Singapore Airlines first launched its Airbus A380 some ten years ago in 2007, on its Singapore-Sydney route. Now with 19 of the aircraft in its fleet, the carrier is returning the oldest five of its superjumbos and adding five brand new ones, each with an entirely new seat product in the first class suite, business class, and economy.
Along with these new seats – and an increase in overall capacity – the main difference is that the premium seats now take up the entire top deck. The six first class suites are at the front followed by the business class cabins. The other two classes are on the lower deck.
Paying homage, one might say, to its initial A380 launch, the airline decided to fly its new superjumbo on its Singapore-Sydney route. This was the new aircraft’s first-ever commercial flight.
I was transiting in Singapore only, having flown in from Hong Kong on Singapore Airlines’ A350 service, SQ861. As such, I’d checked in at Hong Kong International Airport for my Singapore-Sydney SQ221 flight – a process which took about ten minutes, with my bags getting checked through to Sydney.
Travellers have access to the Silverkris lounge in Changi Airport’s Terminal 3, which is divided into business and first class sections. Having connected onto the Sydney flight from SQ861 from Hong Kong, which arrives at 1945 just 55 minutes prior to the departure of SQ221, I opted to head directly to the gate rather than stop off in the lounge.
For a look at Singapore Airlines’ Changi Airport Terminal 3 Silverkris Lounge, read Business Traveller’s review of Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A350 flight from Singapore to Hong Kong.
Arriving into Changi Airport’s Terminal 3 from gate A3, I had a walk of about ten minutes to gate B7, from which SQ221 was taking off. Boarding was swift – note that additional security screening is done at the gate, though this is efficient.
Singapore Airlines has set up a small stage and buffet table for passengers on the inaugural flight, and upon boarding I was gifted a bag containing an amenity kit, a set of drinking glasses and a certificate marking the inaugural flight. Due to my transfer, I arrived at the gate at final call and so headed straight through, getting onto the plane by 2015 ahead of our 2040 scheduled departure.
Fans of Singapore Airlines’ current A380 business class seats – the same as those found on the A350 and retrofitted Boeing 777-300ERs – will find a number of familiar features in the airline’s new seat products.
First and foremost, seats are wide and bulky, residing in large shells and with a futuristic design aesthetic of greys and oranges that feels like you’re in a sporty supercar. Secondly, the majority of seats, while fully flat, have spaces to the side rather than straight forward for your feet to go (bulkhead seats are the exception, extending straight forward).
This follows the airline’s previous product and essentially is designed to better optimize space – the effect of this is that it tends to favour those who sleep on their sides in a slightly more fetal position rather than on their backs. It also means that if you like to work with your legs up facing forwards, this is rather difficult as you have to angle your body diagonally in order to position them on the footrest area.
Unlike its predecessors though, these seats have far more storage space in the form of multiple small comaprtments throughout the seat. The most notable is space below the seat in front of you for carry-on luggage – a welcome addition, and one that rendered the overhead compartments essentially obsolete for me. Space was still plentiful even with these two spaces, and made accessing my devices far easier throughout the flight.
This is a common feature of the seat – at any one point I was able to have a number of devices out but at no point did I feel the seat was becoming cluttered due to the number of spaces to put them. Beside the main three-pin plug and USB outlet is a magazine holder, which is great for storing a laptop, while an elevated platform next to your shoulder has space for sitting a smartphone or tablet while it charges using the second USB outlet.
There’s also an adjustable light and a mirror here. There’s also a slightly more hidden compartment by the screen in case you need yet more space.
There are some downsides to the seat compared to the earlier version, however, most notably its tighter width, which is 25 inches. It is possible to feel this reduced width when lying down compared to the older seat – the new one isn’t cramped, but it lacks the same expansive feel as the fully flat bed of its predecessor. However, the width is helped somewhat by the armrests, which are simply small cushioned flaps that can be stowed, meaning you’re not squeezed in by them when you don’t want to use them.
Seat controls are also easy to use. The table swivels out in a series of three very satisfying “clicks” after pressing the button with the words “push for table” invitingly emblazoned on it in capital letters. The recline and adjustment controls are also straightforward, however are also quite sensitive, and on more than one occasion I found myself inadvertently reclining my chair or summoning a member of the cabin crew because I’d accidentally leant on the buttons.
Which seat to choose?
There are a few options open to business travellers depending on their priorities and preferences. Those who like to sleep lying straight forward ought to aim for the few bulkhead seats that are available (the centre two can also form into a double bed), while those who prefer sleeping on their side will find the rest of the seats preferable.
From a work perspective, the window seats are notably superior. Offering more fixed storage space and fixtures, these seats provide a more “solid” minitature office structure than the centre seats, which are more open and feel slightly more flimsy with features such as an extendable leg rest rather than the window seats’ fixed platform.
In seat 22A, I was perhaps slightly further back in the forward-most business class cabin than would be preferred. A single row separated me from the toilets, so going for a seat between rows 13-20 may be optimal.
The flight was about 30 minutes late in departing, finally taking off at 2110. After being offered sparkling rose wine and a hot flannel, orders were taken for post-take-off drinks. I opted for a gin and tonic, which could’ve done with a kick more gin to it, and travellers looking for a quick night cap may find just the one insufficient.
Food orders followed about 20 minutes into the flight, with a Parma ham and goat milk ricotta appetizer and four main course options – Seared Black Cod ‘A La Nicoise’, Beef Fillet in Mustard-Herb Crust with Red Wine Sauce, North Indian Chicken Biryani, and Wok Fried Seafood in Garlic Ginger Sauce. I opted for the seafood, which was light and refreshing.
With this being a mid-length overnight flight, there isn’t a huge amount of time available to get a full rest, so with that in mind I reclined my seat and tried to squeeze in a few hours of sleep before breakfast, which came about one hour 20 minutes before we landed and comprised fresh fruit, coffee, juice and a croissant.
Despite being more of an “on my back” sleeper, the new seats are still plenty wide and comfortable. While it is possible to go from a seated to a fully flat recline without getting out of your seat, that becomes harder if you want to make full use of the mattress cover, pillow and blanket bedding – I found it easier to simply step up from my seat to equip the seat with the necessary bedding.
We landed at Sydney Airport at 0730, on time despite the 30-minute delayed departure. Premium passengers are given an “Express” pass, which expedites the immigration process in Sydney. Provided you fill out the entry declaration form (without answering “yes” to any of the customs or quarantine questions) and have fewer than two checked bags, you can use these queues. Immigration was swift, taking just over 10 minutes in total, and my bag was already waiting for me at the belt by the time I got through.
This is a thoroughly comfortable seat and one in which Singapore Airlines has emphasized the “business” part of business class. While it may be a slightly tighter squeeze than the older products when it comes to sleeping, the addition of numerous smaller storage spaces makes this an easy environment in which to work.
- Price A return business class ticket in mid-February starts at S$4,360 (US$3,236)
- Configuration 1-2-1
- Seat width 25 inches
- Seat pitch 50 inches (upright); 78 inches (fully flat)
- Seat recline Fully flat
- Departure 2040
- Flight duration 7 hours 55 minutes