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Singapore Airlines revives Taipei – Los Angeles fifth freedom flights

Another fifth freedom route for SIA, this time a resurrection from 13 years ago, with Airbus A350s operating three times a week between Taipei and Los Angeles from 25th August.

In a surprise revival of a fifth freedom route following a gap in operation of 13 years, Singapore Airlines has announced that it will return to a long-forgotten service – between Taiwan’s capital Taipei and Los Angeles in the USA.

Three times weekly operation on the route will commence in late August 2021, using three-class Airbus A350 Long Haul aircraft, with full traffic rights in both directions between Taiwan and the USA.

Singapore Airlines has also recently opened a new “fifth freedom” route between Copenhagen and Rome, to tap into intra-Europe traffic, while low-cost subsidiary Scoot is doing the same on an Athens – Berlin routing.


 

 

History

Singapore Airlines has not served the Taipei – Los Angeles route since 1st October 2008, when four times weekly Boeing 777-200ER service, operating as SQ29/30, was discontinued.

It marked the end of 20 years for the carrier’s transpacific services via Taiwan, which had included routings like Singapore – Taipei – Honolulu – Los Angeles in the 1990s using Boeing 747-300 Combis and later Singapore – Taipei – Los Angeles using Boeing 747-400s.

Fun fact: When the route was switched from the Boeing 747-400 to the Boeing 777-200ER in 2003, flight times between Taipei and Los Angeles were lengthened by 40-45 minutes in each direction.

The Boeing 777s not only flew slower than the jumbos, they had to take longer routings closer to diversion airports, for safety reasons.

At the time the airline was operating daily Singapore – Tokyo Narita – Los Angeles flights with Boeing 747-400s ‘MEGATOPs’, alongside daily non-stop ‘LeaderShip’ Airbus A340-500 services, which had recently been refitted with a 100-seat all-Business Class configuration, but the service via Taipei was not profitable and therefore got the axe.

The schedule

Here’s how the flight schedule for the new flight (SQ36/35) looks:

Singapore – Taipei – Los Angeles
(from 25th August 2021)

  Days
M T W T F S S
SQ36
A350-900
       
SIN

11:45
TPE

16:40
TPE
17:50
LAX
15:20
       
SQ35
A350-900
       
LAX
00:40
TPE

06:10*
TPE

09:10
SIN

13:40
       

* Next day

Flight time from Taipei to Los Angeles is 12 hours 30 minutes, increasing to 14 hours 30 minutes in the opposite direction.

Provisionally this new flight operates until the end of the confirmed schedule on 30th October 2021. Singapore Airlines has not yet announced its firm schedule from the start of the northern winter season, so it remains to be seen how long this route will last.

Update: This fifth freedom route has been extended to 31st December 2021.

It is not possible to travel from Singapore to Los Angeles or vice-versa on this new service, due to transit restrictions in Taipei (transit passengers are currently not allowed).

That means you’ll have to take the daily non-stop service (SQ38/37, 3-class A350) or route via Tokyo Narita (SQ12/11, 4-class 777-300ER), the latter being three-times weekly, if you’re heading all the way to or from the USA.

Travel on SQ36/35 is only between Singapore and Taipei or between Taipei and Los Angeles for the time being.

As a result of the new service adding capacity on the Singapore – Taipei route, regular daily Boeing 787-10 service between the two cities (SQ876/877) will be scaled back to four times weekly from 25th August 2021.

Singapore – Taipei
(from 25th August 2021)

  Days
M T W T F S S
SQ876
787-10
SIN
08:20
TPE
13:10
SQ877
787-10
     
TPE
14:35
SIN
19:10
Boeing 787-10s will still operate between Singapore and Taipei four times per week. (Photo: Paul Schmid)

Who can travel?

With strict border restrictions still in force, the obvious question is what commercial opportunities will this new service tap into for Singapore Airlines.

Well the first and most obvious is cargo, with significant demand between the USA and Taiwan and a continued lack of underfloor capacity on passenger aircraft due to schedule cuts.

Revenue from below the cabin floor will therefore likely offset a significant proportion of operating costs for this new service.

Aside from that though, there will be some passenger demand too.

Entry into Taiwan is restricted to Taiwanese residents and those on official business, though the USA is not restricting entry from Taiwan and it is therefore possible for those based there to take a round-trip to Los Angeles (or a one-way journey, if they are relocating).

Consequently, existing services on US routes to and from Taiwan are reported to have decent passenger loads, so with the historic “fifth freedom” rights in place, it makes sense for SIA to tap into some of this revenue.

A350s to Taipei

This new service will represent the first time Singapore Airlines has used the Airbus A350 on its regular Taipei services, with the route gradually shifting from the older Airbus A330s to become an exclusive Boeing 787-10 destination back in 2019.

That will give passengers the option of a long-haul seat on the 4.5-hour flight for the first time in many years, in the form of the 2013 Business Class product.

SIA’s popular 2013 Business Class seat will make its debut on the Singapore-Taipei route this month. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Boeing 787-10 services on this route have the newer (but smaller) 2018 Regional Business Class installed.

Redemption rates and fares

These are the KrisFlyer miles redemption rates for flights between Taipei and Los Angeles on SIA flights.

KrisFlyer Redemption Rates
  TPE  ⇆  LAX
Saver
(one way)
TPE  ⇆  LAX
Advantage
(one way)
Economy 33,000
60,000
Premium Economy 63,000
n/a
Business 99,000
115,000

Per passenger taxes of around S$47.50 (TPE-LAX) and S$7.60 (LAX-TPE) apply in addition to any miles used.

The airline has not loaded any award availability on these “fifth freedom” flights yet, but we expect they will do so in due course.

Singapore Airlines is charging top dollar for most flight combinations on this new route, based on our searches for trips taken in September 2021.

Cash Fares
  TPE  → LAX
(one-way)
LAX  → TPE
(one-way)
TPE  ⇆  LAX
(return)
Economy TWD 29,405
(S$1,440)
USD 490
(S$670)
TWD 43,200
(S$2,110)
Premium Economy TWD 50,705
(S$2,480)
USD 839
(S$1,140)
TWD 77,319
(S$3,780)
Business TWD 91,505
(S$4,470)
USD 3,150
(S$4,280)
TWD 152,319
(S$7,440)

With high fares like these, let’s hope for some award space soon.

Singapore Airlines is undercutting China Airlines and EVA Air, the other two operators on this route, who are charging over S$2,000 one-way in Economy Class and around S$5,800 in Business Class from Taipei to Los Angeles in September 2021.

Both of those airlines are using Boeing 777-300ERs on the city pair, with lie-flat seats in Business Class but probably regarded by most as second-tier alongside SIA’s long-haul product.

EVA Air Boeing 777-300ER Business Class is nice, but not quite SIA standard. (Photo: The Shutterwhale)

 

 

Summary

We mentioned recently that we probably haven’t seen the last of SIA launching (or in this case re-launching) “fifth freedom” routes, as the airline looks to capitalise on the patchy global COVID-19 recovery due to selective border openings.

It makes sense for the carrier to make money wherever it can, while Singapore’s borders remain heavily restricted.

It will be interesting to see how long Singapore Airlines retains this resurrected routing, last flown 13 years ago, especially once transits in Taipei become permitted again.

With future border relaxations, this could become a great option for a two-centre trip, with a stopover in Taipei en-route to the USA or on the way home.

(Cover Photo: Brian Bukowski)

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