The Airbus A350 is set to form the backbone of the Singapore Airlines fleet, with 67 of these advanced twin-jets due to make up over half the airline’s fleet in the coming years. These aircraft fly further than ever before but also operate efficiently on short sectors too, making them SIA’s ideal choice to replace a range of older planes.
For the passenger though, the simplicity enjoyed to date with a single A350 variant in the Singapore Airlines fleet is coming to an end. By December 2018 three different variants will be in service. Knowing which you’ll be flying on won’t be immediately obvious in some cases, so our guide is here to help you demystify the differences.
The Singapore Airlines A350
The history of Singapore Airlines’ relationship with the Airbus A350 dates back at least 12 years. In 2006 the airline signed a letter of intent for 20 of the planes, firming up the order the following year. The first aircraft was due to arrive in 2012, and though that clearly never happened SIA was undeterred, adding 20 more of the jets to its order book late that year and 30 more in 2013.
A slight adjustment was made in 2015 when a small number of the orders were cancelled as part of a deal which saw 7 of the ultimate total of 67 aircraft allocated as A350-900ULR (Ultra-Long Range) variants for non-stop flights to North America.
Singapore Airlines is the second largest A350 customer, with only Qatar Airways committing to 9 more of the planes with its order for 76.
Today 24 A350s have been delivered to the airline. The vast majority, 21 of them, are the standard A350-900 variant. The 3 newest are the ULR variant, progressively delivered over the last couple of weeks. They feature more Business and Premium Economy Class seats, with no Economy cabin. All 7 of the ULRs are scheduled to arrive by the end of November 2018.
In early December a third variant starts to arrive, the A350-900 Regional. This time the smaller Regional Business Class seats are installed (2018 RJ), and in common with the 787-10 there is no Premium Economy cabin.
The Singapore Airlines CEO stated the A350 Regional will “complement the 787-10s”, and that it is “configured in a manner that will allow us to stretch the distance a little longer than the 787-10”.
These aircraft have a lower certified maximum weight to reduce overflight and landing fees, and have de-rated engines to allow cyclic maintenance intervals to be extended. It will start serving Adelaide on 17th December and Brisbane shortly afterwards.
That means when you book an A350 flight with Singapore Airlines today you could be flying on one of 3 different configurations.
The 3 variants
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Singapore Airlines refer to the A350-900 as the “Airbus A350 Long Haul”, but that’s a bit misleading as they also fly it to KL, Jakarta and Hong Kong. They even fly it to San Francisco, probably “Ultra Long Haul” territory. We just call it the standard layout, as it seems capable of doing just about anything and is deployed accordingly on the network.
Singapore Airlines refer to the A350-900 Regional as the “Airbus A350 Medium Haul”. Again we find that a bit misleading as it will certainly replace A330s and 777s flying short haul routes, and has a longer range than the 787-10 allowing it to push into the 9-10 hour flight times, which is certainly “long haul”. We therefore call it the A350-900 Regional, a homage to its cabin layout with Regional Business Class seats more than anything.
Finally SIA refer to the A350-900 ULR as the “Airbus A350 Ultra Long Range”. We simply abbreviate this to ULR.
Telling them apart
It can be quite difficult to determine which of the three A350 variants you’re flying on based on routing alone. If you’re going non-stop to Newark or Los Angeles then sure, it’s a ULR, however San Francisco for example receives both the standard A350-900 and the ULR.
As more A350-900 Regional aircraft are delivered it will probably become increasingly difficult to easily know which of those is flying the shorter routes. Ok it won’t fly to Dusseldorf or Milan, but of the two daily A350s to Jakarta one could be an A350-900 and the other an A350-900 Regional in future. The same goes for Brisbane, where only one of the 3 daily -900 aircraft is set to be replaced with a -900 Regional in early 2019.
So how can you tell the difference? The key is the seat map. A free subscription to ExpertFlyer will allow you to see this by cabin for any Singapore Airlines flight, or you can make a dummy booking on the SIA website in which case you’ll have to enter a few details first before you get to see the seat map (though you don’t have to actually book to view it).
Here’s how to tell the variant from the seat maps:
SIA A350 Business Class
(click to enlarge)
If you’re flying in Business and the seat map ends at row 22, you’re in an A350-900 (Standard) aircraft, if it ends at row 21 you’re in an A350-900 Regional aircraft, and if it ends at row 29 you’re in an A350-900ULR aircraft.
Another method to tell in Business, if you find it easier, is to look at row 18. If seats 18A and 18K (the solo window seats) exist, you’re in an A350-900 Regional aircraft. If only the middle pair in row 18 exists (18D and 18F) but there are no window seats, you’re in an A350-900 (Standard) aircraft. Finally if row 18 doesn’t exist at all – you’re in an A350-900ULR.
SIA A350 Premium Economy Class
(click to enlarge)
If you’re flying Premium Economy and the seat map goes up to row 33, you’re in an A350-900 (Standard) aircraft. If it goes up to row 43, you’re in an A350-900ULR. The A350-900 Regional does not feature a Premium Economy cabin.
SIA A350 Economy Class
(click to enlarge)
If you’re flying Economy and the seat map goes up to row 62, you’re in an A350-900 (Standard) aircraft. If it goes up to row 70, you’re in an A350-900 Regional. The A350-900ULR does not feature an Economy cabin.
How many of each type will there be?
We know that Singapore Airlines is taking delivery of 7 A350-900ULR aircraft from its total order for 67 A350s, leaving the 60 remaining aircraft to be distributed between the standard configuration (there are currently 21 of these in service) and the Regional variant (the first of which arrive this year).
The exact distribution between those latter two types hasn’t been announced and in fact probably hasn’t even been decided by SIA at this stage. Flexibility in the later orders even means some could be allocated as additional ULR variants if SIA so chooses.
Both the A350-900 and A350-900ULR feature the 2013 Business Class seat in a 1-2-1 configuration.
You can read our full review from January this year of the 2013 Business Class seat on the A350-900, which is the same as that installed on the A350-900 ULR.
On the A350-900 Regional you’ll find the latest 2018 Regional Business Class product. This ‘staggered 1-2-1’ layout is more space efficient for the airline and therefore gives passengers slightly less space, but unlike the older 2009 RJ seat this one offers direct aisle access for all Business Class passengers.
You can read our full review from April this year of the 2018 RJ Business Class seat on the 787-10, which is the same as the Business Class seat which will be installed on the A350-900 Regional.
There are even ‘couple’ middle pairs at alternate rows with this seating layout, with a large privacy divider if you don’t know your neighbour, but good proximity if you’re flying with a partner or colleague.
We flew in a couple pair at the bulkhead row seats in April this year and wrote a special review highlighting the differences here.
Premium Economy seats
Premium Economy is a 3-row cabin on the A350-900 with the 2015 seat product installed.
The 2-4-2 configuration unfortunately means these seats are 19″ wide, as opposed to 19.5″ for the same seats on the SIA 777-300ER and A380.
That same seat width is coming to the A350ULR, which will have a much larger 13-row Premium Economy cabin with an enhanced seat including a higher seat back pocket, a redesigned armrest cup holder, a solid armrest on both sides of each seat and a non-airbag (therefore smaller, less bulky) seatbelt.
Further details are available in our article about the enhanced seat from June this year.
At the very back of the A350ULR there are 3 rows with ‘solo’ window seats also incorporating a large side storage compartment. This is apparently to maintain sufficient overall storage for passenger baggage at the back of the plane due to the additional crew rest compartment replacing the overhead lockers in the rear middle section.
These are certainly the seats to choose when flying solo in Premium Economy on the long A350ULR flights.
On the A350-900 (standard) you’ll find the 2013 Economy Class seats installed in a 3-3-3 configuration.
The A350 Regional will feature the latest 2017 Economy Class seats, as fitted on the 787-10 in a 3-3-3 configuration. The same seat type also features on SIA’s newest Airbus A380 aircraft.
These seats also feature the latest touchscreen IFE system with an 11.6″ screen, a multi-standard power outlet and a USB charging socket.
Your seat selection guide
We’ve updated our guides for all 3 of the A350 types in the SIA fleet. To know which seats to choose (and which to avoid) on these aircraft in all travel classes, check out our full seat selection guides here:
- Click here to view our seat guide for the A350-900
- Click here to view our seat guide for the A350-900 Regional
- Click here to view our seat guide for the A350-900 ULR
Knowing which variant of the A350 in the Singapore Airlines fleet you’ll be flying on is becoming increasingly important this year, especially if you’re flying in Business Class as there will soon be a regional and a long-haul product in the mix, often on the same route.
The seat map for your flight is your certain check for which variant you’ll be boarding. Remember we also have a regularly updated Business Class seats by route page, which will also help you determine when the A350 Regional is flying (2018 RJ) as opposed to the -900 or ULR (2013 J).
We also have a tracker page for the new 2018 Regional Business Class seats, fitted to the 787-10 and upcoming A350 Regional.
If you’re planning an A350 flight with SIA or will be flying on the aircraft soon, don’t forget to bookmark this page for reference. We’ll keep it updated as necessary.
(Cover Photo: Airbus)