Airlines Trip Reports

Singapore to South, East and West Africa: Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class SIN-JNB Review

A guy takes a flight to South Africa. He eats some food. You should read it.

We’re always looking to introduce new voices on The Milelion, and we’ve got an aspiring guestwriter in Sam. Over the next few days and weeks, we’ll be publishing Sam’s flight reviews and adventures bit by bit. Please let us know what you think in the comments, especially if you’d like to read more! 


Singapore to South, East and West Africa: Trip Planning
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class SIN-JNB
South African Airways Baobab Lounge JNB
South African Airways A320-200 Business Class JNB-EBB
Air France A330 Business Class ACC-CDG
Air France La Premiere Lounge CDG
Air France 777W First Class (La Premiere) CDG-SIN


My Grab ride to Changi was straightforward because, well, this is Singapore.  As of a few months ago, I’d reached Grab Gold (ladies, control yourselves) which, true to form was entirely meaningless for this trip.

My main motivation for taking this flight (aside from the fact that I needed to be in Uganda) was that I wanted to see what the Singapore Airlines A350 experience was like. I’ve flown this exact product, route and aircraft a few times this year, but the normal flight timings mean leaving Singapore at ~1am so it’s a sleeper service. On the way back, I always try and sleep as much as possible because it lands in SIN at 06:00 am and I’m sometimes expected to be functional that day. So, despite logging quite a few legs on this route, I didn’t really know much about it.

The 2pm departure of this seasonal variant of the SIN-JNB flights lands at 6:30pm local time which meant that my approach to mitigating jetlag would be to stay awake the whole flight and then sleep once in JNB. This would require espresso. Lots of espresso. I was also looking forward to having 2 full meals on the flight and even went as far as to Book the Cook. It felt like a holiday on what is normally quite a functional route for me.

Check in was extremely brief and I was through immigration and on my way to the lounge in no time at al. I don’t think that the MileLion needs more pictures of a SilverKris lounge at Changi (and more to the point, I didn’t take any). I will say this, the 2PM departure slot is far better from a lounge perspective because the SilverKris lounge at T3 at 1am is not a pretty sight. I usually struggle to find a seat at all. At 2PM however, it was a dream and the lounge was basically empty.

I went to the gate about 40 minutes before our scheduled departure time, but it transpired that we were going to be delayed a bit because a number of connecting passengers were delayed. Boarding eventually began about 20 minutes behind schedule, but I was in no rush.

This was my first encounter with the automated boarding from gate (where there’s just a camera in the jetway, and no one checks your boarding pass for the final time). It should speed things up immeasurably, but I think it could have been handled better. The person who announced that boarding was starting was near the x-ray machines, at the opposite end of the gate to the door. He just announced that priority boarding was starting, and everyone waited patiently by the door assuming someone would come to check BPs, you know, like almost all flights always. We all milled around until someone was brave enough to launch towards the aircraft and then we all followed and saw the camera. I feel like just saying “this is automated boarding [or whatever] so there’s no more BP check” is pretty low hanging fruit to make the process smoother.

I had chosen 21A in the rear mini cabin for this flight, which I hoped would be emptier. With BTC I wouldn’t have any dining FOMO and wasn’t competing with the rest of Business Class for my first choice in meal so I was happy to squirrel myself away at the back and focus on staying awake. I’m new to SQ (with my first flight being about a year ago) and KF Gold, but it appears that KF Gold is virtually meaningless on board and is only really good for lounge access if in Economy (correct me if I’m wrong).

There ended up being a few spare seats around me (which the family in the bassinet were happy to let their child climb all over and shout from – delightful). Our departure was further delayed, and by the time we finally pushed back and began our long taxi, I had been on the aircraft over an hour. In that time I’d had an orange juice and mapped out a plan of attack for the IFE.

The last time I wrote about the 2013 SQ seat it was before my ascension to the lofty guestwriter status on Milelion but I think the comments are still relevant. So, the following is a self-plagiarism (“won’t you go blind?”) from a TR I wrote on flyertalk last year:

The seat is a fine-looking beast. It’s almost unfathomably wide, and I am a huge fan of the colour scheme. The foot cubby situation has been discussed at length, so I won’t go into detail here. The end result is simply that the seat is oddly uncomfortable to sit in. As being sat in is its primary purpose, this seems a bit of an oversight.


As the flight went on, a few more oddities emerged. There are, for example, a total of 6 different light switches, but nowhere to securely put a water bottle. There’s an HDMI port, 2 USBs, a Power point and the obsuce “iPod” connection, but there’s no shoe cubby. There are 2 different seat belts (depending on what mode its in), and 2 places to plug in your earphones but it’s quite hard to put your elbows anywhere without popping open a storage compartment.

There are also no individual air nozzles, which deeply irritates me when they insist on trying to slow roast the whole cabin. Finally, getting it into a bed is a bit of an ordeal, and requires an FA to slap and tickle it a bit, and utter a passphrase, after which it suddenly flips over.

This act also disables all the seat adjustments, so you can either lounge, or have a flat bed, but nothing in between. I’m not a fan of that aspect, because I find sleep on flights to be quite unpredictable, so, if I’m dozing off in recline, I’d like to be able to jab a button and go flat so that I can fall asleep before the sensation vanishes and I have to drink lots of whiskey to coax it back. In this setup, you have to consciously decide to make it a bed. If you’re dozing, and on the verge of falling asleep, standing up for 2-3 minutes and witnessing someone manhandle your seat is a sure-fire way to feel more awake. 

Overall, there is no real reason to like the seat, beyond the sheer sexiness of it. So, while I may need a chiropractor to get my knees to realign with my spine when I land, I will, in all likeliness, book this again the minute I get a chance. Not for any practical reason, but because it’s gorgeous

The eagled-eyed among you will also notice that the seat in the photos is not 21A (it’s 11K from a different trip) but the product is identical.

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As I was at the back of the cabin, meal service started around one and a half hours into the flight

I had booked the 6oz USDA steak for lunch and was eager to see if SQ could buck the curse of rubbery, overcooked steaks that befalls most airlines silly enough to serve it. The meal began with some anonymous salad starter with something like scallops in it. It was pretty underwhelming and further hindered by the distinct fish-y flavour which I really hope came from the scallops.

Next up was the steak.

SQ really pulled a rabbit (cow?) out the hat with this dish. The steak was tender and, though more on the well done than medium side of things, retained some flavour. The vegetables were a bit subdued, but overall the dish came together well. I finished the lot. My BTC situation meant that I had completely ignored the menu, and I can’t tell you what the wine was, but it was nothing special and more the result of me succumbing to imagined peer pressure from the FA than anything.

Pudding was branded as some sort of pana cotta but was really much more like a mousse. It was suitably light, and the fresh strawberries were a welcomed addition.

My personal opinion is that cheese comes before pudding, but the FA was quite insistent that I should have pudding first, which was fine. SQ’s cheese game is a bit underwhelming. It’s adequate, but nothing really interesting and feels like a lacklustre finish to what could be a great meal. The packaged crackers also look a bit tacky.  To their credit, the folks at QR know their way around a cheese board and often have added bits like nuts and chutney that liven it up. ET even do a whole cheese trolley service and carve hulking great slabs of whatever you point at for you. By contrast, SQ’s offering seems like an afterthought.

I decided that Port was the antidote to the mildly depressing cheese situation, and it was pleasant, but nothing extraordinary.

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Finally, I wrapped things up with a double espresso, which was quite full bodied and packed a bit of a punch – perfect  It also came with some chocolates (even better!)

I then persisted with my TV show. SQ should get a nod here for stocking a wide range of watchables and presenting them in an accessible way. I ended up watching a whole season of “McMafia”. The show was surprisingly good – quite gritty and reasonably complex characters though it fell into some tired cliches at some points. It also fetishised Business School and MBAs to a hilarious extent, and by my count, made it look like an entire graduating class of Harvard Business School went into organised crime. I’m still not sure if that’s good product placement for HBS or not.

I interspersed episodes with vacant staring out of the window, and appreciating the A350 wingtip. It is a fantastic aircraft and I always look forward to flying it.

Almost precisely in the middle of nowhere, I decided it was time for a snack.

Now, the snack deserves a special mention. These things are basically crack and are usually the highlight of any long haul SQ flight for me. I found them once in a shop in Singapore, but were astronomically priced so I’ll stick to having them when I’ve overpaid for miles to get on flights. That makes more sense.

After my snack, there was some more McMafia interspersed with vacantly staring out of the window.

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Somewhere around Madagascar it was time for the second meal service. I booked the Grilled Angus Beef Burger – a dish that I had had success with in the past.

Pleasingly geotagged photos

A brief interlude here;  can we all appreciate how pleasing it looks  when geotagging pictures works? You can see the approximate flight paths and which countries you were over while having soup. Pretty cool.

The meal began with some sort of smoked duck salad which was tasty.

The burger was true to form – juicy and flavourful with a very pleasing onion relish.

The portobello mushroom is always a bit of a gamble, not for flavour (which is delicious) but for the chance that it will “ink” you like an agitated octopus, leaving you with mushroom juice on your clothes for the remainder of the flight. Fortunately my mushroom was adequately placated and I was not inked. I will remain vigilant for future BTC encounters.

Finally, as if to show me that yes, the first pudding really was panna cotta, out came a mousse pudding. It was sweet, inoffensive and fairly forgettable. I can’t shake the feeling that the chocolate decoration on top looks a bit like a sphincter (and now you can’t un-see it).

The second meal was an abridged service, which was fine by me as I’d only sat and watched McMafia since the four course steak meal I’d had a few hours prior. Soon after the meal service wrapped up, we began our descent which meant it would be touch and go as to whether I could finish the final episode of McMafia before disembarkation. Fortunately a long taxi (it always seems inordinately long at JNB) saved me.

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Overall, I really enjoyed the flight. It was great to have to stay awake the whole way and actually experience some of the finer bits of SQ’s product. I’d say service was an SQ “B” (which would be an “A” on most airlines). The flight crew were professional, but quite cold leaving the service feeling a bit indifferent. On a final side note SQ should be given credit for stocking The Economist on board, which surprisingly few airlines do (EK F and QR J can’t pull it off, but ET J somehow can). I think it’s much better suited to reading on a flight than a full sized newspaper, and it’s a quality publication.

My next step was to clear transit security (and immigration – SA stamps your passport for transiting JNB which is odd) and make my way to the Marriott (Protea) Transit Hotel inside the terminal building. I will say this, it was not great.

 

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[…] to South, East and West Africa: Trip Planning Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class SIN-JNB SAA Baobab Lounge JNB South African Airways A320-200 Business Class JNB-EBB Air France A330 […]

Ben
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Ben

I’ve almost never found an issue with the cabin temperature of the A350/77W J cabins. The seats are also incredibly easy to unlatch and move into or out of bed position – never needed FA assistance. Perhaps cutting back on the calories and weight will help, especially with the “slow roast” feeling.

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