I arrived at Singapore’s Changi Airport Terminal 3 at 1135 for my scheduled 1320 departure on SQ866 bound for Hong Kong. As I was unaware that premium economy passengers are afforded priority check-in privileges at row seven (alongside Krisflyer Gold members), I proceeded to the designated economy class counters at row three instead.
Priority baggage for premium economy passengers
There was a short queue near the economy class counters but it passed quickly. The check-in process was speedy and my baggage was labelled “Priority”, ensuring that I would be able to claim it quickly upon arrival in Hong Kong.
My only gripe was that Singapore Airlines (SIA) has seemingly discontinued providing boarding passes that feature the designated class colours. In the past, these used to be in the colours of gold (Suites), red (first), navy blue (business), and green (economy). Premium economy was also designated as orange.
While the check-in agent assured me that passengers in Suites, first and business would still be provided with boarding passes featuring the premium class colours, the premium economy and economy boarding passes now sport a plain white printed pass.
New boarding passes
In response to an enquiry by Business Traveller Asia-Pacific, Nicholas Ionides, vice president, public affairs at SIA said: "The premium economy class (PEY) boarding passes look similar to that of the economy class (EYCL). We have redesigned boarding passes for both EYCL and PEY so as to streamline the check-in process and for allow for greater efficiency, e.g. less confusion for travellers who may travel on EYCL on the first sector of their itinerary and PEY on the second sector, or vice versa."
Upon checking in, I made my way through immigration where my carry-on bag was processed for security. As a Singaporean, I’m eligible to use the enhanced-Immigration Automated Clearance System, which uses biometrics to provide fast and secure clearance through the checkpoints.
Premium economy passengers are not afforded entry into any of SIA’s lounges, including the SilverKris Lounge and KrisFlyer Gold Lounge. However, those willing to fork out some cash can opt for the Ambassador Transit Lounge on level 3 of the departure zone. Rates start at S$58.85 (US$41) for five hours of lounge use.
There's plenty to do at Changi Airport
There is also plenty to do at Changi’s newest terminal, including the Butterfly Garden – home to over 1,000 butterflies, Changi Aviation Gallery, and the popular Be a Changi Millionaire kiosks.
Boarding for flight SQ866 was scheduled to commence at 1220 but I only reached Gate A10 at 1250. As is the standard practice across all three terminals at Changi Airport, security screening is located just behind the waiting area of each gate.
Most economy class passengers had already cleared security, and therefore there was barely a queue. I was quickly processed, and entered the waiting area at 1255.
While first and business class passengers are free to board the aircraft at their own convenience, those in premium economy are given priority boarding ahead of passengers in economy class. However, as I arrived at the boarding area fairly late, most passengers had already entered the aircraft. I headed to the plane immediately too.
SIA arrived fairly late into the premium economy market – something that the airline’s executive vice president commercial, Mak Swee Wah, noted was done purposely in order to allow it to study competitors' products.
Premium economy seats
Developed at a cost of US$80 million by long-time SIA collaborator JPA Design and ZIM Flugsitz GmbH, the new premium economy class seat clearly belongs in the same generation of the airline’s latest generation of cabin products launched in 2013 (see here), thanks to several design themes.
"Criss-cross" leather padding resembles design on new first and business seats
This includes the criss-cross shaped padding seen on the backrest and headrest of the premium economy seat, which is also available in SIA’s newest first and business class products. Furthermore, like the seats available in the higher classes, the carrier has also opted for an all-leather design on premium economy.
The use of orange cues provides a striking contrast to the product’s main grey palette, and SIA has clearly recognised this as each seat comes with bright orange pillows that are distinctive and add character to the overall look.
Seat width is one inch narrower than that offered on the A380
In terms of seat dimensions, the width of the product is 18.5 inches, which is an inch narrower than the premium economy seat offered on the A380, which we review here. The reduction is a pity, especially when compared to those offered by competing carriers such as Cathay Pacific (19.3-19.5 inches), China Airlines and Qantas (both 19 inches).
SIA’s product, however, beats the new seat offered by fellow Star Alliance member Lufthansa (18-18.2 inches). My personal experience was a positive one, as I never felt restricted by the seat width. For larger passengers, though, this could be an issue. Seat pitch and recline are identical across both the B777-300ER and A380, at 38 inches and eight inches, respectively.
Seat controls and footrest
Seating amenities include a calf and footrest, with the former adjusted using controls at the armrest. There’s also another button here that controls the seat’s recline.
USB charging port
Business travellers will appreciate the two in-seat USB charging stations, one of which is installed below the IFE system and the other at the side of the seat. Do note, however, that the former provides only enough power to charge smaller devices such as mobile phones. For those looking to charge larger devices, the USB port next to the seat is the one to use.
A personal reading light is located at the side of each seat, and this can be activated at a press of a button. There is also a stainless steel cocktail table as well as several stowage areas available.
The 13.3-inch HD monitor looks great even on a camera
However, the most eye-catching seat amenity has to be the 13.3-inch HD monitor, which SIA bills as “the largest offered in this class”. And it is truly a quality screen. Colour accuracy under most lighting conditions is excellent, and the display is highly resistant to glare, thanks to the high pixel density. With a 720p resolution, the display can even keep up with those offered by powerful notebooks such as the Macbook Air.
Touchscreen IFE handset
The HD monitor is touchscreen, something only available on the airline’s B777-300ER, and later the A350. I found the touch sensors powerful and sensitive to different finger motions such a swipes, press and push. However, a better way of controlling the screen is the attached touch-screen handset – useful to quickly browse through content while watching a film or television show on the main screen. Noise cancelling headphones by Phitek are also provided.
Upon taking my seat at 32H – located along the aisle near the window, I was approached by in-flight supervisor Jenny Lee who welcomed me by name. The flight would be serviced by a team of 16, led by Lee. I was also handed a hot towel – a standard offering available across all cabin classes on SIA. Service remained impeccable throughout the flight.
SIA's safety video is in need of a refresh
Flight SQ866 pushed back at 1320, and the English safety video began playing. While I do appreciate that the video features sign (hand) language for customers hard of hearing, and subtitles, SIA’s safety video looks ancient. A safety announcement in Mandarin soon followed, but this was delivered through the aircraft’s PA system.
We finally took off at 1337, and approached our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet at 1344. Take-off was bumpy, which was likely due to the large amount of haze surrounding Singapore. Once the seatbelt sign was turned off, the cabin crew began carrying out drinks service.
Ernest Rapeneau Champagne
One of the benefits of being seated in premium economy is the free-flow champagne – a concept fairly new to this cabin class. SIA’s wine panel has chosen Ernest Rapeneau Champagne as the designated bubbly for premium economy, which complements the airline’s existing line-up of Taittinger in business class and vintage Dom Perignon and Krug in Suites and first.
The Ernest Rapeneau is a blend of 30 per cent Chardonnay and 70 per cent Pinot Noir that I found to be light and pleasant.
Premium economy menu
Lunch was served at 1430 and while I had already pre-ordered my main course (Nasi Lemak) beforehand through SIA’s “Book the Cook” service, I had a glance at what the standard menu would offer. It included:
- Poached salmon on pasta salad (International selection)
- Oriental style vegetable salad (Oriental selection)
- Pan-fried fish fillet with sautéed vegetable medley, penne pasta and lemon garlic sauce
- Pan-roasted chicken with rosemary sauce served with vegetables and mash potato
- Deep-fried pork with oriental coffee sauce, served with mix vegetables and fried rice
From the Bakery
- Bread roll and butter
- Ben & Jerry’s ice cream
The Nasi Lemak (Malay-style steamed coconut rice with fried chicken, omelette and grilled fish cake) is a local favourite, and I was not disappointed. Thanks to its close partnership with SATs in-flight catering service provider, SIA has traditionally offered very good local cuisine and most of its Book the Cook options are carefully chosen based on popularity and quality.
The Nasi Lemak was accompanied by two small containers – one containing sambal (spicy chilli sauce) and the other, ikan bilis (dried anchovies) with peanuts. Both complemented the main course perfectly.
Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for dessert
While the quality of the poach salmon starter was basically indistinguishable from those that I had previously on economy class, I was impressed that SIA had decided to serve Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for dessert. Unlike the near frozen Haagen-Dazs ice cream that one would receive in coach, I found the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream to be soft and delicious.
While tucking into my lunch, I had the chance to test SIA’s onboard wifi service. Passengers travelling on either the A380 or B77-300ER can choose from either a volume-based (US$9.99 for 10MB) or time-based package (US$11.95 for one hour).
Poor in-flight wifi speeds
The prices alone leave much to be desired, given that many other carriers offer larger data allowances at much cheaper prices. I also found the speeds to be excruciatingly slow. Speedtest measured download bandwidth at only 0.18Mbps, while upload was an equally miserable 0.14Mbps. To compare, I had previously tested the speeds offered on China Airlines’ new B777-300ER (see here), and these were much superior at 3.54Mbps download and 1.01Mbps upload.
With another two hours to go before arrival, I decided to browse through the excellent range of entertainment content afforded by SIA’s Krisworld system. It consisted of 295 movies and over 400 television shows. I was impressed by the number of recent blockbusters on offer, which included the likes of Jurassic World, Ant-Man, and Magic Mike XXL.
Cabin crew of flight SQ866
Descent was announced at 1625, with touchdown expected 30 minutes later. However, due to the heavy traffic at Hong Kong International Airport, this was delayed by about 20 minutes. A final round of water was served prior to landing. We finally touched down at 1715, and approached the arrival gate five minutes later. Disembarking the aircraft was quick, but I chose to remain in the aircraft to snap a few more photos of the new seat.
Overall, another winning product by SIA. A solid product, which, despite the limitations with the seat width, combines with attractive perks and excellent service standards to provide customers with memorable in-flight experiences.
- CONFIGURATION 2-4-2
- SEAT WIDTH 18.5in
- SEAT LENGTH 38in
- SEAT RECLINE 8in
- PRICE The internet rate for a mid-week, flexible return premium economy ticket in mid-October starts from S$969 (US$675), inclusive of taxes and surcharges.
- CONTACT singaporeair.com