Singapore Airlines (SIA) is spending some US$360 million on new first, business and economy classes which will enable the carrier to remain competitive into the next decade.
Highlight of the three is business class. As had been widely expected, SIA has followed in the footsteps of British Airways and adopted fully flat beds in place of the angled seats which it currently offers.
Because of delays to the A380 super jumbo programme, the new seating will initially appear on the carrier's new fleet of B777-300ERs which enter service on SIA's Paris CDG to Singapore route next December followed by Zurich-Singapore in the New Year.
The UK market will have to wait longer. London was supposed to be the first European city to experience the new products on the A380. It will continue to be served by the existing B747-400s and SIA would not be drawn on the timetable for retro-fitting this fleet and neither can it confirm when its A380s will arrive. So Manchester-Singapore (a route currently served by older B777s) is likely to be SIA's first UK destination to experience the new seating on the B777-300ER but probably not before 2008.
The Business Class (SIA fans will lament the dropping of the previous Raffles branding) seat is a huge 30 inches wide. SIA claims it's the widest seat currently available although at the shoulders this reduces to 25 inches when it is a fully flat bed. Every B777-300ER will be fitted with 42 seats in an exceptional 1-2-1 layout which contrasts with SIA's current 2-3-2 angled seat layout.
SIA has followed Abu Dhabi-based Eithad in fitting forward-facing seats rather than adopting the "herringbone" layout seen at Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand.
It means every passenger will now gain direct access to the aisle. But there is a downside. Although SIA's new seat is 76 inches long when converted into a bed, and it's much wider than its rivals, the seat pitch is just 51 inches (compared with 70 to 80 inches at BA and Virgin Atlantic).
With less space than usual between you and the seat in front, passengers can only sleep in a diagonal position. In other words, your head stays on the right side of the seat with your feet positioned to the left into an alcove (within the seat in front). Some travellers have voiced concerns that SIA's new seat may be too wide for comfort, especially when upright, unless the carrier provides lots of cushions. But this extra wide seat is necessary to get the diagonal sleeping position.
One thing is clear: passengers will gain a lot more space and SIA indicates it may charge a premium. "We would like to charge 10 to 20 per cent more for business class on routes served by the new aircraft [with this seating]," says Huang Chen Eng, SIA's executive VP for marketing. The seat is made of leather and flips over (like Virgin) to become a bed with a material mattress. Furnishings have also been improved with a Givenchy cotton duvet and height-adjustable tables for easy working.
First Class on the B777-300ER adopts the similar but spacious 1-2-1 layout. It has a width of 35 inches, almost enough for two people. It claims to be the largest fully flat bed in the sky when converted. But the seat pitch is 71 inches (20 inches more than in business) with a bed length of 80 inches. Luxury abounds with the leather and mahogany furnishing topped off by a down pillow and duvets and Salvatore Ferragamo amenities. However, the new first seat misses out on certain privacy features offered by the Gulf carriers and with only eight seats there will be availability problems for passengers booked on RTW (round-the-world) tickets. Bear in mind that the A380's first class layout will be announced later.
Economy class is also being upgraded with leather seats, footrests and some clever features for storage and lighting that is in the seat back in front so as not to disturb neighbours. Onboard amenities such as toothbrush, mouthwash, moisturizers are also being introduced. But SIA hasn't adopted Cathay's new "fixed shell" design (see Online news, September 28) and the amount of space available to passengers is virtually unchanged. The seats are 19 inches wide and have a pitch of 32 inches.
One also might have expected to see SIA come up with a premium economy product seeing as the gap between regular economy and business class is now wider than ever.
Across all classes Krisworld IFE has been approved with the introduction of more of everything - 100 movies, more languages to learn, more guides, music and laptop power in all classes. The biggest innovation is the inclusion of a suite of business software so you can work without the need for your laptop. Star Office is installed which will allow you to work on Powerpoint, Excel and Word files. All you need is to bring a USB memory stick with your files on and plug it into the USB ports in your seat. The keyboard found on the back of the IFE handset is about 30 per cent larger than you get on a Blackberry. Alternatively you can bring your own USB keyboard/mouse or buy one on board. LCD screen sizes are large being 23 inches in First, 15.4 inches in Business and 10.6 inches in economy.
Business class is the innovator here with SIA deciding to provide more space sideways than lengthwise. It remains to be seen what passengers make of the extra wide seats but there's no disputing the fact that BA's new Club World (launched on November 13 and which will be an update of the existing product) looks decidedly cramped at eight across (2-4-2) on the B747/B777 compared with SIA's new four across (1-2-1) layout.
For more information go to singaporeair.com
Report by Julian Gregory and Alex McWhirter