Category Archives: Trip reports

On the road again to Rio: A review of SQ’s new business class

On the road again to Rio: Introduction
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-FRA
Lufthansa Premium Economy FRA-GIG
Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Lufthansa Premium Economy GIG-FRA
Singapore Airlines Business Class FRA-SIN


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My trip to Rio was broken up into 2 legs- the first a 13 hour flight to Frankfurt, the second a 12 hour flight to Rio. For the first leg, I had managed to upgrade my premium economy ticket to business (as per SQ’s new upgrade policy, upgrades to business are only possible from premium economy, unless said aircraft does not offer premium economy). For the second, absolutely no space had opened up in business class so it looked like I’d be front loading my champagne intake…

The T3 SilverKris lounge was deserted when I got there, because amazing people would rather choose to visit relatives on the 2nd day of CNY than fly off to exotic locales. There were a few special items for CNY on the buffet spread, so I helped myself to some fishball noodles (probably the best fishball noodles you’d find in public that day) and made myself at home infront of one of the festive plants.

There’s been some redecorations done around the lounge ever since the Rio Olympics with SQ looking to milk every bit of its involvement

Oh hai Joseph Schooling call me maybe.

I’ve written before about the static displays that SQ is setting up in its lounge to partner with advertisers. I know that some people find these tacky but I’m fine with them insofar as they give guests the chance to try some new product or service. I mean, this was way better than the inoperable clothes steaming closet SQ had in its T2 lounge the last time I flew that was just standing there taking up space

Boarding started on time and I was one of the first to board. There was time to snap a quick photo of 9V-SWB.

9V-SWB, of course, has SQ’s latest cabin products including the 2015 Premium Economy seat and the 2013 Business Class seat. You can always refer to this thread on SQTalk that details which cabin configuration each of SQ’s aircraft have.

SQ has 48 flatbed seats in business class on this configuration of the 77W, in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Note that unlike the older 77Ws (without PY), there isn’t any mini cabin at the front anymore. I mean, there is, but it’s now 12 people instead of 8.

new configuration, front “mini” cabin
old configuration, front “mini” cabin

I arrived at my seat, 18K, only to see this sticker placed on the seat. I asked a cabin attendant about it and she removed it and relocated it one seat behind. In any case, the cabin that day would be more than half empty so seating wasn’t exactly at a premium.

The 2013 Business Class seat is an incremental evolution, rather than revolution, of the 2006 seat that came before it. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the 2006 seat was truly ahead of its time when it first debuted.

Aesthetically, the seat is a beauty to behold. The finishings are classy and elegant, unlike Emirate’s ridiculously OTT bling. I love the neutral tones of the upholstery. You can really see JPA’s design philosophy behind this seat.

There’s plenty of storage space in the seat

To me, the best feature about the cabin is the amount of privacy it affords.  Compare the SQ seat to business class cabins you’ll see in other airlines-

Lufthansa
Image result for swiss business class
Swiss
Image result for turkish airlines business class
Turkish Airlines

With other airlines, you feel very exposed. You can stand up and see practically everyone else in the cabin. Turn to your left and you see your seatmate in all his/her dehydrated glory. Walk down the aisle and you’ll see your cabin mates prone in their seats sleeping.

Not so with SQ’s design. Stand up, and all you can see is the high walls of every other business class seat. Lie down, and it’s like you’re the only person on the plane. When moving up and down the cabin you can’t really see other passengers sleeping unless you make an effort to lean into their suite. It’s incredible, and more akin to what you’d expect in first class than business.

Even if you snag one of the 2 seats in the middle, you’ve got excellent privacy from your neighbour. I think SQ expanded the privacy divider in the 2013 seat because when it’s extended you’d have to lean very far forward to see the person next to you.

For people like me who are deathly afraid of eye contact with strangers, this seat is a godsend.

Seat controls are on the panel next to the aisle. The seat design still isn’t one for reclining- you’d be better off flipping it into bed mode.

An oversized pillow is provided at each seat, with one more for sleeping located behind the seat (in the nook where you unlatch the seat and flip it over into a bed)

As expected, each seat had the usual assortment of connections, chargers and in-seat power.

And SQ’s high quality Phitek noise cancelling headphones were available too (I’ve noticed on some J routes they’re using the older cup around ear non Phitek design)

The crew came around with pre-departure beverages. I read, with much amusement, this entire thread on Flyertalk complaining about how SQ was stiffing customers by doing smaller and smaller pours of pre-departure champagne. I guess my glass was slightly less than half full, but I never knew why that’d be an issue. I mean, it’s not like Oliver Twist right?

The captain came on the PA to announce the flight time of just under 13 hours. We pushed back on time and taxied to the runway. Unfortunately there weren’t any exotic airlines to spot en route.

After takeoff, the crew started taking meal orders. I took out my tray in anticipation, only to find this-

There was some disgusting sticky residue on the latch for the table and inside the area where it was stored. It immediately awoke the hypochondriac in me, because if they missed cleaning that, did they even bother to clean the rest of the table?

I moved across the aisle to the seat in the middle and checked the table, where I found this.

I wasn’t in the mood to change tables again, so I called the crew over. They cleaned up the table as best they could and promised they’d report it to the ground staff. I’d just pass it off as no one really wanting to work during CNY.

The crew served drinks and warm nuts before the meal started. SQ is still serving Charles Heidsieck champagne in business class.

SQ had a special CNY menu for the February period

There would be two meals served on this flight- lunch would be served after takeoff, and dinner before landing in Frankfurt.

Normally these meal services start with satay, then a salad type dish, then the main, then dessert. Today, however, I realised there was no satay service, and wondered if it had anything to do with the caterer running a tighter ship manpower-wise during CNY.

There was a passable rendition of yusheng served. Unfortunately no chopsticks were provided so I couldn’t see how high in the cabin it was wise/prudent to toss the contents.

For  the main, I ordered the steamed cod fish Thai style, a dish I really enjoyed on my SIN-BKK flight a few months ago

Steamed Cod Fish Thai Style

A traditional dish of cod steamed with spicy lime sauce, served with shredded white cabbage, carrot julienne, Chinese sliced celery, fried garlic and steamed rice

However, the minute it came I knew the caterer had goofed up the order. This is what I got-

And this is what the dish should be.

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What I was served instead was the Chinese Style Cod with Fried Rice (Served with seasonal oriental vegetables, Chinese black mushrooms and egg fried rice. Designed by Singapore Airlines International Culinary Panel Chef Zhu Jun). I know because I had the exact same dish on a different flight.

I mean, the cod was still excellent, but I was confused as to how the order got messed up. I would imagine all these things are automated behind the scene and each dish has a unique ID tag. It’s not like someone telling the chef- “prepare a cod dish” and the chef is confused because he doesn’t know which one. It’s more like a manifest is printed with the exact ID number of the dish to be made, and some alert should go out if the wrong dish is loaded. That at least would make sense to me.

I really didn’t fancy any of the dessert options on offer so I asked if the crew could get me some ice cream from economy class. I do remember when SQ used to serve Haagen Daz in economy class…

The fruit cart came by and I helped myself to some grapes and melon. Pralines were also offered.

Bottles of water were distributed after meal service as most passengers prepared for a nap.

Not me, though. I had work to do. And so I connected to the Wifi in the plane, only to discover to my horror it was the dreaded OnAir and not the T-Mobile Wifi.

OnAir charges based on volume, unlike the T-Mobile hotspot passes which are based on time.

The basic plan starts at US$7 for 15MB, but seriously, what is 15MB. I think the typical Milelion trip report is probably larger than that.

So I went with the pro at US$20 for 50MB. Which I needed to renew 3 times during the course of my 4 hour working session. SQ’s OnAir Wifi offerings are simply not competitive with other airlines, and it needs to fix that asap. Volume-based Wifi is unnecessarily punitive towards customers

It was now well past the midway point of the flight. I don’t think SQ’s snack menu is particularly great (it’s basically variations on instant noodles plated nicely), so didn’t request for anything mid-flight. Had I opted to, I could have chosen from the following

Instead of ordering, I wandered to the galley to check out the snack basket. And I’m glad I did, because that’s where I met Gerard.

Gerard was the chief steward on the flight that day. I sympathized with him for having to work on CNY, a sentiment he reciprocated for me.

I soon found out that he was an SQ veteran, with 18 years of flying experience under his belt (I guessed 5 years, flattering him immensely). To put things in perspective, he was here even before the Big Top and Mega Top days- he was rated on the A310, an aircraft that disappeared from SQ’s fleet around 2001.

Image result for a310 singapore airlines

Here’s the only interior photo of SQ’s A310 cabin I can find.

Image result for a310 singapore airlines

Anyway I had a great time geeking out about all things aviation with Gerard. We talked about the impending launch of SQ’s new cabin products, about the older SQ fleet, about pretty much everything SQ related.  He had such a passion about him for making passengers happy, and I guess you really need to have that to stay in a job that requires you to be away from home 2/3rds of the month for 18 years. After a lovely chat, he loaded me with SQ paraphernalia  (playing cards, postcards and two more bears for my collection) and suggested I catch some rest before slumming it in PY for the next leg.

I went back to my seat and made the bed for a nap. The new business class seat mirrors the 2006 version in that you need to flip it over to convert it into a bed. I personally prefer a seat that allows you to select exactly what angle you want to recline at, but there’s nothing wrong with SQ’s execution either.

I find the padding on the 2013 version of the business class seat slightly better than the 2006. However, if you have large feet, you might find the cubbyhole where your legs go a bit cramped. If you fall into that category you might want to consider one of the bulkhead seats where you can lie straight, rather than at an angle

The crew woke us up 3 hours before landing for dinner. Personally I thought they’d have let everyone maximise their rest and start proceedings 2 hours before, but I wasn’t really sleeping much anyway. According to Gerard, it’s the prerogative of the inflight supervisor when to start meal services. If they’re getting a lot of requests from passengers for snacks, they’ll assume it means people are hungry and shift the service up a bit.

The second meal was termed “light dinner”, although it didn’t look any different from the regular dinner service SQ does on long haul routes.

It’s kind of funny because you can really see the caterer trying to simplify the menu for the festive period. The starter was a trilogy of salmon, featuring smoked and poached salmon (plus one other indeterminable style). The smoked salmon was the base ingredient used in the yusheng starter. Indeed, for quite a few of the meals you could see repeats of ingredients used elsewhere- the lounge was serving fishball noodles, and sure enough that was one of the items on the lunch menu.

There were no mistakes with the BTC this time- I got my chargrilled soya beef. I keep saying I’m swearing off airline beef for good, but keep coming back believing that this time’s the time my luck changes.

I wouldn’t say it was the best beef I ever had on a plane, but it was at least still moist and juicy, as this cross section shows.

I did opt for the dessert this time, having a rather excellent chocolate cheesecake.

By the time the meal was over it was time to prep for arrival. I remembered that I absolutely needed to take a photo with Gerard. Before that, however, he insisted that I take one with his crew. Who was I to refuse this request?

And so it was that this photo came into being.

And at this moment it dawned on me, that I had not elected for the life of a ruffian, but instead the life of a ruffian did choose me.

Once Gerard took the first photo, I insisted he join for the second. And because I felt awkward sitting down like some sort of dowager, I decided to get up.

“I stand up for SQ girls”, I said, before realising that came out wrong.

SQ326 landed on time in FRA, and although I was dreading the next 12 hours, I did feel well rested enough to take them on.

Although there were some issues with the catering and cleanliness of the aircraft, Gerard and his amazing crew more than made up for it. Unfortunately, the quality of SQ crew is becoming more hit and miss now (I’ve been on other J flights where crew don’t do basic things like memorizing passenger names), but this crew was exceptional. And I’m not saying that just because 4 pretty stewardesses agreed to take a photo with a balding guy.

It’s thinning. Not balding.

On the road again to Rio: Introduction

On the road again to Rio: Introduction
Singapore Airlines Business Class SIN-FRA
Lufthansa Premium Economy FRA-GIG
Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel & Resort
Lufthansa Premium Economy GIG-FRA
Singapore Airlines Business Class FRA-SIN


I’ve often told friends that I probably have the best job in the world and the worst job in the world. On the one hand, it gives me the opportunity to do crazy RTW J trips. On the other, it finds me at Changi Airport Terminal 3 on the second day of CNY, about to embark on more than 25 hours of flying to Rio.

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I couldn’t tell you the reasons work requires me to be in Rio without divulging confidential information. I can, however, assure you that it has nothing to do with Carnival and/or the Copacabana.

Image result for rio carnival

Rio could not possibly be any further away from Singapore. People talk about the Kangaroo route from London to Sydney as one of the longest in the world- but you could easily do that in 21 hours 40 mins, with one connection in Singapore. The shortest possible flight from Singapore to Rio would take you 27 hours. Let that sink in for a while (of course you should factor in connecting time, but even if you talk pure time in the air, SIN-GIG clocks in at around 25 hours)

Now, company policy allows for premium economy travel on flights 6 hours or more. The logical solution would be to fly with Lufthansa from SIN-FRA-GIG (with SIN-FRA a codeshare with SQ) and try to upgrade the tickets with miles.

IMG_20160123_144830

I mean, SQ has a great premium economy product, but even the best premium economy can’t beat the worst business class (well…maybe I’d pass on Air India…). Fortunately, I managed to get my upgrade to clear, and for 38,000 miles, swapped that for this.

Image result for singapore airlines business class

Although I’ve flown it many times, I realise I’ve not actually reviewed SQ’s 2013 Business Class seat. I’m sure you can find plenty of reports out there on the product (Mark over at The Shutterwhale has a great piece on the product, plus much better photos than I could ever hope to take), but nonetheless for completeness sake I will pen one of my own.

Unfortunately, the powers that be have not opened up award space on LH500, FRA-GIG, so it looks like I will have the distinct honor of writing a PY trip report for LH (from a middle seat, no less!)

Image result for lufthansa premium economy

Image result for lufthansa premium economy

Once in Rio, I’ll be kickstarting my 2016 Starwood Platinum requalification (and the final leg of my shot at SPG Lifetime Gold!) with 3 weeks at the Sheraton Rio. I’ll be mindful to take advantage of SPG’s Q1 2017 promo which will give me double the points.

Image result for sheraton grand rio

Image result for sheraton grand rio

I realise the resort looks like some sort of holiday chalet, but believe me when I say it is highly unlikely that any member of my team is going to see natural light for the duration of the 3 weeks. That said, it’s located right on the Copacabana beach, and I have half a mind to bring my laptop there to work, get mugged and thereby be tragically unable to do work while I’m there. I can only hope my bosses do not read The Milelion.

Other highlights will be doing a review of the spanking new Star Alliance lounge in Rio. As of right now, there are a grand total of 6 Star Alliance lounges currently open worldwide, and Rio is the latest addition.

photo credit: Ausbt

So here I am, finishing this article up in the car on the way to the airport. I should be very interested to see if the Silver Kris lounge has any special CNY items, and which poor stewardesses have been arrowed to work CNY. I shall share my commiserations with them in a socially appropriate manner.

Oh, I’m also missing the Australian Open Final. Let’s see if SQ’s onboard Wifi can support streaming.

Stay tuned and Happy New Year!

Via Istanbul: Turkish Airlines Lounge Istanbul


After arriving in IST from KUL I was pretty excited and rearing to check out the (allegedly) best business class lounge in the world.

As it turned out, though, it took quite some time to clear security – even the dedicated priority line for business class passengers took some time to clear. Eventually, I’d finally made it to the promised land.

Lounge Istanbul entrance

The reports were true. The lounge is sprawling, and it offers a really unique stopover experience.

Architecture

I particularly liked the architecture, which manages to give the lounge a distinctively Turkish taste.

turkish istanbul business lounge

Lounge Istanbul

Lounge Istanbul carts

Lounge Istanbul centrepiece

The facilities ranged from a baggage deposit area near the entrance (which was totally full so we ended up not being able to use it)…

Lounge Istanbul baggage area

Entertainment

…to a myriad of entertainment options…

Lounge Istanbul billiards table
Billiards table

Lounge Istanbul TV wall
TV wall with wireless headsets

Lounge Istanbul cinema
Cinema with popcorn machine

Lounge Istanbul console gaming
Console gaming stations (I believe this was the PS4)

Lounge Istanbul RC cars
Remote control racing

Lounge Istanbul golf simulator
Golf simulator

Lounge Istanbul play area
Children’s play area

Food

…to about a bazillion options for filling your stomach.

Lounge Istanbul salad bar
Salad bar

Lounge Istanbul sesame bagels
Turkish sesame bagels

Lounge Istanbul butter
Fancy butter

Lounge Istanbul fruits
The healthful dessert option

Lounge Istanbul desserts
The less healthful dessert option

Lounge Istanbul Turkish desserts
Turkish desserts

Lounge Istanbul bakery
From the bakery

Lounge Istanbul hot food
Hot food, freshly prepared

Beverages

Plenty of options for quenching your thirst, too.

Lounge Istanbul drinks station
The non-alcoholic variety

Lounge Istanbul alcoholic drinks
The alcoholic variety

Lounge Istanbul tea station
One of many tea stations

Lounge Istanbul tea selection
Offering a wide range of selections of tea

Conclusion

All in all, I would say that Turkish Airlines’s Lounge Istanbul really does live up to its reputation. If there’s anything I’d complain about, it’s that WiFi speeds were nearly unusable while I was there – I guess there were just too many people logged into their network. I only really had about an hour there each time I passed through Istanbul, so I didn’t actually get to try most of the things on offer, but even sampling what I did and visually taking everything in was an experience in itself.

I probably wouldn’t deliberately go out of the way to visit it again anytime soon, but if I happened to be flying in that direction? I might just try to make it happen…


Louis believes he caught the premium travel bug after attaining KrisFlyer Elite Gold and occasionally being upgraded while shuttling between the UK, Singapore and Japan (in economy class). These travels have led to a wonderful marriage, as well as a burning desire to maximise his frequency of travel in business class or better.

He travels with a gryphon plush toy, Griffles, which often stands in for him in vacation photos. Griffles continues to amuse (and confuse) air stewardesses, hotel staff and just about everybody else, all around the world.