For one of the first posts of the new year, I would start off by a first flight on a brand new airplane model. After all, I wrote before that 2016 was all about the A350. It seems I was right because I got to fly with this aircraft twice in 2016. This is one of the flights where I was scheduled to return to Jakarta on Singapore Airlines.
Being a regular flight, I had written about such experiences in Economy Class, in Business Class, in a Regional First, and true full-flat First configuration. Thus I had not much further to add other than Singapore Airlines still is the leader in this short 90 minute hop between Singapore and Jakarta. That is until my brother who booked the flight said this leg of our journey is operated by an A350. I would just skip the check-in process and delve into the boarding since Singapore Changi is efficient as always and remains so during the day of departure. ‘
There was no last minute substitution on plane model and as luck had it, the plane (registration 9V-SMF) just started commercial operations on the day I flew it, which meant it was on its 3rd flight for the day having been to Jakarta and back earlier.
SQ962 Singapore Changi SIN – Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta CGK
Airbus A350-900 9V-SMF
Gate F42 Seat 50B
One part of the premium service with Singapore Airlines is the range of newspapers available for passengers before boarding. And boarding every flight on SQ is the same with the plush carpeting of their planes’ aisle-way, to the rich tones of their upholstery. Passengers pass by the 1-2-1 new Business class cabin that is split into 2 sections. Thus for more privacy passengers might want to be seated in the smaller Business class cabin upfront.
As a new plane, the A350 featured a Premium Economy cabin that was introduced not too long ago. This one was upholstered in a teal colour and orange pillows that points back to Singapore Airlines’ livery colours. The Premium Economy is configured in a 2-4-2 method and does offer enough differentiation to Economy class.
At the back of the cabin lies 2 Economy class cabins, with the first one having upholstery colours in hues of blue, green and brown and the rear-most Economy cabin where I was seated having earthy tones. The seat are in a 3-3-3 arrangement, which means they become standard like onboard Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 777-300ERs. I would point out that the 777 does have a larger cross-sectional space compared to the A350 and that means the cabin of the A350 does feel more cramped, and I would rather pick to fly onboard the 777 rather than the A350 if flying at the back.
On every seats, Singapore Airlines still provide a good-sized pillow for passengers, even in Economy class. The pillow cases even felt smooth and good to the touch and this added to the premium feel of the flying experience. Upon being seated, I did find the legroom to be somewhat less generous especially compared to the Airbus A380s. This does negate some points and perhaps Singapore Airlines really tried to fit in more passengers. After all with the more compact dimensions and feel, there is less space to work with and Economy class legroom is probably the easiest to sacrifice.
Inside the seatback pocket, there are entertainment guides, inflight shopping catalog, a copy of the SilverKris magazine, a brand new A350 safety card and a personal headset packed in a small ziploc bag. The latter is of acceptable quality and passengers are even welcome to bring it with them.
Once we took off, the meal service was quite quick to start and opening the tray table features a neat new feature. This comes in the form of a vanity mirror, and might be useful for long-haul flights where passengers can use to refresh their appearance at the end. Fully retracting the tray table will allow the placement of the meal tray.
The meal service for this flight provided passengers with a choice of lamb with mashed potatoes or fish with rice. I chose the former and while I usually do not really care much for the meals on these short flight, the lamb choice was good. The meat was tender and did not have the lamb ‘smell’. The main course came in a tray that features a small bowl of mousse cake, a small pack of orange juice and mineral water. Other beverages were also offered including coffee and tea. Another benefit of flying Singapore Airlines was the alcohol selection and Singapore Sling seems to be a popular cocktail choice that I always see passengers ordering.
The crew came around the cabin to offer more drinks while clearing the tray tables of any passenger who have finished. What I was always impressed by is how their crew can accomplish the meal service and still allow passengers time to relax on a wide-body when Garuda Indonesia even have difficulty doing it on a narrow body aircraft like the 737-800 that plies between Singapore and Jakarta. This allowed me to use the entertainment system in relative peace and quiet like most other passengers. After all Singapore Airlines’ is probably still a global leader in the provision of airline entertainment.
Aside from a cleaner user interface, I also noticed they have taken a leaf out of Cathay Pacific’s books by showcasing their stewardess. Since they already use them frequently on the advertisements, why not let them be the face of your entertainment system too? There was also a new controller that is larger and features an LCD screen with touch screen capability. It was definitely a joy using the new system that seems to be more responsive and with faster access to the movies you want to watch. The last point is especially useful for short haul flights!
I spent the rest of my time completing the Korean/Chinese movie joint venture titled ‘Bounty Hunters’, and with passengers being able to use the entertainment right from the start until landing, I did finish it with time to spare. During the descent, I tried the flight mapping function since I like to know our current location while flying. As expected there was new features to play with too here, and they included showing the pilot’s cabin view, along with what cities to spot on either the right or left side of the aircraft. There was also the flight simulation view with overlays that provide altitude, horizon levelling and speed that should put a glee on every aviation game fan!
Singapore Airlines’ does try to maintain their lead over the other national carriers and in my mind their close competition includes Cathay Pacific, Thai Airways, Garuda Indonesia, ANA, Asiana, Korean Air, EVA Air, China Airlines, Japan Airlines and Qantas. Naturally the expanding Chinese airlines are also increasingly competing on price and they are all getting better in their own way. Meanwhile the new A350s shows the need for Singapore Airlines to continue to invest in new planes but I am skeptical if the hard product on Economy Class is enough to maintain a strong lead. If anything the upgraded amenities and entertainment is a step forward but smaller seats and narrower cabin does seem a bit one step backward leaving Singapore Airlines more or less stationary in the airline industry.