There’s some good news regarding what’s no doubt the least popular aircraft in the Singapore Airlines fleet among our readers, with the carrier scaling back its Boeing 737-800 flights from seven destinations to just two cities on the network, starting this week.
That now makes it easier than ever to avoid older ex-SilkAir cabin products on the network, including the dated recliner seats in Business Class, which are now the airline’s sole non-flat-bed option in this cabin.
Only two routes currently have 737-800 service
Until 25th March, Singapore Airlines was flying its Boeing 737-800s to and from seven cities on its regional network, as close to home as Kuala Lumpur but also as distant as Bali, Yangon and Kathmandu.
That all changed at the start of the northern summer season on 26th March, when Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft took over a swathe of former 737-800 flights.
That now leaves only two cities on the 737-800’s roster for April and May – Kuala Lumpur and Phuket.
Singapore Airlines Boeing 737-800 Destinations
|March 2023||April – May 2023||June – October 2023|
That’s good news for Bali (2h 40m), Kathmandu (5h 30m), Medan (1h 25m), Surabaya (2h 35m) and Yangon (2h 55m), with former 737-800 flights on these routes now all upgraded to the Boeing 737-8 MAX, with its long-haul-esque seats in both Business Class and Economy Class.
As you can see from the table above, Penang joins the 737-800 roster from June 2023 as the airline scales up to four daily services, with a second additional daily 737-800 flight (representing the fifth daily option overall on the route) from October 2023, but it will remain possible to avoid the type by picking one of the three daily Penang flights which use the 737-8 MAX (see below).
On SIA’s Kuala Lumpur route, the Boeing 737-800 has taken over completely from the Boeing 737-8 MAX during the northern summer season, but it’s still possible to score the Airbus A350 Long Haul on several daily flights if that’s important to you on this short hop (see below).
On Phuket, sadly you’re stuck with the 737-800 whatever you do!
Despite this being SIA’s launch route for the Boeing 737-8 MAX, all four daily flights to and from the popular Thai holiday island are planned on the Boeing 737-800 right through to at least the end of the summer season, as shown below.
This is a far cry from the 737-800’s route network last year, which included cities in India and the Philippines, plus Cairns and Darwin.
Remember for full up-to-date details on which Business Class seat you’ll find on your next Singapore Airlines flight, you can refer to our Business Class Seats by Route page, now fully updated through to the end of October 2023.
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.
We recently reviewed this product on the Singapore – Phuket route, and although service was good and we were well fed and watered, it’s safe to say this is a waste of miles with clunky manual seat controls, no privacy, no Wi-Fi connectivity and in-flight entertainment via an iPad that didn’t work on both sectors of our journey!
The very minor refresh Singapore Airlines made to this cabin is apparent in the ‘before and after’ shot below – we actually prefer the warmer tones used in the SilkAir fit, compared to the ‘Premium Economy grey’ SIA has gone with.
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’, and as we mentioned above – it wasn’t working on either of our flights, so bring a book!
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.
Further withdrawal of the Boeing 737-800 from several routes this summer is therefore great news for the on-board hard product experience, with the new MAX cabins mostly replacing the 737-800, making an award redemption worth considering once again.
Is SIA falling out of love with the 737-800?
Singapore Airlines never intended to be operating these ex-SilkAir Boeing 737-800 – in fact they were supposed to go to low-cost subsidiary Scoot to see out their remaining lease terms.
The current situation was forced on the carrier following two fatal crashes of the Boeing 737-8 MAX in in late 2018 and early 2019, which caused a global grounding of that type.
This derailed SIA’s plans to induct only factory-fresh MAX aircraft into its fleet with new cabin products, forcing it to keep these older Boeing 737-800s flying in the full-service division for a lot longer than anticipated.
As such, there was likely never much love for the 737-800 in SIA.
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.
Here’s how the current fleet looks, including two aircraft already removed from service in May 2022, but still registered to SIA.
Singapore Airlines Boeing 737-800 fleet
since 5 May 2022
since 21 May 2022
In December 2017, each of SilkAir’s 17-strong fleet of Boeing 737-800s was flying for 13.3 hours per day, in line with the industry norm of 10-13 hours for narrow-body aircraft.
SIA’s seven remaining aircraft are flying for only 3.6 hours per aircraft per day in April 2023, down from 7.0 hours each in April 2022.
This represents a significant under-utilisation of relatively young aircraft, particularly considering these jets will have six-figure monthly lease costs (S$250,000 a month per aircraft would be typical).
Indeed the latest schedule of 122 weekly flights to and from only two destinations, increasing to 154 weekly flights to and from three cities by October 2023, can easily be flown by only five aircraft.
Here’s a daily schedule example in October 2023, with aircraft 6 and 7 sitting idle, and the remaining five enjoying some long ground time at Changi in between their duties – up to 3 hours in some cases!
We therefore wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one further 737-800 withdrawn from service.
Interestingly the airline’s oldest in-service Boeing 737-800, 9V-MGC, hasn’t flown for nearly two weeks, since 17th March 2023. This could be due to routine maintenance, but could also suggest the carrier is reducing its fleet further, well in advance of lease return timelines.
SIA’s Boeing 737-800 flight schedule can now be comfortably flown with just five aircraft, even when two additional daily Penang flights join the fold in June and October respectively.
That leads us to wonder whether the small fleet, which has already been whittled down from nine to seven jets, could be cut further in advance of their lease expiries, which should only take effect from September 2024 onwards.
It’s certainly good news for those actively avoiding the aircraft’s older ex-SilkAir cabin products, with the aircraft now somewhat avoidable on Kuala Lumpur and Penang flights, though those heading to or from Phuket still have to suffer the old recliner Business Class.
As for all other routes – it’s now full-flat-bed in Business Class, an ultimate goal the airline should achieve network-wide by the end of 2025.
(Cover Photo: Shutterstock)