There’s some good news regarding what’s probably the least popular aircraft in the Singapore Airlines fleet among most of our readers, with the carrier confirming that it is trimming its Boeing 737-800 fleet by 20%, reducing the chance of suffering older cabin products on the network, including those basic recliner seats in Business Class.
The mainline carrier originally introduced nine Boeing 737-800s into its operation as part of a merger with SilkAir, but has now identified that two of these aircraft are “surplus to requirements”, according to a full-year financial update.
These two aircraft appear to have been withdrawn from operations already, meaning only seven leased Boeing 737-800s will be part of the fleet going forward.
Furthermore, the remaining 737-800 jets are gradually set for return to their lessors between mid-2024 and late 2025, meaning flat-bed Business Class fleet-wide is finally in sight, even on Singapore-KL sectors.
Why is the 737-800 disliked?
Singapore Airlines retained the original 12 SilkAir Boeing 737-800 recliner Business Class seats, in a 2-2 configuration across three rows, when it brought these older aircraft across to mainline operations.
Here’s how the seats looked in the original SilkAir fit.
And here’s how they look now.
As you can see apart from new upholstery and cushions there’s no major change to the hard product, with little privacy and no flat-bed function, both features of the airline’s other Business Class products, including those fitted to the new Boeing 737-8 MAX.
In Economy Class the 737-800s have no seat-back entertainment screens, but instead there is a wireless streaming setup to view KrisWorld on your personal device from an onboard server (not connected to the internet, however).
That’s the same setup SilkAir was previously using to offer the service on board its aircraft as ‘SilkAir Studio’.
The Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft, on the other hand, feature all-new seat products in both cabins, including in-flight entertainment systems at every seat and Wi-Fi connectivity.
On the plus side SIA did upgrade the catering and service standards on board the 737-800s to mainline levels, including Champagne in Business Class, but for many that doesn’t outweigh the poorer seats themselves compared to the rest of the fleet.
Where the 737-800s are flying
When Singapore Airlines began introducing the Boeing 737-800s the network became quite extensive, even including flights as far afield as Male in the Maldives and Cairns in Australia.
Thankfully as more Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft have been introduced, the network for the 737-800s has mostly focused on shorter routes:
- Chennai (until 29th May)
- Da Nang
- Kuala Lumpur
- Phuket (until 31st May)
Darwin is still an oddball – at 4 hours 45 minutes each way this is a long trip with the older cabins whether you’re flying Business or Economy. Hopefully with more MAXs arriving in the months ahead this route will also switch away from the 737-800 soon.
It’s worth noting that on Chennai, Hanoi, Kathmandu, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket and Surabaya routes, the 737-800 can be avoided by picking alternative SIA flights, or days of the week.
Click to expand the seat guides below to see how the aircraft’s operation fits in with better Business Class cabin products (i.e. on different planes) operating alternative services on these routes.
That really leaves only Da Nang, Darwin and Medan as routes where the 737-800 is currently unavoidable.
For a network-wide list, see our continually updated page of Business Class seat types by route for the latest information on what seats to expect when you next travel.
You can also spot if the 737-800 is operating your flight at the booking stage on the Singapore Airlines website or mobile app, with the airline referring to the aircraft as “Boeing 737-800 NG”.
The MAX network is now extensive
Lately there’s been a significant increase in the network for SIA’s new Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft, especially on longer flights of up to 6 hours 45 minutes in the case of Cairns (which was a 737-800 route when it first restarted).
Indeed there are already more Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft operating in the Singapore Airlines fleet, 10 in total, compared to the seven Boeing 737-800s, so even if you do find yourself flying on one of the airline’s narrow-body aircraft chances are you’ll already be on a MAX, with the newer cabin products.
That means much nicer cabin products already await for the majority of the airline’s 737 operations, and that situation should only improve as the operational MAX fleet grows to 16 aircraft by March 2023.
The 737-800s will remain until the end of 2025
Despite SIA’s Boeing 737-800 fleet remaining small over the next few years, the bad news is that the remaining aircraft aren’t set to leave the airline anytime particularly soon.
At a media briefing this week, SIA’s Executive Vice President for Finance Tan Kai Ping confirmed that leases on the remaining Boeing 737-800s in the fleet will expire between September 2024 and January 2026.
Typically leased aircraft are taken out of service a month or two before the actual lease expiry date, for return-to-lessor preparations in the hangar, so we would expect the operating 737-800 fleet to start reducing (from seven) in mid-2024, with the last aircraft likely bowing out by the end of 2025.
That’s still quite a long time to potentially need to avoid these substandard cabin products, so let’s hope the seven-strong NG fleet continues to be mostly dedicated to shorter regional flights like Kuala Lumpur and Medan for the next couple of years or so!
Singapore Airlines is reducing its Boeing 737-800 fleet sooner than expected, with two of the nine aircraft now removed from service, as the newer MAX jets rapidly expand their flying programme across the narrow-body network.
This is good news for customers, since these older ex-SilkAir jets have basic recliner seats in Business Class and lack in-built entertainment screens and Wi-Fi connectivity.
Thankfully by the end of 2025, it looks like we won’t even need to worry about these planes at all, with full flat-bed Business Class seats on all SIA jets finally a reality, no matter how short your flight.
(Cover Photo: Plane’s Portrait Aviation Media / Malcolm Lu)