BACKGROUND Singapore Airlines is in the process of converting its A340-500 aircraft (used on the ultra long-haul Singapore-LA and New York routes), from a two-class premium economy and business class configuration (total capacity of 183 passengers) to an all-business class layout (100 passengers). The business class product on this flight is the same as that used on the superjumbo A380 (click here for a recent review on the Singapore-London route).
FIRST IMPRESSIONS I had already checked my bags all the way through to Los Angeles at the Singapore Airlines (SIA) desk in Hong Kong for my connecting flight, so I had a few hours to see Changi’s new Terminal 3 for the first time.
The service operates daily: SQ38 leaves Singapore at 1615 and arrives the same day at 1735; SQ37 leaves LAX at 2115 and arrives in Singapore at 0545 two calendar days later. The non-stop flight takes around 16 hours and 20 minutes SIN-LAX, compared to over 18 hours with a Tokyo or Taipei stopover.
After a brief wander around and a quick lunch, I headed for SIA’s spacious SilverKris Lounge. Here I was able to use the wifi connection to send a few emails and still had time to shower and change in the lounge’s big and very impressive washroom. I came out refreshed and suitably clad for the 16-and-a-half-hour flight.
I set off for the gate ahead of the scheduled boarding time in case of any bottlenecks at security, but the stringent checks were carried out swiftly and politely, and I got to the gate before the gate staff had commenced boarding procedures.
BOARDING Boarding itself was a breeze as the plane’s passenger load was extremely light, by my headcount less than 20 percent of the 100-seater all-business class Airbus A345-500. I had also opted to use the online check-in system to choose my seat, number 38K, the starboard window seat at the rear of the plane next to the galley. Flight attendants were on hand immediately to welcome me to my seat, take my jacket, help stow my luggage in the overhead compartments and offer a welcome drink.
THE SEAT The most exciting feature of this A345, of course, was that it was entirely fitted with SIA’s new 76-cm wide business class seats. The mocha and caramel-coloured leather seats are all forward facing, in a 1-2-1 configuration. This means all passengers have direct access to the aisle, without having to step over their sleeping neighbours.
With the seat’s adjustable table, strategically placed reading lights and battery of gadget-friendly accessories, this seat’s capabilities would put many hotel rooms to shame. I particularly liked the unobtrusive and extremely useful additional mini-compartments for spectacles and other personal items.
THE FLIGHT Soon after take off, I delved into the cult New Zealand comedy, Flight of the Conchords, while some tasty satay and other light dishes were served in advance of the main food service.
Our main evening meal starter was a steamed lobster with a balsamic-dressed salad. I chose seared Muscovy duck breast for the main course, followed by some Häagen-Dazs ice-cream and later a cheese and biscuit selection.
As a gadget geek, I was also excited by the promise of the KrisWorld inflight entertainment (IFE) system, which boasts a fabulous range of movies, television shows, multimedia games and the like. I particularly enjoyed the Berlitz Word Traveller system, an interactive language-learning programme offering some fun and practical help in over 20 different languages, ranging from Arabic to Russian.
For those who want to work, the system even offers the possibility to work on business documents using Sun MicroSystem’s StarOffice platform – meaning that provided you bring compatible text, spreadsheet or database files on a USB thumb drive, you don’t even need to use your own computer. Instead, you can use the handset as a keyboard. The system ensures your files are protected from viruses and are saved only on your thumb drive and are not left around for future passengers to view.
With so many travellers bringing their own personal entertainment devices on planes these days, IFEs are having to adapt. The SIA solution is to provide a tremendous array of connections in the form of multiple sockets and jacks, allowing you to connect iPods, computers, digital cameras and the like. I tried both an iPod Touch and iPod Nano and, with a bit of expert assistance from a flight attendant, managed to get both working in a matter of seconds, although I did spot some minor lip-synching issues on some of the files.
Even on this 16-hour flight, there was little chance of becoming bored. While not tiring of these toys, I did need to get some rest and while I admit to sometimes having problems converting seats to flat-beds, the SIA design is straightforward and seemed to work easily enough in a smooth single action. The shape of the bed is such that I found a slightly diagonal posture was most comfortable and slept very soundly for about seven to eight hours. The only noticeable difference was that on such a super long-haul flight, I certainly felt more dehydrated than normal and I woke to ask for more water.
A couple of hours before touchdown, we were offered a light meal, a parma ham with mozzarella and arugula salad to start with and I then chose a Phad Thai for the main course. It was difficult to believe that the 16 hours had passed so quickly.
ARRIVAL We arrived slightly ahead of schedule and proceeded through immigration smoothly. There was a wait of around 20 minutes for our baggage at the carousel.
PRICE Return flights on the all-Business Class flights from Singapore to Los Angeles start at US$7,434.
VERDICT For corporate travellers, this will clearly be the service to beat on the Asia-US West Coast route. SIA’s pretty impeccable service standards are combined with onboard facilities that offer business people a range of business tools and relaxation options, which fit the bill for what is after all the second-longest non-stop commercial flight in the world.