HAMBURG — Ten years ago, the world’s first A380 passenger flight took to the skies from Singapore to Sydney as flight SQ380.
On that morning of October 25, 2007, Singapore Airlines not only successfully launched the world’s largest passenger airliner; they also unveiled its newest hard product and introduced an all-new, unprecedented way of flying in the utmost luxury and comfort.
On December 18, 2017, Singapore Airlines will launch, on that very same route, an all-new cabin product, which is set to change—again—the way people fly.
Raising the Bar
The last time an A380 operator wowed the world with an unseen premium cabin product was Etihad’s luxurious Residence and Apartments in 2014. Three years later, Singapore strikes back with a much-expected facelift on its flagship’s passenger cabins.
The airline is expected to officially unveil its new product to the world on the morning of November 2, 2017. However, the new product will be presented via a small cabin mock-up and digital renderings, which, in reality, never depict how the ‘real thing’ will look like on board the airplane.
Even though the official unveiling event isn’t happening until tomorrow, Airways was granted exclusive access to the first Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 (9V-SKU) which will feature the all-new cabin product.
The A380 is undergoing installation and testing at the Airbus assembly line in Hamburg Finkenwerder, where the cabin photos of the plane were taken.
According to the airline, the plane is being prepped for delivery in early December.
The ‘new’ total seat count is back where it started ten years ago with 471.
At entry into service (EIS) in 2007, Singapore’s A380s featured 12 Suites and 311 Economy seats on the Main Deck and 60 Business Class plus 88 Economy seats on the Upper Deck.
With the introduction of the Premium Economy cabin in 2016, the aircraft’s cabin layout changed to two versions. First, with 441 seats (unchanged Upper Deck, 12 Suites, 36 Premium Economy and 245 Economy seats on the Main Deck); second, with 379 seats, keeping the same Main Deck configuration and an all-Business Class Upper Deck, seating 86.
Now the newest A380 cabin has six Suites on the Upper Deck plus 78 Business Class seats—meaning a pure Premium Upper Deck, like many other A380 operators.
On the Main Deck, however, in the very front is now Premium Economy with 44 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. Behind, there are 342 Economy seats in 3-4-3 featuring 32” pitch and 18.5” width.
The most critical change in the new A380 interior concerns the ultra-luxurious “Suites” Class—a term Singapore Airlines introduced ten years ago for First Class on board the A380.
Currently, the twelve Suites are presented in a 1-2-1 configuration on the forward Main Deck. Now, however, the number of Suites was halved from the original configuration. Six Suites in total have been moved from the front of the Main Deck to the top of the grand staircase.
The new “Skyroom” Suites can be distinguished even from the outside of the aircraft, as three upper windows have been blocked on each side of the fuselage, giving each Suite two open windows each.
British firm Zodiac furnishes the new Skyrooms, which are indeed spectacular, though not as much ‘over-the-top’ as Etihad’s Residence.
Each Suite covers between 3.23 and 4 square meters of floor space with 1A and 1F being the biggest. They measure 2 x 2,50 meters on the floor—a lot of space for a single passenger.
Every Suite is shielded towards the aisle by two-piece sliding doors. These are operated manually, as opposed to electrically with other carriers, a source for prolonged malfunctions.
The first impression is a similarity to the “Flying Oval Office” on board Air Force One because a massive swivel armchair now dominates each Skyroom Suite.
Designed by PierreJean Design Studio in France, the 21-inch-wide electrically-controlled swivel seats can be turned around by over 120°, are upholstered in finest Poltrona Frau leather and can recline up to 135° for lounging.
The lucky Suite passenger can watch the in-flight entertainment (IFE) program on a 32-inch HD touchscreen monitor mounted on the wall, which can also be swiveled.
A wireless tablet is provided with integrated control functions for IFE and lighting. In fact, each Suite even offers customizable mood lighting scenes.
A separate handset is used for essential IFE control. If the passenger wants to work on his tablet, it can be anchored in a holder installed underneath the two windows, or preferably on a laptop on the foldout table.
The main feature is a separate foldout flat bed measuring 76 by 27 inches (1,93m x 0,68m) which comes complete with mattress bedding, duvet, and pillows.
The bedhead has a gas spring to keep the head up to watch a movie, for instance, while lying down.
When Singapore Airlines introduced the A380 in 2007, its former CEO proclaimed the double suites in the middle were “bringing back the romance into flying.” However, the airline didn’t fully live up to this statement, as crews were instructed not to let romantic activities out of hand.
This time again, dividers between two or even all three suites on one side of the aisle can come down, creating up to two double beds in the two forward Suites 1A/2A and 1F/2F.
The two windows in each Suite feature electrical blinds and each Suite has a personal wardrobe which also provides cabin luggage storage.
For the first time, one of the two bathrooms—the more spacious one on the right side—has been fitted out especially for female passengers with a vanity table and stool, more mirrors, and mood-lighting. But Singapore Airlines still didn’t consider to offer showers such as Emirates and Etihad.
In Business Class, the basic concept has been kept. With just 50 inch pitch between seats, passengers are still forced to sleep diagonally.
JPA Design designs the new Business Class seats, which are manufactured by JAMCO. Each seat features a kind of noise-suppressing cocoon to shield the passenger, while the fixed enclosures are lower than before as this was a customer complaint.
Also, for the first time, the seats clad in Poltrona Frau leather are lowered into bed position electrically rather than manually.
The length of the bed has remained the same with 78 inches (1,98m)—two inches longer than in Suites—but very narrow at the foot end. Seat width is a generous 25 inches.
The big news in this cabin is a fold-out “bridge” towards the aisle, enlarging the bed space, which was previously done with a smaller foldout triangle.
Also for the first time, the divider between the two middle seats can be put entirely down to enable partners to travel together, as before they could hardly see each other.
There is also an intermediate position to lock the divider half way down. Once entirely down it creates almost a double bed.
There are smaller new features as well for storage and a bright orange or rather bronze-colored fixed-side table.
As they have the most prominent foot space and don’t require passengers to sleep diagonally, the bulkhead middle seats 11D/F, 91D/F and 96D/F are preferred choices.
Premium Economy Class at the very front of the Main Deck features customized seats by German manufacturer ZIM, also furnishing Lufthansa’s Premium Economy seats.
Seat pitch is a generous 38 inches, and width 19,5 inches. Every seat includes foot- and leg-rests plus a spacious pocket even able to store a laptop, coming with a frame in easyJet orange, same on the armrests.
All seats in all classes now offer touchscreens, with the ones in Premium Economy measuring 13.3 inches in diameter, while it is 11.1 inches in Economy.
German market leader Recaro now manufactures the 343 Economy Class seats.
The two best choices in Economy, not even costing an extra charge, are the window seats 71A/K, which do not have a seat in front of them despite being in the second row behind the bulkhead.
All 471 seats on Singapore’s new A380 now feature plug-ins to recharge electronic devices and also USB ports, plus contactless card readers to pay for purchases.
For the time being Singapore Airlines charges passengers for connecting to the internet while in-flight. Industry sources tell Airways, however, that the airline will soon roll out a scheme offering free WiFi connectivity to First and Business passengers.
In total, Singapore Airlines has adhered to its philosophy to remain one of the most comfortable network carriers in all classes, without overdoing it or being overly fancy, as it kept away from onboard lounges or showers.
But the new Suites are genuinely an eye-catcher, nevertheless.