BACKGROUND Singapore Airlines has been the pioneer for the A380. The first commercial flight of the superjumbo was in the carrier’s livery from Singapore to Sydney, on October 28 last year, and now its second aircraft has been brought into service on the valuable Singapore-Heathrow route. The inaugural flight landed in London on 18 March, and SIA is now operating a regular daily service between the two countries. Flight SQ322 leaves Singapore at 2320 and lands in Heathrow at 0525, while the return leg SQ317 departs London at 1100 and reaches Singapore at 0740 the next day.
SIA has ordered a total of 19 superjumbos, making it Airbus’s largest customer after Emirates and Qantas, and has also taken delivery of its third A380, which will be used on the Singapore-Tokyo Narita route. Starting from May 20, SIA will operate its third superjumbo on a daily flight (SQ636) leaving Singapore at 2340 and arriving in Tokyo at 0730. The return flight (SQ637) will leave Narita at 1130 and reach Singapore at 1735.
CHECK-IN This was the first flight of the A380 to London but check-in was as swift as it always is at Changi airport and immigration was a matter of seconds. As there was some time before the flight I headed to the Silver Kris lounges. Conveniently located upstairs in the centre of the terminal, the first and business class lounges have a common entrance and a “business centre”, with meeting rooms and a large number of computer terminals (both PCs and Macs).
The business class lounge is large, with a good selection of seating, and is dimly lit and quite restful. There is a large food area and as it was 7am there was a good selection on offer from dim sum, noodles and rice through to omelettes, meat tarts, cereal, pastries and fruit.
The only difficulty I had in the lounge was finding a power socket for my laptop – there was also a problem with the internet connection but I was told this was not a common occurrence.
If you like daylight and you have a gold tier frequent flyer card, then head for the Krisflyer Gold lounge, which is open to the wider terminal with daylight and views of the runway.
BOARDING Security at the gate took less than a minute and priority boarding went ahead on time. There are three entrances from the jet bridge to the plane, two for the lower deck (one for first and one for economy) and one for the upper deck for business and economy. While the plane is big, it’s not as long as a B777-300, so getting from one end to the other does not take that long, and boarding was swift despite the large number of people getting on the plane.
The upper deck of the A380 is much more spacious than that of the B747, thanks to the added width of the plane and the removal of the central overhead lockers in business class. Storage space for your wheeled and larger bags is under the seat in front of you, with further storage to the sides above your head and alongside the window seats (just as on the upper deck of a B747). Once on board, coats were taken and a selection of juices, newspapers, magazines and menus was given out. The plane pulled back on time and was airborne 15 minutes later.
THE SEAT Business class is located on the upper deck and is in a 1-2-1 configuration, giving every passenger aisle access. There are 60 seats in two sections – 18 in the front cabin and 42 in the middle (economy is to the rear). The seat itself is the widest in the air at a staggering 34 inches, which takes some getting used to – you really need to treat it like an armchair at home and slump into it. It has a pitch of 55 inches and is upholstered in brown and camel leather, and can also be found on the airline’s new B777-300ER.
The distance between you and the seat in front is not huge but more than adequate, as when the seat turns into a flatbed you sleep at a diagonal with your feet under the seat in front of you. This short distance also means that it is easy to access all the compartments and switches without stretching. The seat converts by flipping over, and is made very comfortable for sleeping with a mattress cover, duvet and pillow.
The controls are easy to use, with two simple buttons for the recline and leg rest. There are some interesting features, such as reading and ambient lights on both sides of the seat, as well as in the ceiling. The sockets for the noise-cancelling headsets are on both sides, so you can choose which side of the seat you curl up on, and on one side there is also space to hang them up. There is a magazine rack by your right hand in the armrest, along with storage space for a water bottle and other small items.
A height-adjustable table makes working easier and is in good reach of the multi-region power socket in the seat in front, which accepted my adaptor and plug. (You will also find USB and RJ45 sockets here – the latter is for future proofing as SIA hopes to introduce onboard internet connection once the technology becomes available.)
A 15.4-inch high-resolution TV is also installed in the seatback, and there is a small compartment on the right, which is ideal for a wallet or glasses. On the left side is a ledge for a glass and a vanity mirror with light, and there are hooks on both sides for hanging jackets.
The teal-coloured amenity packs, which match the bedding, are basic with just slipper socks and eye masks, but the toilets have most other things you might want, including toothbrushes, combs and razors. Ear plugs are available on request.
THE FLIGHT I had been told that the plane was quiet but I was shocked at just how quiet it was. Conversations several rows away could be clearly heard, so if you’re planning your next surprise takeover make sure you whisper or you could find it’s no longer a surprise.
Breakfast was served about one hour into the flight. A choice of juices, pastries, yoghurt, fruit and cereal, as well Thai-style porridge, hot cakes and omelette provided a more than adequate choice. I opted for the hot cakes with fruit, which was very tasty and not too heavy.
SIA is known for its good choice of beverages and there are seven teas and three different types of coffee bean, which can be served as espresso, cappuccino or with a hint of brandy. The drinks service came round regularly throughout the flight and a range of snacks and drinks was available in the self-service galley.
Satay was served about halfway through the flight, followed shortly afterwards by the main meal. There was a good choice available and I opted for the duck terrine, followed by beef noodles in a pretty spicy pepper sauce. Full, I skipped the dessert and the cheeseboard.
The in-flight entertainment system was simple and easy to use (see box on previous page) and this filled the time between work and sleep. One nice touch is that if you want to know how long there is still to go then you need look no further than your handset, rather than interrupt what you might be doing on the IFE system.
ARRIVAL Despite a couple of circuits in the holding track, the flight arrived early at 1449. There was a wait for the doors to open and a short wait for bags.
PRICE Online return business class fares from London Heathrow to Singapore in mid-May started at £3,170.
VERDICT A superb, quiet plane fitted with fantastic, innovative seats across all classes, and backed up with first class service.
SIA A380 Fact File
Configuration: 471 seats: 60 business class, 399 economy and 12 first class suites.
The suites are all on the lower deck and are fitted in leather and mahogany, with sliding doors and roller blinds. They are being marketed as “a class beyond first” and therefore at a price beyond first – expect to pay about a 25 per cent premium. (A typical online first class return fare from London to Singapore is £6,829.) The seat is 35 inches wide and features a bed measuring 27 inches by 78 inches, with a comfortable mattress, bedding and sleep suits by Givenchy. Other features include a 23-inch LCD TV, a seat for a companion, personal coat closet and good storage. Ferragamo provides the amenity kits.
Expect to pay 10 to 15 per cent more than for the old product. Some discounted tickets are available but not as deeply discounted as those before.
New technology means that the seats themselves are smaller than their predecessors, allowing more space for the passenger – they are 18.6 inches wide. All seats have a footrest, power supply, storage for small items and a 10.6-inch TV. Nice touches are the seatback-mounted handset and reading light under the screen in the seat in front so it is not intrusive. A typical online return economy class fare from London to Singapore is £650.
The system offers more than 1,000 on-demand options and is available in all three classes with high-resolution screens. On my flight there were 108 movies, 184 TV shows, 700 CD albums and audio books, 22 radio channels and 65 games, as well as other features such as live text news, city guides, 23 language learning programmes from Berlitz, and 100 business book summaries. There is also PC software from Star Office which allows you to work by inserting your memory stick into the seat in front of you. There are two USB sockets so you can insert a keyboard or, alternatively, the reverse of the handset includes a Qwerty keyboard, arrows and a mouse in a similar size to that on a Blackberry. It is surprisingly easy to use and you can become quite proficient in a short space of time. You will never be bored on a flight again…
• SQ221 Singapore to Sydney:
departs 2030 arrives 0700+1
• SQ220 Sydney to Singapore:
departs 0850 arrives 1345
• SQ322 Singapore to Heathrow:
departs 2320 arrives 0525+1
• SQ317 Heathrow to Singapore:
departs 1100 arrives 0740+1
• Singapore to Tokyo Narita
• Tokyo Narita to Singapore
• Increased frequency to London expected at the end of year, subject
to aircraft delivery.
The Gulf carrier is by far the biggest customer for the A380, with 58 on order. The first is due to be delivered in August and will be launched on the Dubai-New York route on October 1, followed by London-Dubai in December, and Sydney and Auckland in February 2009. The aircraft on these routes will have 489 seats – 14 in first class, 76 in business and 399 in economy. Other configurations in the A380 fleet will feature a medium-range three-class 517-seater and a medium-range two-class aircraft with 604 seats.
The first aircraft will be delivered in August and are due to be in service in the autumn. There are no details on routes as yet, but Qantas says the aircraft will have a total capacity of 450 passengers. The lower deck will be fitted with 14 first class suites and 332 economy seats (configured 3-4-3), while 72 business seats (2-2-2) and 32 premium economy (2-3-2) will be on the upper deck, along with a business class lounge. (Visit businesstraveller.com’s news section for July 25, 2007.)
Air France will be the first European carrier to operate the A380, with three aircraft due to start operations in spring 2009 on routes to Asia. The airline has ordered 12, which will be delivered at a rate of three a year until spring 2012. It will have 538 seats in three cabins: on the top deck, there will be 80 in business class and 106 in economy, while the bottom deck will have nine in first class and 343 economy.
Fifteen on order and options on five more, with the first delivery expected in August 2009. Lufthansa was rumoured to be considering bunk beds in economy, but this has not been confirmed.
Eight have been ordered, with the first two due to be delivered in 2010, then three in 2011 and the rest in 2012-2013. The A380s will be launched on transpacific routes starting with LA and New York, and moving on to European routes as more are delivered.
Twelve on order, with first delivery due in 2012. There is no decision yet on which routes they will be used on but destinations being considered include Singapore, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, San Francisco, Los Angeles and some Indian destinations.
Qatar Airways Five ordered, delivery 2010.
Virgin Atlantic Six on order, delivery 2013.Thai Airways Six ordered.
Malaysia Airlines Six ordered.
China Southern Five ordered.
Kingfisher Airlines Five ordered.
Etihad Airways Four ordered.
Click here to compare this seating plan with the Emirates A380 configuration.