|Singapore Airlines has announced that the new KrisFlyer Gold Lounge will open on 20 May 2022, with the new First Class and The Private Room “in the coming weeks”.|
In my initial review of Singapore Airlines’ new Changi SilverKris Lounge back in November 2021, I remarked that:
Lounge capacity is a massive step up from the temporary SilverKris facility- it would take something special to fill this place
In my defence, I was referring to the business-as-usual scenario, where all the renovated lounges were up and running. But still, I get the feeling this will probably go down as one of my “aged like milk” comments.
Those who have visited the SilverKris Lounge over the past couple of months (and especially in recent weeks) will know what I mean, because the overcrowding situation has reached critical levels. During the early morning and evening peak periods, the lounge becomes a warzone with champagne (arguably the best sort of warzone, but still), as passengers scramble to find seats, staff hustle to replenish buffet items, and lines build up at every imaginable chokepoint
With the June holidays bearing down on us fast and still no announcement regarding the opening of the new SilverKris First Class and KrisFlyer Gold lounges, one has to wonder how bad the situation will get before it improves.
My experience with overcrowding at the SilverKris Lounge
I flew to Auckland on SQ285 to cover the New Zealand reopening, departing at 10.45 p.m on Sunday 1 May. I was unhappily aware that I’d be getting the double whammy of an evening departure slot and a long weekend, but hoped that most of the crowd would have thinned out over Friday and Saturday.
Fat chance. The lounge was already 80%+ full when I arrived at 7 p.m, and by 8.30 p.m was completely packed.
Passengers were sprawled out across furniture, the buffet line (self-serve buffets have returned in the lounge) was cleared out as soon as it was replenished, and waiting times for the shower were over an hour. In many places it was standing room only, and I saw a couple of passengers even resorting to sitting on window ledges. Finding one seat alone was already tough. Finding two together was nigh on impossible.
And keep in mind, that’s for the people who managed to get in. The reception area was in chaos, with the lounge dragons struggling to keep up with the surge of arrivals. Long queues had formed, and some passengers were getting irritable with the staff, unfortunate because the current predicament is hardly their fault.
While lounges are meant to be an escape from the hustle and bustle of the airport terminal, the concourse below felt more tranquil than the tumult above. Recent reports from folks on FlyerTalk are no better.
Oh, and completely random, but here’s an idea of how fast the lounge burns through champagne…
What’s causing the overcrowding?
The current overcrowding situation is created by a perfect storm of factors, some of which are within the control of Singapore Airlines, some of which aren’t.
First, the current SilverKris Lounge is serving demand it was never designed to carry. Prior to COVID, Singapore Airlines essentially had seven different facilities to funnel eligible passengers:
- SilverKris First Class Lounge Terminal 2
- SilverKris Business Class Lounge Terminal 2
- KrisFlyer Gold Lounge Terminal 2
- SilverKris First Class Lounge Terminal 3
- SilverKris Business Class Lounge Terminal 3
- The Private Room Terminal 3
- KrisFlyer Gold Lounge Terminal 3
Now it has just one, which needs to accommodate every manner of eligible guest: Star Golds, KrisFlyer Elite Golds, Business Class & First Class on Singapore Airlines, Business Class & First Class on Star Alliance partners, you name it.
Granted, air traffic hasn’t recovered to pre-COVID levels yet, but it’s clear that the loss in capacity has far outstripped the downturn in demand. It’s no wonder the lounge is heaving at the seams.
Second, COVID-related construction delays have dragged out the renovation project well beyond its original timeline.
You probably know of someone whose home renovations were delayed due to the difficulty in securing labour and supplies. It’s no different for the airlines. A signboard posted outside the new First Class lounge talks of an expected completion date on 28 January 2022; we’re well past that now.
Singapore Airlines has been reluctant to commit to any sort of date even for a soft opening, and the last official comment I can find on the matter was given to Executive Traveller in February 2022, where a spokesperson mentions the opening had been “pushed back slightly”.
“The official opening of the new Singapore Airlines lounges at Changi Airport Terminal 3 has been pushed back slightly,” Singapore Airlines’ spokesman Karl Schubert has confirmed to Executive Traveller.
“This is due to the delays in the renovation work as a result of the ongoing disruption to the supply of goods and construction materials, as well as manpower constraints, owing to border restrictions and closures.”
So when will the ribbon-cutting take place amid a noisy swirl of colourful Lion Dancers accompanied by drums, gongs and cymbals?
Executive Traveller understands the delay could last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, and is entirely dependent on factors such as regional borders reopening and supply chains swinging back into gear.
Singapore’s border reopening will help alleviate the construction situation somewhat, but by this point all that can be done is to play catch up.
Third, Singapore Airlines has a lot of newly-minted KrisFlyer Elite Golds on its hands, thanks to the recent campaign that allowed members to earn Elite miles by transferring credit card points.
While I don’t know exactly how many members joined the ranks, it’s safe to say a good number of people were sitting on at least 250,000 miles worth of credit card points, the minimum required to upgrade themselves to KrisFlyer Elite Gold status. I know I’m one of them.
KrisFlyer Elite Golds would normally be shunted to the KrisFlyer Gold Lounge, but with that facility yet to open, they’re shacking up with everyone else at the SilverKris Lounge.
What are some possible solutions?
Singapore Airlines has a simple physics problem on its hands, that will only worsen the longer the new lounges are delayed: you can’t keep cramming more people into the same space.
But assuming the new lounges are still months away (and at this point it’s anyone’s guess), what options could they be exploring?
Diverting KrisFlyer Elite & Star Golds to alternate facilities
While this would obviously be a big step down in terms of customer experience (well, crowding aspect aside), it was already the practice prior to COVID that KrisFlyer Golds and Star Golds in Economy didn’t get SilverKris Lounge access.
Besides, the SATS Premier Lounge is already being used as a sort of unofficial overflow area, with numerous reports of passengers getting redirected there during peak periods (there’s no hierarchy to the redirection, in case you were wondering- both fare-paying Business Class passengers and KrisFlyer Golds redeeming Economy Class tickets have reported it).
The main issue I see with this idea is cost. Singapore Airlines won’t be thrilled about having to pay SATS or marhaba more than they have to, especially in their home airport.
I imagine they’d rather send whoever they can to the SilverKris Lounge, and only use the contract lounges as an absolute last resort (as opposed to having it as a business-as-usual arrangement for all KrisFlyer Elite Golds and Star Golds)
Keep in mind, as a KrisFlyer Elite Gold myself I’m not particularly enthused about the prospect, but I’m sure it’s being considered…
Setting time limits on stays
Another possible solution is to set time limits on access. I’m not talking about staff patrolling the lounge looking for overstayers and kicking them out; rather, I’m referring to passengers only being admitted within X hours of departure.
That’s exactly what the AMEX Centurion Lounges have done to mitigate their own overcrowding issues, with eligible passengers gaining access no more than three hours prior to departure.
Presumably, this rule wouldn’t apply to transit passengers (who may not have a say in how long their layover is), but would still help dissuade others from showing up too early for flights.
Reopening Terminal 2
This may sound like a dramatic measure, but it’s not completely out of left field.
Transport Minister S Iswaran recently confirmed that Changi Airport had plans to progressively reopen Terminal 2 over the course of 2022.
Even though Terminal 1 and 3 have been the “mainstay of our operations” throughout the pandemic and will continue being the “central channel” to manage passenger flow, Changi Airport is also preparing for the next phase, Mr Iswaran said.
As such, Terminal 2 will be “progressively opened” in the course of this year.
“I think that will help add to the capacity. And Terminal 4 is, I think if we need to activate it, Changi is able to do so at relatively short notice,” he added.
Prior to COVID-19, Singapore Airlines operated out of Terminals 2 and 3, with South East Asia and selected South Asia destinations served from Terminal 2, and all other destinations from Terminal 3.
|✈️ SIA Departures by Terminal (Pre-COVID)|
|Terminal 2||Terminal 3|
Reopening Terminal 2 would obviously relieve a lot of stress on the Terminal 3 facilities, assuming Singapore Airlines indeed shifted part of its operations back (and the Terminal 2 lounges are just in cold storage and haven’t been demolished as part of the renovations; I have no idea what their current status is).
I asked a Singapore Airlines spokesperson whether the airline was planning to resume operations out of Terminal 2, but they were tight-lipped about the issue:
The SIA Group strongly supports all efforts to reopen Singapore to quarantine-free international travel, and restoring Changi Airport’s position as a major air hub.
We remain guided by the local authorities on the re-opening of Singapore Changi Airport Terminal 2, and will continue to review our operations so as to provide our customers with a seamless travel experience.
At present, Singapore Airlines flights may arrive at either Terminal 1 or Terminal 3 of Singapore Changi Airport. This supports the increase in SIA’s services, in tandem with the higher demand for air travel as travel restrictions ease.
That doesn’t tell us a whole lot, but for what it’s worth, Singapore Airlines is already conducting two-terminal operations at least where arrivals are concerned. Ever since 28 February 2022, Singapore Airlines flights have landed at both Terminal 1 and 3 (though departures still take place from Terminal 3 exclusively).
It’s clear that Terminal 3 alone is insufficient for Singapore Airlines, and with Terminal 5 still a decade or so away, a two-terminal solution looks more likely than not.
However, my guess is that we’ll only see Terminal 2 coming back towards the end of Q3, and Singapore Airlines needs a solution now.
Open the KrisFlyer Gold Lounge ahead of schedule
I don’t know how close the new First Class lounge is to completion, but I do know the KrisFlyer Gold lounge is more or less there.
Why? Because I visited it last year. You probably did too, if you were travelling right up till November 2021 when it served as the temporary SilverKris Lounge. When the current SilverKris Lounge opened, the KrisFlyer Gold Lounge closed for further refurbishment, and last I heard is meant to open at the same time as the new First Class Lounge.
I don’t know what additional work they have planned — and when I visited last year it looked pretty much like what I’d expect from the new KrisFlyer Gold Lounge, with more open spaces and private shower suites — but whatever it is, Singapore Airlines may be doing some cost benefit analysis of scaling back its ambitions to get the facility open ASAP.
In one sense, Singapore Airlines has a happy problem on their hands. People are flying again, load factors are up, and Changi is no longer the sleepy ghost town I encountered back in September last year.
In another, they’ve got a major headache to deal with. The longer the SilverKris Lounge remains the sole facility, the more dissatisfaction generated and the bigger the hit to brand reputation.
There’s just such a big cognitive dissonance between the pasar malam style atmosphere in the lounge, and Singapore Airlines’ intimate, impeccable inflight service in the air. This is simply unsustainable, and something needs to be done sooner rather than later.
Have you been to the SilverKris Lounge lately? What was your experience like, and how do you propose it could be fixed in the short term?