Despite having lived in Singapore and having flown on Singapore Airlines (SQ) enough in Business Class to earn PPS status, I had never flown them in First Class! Having read so many glowing reviews of their First and Suites class, which are considered some of the best in the business, I was looking forward to trying it out for the first time!
Predeparture: Well before departure, I wanted to take advantage of SQ’s “Book the Cook” service. While I was familiar with it from Business Class, the menu is even longer in First Class – take a look yourself here! I picked out a number of dishes for my four flights, some of which I was pretty sure wouldn’t be on the standard list of flights. For one flight, I left it with the regular menu to try it out. You can check out the full list of menu options, depending on departure airport, and choose in the “manage booking” feature online!
Singapore Airlines allows for a generous amount of luggage when traveling in First Class. It includes to carry-on items of up to 7kg (which would be all I needed) and 50 kg (or 2 pieces of 32kg each to US and Brazil) of check-in luggage. There is additional allowance for StarAlliance Gold and PPS members. In all my SQ travels, I have never had any issues with bringing carry-on luggage into a premium cabin and didn’t expect so this time either.
Singapore Airlines has a Separate check-in counter for first class that had just one person when I arrived. I had already checked in online and because I did not have any visa requirements for this trip, I was able to head straight to security (despite the SQ ground staff trying to make me go to the counter).
Singapore Airlines finished it’s new lounge at Manila’s Terminal 3 and as First Class passenger I of course had access to it – it’s a beautiful lounge and you can read my review here!
It’s a short walk from the lounge to the gate area. The staff handled the boarding process very well (which I’d consider unusual in Manila) and First Class was allowed to board first!
Service On-board: Singapore Airlines’s on-board service is legendary and I had high expectations for my First Class flight! If you have never flown SQ, the “Singapore Girls” are dressed in traditional uniforms that are color coded based on the rank of the flight attendant. The regulations for their hair, make up, etc are very strict. Add to all that a friendly smile when stepping on board, and the first impression is always great! The ongoing service was exceptional on my flights. In each case, the flight attendants introduced themselves to me, took care of my carry on luggage (there are no overhead bins in First Class on their B777) and had a glass of champagne in front of me quickly. They returned shortly with news papers, magazines and the question of the menu for drink and food. They were happy to customize my menu and even offered to add some eggs and sausages from the regular menu to my “book the cook” choice of waffle for breakfast. What I also appreciated was the ability to customize the timing of the food at the beginning and end of my 13 hour flight to Europe: Bring it sooner or later, in quick succession or with breaks? Would you like to be woken for breakfast and how much in advance of arrival? That level of attention continued throughout the flight – I had always wondered how they could possibly improve upon the excellent service in Business Class. The answer lies in the fact that we had two flight attendants and the supervisor focus on 3 passengers. They checked frequently on my needs for food, drink or anything I might require, made the bed for me after dinner and before breakfast and generally ensured that I had a perfect experience. Despite this level of attention, it was never overbearing: As soon as I had turned in to sleep, I never heard a sound from the crew!
There is just no comparison of the service to what United or other American carriers offer. I have never seen a level of attention from them that even comes close. I’d even rate it higher than my long-time favorites, Thai Airways. In addition to the friendliness and attention, the SQ staff has a level of professionalism and precision that is rarely found elsewhere!
SQ has an interesting approach to inflight amenities provided: On short and long flights, socks, slippers and an eye mask are provided at the seat. Typical amenities like a dental or shaving kit are provided in the bathrooms when you need them. They are premium quality, for example including shaving foam (instead of cream) or a properly shaped toothbrush. On long-haul flights, you’ll also get an amenity bag specific to men or women. In my case, it included Salvatore Ferragamo perfume, an after-shave lotion, a lip balm and a cleansing towel. You’ll also receive a pyjama in your size – it is soft, thick and comfy, more like a jogging suit than a pyjama and comfortable to walk around the plane and to sleep. The KrisWorld entertainment system provides the same movies, TV and games as in Business and Economy and it’s a great offering. There are hundreds of movies and TV shows, many of them recent releases, so there should be something for everybody. In addition to the Hollywood blockbusters, you’ll also find lots of international movies from around the globe.
If the service is one of the highlights of flying SQ First Class, the food and drink is the other highlight! It starts with a great wine and champagne list: I had a choice of Dom Perignon and Krug for champagne – each several steps above what the American carriers serve! The selection and quality of the wine was similarly excellent, putting the US competition to shame. It’s hard to understand why United & Co can’t even compete – it’s one of the easiest things to fix!
The food was equally good – every single dish on both, the short-haul (see standard menu in photo) and long-haul flight, was presented well and tasted much better than you’d expect from a meal on an airplane. I have read a lot about why airline food tastes bad (the air in 36,000 feet, the storage and warming, etc etc), yet here is an airline who manages to serve restaurant quality food on board. The salad was cold and fresh with a nice dressing, the Jamon Serrano with fruit was inventive, the bread was crunchy and the lamb was tender and tasted great! Even the breakfast 13 hours in was very good: I had pre-ordered waffles with strawberry coulis – and they were delicious! The supervisor had offered to complement them with eggs and sausages (from the regular menu) and I gladly accepted. He even went through the effort to make a “small portion” so that it is a nice complement to the waffles and not a whole second meal! The eggs were the first one I had no a plane of the proper consistency and not cooked to a rubbery ball!
Having had a lot of meals on planes, I have always had very low expectations and been very forgiving. I think I have been spoiled forever, knowing what is possible. While Thai Airways also has a “book the cook” offer, I found the quality of food on SQ a little better again!
Hard Product: All of my flights were on Boeing 777-300ER, which meant I’d “only” fly in the First Class and not in the flagship “Suites” onboard their Airbus A380 planes. And it was the “old” First Class, not the new and improved First Class. I’m always glad to see companies continually to improve their product, but the old First Class is a very nice place to spend time. The layout is 1-2-1, giving each passenger direct aisle access. The seats are very wide (the same as the excellent business class seats), but longer, making them a much more comfortable place for a tall person like me (6’3) than the business class seat. The seat back has limited recline, but I was comfortable while watching a movie and dining, as I could put my feet up on the foot rest and stretch my legs in the wide footwell. There are small storage spaces next to the seat as well as power outlets and USB ports for your devices. There is a very large, clear TV (23in) in front with the same controls as in business class – a great way to enjoy the on-board entertainment. There is also a shelf for menus, books, etc and a storage space below the foot well. That is the only thing I’d want improvement – there is limited space for luggage as I wouldn’t want it in my foot well when sitting. The seat is covered in leather from what must be happy cows – it’s much better quality than what you find on economy class seats! Bose noisecancelling headsets are provided for each seat and there are two plugs for them as well as reading lights, one on each side.
When you are ready to sleep, the staff will make the bed for you. The seat-back folds over to provide a completely flat surface. It is covered by a soft and comfy padding to sleep on and you have a thick comforter and a total of three pillows! The wall curves around the head area of the bed, so despite not being a suite, you have a good amount of privacy. Between the length and width of the bed, the padding, the comforter and my pyjamas, I had the best night of sleep on a plane, ever! While I prefer the Thai A380 semi-suite for sitting and privacy (and had very good sleep there, too), the sleeping surface of SQ is more comfortable still, if only by a little!
I’m looking forward to trying the new First Class and Suites at some point in the future, but even the old First Class is a wonderful place to be “stuck with”!
Ground-/Transfer Service: These flights unfortunately confirmed, again, that Singapore Airline’s world class on-board service is not complemented by equivalent ground service. At their hub, Singapore’s Changi airport, there was no ground service for First Class at all: Lufthansa offers a transfer by Porsche or other luxury cars from gate to gate, Thai Airways meets you at the gate and will offer a ride in a golf cart or whatever assistance you need at their hub in Bangkok. While Changi was my home airport for a while and I don’t need any help, a first-time visitor or elderly person might! At Amsterdam airport, SQ didn’t offer any arrival lounge service, despite the fact that they have a contract with a partner lounge for departure services. I got into the lounge with my Priority Pass membership and looked into the separate SQ area, but was denied entrance. Most premium airlines and even United offers its Business or First Class customers arrival services in major airports – it’s essential for business travelers on early morning arrivals and nice as a leisure traveler, so not having this for First Class is certainly below par and not worth of a Top 10 airline!
Conclusion: Singapore Airlines deserves its reputation as one of the best airlines in the world, offering a great First Class product! While the hard product is a relatively small improvement over its business class product and comparable to others, the service, food and drink are a big differentiator and make it my new, favorite product in the air. The only fly in the ointment is the poor ground service. SQ really needs to deliver an end-to-end first class experience. Other airlines are catching up and they can’t rest on their laurels for great on-board service. Despite that, it certainly is a luxury experience that makes a true dream trip! And while it is hard to justify the cash for this type of flight at Singapore Airline’s steep prices, it is absolutely worth saving your StarAlliance miles for! It’s one of the most desirable redemption of air miles and it feels like a waste now to spend them on United planes!