SEATTLE — The giant Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER which sat gleaming at the gate of Boeing’s Delivery Center is hardly the first for the prestigious Southeast Asian carrier—they already have nineteen. Yet a group of journalists and airline executives stood together on a sun-soaked balcony excitedly snapping pictures as the airplane pulled into view. It looked no different than any other SIA 773ER already in the fleet, at least not on the outside.

Inside, however, was something more special. Just beyond the exterior of fresh paint and aluminum skin lay the latest in Singapore’s continually evolving interior product – and everyone was in town to get a sneak-peek at what one of the world’s most premier airlines had come up with this time.

While the latest generation of SIA cabin is being billed as an evolutionary change and not a revolutionary change like their last rollout in 2007, it is nonetheless impressive.  The overarching redesign aims to provide every passenger in the airplane more control, more activity, and more comfort.

Inside the Airplane

Starting up front, SIA’s changes to the first and business class cabins may not look terribly substantial at first. Both remain absolutely palatial with an emphasis on quality that is hard to find elsewhere in the industry. Both also maintain a 1-2-1 layout and the same density as the previous iteration on the 773: 8F and 42J.

PHOTO: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.

In the first class, the emphasis was more on privacy. The refreshed seat creates a hybrid between SIA’s exclusive A380s suites and the current, more open first class product on other aircraft: passengers can’t see one another anymore, but they aren’t totally encased either. The bed length also extends from 80 to 82 inches and stands at 35 inches wide.

Other changes in first include more intuitive locations for power ports along with USB, eXport, and HDMI ports, a high-level control unit, and improved spatial lighting. The seat also received a substantial comfort upgrade with ergonomically sculpted cushions, padded headboard, and an extra mattress layer.

The 1080HD screen was increased from 23in to 24in wide—the same size as this author’s desk monitor. An entirely new suit of soft product goods (pillows, blankets, amenity kits, etc) has also been rolled out across first.

PHOTO: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.

In business class, the seat also features substantial changes to ergonomics and comfort with new cushions and headrest. The seat, once converted to bed mode, was also increased by two inches to 78, but the linewidth was reduced by two inches. Passengers had been voicing concerns the seat was too wide (a problem many airlines would undoubtedly love to have), and thus shaved off a few inches. The reduction still leaves SIA the industry leader for a widest business class seat.

As business class also features a turndown service, and thus cannot convert to a bed without resetting the entire seat, the new product also features two new seating positions: Lazy Z and Sundeck. It also is capable of 132 degrees of recline, coming a little closer lying flat.

The extra space made way for a number of other changes frequent business fliers had long desired in the product. Storage received particular attention, with at least three generously sized spaces tucked throughout the seat. A panel full of ports (power, USB, eXport, and HDMI) rested in a convenient location on the side console, next to a laptop storage space. The seat also has a larger LCD screen, upgraded to 18inches wide.

PHOTO: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.
PHOTO: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.

Finally, in the rear of the cabin, the 228 folks in a 3-3-3 configuration received several upgrades as well. At first sight, the most obvious change is the enormous 11.1 inch wide entertainment touch screen located in every seat back – for comparison the screen is larger than many airlines’ business class screens.

PHOTO: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.
PHOTO: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.

The tethered remote is also a touch screen (a feature common across all cabins on the plane but virtually unheard of in coach), enabling passengers to intuitively navigate the system without tapping the seat back. SIA representatives added the screens are meant to function more as a tablet via swiping rather than pushing, so even if one insists on utilizing the seatback screen they won’t bother their neighbor.

The seats themselves received a substantial upgrade in cushions and ergonomic design, making it surprisingly comfortable despite a relatively modest 32 inches of pitch (this author is generally not too thrilled about long haul coach, but would definitely be willing to give this a try). Each seat also has several ports; USB, iPod, and HDMI. Each seat of three seats has two power ports located under each armrest.

Everyone on board has the pleasure of enjoying the latest version of SIA’s inflight entertain system, Krisworld. Driven through the Panasonic eX3 system, the newest version features a more intuitive interface and runs much faster, according to SIA.

Changes Signify Growing Competition at the Top

We have to continue to innovate to maintain our leadership position…we can never be complacent. -SIA VP of Public Relations James Boyd

SIA’s last substantial cabin upgrade was back in 2007, and was widely believe to set the new benchmark in cabin comfort.  Singapore representatives on hand were quick to point out that the changes we saw yesterday were only evolutionary, and not revolutionary, describing it as an upgrade from an iPhone 5 to an iPhone 5S. That SIA views the new cabin as merely an incremental step rather than a new benchmark would explain the carrier’s reluctance to commit to retrofitting the current fleet with the new cabin. For the foreseeable future, only the eight new build Boeing 777-300ERs on order will receive the upgraded cabin, though SIA left the door open to consider retrofits down the road.

Current Economy and Business Class Product on the SIA A380 (Credits: Chris Sloan)
Current Economy and Business Class Product on the SIA A380 (Credits: Chris Sloan)
Current Economy and Business Class Product on the SIA A380 (Credits: Chris Sloan)
Current Economy and Business Class Product on the SIA A380 (Credits: Chris Sloan)

That SIA only felt the need to roll out minor tweaks suggests a continued confidence in the leadership role of their current product.

However, the need for a change at all signifies the growing competition among top carriers to develop the latest and greatest in cabin comforts. SIA, which has long been at the top of the food chain product wise, has seen a number of carriers closing the gap in recent years.

In particular, Gulf carriers like Emirates and Qatar have been edging ever closer, with each rolling out extravagant hard and soft products in the past several years aimed squarely at displacing SIA.

The airplane will see service first to London starting in a few weeks. Other routes will be added in the future, though SIA would not say where. When pressed Boyd envisioned that both San Francisco and Houston could be likely US-based candidates to see SIA’s latest and greatest as new planes come online over the next two years. Both cities have large corporate presences and already see 777-300ER service.