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Airlines

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

Obsessive observations on SQ’s Premium Economy

I was delighted to fly on SQ’s new premium economy product for the first time on SQ 494 from SIN-DXB. Dario, one of our lovely guestwriters, has already written a full report on the product with plenty of photos, so if you want to see photos, go here.

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In this post I intend to reflect a bit more on the service standards and SOPs I noticed and compare this to those in Economy (Y).

General observations

  • I was wondering whether the cabin would be “protected” in the sense that FAs would have a manifest and know which seats are and are not occupied. I say this because a group of middle eastern men saw it fit to upgrade themselves in an empty row of 4 PY seats. Fortunately the FA was alert to this and chased them away back to Y. I thought that the FAs only really read manifests for J upwards, because of the need to memorise the passengers’ names
  • There are no toilets in the PY cabin (at least on the 77W I flew on), so you have to go through the curtain behind you to use the restrooms in Y
  • During disembarkation, the FAs will seal the curtains in front of the PY cabin (between PY and J) but not the curtains behind the PY cabin (between PY and Y). This means that the passengers from Y will tend to come forward into the PY cabin and crowd the aisles. Quite a few of them pushed to the front of the PY cabin, so priority disembarkation is not part of the SOP for PY
  • The seat is extremely comfortable for lounging. I imagine that when it’s fully reclined with the legrest up, I could decently doze in it. It’s not a replacement for a flat seat, of course
  • The pillows and blankets are a nice upgrade over Y. Perhaps the blanket is the same but the pillows are definitely bigger

Catering

  • The FAs go around before departure with the menu and asking you which option you’d like. This is a nice touch, reminds me of how they take your order personally in J. They have to ask beforehand anyway because  meal service is not from a trolley. The FAs will bring you your meal on a tray individually
  • The main upgrade over Y seems to be in there being 3 choices of meals (as opposed to 2 in economy). Here’s a copy of the menu

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  • There is also a limited BTC menu for PY passengers. I had the  roast chicken rice. It was passable. Note that you also get an additional choice of bread with your meal

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  • The ice cream has also been upgraded. Ben and Jerry’s versus Kit Kat cone in Y

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  • Of course, there is also champagne. The champagne is Ernest Rapeneau, I actually visited the vineyard that makes it when I was in France and it’s not terrible. Not that I know anything about champagne anyway, but it was light and easy to drink. Drinks are unfortunately served in plastic cups and not glassware

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  • The nut mix they serve in PY is the same as in business class (if you recall Y gets peanuts, not cashews and almonds). In business class they serve it in a nice warmed ramekin though

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  • Before landing they served a cold sandwich. No different from in Y. It was terrible

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  • Unlike in business class, there is no snack section in the menu. But if you ask the FAs nicely I’m sure they’ll bring instant noodles and biscuits
  • I find it so funny that SQ felt this important enough to put this in their press release (and even funnier that they starred it and wrote “on medium/long-haul flights), but getting a full bottle of mineral water is apparently an act of extreme generosity that deserves such limelight. So yes, I got a full bottle of mineral water just after meal service. It was the same type of water as they get in J (F gets Evian)
  • The tray table is much bigger than in Y, and even when the idiot infront of you suddenly reclines your laptop screen is safe from crushing

Amenities kit

  • I regret that I threw them away, but the amenities kit is slightly different from Y. How different? Your socks have an anti-slip grip on the bottom. If you’ve gone trampolining before in Singapore you’ll have seen the special socks they sell you so you don’t slip on the canvas. This is somewhat similar, but with a small patch of grip on the bottom. You have no idea what I’m talking about do you. Fine, I’ll get a photo next time

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  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe these are the same brand of headphones they are using in business class. I know First Class has Bose QC15s, but I’m pretty sure they’re using Phitek in J. These were very comfortable and good quality

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  • The new IFE system SQ is using on upgraded aircraft (the one with the touch screen controller) is without a doubt the most buggy and crash-prone system I’ve ever seen. It was common for the system to freeze and self-reset every time I quit a movie. I hope you like seeing this screen

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Random

  • Does anyone else miss the days of coloured boarding passes? One of the SQ beancounters apparently said “Hey, we’re wasting money on coloured printing! Why not change all the Y boarding passes to black and white. Most people who fly Y are anyway so inbred that they’re colorblind, so no one will notice”. PY is not immune from this cost cutting either, as the monochromatic boarding pass below shows

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  • Oh well, at least they’re not resorting to the tissue paper type boarding passes you get from other airlines (although if you use the self check in kiosk at T2 your BP is printed out on tissue paper)
  • You do get priority baggage tags. I don’t think they have special premium economy tags, I got business class tags (although that could have been because of my Star Gold status)
  • The load in the cabin for the SIN-DXB leg was surprisingly poor. In the 28 seater cabin, more than half the seats were empty
  • From DXB-SIN, SQ was selling upgrades at the counter for AED 520 ($200 SGD). This price seemed to be independent of how much you paid for your base Y ticket. I imagine I’d be a bit steamed if I bought a full fare Y ticket and had to pay the same as someone who bought a superdeals fare

So would I pay additional to upgrade to PY if it were my own money? I think on a super long haul flight, yes. Medium haul I can still gut it out in Y, but on a super long haul I think the additional comfort would be well worth it.

Feel free to ask me anything about my PY experience!

 

Major Lifemiles improvement- mixed cabin redemptions

Lifemiles, everyone’s favourite South American FFP, has quietly launched a major improvement to its program.

It used to be that mixed cabin bookings were not possible. That is, your ticket would have to be flown in all First Class, or all Business Class, or all Economy class. This created routing problems. Suppose I wanted to fly First Class from Singapore to Europe. Because SQ does not release first class award space to partners, I’d need to try and book on another carrier that did, eg TG or NH. But getting to that “gateway city” would be a problem because although SQ allows business class partner redemptions on its A330 regional business class flights, Lifemiles would not allow that mixed class booking.

What I can do now is book an award ticket that goes SIN-BKK-FRA (For example), with SIN-BKK on SQ business class in their A330, and BKK-FRA on TG first class in their A380.

Or to show another example visually….

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Prior to the Lifemiles revamp the mixed cabin options shown here would not have been available. (OT: Am I immature for sniggering at Fukuoka’s airport code?)

While this doesn’t change the “cost” of your booking, it certainly opens up more possibilities to include airlines that do not offer First class products  (EVA) into your routings, and should improve the availability situation overall.

Remember that Lifemiles has frequent sales, and I’ll keep posting whenever they come up.

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ANA First Class Suite- thanks to Lifemiles!

Happy routing!