I’d planned to spend about half my trip up in Northern England, but ultimately I did want to swing by London during my trip to the UK, so I’d booked advance tickets from York to London – those are the non-changeable/refundable tickets that usually go on sale about 12-24 weeks before date of travel. I was lucky enough to snag them at £14 each, as opposed to the £80ish or so you might expect to pay if purchased on the spot. Even among advance tickets the pricing is rather variable – I’m guessing that prices are tiered according to how many advance tickets have already been sold on that particular train.
(I find that it’s pretty safe purchasing advance tickets for a mid-trip journey – I’d tried the same thing with my train from Manchester Airport but ended up buying on the spot anyway. Since plane arrival times are less certain, I think it might be better to stick to a flexible ticket for arrival connections.)
Anyhow, as mentioned in previously, a week before the day of travel I received an email offering me the chance to upgrade to first class for the cool price of £15. I’m not entirely sure how I got the offer – it seems that Virgin Trains East Coast has a First Class weekend upgrade offer, but since I was travelling on a weekday I guess it might just have been a routine targeted offer to up-sell unused inventory?
If so, it was pretty effective, since I decided to bite the bullet pretty quickly. £29 for a £140ish value experience? Sign me up! (Side note – I find train tickets hard to valuate precisely due to the many pricing tiers available, depending on how restrictive your fare is.)
Unfortunately, York station does not have a first class lounge, so I missed the chance to check out that perk associated with a first class train ticket. I could technically have gone into the one at London Kings Cross upon arrival, but at that point I was more interested in checking out the hotel. Don’t think I missed all that much, really – it seems similar enough to an airport lounge, but for a 2h journey on a roomy train it doesn’t really seem all that essential.
Since there weren’t any special facilities at the station, the approach to the train was pretty standard.
The first class carriages were nearer the front of the train, so there was actually more walking required to get there! Train carriages looks pretty much the same from the outside, so everything felt pretty normal up to this point…
…upon boarding the train, the differences became apparent.
For comparison, here’s a picture of the seats in standard class, below. The first class seats are wider, have more legroom and are upholstered in leather – relatively small differences, but the increase in comfort was noticeable. Similar to regional business class on a plane, I suppose?
There weren’t all that many people in the carriage, so we got a table (which usually seats four) to ourselves.
So with all that extra space, it was pretty easy getting comfortable for the journey ahead.
On top of all that, travelling in first class grants access to free onboard WiFi, which was actually pretty useful given that we cut through some less-developed areas with spotty mobile coverage, so WiFi provided a more stable internet connection throughout the entire journey.
One of the other perks of first class train travel is complimentary food and drinks. Apologies for the substandard pictures of the menu items – it’s probably easier to browse the offerings on the Virgin Trains East Coast website.
I had the lamb & vegetable stew which I thought was actually pretty good, but the serving size is pretty small so I consider it something in between a snack and a proper meal. Definitely not the multi-course offering you get on a plane.
Still, pretty tasty, and good enough to get by until (early) dinner.
I enjoyed my first class train experience, and would be willing to pay ~£15 again for another upgrade. However, any higher and I think it probably makes more sense to stick to the standard carriage – the extra money is probably better spent getting a proper meal before boarding the train, if possible.
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.
Does the world really need another Suites trip report? I thought as I left the Virgin Clubhouse and headed over the boarding gate. After all, flying Suites is on the bucket list of any travel blogger worth his or her salt, and a simple Google search will turn them up by the thousands. Heck, you can find more than a few on this site alone.
But it would bug me very much if my Long Way to New York trip report ended on an incomplete note. And so write I would.
Boarding was at Gate A7 and out the window I caught a glimpse of the whalejet that was going to take us back home to Singapore. It’s a right shame the economics of the A380 don’t make sense in the current climate, because this aircraft is a marvel of human engineering. I’m a starry eyed romantic but I’m under no illusions about the ultimate fate of the A380- unless Airbus gets a neo version out with better fuel burn, and unless Emirates keep buying them up like hotcakes, the A380 may within 20-30 years be consigned to the Nevada boneyards.
Until then, however, 9V-SKP was fulled up and ready for boarding.
When boarding was called,I bounded down the jetway so I could take photos of the cabin before it filled up (all but two seats were filled in Suites)
I was greeted at the door by the beaming inflight supervisor (but unlike my SIN-CDG flight, was not greeted by name. That’s understandable though, given that on SIN-CDG I was the only Chinese passenger in Suites and it was easy for them to do the math. This time there was a good mix of Singaporeans and Americans in the cabin), who checked my boarding pass, memorized the name instantly and said “This way Mr Wong”, leading me to seat 1F on the starboard side of the aircraft.
Apologies in advance for the tint of the photos, but this is a rather accurate representation of how the cabin looked. I assume the A380 has mood lighting and given that this was a nighttime departure they use the more soothing, gentler lights so as not to disrupt people’s sleep cycles. On the FRA-SIN leg report you’ll be able to see the cabin in its full, sundrenched glory.
Suite 1F awaited in all its leather-clad brilliance. Note the darker leather trim- this is the 2nd generation of Suites products that received a new upholstery. It’s a mid-cycle refresh and needed, given that Suites launched in 2007 and has seen a lot of mileage since then. A brand new Suites product is coming in 2017, but details are sparse. We do know there will be no showers though. I guess that limits my options of getting naked at 38,000 ft.
But more importantly, SQ’s new A380 configurations will have fewer Suites than before. This means that award availability will be harder to come by. Meaning that if you want to give Suites a try, no time like the present.
While I was in the midst of photographic bliss the cabin lead materialized at my side with the menu and a bottle of water.
And presented me with a variety of magazines. I continued my onboard pretentiousness where literature is concerned and selected The Economist and The New Yorker. It seemed appropriate to sip champagne and read The New Yorker while remarking in my head how good it was that they’d done away with Estate Taxes.
And yet, I felt that something was strangely missing. I had all the usual seat photos, but could I show people something new?
I glanced down the aisle to make sure no one was watching. Then stood on my ottoman to take this downwards shot. I was very proud of how discreet I was.
Naturally, the minute I stepped down I realised there was a cabin attendant next to me.
“Oh, just stretching my legs!” I said. Everyone needs to, you know.
I suppose she had seen stranger things done in the Suites cabin because she looked completely nonplussed. I am using the term in its North American usage, which is surprisingly the exact opposite of conventional usage.
She asked me if she could bring a drink before takeoff. I perused the menu
The list was as impressive as always. Champagne isn’t served on the ground at JFK because of customs restrictions, unfortunately, so draining the SQ wine cellar would have to wait until after takeoff. I just requested a glass of sparkling water.
From my photo taking antics she deduced that I would like a photo taken, and willingly obliged.
After she left I went around documenting the rest of the seat
Each seat has a universal (well, it doesn’t fit India plugs) power socket and 2 USB outlets for charging.
You can see from the IFE controller that the systems on this aircraft are the older iteration of the Krisflyer IFE.
The seat has an abundance of storage space for every little thing you need. There is no overhead storage, but that’s because it’s grossly unnecessary. The space under your seat, the personal cloak closet, the many many nooks and crannies to put and loose laptops, eyeglasses, dead bodies, you name it.
A Ferragamo amenities kit was brought (and for some reason the lighting in the cabin changed). SQ has very, very basic amenities in its kits, but you can supplement them with loot from the loo.
And so I did. SQ’s A380 loos, even in First Class, are barely distinguishable from those in coach. I really think it’s a missed opportunity and hope it’s something they’ll rectify on the new Suites.
The amenities drawers were well stocked with goodies.
They also had Tuscan Soul aftershave and fragrances in the loo. These are communal and not for individual consumption, so Hao Gong Ming told me to leave them behind.
After enhancing my amenities kit I tried to duck out of the way to take a photo of the bathroom, failing miserably.
I did, however, manage to perfectly photograph the sink, which is automatic.
And the door
Back to my seat and more goodies had arrived. All this, and we hadn’t even taken off.
I already had a few sets of SQ PJs so I kept this set sealed for a giveaway (see the bottom of this article)
They also gave me a blanket. This is a sitting blanket, not a sleeping blanket. Yes, there is a distinction. The sleeping blanket is a much smoother, silk lined duvet. The sitting blanket is perfectly alright, but I’d never swap one for the other.
SQ has upgraded their inflight headsets in First Class. They’re now using Bose QC25s instead of 15s. It’s like having Nimbus 2001s versus those lousy 2000s! I can’t wait for them to go with the 35s which are wireless. I think that would be a very big breakthrough.
The Captain came on the PA and in a very reassuring baritone told us that we would be taxiing imminently and experiencing some limited turbulence along the way.
Service items were cleared from the suite for takeoff. As the aircraft taxied, I examined the menu.
After takeoff my champagne was finally served (I opted for Dom, deciding to take Krug on the FRA-SIN route. Decisions, decisions) along with warmed nuts.
With this bounty before me I switched on Mr Robot. Oh Philip Price, when will you ever learn! The Dark Army cannot be trusted.
Before long the crew came over to set up the table. The JFK-FRA flight is not particularly long, taking just under 7 hours. For the crew to squeeze in a full dinner service + continental breakfast means that they need to get things done rather sharpish in order to give the passengers about 4-5 hours of sleep.
You’ll recall from my SIN-CDG flight that it was a redeye departure, so supper was served instead of a full dinner. In that case, caviar was used more as a garnish than the main dish. This flight was a dinner departure so we had the full caviar treatment along with condiments.
I have no idea how to eat caviar, but I imagine you put it in your mouth and chew. That seemed to work the first time so I continued doing it.
A lovely roasted San Marzano tomato soup was served along with garlic bread. I’ve found the standard of SQ’s garlic bread to differ widely depending on which station you fly from. Unfortunately this was one of the poorer ones- the bread was completely hard throughout and impossible to eat without breaking it into a million crumbly pieces.
The salad was a forgettable experience. I compressed the leaves together as best I could to make it appear like I ate it. They kept on re-expanding.
For the main course, I had already ordered from the book the cook menu
U.S. Grilled Prime Beef Fillet
Grilled U.S. Prime Choice beef with asparagus, baby spinach, roasted potato, and served with balsamic onion sauce. Designed by Singapore Airlines International Culinary Panel Chef Alfred Portale.
I have had very, very bad experiences with airline beef, but kept the faith in the belief that one day I would find the one. What a keeper this man is, ladies.
Alas my heart was broken again. The beef was dry, tasteless and tough as a boot.
“This is why I don’t love”, I told myself.
I requested the Thai seafood curry and rice be served instead, and it was much better. Even if all the seafood was clearly frozen and not fresh (you can tell by the texture of the shrimp)
The desert, “Gotham Black”, sounded gothic but I enjoyed it anyway.
The catering ex-JFK was good enough, all things considered. The beef was disappointing (but since when has airline beef ever not been disappointing. I challenge you to find an instance) but the Thai green curry seafood more than made up for it. The soup was great, the caviar was a proper serving and there was all the Dom I could handle. 4/5.
After I washed up I asked the crew to make the bed. I think that SQ’s Suites bed is the best in the business, bar none. I’m comparing this to the Lufthansa, ANA, Thai first beds, and none of them come close to the comfort afforded by the one in SQ Suites.
Yes, you do have a great deal of privacy when the Suite doors are closed.
When the seat is converted into bed mode, you have this convenient row of switches near your head.
But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The Suites, although enclosed, are not completely private. The blinds have small holes at the top that people can look through, and anyone taller than 1.8m can probably see into the Suite.
I need to say again how ridiculously comfortable the bed is. It gave my bed at home a run for the money. I slept through all the way till landing in FRA, giving the forgettable continental breakfast a miss. There was also a limited snacks menu, but I decided to save that for the much longer FRA-SIN flight (stay tuned).
The service throughout was top notch. I didn’t really have much opportunities to interact with the crew apart from meal and turndown service, but the service was everything you’d expect in an SQ First Class cabin. Then again, my requests aren’t really anything out of the ordinary. Perhaps if I wanted a lullaby…
We landed in Frankfurt on schedule for our 2 hour layover, bright and early at around 930 in the morning.
And parked next to a Qatar Airways jet.
Singapore Airlines Suites remains an unmatched product in the sky. True, I’ve not tried Etihad’s Apartments (and likely never will, unless I suddenly decide to put truckloads of spend onto a Citibank Premiermiles card so I can transfer miles to Etihad Guest…) but SQ Suites is probably the most “accessible” uberlux product for Singapore based flyers. What that means is that if you really wanted to try the product and didn’t care what route you flew, you could conceivably try the experience for as little as 31,875 miles (SIN-HKG). Yes, 3h 45 mins is probably insufficient for the full experience, but if it’s just a bucket list thing to check off…
Protip: During the Songkran festival SQ uses an A380 to serve the SIN-BKK route. First Saver on this route would be 25,500 miles, which would get you a Suites experience just over 2 hours. Read more about that here, and if you can plan a trip to Bangkok next year around that time…
We alighted the aircraft and met a ground staff who walked us 100m to the Senator Lounge.
I’m always open to new ideas for trip reports that people want to read about! As much fun as it is to write about Suites, there are already so many similar reports out there that surely there’s some new ground to be broken.
So what kinds of trip reports do you want to read about? Take part on our Facebook page by end of day Friday (28th Oct)!
One winner will get an SQ First Class Ferragamo Amenities kit + a Sleeper Suit.
I’d reviewed ANA’s First Class before when flying from Seattle to Narita. My conclusion was both the hard and soft product were excellent, and would measure up to SQ any day of the week. That said, the trip was more than a year ago and I was keen to see whether ANA could continue living up to the high standards they set the first time round.
The gate wasn’t too far from the lounge so I arrived just as boarding began. I love how in Japan all the boarding staff gather in a line to bow to the passengers before boarding begins. It’s just so quintessentially Japanese. If you happen to look out the window when the aircraft pushes back from the gate, you’ll also see the ground staff bowing. Only in Japan.
ANA’s long haul First Class product is called the First Square. Here’s what it looks like in the publicity photos.
And here’s the First Class seat IRL. The high walls of the suite provide serious privacy, and although the seat is finished in cloth rather than leather, it doesn’t really affect the comfort factor.
I was greeted by the chief pursuer at the door and escorted to my seat, 1F. She was bubbly and probably the very definition of lao chio. After introducing herself and the flight time for today, she looked super apologetic and said-
“Unfortunately Mr Wong, you are the only passenger in First Class today.”
I blinked. She was either having difficulty with syntax, or believed that I was the type who relished the contact of other human beings. I assured her I would endeavor to survive this disappointment and set about taking photos like there was no tomorrow.
Normally when I board an aircraft it is a mad rush to snap as many photos as possible before the cabin fills up and people (A) get in the way of my photos or (B) believe that taking photos is somehow a great threat to aviation security and start getting tetchy. But today I was having a veritable pick of the litter in terms of shots and angles.
I’m sure that more than adequately covers all the seat photos you need. Suffice to say that the 1-2-1 layout of the 8 seats, the high walls of the suite, the width and the legroom afforded are all excellent.
But just in case that’s not enough, here is the user’s manual. That’s right, they provide a user’s manual at every seat.
The seat has a ton of useful storage spaces. Here’s a holder just for your reading glasses.
There is a small storage closet where you plug in your headphones.
Here are your usual assortment of charging ports (only 1 USB port though, boo)
IFE wise they were still using one of the older systems. Although I’m not a big fan of the new touchscreen IFE interface that SQ has because it’s prone to hanging.
The seat controls are all digital on this mini detachable wall tablet here. The only thing that is perhaps slightly confusing is that it’s not immediately apparent how you adjust the seat outside of the 3 preset modes. You click the bottom right “Adjuster” and you’ll get a menu that lets you recline at whatever angle you wish.
There are even separate buttons to control the light around your feet.
There was a variety of goodies waiting for me at my seat. ANA has its usual excellent Sony noise cancelling headsets for First Class passengers (spoiler alert: SQ has upgraded from Bose QC15s to QC25s in First Class, look out for that in the return Suites trip report)
A sleeper suit was also offered. There is actually both a cardigan and a set of PJs (top and bottom). ANA doesn’t have a branding tie up for their PJs (like CX and Shanghai Tang for example) but the PJs are still top notch.
There was also an amenities kit by Samsonite. The crew comes by with a basket and lets you pick out additional amenities above and beyond whatever you already have in the kit. I wanted to keep the kit intact for a giveaway, so I got an extra eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush, leg refreshing sheet (this has to be a Japanese thing because I had no idea what they were used for), socks and 2 of the lip balms (they’re Shiseido branded and really good)
Now I’m personally fine with Samsonite, but there was a big hoo hah on the travel bloggersphere when ANA replaced their old Rimowa kits. Here’s a photo of what the amenities kits used to look like a few years ago.
The chief pursuer came back with a selection of magazines. I always find magazine selection on aircraft to be a very pressurizing decision. On the one hand, I would very much like to indulge in the mindless hedonism of Men’s Health. On the other, I feel my choice of reading material is highly self-reflective.
I decided in the end on the selection above, choosing Time Magazine in particular because I love its kid friendly approach to adult issues.
The captain came on the PA to welcome everyone aboard NH12 to ORD airport. The flight time would take approximately 11 hours and clear skies were expected.
I settled in very contently and took a look at my connecting UA flight to remind myself of the intransigence of luxury. Seeing United and “FY” never seemed more appropriate…
After takeoff the crew came by with the menu. I’ve found ANA’s catering to be excellent (but then again, Japanese are so proud of their food culture it’s hard to imagine anything else)
The drinks list was spearheaded by an old favourite…
And there was an excellent snack menu with many options. This is where ANA is head and shoulders above SQ, in my opinion. Even in First Class SQ’s snack selection is limited to a few prepackaged items and instant noodles.
Before proceedings started, the champagne was brought out.
And after pouring, it was time to start with the accompaniment to the aperitif.
Now, it could be that I’m something of a slack jawed yokel, but I just couldn’t figure out what the amuse bouche was supposed to be.
So here is supposed to be “Dressed scallops and dried sea lettuce with yuzu citron pepper, burdock roots rolled with conger eel, smoked salmon trout mousse with broccoli flavor and soft dried beef rolled with watermelon radish”, but for the life of me I could not figure out which was which.
In any case I wasn’t big on the flavours. I’m sure this is a carefully thought through and conceptualized dish and a non-Philistine would be able to enjoy it, but i sort of mashed it up and moved it around so the crew would know I was done with it.
The next course had salt-steamed sea urchin, simmered abalone in soy sauce, Japanese tiger prawn sushi, grilled beef and Japanese leek with teriyaki sauce and simmered Akita Nikaho-shi fig in grape juice. Again, lovely plating, dainty eats, but at this point I wish I had just gone with the Western selection.
Fortunately, the next course was a bit more familiar to my tastebuds- a surf clam sopu and prawn fishcake
After which some seared bonito was served.
We finally made it to the main course. This featured simmered herring and eggplant in soy sauce, dried maitake mushroom, kombu kelp with herring roe and red king crab meat and steamed Greenland halibut. The fish was amazing. How ANA manages to get a delicate fish to hold up so well in the air is beyond me. There was also excellent Japanese rice to go with it.
For desert I went with the fruit platter. Most of the fruit was so-so, but I realised in the top left hand corner- could it be?
It was muskmelon, the real king of fruits that I had been hankering for ever since I tasted a small piece back in Singapore. At a $150+ price point back home, it’s certainly out of my budget, but if you remember my RTW trip report I managed to get a mid range melon at about $50 during my pop out from the airport in NRT. That melon was orgasmic.
Back to the present. After telling them how much I loved Japanese melon, the crew were more than happy to give me the rest of the melon they had on board. It’s probably a bit telling of how expensive this is that they only load 4 pieces in total on board.
Oh, I got some B&J vanilla ice cream too.
And some pralines.
After the meal I went to the bathroom to freshen up while the crew prepped the bed. ANA has probably gone the conventional route with their loos. Nothing fancy (apart from the bidet, which is any way mandatory on all Japanese airlines) regular sized loos with a nice selection of amenities. Will Emirates and Etihad continue to be the only ones crazy enough to put a shower onboard?
The crew were waiting to take my clothes after I’d changed into PJs. There were 2 bottles of Evian waiting at the made up bed, which is every bit as comfortable as it looks.
You’ll note that the bed is really private- from the side it’s very difficult to look in.
I slept a solid 6 hours and woke up for a snack. Here’s the fried chicken, ramen and chicken rice bowl from the snack menu.
After eating, I went for another nap only to have to wake up again for breakfast before landing. It’s a hard life.
Breakfast was a more simple affair- just one tray with fish, rice and soup.
I found the fish to be way too bony, but the crew managed to get a different kind of fish from somewhere in the galley.
I don’t need to say how amazing the service was because every interaction with the crew was a pleasure. It’s also the small things- I had some coins in my jeans pocket which I guess must have fell out when the crew took my clothes to hang them. They put the coins in a small ziplock bag and brought them over. They also gave me a set of ANA postcards just before landing.
We landed on time in ORD, where I had about 2.5 hours to connect to my United flight to EWR. Given that I had my APEC card, I wasn’t really concerned about immigration queues but there weren’t any in any case.
When it comes to First Class, ANA’s overall product is definitely up there with the best of the best. The food, the service, the seat all make for an amazing experience. If you’re into Lifemiles, you will be happy to know that ANA F space is frequently available (99,000 miles from Singapore to USA, one way. Not bad considering SQ would run you 93,750 at the saver award level, if available. Much fewer surcharges through Lifemiles though, I paid maybe $60-70 in total)
After that amazing experience with ANA, it was time to snap back to reality and that started by visiting the United Club in Chicago’s domestic terminal…