Singapore built the world’s first bubble facility so people can travel for business without having to quarantine – and it’s in an expo center. We got a sneak peak of the rooms, facilities, and food.

singapore bubble business travel facility
Guest rooms are built around two indoor courtyards with live plants, work spaces, and gym pods.

  • Singapore just opened the world’s first bubble facility for business travelers.
  • Travelers can bypass a 14-day quarantine by staying in the bubble facility, but they can’t leave it.
  • The facility has 150 guest rooms, gym pods, and 40 meeting rooms with air-tight glass panels and separate ventilation systems.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

As the world rolls out COVID-19 vaccines and international travel remains largely grounded, Singapore has opened up what it says is the world’s first bubble facility for non-quarantining business travelers.

The facility, called Connect@Changi, will allow business travelers to bypass the city-state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine – as long as they don’t leave the facility. Inside, guests will stay in hotel-like rooms, have meals delivered to a cubbyhole outside their door, and conduct in-person business meetings with Singaporeans and professionals from around the world in rooms with air-tight glass panels and separate ventilation systems.

“Without such a facility, travel options are essentially binary – either stay at home due to travel restrictions, or fly overseas and endure long periods in quarantine,” Robin Hu, head of international policy at Temasek and chairman of SingEx-Sphere Holdings, two of the project’s developers, said in a press release. The facility offers business travelers the option of resuming in-person meetings in a “safe and contained manner” while also boosting Singapore’s economic recovery, he said. 

The 780,000-square-foot facility opened this week with 150 guest rooms and 40 meeting rooms, but it plans to be able to host 1,300 travelers by the end of the year. Room rates start at 384 Singapore dollars, or about $287, which is based on a minimum 24-hour stay and includes meals and COVID-19 tests.

Earlier this week, I got a sneak peek of Connect@Changi just before the first guests arrived. Here’s what travelers can expect from the world’s first business travel bubble facility. 

The Connect@Changi facility was built inside the Singapore Expo Convention & Exhibition Centre, a roughly one-million-square-foot complex near Changi Airport that’s typically used for live concerts, conferences, and exhibitions.

singapore expo convention centre
Singapore Expo Convention Hall and Exhibition Centre in April 2020.

In the pandemic, none of those events has been happening, leaving the expo center sitting empty. Last spring, it was temporarily converted into a facility for patients recovering from COVID-19.

In December, the Singapore government-owned investment company, Temasek, announced it was teaming up with a group of Singapore companies including Changi Airport Group and Sheares Healthcare Group to open what they say is the world’s first bubble facility for non-quarantining business travelers.

The first phase of construction was finished in about 14 weeks.

To stay at the facility, travelers must apply on the Connect@Changi website and await approval. Connect@Changi will coordinate with the Singapore government to approve the special visa for business travelers.

Connect@Changi

Right now, travelers coming from any country can apply, with the exception of those coming from the UK and South Africa. But approval is not guaranteed; Singapore will consider factors including the COVID-19 status of the traveler’s country and the departure country of other travelers staying at the facility at the same time, a publicist said.

They may be able to skip a two-week quarantine, but those who stay at Connect@Changi should prepare their nostrils for multiple COVID-19 PCR tests.

Before leaving for Singapore, guests must take a COVID-19 PCR test in their country of departure within 72 hours of their flight. Once they arrive at the airport in Singapore, they’ll be tested again. And while staying at the Connect@Changi facility, guests will be required to undergo additional PCR testing at the on-site testing center on days three, seven, and 14 of their stay.

That means that a five-day stay would require a total of three COVID-19 PCR tests.

After travelers land in Singapore and get their first PCR tests at Changi Airport, a shuttle will transport them to the airside entrance of Connect@Changi, which is reserved for international arrivals to the facility and staff.

singapore business travel bubble facility

The center is a five-minute drive from the airport. 

Once they’ve checked in at reception, guests will be shown directly to their rooms, where they must remain until they get the results of their arrival COVID-19 PCR test.

singapore business travel bubble facility

The facility currently has 150 guest rooms open, but 660 rooms are expected to be open when the first phase is completed in May.

singapore business travel bubble facility

When Connect@Changi is fully completed later this year, it will have the capacity to accommodate roughly 1,300 business travelers at a time, according to press materials.  

Due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, project developers don’t know how long the facility will be open, a publicist told me. But once it’s no longer needed, it will be demolished and the expo center will return to its former operations.

When a traveler first arrives, their room number will be illuminated red to indicate the traveler is awaiting the results of their PCR test.

singapore bubble business travel facility

The guest will receive their test results via text message in about six to 12 hours, after which the traveler is allowed to leave their room, a publicist told me.

If the test comes back positive, the traveler will immediately be transported to a medical facility in Singapore and the Connect@Changi will follow all of the Ministry of Health’s contact tracing and testing protocols.

During their stay at Connect@Changi, guests will use a free mobile app to do everything from booking meeting rooms to choosing their meals and reserving a workout in a gym pod.

singapore business travel bubble facility

The facility has three types of rooms: an Executive Twin room with two twin-size beds; an Executive King room with one king-size bed; and a Premier King, with a king-size bed and the added perk of a view of the indoor courtyard.

singapore bubble business travel facility
An Executive King room.

While the king-size rooms are typically meant for one person, a married couple would be allowed to share a room if they were both traveling to Singapore for business purposes.

None of the rooms, regardless of its size, has a window to the true outdoors; all windows look into the expo center.

The guest rooms are smaller than a typical hotel room but seemed to be outfitted with everything necessary for a short stay.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Before the pandemic, most business travelers to Singapore stayed for under five days, so Connect@Changi expects most visitors to the facility to stay for a similarly short duration.

In the Premier King room, the bed takes up most of the space.

singapore bubble business travel facility

But there’s also a desk and a 43-inch, wall-mounted TV.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Phones in each room allow travelers to make free local calls.

singapore bubble business travel facility

The bathrooms have no bathtubs. Toiletries are provided in the showers.

singapore bubble business travel facility

There’s also a mini-fridge, kettle, and microwave.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Each room also has its own thermostat so travelers can adjust the temperature to their comfort — no small benefit in Singapore, where the weather is hot and humid but the air-conditioning can be aggressive.

On the bedside table is a pop of greenery in the form of a live plant with ionizing technology that claims to clean airborne pollutants and reduce anxiety and lethargy.

singapore bubble business travel facility

The Premier King rooms overlook the courtyards, where live plants are mixed with glowing optical fiber lights designed to resemble fields of lalang, a type of grass native to the region.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Despite the careful details, however, there’s no disguising that this is still in the middle of an expo center.

The nightly rate at Connect@Changi includes three meals per day delivered to the guest’s room. For a contactless delivery, the food is left in a cubbyhole right outside the door.

singapore bubble facility business travel
That’s the food cubbyhole on the right side.

Guests can also order food from any of the hundreds of restaurants at Changi Airport through the mobile app, or through local delivery apps like Foodpanda or Grab.

Travelers can choose from a menu of Asian and international food, as well as vegetarian options. Below is one of the typical lunch options: a “hawker style” ocean king prawn with kang kong vegetables.

singapore bubble facility business travel food meal

One of the project’s partners, SingEx, which runs the expo center, will provide the meals.

In the facility’s common areas, travelers are allowed to mingle with other guests while maintaining social distancing and wearing masks.

singapore bubble facility business travel

An executive from Germany, for example, could meet with their colleague from Switzerland and work together at the table above.

The facility’s two courtyards were designed to resemble tropical outdoor spaces in line with Singapore’s “City in a Garden” nickname.

singapore bubble facility business travel

The floor is carpeted with artificial grass, but the greenery surrounding the courtyard is real.

Two dome-shaped pavilions serve as additional work spaces.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Free WiFi is available throughout all common areas, meeting rooms, and guest rooms.

A posted sign indicates that 30 people can be in each courtyard at a time.

singapore bubble business travel facility

In the courtyard and throughout the rest of the facility, other signs remind travelers to maintain a distance of one meter from other people.

Each courtyard has a gym pod, which travelers can reserve for a private workout.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Up to two people can work out in the gym pod at a time.

Guests reserve the pod via the Connect@Changi app and scan a QR code to unlock the door.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Inside, there’s a treadmill, a cycling machine, a bench press machine, and free weights.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Each courtyard also has vending machines and a Starbucks coffee station.

singapore bubble business travel facility

The key component of the facility is, of course, the business center.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Connect@Changi expects business travelers to use the facility for things like meeting a job candidate in person before hiring them or signing legal documents.

The facility opened with 40 meeting rooms of varying sizes, but Connect@Changi expects to have a total of 170 meeting rooms open by May. Notably, none of the meeting rooms has a window.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Guests can book meeting rooms through the mobile app for an additional cost of between roughly $15 and $150 per hour, depending on the size of the room. 

The smallest size room, which accommodates up to four guests, is $15 per hour to book.

singapore bubble business travel facility

This room is available only to guests staying in the facility, not outside visitors.

In the meeting rooms that are designed to host outside visitors who are meeting with Connect@Changi guests, the two groups will be separated by an air-tight glass panel, and each side of the room has its own separate ventilation system.

singapore bubble business travel facility

A microphone system allows the two groups to hear each other through the glass.

singapore bubble business travel facility

The largest meeting room available is a board room with a videoconferencing setup that can host up to 11 people on each side.

singapore bubble business travel facility

If they want to conduct a lunch meeting, travelers can arrange for meals to be sent to the meeting room.

When not eating or drinking, however, both guests and visitors are required to keep their masks on at all times.

The board room also includes a UV-sanitizing document transfer box so that two groups can pass documents back and forth.

singapore bubble business travel facility

The bubble facility has its own on-site COVID-19 testing center, where all travelers are tested on the third, seventh, and 14th days of their stay.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Staff is regularly tested as well.

There’s a small socially distanced waiting area …

singapore bubble business travel facility

… and two testing stations.

singapore bubble business travel facility

Once travelers arrive, the facility’s cleaning staff will wear full PPE.

singapore bubble business travel facility

For safety reasons, there will be no in-room housekeeping throughout a guest’s stay, although guests can request extra towels. 

Visitors based in Singapore are not required to undergo COVID-19 testing before coming to meet with a guest at the facility, as they will have separate entrances, exits, and ventilation systems.

singapore bubble business travel facility
The entrance for visitors from Singapore.

The travelers staying in the facility are responsible for booking meeting rooms and inviting any colleagues from the Singapore side.

Connect@Changi is purposely not being called a hotel – partially because that’s not what it is – but also to manage expectations, a publicist told me. When a traveler hears “hotel,” they expect a cocktail bar and a pool, she said.

singapore bubble business travel facility

That’s certainly not what travelers will find at Connect@Changi. But they will find what appears to be an efficient, COVID-free bubble that could be a model for other countries hoping to open up safe business travel. The facilities are not luxurious, but they are comfortable enough and provide the necessary amenities for a short work trip.

“Ideally, you would like to have people free to move around, do what they want to do and spend where they want to,” Temasek’s senior managing director, Alan Thompson, said at a media briefing in December. But, he added, Connect@Changi is a “good alternative option” as the world works to eradicate the virus.

Read the original article on Business Insider

British Airways has reportedly sent its most iconic jet since the Concorde to be scrapped. See inside the plane that shuttled VIP flyers between New York and London.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
A British Airways Airbus A318 aircraft.

  • British Airways is scrapping the all-business class jet that only served the London-New York route.
  • The Airbus A318 stretched only eight rows and was fitted with luxurious lie-flat seats. 
  • The flight used London’s smaller City Airport to directly connect the Big Apple with London’s financial district. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

British Airways just dealt a blow to its premium customers as the airline is scrapping the all-business class aircraft formerly offered on the billion-dollar London-New York flagship route, Aviation Week reported.

The VIP-configured Airbus A318 aircraft was the only one of its kind in the British Airways fleet when its retirement was announced in July. The service boasted enhanced convenience and luxury to the business travelers that frequented the route and, with capacity for only 32 passengers, it was among the closest to a private jet in the airline world. 

British Airways used the service to solidify its place as the route’s go-to premium carrier, replacing the Concorde as the crown jewel of the airline’s transatlantic offering. The smaller and more exclusive A318 service catered to the airline’s top spenders with a direct link between New York City and London’s financial district. 

It was also a bucket list flight for many aviation enthusiasts since the A318 was already itself a rare aircraft on which to fly, let alone on a transatlantic journey and in an all-business class configuration. But the aircraft is no longer in British Airways’ fleet after being sent to be dismantled in the Netherlands, according to Aviation Week.

Take a look inside the most exclusive aircraft to connect New York and London since the Concorde.

Most people traveling between New York and London on British Airways before the pandemic found themselves either flying on a Boeing 747-400…

British Airways Boeing 747
A British Airways Boeing 747-400 at JFK Airport.

Or Boeing 777-200.

British Airways Boeing 777
A British Airways Boeing 777.

The two make up the majority of flights flying the $1 billion route between the two economic hubs but most don’t know about the third aircraft that flew British Airways’ top clients: the Airbus A318.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
A British Airways Airbus A318 aircraft.

Read More: These 10 global flight routes are where airlines made the most money in 2018 and 2019

The smallest member of the Airbus A320 family, the A318 was a commercial flop for Airbus that only saw a handful of customers, mostly in Europe.

Airbus A318
An Airbus A318 aircraft in house colors.

The aircraft is out of production and though British Airways was among the last and smallest operators of the type, it made the aircraft an icon in transatlantic aviation by flying it between New York and London.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
A British Airways Airbus A318 aircraft.

While the thought of flying on a short-haul aircraft across the Atlantic may seem unappealing, there’s a catch to this aircraft in that it’s configured in an all-business class configuration.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

Only 32 seats make up that sole premium cabin that’s spread out across eight rows.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

And though small in size, this A318 had no shortage of comfort as all rows featured business class seats with fully lie-flat capabilities. These seats are not found on similar aircraft.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

Amenities and features at each seat standard for business class included a plush pillow and blanket kit from The White Company….

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

Amenity kit from The White Company…

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

Foldable tray table…

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

Personal reading lamp…

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

Literature holder…

British Airways A318 Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

110v AC power outlet…

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

Coat hangar…

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

And adjustable headrest.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

Apple iPads were also distributed in lieu of seat-back entertainment screens.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

Each row also had multiple windows for better views of the crossing during the day.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

Though the standard in business class is now enclosed private suites which the A318 didn’t offer, a small divider separated the paired seats for an additional morsel of privacy.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour

Only three flight attendants serviced the passengers, providing a full business class meal service and drinks for the 3,000-nautical mile journey.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

The seats were controlled via the armrest, with numerous customizable positions.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour

The lie-flat capability of the seats was ideal for the evening red-eye flight from New York to London, allowing business travelers to get a comfortable full night’s rest and head straight to work or meetings the next morning.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

British Airways frequently saw passengers arriving in New York and London only to return within the next 24 hours, with the near downtown-to-downtown service allowing for a quick and luxurious in-and-out of the world’s top business centers.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

While not the most modern business class product, the service as a whole made the Airbus A318 the aircraft of choice for those who could afford it when flying between London and New York.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour

And with only eight rows and 32 seats, the aircraft felt more like a private jet than a commercial airliner. Case in point, the flight before my visit in March 2020 only had five passengers on board.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Inside a British Airways Airbus A318.

As the aircraft couldn’t make it from London to New York nonstop – even with the reduced passenger load – it made a stop in Shannon, Ireland for fuel, where it also cleared US Customs and Border Protection.

US Customs and Border Patrol immigration terrorism refugees
A US Customs and Border Protection agent.

Upon landing in New York, passengers onboard BA1 arrived in the terminal as they would if it were a domestic flight, with no further passport checks required.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
Terminal 7 at JFK International Airport.

British Airways only had one A318 in its fleet, G-EUNA, which solely flew this route.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
A British Airways Airbus A318 aircraft.

Designed with business travelers in mind, the aircraft flew every day of the week except Saturdays.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
A British Airways Airbus A318 aircraft.

It was intended to fill the gap left by the Concorde in 2003, with the A318’s first flight occurring in 2009.

Concorde
A British Airways Concorde aircraft.

G-EUNA flew the flag on British Airways’ flagship route wearing either the flight number BA1 or BA2 – depending on which direction it was flying – for 11 years before the coronavirus pandemic ended its tenure permanently in July.

British Airways Airbus A318 JFK Tour
A British Airways Airbus A318 aircraft.

Though not as fast as Concorde, the service was nearly every bit as exclusive, earning the nickname “Concorde’s baby sister.”

British Airways Airbus A318 Tour
A British Airways Airbus A318 aircraft.

Read the original article on Business Insider