take this opportunity to visit the Jewel (T1). I had an onward United e-boarding pass and didn’t think I would have problems returning airside. I left my carry on with a left luggage service (airside, T1), so I don’t have to schlep it around and off I went. Spent an hour or so at the Jewel and thought I’d return to retrieve my carry on (T1) and catch up on work at the lounge (T2). They won’t accept my UA e-boarding pass (needs paper with airline stamp) to reenter airside (any terminal). Off I went back to T2, but UA agents only show up 3 hours before your flight. Waited for 5+ hours landside (for UA agents to show up) with no laptop to work. After several hours of waiting and standing in line to be interviewed by UA (subcontracted) agents at T2, I finally got my paper boarding pass and stamp, dashed back to T1 (airside) to retrieve my carry on, and then back to T2 to use a lounge and board my flight. I think people using “manufactured” boarding passes spoiled it all for us, genuine travellers.

  102. Even with all your complaints, it’s an undeniable fact that Changi Airport has been rated the world’s best airport for 6 years in a row (since 2013).

    And once you go to other countries, you will notice how bad they are. I once had a transit in Shanghai Pudong and the experience was horrible. Another transit in Rome was horrid too, and my whole experience took 4 hours, almost missing my flight, not taking into account that the airport is crappy itself

  103. In Singapore, you are expected to do what they consider a “normal” person to do. IE, fly from T4, then enter from T4, ONLY. There is zero consideration for people who want to enjoy other Ts, as that was not included in their thought process/programming.

    Be glad that you were not arrested and questioned for trying to enter T1 as you were going against their logic flow. They cannot see the logic of you trying to enter from T1 while you are flying from T4 and therefore equate your attempted entry as an (attempt of) “unauthorised entry to a protected area”, which there are large red warning signs around Singapore of someone being shot. (Google: Singapore protected area signs)

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