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On the road again to Rio: SQ A380 Business Class review

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


I woke up (or rather, jetlag woke me up) bright and early at 7 in the morning at the Sheraton Frankfurt Airport hotel. After dawdling around with breakfast and what not, I finally left the hotel at around 930am for an 1140am departure.

Frankurt Airport was quiet this Monday morning, with very short queues and not a lot of foot traffic. There were similarly no queues at any of the SQ check in desks. My bags were tagged to Singapore but curiously, the first boarding pass that printed out was to Rio de Janeiro. I only realised it after I left the counter and had to double back. I can’t really explain why that happened, because the two bookings were on separate PNRs. It was one of those weird moments.

It’s no secret that SQ’s premium economy product has sold very poorly, and the airline has been taking steps to try and monetize the empty seats. They recently started a bidding program that lets you place a bid for an empty PY seat, and they’re selling upgrades at the counter too. I didn’t ask what the prices were.

I think the fundamental problem is how expensive SQ prices its PY product. They’re doing the typical SQ “our product is better than everyone else’s and you should be thankful we let you fly it”, and that strategy hasn’t really been working for them. SQ has an amazing product, but it’s appalling how rigid and inflexible the mindsets of their senior management can be.

I had a choice of lounges to visit post immigration. I decided on the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge, having visited the very underwhelming Lufthansa Senator lounge numerous times before.

Many SQ passengers will go through FRA and never find this lounge, because of the abundance of LH lounge signs near the gate where they disembark during the JFK-SIN layover.

Size wise, it’s definitely smaller than the LH Senator lounge but I find it a lot more quiet and tranquil.

There is plenty of seating in the lounge

. Great views of the tarmac too. I didn’t know Air Canada operates enough flights out of FRA to justify having its own lounge (26 flights a week), but I imagine they earn back the operating costs by charging other Star partners for access.

Hello, what’s that in the background….

It was indeed SQ25, just landed from JFK and ready to do its turn. While the aircraft refueled, so did I.

The Air Canada lounge has a much better selection of food than the Lufthansa Senator lounge in my opinion. It was breakfast time so the breakfast spread was out.

I assembled myself a plate and resumed plane watching.

Boarding began on time and, as you can imagine for an A380 flight, there was a scrum at the gate. It did seem like a lot of people for a Monday morning flight.

SQ has its business class seats on the upper deck of the A380. The version they fly on SQ25 has an all business class upper deck configuration with 86 flatbed seats.

In terms of product design, it’s hard to believe that SQ’s A380s are already closing in on 10 years old. I mean, these seats are much superior to a lot of the current-gen business class products you’ll find on other airlines. And they’re 10 years old! As much as I dislike the policies of SQ management, I have to say that their product design team is light years ahead of the game. Which makes me even more excited to see what the new A380s will have…

In terms of condition, however, the seats are showing their age. Look closely and you’ll start seeing various battle scars, of repeated pressurization and depressurization cycles, of spilled wine and juice, of nicks and scratches from bags, zips and other pointy things.

The poet in me might suggest that every blemish tells a story, but the critic asked whether it was too much to ask for a mid cabin refresh (the type SQ did with their Suites seats where they went from this

Image result for singapore airlines old suites

to this)

Image result for singapore airlines old suites

It’s probably a very different financial proposition to refurbish 12 seats (Suites) per A380 versus 86, however.

The seat is thoughtfully designed with a lot of ports and storage space. You get 2 USB ports, in seat power and something that looks like an Ethernet cable.

You have two small reading lights on your left and right shoulder with various brightness settings

The excellent noise cancelling PhiTek headphones make an appearance.

And each passenger gets eyeshades, slippers and socks. Earplugs are available upon request.

The crew came over to serve welcome drinks. Unlike the fantastic crew we had out of SIN, this crew was very mechanical and stoic. Passengers weren’t addressed by name, no introductions were made and although the crew did everything perfectly fine, it’s quite easy to tell when a crew is “into it”.

No alcohol is served on ground due to customs regulations so I had some OJ.

Take off views were nothing special this frigid Monday morning.

I read through the menu after take off. The menu cover had the same CNY-inspired design as that on SQ326 over to Frankfurt.

The options, however, were non-festive. I think they only do the special CNY treats ex-SIN. Lunch would be served after takeoff with the following options

There was the usual extensive drinks list that formed the bulk of the menu

The crew came around to serve more drinks after takeoff. Was it too early for champagne? I thought, before deciding that no, it was never too early for champagne. Or for poorly taken photos where you can totally see the guy taking it in the reflection.

As is usually the case with SQ lunch services (except the one I took ex-SIN during CNY), the meal started with satay. I’ve been quite surprised at the consistency of the satay regardless of which station I’m flying out of. Of course it doesn’t compare to what you can find back home, but it’s perfectly passable.

I’ve come to realise that SQ’s appetizers tend to be some variation of prawns. I personally like prawns so I don’t have an issue with this. I would imagine those allergic to them would have some issue. Garlic bread was served as well.

Craving Asian food, I opted for the duck curry for the main. It didn’t look too appetizing but was actually pretty good. Biggest downside was the veggies were mush.

The desert cart came around and I had some raspberry ice cream. How I long for simpler flavors. You could just give me vanilla every single time and I’d never complain.

A fruit basket was also brought around.

The loos on the A380 have these glamor style mirror lights. I would have thought that when you’re a mixture of dehydrated and bedhead, bright lighting would be the last thing you want.

The taps on the A380 are automatic though, which should appeal to the germophobes out there (guilty). You know what I really want? Toilets with auto opening doors. Like you wave your hand or something and the door opens. I always cringe when I have to touch the latch after I’m done.

I then flipped the seat into bed mode and passed out. If you want to see photos of the seat in bed mode  (and photos of me with more hair) you can check out this older trip report to San Francisco

I awoke somewhere over Afghanistan with 6 hours left on the flight.

I will keep repeating this until it changes, but SQ does not have a great snack selection. Its hot items are limited to nicely plated and garnished instant noodles. Contrast that with what Etihad has (I know this is comparing F to J, but SQ’s F snack menu isn’t much better)  and tell me that doesn’t look much better than these options.

Anyway, I had what I think was chicken noodles. I couldn’t tell because it appears they forgot to put the chicken garnish on it.

And then did some work, and went back to sleep.

I awoke for breakfast. SQ was doing that “wake everyone up 2.5 hours before landing” thing that I still can’t figure out.

Fruit was the standard starter for everyone. Random: does anyone actually like grapefruit? I suppose there must be such people out there, but I have yet to meet one of them.

I had the pad thai for the main, still in my “i need Asian food so badly I’ll settle for a bad version of it” stage. The dish was awful- it tasted like someone had dumped a whole load of lime juice on it. You couldn’t take more than a few bites without making a sourpuss face.

I think this would overall be one of my more average SQ flights. That said, SQ’s average is still miles ahead of many other airlines’ best.

SQ’s A380 seats have had their time in the sun and I’m glad we’ll be seeing something new this year. I am holding out hope for mini-suites with doors in Business class, which I think is the natural evolution of the product.

Until the next long trip!

 

On the Road again to Rio: Star Alliance Rio Lounge

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


After two long weeks in Brazil it was time to head back to Singapore through Frankfurt. I was pleased that this time my upgrade came through so I’d have a chance to do a proper review of Lufthana’s Business Class product. Yes, it’s far from market leading, but the worst business class product will beat the best economy class product any day of the week (Air India probably being the exception)

GIG airport is nowhere near as nice as GRU, although my sense is they’re trying to do some major overhauls judging by the amount of construction boarding I saw up around the place. I’d have thought they would have finished that by the time of the Olympics, but hey, Brazil.

Check in was fast and painless. I was pleased that I had managed to get a seat on the upper deck of the 747-8, which would be my first time sitting on the upper deck of a 747 in a long time. The last occasion I did so was on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok to Narita, in a terrible angled flat seat, perhaps 2 years ago. The time before that? That’d have to be when I was 10 or 11, going to the US on one of SQ’s Megatops. The check in lady confirmed that the seat next to me would remain empty, so that was a plus too.

The Star Alliance lounge at GIG is the newest in the network, having opened in mid-December. It’s so new I wasn’t even able to find any trip reports on it. It’s a bit puzzling why Star Alliance would build a lounge in GIG because GIG isn’t a big alliance hub- the only Star Alliance carriers flying to Rio are Lufthansa, United, TAP and Avianca.

These carriers collectively operate 42 weekly flights out of GIG (you should ignore the 140 figure in the screenshot above as that refers to Avianca Brazil, which operates out of the domestic terminal and does not have lounge access). For comparison, in the other airports where Star Alliance lounges exist

  • Sao Paulo GRU (149 weekly *A flights)
  • Los Angeles LAX  (312 weekly *A flights, ignoring all the UA domestic ones)
  • Paris CDG (375 weekly *A flights- quite a few of these will be Schengen flights and will not have access to the *A lounge in the international area )
  • Buenos Aires EZE (78 weekly *A flights)
  • Nagoya NGO (64 weekly *A flights, ignoring all the NH domestic ones)

So maybe Star Alliance has big plans for Rio. Either way, it’s confusing to me, especially when you consider that GRU is the main international gateway to Brazil and there’s already a *A lounge there.

I digress.

The lounge is located on the third floor and is managed by the Plaza Premium Group.

There was no one manning the counter when I got there, so I proceeded to let myself in. Halfway through the lounge dragon showed up and we had to double back to counter to scan my pass. It’s more an accounting exercise than anything else- I imagine that all the Star Alliance carriers who use the lounge need to pay Star Alliance a fee depending on how many of their passengers use the lounge.

The lounge opens 24/7 and is accessible to any business or first class passenger on a Star Alliance flight, or to Star Gold members flying in Economy. Members of paid lounge programs like United Club can also access. the lounge.

As per the press release, the lounge is 600 square metres and can seat 150 guests. You can allegedly see Sugar Loaf and Christ the Redeemer from the lounge, although it was late night by the time I got there and all I saw was darkness #gothkid

In line with the design concept of Star Alliance lounges, local touches and flavours have been combined with global branding elements. Brazilian natural woods, stone and concrete elements have been used to reflect the architectural heritage of the city while introducing greenery and moments of colour that accentuate the city’s close relationship with nature. Handmade Brazilian furniture pieces from renowned designers add a special touch to the overall design and feel, which can best be described as exclusive and at the same time welcoming. The lounge was designed by Hong Kong based architecture firm MSA, which was appointed by Plaza Premium, the company which will operate the lounge for Star Alliance.

Aesthetically, the lounge is pretty attractive.  The lounge is smaller than I thought it’d be, but they at least bought more than one type of chair…

My first stop was the shower. There are a grand total of 2 shower rooms in the lounge. It works out ok in the end given how few *A carriers fly to Rio, but again it’s a puzzlement to me. Building the lounge implies *A thinks GIG passenger numbers will take off in a real way. If that’s so, how can they only provision the lounge with two showers?

The shower cubicles have very nice marble finishings but are otherwise tiny

The bath amenities come in pump bottles mounted on the wall

And some basic amenities are provided for shaving, teeth brushing and feminine product-ing.

It needs to be said that this shower had one of the worst water pressures I’ve ever seen in a lounge shower. Even at full power, the water came out in a trickle. I’m not sure if that was a general problem with the plumbing that day, but it was certainly an annoyance. There also wasn’t anything in the way of a sitting area for you to wear your shoes, which is probably another design oversight. Even a chair would have been helpful. I mean, not everyone wants to sit on the loo to put on their socks…

After bathing I went to check out the buffet.

There is a limited hot food selection in the dining area

The catering was pretty forgettable. One BBQ drumlet dish, one potato dish

One beef dish and I forget what the item on the left was. None of the food was what you would call amazing. And I was surprised at the lack of hot food options given the lounge was supposed to be for both First and Business class passengers.

Cold food options included sandwiches, wraps, cheese and fruits

There’s also an option for hot bread

I vaguely recall the publicity materials for the GIG Star Alliance lounge talking about cooked to order meals. No evidence of that here.

Drinks wise, a few reds and whites compliment the usual soft drinks and juices.

No champagne was available, but there was sparkling wine.

There’s also a fully stocked bar where the bartender can make any manner of drinks. Right after I took this photo someone who looked like the manager (dude in the tie) barked at me that photos weren’t allowed in the lounge. I didn’t acknowledge him and walked off to take photos of other areas. Thankfully, he didn’t follow me. Seriously, what is up with no photo policies? Does he think that nefarious agents from SkyTeam and OneWorld are trying to infiltrate the lounge and steal important trade secrets like the brainwave of only putting 2 showers in the lounge? I mean I can understand if other passengers are uncomfortable with appearing in strangers’ photos, but the area was deserted at the time.

From a productivity point of view, one thing the lounge gets right is that there are plenty of outlets and USB plugs. The internet was also fast enough for me to download a few additional Netflix episodes to my device before boarding.

My overall impression of the GIG Star Alliance lounge was that it was nowhere as good as the Star Alliance lounge in Sao Paulo (which I reviewed here). That lounge simply has a lot more going for it- higher ceilings which make it seem more spacious, clearly demarcated dozing areas, a wider variety of F&B and generally friendlier staff.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was a long walk to the gate, so I left the lounge early and headed for the gate, eager to board the plane and head up that stairwell…

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.