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
It doesn’t feel like hyperbole to say that the unveiling of the new Singapore Airlines Suites was one of the most anticipated events in commercial aviation history. After all, this was the airline that redefined commercial travel luxury when it launched its first generation Suites back in 2007.
Till that point, most airlines were happy to settle for spacious if uninspiring leather upholstered chairs in First Class, each looking strangely derivative of the other. But Singapore Airlines was offering something above and beyond that. The first double bed in the skies. A suite with sliding doors that created a feeling of personal space on a shared aircraft. Finishings that evoked comparisons with a luxury yacht. When the marketing team called it “a class beyond First”, few could argue with that assessment.
The Suites product sparked a luxury arms race with other premium airlines, each striving to redefine the standards of opulence passengers could expect. Since then we’ve seen a steady game of oneupsmanship when it comes to innovation in the A380. Emirates launched their A380s with showers and a bar. Etihad launched their A380s with luxurious apartments and The Residence.
As the Suites product neared the 10 year mark, it was clear that Singapore Airlines would once again need to dig deep and come up with something that could grab the headlines back from its rivals. People weren’t going to be wowed by double beds or doors anymore. A class beyond First needed to be rejuvenated.
The new Singapore Airlines suites were unveiled on 2 November 2017 (technically, the images leaked the day before but it’s all gangland rumour until it’s confirmed) to much fanfare. The design team had reimagined flying as akin to a hotel room in the sky, as opposed to a mere seat that converted to a bed. Passengers would have an unprecedented amount of personal space, a separate bed and seat, and the closest experience you could have to flying on a private jet without having to own one.
Although I quite liked the new business class, I’m on the record as being far from won over by the new Suites. In fact, I noted at the time that compared to the new first class products that rivals were unveiling, SQ’s new Suite seemed almost underwhelming. Sure, it had a lot of space, but space is only as good as what you do with it. Moreover, the decided lack of a wow factor made me worry that SQ was going to lose its product leadership in first class.
There was only one way to find out for sure.
I had anticipated that the new Suites would launch on the Sydney route before it was actually announced, and booked an award ticket in anticipation of the aircraft swap. As it turns out, SQ221/232 between Singapore and Sydney was indeed the first flight to operate the new cabins, and for a mere 63,800 miles (these were prices before the devaluation) I’d get to experience that firsthand.
After my visit to the Private Room I ambled over to the gate. SQ221 was already boarding by the time I got myself to B2, and in no time at all I was headed up the jetbridge to the upper deck of the aircraft.
On the old A380s the Suites were on the first level, nestled in the nose of the aircraft. On the new A380s, the Suites have been transplanted upstairs. With the new arrangement, Business and Suites are on the upper deck, with Premium Economy and Economy down below. Kind of like the layout of the HMS Titanic, if I may say so.
I was warmly greeted at the door by the crew, who were keen to show off the spanking new aircraft. They got even more excited when I told them about how I had monitored and tracked the delivery of the new A380s just so I could get a seat on the new cabin products.
There are only six suites in total on the new A380, arranged in a 1-1 configuration. If you’re traveling with a partner, you definitely want to block 1A/2A or 1F/2F, as 3A and 3F are stand alone units and cannot be joined with the adjacent suite.
The first thing that strikes you when you enter the cabin is just how high the walls of the Suites are. They’re not top to bottom like the new Emirates first class, so don’t expect total privacy. But I’m 1.8m and couldn’t really see into the Suite without tip toeing, so there’s a good amount of privacy. I can’t be certain, but it does feel like these walls are higher than those of the old Suite.
The leading stewardess walked me the short distance to 2F, my seat of choice for this flight.
I took a deep breath, turned right and laid eyes for the first time on the new Suites.
In spite of everything I’ve said about the new Suite, I still felt a rush of exhilaration as I stepped into my room. And that’s the best way of describing it- it is a room. Not a seat. I’ve seen the mockups and publicity photos and all, but I don’t think you can truly appreciate the sheer amount of personal space the new Suite affords until you experience it firsthand. Each suite is 3.23-4 square meters, roughly the size of a small office.
But the space also draws your attention more to what’s not there, rather than what is. It’s hard not to realise how empty the Suite is, almost as if the designer solved the problem backwards- starting with X amount of space and then deciding what to fill it with.
Consequently there are a few strange design choices, such as the vase with the faux flowers on the right hand side of the shot that’s almost been included as an afterthoughts. That vase is stuck firm to the countertop, in case you were wondering.
On the opposite side of the Suite is the bed, which is folded into the wall.
Here’s the reverse angle looking out of the Suite. Note the huge 32 inch LCD monitor mounted on the wall. It may look like a strange viewing angle given where the seat is located, but the monitor can swing outwards towards the seat at the press of a button.
What button? The buttons in your armest. The armrest swings open to reveal the IFE controller and a touch-sensitive panel. Press the TV button to swing the screen inwards and out. The rest of the seat controls aren’t immediately intuitive, and the crew had to explain them to me. You press the blue curved line to swivel the chair towards the TV, and the orange curved line to swivel the chair forwards for TTOL.
Where are the options to recline the seat? Like I said, it’s complicated. Once your seat is fully facing the aisle, new options will appear on your touch panel. The video below probably explains it better
It’s interesting that SQ has gone with a different type of IFE controller for the new Suite. It’s not the touchscreen version they’ve introduced across cabin classes from the 2013 products onwards. Rather, it’s an old school joypad type controller with a full keyboard on one side and gamepad buttons on the other.
Let’s talk about the seat. Some rather uncharitable comparisons have been made to a dentist chair, but having sat in it all I can say is I wish my dentist had a chair this comfortable. The feel of the seat is exquisite, and there’s even a faint hint of new leather smell. The chair swivels at the push of a button to a 90 degree angle, either to face fully front for TTOL, or to face the aisle for meal service. It’s also quite the chair for dozing when fully reclined with the footrest up. This seat, to me, is excellent, and the only thing I’ll say is I wish the footrest were a bit longer.
Each Suite has two windows which are electronically controlled. They’re not the electrified gel type you find on the Dreamliner which rely on electrical current to dim and lighten, but they’re still pretty nifty.
Press and hold the button and the first set of day blinds comes down. Keep pressing and a second set of night blinds comes down.
Below the window is the storage counter, with three separate compartments open by default when you enter the Suite. The leftmost one has your Bose QC25 headset, the middle compartment is has a mirror, the rightmost one has your amenities kit.
On this counter you also find your IFE control tablet (more on that in a bit) and buttons for pre-set Suite lighting configurations, adjusting the screen, moving both window shades up or down at the same time, a do not disturb button and an attendant call button.
Further down you have an Empower outlet with a single USB charging outlet, a HDMI port and a contactless NFC terminal. Many people freaked out when they saw this in the initial unveil of the Suites, believing it meant SQ was looking at introducing more buy on board options. In reality the presence of the terminal is more benign. It can be used for things like duty-free payments (I didn’t buy anything so I don’t know if that functionality has been activated yet), but it’s also for pairing your NFC-enabled devices to the IFE system.
The headphones are the same type that SQ offers throughout First Class. I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m keen to see when an airline launches truly wireless headsets. That would remove the ages old problem of tangled cables.
The tray table slides out from the table to the left of the seat. It’s huge and very sturdy.
The crew came around with Lalique branded PJs. They come in a bag that doubles as a carrier.
The new PJs are very comfortable, and definitely a step up from the old sleeper suits that SQ has.
The men’s version of the Lalique amenities kit contains body lotion, lip balm and aftershave balm. There’s also a bottle of Eau de Toilette and, rather thoughtfully, a transparent ziplock bag for you to put the amenities inside should you be transiting to a further destination and need to pass through security (for what it’s worth, security has never cared that I don’t use clear ziplock bags for my liquids).
Each Suite also has a full length closet where you can hang your clothes, store a backpack or even a roll on bag of reasonable size (I didn’t test it, but visually it looks like a fat bag might have issues squeezing inside). Inside the closet is where you find the slippers, socks and eyeshades (earplugs still aren’t standard issue on SQ flights and you need to request for them).
Just then the inflight manager stopped by and asked me if I had a chance to see the bathrooms yet. You could tell he was really excited about them, since he asked the same question to the other two passengers in the cabin later on. I told him I hadn’t, and he insisted on giving me a tour.
There are two bathrooms in the new Suites cabin, and they are a massive step up from the old A380 cabin. Here’s what the old Suites bathrooms looked like:
The bathrooms in the old Suites were basically economy class loos with slightly nicer fixtures. They were cramped and tiny, with barely enough space to turn around, much less undress and get changed.
Not so the new bathrooms. The starboard bathroom is the larger of the two, with a jaw-dropping amount of space to move around in.
The bathroom is so large it has space for a sit down dressing table, with two mirrors and plenty of counter space for putting cosmetics.
That drawer beneath the dressing table pulls out to reveal the rest of the amenities you may need. SQ doesn’t provide these in the amenities kit, instead you pick and choose what you need. There are toothbrushes, shaving cream, shavers, combs and sanitary napkins.
The reverse angle only serves to reinforce just how spacious the bathroom is.
Even the toilet seat is fancy, with a leather covering to match that of the stool. And by stool I mean the one at the dressing table, fnar. I do wish SQ had opted to install auto flushing toilets though.
I really liked the sink- first of all it protrudes from the countertop, which I find more visually pleasing than a recessed sink. Second, it’s a waterfall tap where the water cascades down from the opening. That just looks cool.
Third, the water flow is extremely generous, surprisingly so for an aircraft. I always thought that airline taps were designed to be deliberately stingy with the water flow,
Bathroom amenities are by Lalique and stored in a small compartment next to the sink.
The port bathroom is smaller but no less opulent. It’s about half the size of the starboard bathroom, and although there’s no dressing table here, you have the same sink and leather covered toilet seat.
This bathroom has a couch for you to sit on, so you can change your pants without having to hop around on one foot as was the case in the old bathrooms.
This bathroom also gets a splash of (fake) greenery.
Back to my seat where the preflight festivities were breaking out in full force. I was once again confronted with the eternal question: Dom or Krug?
I went with the Krug (for an limited time, SQ is offering vintage Krug on their First Class flights; previously the Krug was a non-vintage Grand Cuvee), and a glass of still water.
I came into the flight hoping to secure a double Suite, and at check-in I noticed that 2A was taken, as well as 1F. I originally picked 1A, but moved to 2F because I thought 1F was blocked as a bassinet seat. Shortly after doing this, I noticed that 1A was taken, meaning that the roll call was now
- 1A occupied
- 1F occupied (blocked?)
- 2A occupied
- 2F (me)
As it turned out, the final load was 3/6 in Suites, but it’s just my luck that 1A decided to switch to 1F at the last minute. This meant 2A would enjoy a double Suite, whereas both 1F and me in 2F would have to rough it out in the single Suite. I’m sure there’s some game theory analysis lurking in all this, what with the odd man out getting to be the kingmaker.
One thing about Mr 1F, as I’ll call him from hereon forth. Just before we pushed back I noticed him complaining to the crew that the seating position with the chair facing forward was too uncomfortable because it cramped his legs. He requested to be moved to 3F instead, which meant I would indeed get a double Suite!
I’d mentioned to the leading stewardess earlier on how much I was hoping to score a double Suite, and she knocked on my Suite to deliver this happy development. She seemed really sweet and genuinely excited for me to get to try the double room format, quickly pulling down the partition between Suites which allowed me to look into 1F.
Aaaaanddddd….shortly after takeoff Mr 1F decided to move back to 1F from 3F, because he thought the light and noise coming from the galley were distracting (he had a point though, read on). Easy come, easy go I guess.
The Captain came on the PA to welcome us onboard this brand new A380. He told us of our (way too short) flight time of 7 hours to Sydney and that we’d be pushing back shortly. It never ceases to amaze me how an aircraft the size of an A380 can take to the air so effortlessly, especially one that was now carrying me post my TPR feast.
I started fiddling around with the tablet I mentioned earlier.
This is meant to be the control nexus for the entire Suite. You can control the IFE system with it of course, but you can also adjust Suite functions like lighting, creating customized settings just the way you like.
You could also pair your mobile device with the Krisworld system to get customized entertainment options.
The IFE selection was extensive, as always, and I was all ready to start hate watching Justice League.
One thing bad about the tablet is that the battery drains really, really fast. If you forget to plug it back into the charging cradle it will probably give out on you after 4-5 hours of moderate use.
After takeoff I was on the receiving end of more champagne from the crew, together with a plate of candied walnuts and cashews.
In Suites you can choose to have your meal at any time. Since I wanted to get dinner out of the way and maximize rest, I opted to have it straight after takeoff despite not really being hungry. The menu had been given to me before takeoff, but so distracted was I with everything that was going on that I only looked at it now.
The sharp-eyed amongst you will spot that the menu lists Dom Perignon 2006, but they’re actually serving 2009. Someone forgot to update the menu…
My table was set and garlic bread brought out before the meal proper. I was surprised to find that the bread was cold, which given the usual attention to detail by the SQ crew was a bad omission. I didn’t raise it because I was quite full anyway.
The first course was chilled Malossol caviar with blinis, creme fraiche and chives. Caviar might not go with everything, but it’s a quintessential part of the First Class experience so who was I to say otherwise?
This was followed by white hominy soup with salted pork hock, white beans and kale. This was quite an interesting soup because it was meant to be the Western option, but ended up tasting fairly Asian. The pork hock seemed a bit like spam though.
The next course was a salad that I poked at. Belgian endive with baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and walnuts. I get there must be some people who enjoy airline salads, but I’ve yet to find one I’ve enjoyed. Even the addition of pumpkin seed oil couldn’t liven it up.
I’d pre-ordered my main from the Book the Cook menu, and I’m glad I did because none of the mains on the menu really appealed to me. Steamed Cod Fish Thai Style is always a brilliant choice (And it’s available in both business and first class), and this came topped with a delicious sauce of garlic, lime, cilantro, red chili and fish sauce. There was a side of perfectly cooked cauliflower and broccoli (crunchy, not limp and wilted) and purple cabbage to accompany proceedings. Without a doubt one of the best dishes I’ve had in the air, and one I’d tend to default to.
Dessert was Gotham Black, an all time classic of chocolate cremeux with vanilla cream, chocolate sorbet and cherry compote.
Here’s the key problem with dining. It’s super awkward. You need to face your chair to the aisle to eat, because that’s where the tray table is. So throughout your meal you’ll be literally staring across the aisle at the person in the other Suite. It’s a rather shocking design issue that you’d think they’d have flagged earlier (why not close the Suite door? You could, but during the dining service the crew need to enter and exit quite often to top up drinks, clear plates, serve new ones etc.)
I mentioned this to by the way to the crew and the helpfully closed the door anyway. Note how the door has patterns cut into it that project light onto the ceiling. A door with slits kind of defeats the purpose of privacy, but I guess they valued aesthetics more. And to be fair, you’d have to make a real effort to peep in order to see something.
Well fed and watered, I decided to give the bed a try. I retired to the loo to wash up, and when I returned I found my bed had been turned down.
Up till this point, I thought that weird dining position aside, the Suites experience had been excellent. Unfortunately, it was the rest portion where design flaws became apparent.
Overall, I much prefer the old Suites bed to the new one. The padding of the mattress was much better and felt more like a real bed. The new Suites mattress is rather thin, and although it’s still alright there’s no mistaking it for the old mattress.
But there are some specific aspects of the new Suites that make good rest difficult. First, let’s talk seatbelts. Almost every non three point seatbelt I’ve encountered so far on an airplane is the type that’s manually adjusted. That is, the belt’s default length is very long, but you can pull on one end of the belt to make it shorter and tighter as needed.
Not so the seatbelt on the new suites bed. This seatbelt is more akin to the type you find in a car. Once it’s clicked into place, any excess length is automatically retracted into the spool. The retraction mechanism is very strong, meaning you’re really secured tightly to the bed. I imagine this problem will go away over time as the seatbelts see increased use and the retraction mechanism wears a bit, but for now it’s quite uncomfortable. What’s more any slight movement on your part causes the entire seatbelt to lock up. So you could be trying to sit up, roll to your side, lift your bum off the bed to adjust your PJs and be on the receiving end of a harsh jerk by the seatbelt.
Second, the material for the bedspread does not breathe well. There’s little air circulation, and consequently the bed becomes very hot as you sleep (the PJs must be made of a similar material because the two combine to form the most exquisite kind of heat) . Couple this with the fact that the A380 does not have individual air vents, and you’re looking at a pretty miserable rest. This got so bad I found myself relocating to the chair to doze, just because the chair is made of a much cooler material.
Third, the new Suites design has major issues with noise isolation. Check out where 3F is, relative to the galley.
You see that there’s only a very thin wall separating the rear of the cabin from the galley. This means that any noise from the galley, be it conversation, preparation of food, the clink of plates or the rustling of plastic, flows out of the galley and into the cabin.
And no, closing the door to the Suite doesn’t help. Truth be told, the door is psychological more than anything- it has slits cut into it, and does not extend all the way to the ground. In other words, the door does not serve to block sound at all. In any case, the top of the Suite is open, so there’s no real noise insulation.
Here’s the thing: I don’t think the crew were particularly noisy at all. They were holding conversations in the galley at regular volume, but I could hear every single word in 2F. My advice if you want quiet is to go for 1A, because that’s the furthest from the galley.
You can also see the extent of light pollution from the galley. Here’s my view from 2F; I imagine it must be much worse for whoever is in 3F.
One other thing to note if you’re in 1A/F or 2A/F. Your bed is directly opposite your neighbour, separated by the thin partition. So any movements, shakes or snores he/she makes are going to travel to you through the wall.
After a fitful time of trying to get to bed, I suddenly remembered that as a Suites passenger I had 100MB of free Wi-Fi. I didn’t even need a voucher from the crew; all you do is enter your last name and seat number.
The internet was fairly fast, and I was able to surf mobile friendly webpages and respond to questions in the Telegram group.
There would be a continental breakfast served just before landing in Sydney but nothing on the menu appealed to me. It’s strictly a juice, fruits, cornflakes and pastries affair.
Instead I just had a glass of orange juice with 50 minutes to go to landing. The crew also gave me another Fast Track card for Sydney immigration, in addition to the Fast Track card I received from the ground staff when boarding. In the end I didn’t need either one because Singaporeans have e-gate access in Australia, but I kept them for future use anyway.
The crew came around once more before landing and I gave them the feedback on what I loved and didn’t love. It’s interesting that they told me I wasn’t the first passenger to talk about the noise and heat issues. Apparently this has been a recurring issue, and hopefully they’ll think of some mitigating steps. Honestly, I’m not sure what they can do about the noise, because that’s just the design of the Suite and its proximity to the galley. Maybe they can work on the materials for the bedsheets, but without individual air vents it’s going to be hard to please every customer’s temperature preference.
We landed in Sydney ahead of schedule, and I had now officially joined the new Suites club.
So what did I make of my maiden new Suites voyage? The new Suite is absolutely brilliant for lounging around in. There’s nothing quite like pacing your own private room inflight, or lounging around in an oversized recliner. The benefit of a separate bed and seat is also that you can switch between sleeping or working seamlessly, unlike the old Suite which forced you to choose one or the other. I loved the new bathrooms, and the crew was excellent as always.
But there are clearly some kinks that SQ needs to work out with regards to the quality of rest. Light and noise pollution mar what should have been a great rest, and the annoying tendency of the bed to trap heat means you could wake up sweaty, which is always an awful experience.
The flight to Sydney is a bit too short to really test the new Suites’ credentials for work, play and everything inbetween, but I imagine as more and more people fly the product on longer routes like London we’ll start to get more opinions and more feedback on things they love and don’t love.
Would I recommend the new Suites? I think you definitely need to try it at least once, because there’s an insane novelty to having your own room in the sky. But if you end up on a flight with the old Suite, don’t feel too bad either. In my final assessment, I much prefer the awake experience in the new Suite, but when it comes to rest, give me the old Suite any time.