Tag Archives: trip report

First Class for the Family: SQ F Ground Experience and TPR

Since discovering the Miles and Points game 3 years ago, Jeriel has now spent a disproportionate amount of time reading the T&Cs of credit cards and frequent flyer programs. His grand plans for round-the-world premium travel has taken a hit since the arrival of his daughter, but he is still determined to fly as far, frequently and luxuriously as possible on Miles and Points. Expect more family-orientated trip reports and travel tips from him!


First Class for the Family – Melbourne 2017

Hacking the SQ Waitlist
First Class for the Family – Ground Experience and The Private Room
SIN MEL 777-300ER First Class Review
Krisflyer First Class Lounge Melbourne Review
MEL SIN A380 Suites Class Review


About 2 weeks out from our intended travel dates, our outbound leg was still booked in Business Class. I had waitlisted First on the same flight, but when I tried to make a dummy revenue booking, there were 7 out of 8 seats occupied on the seatmap. I was pretty much resigned to flying J.

Why the need to fly F? Our primary concern was for our daughter. This red-eye was scheduled to depart at 2345hrs, and we were hoping that she would be sleeping by the time we boarded the plane. As anyone who has been to the SilverKris Business class lounge would know, it certainly isn’t an ideal place to coax a toddler to sleep. The Private Room would provide significantly more space, peace and quiet. In particular, there is a dedicated parents’ room at the back of TPR. While it is hopelessly under equipped, it still meant we would be able to turn down the lights and get her snoozing.

image1.JPG
Looks nice, until you try to squash your feet into that little recess there and sleep diagonally

On the flight itself, J isn’t so bad. I would say the only perk about flying with an infant in J is that you are almost guaranteed the bassinet seat. There is a significant difference in the hard product between the bulkhead and regular international business class seats on SQ. Bulkhead seats have a full ottoman, whereas the regular seats only have a small cubby for your feet. This makes a world of a difference when the bed is deployed, especially for taller individuals like myself. The bassinet seats are all bulkhead seats and are routinely blocked out for pre-selection by other passengers. Once you have your tickets confirmed, call the SQ hotline to purchase your infant-in-lap ticket and at the same time, request for them to assign the bassinet seat for you.

IMG_5249.JPG
Same seat, but much better. The ottoman allows you to sleep straight

Well, Imagine my surprise when our F waitlist cleared about 36 hours prior to departure. This presented somewhat of a conumdrum though: should I spend almost 34k miles and a couple hundred bucks (for the infant ticket) more to upgrade my family to First? School never prepared us for difficult, first-world problems like these… After waffling for about 3 hours, it was already midnight and my wife snapped, ‘just upgrade the bloody flight and go to sleep la!’ Thus it was decided.

Was it worth it in the end? Most definitely not. On hindsight, if I were given a choice again I’d probably have stuck with J for a number of reasons. But I guess this is what the Milelion is for, sharing expensive mistakes so that we all can maximize the miles and points we have painstakingly collected for better travel experiences.

Since I’ve written about the First Class check-in experience and TPR before here, instead of the usual review, I hope to examine some of the more esoteric considerations one may have to think about when deciding between J and F over the next 2 posts, especially in the context of travelling with a young family. Hopefully some of you may find this helpful.

1) Check in Process – All Style but no Substance

Flying First or Suites entitles you to use the First Class check in lobby at Terminal 3. Now I really think this area is quite beautiful. The driveway is huge and the room is beautifully appointed with lots of space and seating. We were the only people using the area (as you probably would be since the process is usually quick and seamless), so my daughter had a great time running around and exploring the different sofas and chairs.

IMG_4578.JPG
Driveway of First Class Check in Lobby
IMG_4582.JPG
Not another passenger in sight.

Well it definitely makes you feel special, but practically speaking this area offers little more than the dedicated queue in the main hall. You have a porter to carry your bags to the counter and a nice place to sit (instead of stand), but that’s about it.

With children, the main check in hall has so many attractions and displays which will probably keep them entertained for far longer. In my opinion, this is a nice facility to use once in your life perhaps, but definitely should not factor in much when deciding between J and F.

This is a huge pity though, as I’m sure it certainly wasn’t cheap to build and isn’t cheap to staff and maintain. Why Changi cannot collaborate with SQ to come up with a more seamless First Class experience befitting its status as the best airport in the world (like the FCT in Frankfurt or the TG First Class ground service in BKK) really escapes me.

This was made painfully obvious during this particular trip, where we encountered a snag right at the check-in counter, but there was no ‘extra mile’ in the service afforded to us when it mattered most.

We had arrived at Changi almost 5.5 hours prior to our scheduled take off, intending to fully utilize the facilities at the lounge. That proved to be a fortunate decision as we found ourselves in a messy situation with our tickets.

What happened was; as I wasn’t expecting my waitlist of F to clear, I had already ticketed my family on J prior to the upgrade. The CSO who processed my upgrade request had cancelled my daughter’s return ticket, but somehow only re-issued a one-way outbound ticket in return. Basically, she didn’t have a ticket for the trip home.

I have no doubt it was merely an honest mistake on the part of the CSO. It just needed to be rectified before take-off. As my whole family had valid outbound tickets, I was expecting that we could wait for the staff to resolve this issue while we headed up to The Private Room. I was told by the check-in staff member at the First Class area this was not possible. In fact, I was told I couldn’t even wait in the First Class check-in area, but had to make my way out to the SQ Ticketing counter in the main hall to approach the ticketing staff to resolve this. In the end, we had to wait for about 1.5 hours standing at the SQ ticketing desk in the main check-in area waiting for this issue to be sorted out. I can’t even remember how many rounds I walked around the Terminal 3 hall carrying my daughter singing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.

After about 30 minutes of waiting, I again politely suggested to the ticketing staff members that we be allowed to go air-side to enjoy the lounge facilities (also because it was getting late and my daughter was getting cranky). We were again denied that request. Another hour elapsed before the ticketing staff asked for permission from their manager for us to head up to TPR. It took another half hour before we were finally issued the new tickets. Thankfully by this time, we were in the comfort of the lounge.

Now, the service at SQ Ticketing wasn’t bad per se. The staff member there assisting me gave me her full attention and set about trying to rectify the situation as quickly as she could. However, shouldn’t prompt and attentive service should be the baseline level provided to any passenger in my situation, regardless of the class of travel? My experience exposes the gaps in the ‘service coverage’ for premium passengers. The service within the confines of The Private Room and during the flight itself is probably amongst the world’s best. From the time you leave home till you reach TPR, and during that short journey from TPR to the doors of the aircraft, it seems you’re pretty much on your own.

In my particular situation, I would have saved myself the long wait if we had simply kept our original tickets. But for now, don’t count on the supposed better service you get as an F passenger to help you get out of sticky situations comfortably.

2) TPR

The Private Room experience has to be one of the big reasons why one would choose F over J. The SilverKris Business Lounge is almost perpetually crowded and noisy, and at times, the First Class Lounge is not much better. TPR, even at its busiest, is truly a sanctuary of peace and quiet. Well, at least until some joker (yours truly) brings their infant over!

The layout of the area is still the same as our previous reviews, but here are some photos anyway.

IMG_4626.JPG
View from the Entrance
IMG_4616.JPG
View from the back
IMG_4615.JPG
Work Area
IMG_4618.JPG
One of two snooze rooms
IMG_4613.JPG
Dining Area
IMG_4623.JPG
The First Class Loo
IMG_4625.JPG
Same Tuscan Soul amenities as available in-flight

A positive development seems to be an update in the menu. Previously, a simplified menu was provided based on the time of day. Departing SIN LHR on a 9am flight I had received the truncated breakfast menu, whereas Aaron on his SIN CDG flight received the lunch and dinner menu. This time, we received a nice leather-bound folder with the entire menu, complete with the selection of available beverages. Here is the menu in all its glory (correct as of March ‘17). The wait staff told me that the menu is changed slightly every few months though.

IMG_4611.JPG
This looks a lot more presentable doesn’t it?

IMG_4601.JPG

IMG_4602.JPG

IMG_4603.JPG

IMG_4604.JPG

IMG_4605.JPG

IMG_4606.JPG

Overall a good selection of drinks, but I thought the food menu was not as extensive as it used to be. The Charles Hiedsieck Blanc Des Millenaires on offer was good, but we all know better than to fill up on champagne before the flight itself…

The service was attentive but not intrusive. I received faux shock and dismay at the appalling experience we had at check in. We were shown to the family room and a staff member stayed on hand to make sure we had everything we needed as we put our daughter to bed (we just laid a blanket on the carpeted floor as a makeshift bed).

After she was asleep we had a nice, relaxing meal at the dining area. We had the Sauteed Lobster with Linguine to share, which was delicious. The lobster was fresh and the meat was succulent and QQ, and the pasta was done just right al dente.

IMG_4614.JPG
Sauteed Lobster with Linguine

The wait staff recommended Chocolate Therapy for dessert, which worked like a charm. All the injustice from earlier on was forgiven (but definitely not forgotten).

IMG_4620.JPG
This. Is. Super.

It was only then could I stretch my legs and look forward to flying the new 77W First Class product.

Miami, no vice: Jetblue Economy MCO-JFK

Miami, no vice: Planning
EVA Air Business Class SIN-TPE
Decoding the lounge situation in Taipei
EVA Air Business Class TPE-IAH
Red Roof Inn IAH Airport
United Economy IAH-MIA
Renting with Sixt Miami
Element Miami International Airport
Miami, the Keys and everything inbetween
Orlando: Disneyworld and other distractions
Jetblue Economy MCO-JFK
EVA Air Business Class JFK-TPE
EVA Air Business Class TPE-SIN


My return flight to Singapore would be leaving from JFK, so I needed to position myself from Orlando. I found a Jetblue flight for US$154 and jumped on it.

It’s kind of funny when you think about the US airline industry today and how the budget carriers have become more full service than the full service ones. I mean, Southwest and Jetblue (until recently, at least) don’t charge bag fees. Jetblue has a fantastic selection of IFE via DirectTV and satellite radio, all for free. It has Wifi for free. It also offers free snacks and a lot friendlier service than the legacy carriers, occasional runway excursions aside.

Orlando’s airport is interesting in the sense that it’s got this big inner courtyard where, wait for it, there’s a hotel. In the airport. Not a 5 minute drive from the airport, not connected to the airport. In the airport.

You can step out from your room and look down into the airport courtyard departures area. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a concept quite like this anywhere else in the world, and if you’re interested in what staying here is like you can read Ben’s report over here.

Jetblue (and all domestic US carriers for that matter) limit you to 1 carry on and 1 personal item. I already had a backpack and a roller bag, and was worried that my additional handcarry item wouldn’t pass muster, given how strict some airlines have a reputation for being. But even though they made a pre-boarding announcement that the flight was full and some bags would have to be gate-checked, they never said anything about my (very fetching) Hello Kitty tote bag. Maybe it’s so garish that it simply blinds everyone who looks at it, rendering it invisible.

Unfortunately, this route isn’t serviced by one of the Mint-equipped planes, because it’d be quite cool to take firsthand photos of that. That’s another thing that amazes me, in that a budget carrier offers the most luxurious transcontinental hard product available on any US carrier.

Image result for jetblue mint

Image result for jetblue mint

This was just your run-of-the-mill A320 aircraft with 3-3 seating throughout the cabin. Here’s a much better file photo than the one I got.

Image result for jetblue cabin

The best thing about this flight for me was the entertainment options. It’s all on the seatback monitor, which is controlled either by touch or with your armrest.

Jetblue has a partnership with DirectTV that provides you with all the American TV crap you could care to watch. It’s all live, so you could even be watching the Miami Masters while you fly.

If TV isn’t your thing, why not movies? The selection of movies rivaled that on my EVA flight over.

Or TV shows. I like that we live in a post-racial America where we can have shows like this.

They also have more than a hundred channels of satellite radio thanks to SiriusXM (read about getting free Sirius XM in your rental car here)

And there’s free Wifi on the plane. For everyone. All you need to do is register and get a Jetblue frequent flyer number. Speeds will obviously not be the best because everyone’s using it, but it’s fine for email and Whatsapp.

Did I mention the snack basket? Jetblue has a complimentary snack basket brought around mid-flight that features artery-clogging goodness

JetBlue, the airline made famous by its unlimited free blue chips and live seatback televisions – today is now offering Cheez-It® crackers and Ocean Spray® Craisins® as part of the airline’s free unlimited onboard snack options.

  • Cheez-It® crackers
  • Craisins® dried cranberries
  • PopCorners® popcorn chips
  • Skeeter Nut-Free chocolate chip cookies
  • TERRA® Sweets & Blues potato chips

You can help yourself to as much or as little as you want- I went for the classic Terra chips which was a really nice mix of sweet potato and purple potato goodness, and the no-nut chocolate chip cookies which are still sitting around my home uneaten.

All these distractions helped the 2.5 hour flight pass really fast and before I knew it we were queuing up to land in JFK.

Jetblue is an accrual partner with Krisflyer and you can credit your miles flown to them as per the matrix below. So if you’re in the US and thinking about a domestic flight, don’t always jump straight to UA, consider giving Jetblue a try.

Edit: One additional useful thing about Jetblue is that they have an interline baggage agreement with SQ. So if you’re flying Jetblue and connecting to an SQ flight out of the States, you can check your bag through from your first departure point through to Singapore. Note that if you’re flying SQ into the States and connecting to a Jetblue flight, you’ll need to reclaim your luggage and clear customs before rechecking it (literally just dumping it on another belt). Thanks Marcel for the reminder.

Miami, no vice: United Economy IAH-MIA

Miami, no vice: Planning
EVA Air Business Class SIN-TPE
Decoding the lounge situation in Taipei
EVA Air Business Class TPE-IAH
Red Roof Inn IAH Airport
United Economy IAH-MIA
Renting with Sixt Miami
Element Miami International Airport
Miami, the Keys and everything inbetween
Orlando: Disneyworld and other distractions
Jetblue Economy MCO-JFK
EVA Air Business Class JFK-TPE
EVA Air Business Class TPE-SIN


Ah, the US domestic flight experience. The thing that reminds you how flying has gone from dress up event to Greyhound bus.

I survived the night at the Red Roof Inn and after checking my bag for cockroaches checked out and caught the shuttle bus to IAH. I surveyed my fellow shuttle bus passengers, wondering which ones had bed bugs and which ones just had fleas.

Most airlines in the States by and large have made check-in into a completely automated process. I checked in and printed my baggage tag all without human interference. The only time I had to make eye contact with someone was when I handed my bag over to the bag thrower handler behind the counter.

It was my first opportunity to test my TSA Precheck, which came along with my Global Entry registration. I found the experience entirely pleasant- you don’t need to remove your shoes, or your belt, or your coat, or your laptop from your bag. You still can’t bring water in, unfortunately, but the line moves a lot faster. You don’t do the full body scan, instead you walk through a single metal detector. Obviously if you only visit the States once a year it’s not worth getting, but otherwise you should really consider it.

I grabbed a quick breakfast in the United Club at IAH Terminal C. I’ve reviewed United Clubs before in other airports suffice to say they’re nothing special. I know the revamped United Clubs are going to offer hot food options but evidently I had one of the older ones because this was just bread, fruit and cereals.

Boarding started promptly 25 minutes before departure. Although I’m a Star Gold member, I was part of boarding group 2 because I was travelling in coach.

UA 1614 was operated today by an A320 aircraft with 3-3 seating in economy.

I had a middle seat near the rear because I booked this flight relatively last minute.

Zooming in on the seat didn’t improve things.

These seats are United’s new slimline models. Apparently, adopting the new slimline seating in economy allows United to operate the equivalent of 14 additional planes each year. And only at the expense of personal comfort! Who needs that, right.

I personally didn’t find the seats unduly punishing, but I can imagine on longer flights the lack of back support will get to you. I also need to note that everyone around me was impeccably polite on this flight and didn’t recline their seat (it’s a 2.5 hour morning flight, who needs full recline?)

Each seatback had built-in inflight entertainment. Unfortunately, I had already seen “Safety Card” before and I knew all the plot twists (spoiler alert: the nearest exit may be behind you!), so I didn’t think it was worth viewing again.

Takeoff was uneventful and the crew came around to start drinks service. Yes, you read that right. There were complimentary non-alcoholic drinks served on this flight. And contrary to popular belief, US airlines still offer free snacks. United Airlines even built a whole marketing campaign around their Stroopwafel offering

Because apparently people need instructions on how to Stroopwafel (and on turning nouns into verbs), United produced a commercial.

And got said Stroopwafel a spot on a daytime talk show. Seriously. I mean, nothing says slow news day…

This probably sums it up best.

Because I am not inclined to Stroopwafel, I amused myself by browsing the menu card to see what the finest in pre-packaged meals and shelf-stable snacks had to offer.

The hot skillet plates didn’t look half bad, actually.

But i’m pretty sure you can’t get french fries looking like that on an aircraft.

The loos at the back of the plane are spartan but clean. I’ve always wondered how people can stand to join the mile-high club in airplane loos. I mean, hygiene people.

 

I’m struggling to find anything else of note to write about. Ultimately it’s domestic economy. It doesn’t get more basic than this. You’re probably better off thinking of domestic flights in the US like a bus, only it flies. Like the magic schoolbus.

We landed on time in MIA and it was time for the vacation to well and truly begin.