An ode to the hot towel: Singapore Airlines’ last missing service item

Singapore Airlines' hot towels have been missing in action since COVID started, and passengers miss them more than you know.

In May last year, I attended the official unveiling of Singapore Airlines’ new First Class Lounge and The Private Room. After the tours concluded, the media scrum gathered for a doorstop interview with Singapore Airlines’ CEO and EVP for Commercial. 

The best kind of scrum

A palpable buzz was in the air as the time for Q&As approached. What were the reopening plans for the worldwide SilverKris Lounge network? How would the perpetually-delayed Boeing 777X affect the airline’s capacity expansion plans? Was the stalled ANA-SIA joint venture still on the cards? 

Then the EVP motioned to another journalist, who asked, in all earnestness (I’m paraphrasing to the best of my memory here): “A passenger in Premium Economy told me she doesn’t get hot towels before take-off anymore, so she feels it’s not worth it. What do you say?”

There was an awkward silence (I fought to stifle a laugh, but then again I’m not media-trained). The EVP of course handled the question with aplomb, if not the slightest hint of bemusement, giving the usual boilerplate about Singapore Airlines constantly reviewing its service offerings. 

But perhaps that journalist was on to something, because here we are eight months later. Singapore Airlines has restored 73% of its pre-COVID destinations and 67% of its pre-COVID capacity. Its once-mothballed fleet is plying the skies like never before. Paper menus, pre-departure beverages and even nuts in a warmed ramekin have returned, yet hot towels are nowhere in sight.

While I personally can take it or leave it, I know how strongly people feel about the issue. Facebook comments are generally not a good read of public sentiment (in addition to being a known carcinogen), but the hot towel question pops up with surprising regularity on SIA’s page. And it clearly has its fans. 

“An entire article about hot towels?” you say. “How utterly gauche. Is it really that slow of a news day?”

Don’t be a wet blanket. 

Why do people miss hot towels so much?

Yes, it’s a hot towel | Photo: OMAAT

Why do hot towels matter? I decided to put the question across to a group of frequent flyers, and the answers were illuminating. 

There’s the obvious one: “It’s refreshing”. Perhaps those of us originating from Singapore don’t feel it so much, but if you’re hustling across terminals trying to catch a tight connection, a hot towel on boarding is an invitation to catch your breath and freshen up. 

“It feels premium” was another common response. The hot towel itself may not be made of Boca Terry cotton, but not every airline offers it, and their very presence can be a bellwether for quality. 

Some responses were refreshingly utilitarian. “It helps me clean my area”, said a few. After all, you don’t know where that towel has been; do you really want to wipe your face with it? 

Cleaning standards on recent flights have not been exemplary

It’s funny, because despite all the rhetoric about heightened hygiene standards in the new normal, I’ve noticed a discernible decline in the cleaning standards on my post-COVID flights (and this isn’t just an SIA problem). Maybe the cleaning crews are understaffed, or maybe the airlines are squeezing those turnarounds tighter than ever, but either way a hot towel lets you give your seat a quick once over (that said, unless they douse it in antiseptic, I’m skeptical as to how much good it actually does).

“It’s egalitarian”, suggested another. That’s true, come to think of it. While pre-departure beverages and amenities kit pageantry are reserved for First and Business Class, the hot towel knows no socio-economic boundaries. Pre-COVID, it was a staple throughout all cabins, although obviously distributed with more pomp and circumstance at the pointy end of the plane than at the back of the bus. 

But my favourite answer by far: “It feels familiar”. The hot towel is the last remaining service item from the pre-COVID days that has yet to make a return. Course-by-course dining is back. Printed menus are back. Pre-departure beverages are back. Inflight duty-free is back. It now feels like the hot towel is the last piece of the normality puzzle, and once restored, it might as well be December 2019 all over again. 

A pre-COVID hot towel, served on one of Singapore Airlines’ since-retired A330-300s

So is that it? The hot towel is some sort of totem, a callback to the days before masking, social distancing, and a pervasive sense of hypochondria? That sounds like a lot of significance to assign a moist piece of cloth, though considering how vehemently people protest its continued absence, perhaps I’m not that far off.

Singapore Airlines’ response

I really didn’t feel like reaching out to Singapore Airlines for this article, partly because I was quite certain I’d get the usual “constantly reviewing our service offerings” response, and partly because I felt silly for asking.

However, I swallowed my pride anyway and asked when hot towel service would be restored. A spokesperson told me they had no information to provide at the moment, but would let me know when there was an update.

And there you have it. 


While Singapore Airlines has restored most of its pre-COVID service routines, hot towels continue to be elusive. I’m not aware of any regulatory restrictions that would prohibit them from being served (indeed, other airlines have restored their hot towel service out of Changi), so I’m just as puzzled about the delay as you are. 

For what it’s worth, I don’t think hot towels are gone for good; they’re just too ingrained into the SIA service psyche for that to happen. I wager it’s only a matter of time before they return, which will spark no small amount of joy in some quarters.

And look, if you really miss them, Singapore Airlines will sell you 100 pieces for S$50 on KrisShop. Go nuts. 

Where do you stand on the hot towel issue?

Aaron Wong
Aaron Wong
Aaron founded The Milelion to help people travel better for less and impress chiobu. He was 50% successful.

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Wet Blanket

This article is missing a “how to recreate the hot towel at home yourself” section.


Make your own hot towels inflight. Some flights you can find the towels stored in the toilet. Use hot water, and bring them back to your seat in the paper cup.


That’s actually a different type of towel altogether.


Must be a slow news cycle (just kidding…sort of). Yeah I miss the hot towel. Especially now, traveling with 2 kids, dealing with all the carry-on and what not, the hot towel offered a quick moment to pause, watch the steam billow off, and relax.


Nice to have, fine without.


I wonder if they will ever bring back appetizers in economy class


And shrink the mains? No thanks.


I do miss appetizers in economy class. SQ got rid of all economy appetizers, even long haul routes as well


The food is really sad for long haul flights.

Soiled Blanket

As a parent, can I just say that the towel is a godsend for cleaning babies/toddlers. We got a whole bunch free from a friend and have been using them daily.

In all seriousness, one way SIA could “luxe” the hot towel would be to mist it with some kind of scent. Hotels do that and I imagine it wouldn’t add much for SIA to do the same.

Will M

I remember that they used to have a scent on them (2000s-early 2010s) but that scent gradually disappeared as I don’t remember any of the hot towels I got between 2017-2019 having them.


I also remember the hot towels being infused with the scent, or perhaps it was just the familiar SQ scent onboard the aircraft wafting through.

Doctor PartyPooper

Scented products are not good for your skin. Yes they are a cheap way to make products feel premium but they cause many skin problems, this is why you will find fashion houses infusing their products with scents to look luxurious, whereas actual dermatological products are always unscented.


Crew sometimes drop hot towels on the floor and place them back on the tray. Not exactly sterile


Actually would prefer cold towel but yeah nice touch.


Love the headline. Thanks.

Bob C

Frankly it should not come back at all. These towels are not a one time use item. They are washed and recycled. Think of the environment and think of covid or other virus that can stay on even though it’s washed…

Last edited 1 year ago by Bob C

Yes. I suspect hygiene and health issues may mean the hot towel is gone for good.


But I means towels in hotels and gyms are also washed and reused, so what’s the point about virus lingering?


But how to compare hotels and gyms that perhaps serve 30-100s to an aircraft that serves 100,000 per day. Virus are invisible. And people from everywhere uses the towels. When there is covid, countries shut borders. People die from covid. U don’t want to risk it for a towel. I want babies on plane and elderly to be safe on plane.


If covid rises when towel service comes back, or some other kind of virus, I hate to blame sia in the end. Just stick to being 100% hygienic at all cost. I pay for that.


Hi Karen, they actually wash the towels.. Then nuke it in the microwave to make it hot.

Seriously.. If you are so concerned about a silly towel giving you covid, suggest that you don’t fly. More chance of you catching covid from the guy next to you sneezing in your face then from a hot towel.


Not sure I understand your logic. Are you saying single use items are more environmentally friendly than washing and reusing them? Also not sure we can argue about the environmental friendliness in a website about jet-setting and hotel stays. Nothing about global travel is good for the environment.

Lastly with the kinds of commercial washing the towel invariably will go through, not sure what kinds of mutant viruses will survive.


Beyond reinstating pre-Covid amenities, SIA should seriously look at filling the gaps. For example, it amazes me that plant-based, lactose-free milk is still not available on board flights. How hard is it to store soya or oat milk?


Because you can hug your trees without telling the rest of us what milk we should drink


These should be referred to as “nut juices”

Only dairy products are Milk


Perhaps they should also hire a barista so they can froth your foamable oat milk and do latte art in a nice ceramic cup.


Not only the hot level, so much of Singapore Airlines hospitality services missing particularly in SEA region flights. It’s really getting disappointment, even my kids asking .. what happened to the hot towels and snacks.


To Chennai flight, I have missed items and informed air crew. Almost two months now, even there is no call to say found or not found. Pls bring back the original class of service of SIA.


The towel is a fetid germ rag that should be condemned to the annlals of history for what it truly was – a bizzare, ‘we’re doing it becuase others are doing it’ ritual.

It is not premium. Tacky restaurants and spas the world over foist them on you. It is not particularly hygienic. It is at best, curious.


Handy towel to use at home instead of consigning to the rubbish bin.


Have you seen the colour of the returned towels on some flight routes? 🤮


Familiar is the best answer. We all have a routine when we sit down and stow away the luggage, carry on, etc.

Towel and then Satay just feels right.


The towels issue are tacky. Have you ever seen the crew collecting it, it’s close to their face and it poses a health risk given how some passengers use their towels. – some use it to dig nose – some use it to clear their nose – some use it to clear their throat – some use it to wipe the body (less said about armpits and legs) – some use it to wipe their shoes – some use it to wipe baby stool – some use it to wipe their seats and surrounding I personally seen passenger wipe the… Read more »


I flew JAL Business and noticed no hot towels there either.
They did give you dry sealed paper towels only good for a spilled beverage at your seat.

Sam L

J and F still missing the after-meal chocs


On some flights they had a little 2-choc box for each passenger.


I say, aren’t you going to provide your priceless snark on SQ’s latest ‘Welcome to World Class’ ad campaign? This may be a little off-topic but it goes a long way in highlighting the little touches SQ has in every class of service, hot towels inclued. Given that LALF and VFTW have already given their take on SQ fighting its little bit against QR — though OMAAT hasn’t made any such comparison, instead calling it a beautiful campaign — it’s more than a little surprising that Singapore’s premier sarcastic aviation blogger hasn’t commented on it!


Actually more than anything I’d like to see the faces of the cabin crew again. Ditch the face masks. Haven’t seen a smile for almost 3 years…


Newspapers! Would love to see the return of a proper hard copy newspaper.


You want to charge a premium price for your tickets, you just have to bring back the service which passengers pay for. If not, it will invariably lead to widespread suspicion by passengers of being short-changed unless there are overwhelming reasons for not doing so.


It’s really not about the hot towels, but their long-standing brand positioning as a (the) premium airline. It’s about optics and perception.

Notwithstanding impacts from the pandemic, prices have remained on the higher side across all sectors, yet they have been cutting corners in many small details. Personally I no longer choose Singapore airlines because it’s premium, but more of its consistent hard product, level of service and timeliness. That’s about it. Food is subpar.