Singapore Changi Airport

Singapore Changi Airport was named best in show at the World Airport Awards earlier this year, picking up the top gong for the fifth consecutive year.

I mention this because there is a good chance you will change planes at this airport on your way to volunteer in Vietnam or volunteer at an elephant camp in Thailand.

In 2016 a record 58.7 million passengers were lucky enough to experience Singapore Changi Airport  — the world’s greatest airport.

It has a butterfly garden, for starters. Found in Terminal 3, it features flowering plants, a six-metre waterfall and 1,000 butterflies from 40 species.  

The airport now has Singapore’s first premium Japanese farmers’ market. The retail space offers everything from seasonal veggies and fruits to meat products and sake — all brought in from Japan. Some items, including the Egoma tea and a selection of unique sushi and wagyu sake, are new to Singapore.

Terminal 1 has a cactus garden (featuring 40 species and a cocktail bar), a rooftop swimming pool and jacuzzi (from which you can watch planes taking off), a water lily garden, and the Kinetic Rain art installation featuring 1,216 polished copper raindrops.

The Orchid Garden features more than 700 orchids of 30 species grouped by their various colours and shapes, representing the 4 elements of nature – Earth, Water, Fire and Air.

White orchids displayed with floating glass bubbles represent ‘Air’, while rare brown and green orchids displayed with tree root sculptures represent ‘Earth’.  Floral columns simulating giant candles represent ‘Fire’ while clustered blue and violet orchids represent the ‘Water’ element.

Changi Airport Garden

If you have time to spare at Changi Airport, you don’t have to worry about a lack of entertainment. Die-hard movie fans will find the Movie Theatres in Terminals 2 & 3 the best place to spend their time when transiting at Changi Airport.

You can enjoy movies of different genres at both Terminal 2 and Terminal 3. These screenings are available free-of-charge for your viewing pleasure and these entertainment hubs are open 24 hours daily.

There is also an Xbox 360 / PlayStation 3 area where you can play the games consoles for free.

The new Xbox Kinect room sports gaming experience. It is based on your movements and actions, including your facial expressions and voice. Just choose table tennis, beach volleyball, track and field events, bowling, boxing or soccer.

At the MTV booth, you can watch your favourite music videos on a 50-inch plasma television with great quality sounds piped directly to your seat.

Changi Airport Departures

Ask The Pilot in Ghana

American pilot Patrick Smith, who wrote the popular aviation column “Ask The Pilot”, wrote about his fascinating experience flying domestically in Ghana in West Africa.

Patrick has always been one of my favorite reads, and his piece on co-piloting a domestic flight in Ghana is no exception.

I would never recommend that anyone take a domestic flight in Ghana. Yes road safety is horrendous there, no question. But at least you have a chance in a vehicle.

Anyway, here is an excerpt from Patrick’s piece on Ghana, as he flew from Kumasi to Accra:

The drive to Kumasi’s airport takes about 45 minutes. That’s five minutes of actual travel time and 40 minutes of idling in gridlock amid mufflerless trucks, overpacked tro-tros, ambling goats, and gangs of adolescent hawkers going car to car peddling everything from cellphones to wallets to burlap sacks of that staple of Ghanaian subsistence, the cassava root.

The terminal [in Kumasi] is spartan and cheerless, but a pleasant enough place, all things considered. It’s a single-story block with windows facing the runway. The arrival and departure zones are basically the same room, separated by a corridor of offices and a small waiting area cooled by ceiling fans. I’d describe the décor as “Soviet tropical.” The Antrak ticket counter, if we can call it such, is a claustrophobic room on the arrivals side.

Inside, two women are seated behind a small desk. Like almost everybody in Ghana, the women are remarkably friendly. They recognize me from the earlier phone call and extend a warm greeting.

“Is the flight to Accra on time?” I ask.

“Yes, of course!”

The women tick our names from the reservations list, then politely ask us to pay.

“Sure.” I nod toward Julia, who has already pulled out the Visa card and placed it on the desk.

With this, one of the women opens her eyes wide and makes a moaning sound. The other makes a tsk-tsk noise and shakes her head. They appear startled, eyeing the credit card as if it were a rotten cassava.

“Oh, I’m sorry. We don’t take credit cards.”

“But … you mean?”

“Cash only, please!”


Now, maybe I’m not as well traveled as I think I am, because who ever heard of an airline, particularly one with resources enough to operate a $9 million ATR turboprop on scheduled services, that doesn’t accept credit cards? I’m either too jaded, or too naive, but I think to myself: This isn’t Congo or Mali, for heck’s sake, it’s Ghana!

The problem is, we’re out of money. The nearest ATM is back downtown, and departure is only half an hour away. There are no more flights until tomorrow.

“But this is all we have.”

Read the rest of No ticket? No problem. Hitching a ride in West Africa, the world’s most “dangerous” place to fly.

STA Travel Flights for Volunteering Abroad

For booking flights for our groups volunteering abroad, one of the companies we use is called STA Travel.

For each trip, our organization designates a point person who deals with STA Travel so that you as a volunteer — or trip leader — do not have to worry about coordinating the flights.

Below are some questions from STA Travel’s FAQ for volunteers like you. This will give you a better idea of how things work with flights.

What does the airline consider a “group”?
Most airlines consider a group to be at least 10 or more passengers traveling together.

How soon should I start looking for flights?
Most airlines have their schedules posted 330 days in the future and we would be more than happy to check rates if schedules are available at that time. We recommend inquiring at least 9 months in advance of your travel dates, as this is when you will typically find the best rates. Waiting too close to departure can result in the possibility of limited availability and a higher fare.

Will I pay a deposit when I return the group contract?
Initialed and signed contracts are due back to STA Travel within 7-10 business days from the date of confirmation. Space will be cancelled if a signed contract is not received by the due date listed. If applicable, your contract will include information regarding a required deposit. Ask us about ways to have your deposit waived.

What are my options for providing passenger details?
Booking will be handled with group coordinator (from Cosmic Volunteers) from beginning to end. The group coordinator will be responsible for providing the passenger details and any payments per the contract.

What is your process for payment?
We accept most major credit cards for payment. We also accept university or organization checks (no personal checks) via our credit and invoicing process.

When do we get tickets and other travel documents?
Confirmations will be sent out once the entire group is booked. Tickets and other travel documents are sent out at least two weeks prior to departure.

What are the benefits of booking a group rate?
Group rates lock in the same fare and itinerary for every passenger. When booking individually, fares can vary from passenger to passenger, and fluctuate frequently. Utilizing group space evens out the fares for everyone in the group and avoids price hikes. We can usually hold group space up to three to fours months in advance with no financial obligation. We do require a deposit, unless you have a line of credit with us, in which case the deposit is waived.

Does STA Travel have a price guarantee?
We pride ourselves in accommodating your needs and openly welcome you to let us know your budget and other quotes you have received from competitors. We will be more than happy to try and fulfill your request as we understand the importance of pricing. However, please keep in mind that shopping can actually have adverse effects on pricing. Other agencies are known to hold space with the airline during the quoting process. In this case, STA Travel will no longer have access to that airline’s fares and our low contracted rates, so we recommend that you approach STA Travel first for your travel needs.

What if I am unsure of how many seats I need to hold?
We recommend holding the maximum amount of seats you think you might need as long as you are not within the commitment deadline. It is easier to drop seats, than to add them at a later date.

What is commitment deadline?
After a certain date the airline requires the group to commit to the number of seats being held, otherwise they will penalize you for seats you do not use. The commitment deadline varies depending on airline, and can be anywhere between 30 – 90 days prior to departure.

Emirates Airlines Rocks

Thinking about volunteering in Ghana, India, Nepal or Vietnam? Then you might find yourself flying with us on Emirates Airlines.

Based in Dubai, Emirates is one of the top ten carriers in the world in terms of passenger miles.

Emirates was named the World’s Best Airline 2016 at the prestigious Skytrax World Airline Awards 2016, in addition to scooping up the awards for World’s Best Inflight Entertainment for a record 12th consecutive year, and Best Airline in the Middle East. 

I have flown Emirates many times over the years. From the great food to the friendliness of the staff to the huge number of destinations available, Emirates is my favorite airline, hands-down.

Emirates’ commercials with Jennifer Aniston as the face of the brand are cute too:

Have Pillow, Will Travel. So Long as You’re a Girl

Author and pilot Patrick Smith has an interesting article on a phenomenon that you may see yourself as you’re flying abroad to your volunteering destination — teenage girls carrying huge pillows for the plane ride

LET’S TALK FOR A MINUTE ABOUT PILLOWS.  I’m vexed and perplexed by the widespread phenomenon of teenage girls carrying giant fluffy pillows onto airplanes. I’m uncertain when exactly this trend got started, but you see it everywhere.

Granted it’s a helpful idea, now that many carriers no longer dispense even tiny, non-fluffy pillows on all but the longest flights.  In a window seat, putting a pillow between your body and the sidewall creates a comfy sleeping surface.

The trouble is, people like me are out of the club.   Grown-up men can’t walk through airports with giant fluffy pillows unless we’re willing to get laughed at.  I’ve seen thousands of girls carrying pillows, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen a man or boy carrying one.  We’re stuck with those stupid inflatable neck brace things.  The other night I watched a flight boarding for Barcelona.  Like most midsummer flights to Europe, it was loaded with kids between ages 17 and 25.  No fewer than 25 girls had brought oversized pillows from home.  Total count for the guys: zero.

Emirates Special Airfare to Delhi for $1,075

For our participants about to volunteer in India, there are some cheap airfares out now:

Fly round-trip on Emirates Airlines from New York (JFK) and Houston (IAH) to the Delhi for $1,075 per person (before government taxes and fees).

Here is the fine print:

  • Valid for Emirates flights originating from NYC/JFK or HOU/IAH only.
  • Minimum stay: travel from inbound transatlantic sector must commence no earlier than the first Sunday after departure of the outbound transatlantic sector.
  • Maximum stay: 4 months.
  • Outbound travel must commence between 20th April – 8th May 2008.
  • Reservation change is permitted before or after departure at a charge of USD 200.
  • Extension of maximum stay is not permitted.
  • One (1) free stopover permitted in Dubai, any additional at USD 100.

Want to volunteer in Asia in a different country than India? Check out volunteer programs in Danang, Vietnam and our teaching in China programs

Fare Compare

We just found a really useful airfare website that breaks down costs based on the week and months of the year. It’s called Fare Compare.

FareCompare does not sell tickets. But after you find the flight you want, you can book your ticket directly with an airline or travel agency. This information is provided free of charge for non-commercial purposes.

Sample fares for April 2007: 

New York (JFK) to Accra on American Airlines: $1094 USD

Los Angeles to Ho Chi Minh on Malaysian Airlines: $680 USD

Los Angeles to Quito (Ecuador) on Continental Airlines: $522 USD

Fly Emirates to Ghana

If you’re flying to Ghana from North America, I highly recommend flying with Emirates Airlines.

I flew with them in March 2006 and had an excellent experience. The route is New York (JFK Airport) to Dubai to Accra, Ghana.

The ticket cost $1,201 USD including all taxes and fees.

Flight time from New York to Dubai was about 13 hours.

Flight time from Abu Dhabi to Accra was about 7 hours.

It’s a very long journey, since you’re actually backtracking — going first to the Middle East then to West Africa. But the price is the best I’ve seen in several years.

Emirates is one of the most luxurious airlines in the world.

Each seat has its own “Emirates’ In-flight Entertainment” (IFE) system, with dozens of movies, TV shows, music, games, etc. It’s all on-demand too, so you can start, stop and pause at your leisure. The seats are really big with lots of leg-room, and the food is good-restaurant quality.

Emirates just signed a deal with mobile communications company AeroMobile to allow passengers to use their personal mobile phones for calls and text messages. Apparently it’s the first deal of its kind in aviation history.

Starting in 2007 passengers will also be able to connect their iPods to a personal docking station — both for battery charging and for allowing the IFE system to play music, television shows, or movies stored on the iPod.

A couple of things to keep in mind when booking your ticket:

> I was able to order the ticket on their website, but I had to call them with my credit card. 

> After you pay for the flight, they tell you that you have to pick up the paper ticket in-person at their office.

In America their only office is in New York City. So Emirates was nice enough to FedEx the paper tickets to me overnight to Philadelphia free of charge.