Earlier this month, Singapore Airlines announced its plans to conduct a S$50M overhaul of its Terminal 3 lounges, including The Private Room, SilverKris First and Business Class lounge, and KrisFlyer Gold lounge. These renovations will start in August and finish by mid-2021.
The first lounge to go under the knife will be the SilverKris Business Class lounge, during which the existing KrisFlyer Gold lounge will serve as a temporary facility for Business Class passengers. This means that KrisFlyer Elite Gold and Star Gold members flying in Economy will be in need of an alternative facility.
Which one? Well, KrisFlyer Elite Gold members (of whom I am no longer one) received the following email:
|As part of Singapore Airlines’ commitment to constantly elevate the customer experience, both in the air and on the ground, we will be investing more than SGD50 million as we upgrade our SilverKris and KrisFlyer Gold Lounges at Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 3.
As a KrisFlyer Elite Gold member, you can look forward to a new KrisFlyer Gold lounge with twice the capacity of the former, offering dedicated working spaces, larger al fresco seating and dining areas, as well as restrooms and showers within the lounge.
Renovation works will commence in August 2019 and are expected to be completed by mid-2021. From 31 July 2019, you will be invited to an alternative KrisFlyer Gold Lounge in the same terminal to ensure minimal disruption. We are pleased to share that restrooms and shower facilities will be available in this lounge.
You can also continue to utilise the KrisFlyer Gold Lounge at Changi Airport Terminal 2.
We seek your patience during this time, as we work towards enhancing your travel experiences.
The alternative KrisFlyer Gold lounge is in fact the brand new Marhaba lounge, which opened its doors in May this year.
The choice of Marhaba is interesting, not least because Marhaba is owned by Emirates, so this arrangement represents a hefty payment by Singapore Airlines to a competitor for the better part of two years. Moreover, the Marhaba lounge has a capacity of only 130, and this capacity is shared among four different airlines and various lounge access programs. It’s difficult to see how the lounge will accommodate all that plus the 100+ Star Alliance flights that depart from Terminal 3 each day.
Nonetheless, the move is happening on 31 July, so I decided to drop by the Marhaba lounge for a quick lookaround. I’m not planning to travel until September, but I managed to arrange an accompanied visit with the lounge team.
Basic information & getting to the lounge
The Marhaba lounge is open 24 hours a day and currently offers entry to the following passengers and lounge access programs
|Business Class Passengers||Lounge Access Programs|
Paid access is supposedly available, but I wasn’t able to find the lounge on the Marhaba website (it’s possible they’re still updating it). In any case, you’ll need to book at least 24 hours in advance; it’s not possible to walk up and buy access.
From 31 July, the Marhaba lounge will be used by KrisFlyer Elite Gold and Star Gold members flying in Economy Class on Singapore Airlines or Star Alliance flights. Business and First Class passengers on Star Alliance flights will still be entitled to use the respective SilverKris lounges.
Here’s the map that Singapore Airlines provides which shows the location of the Marhaba lounge.
The map on the Changi Airport website is more detailed.
Or, visually speaking, look for the mega Louis Vuitton store after immigration and head to the right.
You’ll see a sign for the Marhaba lounge on the second floor. Take the escalator up…
…and as soon as you get off the escalator, the lounge is on your left.
What’s interesting is the lounge staff confirmed that plans were underway to build a separate entrance for KrisFlyer Gold/Star Gold members. I’m not sure what the actual benefit of a separate entrance would be, other than slightly faster processing times, a sense of semi-exclusivity and perhaps the opportunity to slap some SQ branding on the facility (as the main entrance has a very big Marhaba sign up front now).
The separate entrance will almost certainly be located here, just next to the Singapore Food Street. Given the capacity constraints of the lounge, I wonder if some passengers may instead be given F&B vouchers during peak periods.
Exploring the lounge
Immediately to the left of the entrance is the lounge’s “quiet area”, consisting of 13 recliner seats and a handful of regular chairs.
If you’d prefer to catch some proper shuteye, look for these five seats lined up against the wall. They’re well equipped with charging outlets and USB ports, so you can juice up your devices while you snooze.
Otherwise, you might opt to plop yourself in one of the eight TV-facing seats instead, but in any case the TVs were perpetually on mute, probably the right idea for a quiet zone.
Turning right leads you down a passageway to the main lounge proper. You’ll pass the buffet along one long wall, divided into four sections (more on that in a bit).
The rear section of the lounge is split into three mini-zones- four seater dining tables on the left, individual chairs in the middle, and two communal high tables on the right.
Although there is no physical separation of these areas, there are a few see-through partitions that help to visually break up the space. The lounge also benefits from an “open air” design that makes the most of T3’s abundant natural lighting, although this also tends to let noise from the public areas into the lounge.
Unfortunately, it appears that in an attempt to increase the capacity of the single seat area, the designers compromised by using very slim tables. There’s barely enough space for one person to place his/her food and drink, and if you’re using a PC, it’ll certainly have to go on your lap.
Those who want to do serious work should consider using the communal high tables instead, where there’s significantly more room for your stuff.
The dining tables have the best views in the lounge and look out directly to Gates B1 and B2, where an A350-900 happened to be parked.
In case you were interested, here’s where the likely “separate entrance” for KrisFlyer Gold and Star Gold members will be built. It opens up into the seating area of the lounge, flanked by the kitchen on one side and a communal high table on the other.
Power and Wi-Fi
There’s certainly no shortage of power outlets in this lounge, with almost every single seat having a dedicated universal socket and USB port. KrisFlyer Gold members will find this a welcome upgrade from the existing lounge, where charging ports are in short supply.
Heck, even the dining tables had two outlets of their own, built into the side.
Power outlets are also available along the long table that looked out to the tarmac. These plugs don’t have much vertical clearance, but in a nod to good design, were slanted to fit larger laptop chargers which may jut out beneath the plug.
Although an abundance of charging outlets is a good thing, this lounge really needs to invest in its Wi-Fi. Speedtest results were mediocre, especially when compared to Changi’s public Wi-Fi.
Keep in mind, I visited when there were perhaps less than 20 people in the lounge, so I don’t even dare to think what will happen when the facility is completely full. You may better off using the public network instead.
The buffet line is divided into four distinct sections, serving halal food throughout the day.
The first section is the hot items. Here I found a total of eight hot items- five Western and three Asian. There’s also a rice cooker with plain steamed rice.
Eight hot options, need I remind you, is already better than the existing KrisFlyer Gold lounge, where 4-5 (plus some dim sum) is the order of the day.
There was also some chicken satay and, in a nod to the lounge’s Middle Eastern routes, beef fatayer (a Lebanese-style meat pie).
A build-your-own chicken slider station with the usual condiments was also available.
Rounding up the hot food section was a cream of mushroom soup.
The second section had lighter options like salad, sandwiches, and fruit.
The third was a series of double fridges with non-alcoholic beverages.
And the fourth was the alcohol section, with two white wines in the chiller and canned Tiger/Heineken beer.
In addition to the white wines in the fridge, there was a small selection of hard liquor and a few red wines displayed outside.
This is also where the staff chose to put the instant noodle selections.
Other odds and ends include a tidbits section, a selection of Dilmah teas and two coffee machines serving Vittoria coffee.
I didn’t try any of the food items, so I can’t speak to the quality. However, selection-wise the options here are very good for a contract lounge, and certainly an upgrade over the existing KrisFlyer Gold options.
Showers & toilets
Before we talk about the showers, let’s get one thing straight. Any in-lounge showers would be superior to the current KrisFlyer Gold lounge, simply because the current setup has none. This has been a glaring omission ever since time immemorial, and thankfully that’s set to change with the new KrisFlyer Gold lounge in 2021.
In the meantime, passengers at the Marhaba lounge have access to three shower suites located in the lounge.
These feature rain showers, built-in hair dryers and a toilet. Although there aren’t any fancy toiletries (think hand pump shampoo and soap), the mere fact that they’re completely enclosed already puts them ahead of even Singapore Airline’s First Class showers, which are co-located in the main toilet.
If you don’t need a shower, there are a couple of private toilet cubicles as well.
As a contract facility, the Marhaba lounge ticks most of the boxes: a good selection of F&B (the omission of a sparkling wine is unfortunate, but that’s par the course for contract lounges in Changi), lots of natural light, individual shower suites and separate areas for dining, working and resting. The mediocre Wi-Fi speed was the biggest letdown, but there’s always Changi’s public network to utilize.
The question I still couldn’t shake was how this facility was expected to cope with the full brunt of SQ’s evening departure banks.
I posed this to the staff, and while they weren’t able to divulge the full operational plan, here’s what I gathered:
- the seating capacity of the lounge will be increased to accommodate additional passengers (“how?” I asked, indicating at the fully utilized seating area around me. “the designers will figure it out,” came the reply)
- despite the separate entrance, there are no plans to hive off a separate seating area or separate F&B options just for KrisFlyer/Star Gold passengers
- the lounge will continue to accept lounge membership access during this period
- the Marhaba lounge will be the only third party lounge used during the entire renovation period
I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve had a chance to visit again post 31 July, but I’m still very concerned. The current KrisFlyer Gold lounge already suffers from overcrowding in the evening where some passengers resort to sitting on armrests and luggage, and keep in mind, it’s slightly larger than the Marhaba!
So I’d really like to see how the lounge team tackles this problem, because I can’t think of anything other than giving overflow passengers a meal voucher and sending them on their way.
If you’re passing through Terminal 3 in the next couple of weeks, be sure to check out the Marhaba lounge in its “low season” state. Remember, you can get unlimited visits to this lounge through the following cards
- AMEX Platinum Charge
- Citi Prestige
- HSBC Visa Infinite
- Maybank Visa Infinite
- SCB Priority Banking Visa Infinite (unlimited visits for Priority Private clients only)
See a full list of credit cards with lounge access here.
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