There was a surreal feeling throughout the city as people calmly went about their lives, oblivious to the talking heads on TV discussing a strange, as yet unnamed new virus spreading throughout China. Among everyone I met, there was an overwhelming sense that it was an over there problem. The pharmacy cashier didn’t even bat an eyelid when I dumped a basket full of hand sanitizer and masks on the counter (“Doing some spring cleaning?” she chirped).
A month later, over there became over here, as New York City turned into ground zero with overflowing hospitals, mobile morgues and mass graves. And here we are nine months later, in a world completely upended by COVID-19.
And for that, we should be very grateful.
|Approved ATB flights|
|To HKG||SQ890 (0735/1120)*||CX734 (1500/1900)|
|To SIN||SQ891 (1230/1630)^||CX759 (0910/1300)|
|*Exceptions: 22 Nov 1000/1400, 23 Nov 0800/1145
^Exceptions: 23 Nov 1255/1655
Normally, this section would be all about mixing and matching different airlines, exploring alternative frequent flyer programs, and brainstorming creative routings.
As soon as the news broke on 11 November about approved ATB flights, I rushed over to the Singapore Airlines website to book a seat on the inaugural. Thankfully, there were still seats for sale (I was worried they might block off the entire flight for media and dignitaries), and I snapped up an Economy Class ticket with cash.
SQ890/891 is operated by an Airbus A350-900, which I’ve flown many times before. But the pandemic puts a whole new spin on things, which is why you can look forward to a review of…
SIN-HKG: Singapore Airlines A350-900 Economy Class
Singapore Airlines has 187 Economy Class seats in a 3-3-3 layout on its A350-900s, but what’s less clear is exactly the type of seat you can expect on these planes.
Singapore Airlines has 26 long-haul configured A350-900s, of which 21 (-SMA to SMU) have the 2013 Economy Class seat, and five (SMV, SMW, SMY, SMZ, SJA) have the 2017 Economy Class seat.
The 2013 Economy Class seat is identical to what you’ll find on the B777-300ERs. IFE is touchscreen and comes with a touchscreen controller; each seat has a power outlet and USB port (protip: keep your devices fully charged en route to Hong Kong, because you’ve got a 4-6 hour wait for test results and there’s no guarantee there’ll be enough outlets in the waiting area for everyone).
The 2017 Economy Class seat is identical to what you’ll find on the B787-10. Features wise, it’s quite similar to the 2013 seat except that it doesn’t have an IFE controller at all (unless you’re in the bulkhead seats)- the only way of controlling the IFE is via the seatback mounted touchscreen.
There’s no real way of knowing which aircraft SIA will assign to this route, since the switch to an A350-900 only happens on the day of the inaugural itself (SQ890/891 is currently flown by a B787-10).
The other interesting thing is that Singapore Airlines does not appear to be blocking seats for social distancing. If I were so inclined, I could select a middle seat in Economy, with passengers to my left and right.
It remains to be seen if they do onboard reallocations, however, and in any case, since a maximum of 200 out of 253 seats will be filled on this flight, I might yet get an empty seat next to me.
HKG-SIN: Singapore Airlines A350-900 Business Class
I thought it’d be good to review both the Economy and Business Class “new normal” experiences, so I paid 25,000 KrisFlyer miles to upgrade my return leg to Business Class.
Now, for the record, I don’t think it’s a good idea to buy an Economy Class ticket and pay the miles to upgrade it. For perspective, a full redemption of a one-way Business Class Saver award from Hong Kong to Singapore costs 30,500 miles, so my upgrade required 80% of the miles for a full redemption, plus a cash outlay of S$571.80! It’s clearly poor value, and I wouldn’t dream of doing it if not for review purposes.
|Why not just redeem a Business Class ticket outright from HKG-SIN, you ask? Award space only opened up after I bought my round-trip Economy Class ticket, so I didn’t have a choice.|
It’s still much better than the nonsensical bids that Singapore Airlines’ upgrade platform is coming up with though. The minimum bid to upgrade from Economy to Business Class is an astounding 30,870 miles. That’s more than the cost of an full redemption, and it doesn’t even guarantee you anything!
While there’s some ambiguity about what Economy Class seat I’ll have on the outbound leg, the inbound leg will definitely be the good ol’ 2013 Business Class seat, which goes full flat with all aisle access.
SATS Premier Lounge, Changi Airport Terminal 3
Since I’m flying Economy Class out of Singapore, I won’t have access to the SilverKris Lounge at Changi Airport.
The alternative option at Terminal 3 would be the SATS Premier Lounge, which isn’t what you’d call life-changing, but is the only game in town right now (the Marhaba and Ambassador Transit lounges are closed).
Plaza Premium Lounge, Hong Kong International Airport
The SilverKris Lounge in Hong Kong is currently closed, and Singapore Airlines Business Class passengers are instead invited to the Plaza Premium Lounge.
I remember this lounge was packed the last time I visited Hong Kong, with long lines spilling out the entrance. I imagine it’ll be a lot more empty this time round, which should make for easier photos.
Sadly neither the Plaza Premium First Lounge nor the Centurion Lounge will be open.
My flight lands at 2 p.m on the first day, but I’ve been warned that COVID-19 testing may take 4-6 hours to complete. If so, that means I could only be out of the airport in the evening, and the day is pretty much gone.
Therefore I didn’t want to spend too much on the first night’s accommodation, and settled on the Gourmet Getaway package at the Gateway Hotel. This costs HK$989 nett (S$170 nett) per night, but rebates HK$600 (S$104) in F&B credit.
I’ll also be entitled to a guaranteed 10 a.m check-in (not that it does me a lot of good), 4 p.m check-out and a room upgrade, plus GHA Black benefits and another local experience for staying at a new brand (Marco Polo Hotels).
The base category room here measures 37 sqm in size, with Queen-sized beds and bathtubs.
The Langham, Hong Kong
The following day, I’ll move across the road from the Gateway to The Langham Hong Kong.
In case you’re not familiar with the Langham brand, it’s a Hong Kong based luxury hotel operator with just over 30 properties worldwide. The brand’s heritage dates back to 1865, when the Langham London opened as Europe’s first “Grand Hotel” (yes, that’s an actual term) boasting hot and cold running water, hydraulic lifts, and an early form of air-conditioning.
I used my AMEX Platinum Charge to book a Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR) rate of just S$229.60 nett, which includes a US$100 (~S$135) F&B credit. That brings the overall cost to below S$100, fantastic value for a hotel of this caliber (not to mention the other FHR benefits like a room upgrade, early check-in/late check-out and breakfast).
The base category here is a measures in at 32 sqm, with bathtubs standard in every room.
Cordis Hotel Hong Kong
On the final night, I’ll be visiting the Cordis Hong Kong in Mongkok on a media invite from the hotel’s team.
The Cordis Hotels and Resorts brand is under the Langham umbrella (see above), and focuses on affordable luxury. That’s not to say it’s down market by any means; it’s still a 5-Star establishment with full-fledged facilities and a two-Michelin Star restaurant.
I’ll be staying in a Club Studio room that measures 40 sqm and comes with club lounge access. Reviews look pretty excellent (the hotel ranks #10 on TripAdvisor’s Hong Kong list), and that heated rooftop pool should be nice on a chilly evening.
While [email protected] and Restaurant A380 were fun, they’re mere cosplay compared to the real thing. Even if flying now comes with swabs, health declarations and masks, it’s still flying, and 2020 has shown us we shouldn’t take that for granted.
The inaugural flight on 22 November departs at 10 a.m, notably later than the 7.35 a.m schedule for subsequent ATB flights. I can only surmise they’re going to have some sort of pre-boarding festivities, and can’t wait to see what’s in store.
It’s good to be flying again.