On 26th October 2017, Singapore Airlines announced that their newest A380 aircraft, fitted with the latest suites, business, premium economy and economy class products, would make its debut on flight SQ221, the Singapore to Sydney route, from 18th December.
A week later, we found ourselves at the Suntec Convention Centre witnessing the live launch of the new cabin products for this aircraft. Given that we had only kicked off our blog about three weeks earlier, we had to pinch ourselves a little!
Fast forward a few weeks and it was a slightly more despondent atmosphere in the MainlyMiles “office”. This new plane was flying the Sydney route every day, but how would we get on it to try the new product? Full-fare was a non-starter, and the day job for both of us also stood in the way, for a trip that would take at least two days out of our schedule.
So the solution was simple. KrisFlyer miles! Problem being, this flight has been either waitlisted or simply unavailable in both suites and business class for saver redemptions almost every day since the new A380 started serving it. So we waitlisted in suites and business, for every single day one of us could feasibly do it.
The chosen one
On the morning of 4th January, I woke up to the news. The news we all want to see on our phone.
At the time, I didn’t even know which waitlist had come through, as I’d listed for both suites and business on the same flight three days in a row.
Truth is, I didn’t actually know which one I wanted it to be. Suites looks amazing, but it’s a novelty experience, and for most – a one off. Business is what our readers are much more likely to be interested in, as they’ll redeem into that cabin more regularly.
So naturally, I wanted it to be suites. Because it looks amazing.
Anyway it was business, so here goes…
- Flight: SQ221 Singapore Changi T3 to Sydney T1
- Class: Business
- Seat: 97A
- Aircraft Type: Airbus A380-800
- Aircraft Registration: 9V-SKU
- Date: 4th January 2018
- Departure / Arrival: 20:40 / 07:40
- Flight Time: 8h 0m
- Cost: 58,000 KrisFlyer miles + S$66.20
There was no queue at the business class check-in when I arrived around 6.40pm, 2 hours before departure, and I was promptly issued with my boarding card for seat 97A. I had already selected this seat earlier in the day, having checked the seat map on both the Singapore airlines website and ExpertFlyer.
While it was difficult to choose exactly where to sit (all of row 11 was available at online check-in, for example), what I noticed was that the entire rear mini-cabin section of two rows (96 and 97) was unoccupied.
This had to be confirmed using ExpertFlyer as the SIA site shows 96A and 96K as unavailable for selection, but that’s because these are bassinet seats for travellers with infants, not (necessarily) because someone is sitting in them.
As the flight was not particularly full in business class, and there were ample seat choices further forward in the cabin, I figured at this stage it was unlikely anyone else would choose the small rear section, which would give me good opportunity to take some pictures of the window seats, middle pairs and the all-important “double” bed at row 96 (it only truly features here, and at rows 11 and 91).
Lounge and boarding
The T3 SilverKris lounge was relatively quiet at this time of the evening, in contrast to my last trip for a 1am departure to Europe, which usually coincides with a raft of similar departures.
There was certainly no shortage of seating and I chose a high chair at one of the long bar-style tables.
I made my way from the SilverKris lounge around 8pm for the 8.40pm departure. There’s no review of the T3 SilverKris lounge this time, as Eddie is doing a dedicated review later in the week, on a different trip.
I was warmly welcomed on board and directed to my seat. The lead cabin crew in my area explained the seat functions, and also how this was the first aircraft in the SIA fleet with this new cabin product.
Interestingly as we chatted he also explained how he was part of the ‘pioneer crew’ selected to fly on this aircraft (and therefore this Sydney route) for the first few weeks of operation.
On this flight, there were also two cabin crew who, like me, were experiencing the latest A380 product for the first time, under the guidance of the ‘pioneer crew’ members, and were learning about the aircraft layout, seat functions and service schedule.
The crew also confirmed, as we suspected, that the second A380 aircraft arriving this month with the new configuration will be used to add a 3x weekly London rotation.
From the outset I must thank the crew who were all exceptional throughout the flight. Having been asked how to pronounce my name by the first steward, and once it was settled that ‘Andrew’ was fine, this was remembered without fail by all the crew for the remainder of the flight. That made the whole service experience very personal and friendly, which I greatly appreciated.
First impression: luxurious and private
This seat is well designed, occupies a bigger floor area than the photos I had seen suggested, and has a nice ‘cocoon’ privacy feeling compared with the 2006 J and 2013 J products.
Second impression: narrow
If you’re an SIA business class regular, let’s face it, you’ve been spoiled by seat width for a long time. The 2006 J product, when launched, was frankly ridiculously wide at 34 inches (nearly 3 feet). We all remember the ‘bolster’ cushion, which had to be provided in the early days to act as a second armrest – given the distance between the fixed armrests.
That changed when the 2013 J seat came to the market, first introduced on the 777-300ER and then on the A350, where some seat width was sacrificed to make way for additional storage space. Still, the seat stood at a very spacious 28 inches wide.
It was a surprise then to learn that this latest 2017 J seat on the new A380 would be narrower still, at 25 inches, almost a whole foot less than the 2006 J seat fitted to the existing A380 aircraft.
That said, it still feels absolutely fine, and compares very favourably with seat width in business class across some key competitors:
|Singapore Airlines||25″ (A380, 2017 J seat)|
Source: Business Traveller Airline Survey 2018
In fact we struggled to find any airline offering more than 25” business class seat width. One was Iberia on their A330/A340 fleet, which are in a 1-2-1 configuration, and have 26.4” seat width, but Iberia is hardly an SIA competitor.
Do note that the seat widths are not totally comparable, as some airlines measure seat width as the distance between the inside of the armrests, some by the seat cushion width, and some by the distance between the outside of the armrests.
One important thing to note about the new A380 business class is that the window seats and the middle pairs are misaligned at each row. It means the head position at the window seat, is approximately the foot position of the middle pair in the same row.
The offset is slightly more noticeable in the rear cabin, at rows 96 and 97, but exists in all rows of the business class section. It improves privacy, but if you’re choosing your seats at the last minute as a couple and can’t secure a middle pair – don’t expect to be able to converse easily across the aisle in the same row.
I was offered a choice of welcome drink (juice, water or champagne), and couldn’t resist a glass of the Charles Heidsieck, and a hot towel was then provided.
The crew also took the after takeoff drinks orders.
The cocktail tray is fixed in this new seat design, which makes it very sturdy. There is still ample room to walk past it when entering and leaving your seat, without spilling your drink.
Later the crew also asked for my choice of main course (there is a fixed starter and dessert option on this flight, more on the menu and food later).
At the scheduled departure time of 8.40pm, the Captain welcomed us on board over the PA and explained that we would be a few minutes late due to Air Traffic Control. We then pushed back from the gate just 4 minutes behind schedule.
During the taxi out the usual safety video is shown, then in business class there was a video presentation about the new seat functions which included instructions on how to fold the mattress cover over the seat, and recline it into bed mode yourself if you wished.
Unlike the previous 2006 J and 2013 J business class seats, which fold over to reveal a mattress on the reverse side, in the new 2017 J product the seat reclines into a flat bed more conventionally, on the upper-facing side, which does make it easy to do yourself.
The cabin crew of course are still happy to do this for you on request.
This seat has several places to store your belongings, most are very neatly and thoughtfully placed to keep items within easy reach throughout the flight.
At the back of the side table there is a handy pocket-sized stowage for storing your mobile phone, which is also equipped with a USB charging socket. It’s worth mentioning here that the side tables in the middle D/F seats are noticeably wider than at the window A/K seats (see below, side table at seat 97A on the left, and at seat 96F on the right).
The side stowage features a recessed area for smaller items, above which and behind a door is a multi-standard charging socket with integrated USB charging port, and an NFC contactless payment reader which is currently not in operation but which could be used in future for purchase of Wi-Fi, duty free goods, and instant upgrade to suites.
There is also a larger storage area where magazines and the safety card are stowed, ideal for bottled water and laptop computers or iPads. Ideally your devices can be kept here while on charge.
Note how my 12″ MacBook fits neatly into the stowage with ease.
There is a small cubbyhole style stowage area under a flap on the left hand side, useful for additional storage, for example items from your bag that you may need access to in the night once the bed is made up. Note that the middle seats again benefit from additional storage in this area, with an extra (open) cubbyhole as shown below.
This new seat design allows for a carry-on sized case to be stowed under the seat in front. I only travelled light on this trip but it was plenty of space for my rucksack and shoes instead.
The amenity kit
Well it should read, the lack of amenity kit. I still find it strange that Singapore Airlines, which prides itself on top-end service standards, doesn’t offer an amenity kit in business class. Instead the side stowage of the seat, behind the magazine section, contains slippers and socks, while the amenity drawers in the toilets are kept well stocked with other essentials for you to use.
Speaking of the toilet amenities, the single toilet in this smaller rear cabin section, on the right side behind seat 97K, wasn’t huge but was spotlessly clean and the fittings were all in great condition, as you’d expect from a brand new plane.
The backlit mirror also had an incorporated shaving mirror, and the upper surface of toilet seat lid is leather for a more comfortable changing experience.
Finally the obligatory orchid flower along the rear toilet wall is alongside the full-length mirror.
A feature available on all Singapore Airlines A350s, A380s and selected 777-300ER aircraft, is in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity. It will also be available on the upcoming 787-10 aircraft, arriving in March/April 2018.
Before you get too excited though, it comes at a cost, and not a particularly low one. The pricing structure is:
- Basic (30min / 30MB data limit): US$4.99
- Standard (3h / 150MB data limit): US$12.99
- Pro (Full flight / 500MB data limit): US$29.99
Nevertheless I signed up, and first tested the connection speed.
The long ‘ping’ is expected because of the nature of a satellite connection, but once you’re online the internet was very fast indeed. So far it ranks above Wi-Fi connections in most airport lounges we have tested.
Aside from Wi-Fi the Singapore A380 is of course equipped with the latest IFE system with a wide range of movies, TV shows, music and magazines to choose from. The TV screen is an 18″ model, joint largest with the Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 and Boeing 777-300ER version 2 aircraft
Another feature which is exclusive to this new system, and therefore also available on the A350 and 777-300ER V2, is pairing of your device to the IFE system. I’d never done it before but decided to give it a try on this flight, scrolling through a few movie choices on my Singapore Airlines iPhone app in advance and saving a couple of them as favourites.
Once you link your device to the system by following the on-screen instructions, it does indeed present your favourites for easy reference.
In the new 2017 J seat, the middle pair is a lot more intimate for couples as the format has changed from each seat being closer to the aisle, with a central console in between (like the 2013 J seat), to the seats being together in the middle with the consoles at the aisle side.
There is a large privacy divider between the seats, if you are not travelling as a couple and instead find yourself next to a stranger, which provides almost full privacy as with the single window seats. The following photos show the divider extended (left) and retracted (right) at row 97.
Food and beverages
Since I only booked this flight on the morning of departure, I didn’t have the opportunity to ‘Book the Cook’ (BTC), as 24 hours advance notice is required, so I can’t comment on the choices available through that menu.
Part of me wonders whether it is a deliberate policy to only clear the last minute business waitlist bookings less than 24 hours prior to departure, to prevent those passengers from using the BTC option. Perhaps that’s a little cynical of me.
These were the menu options on the flight (click to enlarge):
The single choice of starter is a bit of a disappointment on a relatively long sector, but this appears to be standard practice for Singapore Airlines flights now, even on longer sectors as Singapore-London.
In addition, the menu also featured the usual selection of Cocktails and Aperitifs, Spirits and Beer, non-alcoholic beverages including ‘mocktails’, Illy brewed coffee and a selection of teas including featured selections from TWG.
The crew set up my table, and then offered a selection of breads.
This was followed by the fixed starter of Parma Ham with Goat Milk Ricotta. It didn’t sound too appealing, but was actually very tasty and balanced well with the fig compote, vegetables and balsamic dressing. I ended up quite enjoying it.
For the main course I chose the Beef Fillet, it was cooked medium which is a little more than I would normally choose (medium-rare), but I understand why they have to do this for airline food, and it was still very tender and juicy, overall an excellent dish.
For dessert there was a choice between Haagen Dazs ice cream and the Chocolate Mille Crepe, by Singapore-based Awfully Chocolate. I went for the latter.
Dessert was delicious, served with fresh strawberries, and even came with a special commemorative “new A380” edible logo. At least I assume it was edible, as I have now eaten it.
The cheese course followed, three selections were available from the trolley along with crackers, a fruit and nut paste and some fresh fruits. I was too full to do it justice and only had a small slice of brie, which didn’t warrant a picture.
For those interested, here is the menu for the return sector (SQ232 Sydney to Singapore, a lunchtime / afternoon flight), also operated by the newly configured A380, which I did not travel on. The beverage options were the same on this service.
For those interested, here’s how the wines on offer rate with Vivino, out of 5:
- Selbach Reisling Kabinett Feinherb, Germany (2014) – 4.0 stars
- Selbach Oster Zeltinger Riesling Kabinett Feinherb, Germany (2015) – 4.0 stars
- Coldstream Hills Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, Australia (2015) – 3.7 stars
- Chateau Peyrabon Haut Medoc, Bordeaux, France (2010/12) – 3.7 stars
- Dandelion “Lioness of the McLaren Vale” Shiraz, McLaren Vale, Australia (2015) – 4.0 stars
I sampled the Selbach Oster Zeltinger, which was pleasant but a bit sweet for my liking, and the Dandelion Shiraz, which was excellent.
After dinner, given the empty rear cabin section, I was going to be cheeky and ask if the cabin crew would make up the “double” bed at row 96 so that I could take some photos for the review.
Before I had chance to ask, I was a little dismayed to notice them setting up the bed in that exact location, thinking another passenger must have requested it.
No sooner had I resigned myself to the 97A window bed, I was informed that they had taken the liberty of setting up the row 96 double bed for my use, without me even asking.
I was of course extremely grateful, but they were also using it as a training opportunity for the two new crewmembers, on the layout and setup of the new mattress and bedding (I’ve never seen so many crew crowded round a bed watching how it’s done!).
The bed itself, even with the mattress topper, was rather firm. It’s personal preference of course – but I’m used to a soft bed at home so it appeared like it might not be too comfortable for me.
Having said that I soon got comfortable and slept absolutely fine. Being able to stretch my legs out fully at the foot end across the whole width of the seat area was of course a great benefit, and there are only three seat pairs in business which allow this – rows 11, 91 and 96.
Is it really a double bed?
Singapore Airlines went to great lengths to sell this new seat with the middle pair “double bed” configuration. As mentioned, in reality there are only three seat pairs where this is truly possible, row 11, row 91 and row 96 (the bulkhead positions).
That’s because these seat rows have a full-width bench footrest area, rather than a side-angle cubbyhole for your feet when the seat is in bed mode, as at other rows.
It means for middle pairs not at these rows, each seat (and therefore the beds) are angled slightly away from each other so that your feet are directed into the small cubbyhole at the aisle-side in each case. That gives it a more ‘twin bed’ concept than a double, but is still more intimate than on the older versions of the seat.
A second issue is the privacy partition, even when fully retracted there is around a 7 inch ‘hard surface’ area between the two beds even in the bulkhead rows.
The third point is the fixed divider at the foot end of the bed, as shown in the photo below. This comes up to just above knee height for me, so the majority of the bed area is close to being a ‘double’, but you can’t play ‘footsie’ in this configuration!
Another snag – row 91
While you can reserve the row 11 and row 96 “double bed” seat pairs in advance, as row 91 is a bassinet position it can only be chosen once online check-in opens 48 hours before the flight, assuming it has not been allocated. You then also run the risk of being moved if it is needed for a passenger travelling with an infant.
It really restricts advance selection of the best double bed pairs to just two rows.
The rear mini-cabin
First and business class cabins are generally associated with being at the front of the plane. It means faster boarding and first to disembark. It’s also a massive exclusivity thing, I imagine.
The Airbus A380 is a different beast though. The sheer size of the aircraft, on two different levels, allows airlines to think a little differently about their cabin layouts. Many airlines dedicate the upper deck to premium cabins (so exclusivity is now above, not forward?). Except some first class sections which are installed below, but still forward!
Some airlines have installed bars, like Emirates and Qatar, some have installed duty-free shops, like Korean Air, and some have a nonsensical mishmash of almost every cabin class in various locations on both decks, like British Airways.
Singapore Airlines however have stuck with a simple philosophy for their latest A380 jets – the upper deck has suites at the front, and business for the rest of the upper deck. Downstairs (the main deck), now has premium economy at the front, and economy for the rest.
Is it noisy at the back?
In A380 terms – yes. I can’t deny the engine noise is greater the further back you sit, and this also applies to the upper deck seats.
If you’ve ever visited the bar on the Emirates A380, my seat on this aircraft was in approximately the equivalent location on the Singapore A380. While it’s louder, I’m sure you’ll agree it is still very acceptable, and conducive to much conversation.
I have a decibel reading app on my iPhone, which uses the microphone on the device and is in no way scientific by any stretch of the imagination, however for the record at seat 97A it was recording about 87dB in the cruise.
As I’m writing up this review in the Qantas A330 business class cabin heading back to Singapore, it’s registering about 83dB.
Is it cold at the back?
I’ve read a few reviews of the business class on the Singapore A380 version 2 aircraft, which has an entirely business class upper deck, stating that the back of the plane (especially row 96 by the rear doors) suffers from becoming very cold during flight.
I can honestly say that was not an issue on this flight at all, so perhaps Airbus has made some improvements here with the new A380s.
Would I choose 97A again?
I didn’t know what I would make of being right at the back of this cabin, but in a way, I actually enjoyed it. It certainly helped that I had an entire section to myself, and in future I would choose that over a busier section further forward.
There is some increased service noise at row 97, as the galley directly behind serves the two rear cabins from row 91 to 97. As the service flow is front-to-back, you also wind up getting served last in this row.
At night there is also some light disturbance each time one of the crew draws the curtain to enter or leave the galley area by the left side.
Only 12 out of the 20 seats in the mid business cabin (rows 91 to 95) were occupied on this flight, but I can say with total honesty only one or two passengers came to use the single toilet at the back, behind 97A. Everyone else seemed to use the toilets forward of row 91. Perhaps it’s a psychological thing, or maybe people just didn’t think there was a toilet at the back.
I wouldn’t be too concerned about choosing the right side F or K seats in this section on the basis of foot traffic to the toilet, unless the flight was very full.
A few more seat details
At the side of each seat there’s a vanity mirror with a light, at head height behind a small hinged door.
The seat controls are located in the console below the side table, and allow automatic seat adjustment to a variety of predetermined positions, including bed mode, or allow more specific adjustment such as the leg rest.
The overhead and ambience lighting is also controlled here, there is a “Do Not Disturb” function, a call bell for the cabin crew and a master control for the TV.
At first the controls themselves take a little getting used to, there is a small delay before the action begins, with a “haptic touch” function when the light turns blue (this is a small vibration feedback). This initially led me to remove my finger from the control, but if you do that the seat motion will immediately stop, you must keep it held.
The big button you can’t miss releases the table from under the side stowage.
The tray table provides a sturdy working and eating surface, and adjusts away from you (angled to the window side) to allow easy access to the aisle or back to your seat if you need to use the restroom during mealtime. The following images show the tray table moved to the side for this purpose, to illustrate the ample aisle access this allows.
A number of reading and ambient / mood lighting options are available for your seat, including an overhead light.
Not your standard arrangement here – the armrests are now ‘tab style’ wings and fold down from the stowed (vertical) to extended (horizontal) position. On first appearance they look flimsy, but they’re anything but. They are actually very sturdy and clearly mounted to a strong structure.
These photos show one of the armrests in seat 97A retracted (left) and extended (right). There is an identical armrest at the other side of the seat.
A continental breakfast is served on this flight around 2 hours before landing. It comprised a fruit plate, bread selection, juice and tea or coffee. I think it was more basic that I would expect for a business class flight arriving in a primary city in the morning, and I would have liked to see a hot option for those with a substantial work day ahead.
That said, the fruit plate was good.
While Singapore Airlines was not aware of our review, it soon became obvious to the crew that this was the case (no one takes that many pictures of a seat divider), and so without question I was very well looked after.
I was also the only passenger in the small rear cabin section, which I had engineered by my own seat selection on a relatively quiet flight, as this gave me unfettered access to two rows of seats which would otherwise accommodate 8 business class passengers. This won’t normally be possible for most people.
A disembarkation treat
After we landed, the cabin crew very kindly offered to show me the suites cabin before I left the aircraft, I of course gratefully accepted. I was in the cabin for only a short time, and so wasn’t able to take a detailed look or test any of the functions, suffice to say that it is a very impressive and spacious setup.
All the suites had been occupied during this flight, so excuse their slightly untidy state. I’ll just add a few pictures and leave my analysis for a future full review.
Before this flight, I was half preparing to be critical of Singapore Airlines for going too far with the new A380 ‘densification’. Adding 18% more business class seats to the three rear cabin sections of the upper deck, compared with their A380 version 2 layout, sounded like it would be a retrograde step at best, a disaster at worst.
Well, how wrong I was. I can’t explain exactly how they have done it, except for the addition of row 97 which used to be toilet / galley and storage space in the previous layout, and so is “newly-created” floor space.
There have obviously been some galley and toilet reconfiguration in the sections further forward too, but critically the seats themselves still feel spacious, more private than ever, and the product finish is exceptionally good.
Installation of the latest IFE system with the 18″ screen is also a nice benefit, bringing these aircraft up to the A350 and 777-300ER V2 standard.
The not so good
It’s hard to pinpoint any negatives, either with this new hard product, or on this flight in general. One thing is obvious – the Wi-Fi is too expensive. I used it on this flight to stay in touch, and to post a few social media updates from the review, but for a regular trip I doubt I would be prepared to part with so much money for the benefit.
I also thought the continental breakfast was a little uninspiring. For those heading to a day’s work in Sydney after the flight – I’m sure a hot option would be preferred.
An excellent flight with a fantastic crew and a very well designed new business class seat for Singapore Airlines on this latest A380. As more of these aircraft are introduced to the fleet, and retrofitting of the older aircraft gets underway, more and more routes will receive the new product.
I would strongly recommend trying to secure a booking on an aircraft with this new seat installed.