Even though our Romantic Road journey ended in Munich, I decided to double back to Frankfurt in order to review the post-COVD First Class experience.
That’s because Singapore Airlines operates an A350-900 to Munich, which cabin maxes out at Business Class. Frankfurt, on the other hand, gets a B777-300ER (remember to choose SQ325/326) with First Class. This makes Frankfurt one of only a handful of VTL routes with First Class, the others being London, Paris, Sydney and soon Jakarta.
It was a costly decision, not in terms of cash (train tickets are relatively cheap) but miles. First Class Saver awards are virtually impossible to find on VTL flights, and even Advantage awards can be tricky depending on the dates. I paid 220,000 KrisFlyer miles per person to review this, and yes, it’s something I’d never have considered if not for an unprecedented 18-month stockpiling of miles.
So, is First Class on Singapore Airlines still the marquee event it was before the pandemic? Oh yes, yes it is.
|🏰 The Romantic Road|
|✈️ tl;dr: SIA First Class|
|Whether pre or post pandemic, Singapore Airlines’ First Class continues to set the standard for luxury in the skies. If not for the masks, you might believe it’s 2019 all over again.|
|👍 The Good||👎 The Bad|
We took an ICE train from Munich to Frankfurt Airport, arriving at 6.30 p.m.
SQ325 departs at 9.55 p.m, but they’re opening the check-in counters much earlier than the usual three-hour mark because of the additional document checks necessitated by the VTL. The counters now open at 6 p.m, which is good because it can sometimes take almost 15 minutes to process one passenger!
I’ve already talked about the check-in process for VTL flights here, but to give you the quick version, you’ll need to present:
- COVID-19 vaccination certificate
- Negative COVID-19 PCR test
- Completed SG Arrival Card
- Vaccinated Travel Pass (not needed for SC/PR)
- Travel insurance with S$30,000 coverage (short-term visitors only)
- Mobile device with TraceTogether app (short-term visitors only)
That’s a substantial list, and naturally, not everyone reads the memo. Nothing breaks the process flow like someone digging in their inbox for a certain document, or arguing with the counter staff as to how 14-day travel history is defined.
Fortunately, there was no queue at the First Class counter, and we were soon on our way.
First Class passengers in Frankfurt get access to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.
Spoiler alert: it’s really nothing special; in fact, it’s not even the lounge that Lufthansa sends its own First Class passengers too. To moderate your expectations further, this is the same lounge that Star Gold members travelling in Economy Class can use.
I’ll do a separate review of this (rather unimpressive) facility later on.
Boarding began 30 minutes before departure, and thankfully, there’s no further VTL document checks at the gate.
First Class passengers were invited to board just after those requiring special assistance.
|Date||3 November 2021|
|Cost||220,000 KrisFlyer miles + S$160|
SQ325 is operated by a Boeing 777-300ER, one of only two aircraft in SIA’s fleet (the other being the Airbus A380-800) to offer a First Class cabin.
Once upon a time, there used to be eight First Class seats on every B777-300ER, but this was cut to four shortly after the introduction of the 2013 First Class seat. Unfortunately, that means it’s very difficult to secure Saver awards in this cabin, much less two of them.
Singapore Airlines’ 2013 First Class seat was designed by BMW Designworks (the design innovation studio for the BMW Group) and manufactured by Jamco. It sports a decidedly sophisticated aesthetic, with dark brown tones, burnt orange accents, and tan-coloured seat shell. The design language borrows heavily from the interiors of luxury yachts and cars (BMW owns Rolls-Royce, after all), offering greater privacy and acoustic isolation, as well as more luggage space. For a fascinating read on how the seat came to be, have a read of this article.
While I wouldn’t consider this to be the best First Class seat out there (I’m thinking that title goes to ANA’s THE SUITE), it holds up well for a product that will soon be a decade old.
The Milelioness and I were were greeted at the door by name and escorted to our seats, 1C and 1D in the centre. These are obviously the best choice for a couple, but due to the design of the seat, you might not see all that much of your companion. Even with the centre privacy divider retracted, the wraparound wings remove any peripheral vision.
Solo passengers would prefer 1A or 1F, the individual seats at the sides of the aircraft.
While all seats have a good amount of privacy, they lack the sliding doors that have become a common feature in many First Class cabins (even in Business Class in some cases). I’m almost certain the new First Class seat (set to debut on the B777-9 in 2024) will rectify this.
The absence of overhead bins gives the cabin a higher-than-usual ceiling, and the feeling of spaciousness is further accentuated by a passageway behind the centre seats (it’s rare to find any kind of “dead space” on an aircraft where every square inch is carefully utilised).
Since I’ve already reviewed the 2013 First Class seat back in February 2020, I’m not going to spend too much time on the nitty gritty features; you can refer to the linked post for that.
What I will say is that the seat was in very good condition, considering it’s not the newest product out there. The leather was well-maintained, the buttons all worked, the tray table slid out smoothly, and most importantly, it was immaculately clean. This was a relief after the outbound flight from Singapore (in Business Class) where there was rubbish under my seat and sticky residue on the IFE controller.
After making personal introductions, the crew started bringing out the goodies.
First Class passengers receive a Lalique amenities kit. Inside you’ll find a bar of scented soap, lip balm and body lotion from the Neroli range, plus a scented candle.
Lalique sleeper suits were also distributed. The crew are exceedingly good at sizing up passengers and recommending sizes. They picked ‘S’ for The Milelioness and I, a relief after two weeks of non-stop eating.
All passengers also received an SIA Care Kit comprising of a disposable facemask, wet wipe and a bottle of hand sanitiser. These kits are the same across cabins, and it would be nice if SIA did something to differentiate them- perhaps Business/First Class could receive reusable batik masks in some slightly spiffier packaging.
B&O noise cancelling headphones are standard-issue in First Class, and the post-COVID concession is to provide a pair of disposable earpad covers. I’m still wondering what happened to the B&O H9i wireless headphones that were first mentioned in 2018; all I can surmise is that experiment has since been abandoned. It’s a shame, because going cable-less would be the next major step in cabin experience- no more rogue cables to topple drinks or tangle with your other wires.
Another change to service routines is that pre-departure drinks are no longer served in Business Class (you can request one, but it won’t be offered by default). However, they’re still SOP in the First Class cabin, and I was very surprised to see that the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, introduced for a limited time in 2019, had come back again.
The crew told me that the airline was facing an issue procuring Krug again, so Taittinger had been brought back to tide them over. It’s a more than worthy substitute in my opinion, and whisper it quietly- I even liked it more than Dom.
Speaking of which, First Class wouldn’t be First Class without the champagne challenge, and the crew proactively brought out a bottle of Dom Perignon 2008 to facilitate this, together with two SIA bears.
The captain came on the PA system to welcome us onboard, and inform us that our flight would take an hour longer than scheduled (~13.5 hours) due to the need to avoid Afghanistan airspace. While that may be annoying for business travellers, spending an extra hour in SIA’s First Class isn’t the worst thing that can happen.
Today’s First Class cabin was 3/4 full, with the other seat occupied by a last-minute booking, a gentleman who spent a disconcerting amount of the flight coughing loudly.
We soon pushed back and taxied to the runway, taking off without much of a queue. As the aircraft climbed to cruising altitude, I checked out the movie selection.
It isn’t the fault of Singapore Airlines, of course, but COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with the traditional Hollywood release cycle. That means fewer first-run movies, and consequently, a leaner “new releases” section on IFE systems.
But there’s still almost 200 Hollywood movies to choose from, so you won’t be short of options.
Once we reached cruising altitude, I turned on my Wi-Fi and got online. First and Suites Class passengers receive unlimited inflight internet on a single device, and while speeds were nothing fantastic, it’s hard to argue with free.
Singapore Airlines has also launched a new onboard portal, with additional digital content like games and the KrisWorld Magazine. I’m certain it’s only a matter of time before KrisShop duty-free shopping becomes available too.
The games section was particularly interesting. I’m no fan of the casual games that replaced classics like Super Bonk and Super Mario World a long time ago, and I was hoping the ones on the inflight portal might be a different genre.
No luck. All 10 titles fell squarely into the casual gaming realm, although there’s something oddly cathartic about controlling a giant hamster rampaging through the streets looking for cookies to eat.
More drinks were brought around as the crew prepared dinner. Hot nuts were served as well.
Since the food was virtually non-existent in the Lufthansa Senator Lounge, I was really looking forward to dinner onboard.
Let’s first talk about meal service as whole, and how it’s changed post COVID.
At the height of the pandemic, Singapore Airlines was forced by regulators to simplify its cabin service routines to minimise interaction between crew and passengers. One of the first things to go was course-by-course dining; the rationale being that bringing one tray to the passenger would be fewer interactions than making multiple trips back and forth.
I only ever experienced this once, on my flight to Munich just before the launch of the VTL. While single-tray service was the standard for SIA’s short-haul Business Class flights pre-COVID, it was weird to see it on a long-haul flight where a drawn-out meal service is itself meant to be part of the pageantry.
It was probably even weirder in First Class, as this video review shows (around the 10-minute mark), although I believe SIA negotiated a compromise which reduced proceedings to two trays- one with caviar, soup and salad, one with the main, cheese and dessert.
In any case, we can now consign this as a strange footnote in SIA’s history, because course-by-course dining has been restored across the entire network by now.
This means that for all intents and purposes, the inflight dining experience in First Class (and across all classes for that matter) is more or less the same as before. The only difference I can think of is that dishes arrive with plastic toppers on them, which you can remove and pass back to the crew right away. Cutlery also comes in a plastic ziplock bag. I think it’s meant to be a form of psychological reassurance, although it just feels like hygiene theatre to me.
If you’re wondering where’s the traditional First Class leather-bound menu, the answer is that it’s gone, replaced by a digital version that can be accessed through the aircraft’s Wi-Fi network. You can also access it on the ground at inflightmenu.singaporeair.com, a maximum of eight days prior to departure.
On this flight, dinner would be served first, followed by breakfast before landing in Singapore…at 5 p.m. Previously, they served supper after departing Frankfurt and then dinner before landing in Singapore, which makes a lot more sense to me.
Meal service began with satay, and what’s interesting is that all three pieces were chicken. I distinctly remember beef and lamb also being offered in the past, so this might be a route-specific adjustment (I can understand not serving beef on a route to South Asia, but can’t figure out why beef and lamb wouldn’t fit Germany…).
Next up was chilled malossol Oscietra caviar (TIL: malossol refers to a process for curing caviar, not a type). While caviar used to be portioned directly onto the plate, it now comes in a glass jar with Gourmet House markings.
Back in 2019, Singapore Airlines announced it would enhance its caviar service. That enhancement involves a mother-of-pearl spoon, which purists will tell you is important to prevent caviar “berries” from obtaining a metallic, unpleasant taste.
This was then followed by cauliflower cream soup, served with asparagus, beetroot and turmeric glaze, and a prawn salad served with shaved pumpkin radish. The prawns were surprisingly large and fresh.
For the mains, I went with the Bavarian pork belly which I previously tried on the Munich to Singapore flight. As far as I can tell, this is exactly the same version of the dish they serve in Business Class, but that’s not a bad thing. While cabin conditions prevent you from getting the same kind of crispy skin you’d find on the ground, the pork was deliciously moist, and the savoy cabbage provided the perfect counterbalance.
The Milelioness, missing Asian food, went with the Goong Sam Rod, Thai-style prawns in sweet-sour sauce, vegetables and steamed rice. I found it to be rather average, but the heart wants what it wants. And when the heart wants jasmine rice…
For dessert, opera cake and strawberry shortcake were served. The opera cake was definitely the winner, although those sensitive to bitter tastes should keep in mind there’s coffee inside.
The Milelioness found the strawberry shortcake way too sweet, and in another example of great SIA service, the crew proactively brought some camomile tea to help counteract it.
To finish proceedings were some sliced fruits, and cheese with the usual ganishes.
The wines flowed freely throughout the meal, with the Albert Bichot Corton Grand Cru 2016 and a Chateau Leoville Poyferre Saint-Julien 2007 being particularly memorable. You do need to give them some time to open up, however. Because of how they’re stored on the plane, both wines arrived much too cold to taste anything.
Many other drinks are available, both for those who partake and those who don’t. The full 15-page menu can be found via the link below.
After dinner, the crew distributed small bottles of Evian water.
I went to the toilet to brush my teeth and freshen up. There are a total of two lavatories in the First Class section. That would be plenty for First Class, if not for the fact that some Business Class passengers regularly came forward to use the bathrooms here. I was surprised the crew didn’t redirect them to the lavatories in Business Class (there’s three for the Business Class section), but at least they did ensure the bathrooms were kept spotless throughout.
SIA hasn’t really done much with the lavatories in First Class, and if not for the fancier amenities, you’d be hard-pressed to tell which cabin you were in.
There also isn’t much in the way of touchless technology on the B777-300ER. The tap is automatic, but that’s about it. Flushes, soap dispensers, and door handles all require contact, although thankfully the bin can be opened via foot pedal.
Body lotion, facial mist and eau de toilette from Lalique’s Neroli range are stocked, as are toothbrush kits, razors, combs and sanitary napkins.
Before sleeping, I decided to watch Jungle Cruise, the movie adaptation of one of my favourite rides at Disneyland (o2h! o2h! o2h!).
It was passable entertainment, but I cannot believe that reviewers complimented the “chemistry” between Emily Blunt and Dwayne Johnson. Seriously? Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in La La Land, that’s chemistry. This was just free-spirited Englishwoman meets world-weary beefcake, and I’ve seen better chemistry in a meth lab.
I was ready to sleep by this point, and the crew came around to help turn down the seat. Two fluffy pillows, high thread count bedsheets, and a warm blanket were provided- perhaps too warm, as Singapore Airlines likes to keep its cabins on the warmer side already.
While passengers in Business Class have to deal with a small cubby hole for their feet (a problem more noticeable on the A350-900 than the B777-300ER), there’s no such issues in First Class.
If you do notice a difference between the pre and post-COVID experience, it’s going to be during bedtime. Let’s just come out and say it: sleeping with a mask sucks. It’s hard enough with a cloth mask; I can’t imagine what it’d be like with one of those face-hugging N95 or KN95s.
Thankfully, the crew adopt a “close one eye” policy here. I toss and turn quite a bit in my sleep, and awoke several times with my mask partially off. Not once was I woken by the crew to wear it back, which matched my experience in Business Class to and from Munich in September. You shouldn’t abuse this confidence, of course, but it helps that they exercise some flexibility here.
It speaks volumes about how good the bed was that I managed to sleep for five hours even though masked, and woke as we began our crossing over India. Heads up: SITAONAIR does not have coverage over India, so on flights from Europe there’ll be a good 3 hour or so period where you have no connectivity.
I felt like having a snack, and browsed through the menu. Singapore Airlines really needs to work on its snack selection in First and Business Class, because the options look more at home in a convenience store than a luxurious airplane cabin.
I mean, I’m all for instant noodles as comfort food, but it’s basically the same thing that someone at the back of the plane gets, just plated on fancy china.
Moreover, it feels like a missed opportunity to showcase some of Singapore’s cuisine. No one’s saying you need to offer steak sandwiches like Etihad (though that would be nice), why not bak chor mee, or chicken rice- both of which already feature on SIA’s regular menu?
Since I didn’t feel like having instant noodles, I tried the only other hot item on the snack menu: soup. The menu listed a mushroom soup, but it turned out to be tomato soup instead. It was pleasant enough, but nothing life-changing.
The crew kept plying me with champagne, which helped me nap again until it was time for breakfast.
Breakfast service in First Class normally starts at around the 90-minute mark before landing (although with dine on demand, you could have it anytime you wanted). Compared to dinner, it’s a relatively simpler affair, and didn’t feel rushed.
Breakfast began with a serving of fresh cut fruits and yoghurt.
For the mains, I went with the western breakfast with eggs, sausages, mushrooms and rosti potato. One of the perks of First Class is that you get freshly-made eggs, either baked, scrambled or boiled. I’m not quite sure how they do it, though I strongly suspect they’re using powdered eggs, and the “fresh” in the menu refers to the fact they’re prepared onboard instead of in advance.
The seafood congee was the much superior option, served with an impressive array of fish, prawns and scallops.
After breakfast the crew came around to say goodbyes (they thought we were on our honeymoon, bless), and gave us a couple of extra bottles for the road. They also came around with the remainder of the champagne, and who was I to say no?
We landed in Singapore about an hour behind schedule, and it was off to do our on-arrivalswab.
Is First Class as fun as it was pre-COVID? Yes, I’d certainly say so.
Singapore Airlines’ First Class seat on the B777-300ER may not be the best in the world, but it’s still very comfortable and you’ll definitely arrive refreshed (provided you didn’t chug too much Dom). Dining is still an elaborate multi-course affair, you still get the usual goodies like amenities kits and PJs, and service is, as always, top notch.
Yes, there’s no more physical menus, and wearing a mask while sleeping is annoying beyond words, but that’s pretty much all that’s changed.
Notable weaknesses of this particular flight are the ground experience in Frankfurt, although it’d be exactly the same for any other First Class passenger except those on Lufthansa and SWISS. If you only have enough miles for a one-way First Class ticket, you should definitely try to do it out of Singapore- preferably once the new First Class SilverKris Lounge opens in Q1 2022.
A better question is whether First Class on Singapore Airlines is worth Advantage rates, and the answer to that is less clear. I paid a whopping 220,000 miles per person, and while I can justify that on the basis of a review, it’d be very different for most other people. I mean, the Saver price of 125,000 miles seems like a veritable bargain by comparison!
So my take is that it’s better to wait for Saver space to return. These are still early days for the VTL, and everyone is spamming redemptions for revenge travel. I’m hopeful that the VTL arrangement won’t be necessary beyond mid-2022, spreading out demand instead of concentrating it on a few flights.
Any questions about the post-COVID First Class experience?