Singaporeans heading to South Korea will now have an additional option with the launch of Air Premia’s Singapore-Seoul Incheon service. It joins Singapore Airlines, Asiana, Korean Air and T’way Air on an increasingly crowded route, with a combined total of more than 30 flights weekly.
While Air Premia may be referred to as a “budget carrier” in some quarters, on closer inspection it’s anything but. All passengers receive lounge access in Singapore (to the marhaba Lounge, till 29 Sept) a free checked bag and complimentary hot meals, there’s seatback IFE screens and in-seat power, and with seat pitch starting from a whopping 35 inches, it’d put many legacy full service carriers to shame.
The main question is: will their business model work?
Who is Air Premia?
Air Premia was founded by a former president of Jeju Air, and operates a single-type fleet of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. “Single-type” in more ways than one, because Air Premia has only one aircraft at the time of writing. A further two are slated for delivery as part of a lease agreement with Air Lease Corporation, and five more are on order from Boeing. Air Premia eventually plans have a total fleet of 10 aircraft.
The airline received its air carrier license in March 2019, but due to pandemic-related delays, only made its first commercial flight in August 2021.
Air Premia markets themselves as a “hybrid service carrier”, which “fills the gap in the market by fulfilling routes which low-cost carriers are not able to fly, and full-service carriers cannot provide attractive prices for.” It claims its Economy Class and Premium Economy Class fares are 80% and 140% of Korean Air’s Economy Class fares respectively.
Unlike most budget carriers, Air Premia isn’t focusing on short-haul routes. Rather, it’s setting its sights further afield, with plans to serve Los Angeles, Honolulu, Vancouver, Munich/Berlin and Cairns in the future.
Very few airlines have managed to make long-haul budget flights work (see Air Asia X, Norwegian Air, Wow Air, XL Airlines and Zoom Airlines), but Air Premia believes it can break the jinx thanks to lower operating costs arising from a single aircraft type (where have we heard that before). I wish them all the best with that, but I’m skeptical to say the least.
As an aside, you should absolutely make time to read Air Premia’s unintentionally hilarious FAQs section, which includes curt responses to questions like “Aren’t there too many players?”/ “No there aren’t. Air Premia set its business model developing untapped market” and “Is there any safety concern?”/ “The safety of an airline is not determined by its size”.
Air Premia’s Singapore to Seoul route
Air Premia has commenced four times a week service between Singapore Changi Terminal 3 and Seoul Incheon from 16 July 2022, with departures from Singapore on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Arr: 0200 (+1)
|*Tue (ex-SIN) and Mon (ex-ICN) flight from 25 July 2022 onwards|
YP632 will operate the flight from Singapore to Incheon, departing at 3.20 a.m and arriving at 10.50 a.m. The return flight will be operated by YP631, departing at 8.30 p.m and arriving at 2.00 a.m the following day.
The outbound flight timing from Singapore is far from ideal (even a bustling hub like Changi becomes a ghost town at 3 in the morning), but I suppose the upside is the return flight from Seoul lets you enjoy a full day of activities.
Round-trip Economy and Premium Economy fares start from S$402 and S$1,052 respectively, including all taxes and surcharges.
All fares come with at least 15kg of checked baggage.
What is the Air Premia experience like?
Air Premia’s Boeing 787-9 aircraft have a total of 309 seats, a very low density for a budget carrier (for comparison, Scoot squeezes 375 seats on its B787-9).
That’s because passengers are given an extremely generous amount of legroom . The 253 seats in Economy Class are configured in a 3-3-3 layout, each with 35 inches of seat pitch (Singapore Airlines only offers 32 inches!).
In fact, Air Premia is using the exact same Recaro CL3710 seat that Singapore Airlines has on its B787-10s, with seatback 12-inch HD IFE screens, USB charging and in-seat power.
The 56 Premium Economy Class seats are configured in a 2-3-2 arrangement, with 42 inches of seat pitch per passenger.
The Recaro PL3530 has been installed here; the same model that Emirates and Vistara are using. IFE screens get an upgrade to 13 inches, with the same USB charging and in-seat power outlets you’ll find in Economy.
Air Premia Premium Economy Class
Air Premia aircraft have inflight Wi-Fi, with plans starting from US$2.95. All plans are valid till data is fully consumed or the time limit expires, whichever comes first.
All passengers will receive an inflight hot meal, with premium teas, alcohol and selected beverages available for purchase in Economy Class (all beverages are complimentary in Premium Economy Class).
Premium Economy Class passengers receive an amenities kit, dedicated check-in counter and priority baggage handling.
Air Premia has commenced flights between Singapore and Seoul Incheon, offering a very competitively-priced option (at least in Economy Class) that doesn’t cut back on frills either. In fact, if you showed me the list of amenities without mentioning the airline, I’d be hard-pressed to tell it wasn’t a full service carrier!
While I love the sound of the Air Premia passenger experience, I do have concerns about the viability of the business model. The market for long-haul budget flights is something of a poisoned chalice, and I’m not sure the cost savings from operating a single aircraft type (no matter how fuel efficient it is) will offset the low density layout, or the relatively low turns a medium-haul route like Singapore-Seoul affords.
Besides, they won’t be able to match the frequency or connectivity of competitors in the region, and it’s not like they’re part of any alliance that can bring connecting traffic.
Would you fly with Air Premia?