The Sydney Suites Gambit: Trip Planning
Singapore Airlines First Class Lounge & TPR
Singapore Airlines A380 New Suites SIN-SYD
Singapore Airlines SilverKris Business Class Lounge SYD
Singapore Airlines A380 New Business Class SYD-SIN
I’d booked a limo with my UOB PRVI Miles AMEX card, which picked me up at my office and in no time at all pulled into the First Class reception driveway in Terminal 3.
One change I’ve noticed in myself since starting The Milelion is that I’ve become less bashful about taking photos. I remember that taking photos was the most intimidating part of the process when I first started writing trip reports. Quick snap, quick snap, pretend to be playing with phone when someone walks past, quick snap, quick snap. Oh crap that person is looking at me, ignore, ignore, ok they’re gone. Quick snap, quick snap.
It says quite a bit about how far I’ve come that I felt no shame about asking if the porters and reception staff would mind if I took an unobstructed photo of the First Class driveway entrance, which they duly obliged.
So I completely understand how some First Class first timers feel apprehensive about taking photos, like they’re being silently judged on everything they do and they’ll somehow be seen as suaku (country bumpkin). It’s ok guys, it’ll pass.
The First Class reception is brightly lit and a pleasant place to complete the check-in formalities, but as I’ve mentioned before this is purely designed as a processing area. There’s no food, no drinks, no entertainment- the entire setup is designed to get you moving along as soon as possible. And that’s fine, that makes sense in fact. You don’t want to clog up the area with people who don’t need to be there. I do think, however, that offering each guest a hot towel and a bottle of water would be a really low cost way of making a great first impression.
My bag was checked through to Sydney, and since I was traveling on a one-way award (I’d separately booked SYD-SIN-HKG on the return leg to take advantage of the US$100 stopover trick) I was asked to show the return trip ticket. I was also provided with an immigration card for Australia.
SQ ground crew are generally great, but the lady serving me was really curt, never cracking a smile the whole time. She wasn’t outright rude or anything, but it was certainly a departure from the regular polished SQ service.
I got my beautiful golden colored Suites boarding pass (and thankfully it was not vandalized because I hate it when the check in staff feel the need to mark things in pen) and an invitation to The Private Room.
There’s a private exit from the reception that opens out into the main departures concourse of Terminal 3.
Barely 30m away is a special departure immigration lane for First Class (and Solitaire PPS) guests, with a few automated kiosks and a couple of manned counters. I’ve never seen any queue here, and within seconds I was through and heading for the lounge.
Seasoned visitors know the drill by now, but for the sake of narrative continuity- the SilverKris lounge is just a short walk away, located on the upper floor from the general departures level.
Once the lounge dragons catch sight of your golden boarding pass they straight away whisk you into the lounge, take you past the first class door guard and all the way into The Private Room. The Private Room is exclusively for first class passengers traveling on Singapore Airlines (and, for a period, was only open to passengers on revenue tickets). Star Alliance first class passengers are restricted to the first class lounge.
You cannot guest anyone into TPR. By right, access is only for departing first class passengers, but many reports on FT say that passengers who arrive in first class are granted access too.
I mentioned that I’d like to dine early (it was about 5.30pm) so I was ushered straight to the dining area which was deserted.
The staff brought me a menu, as well as some still water (Evian) and a glass of Dom Perignon 2006.
Here’s the full list of available drinks.
Let’s talk food. A good-quality buffet was the standard for a First Class lounge maybe 10+ years ago, but dine-on-demand is something that almost every premium airline now offers to its highest tier passengers. TPR has a very small buffet selection, and the dine-on-demand is clearly meant to be the main attraction.
Needless to say, operating dine-on-demand is a lot more expensive than a buffet, and in this era of belt tightening it’s not surprising that cutbacks have happened. To be fair, these are not particular to SQ. We’ve even seen Etihad, Emirates and Qatar all cut back on their lounge offerings to some extent.So let’s start making some comparisons between the then and now. I first visited The Private Room back in 2015 when I was flying the Suites product for the first time. I remember being wowed by the quality of the food on offer. Sadly, my latest visit confirms that the quality of offerings in TPR has declined significantly.
Here’s the menu from back in late 2015.
And here’s the menu from 2018.
The menu options have changed, as you would expect, and a few more local dishes have been added to the menu. In one sense it’s good that they’re offering visitors the chance to try local dishes. On the other, they’re not particularly good renditions of local dishes (see below) and if you wanted to be cynical you might say that local dishes are cheaper to prepare too.
Even within the evergreen Western items, some cutbacks are notable. For example, here’s the prime beef burger as it was served back in 2015.
And here’s the burger this time round.
If you’re sharp, you’ll have spotted that there’s no more foie gras. We can have a separate discussion about whether foie gras is cruel and what not, but it’s still a cutback as far as I’m concerned.
The lobster dish is another interesting point of comparison. I’m quite certain (though correct me if I’m wrong) that lobster used to be an option for lunch too, but it is now only available with the dinner service. Moreover, the quality of the lobster has changed too. Back in 2015, I was served a very lovely poached lobster with a delicate side of vegetables. Poaching the lobster lets you taste the sweet flesh, and generally can only be done if the lobster is very fresh.
This time round, the lobster meat came breaded with a light (flour?) coating, which is what restaurants do to disguise the fact they don’t have the freshest of meat available. By default they serve half a lobster, but in the photo below I requested for the full one.
The lobster just didn’t taste fresh at all. What’s more, the taste was buried under the thick layer of tomato ratatouille they sauteed the dish in. Instead of potatoes, they now bulk up the dish with the addition of some cheap pasta (how do you know it’s cheap? look at the texture- good quality pasta is slightly rough because its been cut with bronze dyes, and such pastas are made with much higher quality wheat too). I also requested for the dish to be served without cheese, but this was forgotten. I’m not allergic to cheese, I just dislike it, but this would be a problem if I were.
The baked cod with mashed green peas tomato mango actually came out pretty nicely. The high fat content in cod means it’s a fairly forgiving fish, and although the pea mash was a bit lumpy and not necessary, the overall dish worked.
I decided to try one of the local dishes. The prawn mee soup was a disappointing rendition of a much-loved Singapore classic. Watery broth, tiny frozen prawns and a very fatty strip of pork.
The dessert menu has also been parred down from last time, with one less ice cream and one less cake option.
It didn’t really matter to me given that I only ever eat ice cream.
In the grand scheme of things, a lot of the above criticism is nitpicking. But I believe that’s the idea when you’re talking about First Class. I mean, an airline’s flagship product is meant to stand up to the strictest scrutiny, and when you advertise Suites as a class beyond first, you can’t just add (inflight experience only) in the fine print. The private dining concept is still cool and a great experience for the first time traveler, but the quality of food has definitely gone down.
The First Class lounge has showers, but bathroom in TPR also has three of its own. These are semi-private suites, in the sense that they’re located inside the main bathroom. They do not have attached toilets of their own.
That’s simply not good enough for an airline like SQ, especially when you think about the private cabanas that rivals like Cathay offer (and have offered for a long time) in their flagship lounges. In fact, almost every other airline I can think of (American Airlines, Lufthansa, Qatar, Qantas, ANA, EVA to name a few) has private shower cubicles.
Don’t expect any fancy toiletries here either- the soap and shampoo are obtained from a push dispenser on the wall. SQ may offer an unmatched experience of luxury in the air, but their ground offerings are at best sub-par.
The rest of TPR is unremarkable. It’s definitely less crowded than the main First Class lounge, but there isn’t an awful lot to do except sit around. I’m pretty sure some of the space could be converted into a spa treatment area or something, but well…
If you’re traveling with a kid, you might like to know there’s a nursing room available.
I did a quick visit to the First Class lounge on my way out. As mentioned, this is a relatively larger area that’s meant to accommodate First Class passengers from other *A carriers, plus SQ’s Solitaire PPS members (who have access to the First Class lounge whenever they fly with SQ).
There’s no dine on demand here, just a buffet with a selection of local and western items.
There are chef stations though, but it’s not so much cooking for you as it is assembling pre-prepared items like soup noodles or prata.
Despite the cutbacks, it’s nice to note that SQ has kept Haagen Dazs ice cream in the freezer and Evian water in the fridge.
On the whole, though, I wouldn’t say the food quality in the first class lounge is anything to write home about either. It’s mostly starchy options, with some fried dishes and other stuff to fill you up fast. Put it this way- if you come in hungry, you’ll leave full. But it’s not going to be some gastronomic tasting. In fact, if we look at the pure F&B experience I’d rank the SilverKris lounge below the Qantas lounge in Singapore, which is saying a lot given that the Qantas lounge is an outstation.
I’m just thinking back to all the first class lounges I’ve reviewed so far- the Al Safwa lounge in Doha, Lufthansa’s Private Terminal in Frankfurt, Thai Airway’s lounge and spa in Bangkok. I’d definitely rank the experience at these three as way superior to the SilverKris lounge. Each of them has a specific wow factor: the Al Safwa is humongous with hotel rooms of its own, the Lufthansa FCT has lovely cabana tubs and drives you to your plane on the tarmac, Thai Airways offers you a 1 hour massage of your choice. That wow factor is currently missing in Singapore Airline’s flagship lounge.
Don’t get me wrong- it’s a pleasant enough place to pass time waiting for a flight, but it’s not going to leave a lasting impression (that said, it’s probably on par with ANA’s underwhelming First Class lounge in Narita).