Hiroshima. It’s all the talk in SilkAir since the new route was announced in May 2017, and in less than two weeks from now the airline’s first Boeing 737 MAX 8 (a fancy way of saying Boeing 737-800 with new engines) will start flying the route three times a week.
It will be the first destination in Japan for the airline. On a map it’s similar in distance to a flight from Singapore to Cairns, a route already operated by SilkAir’s 737-800 aircraft, but in reality it’s a much longer flight against the winter headwinds which traverse the East China Sea between Taiwan and Japan in the winter months, upwards of 300km/h at their peak.
This effectively makes Hiroshima, as far as the plane is concerned, a lot further away.
Passengers will have to endure a flight of 6 hours 45 minutes on the way to Japan, but there’s one thing they won’t have to endure – slumming it in an old aircraft. The only plane which can fly this route is the 737 MAX 8, and SilkAir introduced the aircraft earlier this month – with a few passenger comfort benefits over the existing aircraft in their fleet.
What’s new in Business?
There was some hype (or was it hope?) that the increased range of the 737 MAX meant SilkAir might install flat-bed business seats on the aircraft. Unfortunately those hopes have been dashed, and that’s not too surprising – flat-bed seats just take up too much room in narrow-body aircraft, plus they would be stepping on Singapore Airlines’ toes across the regional network (who would book an SQ business flight to Bali with a sloping bed, if SilkAir provided a flat-bed for the same price?).
But it’s not all bad news. The Business Class seat on the SilkAir 737 MAX 8 boasts 25% more legroom (seat pitch increase from 39 inches to 49 inches) and additional seat recline (increasing from 8 inches to 12 inches) when compared with the older seats found in the Business cabins of their 737-800 and A320 family jets.
There’s also a fancy coffee machine in the galley, so business class passengers can enjoy freshly-brewed gourmet Illy coffee on board, a sure hit if (like us) you’re basically allergic to ‘instant’. A power socket, USB charging port and handy side stowage are also incorporated into each seat.
How about Economy?
No such luck on the legroom here – SilkAir has maintained their standard 31-inch seat pitch in the Economy cabin. One seat row has been removed – taking away six seats for 144 total in this section, but this is to make way for increased space in Business class.
Again it’s not all bad news – the newly designed seats in the Economy section now feature a seat-back holder for personal electronic devices like phones and tablets, plus a USB socket for charging in every seat back.
Any seat-back TVs?
It’s another no on this front – however, the SilkAir Studio system provides music, movies and TV programs over Wi-Fi to your personal device. You will need to download the app in advance though. The service is available for free in both cabins. Note that the Wi-Fi mentioned here is a local network between your device and the aircraft’s in-flight entertainment servers – there is no internet connectivity on this aircraft.
What other routes is the 737 MAX flying?
Since arriving on 6 October the first aircraft, 9V-MBA, has been shuttling (irregularly) between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Pnomh Penh and Phuket. This is likely to be for a period of crew training and operational / maintenance familiarisation.
The first regular route, as mentioned above, will be to Hiroshima from 30 October.
Those shorter routes appear to be finished from next month. A search of the GDS timetable for the week commencing Mon 5 November 2017 shows the aircraft flying on the following routes (remember, it’s subject to change):
|Flight Number(s)||Destination||Days of Operation|
|MI412 / MI411||Kathmandu||Tue|
|MI424 / MI423||Bengaluru (Bangalore)||Mon, Fri, Sat, Sun|
|MI474 / MI473||Hyderabad||Daily|
|MI868 / MI867||Hiroshima||Mon, Thu, Sat|
Pretty much all of those flights can be operated by the 737-800 if necessary, for example, due to technical problems with the MAX. We believe Hiroshima will be prioritised on the MAX in such an event. Notice also how on certain days of the week a single aircraft cannot fly all of these sectors. This suggests 9V-MBB, the second 737 MAX 8 for Silk, will have been delivered and be in revenue service by 5 November.
We took a look at KrisFlyer redemptions and Saver awards are still available on some of these flights operating with the 737 MAX 8.
Hiroshima, the longest route, will set you back 43,000 miles for a one-way saver redemption in Business, and 25,000 miles in Economy. Kathmandu and the Indian destinations are 35,000 in Business and 18,500 in Economy.
How can I see if I’ll be flying on a MAX?
Strangely, Singapore Airlines haven’t added the 737 MAX 8 as an aircraft type on their internal website timetable yet. So if you see a SilkAir flight with no aircraft type shown, just a pair of brackets instead, currently that means it’s the MAX.
I’m sure this will be updated soon once they get a few customer queries.
If you are searching a GDS timetable, the 737 MAX 8 aircraft type is denoted with the code 7M8, as opposed to 738 for the 737-800, 320 for the Airbus A320, etc…
How many of these planes are coming?
SilkAir made a large order for the 737 MAX 8, a total of 37 aircraft will eventually be delivered, completely replacing the Airbus A319 and Airbus A320 aircraft currently in service and resulting in an all-Boeing fleet comprising both the 737-800 and 737 MAX 8.
Before long, these aircraft and their enhanced products will become common across many SilkAir routes, not just the longer ones. Once that’s the case it will be a good idea to try and target the MAX aircraft where you can as it does have the better product, especially in Business.
Finally… our thoughts on the MAX
From a passenger point of view, this plane is certainly no game-changer. In the Business class cabin, we do like the look of the increased space and the coffee machine. You won’t catch us flying 6 hours and 45 minutes to Hiroshima in the new Economy seats – but for shorter flights, it’s probably ok and the seat-back device holder and USB charging looks like it will improve the experience.
We are planning to try at least one decent-length sector in the Business cabin soon, and will aim to write a comprehensive review. Until then if you fly on one, do let us know about your experience in the comments section below.