48 hours in New York: Trip Planning
ANA B777-300ER “THE Room” Business Class NRT-JFK
British Airways First Lounge New York JFK
ANA B777-300ER “THE Suite” First Class JFK-HND
ANA Suite Lounge Tokyo Haneda
Singapore Airlines B777-300ER First Class HND-SIN
SQ 635 was departing from Gate 107A, a short walk from the ANA Suite Lounge. Boarding had already started by the time I reached, and things were moving along with Japanese efficiency.
My boarding pass set off a red light when scanned, and the ground staff told me my 1A seat had an inoperable USB port. I was reassigned to 1F, the other single seat on the starboard side of the cabin.
It wasn’t a big deal, and it meant I received a nice maroon boarding pass, replacing the black and white one that ANA had issued me in New York.
Today’s flight would be on a B777-300ER (B77W), an aircraft I was well familiar with. Singapore Airlines now operates a consistent cabin product across all its B77Ws, and if you’re flying in First Class, you’re 100% certain to get the 2013 First Class seat.
This is hardly a new product, but I thought it’d be interesting to review straight after ANA’s new flagship First Class, also on a B77W. How would Singapore Airlines’ First Class experience hold up to the new challenge?
|A medium-haul red-eye flight really doesn’t do justice to Singapore Airlines First Class, but the underlying quality still shines through regardless.|
|The good||The bad|
Even though I arrived a bit late for boarding, I was still the first passenger in the First Class cabin.
Singapore Airlines has only four First Class seats on its B77W now, down from eight previously. In a way, this simply reflects commercial reality: Business Class has become so good that few companies pay for their executives to fly First Class anymore. This means the First Class cabin is mostly filled with:
- People redeeming miles
- Staff travel
- Crazy Rich Asians
The first two don’t pay anything, and a good proportion of the latter two opt for private jets. This leaves a very small segment of paying First Class customers, and it makes more sense to allocate the precious real estate to Business Class instead.
Four seats makes for an extremely private cabin. Unfortunately, it also makes for an extremely difficult redemption for couples. You’ll often see at most one seat available at the Saver level, and unless you’re a PPS/Solitaire PPS, it’s very hard to get a second one to open. You either have to pay for one Saver and one Advantage award, or pray hard that a second Saver opens closer to redemption.
If you somehow score the jackpot of two First Class redemptions on a B77W, you’ll want to go for Seats 1C and 1D, in the middle of the aircraft. These don’t become a double bed, but the privacy partition can be lowered to allow you to see each other.
Despite that, these seats still aren’t as couple friendly as ANA’s. Note how both seats have privacy “ears” in the middle. This means you’ll need to lean ever-so-slightly forward to talk to each other.
Contrast that to ANA’s design, where once the partition is lowered you can turn and speak normally. It’s a small detail, to be sure, but it definitely favors socialization. Also, even ANA’s solo seats allow for couple dining as someone can sit on the ottoman opposite. This isn’t possible with Singapore Airlines.
If you’re travelling solo, your options are 1A and 1F, the individual seats at the sides.
Singapore Airlines’ First Class seats offer good privacy from the aisle, but don’t feature the closing doors that ANA has. I’m 99% sure SQ’s new First Class (set to debut on the B777-9 in 2021) will rectify this, but for now this is as good as it gets if you’re not on an A380.
There’s a passageway behind the seats that allows you (or the crew, more frequently) to cross from one side of the cabin to the other.
Today’s First Class cabin was completely full, although the other three passengers were all on staff travel (I caught a peek of the manifest hanging in the galley). Despite that, they received exactly the same treatment I did, and it’s nice to see Singapore Airlines showing their staff the good life. If nothing else, I’m sure experiencing the product firsthand inculcates a sense of pride in what the airline does.
You may have noticed the complete lack of overhead bins in the cabin. Singapore Airlines chose to remove them to give a more spacious feel.
So where do you store your stuff? Well, there’s enough space under the footrest to store two carry-on sized bags, as well as a backpack.
Smaller items like glasses, handphones or purses can be stowed inside the two-tiered storage compartment under the IFE screen.
A literature pocket to your right fits a tablet, or magazines/newspapers.
For entertainment, a 24-inch HD screen comes standard. This looked like a pea-shooter after flying with ANA’s 43-inch 4K monster, but it’s still a decent display in and of itself.
The IFE remote is hidden behind this sliding panel.
It’s a touch screen controller, which allows you to view supplementary information about the movie you’re watching.
Seat controls were pretty straightforward, and there was also a Do Not Disturb sign. Although you can recline the seat yourself, you’ll need assistance from the cabin crew to convert it into a full-flat bed. ANA’s seat can recline to full flat without crew assistance, although you can still ask them to set up the bed for you.
In-seat power is provided courtesy of a single EmPower socket, located above the HDMI port. Unlike ANA, SQ’s HDMI ports are fully operable, which allows you to watch your own content from a laptop (you’ll have to bring your own cable).
The two USB ports (and a 9-pin iPod port…haven’t seen one of those in a while!) were located in a compartment to my right. This nook also lets you store your phone while it’s charging.
The crew came around to introduce themselves and hand out goodies. SQ’s First Class crew have such a way with conversation; in a couple minutes’ time you’ll be chatting like you’re old friends.
The first order of business was bubbly in nature: Dom Perignon 2008. The other champagne on this route was Krug Grand Cuvee- apparently the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne has been pulled early on account of the Krug shortage being resolved.
Headphones were then distributed. SQ uses B&O H9i headphones in First Class, part of a partnership announced back in September 2018. These are a significant step up from the former Bose QC25s.
There was talk at the time of wireless versions coming “soon”, but I’ve yet to encounter them. Business Traveller says that they’re available on the new A380s, so I’ll need to keep an eye out for that the next time I do the new Suites.
These headsets feature something called “transparency mode”, which turns off the active noise cancellation and allows you to hear your surroundings better. This can be useful when you’re watching a movie halfway and the crew come over.
Each passenger also received an amenities kit by Lalique, with some soap, lip balm, body lotion, and a candle. Yes, a candle. Singapore Airlines adopts a different philosophy towards amenities kits, as most of the items are meant to be used off the plane, as opposed to on it. That makes sense in a way, because you want passengers to take the kits with them (some people leave them behind, the Philistines) and remember your brand when they use it.
You can find other items like dental kits and combs in the toilets, and the crew have eyeshades and earplugs on demand. The candle, incidentally, comes with this disclaimer…
…which makes me wonder what some past passengers have done.
The other three passengers in the cabin were female, and they all received the same kit as me. This means that SQ doesn’t stock the gender-specific versions on this route.
The crew distributed Lalique-branded sleeper suits as well (you won’t get them on the SIN-HND leg if it’s not an overnight flight). One thing about these suits is that they’re 65% polyester and 35% cotton, which means they trap a lot more heat than the previous version (65% cotton, 35% polyester). I’ve mentioned how this was an issue on my A380 Suites flight to Sydney, and I did find myself overheating during the night again.
Since Haneda to Singapore is a relatively short flight, menus were distributed on the ground and orders taken before take-off.
SQ 635 is a red-eye flight, and therefore it receives what’s euphemistically called “Sleeper Service”, a simpler, shorter meal. You can technically have it any time you want (all dining in SQ First Class is on demand), but most people will do it just after take-off, or just before landing.
Now, there are two ways of viewing this. The first is that SQ is being customer-centric by helping passengers maximize rest. The second is that SQ is cost-cutting by doing away with many of the frills normally found in a First Class meal service, like caviar. As you can imagine, a lot of frequent flyers fall on the latter side of the fence.
As for me personally, I get the rationale behind a shorter meal service, but don’t see why SQ couldn’t just offer the full menu and let passengers decide if they want the short version or the long one.
Here’s the Kyo Kaiseki option for the Sleeper Service, unique to Japan routes. Although it sounds like many courses, in reality they’re all served at the same time.
And here’s the rest of the options. They menu seems to assume that you’ll take it just before landing, as the items were all breakfast-centric.
SQ doesn’t have a snack menu on this route, which is a bit of a missed opportunity if you ask me. I get that most passengers will sleep the whole way, but there might be the odd night owl who’d appreciate a mid-flight pick-me-up.
The wine list came after the food menu, and features the usual heavy-hitters.
There were also cocktails, non-alcoholic soft drinks, TWG tea and illy coffee options.
We pushed back on time and after a short taxi, got underway for our relatively brief 6 hour 45 minute flight to Singapore.
As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, the crew hustled to turn down everyone’s beds- it turned out that everyone opted to take the Sleeper Service meal just before landing.
During this time, I got connected on the Wi-Fi. First Class passengers get 100 MB of free data allowance, simply by entering their last name and seat number.
I wasn’t able to access Speedtest.net, so you’ll have to take my word that the connection was fast enough for instant messaging apps and light browsing.
I also went to the loo to change into the sleeper suit. Singapore Airlines hasn’t done anything fun with the toilets on its B77Ws, but to be fair, few airlines have. Unlike ANA, there was no platform to stand on while you changed into your PJs, so you had to kind of stand on your shoes and hope your feet wouldn’t touch the bare toilet floor.
The bathroom amenities were by Lalique, and included facial mist, cologne, and body lotion.
The crew turned down all four beds in what must have been record fast time. Three pillows were provided, as well as a very comfortable mattress pad and soft blanket with Lalique’s emblem embroidered on it. Although ANA may have the more private First Class seat, Singapore Airlines probably wins for more comfortable bedding.
Since I wasn’t sleepy yet, I decided to poke around the IFE selection. This is another clear win for the home team- ANA barely has 40 Hollywood movies, and quite a lot of them aren’t what you’d call “first run”. Singapore Airlines had 145, including recent titles like Joker, Terminator: Dark Fate, and Jojo Rabbit. If you prefer something older, you’ll find many classic movies too.
Where TV is concerned, ANA had four complete box sets, of which only two were in English. SQ has 48. It’s no contest.
And then there’s the games selection. Angry Birds (on ANA) is great and all, but how can you not like an IFE system that lets you play Worms World Party?
I totally intended to watch Jojo Rabbit, being a man of cultured, arthouse tastes. However, en route to selecting it, my finger slipped and I accidentally and not-at-all-on-purpose selected Terminator: Dark Fate.
A short advert played before the movie, featuring Myles- Singapore Airlines’ new mascot.
This indie film tells the story of a lady and her new best friend, Myles. Myles is awesome.
Here he is reassuring her that none of those dresses make her butt look big.
Here he is affirming that despite the stereotypes, women are statistically safer drivers than men.
Here he is telling her it’s totally fine not to tip at the resort because she’s azn and no one expects us to anyway.
And here he is advising her that it’s somewhat unwise to redeem a flight to Hong Kong or China right now, even if it is in Business Class. I mean, that’s the only possible destination for 30,500 miles.
So tl;dr, Myles was friendzoned. The lady clearly sees him more as a bro and not a potential romantic interest.
I later found out that I had missed the plotline completely. It turns out that Myles gets bigger with every transaction the lady makes, symbolizing how your miles account grows when you spend within the KrisFlyer ecosystem.
The YouTube comments section was, as always, a wellspring of enlightenment.
The movie then started, and I dozed off roughly at the point where Linda Hamilton showed up.
The crew woke us up 90 minutes before landing, and I appreciated them giving us the extra rest. In Business Class you’re sometimes woken up at the 2 hour mark, which I think is way too early.
Breakfast began with a small portion of fresh fruit. Although this flight was catered out of Japan, the fruits sadly weren’t “Japan fruit quality”- you know, those that cost three digits at Isetan (I do recall an ANA flight where they served Japanese melon, and I polished off the aircraft’s supply).
After this I was offered corn flakes, but I thought it’d be a strange pairing for the next course, so I passed.
I had pre-selected my meal from the Book The Cook menu, a pan-fried seabass with herb-flavored tomato sauce. Seabass is a good choice for an airplane environment, and it was moist and cooked properly. The tomato sauce helped liven up the dish too- it’s well known that tomato juice tastes better on airplanes, thanks to their high umami content.
You might be thinking that this two-course meal looks awfully simple for First Class, and you’d be right. But that’s what happens with Sleeper Service- it goes for efficiency over luxury. If you’re looking to book your first-ever First Class ticket, this definitely isn’t the route you want to have it on.
After the meal there was just under an hour to go. The cabin crew came around to chat once more, and although there weren’t many opportunities for service interactions on a red-eye flight like this, you could feel their warmth and sincerity. It’s something that only years of SIA training can do, and you won’t find more polished service elsewhere.
We talked about the Covid-19 panic back home, how they felt about it as flight crew, what their families felt, and the how the Beijing/Shanghai flights were being handled (same-day turnarounds mean the crew get an extra day of rest)
Just before we landed, the crew brought this tray around. I thought it was someone’s birthday at first, until I realised it was the usual tray of pre-landing sweets, just completely pimped out.
We touched down just before 5 a.m at Changi, and the crew lined up to wish us all farewell. It was, all in all, another high quality Singapore Airlines First Class experience.
Singapore Airlines continues to offer a very high quality First Class product. The seat, though traditional in form, is comfortable and private, and everything around you is staged-managed to perfection, right down to the spacing of cutlery on your tray table.
At the same time, the Sleeper Service really detracts from a full-blown First Class experience, and those who expect all the bells and whistles will be disappointed. Moreover, for a product where luxury is the norm, I think Singapore Airlines may need a new gimmick if it’s going to recapture the headlines. There’s nothing wrong with the seats per se, but they aren’t particularly innovative anymore compared to what other airlines are coming out with.
On the whole I’d say I enjoyed my ANA First Class experience more, but I can’t deny there’s a novelty factor at play here. Also, it’s a bit unfair to Singapore Airlines that I flew them on a red-eye route, where the full service routines don’t have time to come into play. Singapore Airlines First Class still ranks very highly on my list, and it’s still something everyone needs to try at least once in their life.
Just not on a Sleeper Service route.