While there’s technically no such thing as a “VTL flight to South Korea”, travellers from Singapore must take non-stop flights from Singapore to Seoul in order to enter South Korea without quarantine.
Singapore Airlines operates 6x weekly flights on this route:
Since I didn’t fancy doing a red eye (especially not in Economy), I chose SQ600 and its morning departure slot. After completing the check-in formalities for travel to South Korea, I paid a quick visit to the temporary SilverKris Lounge (which will only be around for a couple more days) and headed to the boarding gate.
|✈️ tl;dr: Singapore Airlines B787-10 Economy Class|
|Economy Class is Economy Class, but it’s so much better when you get empty seats next to you.|
|The Good||The Bad|
SQ600 departs at 8.05 a.m, and boarding normally begins 30 minutes prior to departure. For whatever reason they decided to start earlier this time, and when I reached the gate at 7.30 a.m most people were already onboard.
Today’s flight was operated by a 9V-SCN, a Boeing 787-10 delivered to SIA in September 2019. I previously toured this aircraft as part of an SIA launch event, so for a detailed look at the Business & Economy Class seats, check out this post.
While cabin crew used to hand out amenities onboard, the SOP has been changed to minimise contact with passengers. Economy Class passengers now help themselves to earphones and an SIA Care Kit just before they enter the aircraft.
The crew also distributed bottles of mineral water at the door.
The aircraft was quite full by the time I boarded, and as you can see from the photo below, there’s no more seat blocking.
At the height of the pandemic, instructions were to spread out passengers as far as possible, and on some flights it was not uncommon to have an entire row to yourself. But that was always financially unsustainable, and IATA lobbied heavily for seat blocking to be lifted. They eventually got their wish, and planes are flying full once again.
If you’re concerned about social distancing, do note that Singapore Airlines, unlike Emirates, does not provide an option to guarantee an empty seat next to you. Instead, its website merely says “Please note that vacant seats in the rows near you may be occupied subsequently.”
In other words, it’s up to you to identify any empty seats and move over- but do it only after the cabin doors have closed. Even better, ask the cabin crew if they know of any, because they’ll have the full picture.
A total of 301 Economy Class seats are installed on SIA’s B787-10 aircraft, split into 150 in the forward section and 151 in the rear.
Note that rows 57 and 69 are missing a window, while two sets of couple seats are available in row 74 and 75. Extra legroom seats are in row 58 (and cost extra $ to reserve), while the forward zone (also costs extra $ to reserve) is defined as rows 41-47.
Since I was intending to take things slow at Incheon Airport in order to properly document the VTL arrivals process, I didn’t mind taking a seat at the rear. I’d heard from a friend that on B787-10s, SIA blocks the ABC seats in rows 71-73 as an isolation area should they have a suspected COVID case onboard. I figured that by choosing row 70, I’d at least be able to recline without guilt.
Indeed, the seats behind me were blocked out upon boarding…
…and not only that, I managed to get the entire row to myself. Frequent flyers affectionately call this “ghetto Business Class”, since you can flip up the armrests and have a flat (albeit short and narrow) bed.
Trust me, having an empty seat (or two) next to you makes anEconomy Class flight so much more comfortable. There’s no jostling for the armrest, no cowboy stepping to go to the toilet, and you don’t need to be intimately acquainted with each other’s odors and choice of IFE content for the next few hours.
Singapore Airlines uses the Recaro CL3710 seat for Economy Class on its B787-10 aircraft. It has a slimline design, which makes it more suitable for regional routes than long-haul flying (because the lack of padding will really add up over time). Seat pitch measures in at 32 inches, and here’s an idea of how tight it was for me, at 1.8 metres tall.
Economy Class passengers have a personal 11.6-inch high-definition touchscreen. However, there’s no IFE controller, meaning you’re entirely reliant on swiping to navigate the KrisWorld system. Bulkhead rows are the exception, since the screens are too far in front to be navigated via touch. The lack of a controller makes it difficult, if not impossible to play games (not that the available titles are great anyway).
The IFE screen can be pulled outwards, allowing for a wider range of viewing angles, or making it easier to store an item in the small pocket below the screen.
On the control panel are light and call buttons, a single USB charging port and an earphone jack. It looks like at one time there may have been plans to add an NFC terminal for cashless payments or pairing wireless headphones, but that was later abandoned.
Beneath the armrests dividing the seats are EmPower universal outlets, with three passengers sharing two outlets (again, the exception is passengers in the bulkhead rows, who each get their own power outlet). This is a feature that SIA has chosen to omit from Economy Class on its B737-8s, which I think is a mistake.
The tray table unfolds in two stages. The first fold unveils a mirror and cup dimple, the second opens up the entire table.
I took a quick look at the headphones that were distributed. You can keep these after the flight, but really, they’re flimsy and cheap and there’s no reason why you’d want to. The jack accepts any standard 3.5mm cable, so you might even want to bring your own set for better audio quality and comfort.
The SIA Care Kit contains a disposable mask, a disinfectant wipe and a bottle of hand sanitiser.
Today’s flight was easily 90+% full, reflecting the strong interest in travel to Korea. Safety announcements were made in both English and Korean, and passengers were reminded they had to keep their masks on at all times except eating or drinking (or wearing the oxygen mask, as helpfully clarified).
The captain then came on the PA to welcome us onboard. He said that today’s flight time would be around 5 hours and 30 minutes, and there’d be some bumpy weather en route.
There was no takeoff queue at Changi, and we departed on time.
One of the coolest features of the B787 are its dimmable windows. There’s a gel between the glass which responds to electric current- when the passenger presses the dim button, the current increases and the gel becomes darker, letting less light through. When the passenger presses the light button, the current decreases and more light comes in.
The cabin crew have a master control switch which allows them to change the color of a single window, a section or the entire aircraft. As soon as we reached cruising altitude, the windows were automatically dimmed.
Once the seatbelt sign went off, I connected to the plane’s Wi-Fi network and got online.
All KrisFlyer members receive a complimentary 2-hour “chat package”, provided they entered their KrisFlyer number at the time of booking or check-in (i.e. it needs to appear on your boarding pass). If you forgot to do this, it’s too late to do anything once on the plane.
The chat package supports text-only messaging on chat apps like WhatsApp, and they weren’t kidding about that. I wasn’t able to send any images at all; the connection kept timing out.
Fortunately, I have a Boingo Pass courtesy of my (long-cancelled) Citi Prestige Card, which gives me unlimited onboard Wi-Fi. I have no idea why my subscription is still active, but I’m not about to question a good thing.
Speeds were mediocre, but the connection was fairly reliable throughout the flight.
In case you’re wondering, here’s an idea of how much allowance you have to use your laptop in Economy Class. There’s a reasonable gap between the seatback and lid of your laptop, although it’s always a good idea to pull it slightly closer to your body, in case the person in front suddenly reclines.
Meal service started about an hour after take-off. Breakfast would be served on this flight, and FYI, paper menus are no longer provided on SIA flights. Passengers can instead connect to the inflight Wi-Fi and navigate to https://inflightmenu.singaporeair.com/ to view the selection (visiting the menu page does not require an active Wi-Fi package).
You may have read about Singapore Airlines’ new-look Economy Class meals, which are served in lightweight brown paper boxes with paper-wrapped bamboo cutlery. These have received mixed reviews- some love the reduction in plastic waste, others believe it looks like a cheap take-out box and undermines the premium image of SIA.
Whichever camp you fall into, you won’t have to deal with that issue on this flight. The new concept meals are available on flights under 3.5 hours. On all other flights, the traditional plastic casserole and plastic-wrapped metal cutlery are still served.
I chose the chicken bulgogi, which was in high demand (I’m fortunate they finished serving my aisle first, because they ran out by the time they got to the rear passengers in the other aisle). I’m no expert on Korean food, but I’ll say that this is the kind of saucy dish that holds up well in an airplane cabin environment.
There’s no champagne in Economy Class of course (or Premium Economy for that matter), but passengers can still chose from a selection of wines, liquors and beer.
If the meal isn’t enough to satiate your hunger, you can request for snacks from the crew. Economy Class passengers get the same snack menu as those in Business Class, with Kit Kat, dried cranberries, packaged nuts and instant noodles all available.
While eating, I hate watched a bit of the Simpsons, lamenting how far the show had fallen since the days of Marge vs. the Monorail.
I began the flight in the aisle seat 70C, then halfway through to myself: why not make full use of the widest seat in the sky? And so I did, enjoying a wingspan that even First Class passengers don’t get…
About halfway through the flight I visited the lavatory to freshen up before taking a nap. It’s tight quarters, regardless of which cabin you’re in.
On the plus side, both the tap and the flush are contactless, activated by a wave of the hand.
Before taking a nap, I requested for a pair of earplugs and an eye mask from the crew. Eye masks may be proactively given out on overnight flights, but the earplugs are by request only.
Now, having three seats to yourself sounds like an awesome setup for a nap, but reality is a bit more disappointing. The seat cushions are so narrow that sleeping on your back isn’t really an option. You’ll also need more than one pillow, if only to cover the immovable armrest near the window. Then you’ll need to raise your knees, to avoid your feet spilling into the aisle. Forget about tossing and turning, there’s simply no room.
All in all, sleeping flat in Economy is like making love in the shower. The concept sounds exciting and you want to try it at the first opportunity, but you soon realise it’s very uncomfortable and nothing like the publicity materials. And your back hurts afterwards. But you tell everyone it was great.
The captain came on the PA again about 30 minutes before landing, and we touched down ahead of schedule at Seoul Incheon.
Passengers were told that disembarkation would take place by zones, and to kindly remain seated until their zone was called. Fat chance- as soon as the seatbelt sign went off, everyone sprung up to get their things.
It took a further 14 minutes to disembark, and then it was time for the on-arrival process for VTL travellers.
While some service routines have changed post-COVID, the most notable difference will be having to wear a mask the whole flight. It feels like the crew were stricter here, possibly because the crowding in an Economy cabin presents a higher risk than in Business or First. I had my mask off with a drink on the tray table (and it wasn’t like it’d been there forever), and was asked to put it back on between sips.
Singapore Airlines offers a solid Economy Class product on its regional flights, although the slimline seat design may prove uncomfortable for overnight flights on the upper range of the threshold.
Of course, it makes a world of difference when you have an empty seat next to you, and even if that means selecting the back of the plane, it’s a trade well worth considering.