United announces nonstop SIN-SFO service. Should SQ be worried?

Ok, hands up who saw this coming?

CHICAGO, Jan. 28, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — United Airlines today announced that it will introduce daily nonstop flights between its San Francisco International Airport hub and Singapore’s Changi Airport, effective June 1, 2016(westbound), subject to government approval. United will be the first airline to offer nonstop service between San Francisco and Singapore, and this will be the only nonstop service to the U.S. from Singapore.

United will use the world’s most advanced passenger airplane, the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, to operate the service.  Measured by distance, the San FranciscoSingapore service will be the longest scheduled 787 flight operated by any airline and the longest scheduled flight operated by any U.S. carrier, at 8,446 miles.

Full press release here

United will operate their B789 on this route, which is 2-2-2 in business and 3-3-3 in economy. United has something which is laughably called “economy plus”, but it is not a true premium economy product. It is economy seats with a bit more legroom and the same service as economy.

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United BusinessFirst on B789
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United Economy and Economy Plus on B789

SIN-SFO is an important route not just for tourism, but because of all the tech employees based out of Sillicon Valley. More choice is always good, but it’s hard to see this as anything other than a direct challenge to SQ. It’s no secret that SQ and UA don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, for example UA deciding to remove SQ award space from its website. But what does this mean for SQ?

Implications for SQ

Product Competitiveness

It’s clear that United’s hard and soft product, even on the latest B789, is no match for SQ. This is all the more so given SQ has upgraded SQ1/2 to the latest cabin products.

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SQ’s seats are lie-flat, 1-2-1. UA operates lie-flat 2-2-2. But just look at the stark difference in privacy and personal space. SQ’s business class product is even better than UA’s first (which isn’t going to be offered on the SIN-SFO route but anyway). Fancy climbing over your seatmate ever time you want to use the loo on a long haul flight? Me neither. Hard product wise, no match whatsoever.

In economy, both SQ and UA operate 3-3-3 configurations, but whereas UA offers 32 inches of pitch (35 inches in Economy +) and 17 inches of width, SQ offers 32 inches of pitch and 19 inches of width. And yes, you’re going to feel those 2 inches of difference on a long haul red-eye.

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SQ Economy
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United Economy

Also worth noting is that SQ16 offers SQ’s premium economy product, which would make a world of difference for budget-minded travelers on such a long route.

Where soft product is concerned, as per Flyertalk, this route will be staffed by FA’s formerly from Continental Airlines (CO). Why does that matter? Because CO FA’s are known to be much better than United’s. I think the difference is less stark on international routes, where the crew is more international, but anyone who has endured the pain of a UA domestic flight will surely be relieved there won’t be grumpy unionized old women screaming at you to clear the aisle.

Timings

Timings wise, SQ currently operates 2 daily flights to SFO

SQ2- Depart SIN 1830, Arrive SFO 1940/ SQ1- Depart SFO 0005, Arrive SIN 1200 (17/20 hours)

SQ16- Depart SIN 0925, Arrive SFO 1125/ SQ15- Depart SFO 1255, Arrive SIN 0110 (18/20 hours)

UA proposes the following

UA2- Depart SIN 0845, Arrive SFO 0915/ UA1- Depart SFO 2325, Arrive SIN 0645 (15.5/16.5 hours)

(Some part of me wonders if numbering the flights UA1/2 is a direct challenge to SQ given their similar nomenclature)

From a time point of view, there’s a good 2 hours saved from SIN-SFO and 3.5 hours saved SFO-SIN. That might not mean much for the leisure traveler but methinks the time-conscious Silicon valley set will spring for every hour saved.

And United’s timings are more attractive (at least eastbound)- you can leave SFO at night and arrive in SIN ready for the work day. Or you can arrive back in SFO ready to start work. SQ2, on the other hand, lets you have a full day of work when you leave but requires an overnight when you first land in SFO.

Price

UA has already loaded prices for the non-stop route and some interesting trends are coming up

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As per Kayak, SQ prices out at ~$1.7K but there is currently an ongoing DBS-SQ promotion where if you book 120 days out you can go for as little as $1,348. So the 2 are pretty much on par for economy, although I’d say that if you’re not able to plan your travel 120 days in advance then UA is cheaper.

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But when it comes to business, UA charges a premium over SQ. And in many ways, this makes sense. This route is clearly aimed at those with corporate travel accounts who want to save those 2-3 hours.

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The other interesting angle here is redemption options. Thanks to Lifemiles, you can redeem SIN-SFO round trip business class for 156,000 miles. Assuming you were able to buy miles at 1.4 cents during the last sale, that prices out at $2,184 USD or S$3,106, which is what you’d pay for an SQ premium economy ticket on the same route fyi.

SQ hardly ever opens up long haul premium cabin space to partners, so if nothing else this adds another useful option when routing to the West Coast. That said, if you’re looking for a better experience you should totally try out EVA (stopover in TPE) or ANA (stopover in NRT), who also regularly release availability on the SIN-SFO route to SFO. EVA gives out Rimowa amenities kits, which are always fun to collect.

Conclusion

From a product quality angle, this fight is so one-sided it is laughable. The fact is, no American airline has the product firepower needed to take on SQ. If they had the quality of an ANA, an EVA, even an Etihad, then yes, there’d be grounds for worry, but the fact is that premium customers paying top dollar are never going to accept 2-2-2 in transpacific business class in this day and age.

So this becomes a timing game. And here’s where the threat is- a non-stop flight is always going to be the businessman’s preferred choice. If I’m fairly certain I’m just going to sleep most of the flight and have a small meal, then I’d be fairly indifferent to SQ/UA, maybe even going for UA if the schedule works out better for me. Whether or not this route is successfully financially depends on whether the business folk view a 2-3 hour time saving as significant enough to put up with an inferior product.

If it were up to me? SQ, definitely. Although I would like one of those United ice cream sundaes

sundae

Is anyone planning to hop on this route?

cover photo by ericsalard

4 thoughts on “United announces nonstop SIN-SFO service. Should SQ be worried?”

  1. Lifemiles doesn’t have it in the system yet. Unless I’m not looking correctly? Not too sure if they released award space on the inaugural.

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