Hallo and Guten Tag friends! I have recently returned from my first big trip of 2018 and as you can guess by my opening, I spent time exploring Germany and the country’s fairytale cities. This particular trip was special for me as it was my first time traveling solo, first time experiencing Singapore Airlines and KLM, both in Business Class, and first time flying an A350 and Boeing 747 Combi.
In this trip report, I’ll be sharing my first experience flying with Singapore Airlines, an airline I’m so happy to cross off my #AvGeek bucket list. When one describes Singapore Airlines, they typically reference their innovative on-board product or prestigious brand, but few mention their fantastic loyalty program, KrisFlyer, which I’ve really come to love. You can read about my newly developed love for the program in my latest post here and why I consider it my go-to program of 2018.
In short, KrisFlyer is a partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards (and AMEX, Citi, and SPG), which makes flying Singapore Airlines all the more easier. I found availability from Houston (IAH) – Manchester, UK (MAN) – Singapore (SIN) using the KrisFlyer tool and redeemed one-seat in Business Class for 92,000 Miles plus taxes + a $100 stopover fee under one itinerary. At rack rate, this itinerary would have cost me nearly $4,000, which values my points at $.04 per mile vs the typical $.015 per mile.
Let’s have a look at the experience.
Airline: Singapore Airlines (SQ)
Route: Houston (IAH) – Manchester, UK (MAN)
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
Duration: 9h 0m
Service: Business Class
My connecting flight from Los Angeles arrived into Gate C7, located at the far end of Terminal C, giving me 3 hours to explore the airport and United Club. Upon arrival, I made my way over to Terminal D, which was a 10-minute walk. I passed by the newest of the 5 United Clubs along the way located by Gate C1.
Unfortunately, I did not have my SQ boarding pass in-hand yet as I booked my flights separately. And, what I found even more puzzling was that SQ does not yet issue mobile boarding passes, but thankfully, SQ assigns an agent at the gate 3 hours before scheduled departure to meet and greet connecting passengers and assist with check-in, which saved me the inconvenience of having to leave the gate area and go through TSA again. This was a very smart move by SQ, despite not being able to issue mobile boarding passes in the first place.
After a few minutes, with boarding pass in hand, I left for the newest and nicest United Club in Houston.
United operates 5 Clubs at their Houston hub. Yes, 5, which shows just how robust their operation is. I stopped by the Club near Gate C1, which was conveniently located by my departure Gate D1.
This particular Club currently features the latest lounge experience, which I would describe as a junior version of United's flagship Polaris Lounge experience. The Club itself offered great views of the tarmac, a decent amount of seating, a simple selection of snacks, and a full bar. However, when I arrived, nearly every seat was occupied. Also, this is a South-facing and all-window Club which gets too much sunlight in the afternoon - turning the lounge into a straight-up sauna. I was sweating profusely.
So, after a glass of wine and veggie crudité, I was ready to head back to my Gate for boarding.
The Boarding Process
The boarding area set-up was quite nice and very thoughtful for Business Class passengers. To the left of the gate was a dedicated seating area for Business Class passengers which was stanchioned off like a play pen. To the right was for Premium Economy and Economy passengers.
I returned back to Gate D1 at 6:15PM to find they had begun to pre-board. Mind you, scheduled departure was 1 hour later at 7:10PM. 10 minutes later, Business Class passengers were invited to board at 6:25PM.
As mentioned in the intro, this was a trip of many firsts, including my first time flying onboard an Airbus A350! For those not familiar with the jetliner, the A350 is Airbus’s newest aircraft family and is designed to compete directly with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Both aircraft boast lots of new technological advancements including higher cabin pressures to combat jetlag, more space, greater fuel efficiency, and better economics. Additionally, the A350 is Airbus’s first mega twin-engine aircraft, which is designed to fly nonstop for nearly 19 hours. (I know, some would debate it’s the A330, which I consider to be more of a regional workhorse like the Boeing 767).
By design, the A350 can be distinguished by its sleek and sharp nose, “sunglass” cockpit windows, and crazy-cool-looking sweptback winglets. These winglets are designed to resemble the tips of a bird’s feather, which has become the new signature design area for many of today’s jetliners. The A350 may be the winner for the most dramatic looking wing.
I was first to board the aircraft and entered through Door 2L. The purser welcomed me onboard and walked me to seat 14A. At my seat was a menu, slippers, socks, and headphones. Sadly, no amenity kit.
Upon settling in, the friendly flight attendants working my aisle came around to offer me a choice of a pre-departure beverage between orange juice, water, and champagne. I selected the orange juice which was served in a glass cup – a nice and surprising touch!
The captain came on to add his welcome at 6:50PM and informed us of our flying time of 8h 47m, and as you may have read in my previous trip reports, a shorter flight time always brings me down. :( #AvGeekproblems
The Cabin + Seats
Stepping onboard, I nearly shed a tear by the beauty and design of the cabin. OK, my reaction wasn’t that dramatic but I found the cabin to be gorgeous.
The entire Business Class cabin consists of 42 seats divided into two sections, with a larger section between Doors 1 and 2, and a smaller section directly after Door 2. For a more intimate experience, you’ll want to select a seat in the smaller section, however, I went with the forward section for the vastness and feeling of space.
While some airlines install seats “out of the box” with little customization, (cough, cough, Korean Airlines), Singapore Airlines takes a meticulous approach to creating their cabin and seat experience by leaving no design stone left unturned. Aesthetically, the cabin is predominantly shades of purple, gray, and tan. Each row switches off between two shades of purple, a deep plum color and lilac. This thoughtful color combination and palette comes across warm and welcoming, yet bold and modern, taking smart steps to extend the life of their cabin.
By contrast, Korean Airlines First Class cabins is already showing signs of aging, which I attribute to their missed color section and minimal modern design cues.
Back to Singapore Airlines.
At its core, the seats are designed within a reverse-herringbone frame, meaning you are supposed to sit diagonally facing outwards towards the window or inwards for those in the middle. Instead, passengers switch between forward and diagonally facing positions depending on whether you’re lounging or sleeping, which makes the layout quite awkward. While this hybrid seat offers ample storage, you’re left with a TV 24 inches from your face, an oddly placed footrest, and the need to sleep in a fetal position with one leg extended. What left me more puzzled by the seat configuration was the flip down bed, which is very firm like a Japanese Tatami bed, or sleeping on the ground.
While I would give the overall cabin high marks for design, I’m afraid the seat itself has earned low scores for poor functionality and comfort.
The cabin crew completed their final safety checks and the door closed 10-minutes early at 7PM. We pushed back a few minutes later with roughly ¾ of the cabin full. We pushed back next to an Air New Zealand Boeing 777-200ER in its older livery.
The early-evening seems to be a quiet time for the airport as we taxied out with no traffic and took off immediately from Runway 15R. The climb out was quick and we were airborne within seconds. Need I mention, the graceful A350 winglet looked so sexy in action.
We leveled off roughly 30 minutes after take-off (or 27 minutes to be exact) and the cabin crew began the main meal service. Drink orders taken promptly before pushback and delivered promptly after take-off. I ordered a glass of champagne and their signature Sunrise mock-tail. Both were refreshing and tasty, and not too sweet. Warm nuts were served with the drink service.
The purser then made her rounds and confirmed my meal service. For this flight, I decided to try Singapore’s “Book the Cook” service and pre-selected their famous Seafood Theramador.
The table was set 45 minutes after the drink service, or 1 hour after take-off, which was much longer than I expected. It was a nice touch to have my table set versus eating off of a tray. I was however very surprised to see the flight attendants roll around and use an ugly, old, and beat-up metal galley cart to work off of. It was honestly very tacky.
For my appetizer, I selected the Smoked Tuna Salad, or what I would call a Deconstructed Nicoise Salad. The dish came with slices of Egg, Marche Salad, apple, and dill mustard dressing. The dressing was delicious!
Next, the main course or Seafood Thermador was served. This dish wasn’t quite what I expected. While their website did not provide an image, I imaged large pieces of seafood baked with layers of gooey cheese. Instead, what came out was a creamier clam chowder. While the dish was flavorful and delicious, I expected a higher quality dish. Rice and vegetables were served as sides along with Garlic bread.
At this point, another round of drinks were served, which I enjoyed a glass of 2015 Cambria Benchbreak Chardonnay from the California Central Coast. For dessert, I selected the Opera Cake and Cheese platter. Both were very good.
Overall, it was a great meal thanks to the very attentive flight attendants. The downside was the entire meal service lasted 2 hours, which was a very slow pace.
Breakfast was served 1.5 hours before arrival. I selected the Baked Crepe with Chive Scrambled Eggs. The dish was served with pan-fried chicken apple sausages, tomato, and roesti potato. Additional dishes could be selected from their cart including Granola with Greek Yoghurt, baked goods, and more.
The Entertainment + WiFi
SQ inflight entertainment system, branded as KrisWorld, offers a wide array of movies, music, games, and more. Even cooler, you can connect the Singapore Airlines app to the TV allowing you to use your phone as a remote control and bookmark movies to watch in the future. I found the KrisWorld interface to be intuitive and well-designed. I watched I, Tonya on the flight, which was so entertaining. I’m now an even bigger fan of Margot Robbie!
While my flight did offer WiFi service, I, unfortunately, had no luck connecting to it, so I’m afraid I didn’t have any real-time experience with the service. I was actually quite excited to catch-up on work but wasn’t able to connect successfully. Oh, well.
SQ offers turndown service in Business Class, which is truly a nice touch. While turndown service for most airlines means adding a sleeping pad and duvet to your lay-flat seat, the Flight Attendant literally flips down your seatback cushion making your entire seat into a large bed. The cushion itself was very firm, which some may prefer and others may not. I personally found it very uncomfortable and would liken the bed to a Tatami, or a Japanese style of sleeping on the ground. This was a prime example of too many ideas influencing a final product, with the end result lacking in functionality and comfort.
Aside from the bed surface, the duvet blanket was quite cozy but the pillows were very soft. I would recommend asking for a second one for added comfort. I was able to get in about 4 hours of solid rest.
The Captain welcomed everyone to Manchester about 45 minutes out and informed us we would be held in a holding pattern for about half an hour. The delay was due to “Air Traffic Control and sequencing.”
We made a graceful touchdown into Manchester and arrived at the gate relatively on time.
This was my first flight with Singapore Airlines, an experience I have been longing for and eager to cross off my extensive #AvGeek bucketlist. Known for their prestige, incomparable service, and spectacular meals, I easily had very high expectations for my first experience. Did it live up to all that I had hoped for?
On one hand, the airline scored low on seat comfort. SQ is an airline that stands out for innovation in an otherwise mundane industry. The challenge now becomes too many good ideas crammed into the final product, which I found to be the case with their latest Business Class product. With some editing and focus, I’m confident the airline can maintain its stance on innovation while satisfying the basics.
On the other hand, I would say SQ overdelivered with their onboard experience. As I would expect from a Five Star airline, SQ delivered a spectacular service, a well-curated meal service, a gorgeous cabin design, and fabulous entertainment.
While Singapore Airlines continues to play in a league of its own, the consistency and warm service is what truly sets the brand apart from its competitors.