Singapore Airlines has a small fleet of seven ex-SilkAir Boeing 737-800s in its fleet, still fitted with the former regional subsidiary’s recliner Business Class seats. We headed to Phuket and back in what’s now the carrier’s worst Business Class, to test the experience.
- Flight: SQ740 Singapore Changi T2 to Phuket International
- Class: Business
- Seats: 14H & 14K
- Aircraft Type: Boeing 737-800
- Aircraft Registration: 9V-MGN
- Aircraft Age: 7.4 years
- Date: December 2022
- Departure / Arrival: 18:25 / 19:15
- Flight Time: 1h 50m
- Cost: 24,000 KrisFlyer miles + S$61.20
SIA’s worst Business Class seat
Back in 2020, Singapore Airlines merged the fleet and operations of its full-service regional carrier SilkAir into its mainline division.
In the process, the airline inherited nine of SilkAir’s Boeing 737-800 aircraft, a fleet that was quickly whittled down to seven jets.
This wasn’t ‘Plan A’ for the carrier.
SilkAir’s 737-800s were originally destined for low-cost subsidiary Scoot, while SIA would only take the regional subsidiary’s Boeing 737-8 MAX jets and refit them with new Business Class seats.
That proposal ensured a more seamless cabin standard across the board, with brand new flat-bed seats in Business Class, Wi-Fi connectivity, and seat-back in-flight entertainment from tip-to-tail, and indeed the carrier promised fleet-wide flat-beds in this cabin from early 2020.
The plan was sadly derailed, when two fatal crashes of the Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in late 2018 and early 2019 caused a global grounding of the aircraft type SIA had pinned its hopes to, as the carrier’s future full-service narrow-body model.
The result? SIA was forced to keep these older Boeing 737-800s flying in its full-service division for a lot longer than anticipated.
These aircraft are on operating leases ending between September 2024 and January 2026, so by late 2025 the final one should bow out of the operating fleet, in preparation for return to its lessor.
Until then though, these older jets with their sub-standard seats will continue to make an unwelcome appearance on the short-haul network.
The B/E Millennium seat
The manufacturer of the 737-800 Business Class seat product is B/E Aerospace (now part of Collins Aerospace), in the form of its “Millennium” series.
This was designed to be a domestic First Class seat in the USA, which fit the SilkAir Business Class brief perfectly back in 2014, when it was first introduced to service on these aircraft.
The seat has a 39-inch pitch, 21-inch width, and 8-inch recline.
How it compares
Not all Singapore Airlines narrow-body aircraft suffer from the same recliner Business Class seat.
Back in November 2021 the airline launched its new flat-bed regional Business Class for the Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft. Well, we say “new”… the identical Thompson Aero Vantage seat first appeared as JetBlue’s Business Class seat in 2014 (we even reviewed it in 2018), so the design is just as old as the B/E Millennium product!
Despite that, it’s world’s apart form the 737-800 Business Class, as highlighted below.
|Model||B/E Millennium||Thompson Vantage|
|Width||21″||19″ – 22″
|Screen Size||None||16″ HD|
|Power Sockets||1 UNI + 1 USB||1 UNI + 2 USB|
You are definitely better off with a Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft than the Boeing 737-800 in Business Class (and in Economy too), so check out our continually updated list of Business Class seats by route and individual flight number, or take note of the type shown on the Singapore Airlines website, before you book.
The Singapore Airlines Boeing 737-800 has 12 Business Class seats across three rows in a 2-2 configuration.
The 2-2 seating layout in this cabin of course means that 50% of the passengers (those at the window seats) don’t benefit from direct aisle access, while the remaining 50% will likely get bothered each time their window seat companion needs to use the toilet!
Seats in Row 11 benefit from additional legroom, but have no floor storage during takeoff and landing.
11C and 11H are the bassinet positions. For this flight, we chose 14H and 14K, in the final row of Business Class on the right side.
Singapore Airlines Business Class passengers departing from Changi Airport Terminal 2 are directed to use the SilverKris Business Class lounge, which has had a minor spruce-up during its pandemic closure but fundamentally retains its original decor, design and layout.
In fact, when departing from T2 you can actually use any of the following lounges:
- T2 SilverKris Business Class
- T2 KrisFlyer Gold
- T3 SilverKris Business Class
- T3 KrisFlyer Gold
You can also check in for any Singapore Airlines flight departing from Changi Airport at T2 or T3, regardless of the terminal your flight is actually departing from, so if your priority is to use one of the newer T3 lounges – our advice is to check-in over there and then take the short SkyTrain ride to T2 once it comes time to board.
Do allow an extra 15 minutes to reach the gate if this is your strategy.
Before this flight we roused up some nostalgia with a visit to the SilverKris Business Class lounge, which we recently reviewed.
The lounge has had a minor spruce-up during its pandemic closure, but fundamentally retains its dark, windowless character.
If you have time, we strongly recommend checking in at T3 and using the lounges there prior to any SIA T2 flight, and frankly we will retain this advice until the airline offers new lounges over in T2, if they ever do!
Boarding was called at 6.05pm, 20 minutes before departure time, with Business Class passengers invited forward first.
On first glance it’s obvious that Singapore Airlines has done very little to these Business Class seats since they were in SilkAir service, with new grey leather upholstery and trim being the only discernible changes.
These older recliner seats still have manual adjustment controls, and there is no Wi-Fi nor seat-back entertainment screens fitted.
If anything the cabin seems to look even more bland and less interesting than it did with the warmer tones used in the SilkAir fit.
Even the headrest cover is the same grey as the seat itself, which we thought was quite unimaginative. In fact the airline has more or less used its Premium Economy tones for the seats, perhaps a deliberate differentiation from its flat-bed Business Class products.
A literature stowage is located on the back wall of the cabin, which divides it from the Economy Class section, but Singapore Airlines has become allergic to providing magazines and newspapers since COVID-19, despite other airlines reintroducing this, so it stood awkwardly empty.
We were greeted by crew and settled into our seats 14H and 14K a few minutes later, where a blanket and pillow were provided.
The seat itself actually reminded us a lot of the ScootPlus (formerly ScootBiz) product fitted to the low-cost carrier’s Boeing 787s.
The menu for the flight was already placed in the seat pocket, and it’s great to see Singapore Airlines backtracked on its eco-friendly digital menu concept during COVID, in favour of restoring the old fashioned approach.
One of the big downsides of these smaller single-aisle aircraft is that all the remaining passengers then board through the Business Class cabin, so it is very difficult for the cabin crew to serve the pre-departure beverages.
We finally got a glass of Champagne each about 15 minutes later at 6.25pm – not the crew’s fault but a definite downside of this aircraft type.
The product certainly shows its age, with the old audio channel control and headset jack on the centre console between the two seats!
iPads were distributed prior to pushback, then it was time to go, just a few minutes behind schedule.
As we taxied out to Changi Airport’s distant third runway near the T5 construction site, which takes a good 20 minutes, the SIA safety video was shown on screens that folded down from the ceiling.
One nice feature of these aircraft is the individual air nozzles in the ceiling, where you’ll also find reading light controls and a cabin attendant call button.
Singapore Airlines has Business Class amenity kits available on request on longer flights, and occasionally some crews seem to offer these proactively too.
The small basic kit is by Penhaligon’s, but the contents have recently been replaced from the Quercus range to the brand’s LUNA lip balm, facial mist and hand lotion.
Regardless, kits were not offered on these short Phuket flights, though if you’re connecting to or from a long-haul sector you’ll likely receive one on that flight.
All 12 Business Class passengers share one toilet at the forward left side of the cabin.
This being a Boeing 737, the toilet is of course not huge, but perfectly adequate.
Penhaligon’s amenities from the Quercus range are available, comprising hand lotion, facial mist and eau de toilette.
Singapore Airlines now offers full-flight unlimited Wi-Fi for all its Business Class passengers.
All, that is, except those unlucky enough to be travelling on one of these seven Boeing 737-800s, with this “love child” sub-fleet never equipped with any internet connectivity.
We agree – it’s your choice (to fly a different aircraft!).
Singapore Airlines didn’t install any in-flight entertainment systems on its Boeing 737-800 fleet, instead relying on SilkAir’s former ‘SilkAir Studio’ wireless streaming setup to your personal device, or in the case of Business Class to iPads distributed by the cabin crew.
There’s a problem though – it doesn’t work.
At least, it didn’t work on our flight to Phuket, nor on our flight back either!
On the Singapore – Phuket sector iPads were distributed by the crew prior to takeoff.
However, the issue we and other passengers then seemed to have was that the system was completely inaccessible because it was not possible to access the ‘KrisWorld’ network at all.
On our return flight to Singapore a few days later, the system was similarly unavailable, but on this occasion the crew did not even distribute the iPads in Business Class and instead let us know that the in-flight entertainment was not working.
While the 737-800s only operate on short flights where IFE is far from essential, there seems no incentive to get the system working based on our experience, so don’t count on it working for you either.
Headphones are provided in the seat pocket on boarding, if you’re lucky enough to have a working KrisWorld connection on your flight.
Seat controls and positions
An old-school manual control panel on the aisle side (or the window-side for window seat passengers) allows you to adjust the recline, lumbar support, legrest and footrest in this seat.
The seat includes an extendable and adjustable footrest.
Seat controls were quite clunky and rattly, and you need to ‘put your back into it’ a little to achieve your desired recline and position.
In the fully reclined mode this seat does offer a relaxing position, but make no mistake – a flat bed this is not.
Those travelling on 737-800 services who have had a long journey with a transit in Changi, and might appreciate some extra shut-eye even on their subsequent short sector, should probably avoid this aircraft type if possible, since a flat-bed option is not available.
The table is stored in the armrest, either at the aisle side for aisle seats (C and H) or at the window side for the window seats (A and K).
There’s the option to have the table extended in a half-leaf format, for drinks and perhaps a small personal device.
It can then be extended to the fully open position for meals and if you have some more serious work to do.
Unfortunately the design of the table (opening from the aisle side at aisle seats) means you won’t be able to get in and out of your seat during mealtime. Even in the half table position, access is basically completely obstructed.
Each seat also has a small cocktail table, which extends from the middle console between the seats themselves.
This one does actually allow the aisle seat passenger unfettered access in and out of the seat, but for the window passenger it’s a little risky to attempt this as you will have to walk past it on the way to the aisle without knocking your drink over!
Apart from the overhead lockers, the only significant storage possibilities in this seat are beneath the seat in front of you and in the small seat back pocket, which can accommodate an iPad or tablet.
As you can see the floor area in the middle section has a couple of obstructions, preventing anything larger than a small handbag from being stowed there.
There is ample floor space at the window seat too.
You should have no issues storing a decent-sized carry-on here like a rucksack, while a cabin roller case will have to be stored in the overhead locker.
Each passenger in Business Class has a multi-standard UNI-socket plug, located at the forward end of the console between the seat pair.
This also incorporates a USB-A socket.
The positioning is a little difficult to reach, but this should enable you to keep your devices charged while flying on the 737-800 in Business Class, without the need to use an adaptor plug.
Singapore Airlines was offering the following “Light Dinner” menu on our Phuket flights in Business Class.
|Light Dinner SIN-HKT
(click to enlarge)
|Light Dinner HKT-SIN
(click to enlarge)
For the Singapore – Phuket sector we both opted for a ‘Book the Cook’ alternative.
I chose the roasted Lamb Rack with Lamb Jus, served with mint oil, seasonal vegetables and mashed potato.
As always, a selection of bread is offered, though as always this comes after the main meal has been served (the opposite of what happens in a restaurant), so your food does tend to get cold if you wait for the bread accompaniment.
The lamb was a nicely presented dish with great flavours, though the meat was a little overcooked.
On shorter regional flights like this a single-tray service is offered, including a small starter and dessert.
In this case it was a sesame crab mayonnaise salad, followed by a pistachio cake with sour cherry and almond crumble.
These were both good dishes, if a little unmemorable.
Eddie opted for the ‘Book the Cook’ Duck confit leg slow cooked in duck fat, served with white bean and lentil ragout, savoy cabbage and baby carrots.
This was a really enjoyable dish and beautifully cooked.
On our return flight the starter and dessert comprised a smoked chicken salad and a sticky date pudding respectively.
I opted for the roast chicken with sweet potato mash as a main course. This one won’t win any prizes for presentation, but tasted just fine.
Eddie went for the Fried Hokkien Mee on this flight.
This one was nice and tasty, perhaps not up to famous Hokkien Mee standards but good for an airline rendition.
The following wines were offered on our flight, whcih represented a good selection for a short service like this.
|Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne N.V.||4.2 stars|
|Wairau River Sauvignon Blanc, 2022||4.0 stars|
|Dandelion “Twilight of the Adelaide Hills” Chardonnay, 2021||3.4 stars|
|Nittardi Chianti Classico Riserva, 2016||4.0 stars|
|Dandelion “Lionheart of the Barossa” Shiraz, 2019||3.9 stars|
|Morris of Rutherglen Classic Liqueur Muscat
In addition, the menu included SIA’s usual selection of cocktails and aperitifs, spirits and beer, plus Illy coffee and TWG teas.
We of course sampled the Champagne on both flights, plus the Dandelion “Lionheart of the Barossa” Shiraz, a personal favourite which doesn’t disappoint.
Unfortunately Singapore Airlines has now replaced Charles Heidsieck with Henriot Champagne on regional routes in Business Class, including Phuket services.
While the Boeing 737-800 certainly offers the airline’s poorest Business Class hard product, we were impressed with the professional and friendly service offered by the cabin crew on both our flights.
The two crew assigned to the Business Class section worked hard to prepare all the meals, drinks and offer service to 12 passengers, on a short 90-minute flight, with the cabin totally full on the way there and the way back during our review.
This is one aspect of flying on the Boeing 737-800 which helps to redeem its obvious shortcomings.
Which Singapore Airlines flights have these seats?
Singapore Airlines currently operates its Boeing 737-800 aircraft on the following routes, based on March 2023 schedules:
- Kuala Lumpur
At the time of writing, there is no way to avoid this aircraft type (and therefore these older ex-SilkAir Business Class seats) on Medan, Phuket, Surabaya and Yangon flights, since other types are not used on alternative services to and from these destinations.
Some changes are coming into effect for the northern summer season from 26th March 2023, which you can check route-by-route at this page here.
This cabin certainly isn’t worth redeeming with miles for Singapore-based members on these short regional hops, but hopefully this review gives you an idea of what to expect if a Boeing 737-800 flight is part of a longer Business Class itinerary, like Sydney – Singapore – Phuket.
On our flights the crew were excellent, as was the food and beverage selection, but the seat itself is decidedly average and if anything reminded us of the ‘ScootPlus’ hard product!
Furthermore, there was no entertainment option available at all on either sector – quite unforgivable for a full-service Business Class experience (even SilkAir managed to make their iPads work, back in the day!). Wi-Fi is not available, though that’s probably an acceptable sacrifice for a couple of hours.
Thankfully, this is one product we can all wave goodbye to towards the end of 2025, but it’s definitely one we would try to avoid in the meantime, especially on routes where superior Business Class products (i.e. any other SIA aircraft!) exist.
| 2 / 5
among regional Business Class seats
Singapore Airlines Boeing 737-800 Business Class
One to avoid on the Singapore Airlines network, where you have a choice. These ex-SilkAir recliner Business Class seats aren’t even supposed to be in the fleet based on original plans, and compared to the airline’s latest products you can see why!
The old seats are comfy enough for a short flight, but have clunky manual controls, no Wi-Fi connectivity and in-flight entertainment was non-existent on either of our flights.
Good service and food was the saving grace, but this is no match for expectations, especially for those transiting to or from the carrier’s long-haul services, three years after SIA promised all its flights would have flat-beds in Business Class. Avoid.
|Flew: December 2022|
(Cover Photo: MainlyMiles)