|Quick Article Links:|
The A350 first arrived in the Singapore Airlines fleet in February 2016. In the two years since we’ve travelled several times in the business class cabin and we’ve collated these experiences to give you a comprehensive overview of the cabin. For this review, we will mainly focus on our most recent sectors from Singapore to Cape Town and the return journey.
When it was first announced, Singapore Airlines confirmed that the A350 would be fitted with the latest 2013 business class product that was being introduced on the newest 777-300ERs and retrofitted to the older ones (a process which is almost complete).
At the time we were sceptical as the A350s cabin is 26cm narrower than the 777s. It’s also a much shorter aircraft and was destined to be 3 class, including a premium economy cabin. This meant things had to be squeezed.
- Flight: SQ478 Singapore Changi T3 to Cape Town
- Class: Business
- Seats: 11D & 11F
- Aircraft Type: Airbus A350-900
- Aircraft Registration: 9V-SMB
- Aircraft Age: 1.8 years
- Date: 7th January 2018
- Departure / Arrival: 01:30 / 09:25
- Flight Time: 13h 55m (including a 1h stopover in Johannesburg)
- Cost: 38,250* KrisFlyer miles + S$277.10*
- Flight: SQ479 Cape Town to Singapore Changi T3
- Class: Business
- Seats: 11D & 11F
- Aircraft Type: Airbus A350-900
- Aircraft Registration: 9V-SMR
- Aircraft Age: 0.4 years
- Date: 19th January 2018
- Departure / Arrival: 10:40 / 06:10 (next day)
- Flight Time: 13h 30m (including a 1h 5m stopover in Johannesburg)
- Cost: 38,250* KrisFlyer miles + S$302.24*
* – note that we booked these redemptions before the March 2017 KrisFlyer devaluation, and therefore secured them at the previous miles rate. The current redemption rate would be 45,000 KrisFlyer miles + S$49.93 each way (more miles, less cash due to no fuel surcharge)
Seamless, as always, in both Singapore and Cape Town. Dedicated check-in desks with the signature blue carpets, rarely with any associated queue. The Cape Town staff were particularly helpful when it came to tagging the 24 bottles of South African wine we had picked up at local vineyards.
The weight of our luggage was very close to the 80kg (40kg per passenger) limit on the return journey. However, online reports do suggest that if a premium passenger checks in slightly more than the limit, a blind eye is usually turned.
Lounge and Boarding
In Singapore, we stopped by the SilverKris Lounge in T2 before heading over to the SilverKris Lounge in T3.
The terminal 2 lounge was quiet and dark at around 7pm. The terminal 3 lounge was massively oversubscribed at around 8:30pm – to the point that some passengers were sitting on the floor. Groups of young children were running around screaming and the food, as fast as it could be replenished, was mostly empty. It was not a pleasant environment. After around 11pm the lounge started to clear out.
In Cape Town, business class passengers are invited to the Bidvest lounge. Small but perfectly pleasant and with a surprisingly good food and drink selection.
A new set of crew operates each sector. The crew who board in Singapore leave the aircraft in Johannesburg, whilst the passengers are asked to stay on board (for “security reasons”). A new set of crew, who layover in Johannesburg, then get on to do the return service to Cape Town.
As mentioned at the top of the article – this 2013 business class product had to be shoehorned into the A350 to make it fit. This has lead to some compromises on space.
By comparing the overall business cabin length against the 777-300ER, Mainly Miles estimates that the A350 business class seat is 15% smaller in length, with approximately 1.7m per seat (vs. 2.0m per seat in 777-300ER). To us, this differentiates the seats completely.
The differences are significant right from the moment you sit down. The IFE screen is much closer to you – now within easy reach (a perk, you’d think… but it’s not a touchscreen). The foot cubby, where your feet go when in bed mode is closer, and smaller. The aisles are narrower and there is a noticeable reduction in fixed table ‘real-estate’.
The A350 does not have central overhead storage in business class. This means a dramatic increase in the volume of space overhead. We have mixed feelings about this. Where it was supposed to create an airy, open environment – it can actually feel a little impersonal.
Rows 11 and 19
Traveller Tip: Rows 11 and 19 have significantly more legroom, especially the middle pairs. Following the negative reviews of the other rows at introduction, especially from frequent flyers, these rows are now reserved only for PPS club members for advanced selection.
When check-in opens at 48 hours before departure, the seats are released to all passengers so there is still a chance to reserve them but be warned – row 19 is a bassinet position at all seats. If a passenger requiring a bassinet books at the last minute, you may be kicked out into any remaining unoccupied seat.
Here are two 360-degree images that show the difference very clearly. The camera is placed in the same position on the console on both and no zoom is applied. The first image is row 11 (as is the same as row 19) and the second image is row 12 but represents any other row.
The usual array of Champagne, orange juice and water was served on boarding departing Singapore and Cape Town. However, after each stop in Johannesburg the crew were unable to open the bar on the ground due to local regulations, so only soft drinks were offered.
Traveller Tip: If an airline opens alcohol on the ground before closing the doors then that bottle attracts local taxation according to its value. Some airlines try to avoid some of this tax by offering a cheaper Champagne on the ground than that served once airborne, or simply not offering an alcoholic option at all.
Emirates will often serve Moët on boarding and Veuve Cliquot once airborne. If you have any doubts – ask to see the bottle.
In the knee area is the usual magazine rack, however, this is really very small and only capable of holding the in-flight reading materials. On the inner console is a deep rectangular compartment with a pop-up lid. Inside you will find the usual noise-cancelling headphones. After they are removed this becomes a very useful storage.
At shoulder level is another small storage compartment. It’s open so has to be empty for taxi, takeoff and landing but it can be useful for stowing newspapers, magazines and the headphones when not in use.
Rows other than 11 and 19 have two small additional storage areas alongside the IFE screen and a small fixed drinks table. In rows 11 and 19 there is no table and the storage space is replaced by a small mirror behind a sliding cover.
There is also a coat hook at each seat, which I’ve never seen anyone actually use.
Small carry on bags can be stored in the foot well under the seat. This is necessary on fuller flights with the absence of central overhead storage. It’s very positive that Singapore Airlines has started to design and certify seats in this way – as having your belongings readily available to you, throughout the flight, is essential.
The Amenity Kit
As with all Singapore Airlines business class products – no formal amenity kit exists. Instead, slippers and socks are handed out and the rest of the usual suspects can be found in the toilet e.g. toothbrush, shaving kit, comb, aftershave etc.
When we first flew on the Singapore Airlines A350, shortly after it was introduced, it was as a ‘cheap’ redemption option home from Europe (in the days when Amsterdam to Singapore was just 51,000 KrisFlyer miles in business class). Hardly any A350s were in service at the time, and the forward toilet was available for passenger use throughout the flight.
After that though, we started seeing reports that the forward toilet was being reserved for crew use only, and that passengers were being directed to use one of the two toilets ahead of the second main aircraft doors. No problem with that, except that it reduced the passenger to toilet ratio in business class from 14:1 to 21:1.
We can happily report that whatever policy was causing the A350 forward toilet to be restricted on some flights appears to have been reversed; the forward toilet was available for passenger use on all four sectors we flew on this itinerary.
The A350 facilities are not as fancy as the toilets on the new A380 which we reviewed last month, but are still clean and neatly designed.
The Wi-Fi product on these aircraft is powered by Panasonic. The login process can be quite unreliable. Some devices work straight away, whilst others won’t connect at all.
We connected using our unlimited Boingo account, a perk of the Citi Prestige MasterCard. This meant that surfing for both of us was free for the entire duration of the flight. Normal pricing is rather steep and there were no vouchers offered, even for premium passengers.
The speed was relatively fast, but not quite up to the standard we experienced on the new Singapore A380 during our recent review.
The A350 is equipped with the latest IFE system with a wide range of movies (295 when we flew), TV shows, music and magazines to choose from. The TV screen is an 18″ model, joint largest with the Singapore Airlines new Airbus A380 and latest Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. A silver button on the trim above the screen at the centre allows it to be tilted to adjust the viewing angle.
Another feature which is exclusive to this new system, and therefore also available on the new A380 and 777-300ER V2, is pairing of your personal device to the IFE system. You can scroll through movies on the Singapore Airlines iPhone app in advance and save them as favourites to watch on the flight.
Once you link your device to the system by following the on-screen instructions, it does indeed present your favourites for easy reference. An additional helpful option for the regular traveller is that it keeps the position in the video you were watching, so you can easily pick up from where you left off.
The IFE is normally controlled by a touch-screen device. This is intuitive and easy to use and helpfully, shows the flight information when not in use. The only thing missing is a physical “pause” button – given the number of times you may need to pause a movie to speak to the cabin crew or your companion – this would be a really helpful addition.
Middle Seats / Window Seats
Windows seats are sufficiently private as the seating position and bed mode point your feet towards the window. They are perfect for the solo traveller but as mentioned above, row 11 and 19 offer additional legroom in the form of a bench instead of a foot cubby.
Middle seat pairs are separated by a large movable divider screen that offers a good amount of privacy, and the seats are physically divided by a central console, so are also appropriate for solo travellers.
Travelling as a couple, the seat is quite deep and conversations between the seats are not easy. ‘Buddy dining’, where you sit opposite one another like in a restaurant, is also not an option with these seats.
Due to the late departure timing, only a “refreshment” was served after departure. Book the Cook was also not an option. We do find this strange as on our slightly later timed flight to Istanbul a few months before, we were served a full dinner and the full Book the Cook menu was available for pre-order.
The two options were both pretty lacklustre. Despite looking hideous, the Warm Foccacia Tuna Melt was rather pleasant. The Kong Pao Chicken was bland.
Breakfast was served around 2 hours before landing in JNB. Book the Cook was available for this flight but only 2 options were displayed. The usual fruit plate and bread basket are offered, along with cereals, yoghurt and muesli.
I chose the BTC poached eggs with hollandaise sauce – a personal favourite that I have had many times. The eggs were soft, accompanied by smoked salmon and the asparagus and tomatoes on the side were perfectly cooked. The rosti underneath was a little soggy.
Andrew chose the Swiss Cheese and Chive Omelette from the onboard menu. The omelette was fluffy and had good flavour. The rosti was crisp and the veal sausages were also quite acceptable.
Another “refreshment” was served on this short sector. We both chose the Charcuterie which was very tasty, however, on the menu it describes the accompaniment as “warm bread”. There was no bread to be seen and the cabin crew advised that none had been loaded and so no bread was available. A bit disappointing, it was the only lacking element in an otherwise good dish.
Menus: SQ478 Singapore – Johannesburg – Cape Town
No Book the Cook options were offered at all on this flight, or the onward JNB-SIN sector. A “refreshment” was served after departure. I chose the Ciabatta Sandwich with Smoked Chicken, Tomato and Mustard, it was rather unremarkable. Andrew chose the Chinese Style Braised Dorado, which was a little dry but with pleasant flavours.
The lunch service on this sector offered some redemption from the previous rather uninspiring choices. We started with the Singapore Airlines classic Chicken and Lamb Satay. It was, as always, excellent. This was followed by a very tasty Smoked Salmon Nicoise Salad.
For the main course, I chose the Indian Style Braised Spiced Chicken which was excellent. Andrew opted for the Seabass Fillet with Fettuccine, which was fairly forgettable.
For dessert, Andrew went for the “Trio” while I held back for the cheese offering.
It is very early for breakfast on this flight if you’re on South Africa time (about 10.30pm), and still early even in Singapore (4.30am), so Andrew skipped in favour of a longer sleep.
I decided to try the Wok-fried Chicken.
Menus: SQ479 Cape Town > Johannesburg > Singapore
Apart from the Charles Heidsieck Champagne, the current Singapore Airlines business class standard, a selection of wines was available during our flights, this was identical for both the outbound and return sectors.
- Weinhaus Ress Kabinett – Reisling (2015). 3.8 stars on Vivino
- Albert Bichot Saint-Veran – Burgundy (2015). 3.7 stars on Vivino
- Chateau Siaurac Lalande-de-Pomerol – Bordeaux (2012). 3.8 stars on Vivino
- Chateau Peyrabon Haut Medoc – Bordeaux (2012). 3.7 stars on Vivino
- Marchesi de Frescobaldi Castello di Nipozzano – Chianti (2013). 3.7 stars on Vivino
Similar to the 2006 business class product, the ‘2013 J’ seat also folds over to reveal a mattress, blanket and pillow. A video is now shown to demonstrate how this process can be done yourself, but the cabin crew are still very happy and willing to assist.
As it’s a bespoke mattress as opposed to the seat material it does tend to be more comfortable. Certainly, there is a good deal of flat-bed space in the shoulder area. However, the seat is let down by the foot-cubby that restricts the ability to stretch out and move your legs.
Passengers over 6ft. will struggle to stretch out fully and may find this seat uncomfortable for sleeping.
The Rear Mini-Cabin
Behind the galley and toilets at doors two is a second, smaller business class cabin consisting of four rows. Much discussion has taken place online and in the Mainly Miles office as to the merits of recommending these seats for booking.
There are pros and cons as usual so we will detail them here for you to make your own decision.
- Like row 11, row 19 features 32% more space between the seat back and IFE screen, and significantly more legroom with a wide bench at the foot position instead of a side cubby.
- Closer to the galley for service.
- A more private feeling, with only 16 seats.
- Away from the forward “dry” galley and the “Mary Poppins” cupboard (see below).
- Row 19 is a bassinet row at all seats, and the only bassinet position in business class on the A350, the giving the possibility of noise if a passenger with an infant is travelling.
- Directly in front of the first row in premium economy, also a bassinet row, and separated only by a partition rather than a full bulkhead.
- Galley noise as the full business class service is conducted from the galley just ahead of row 19.
More Seat Details
The seat controls are neatly positioned alongside the seat and feature everything to control the positioning of the seat itself, to the lighting and the cabin attendant call function.
The footrest has been much improved from 2006 business class product. In the old product, it would stop before reaching horizontal and meant that shorter passengers often struggled to get comfortable. In this product, it moves to completely horizontal giving a nice flat area to stretch out and rest your legs, even when not in bed-mode.
The seat progressively reclines into a nice laid-back position for lounging but doesn’t go anywhere near fully flat. For that it needs to be completely flipped over into bed mode to reveal the mattress pad on the reverse side.
Lighting is positioned by your shoulders on both sides and in the overhead plus some soft background lighting above the side table.
2 USB sockets and a multi-standard power socket are available and conveniently located below the open storage in the shoulder area. One of the USB provides connectivity to the IFE and there are also iPod and HDMI connection options.
On the A350, the forward galley is purely “dry storage” meaning that the food and beverage services are carried out entirely from the galley area at the second main aircraft doors. However, clearly a lot of what is required to complete the service e.g. trays, plates, cutlery etc. is stored in the forward galley, especially this cupboard in front of seat 11K.
It appears to be the aircraft equivalent of Mary Poppins’ magic handbag and over the course of 4 sectors, it produced a wide and dizzying array of items. It appears often that the items that are required are not always readily available and quite some digging occurred. It’s just a shame that the door angles into the cabin instead of the galley so all this searching must take place in the full view and earshot of the forward business class cabin.
This brings us to another point. Having chatted with many of the crew whilst flying the A350 and asked: “Do you like it?”. The responses varied between “Not really” and “I hate it!”. The explanation invariably blamed the galley configuration that causes them a great deal of difficulty with the service.
The galley by the second main aircraft door, which separates the two business class sections, is too small to serve the entire business class cabin and lacks the amenities they need (those are stored at the ‘dry’ galley at the very front). Then the entire premium economy and economy class service must be completed from the very back of the aircraft where a single large galley is located. Clearly, this makes their lives difficult.
One thing Singapore Airlines is famous for – effortless, excellent service. The service was still excellent, but it was clearly not effortless. It does make you feel a little guilty when you want to ask for another glass of wine or replacement fork that they must go back and forward several more times – nevertheless, they do so more than willingly.
This new business class product, introduced in 2013, has been a personal favourite of ours since it was rolled out on the 777-300ER. However, the way it has been shoehorned into the tighter space available on the A350 is a disappointment. The seats are simply too close together and comfort, especially when sleeping, has been compromised. This is true of all cabins in the A350.
Rows 11 and 19 are the only salvation but, as discussed above, if you aren’t a PPS Club member, booking them in advance is no longer possible, and securing them at 48 hours prior to departure can be difficult.
On our flights to and from South Africa, the service was in the ‘very good to exceptional’ category as always, but the food choices were limited and in some cases very bland – this is unusual in our experience. The wine selection was also less varied than usual and there were no ‘stand-out’ options.
The A350 itself is a beauty of modern technology, and is by far the quietest and most comfortable aircraft in the current Singapore Airlines fleet.
(Cover Photo: MainlyMiles)