MIAMI — Singapore Airlines has a well-known reputation for luxury. The carrier pioneered the concept of first class suites, boasts the most spacious business product in the skies, and has top notch on-board service. Yet while the carrier might be known for pulling out all the stops up front, how is the experience in back?
Recently Airchive became quite familiar with the Singapore economy experience on a series of three flights. The first was Singapore 11, operated by an A380, from Los Angeles LAX to Singapore with a stop in Tokyo Narita. The second was flight 446, operated by an A330, from Singapore to Dhaka, Bangladesh. Between the three, nearly twenty-fours of experience on board Singapore metal was accrued, and now it’s time to share:
Check-in / Security
Our journey starts in Los Angeles LAX, the only place I needed to check in. The airline did set us up with Suites Check-in as a nice courtesy (though Airchive paid for the tickets). It is not available to economy passengers but is a nice perk, despite the economy lines being empty at the time. Security made up for the quick check-in, taking an hour to snake through. Even with a brand new terminal, I guess some things about the airport just won’t change.
Singapore’s Changi hub, on the other hand, was LAX’s polar opposite. There were no lines, anywhere, for anything. I left the airport twice during the day, and both times walked right up to immigration and security, practically waltzeing right through. It could not have been easier. Even our stop in Narita, which very unfortunately requires connecting passengers to vacate the airplane and be re-screened, was a comparative piece of cake with a ten minute wait.
I was invited by the airline to lounges in LAX and Singapore (yes, I know, another departure from the normal economy experience but trust me, it ends here). First up, LAX’s Star Alliance Lounge in the brand-new international terminal, which serves all Star passengers. The woman manning the door greeted me by name, impressive given that I had not yet given her my ticket and no doubt a good start.
Once inside, the lounge proved exceptionally nice, boasting comfortable seating areas, excellent hot/cold food options, and a wide variety of drinks. Other nice amenities include two decks, one indoor and one outdoor, showers, and luggage storage. I would not hesitate to pronounce it the best in the US. Unfortunately day passes are not available: premium travel, frequent flyers, or special invitation only.
In Singapore the airline relies on its signature KrisWorld lounges. The airport houses four in total, one silver and one gold each in terminals two and three. Though they lack the open air, SoCal feel of the LAX Star lounge, they are no less well appointed. Free internet, free showers, free food, and all of it high quality: a perfect trifecta.
Thankfully the lounge access kept me wired in, fueled up, and smelling great through the entire eighteen hour layover. Making a rookie mistake of not booking a hotel for part of the day I even slept for five hours in the terminal three silver lounge.
Not as good as a hotel, but far better than a coach seat. Also notably, we visited only the silver lounges. From what I can tell, the only difference between that and gold is bathroom/shower accessibility.
Surprisingly, boarding zoomed by on all three flights. It was pretty impressive how little time it took to fill an entire A380, but I guess that’s what three jetbridges for a single plane can do. The A330 took a tad bit longer, but nothing to report really.
What was notable was the delightful helpfulness of the cabin crew in ushering people to their seats. On all three flights a flight attendant personally escorted me to my seat, took my hand luggage for me, and then went back for the next passenger in line. It certainly made a good first impression.
The first flight, Singapore 11, went from LAX to Singapore, with a three hour stop in Tokyo. Consequently almost twenty hours were spent in seat 44K, located on the lower deck of the Airbus A380 next to the over-wing exit. Being an exit row there was a ton of leg room, despite the 3-3-3 configuration. The TV monitor stowed under the immobile armrest, while a tethered remote tucked into the armrest itself. A power port was located under the seat as well. I’d estimate twenty-five degrees of recline, along with a surprisingly sculpted backrest and wings on the headrest.
In short, it was great for the first eleven hours while awake. Sleeping? Not so much. I did sleep on most of the overnight flight from Tokyo to Singapore, and it was more comfortable than expected. Yet I still found myself waking up every hour to reposition, cajole a sleeping limb awake, or to take a drink of water. It wasn’t pleasant, but it could have been worse.
Just one last note on the exit row, the seats cost an extra $50, which is a steal of a deal considering how long the flight is. The tradeoff comes in the location right next to the lavatories, with its bright lights flashing into your eyes every time someone comes in or out. And since the space is so big and the lavs so close, people assume they can queue for the line, or do yoga, or, in one case, change their pants.
As for the A330 on our second flight, I haven’t confirmed it but the seats were almost identical to the A380. I had seat 38A for this flight, so no exit row, but it was good enough for the four hour flight. Thirty-two inches of pitch with a seat-width of 19 inches was tolerable. The two-four-two configuration made it even better. Several power jacks, footrest, seat-back TV, and tethered remote were included.
Drink and meal service was identical across all flights, so I won’t belabor here.
Like most economy cabin meals, the entire service came in one fell-swoop. Between the three flights I had three meals (it would have been five had I not slept through two). To give a taste of what was on board, one meal consisted of potato salad with pork moradella sausage appetizer in the top left corner, while a beef sirloin entree with roasted veges and potatoes graced the bottom right.
Elsewhere, two Ritz crackers, a slice of Tillamook cheddar, and a roll were located on the tray. Another featured Japanese cold noodles with simmered pork and steamed rice, raspberry cream cake, and green tea. Verdict? Pretty good as far economy meals go. The meat was moist, vegetables crisp, and taste not bad, though it did lack a variety of flavors.
Beverage-wise, I made sure to have a few Singapore Slings, a tasty and potent mixed drink made famous in Singapore, on each flight. Even in economy the options for drinks, alcoholic and otherwise, were fairly extensive. Water and juices were regularly available throughout the flight, and could be had in the galleys or from roving crew members.
Dubbed KrisWorld, Singapore’s entertainment system features a dizzying array of visual content from Bollywood to Hollywood and everything in between. Audio is equally well-stocked, or least it had several albums I really liked, which were not done justice by the mediocre standard-issue headphones. It is operated solely via a tethered remote, allowing for moderately intuitive navigation.
The system occasionally struggled to keep up with content browsing and loading, otherwise working fine in playback mode. Consequently I’m led to believe that it was not the latest iteration of KrisWorld, rolled out in September of 2013. Since I had an exit row, the screen module swings up from below the seat and thus appeared to be a little smaller than the 10.6 inch screen found in the seat-back elsewhere in the cabin.
I do not usually make space for an airport in a review, but it is impossible to ignore the enormously impressive asset the carrier has in its Changi hub. It is chock full of amenities, from extensive shopping to post immigration transit hotels, butterfly gardens to pools, free massage chairs to cactus gardens. It is about as good a place as one can get to be stuck between flights for eighteen hours. Connections would be far more pleasant if every airport were as accommodating to the passenger experience as Changi is.
Overall, above average. The food met, if not slightly exceeded, expectations: fitting portions and good quality, though slightly lacking in taste. The seat was surprisingly comfortable, and met coach expectations for sleeping. The expansive variety in the entertainment system wins it a solid above average grade. Lounges, Singapore Changi; all above average as well.
What really won me over, however, was the attentiveness, friendliness, and professionalism of the cabin crew. I have said it before and will again, it’s the staff that makes a good experience a great one. And Changi is a must-see for any traveler through the region: you won’t regret a stop.
Twenty-four hours of transit in economy is never going to be a picnic. Singapore makes it far more pleasant, however. The carrier economy earns our stamp of approval.