The very last time I set foot on an airplane (let’s not count Restaurant A380) was 2 March 2020, when I flew back from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore.
I remember that trip vividly: the Milelioness had a course to attend, and I tagged along as trailing spouse. We stayed in the Westin Kuala Lumpur (my goodness, I was still a Marriott Platinum back then), ate buffets and walked around without masks. On the flight home I managed to select seats in the Premium Economy section, giving us a very comfortable 50-minute jaunt.
Man, if I only knew that would be my last flight for 18 months…
|Date||5 September 2021|
|Cost||92,000 miles + S$41.50|
SQ328 from Singapore to Munich is operated by an Airbus A350-900, and there’s something slightly poetic about the fact this aircraft was also the last I flew before COVID. I’ve already reviewed the Business Class product before, so in this post I’ll focus more on the changes to service routines.
But since it’s been such a long time, here’s some obligatory cabin photos…
Singapore Airlines A350-900s are equipped with the 2013 Business Class seat in a 1-2-1 configuration. It’s beginning to show its age with various nicks and scratches, but otherwise still looks solid.
I was in 15K, a window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft.
Singapore Airlines still provides pillows, blanket and bedding, of course. Pillows come wrapped in plastic for great assurance.
Inflight mask wearing
Singapore Airlines requires all passengers six years old and above to wear a face mask throughout the flight, except when eating and drinking. Complimentary masks are available in case yours breaks or is otherwise soiled. There is no restriction on the specific type of mask that must be worn; cloth, surgical or KN95/N95 are all equally acceptable.
The crew do patrol the cabin and enforce mask wearing where needed, but they can’t be everywhere at once. You’ll soon learn that just like on the ground, “eating and drinking” can be liberally applied. Some passengers would nurse a drink for hours, always within easy reach so as to abide by the letter of the law. Likewise, once the cabin lights dimmed, I saw a few masks come off as people prepared to sleep.
Bonus marks for this line in the preflight announcements. “Please keep your mask on at all times unless eating and drinking. However, in the event of an emergency, please remove your mask before wearing the oxygen mask”.
That’s good advice.
On my flight to Munich, Singapore Airlines was blocking rows 11-14 in Business Class for crew rest. Obviously, they don’t need that many seats; the idea is to let pilots rest in Row 11, with a further two rows for safe distancing (there’s no row 13, because superstition).
However, it appears that practice may since have been eased. On my VTL flight from Munich back to Singapore, I can see seats in Row 14 available for selection.
Row 11 seats continue to be blocked off as per SIA’s existing practice, reserved for selection by Solitaire PPS and PPS Club members. These seats are generally held to be more desirable because of the ability to sleep straight.
In contrast, those in non-bulkhead seats have to sleep diagonally, with their feet cramped into a very tight cubby hole.
Loads were light on my flight, with only 17 out of 42 Business Class seats occupied. It was a similar story in Premium Economy and Economy Class.
As far as I know, Singapore Airlines is not restricting capacity on its flights. This is unlike the proposed ATB with Hong Kong, where flights would have been capped at 200 passengers per aircraft, representing an 80% load on a long-haul configured A350-900.
Based on the distribution of passengers, I’d guess that check-in agents have been instructed to spread them out as much as possible.
Singapore Airlines has made some slight adjustments to the amenities it offers onboard.
While headphones are the usual noise-cancelling model that SIA offers in Business Class, what has changed is the addition of a little tag indicating when the headphones were sanitized, as well as a pair of disposable protectors you can fit over the earpads.
All passengers regardless of cabin also receive an SIA Care Kit, consisting of a face mask, hand sanitizer and wet wipe.
While not really related to COVID, I thought I’d show you the new amenities kit that Singapore Airlines is offering to Business Class passengers. Long resistant to the idea, the airline ran a few trials in 2017 and 2018 before finally caving in 2020 and introducing it as a permanent feature.
The kit contains items from Penhaligon’s Quercus range, including hand lotion (30ml), facial mist (7ml), lip balm (4g) and a ziplock bag to put it all inside, should you happen to be transiting.
Previously, the amenities kit included Luna scent perfume oil; I received this as part of the kit given to Restaurant A380 passengers. However, it wasn’t in the kit on my flight, and Singapore Airlines has clarified it’s only available while stocks last.
Other amenities like toothbrush kits, combs, razors and shaving cream can be found in the amenities drawer in the lavatory, same as before. Earplugs and eye masks are available on request.
The pre-flight magazine cart used to be a staple of Business Class service (at one point the airline was losing S$500,000 of magazines a year through pilferage!), but has now been phased out, replaced by digital copies available through the SingaporeAir mobile app.
More than 200 titles are available for download from 48 hours before departure, and will remain readable up to one week after the flight. To browse the selection, open the SingaporeAir app, tap More (on the bottom right) ➤ Entertainment & Lifestyle ➤ e-Library
You’ll then be able to download a wide range of local and international newspapers, magazines and periodicals.
Even before COVID, Singapore Airlines was trying to get rid of physical magazines in its cabins in order to save on weight. It looks like COVID has finally sealed the deal.
Singapore Airlines has restored Book the Cook service out of Singapore, but I was unable to select any meal options from Singapore to Munich. Only the return leg appeared in the online portal, with the outbound leg missing.
I understand I’m not the only one facing this issue; other readers have reported problems for bookings to FRA and ZRH. It sounds like a technical glitch, and I’ve sent feedback to the SIA team.
Onboard, physical menus have been replaced with digital versions, a measure I hope is only temporary. Maybe it’s just me, but I like having a physical copy of the menu on hand to refer to, rather than having to pull up my phone.
The inflight menu can be accessed by connecting to the KrisWorld Wi-Fi network and navigating to inflightmenu.singaporeair.com. You can also access this on the ground, if you want to look at the menu for your upcoming flight (max eight days ahead of departure).
My flight departed Singapore at 0030 and landed in Munich at 0730, so supper was served first, followed by breakfast just before landing.
Here’s the menu for supper:
And for breakfast:
And for snacks:
Prior to COVID, Singapore Airlines served Business Class meals course by course, except on very short flights like to Bangkok or Bali. This changed at the start of the COVID outbreak, as CAAS stipulated that single tray service should be adopted to minimise interactions between crew and passengers.
It’s only meant to be a temporary measure, and will be lifted from 7 September onwards, as per a memo distributed to the cabin crew.
The memo mentions that CAAS has approved the resumption of course by course service and table/tray layout in premium classes, in view of the high vaccination rates amongst cabin crew and adequate safe distancing within the premium cabins. Do note that this is a progressive measure that will start with flights to/from Germany; it’s possible other routes may still see single tray service for a while more.
So what’s single tray service like? I can certainly see the advantages. As you might have guessed, I was furiously churning out trip reports on my computer throughout the flight. Single tray service allowed me to quickly eat and get back to work, as opposed to the usual 90-120 minute marathon that Business Class meals can be.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place for course by course and I’m happy it’s coming back. I’m just saying maybe there could be a best of both worlds compromise, for those who want a power lunch and for those who want to linger.
Not being able to Book the Cook out of Singapore turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I got to try the hawker dishes that Singapore Airlines has just rolled out. The airline is currently offering Boon Tong Kee chicken rice, Song Fa bak kut teh, Kok Kee wonton noodles, Qiu Lian ban mian and Beach Road prawn noodles, among other choices.
I’ve tried Book the Cook chicken rice before, and in my opinion it’s a terrible representation of Singapore’s national dish. The chicken tastes like it’s been microwaved to oblivion, the rice is mushy and the chili is anonymous.
Turns out all they needed to do was bring in some external expertise, because the Boon Tong Kee version was pretty darn good (or maybe I’ve just been grounded for too long). The chicken, even the white meat, was tender, the rice grains were plump and firm, and the chili while toned down was still acceptable. Perhaps the only disappointment was the obligatory serving of limp chye sim.
Gourmands, put your pitchforks down- I know Boon Tong Kee probably won’t take the mantle for best chicken rice in Singapore anytime soon. But it’s a pretty decent option, and one that I’d have no qualms bringing foreign visitors to.
For breakfast before landing, I had bak chor mee. This isn’t a special collaboration; instead it’s part of the airline’s existing signature local dishes selection. The noodles were surprisingly springy for an airline meal, and the sambal helped add some kick.
Other changes include no more post-takeoff drinks trolley (or any kind of trolley service for that matter), although the crew will of course fetch you one on request. Drink refills involve bringing a brand new glass, instead of pouring from a common bottle. Warmed nuts are currently not served in Business Class; only pre-packaged ones are available.
The crew still set up a snack basket in the galley mid-flight, which passengers could help themselves to.
One of the unexpected side-effects of the COVID pandemic is the havoc it’s wreaked on Hollywood’s release cycle. We’ve seen tentpole titles like No Time to Die, Avatar 2 and West Side Story get pushed to new dates, while Disney has experimented debuting movies like Black Widow on its streaming service Disney+.
That’s had a knock-on impact for inflight entertainment, and I noticed the “new releases” section was rather sparse.
Of course, passengers can still choose from hundreds of Hollywood movies, TV shows and more, so you won’t be short of options.
Singapore Airlines recently announced a trial of live TV service on its seven A350-900ULR aircraft, which currently ply the ultra long haul routes from Singapore to New York (SQ23/24) and San Francisco (SQ33/34). Passengers will be able to choose from BBC World News, CNN, CNBC and Sport 24.
I got excited when I saw the tile for Live TV in KrisWorld, thinking they’d quietly expanded the trial to other aircraft as well. Unfortunately, it appears that this is only a software update; the hardware hasn’t yet been introduced. It would have been awesome to watch the US Open at 35,000 ft.
Once live TV is activated, here’s the kind of action that sports fans can look forward to:
|🎾 Sport 24 Events|
While I’d love to see more touchless technology in airplane bathrooms with or without COVID, Singapore Airlines’ A350 lavatory is the same as it’s always been.
For instance, the only touchless feature is the tap. While other airlines have touchless bins on their A350s, Singapore Airlines didn’t tick this option. It’d also be great if there were a touchless way of raising and lowering the toilet seat and cover, like a TOTO bidet. I suppose it’s not so easy to refit planes once they’re out of the factory. so we’re stuck with what we have.
On a related note, ANA recently made the news for introducing hands-free toilet doors, a development I was excited about until I saw the photos.
I suppose you could argue that wrists and elbows aren’t hands, but come on…
You still have to touch the door on the way out, but Singapore Airlines has installed hand sanitisers outside all aircraft lavatories. I didn’t notice it on my flight, but I probably wasn’t remembering things so well after all that champagne.
If there’s one constant amidst all the COVID madness, it’s the stellar inflight service by the Singapore Airlines crew. Keep in mind these guys have been through a lot over the past 18 months. They’ve seen friends laid off, been subject to countless swabbing, and have to live with the constant fear of passing COVID to a loved one.
And yet they seemed no worse for wear. Even though there’s fewer opportunities for passenger interaction, the crew still managed to be at their usual fawning best, whether it was offering drink refills, snacks, or diligently keeping the loos clean.
In their usual over-the-top way, they even put together a special care pack for me to bring around in Munich, filled with extra masks, wet wipes and hand sanitizer.
The modified service routines mean there’s fewer chances for the crew to shine, so it speaks volumes that they still find ways.
COVID’s definitely taken some of the fun out of flying, but Business Class on Singapore Airlines continues to be a very comfortable way of getting from Point A to B.
That said, those saving up for a once-in-a-lifetime redemption might want to hold their fire until they can enjoy the full fat version. The problem is, there’s no knowing when that might happen, and you don’t want to hold your miles for too long.
The good news is that course by course dining is returning, which will be a huge upgrade to the inflight experience.
While I’ve structured this post as a point by point recount, I’ll be writing about the Munich to Singapore VTL flight in a more traditional chronological order, to give you an idea of how all this plays out in real time.