Last Thursday, I flew on the inaugural SQ22 from Singapore to New York non-stop, which was all in all an amazing experience.
Now that I’ve had a bit more time to reflect on the flight, I want to put down a few thoughts about what was good, and what wasn’t so good.
It doesn’t feel like the world’s longest flight
This, in a nutshell, is the highest praise I can give the experience. Even though the flight was “only” 17h 25mins (well short of the 19 hours that keeps getting mentioned in the media), it didn’t feel anything like the odyssey it was made out to be.
No doubt part of the reason for this is technological- the A350’s cabin simulates a lower altitude (6,000 feet above sea level, versus 8,000 feet in older aircraft), has higher humidity and uses other tricks like LED lighting to nudge your body to wake or rest.
But there are also other touches by SQ to make the time pass faster, from the upsized IFE system (1,200 hours versus the standard 1,000 hours)…
…to the addition of mattress toppers on Business Class beds for extra comfort (I didn’t even realise it was there until someone else pointed it out, because it’s already provisioned when you flip the bed over)
I don’t think it’s any one thing that made a 17 hour flight feel no different from any other long haul- it’s a lot of small things that came together.
Amenities kits in Business Class, finally
Singapore Airlines has been historically resistant to introducing amenities kits in Business Class, so it was a pleasant surprise to receive one on this flight. Truth be told, there wasn’t actually anything in this kit that we haven’t seen before (earplugs were always available, the lip balm, hand cream, Laundress crease release and fabric bar were from the 70th anniversary kit), but it’s a step in the right direction nonetheless.
Some additional items that I think passengers would really appreciate: a pen (so the stewardesses don’t keep losing theirs to passengers who want to fill landing cards), hand sanitizer (airplane, ewww) and facial mist.
The airline is trialing these amenities kits on all its ULR flights (which means SFO and LAX will be the next to get them) for three months, after which a final decision will be made.
A better snack menu
I’ve always felt that the snack menu was a key weakness of Singapore Airlines’ premium cabins, because it’s typically been either dressed up instant noodles, prepackaged sandwiches or junk food. On SQ22, there was an extensive list of snacks available throughout the flight that included what I’d call “proper food”- things like lobster dumplings and a selection of hot soups and made-to-order sandwiches.
It’s not exactly Etihad’s famous steak sandwich, but hey, baby steps.
Dine-on-demand, but whose demand?
Although meal service is technically dine-on-demand, it’s quite clear the crew were trying to nudge passengers to take their meals at the same time. To be perfectly fair, anyone who requested to dine at a separate time was accommodated. However, the service routines are designed to make it seem like dining is based on a fixed schedule- the cabin lights were turned on, the trolley was rolled out and sleeping passengers were woken up. The option of dine-on-demand was never actively volunteered by the crew.
I suspect some lessons have been learned from the experience with SQ31/32 to San Francisco where dine-on-demand was first introduced. Reviews weren’t very positive, with the most common criticism being that service was slow and disorganized. Perhaps SQ believes that cabin-wide dine-on-demand is not possible without deteriorating service standards, and the SOP is to allow it but not promote it.
I imagine that with time and more flights, Singapore Airlines will be able to refine the dining experience to provide a good mix between efficiency and personal choice.
Nearly unusable Wi-Fi
I should probably qualify this by saying that my experience with Wi-Fi on this flight is going to be atypical- not every flight will have a full compliment of journalists and bloggers sapping the bandwidth with live streaming videos and high res images.
That said, the Wi-Fi was nigh on unusable for prolonged portions of the flight. Even removing the two hour or so blackout that occurs when the plane flies over the polar regions, the speeds throughout were dismal.
I wasn’t the only one who encountered problems with the Wi-Fi, many other journalists report the same issues:
— Sarah Wells (@mcdonaldsarahj) October 12, 2018
PJs would be appreciated
I know, I know. Singapore Airlines doesn’t do sleeper suits, at least not outside First Class. But on a flight where sleeping is the easiest way to pass time, you’d think the airline would do everything in its power to facilitate this.
One of the highlights of the flight was that I got to see the world’s premier aviation journalists in their most unglam form- as everyone swapped out to home-brought PJs after take-off (the great thing about the Milelion t-shirt is that it’s equally at home in bed and outside- order them for your friends!). I hope SQ can consider offering PJs at least on the ULR flights- if nothing else, think of it as a branding exercise.
A lack of social areas and movement opportunities
An A350 isn’t an A380, and cabin real estate is at a premium. Moreover, Singapore Airlines takes a conservative approach to cabin design, and doesn’t really go in for frills like a bar or lounge, like Emirates, Etihad, or Qatar have done.
However, a flight this long could benefit from having a social area for passengers to mix and chat. David Flynn from AusBT has surmised the situation as such:
This is where I really noticed the lack of any secondary ‘social’ space such as a small lounge area with a self-serve bar for drinks and snacks. In my experience, being able to climb out of your cosy crib, change the scenery and chat with fellow flyers makes a noticeable difference on any long flight.
That said, I realise there are very legitimate constraints that may prevent this from happening. Apart from the aforementioned real estate crunch (SQ is putting 161 sets on an aircraft that normally has 253), there are regulations regarding passengers congregating that apply to flights into US airspace. There’s also the potential for disruption of other passengers’ rest (free-flow alcohol and enclosed spaces don’t make for the best of combinations). Campbell Wilson has already gone on record to say that this idea was considered and rejected.
If a social area is not possible, then it would have been nice to have more areas for movement on the plane. For all the talk of Canyon Ranch wellness partnerships and in-seat stretching, nothing promotes better inflight health than a simple walk around to get the blood flowing. There really isn’t anywhere you can go on the plane to do this- the aisles are narrow and the galleys are crowded.
I guess this is a case of not being able to have it all. If these flights are to be profitable, Singapore Airlines simply can’t forgo any more seats. Still, one can dream…
There’s a lot to like about Singapore Airlines’ latest non-stop flight to the US, and a lot that can be improved as well. I’d be interested to try the flight again one year from now (oh please let it still be around) to see how things have changed. Come to think of it, I will be trying the rest of SQ’s ULR routes in March, when I fly non-stop to SFO and back from LAX with the Milelioness on our honeymoon. I’ll be sure to take detailed notes about how service routines and products have changed.