When Singapore Airlines announced that its SQ890/891 flights to and from Hong Kong would join the Air Travel Bubble (ATB), initially four times weekly from 22nd November and then daily from 7th December, the carrier said it would use an Airbus A350-900 to operate the services.
That was a shift from the regular deployment of a larger Boeing 787-10, and we initially expected the aircraft type to be the 2-class Airbus A350 Regional variant, which is currently being used on the airline’s three times weekly SQ872/871 Hong Kong services.
The long-haul A350 is planned
Although SIA did not mention which A350 variant would be used for the service in its press release, in the hours following the announcement the company published an update to its Facebook page confirming that it would in fact be the 3-class long-haul model deployed on the ATB flights.
It’s taken some time to reflect, but the aircraft type has now been loaded into the reservation systems, configured with the following layout:
- 42 Business Class
- 24 Premium Economy Class
- 187 Economy Class
- 253 Total
This is the smallest aircraft in the fleet by total seating capacity, with the exception of the seven Airbus A350 ULRs.
Given that the ATB is capped at 200 passengers per flight in each direction, it’s logical for SIA to use an aircraft with a lower seating capacity like this one, but a more premium-heavy layout.
This will allow up to 66 of the seats to be sold in Business Class or Premium Economy Class on each flight (33% of the cap).
Using a Boeing 787-10 would allow the airline to sell only 36 Business Class seats, 18% of the daily cap, with the remaining ticket sales being restricted to economy fares, so the long-haul A350 should maximise revenue potential.
The airline is selling all Business and Premium Economy Class seats, for maximum revenue, but blocking 80 seats in Economy to comply with the total 200-passenger cap.
This ‘artificially’ restricts capacity in Cathay’s Economy Class section from 214 to 134 passengers.
Singapore Airlines would be mad not to do the same (it’s a business not a charity after all), which would effectively involve restricting capacity in its 187-seat Economy Class section to 134 to meet the cap limit.
SIA Premium Economy
Premium Economy is the smallest cabin on the A350, made up of just three rows with a 2-4-2 configuration, for a total of 24 seats.
Unfortunately it’s a narrower seat compared to those fitted to the Airbus A380 and Boeing 777-300ER, at 19 inches wide instead of 19.5 inches, due to the smaller fuselage on the A350. Seat pitch, however, remains the same at 38 inches (6 inches more than Economy Class).
The first row in the cabin, row 31, has additional legroom, but be aware of a few drawbacks – firstly it’s the bassinet row (though there’s probably no escaping the sound of a screaming baby wherever you’re sat in this small cabin), secondly the IFE screens are mounted on the bulkhead wall in front of you, not housed in the armrest as with other seats.
Seats 33D and 33G have been reported to suffer from knocks and bumps during cabin service, as they protrude into the aisle further relative to the economy section behind.
Solo travellers will probably want to opt for one of the aisle seats (C, D, G or H), or possibly a window seat (A or K) depending on personal preference. For couples, the window pairs (A/C or H/K) make perfect sense.
There are no dedicated toilets in the Premium Economy section, and you aren’t allowed forward into the Business Class cabin to use their toilets, so that means heading back through an economy section of five or six rows, to use the main bank of toilets by the third main set of aircraft doors.
Here’s how SIA’s Premium Economy fares look, with comparison to other cabin classes and Cathay Pacific’s services also shown, based on a Singapore to Hong Kong return trip.
This is based on prices at 4.30pm on Friday 13th November 2020. Fares are potentially fluctuating fast on this route due to limited supply, and may have changed.
Fares across the board are certainly on the rise since we checked on Tuesday, the day before the announcement, and on Wednesday when the ATB flights officially went on sale.
In all cabins Cathay Pacific remains the cheapest option on most days, with some of their highest Premium Economy round-trip fares from Singapore to Hong Kong coming in close to the cheapest Singapore Airlines alternative.
Sadly there’s still no change to the KrisFlyer award space scenario, even in the newly added Premium Economy cabin. In case something does come up, here’s a reminder of the per person one-way rates you’ll have to stump up, assuming saver award space magically appears.
|Class / Route|
|Economy||SIN > HKG||15,000
|HKG > SIN||15,000
|Premium Economy||SIN > HKG||24,500
|HKG > SIN||24,500
|Business||SIN > HKG||30,500
|HKG > SIN||30,500
* Taxes from Hong Kong are charged in HKD and will fluctuate slightly due to exchange rates. Business Class taxes from HKG are slightly higher than Economy due to the increased Hong Kong Airport Construction Fee charged when flying in premium cabins.
Realistically we can’t see much likelihood of any awards being made available in the initial period of the ATB, though hopefully the situation may improve perhaps next year if additional ATB capacity is added from the likes of Scoot and Jetstar.
Long-haul Business Class
In addition to the Premium Economy option, Business Class passengers on SIA’s ATB flights benefit from the aircraft swap too, with the more spacious 2013 long-haul seat product in a 1-2-1 configuration.
Keep checking availability
There have been media reports that many of the initial ATB flights have “sold out”, however that’s not true. Most of the initial flights are booked to no more than 50-70% of the 200 passenger cap when we checked earlier today, with both Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines ‘drip-feeding’ seats into the reservation system here and there.
The inaugural Singapore Airlines flight SQ890 on 22nd November 2020, for example, was completely “sold out” between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon, however more space started to be added in Premium Economy and Business Class last night, and at the time of writing it’s possible to book:
- 5 Economy seats
- 5 Premium Economy seats
- 6 Business Class seats
On that very first ATB flight.
Moral of the story – keep checking! For reference, the booked load at the time of writing on the inaugural flight is 11 Business, 11 Premium Economy and 84 in Economy (106 total, so still some way to go before the cap is reached).
It’s nice to see the Premium Economy option now loaded on SIA’s Air Travel Bubble flights, which will use 3-class Airbus A350s from 22nd November through to 31st January 2021.
As expected, there’s no award space in this small cabin, even though they had to start selling from a zero baseline, though that’s not surprising given the limited capacity.
Cash fares are what we’d call “expensive”, especially compared to Cathay Pacific, but again it’s somewhat inevitable given the likely supply / demand metrics in the early stages of the ATB.
Finally on availability, don’t believe all you read in the press! Keep checking for your preferred dates, as both Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific are ‘drip-feeding’ revenue seats into the reservation system progressively, presumably as they experiment with a bit of revenue maximisation.
For more information on the ATB process, including the full flight schedule from both carriers (recently extended to 31st Jan 2021), testing procedures and costs, lounge availability and more, see our dedicated article from launch day.
(Cover Photo: Singapore Airlines)