Tried & Tested

Singapore Airlines B747-400 First and Business

1 Sep 2004 by Tom Otley

Outbound in first class

First impressions: Check-in was seamless, a blessing at Terminal 3, which at busy times can be a little hectic. Once through security, the SIA lounges were located by Gate 6. The lounges are undergoing renovation as part of general works at Terminal 3 (until November), but were comfortable, if unspectacular.
There were two computer stations, both occupied, and no wifi access available - but there was the possibility of plugging into the phones for free access. There was good natural light with floor to ceiling windows, great coffee (a feature of SIA, it is also offered on board most flights) and a bar with fast service. Also available were: sandwiches, chicken congee, hot noodles, yoghurts, and plenty of nibbles, as well as drinks, both hot and cold.

Boarding: When it came to boarding, first class and Raffles passengers were supposedly given priority over economy passengers, but we were unable to squeeze past the crowd of economy class passengers, who knew boarding was about to commence but had been told to wait until we arrived. As a result, all three classes stood around, unable to board until general boarding permission was given, at which point we all surged forward. I told a member of staff that I thought it was a shambles. He replied, "That's the problem with an open gate."

The first class seats, or "SkySuites", are arranged as eight single seats and two pairs of double seats (there are partitions between the double seats in case you fall out with your partner, or don't know them). The seats are leather (from Connolly, which also supplies to Rolls-Royce, Ferrari and Jaguar), with burr wood and tinted metal finishes. The interiors were designed by British designer James Park, also responsible for the interiors of the Eastern & Oriental Express, and the colour scheme in the cabin is tan and beige, with hints of light purple in the seat fabric and carpet, and light blue on the cabin sides. It's a pleasant atmosphere, and one conducive to sleep once the lights are dimmed.

The seat: With a seat pitch of 198cm and seat width of 58.4cm, as well as a 58.4cm-wide leg-rest, the SkySuite is among the widest currently available. It can be adjusted to any intermediate position, including the "cradle" position with a 127-degree angle of recline, providing full body support and superior comfort for reading, viewing video entertainment or just relaxing. For sleeping, it can be transformed at the press of a button into a fully reclined bed measuring 193cm by 58.4cm. There's a lumbar air mattress in the cushion to even out gaps in the cushion's contouring, and a duvet and sleeper suit, designed by French fashion house Givenchy, are passed out after take-off.
Nice touches include a special "turn-down" service for flights over seven hours, which saves struggling with the controls (though these are very straightforward), and there's a 35.6cm TV screen. The SIA's in-flight entertainment system, KrisWorld, is excellent (see below), and comes with active noise cancelling headphones. There is a storage space below the cabinet for shoes, a stationery drawer containing writing paper, postcards, envelopes and pens, a sliding table, two side compartments within easy reach for storing books or small items, a small in-seat pocket for storage of valuables, and a laptop power supply at every seat. There is also a Bulgari kit with fragrance, lip balm and a special Bulgari eye-mask. The ladies' set includes a body lotion while the men's set includes an after-shave emulsion and fragrances.

The flight: Food is served on demand, straight from the aircraft galley (replacing the trolley service), along with an outstanding selection of wines. In both first and Raffles class, in addition to over 30 meal variations possible on pre-booking (with religious and medical options), there's the option of pre-booking a meal, known as the "Book the Cook" service, whereby passengers can select their meal from a menu booklet 24 hours before departing from selected destinations, including London. I tried out this service, but unfortunately my request for roast fillet of lamb on lentils with vegetable stew and creamy gratin potatoes somehow became translated into lobster thermidor, so I opted for a standard meal choice from the menu (lamb) and enjoyed the wines (Dom Perignon and Krug were the champagne options).

return in raffles class 

First impressions: Check-in was faultless with no queue, and the SIA Kris Flyer Raffles Class lounge was uncrowded ? unsurprising as it is one of the largest lounges I have ever seen, arranged and lit to retain intimacy while allowing people to have their own space. A wide range of food and drink was available, as well as complimentary internet access.

Boarding: Boarding was on time. Wanting to sleep, I'd chosen the upper floor of Raffles, since I've found it to be slightly quieter, and so it proved. Seating on the 747-400 is 2-2, with 26 on the upper deck and 24 downstairs. Staff were as helpful, polite and smiling as on the outward journey. A meal was served quickly, though those who wanted to linger over it were not hurried, then it was time to sleep.

The seat: The SpaceBed reclines into a 198cm lie-flat bed, 20cm wider than any other business class seat or bed, though I still found that, lying on my back, my arms rested rather uncomfortably on the armrests, and that lying on my side was the most comfortable position.
It's a fully automated seat with electronic leg rests, lumbar support, four-way adjustable head rests (mine was broken) and a personal reading light, though I found this was blocked by my shoulders when working on my laptop (the alternative of the overhead light would have disturbed my sleeping neighbour).
All SpaceBeds are forward-facing with moveable dividers between the seats and a fixed backshell for added privacy, so you don't need to worry about upsetting those sitting directly behind you by fully reclining your seat (as was the case with the old Raffles class, which still exists on shorter routes such as Singapore to Hong Kong).
There's an AC power system built into the seat for laptops, but my adaptor did not fit this one, and the price (S$189, in-flight price; S$214 by mail order) for a TeleAdapt InflightPower in the in-flight catalogue was prohibitive, as was the warning to take out the laptop battery before connecting ? something I would have been wary of trying on a 12-hour flight. The Krisworld in-flight system is common to all three classes and is excellent, with audio-video on demand (40 movies/short features and 50 games) on a personal 26.4cm TV screen.
I'd ordered "Book the Cook" on the return journey as well, but the chicken curry was not good (the meat was so soggy it barely resembled chicken) and I wished I'd stuck with the selection on board.

Verdict: Both products are excellent, and made even better by polite and attentive staff. Raffles class is so good that your business would really have to be doing well to justify the move up to first class. Still, as business class improves across the board, this is a problem all top class airlines face: how to keep clear water between the two. Overall, it's a wonderful way of getting to and from Singapore.

Prices: SIA ( charges £2,542 return for business class and £3,618 return for first class as a promotional fare (until December 1). These fares apply to online bookings (flights booked by phone are slightly more expensive).

Tom Otley

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