Tried & Tested

Singapore Airlines A380 business class

6 Oct 2008 by Mark Caswell

First impressions I arrived at Changi’s Terminal 3 at 1115 for my 1245 departure on flight SQ318 to London. Singapore Airlines (SIA) has recently taken delivery of its fifth A380 aircraft, enabling it to serve the London-Singapore route twice daily with the superjumbo (SQ318 and SQ322) leaving Singapore at 1245 and 2330 respectively. I had checked in online, but had been unable to print out a boarding pass, so went to the business class check-in in Zone 6, where I was served immediately by one of half a dozen attendants. From here, I went through passport check and on to the carrier’s business class lounge.

The lounge SIA’s Krisflyer lounges are located up a set of escalators on the left-hand side after passport checks. The Silverkris lounge is a large space, with plenty of seating areas, a self-service dining area (with a good selection of Asian dishes, sandwiches, soft and alcoholic beverages, tea and coffee etc.) There is free wifi access throughout the lounge, a business centre with around 25 computer terminals, as well as desks to plug in laptops for wired access, several phone booths, and a small meeting room.

There are several large flatscreen TVs in the lounge, which were showing a mixture of sports and news channels. Washroom facilities include showers and a selection of amenities including toothbrushes and mouthwash. There are several departure boards, and announcements are not made, so you need to keep an eye on them.

Boarding Gates A1-8 are effectively underneath the SIA lounges. When I arrived, the queues were fairly large for security scans, but they passed pretty quickly (laptops out, shoes stayed on). At 1215, the gate was still showing a 1245 departure, but shortly after this a SIA employee advised passengers that the flight would be delayed until 1400 due to a “technical issue”, and premium passengers were invited back to the lounge. This highlights a problem with having the security checks at the gates rather than before duty-free, as it meant that when returning to the gate I had to queue up again to scan my luggage at around 1330.

I boarded via the upper deck, and turned right from the entrance to find my seat 23A. As the numbers are printed on the sides of the seats themselves, it was catching a lot of people out (myself included), as it seems we are all conditioned to look for the numbers on the overhead bins.

Newspapers, magazines and drinks were offered, and the order for my post take-off drink was also taken. Business class passengers do not receive an amenity kit, but “slipper socks” and eye masks are given out, and other amenities (toothbrush, shaving kit, moisturiser etc) are available in the business class toilets. The captain apologised for the delay to the flight (caused by a part needing to be replaced in the auxiliary power unit) and we took off at 1435.

The seat SIA’s new fully-flat business class seat was introduced on its B777-300ER aircraft back in spring 2007, and is now standard on its A380 fleet. Configuration is 1-2-1, as opposed to 2-2-2 on Qantas’s superjumbo, and SIA has gone with its business class section at the front of the upper deck, as well as a small economy section at the back, while Qantas has business and premium economy upstairs, and Emirates has business and first.

SIA has created a pretty innovative seat, which is incredibly wide at 34 inches. It certainly gives the passenger a feeling of space, but in reality it has been created with the sleeping position in mind. SIA has effectively reduced the length so as to get more rows in, but created a very wide seat which, when stretched out flat, connects with a ledge in one corner and creates a fully-flat bed 76 inches in length along the diagonal. That’s still shorter than both the Emirates (70/79 inches) and Qantas (an impressive 80 inches), but the extra width lends itself favourably to those who sleep on their side in a slightly curled-up position.

SIA has gone back to basics in terms of the mechanics of the seating – it reclines electronically, but there are no massage, or lumbar support options, and it converts manually to a bed by flipping over the seat back to connect with the ledge. As with Virgin’s business class product, this means you have to get out of the bed to convert it, but I didn’t really see that as an issue.

Krisworld, SIA’s in-flight entertainment system, has an impressive range of on-demand movies, TV and music options (as do rivals Emirates and Qantas on their A380s). There is also the option to plug in a memory stick and work on documents compatible with Word, Excel and Powerpoint through the 15.4-inch TV screen, although to be honest I would expect most business class passengers to be using a laptop as I was, particularly as there is seat power available.

Perhaps the USB option is more useful for economy passengers, where the same system is available. The TV is controlled by a wired handset (no TV touchscreen control), and is embedded into the back of the seat in front. Noise-cancelling headphones can be plugged into sockets on either the right or left of the headrest, and there are also reading lights on either side, plus one above your head.

To the left of the TV is another small storage space, as well as the power point, and two USB sockets, while to the right is a flip-down vanity mirror, and a drinks shelf.

Other features of the seat include a good-size sturdy table which pops up from the armrest, and which can be moved from side to side, forward and back, and even up and down depending on the person and what you are doing. There is a space under the seat in front for shoes or bags, a couple of small in-arm storage spaces, and a magazine rack, but this is pretty much it unless you are in a window seat which has the extra storage bins under the windows. These are particularly useful for those carrying laptops, as there really isn’t anywhere else convenient to put them, unlike the Qantas A380 business class seat, which has a stretchable pouch on the seat in front to take a laptop.

Which seat to choose? The 1-2-1 layout of business class means all passengers have aisle access, so fans of the window seat will not find themselves blocked by someone sleeping beside them. Even with a slide-out divider, the middle seats are certainly less private than the singles to the side, so depending on whether you are travelling alone or with a partner or colleague, your choice will be dictated by factors such as this, as will your need for extra storage space in the form of the window storage bins.

Business class on the A380 is split across two sections, one to the left of the entrance and one to the right. To the right (and starting at the back of the business class section moving forwards) there are ten rows of 1-2-1, with two outer seats at the front of this cabin. Passengers to the back will find themselves close to the toilets (behind which are curtains and then the economy cabin), but further away from the galley and self-service bar. All seats are essentially identical, with the exception of the front row, which has a wider ledge on to which the seat attaches to form the bed (because it doesn’t have to terminate where the seat in front begins, but no extra storage space for shoes (because this would normally be under the seat in front).

Past the galley and bar area is a smaller business class section, consisting of two middle seats in the first row, followed by four rows of 1-2-1. This makes a total of 18 seats in this cabin (as opposed to 42 in the main section), so slightly more privacy, but the trade-off is that passengers are sandwiched between the toilets and staircase at the front, and the galley and bar area behind. Again, the front row has slightly different seats, but in this case the layout of the aircraft means that the two side seats have a smaller seat ledge, no shoe storage space, and a smaller TV “dashboard”.

Taking all of the above into consideration, my personal choice would be to opt for a window seat, somewhere in the middle of the main business class section, which is pretty much exactly where I ended up ­– in 23A.

The flight Once the seatbelt signs had been switched off, my drink arrived, and the lunchtime food order was taken. SIA has employed an “international culinary panel” (with chefs such as Gordon Ramsay) to create its business class menu, and on this flight I was offered chicken and lamb satay as “prelude”, followed by a starter of seared tuna with a citrus vinaigrette. For my main course, I opted for a spicy prawn and chicken phad Thai (other choices included herb-crusted lamb loin, created by Australian chef Matthew Moran, and Hainanese pork chop). For dessert there was a mango and passion fruit sorbet, as well as an Australian cheese selection, and a choice of fresh fruit.

I watched recent release The Happening (by Sixth Sense director M Night Shyamalan) and a couple of TV programmes, occasionally popping to the self-service bar for snacks, before doing some work. Passengers can also order from a snack menu as and when they want to, with choices including prawn noodles and smoked salmon sandwiches.

This was a day flight so I didn’t want to sleep, but I tried converting the bed and lying down for a bit (a blanket and large pillow are stored behind the seat back). I am six foot and I couldn’t really stretch out flat, but lying on my side with my legs bent a little was pretty comfortable, and there is definitely a feeling of space (in terms of width), that you don’t get with other business class products.

Around two hours before arrival, a “light meal menu” was served, with tandoori-style prawns to start, and a choice of dim sum, saffron fettuccine pasta, or a roti prata, a delicious Singaporean dish of chicken and potato curry with fried Indian flat bread.

Arrival We arrived around an hour late due to the delay in taking off, and were quickly disembarked. I was ready to use my fast track arrivals pass at immigration, but ironically the queue for this was longer than the normal lanes, so I passed through as an economy passenger.

Verdict This is an excellent business class product, which feels solid and well made, from the seat itself to the pull-out table. It’s also separates SIA from other carriers offering the classic fixed-shell fully-flat seat. Particularly tall people might grumble at the bed length, but that and the lack of storage for middle-seat customers aside, SIA has created an above-par premium offering.

Price Return business class fares from London to Singapore with a Saturday-night stay in October started from £3,205 online.


Mark Caswell

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