Letters to the editor show that our readership, though still much impressed by the quality of service and comfort of F/C class in the prestigious companies from the Middle East (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar), is feeling more and more concerned by security issues in this time of turmoil within the Islamic world. We have therefore decided to alternatively fly and review airlines from the Far East, starting with the best established: Singapore Airlines.
The flag carrier of Singapore since 1947 and the second largest airline in the world by market capitalisation, a Star Alliance Member, Singapore Airlines (SQ / SIA) was the launch customer of Airbus A380. It operates the world's largest passengers aircraft on many long-haul route over 62 destinations in 35 countries on six continents.
Since SQ recently took advantage of liberal bilateral aviation agreements between Singapore, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates, it offers more onward connections from Bangkok to/from Dubai and the rest of the world. This makes SQ Emirates' direct competitor: definitely bringing bonuses to the First and Business Class passengers, both in term of price and comfort.
We have flown that time SQ 321, from London Heathrow (LHR) to Singapore Changi (SIN), A380-800, non-stop. We have been first of all attracted by the schedule: leaving LHR at 10:05pm, and arriving in SIN at 6:45pm. Which sounds ideal for tourists and business travellers alike.
A mad house, Heathrow wasn't part of our favourite airports until now. A few months ago, we would have compared it with CDG in term of discomfort. But it improved a lot recently, with the opening in June 2014 of the brand new Queen'sTerminal 2. This is Singapore Airlines new terminal. Business Class check-in was so quick and courteous, despite of quite a large number of travellers already queuing when we arrived, that we promptly reached the lounge after a fast-track security check.
The new Silver Kris Lounge (SKL), which will be located in Terminal 2, is tentatively slated to open in Spring 2015. In the meanwhile Suite, First, Business class passengers, PPS Club members, Kris Flyer Elite Gold members and Star Alliance Gold members can access the Plaza Premium Lounge (or alternatively, depending on flight number / day of departure, United or Air Canada Lounge in Terminal 2B). Designed by Hong Kong star designer Kinney Chan, it features large relaxations rooms, a trendy and delicious “Tapas Bar” offering a good selection of freshly made food and drinks. The Champagne selection is remarkable: with a wide variety of vintage and non-vintage brands. Very chic, indeed. There is a luxurious shower room, and the “Wellness SPA” proposes an exclusive treatment menu by ILA.
The Plaza Premium Lounge is almost as classy and well serviced as the ritzy, cyclopean, actually five star SilverKris Lounge in SIN Changi Airport Terminal 3. Our way back to Europe, we relaxed a couple of hours in what all F/C class lounges should look like: boosting luminous marble walls and deep leather seats, it has a splendid buffet supervised by the most anticipating staff ever, offering millesime wines from France and the New World, and prestigious Champagne... : we actually felt like thousands miles away from the parsimonious CDG Salon Air France in Roissy, or the proletarian American Airlines Admirals Club lounge in JFK and its "1 glass per passenger voucher" which we preciously keep in our collection of peculiar travel items!
First boarding call rang at 9:15pm. The staff advised us to stay quietly in the lounge ten minutes more: we therefore reached the gate 10 minutes before last call. The last Economy Class and a couple of First Class passengers only already boarded the giant plane, accessible through 3 airbridges (F, C and Y class). First Class passengers were escorted to their “suite” individually. Invisible to the rest of the passengers, they DO receive a special treatment, which we hope to experience soon.
A pair of stewards welcomed us courteously at the door of the aircraft. We loved the charming stewardess' traditional Singaporean long dress. We turned left to reach our seat, guided through by another fly attendant. 5 or 6 of them where actively taking care of the passengers: helping them with storing their coats, jackets and bags, distributing a large selection of newspapers and magazines, and serving Champagne or orange juice followed by refreshing towels presented on a silver tray. Efficient, quick and happy to assist, SQ staff made us feel like already in a sumptuous suite at The Raffles or Goodwood Park!
The half full Business Class cabin, divided and two sections separated by a galley, was nice looking; yet not as impressive as on the pictures available on the Singapore Airlines website. We mean that it looked somehow tired up. The large, deep, comfy leather seats can be transformed into a 180° flat bed. Definitely comfortable, they nevertheless show their age. We were expecting something more luxurious and high-tech in a A380. BUT, good piece of news, the steward explained that SQ was currently upgrading its A380 and B777 with brand new seats. They even showed us the pictures, assuring that most of long-haul flights will be fully equipped before the end of 2015. We liked the 1-2-1 disposition of the seats, creating a real intimacy in this wide-body aircraft. Much better compared with what we recently experienced with Turkish Airlines (2-3-2 in Business Class / B777 !).
Do like us, and make a reservation in the front cabin (rows 11-16): it seats 18 peoples only, making you feel like flying in a high-end private jet. Which is fantastic, knowing that more than 400 hundred passengers are packed in the “chicken class”! Sorry to say, but “its good to be the king!”.
The royal treatment extends itself with an actually gourmet Western/Asian catering. After a second glass of very crisp and elegant Champagne Taittinger Prélude Grand Cru, poured in a very ordinary water glass (!), we received the menu while the powerful 4 Rolls-Royce Trent 900 reactors smoothly and silently lifted us in the sky. Almost no noise nor vibration to shake our stomach: we could quietly satisfy our appetite!
Dinners was served approximately one hour after take-off. We wished to try a different brand of Champagne as an aperitif; unfortunately, they don't propose any alternative to Taittinger Prélude. Which was somehow little bit frustrating; but we were if Business, not in First Class, and forgive this little mistake. We ordered instead a glass of “Dow's, 10 Years Old Tawny Port”, from the Upper Douro steeply terraced vineyards in Portugal. Boosting subtle aromas of dried fruits and toffee, it tasted like fantastic!
Exclusively created by Matthew Moran, of Aria Restaurant Sydney, our supper started with a refreshing and light “Trio of Smoked Fishes”: smoked salmon and halibut, salmon gravadlax, over a crispy seasonal salad. We paired it with one glass of well chilled “Mt Nelson Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, 2013”: produced in New Zealand by Helena Lindberg and Lodovico Antinori, this dry wine with refreshing crisp acidity, balance and length, comes with refined citrus (grapefruit, lemon), floral (elderflower) and some herbal notes. As a main dish, we wished to taste something little bit “bistro style” and found the “Pan Fried Beef in Red Wine Sauce”, with roasted chunky vegetables and potatoes, succulent with one glass of French red “Château Larose-Trintaudon, Cru Bourgeois, Haut-Médoc, 2010”. Harvested in the last days of September, this solid Bordeaux is tannic and balanced with cedar and cassis flavours.
We were not that much impressed by the limited selection of quite blend cheese (Somerset Brie, Blue Stilton and Black Bomber... ?! OK, we are French...), but liked the desserts very much. Our “Tartufo Nocciola”, hazelnut semifreddo with a rich chocolate center, covered in hazelnut praline and crushed meringue, was mouth watering. We were then proposed a Peters Drumstick cornet; this brand is very popular in Singapore. Nothing special actually: this was certainly a small attention originally destinated to the kids, absent from the business class that time. Another last temptation came together with the horrible Asian -or English- style coffee: a rich selection of extraordinary pralines. We took a few of them. Re-ordering a second, still horrible, coffee to grasp more Valhrona sticks: the Rolls Royce of the chocolate, this is our favourite brand!
Basically, we enjoyed a most pleasant supper. Not the most sophisticated which we had been served in Business Class, but still far from airlines food in term of quality. We would like to repeat that two or three brands of Champagne should be displayed, and that the top quality selection of wines should feature a little larger choice. Else, we liked the service, the precious quality and design of the cutlery and fine porcelain; though Singapore Airlines should learn from gourmet travellers that Champagne should always be served in a flute. Not in a water glass, nor in a wine glass...
Next time we shall experience the “Book the Cook”, service, enabling SQ passengers to pre-order main course before flying. Selection can be made through travel agents, SQ reservations office or website, at least 24 hours before the scheduled flight departure. “Book the Cook” replaces the main course from the in-flight menu, and is offered for most meal services except for continental breakfast and refreshment.
After dinner we had a short talk with the friendly, actually happy to assist stewardess, who helped us to set blankets and pillows on our flatbed. The discussion was about the obvious cut on expenses made by airlines; including SQ, providing only a pair of slippers -short ones!- and eye-shades, instead of those sometime nicely designed vanity kits, which so many passengers like to collect as a souvenir. She replied with a disarming smile... To be honest, we should precise that perfume, lotion, toothpaste, soap and anything you need to feel fresh is available in the super clean toilets.
We know that SQ has got a great in-flight entertainment resources. But, as always when we fly F or C class, we preferred to capture the privilege of a constructive sleep in comfortable bed.
We awoke at approximately 4pm, and decided to try the WiFi connection, just for the fun. US$10 allows a 10MB data download. This is not much; still enough to check our mail and say our friends “Hi! from the sky!”. It was time for “breakfast” which, due to time and volume, we would rather call brunch. It finally depends if you order the “Complete Breakfast” (served earliest 2.5 hours prior to arrival) or lighter, though very convenient, “Continental Breakfast” (1.5 hours prior to arrival). Our meal consisted of a plate of fresh fruits, a selection from the breadbasket, and an omelette with veal sausages and potatoes. A quite ordinary airlines breakfast by description; but ingredients were a prime quality. We didn't finish our plate; since Singapore has got amazing restaurants, we had already booked our dinner upon arrival at Min Jiang.
Singapore Airlines on-time performance rating is one of the the best in the world: we landed as scheduled, at 6:45pm, and deplained quickly via a separate airbridge for the business class passengers only. It took less than 5 minutes to reach the control of immigration, and 15 minutes to collect our luggage. Changi didn't change: still immaculate, organized and making you feel so secure.
We would rank Singapore Airlines as a four and a half star company. The cabin was lovely, and will be even more cozy with the new seats. The staff: brilliant! The security: Singaporean! It could beat Emirates if: 1. the wine list could be more developed, and 2. if a Bar/Lounge could give the First and Business Class passengers the opportunity to stand up from time to time, socializing with the other passengers. Emirates has got that kind of “flying High-So” lounge: it costs the airlines the space of two rows of seats, but this is a supreme bonus to the passenger. Also, there is no shower in First Class: Emirates has it...
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