Flight Review: SQ479 CPT to SIN via JNB (1 Jan 2017) Singapore Airlines Business Class for the Uninitiated (Guestwriter)

After a wonderful Southern summer vacation along the Garden Route, it was time for the 13.5 hour journey back home to Singapore. The prospect of such a long journey would normally be quite daunting but instead, I found myself immensely excited for the flight, because not only would I be giving Singapore Airline’s world-renowned Business class a go myself personally, my first experience on this product would be on the fleet’s newest aircraft and latest generation seats – the A350.  That’s pretty much a mini-vacation in itself to end off a vacation if you ask me!

We arrived early at the airport for our morning flight home but that proved superfluous. Check-in was a breeze with dedicated counters for Business (and KrisFlyer Elite Gold/Star Alliance Gold) passengers and I got my hands on my very own boarding pass printed on the elegant blue card-stock. There are no dedicated immigration lines for premium passengers but it was not crowded so no matter. The terminal was modern and serviceable, but we did not dwell long there; a trip to to the Bidvest Premier Lounge on the mezzanine was in order. This would be the lounge Singapore Airline uses in Cape Town, which notably also doubles up as a contract lounge and the Star Alliance Gold lounge (not the South African Airways lounge). I thought this was a tad small but it had the expected amenities of a lounge – lounge seating, tables, a small spread of hot and cold self-serve buffet, wi-fi, and power-sockets. Showers with towels and toiletries are available as well. The ambience was warm and soothing, with a number of Singaporeans milling about awaiting the same flight (including a couple who flew up with us whose leggings I remember), but there was nothing singularly impressive about the lounge. Nonetheless, it was a contemporary and pleasant place to have a drink or snack as you wait, and certainly preferable to the plastic seats below at the gate.

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Bidvest Premier Lounge at CPT

Boarding commenced punctually and Business and KrisFlyer Elite Gold/Star Alliance Gold were boarded together first through door L2 via aerobridge. As much as you do get a good look at the alluring cocoons that were Business class seats as an Economy passenger walking down the aisle, it was still a striking moment to actually take a seat in them for the first time. The cabin also looked significantly more spacious without the overhead compartments above the middle seats. (There is more than enough space for all passengers’ bags on the overhead compartments at the sides, so fret not!)

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Singapore Airline’s latest Business class product

I was assigned 16D and the latest generation seat emanated a sleek, understated luxury. Upholstered in dark plum or beige leather and finished in a rose-tinted gold complete with a plump houndstooth-pattered cushion, they were a thing of beauty.  Of course, the literal biggest perk of this business class seat in true 1-2-1 configuration was the space! As someone who routinely goes through a multitude of seating arrangements in Economy just to get the blood flowing and prevent cramps, I am happy to say sitting cross-legged and having nothing in front of your fully extended legs is absolutely no issue here. You can even flap them about if you wish. A small note would be your feet do have to be angled diagonally into a cubby hole when the seat is laid flat; its a bit of a clever design that maintains a rectangular 1-2-1 set-up while angling the sleeping position in a reverse-herringbone-like manner; this also means that in a seating position, when reclined to the maximum lounge position, some taller individuals might have trouble stretching their legs fully as they can get caught between the leg rest and the seat in front (you’ll need to angle them then.)  Seats D and F in Rows 11 and 19 (bassinet row) would offer a truly “rectangular space” without the cubby and certainly are the prime seats if you have a chance to take them. The cubby space in A and K are less pronounced and you also get a decent rectangle. Nonetheless, space was abundant and I settled in comfortably.

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It’s a thing of beauty!
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The seat upholstered in beige leather

The in-flight entertainment has since been updated but the interface was clean and appealing, easy to navigate, and offered a wide range of new movies and TV series. An 18” LCD screen and decent noise-cancelling in-flight headphones completes the experience, certainly a step up from the already very good Economy or Premium Economy. I particularly enjoyed that the screen was not uncomfortably right in my face so that certainly adds to the viewing experience.

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Nice, big screen to enjoy the IFE on

Pre-flight (yes, pre-flight!) drinks were quickly served – a selection of Taittinger champagne, orange juice, and apple juice, and orders swiftly taken for the light snack for the CPT-JNB hop and post-take-off drinks. I do appreciate the professional and measured service, and I requested a glass of water which was quickly brought from the galley.  On this note, I must confess I am uncannily fond of the shape of these water glasses in Singapore Airline’s Business class, they are pretty adorable! There was an effort made to address me by name (nice) and also some light banter about how horribly sunburnt my partner and I were (please, please bring sunblock to Table Mountain.)

A delightfully tart biltong salad was served (goodbye cold hard sandwiches in cling-wrap) on a proper plate and with linen table-cloths. The table swivels out from the arm-rest and although it seems a bit too close for my personal liking when the seat is upright, you can get around that by swiveling it to angle slightly inward. This also allows you to exit your seat with the table up so that is a big plus point, especially if you eat really slow (like myself) and need the loo half-way.  The salad itself was light and refreshing; the farro had a good bite, and the biltong was not with the usual overpowering (for me) heady scent (the vinaigrette helped) and tasted more like beef jerky. I am a fan of going local so I was happy with my choice. Tables were quickly cleared and I had a cup of TWG silver moon tea to finish off my meal. It is a lovely mellow floral green tea with a hint of full, red fruit very pleasing on the palette that has now become my default drink of choice on Singapore Airlines. Do give it a try in the lounges or on board if you have the chance.

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Beef Biltong Salad; on a farro, pumpkin, spinach, and beetroot salad

I settled down with my book (When Breath Becomes Air – yes, a good read) having decided to save the movie for the longer JNB-SIN leg. One of the stewards coming by noticed that and switched on my reading light, and also proactively offered me more tea and some cashews and almonds (albeit out of a foil packet), which certainly lived up to the standards of Singapore Airline’s touted legendary service. (The in-flight supervisor also earlier came over to apologize for mixing up my partner and my names (because we swapped seats) which was really no fault of theirs so kudos to him for doing that.) My expectations were not disappointed; it is indeed a different class all together, and hence the name I presume.

A brief stop in JNB to board additional passengers and replace the crew saw the cabin getting filled closed to capacity. No disembarkation is allowed at JNB, and the crew actually lodges in JNB, not CPT, a fun fact.

The next leg of the flight included a lunch and breakfast service. Lunch began promptly once we hit cruising altitude and started off with the famous Singapore Airline’s satay. As a Singaporean, I must say the quality of the satay really surprised and impressed me, even more so that the smokiness and flavors were so well-replicated in the air. The meat was also delightfully tender, yum! I would happily have this on the ground any day and polished the plate right off. The smoked salmon niçoise salad was decent and generously portioned. I selected a main of pan-seared salmon over fettuccine which was well-executed, if a tad dry. Then again, I was very much more taken with the fact I was dining on a proper table with plates and table-setting than to complain, and the food itself was quite delectable. It was a bit surreal, but this really drives home the magic of miles. The garlic bread lives up to its reputation as well, intensely flavored and delightfully crisp. I had two and was too stuffed to finish my main. I requested a glass of champagne midway (really just because) and it was… I suppose, nice and crisp? (I rarely drink and certainly lack any expertise on the subject – I suppose its nice to have a sparkling beverage that is complexly flavored and not sugared.) The service was professional and always with a smile, if a bit slowed due to the higher passenger load. I did overhear some conversation between the stewardesses serving the drinks referencing passengers a bit jarringly so if anything, perhaps they ought to lower their voices more for that. The cheese and fruit cart came by as I was having my main but I do not take cheese so I am unable to comment. The fruit selection was nicely varied. My dessert was later forgotten but it was promptly brought to me when I requested for my ice-cream at the post-meal drinks service from a slightly flummoxed stewardess. She did recover herself and remedied it promptly enough together with more silver moon tea, so overall, it was a very good standard of service. You also get a box of two pralines after the meal.

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Singapore Chicken and Beef Satay; with onion, cucumber, and spicy peanut sauce
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Smoked Salmon Niçoise Salad; kenya bean, kalamata olive, potato, cherry tomato, and quail egg
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The famous Singapore Airlines’ garlic bread!
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Pan Roasted Salmon Fillet with Tomato Basil-Olive Ragout; grilled asparagus, vegetable medley, and fettucine pasta
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Caramel Ice Cream

I caught Nerve on the flight and the in-flight headphones did a nice job cancelling out the engine noise (or is it because we were in the front cabin?) so there is no need for your own if you are not particular. The screen was also ample and clear.

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Those adorable cups!

To convert the seat to a bed, you need to get up and “fold” the back of your chair over (the duvet and pillow are hidden behind,) something quite clever to minimize the mechanical moving parts reducing the chances of failure even if it requires some manual work from the passenger. The pre-flight Business class instructional video does include an additional bit on how you could do this yourself and putting it into bed mode is quite easy. Putting it back into seat-mode however proves tricker because of the lever system and having to depress the bed slightly to release the catch before pulling it back up, but the crew were always on hand to help and would offer to make your bed if you so wish. I managed to do mine myself despite all my clumsiness with no big mishap so everyone else should probably be fine as well!

Sleeping flat on your back at 35,000 feet is truly dreamlike and I had never slept better on a plane; once again, the magic of miles indeed! The slight turbulence I actually enjoyed for it felt like being rocked to sleep in a giant cradle. You do need to have a seat-belt diagonally across yourself as you rest but it is imperceptible. In bed-mode, the sheer amount of space (almost excessive, in a good way) you have is most evident – it is great for lounging to watch a movie and you could even exercise in this rectangle of your own if you wanted, although it would be odd. Privacy is aplenty with the high “wings” shielding your seat. There is a little notch (so its not a true rectangle of space) where the cubby for the passenger’s feet behind you go but the seat has been nicely designed to taper it such that it blends nicely with the seat design. The bed is on the hard side, depending on your personal preference. Do note that there are no amenity kits (they are instead stocked in the lavatories) or pajamas offered in Business class; you may want to bring your own to change. The lavatories are the standard size but the lower passenger to lavatory ratio makes the experience a lot more pleasant and with almost no queue. A bottle of water is provided (most useful) and the crew makes their rounds regularly enough. For a Business class seat, this is exceptional; it feels like First. I slept uninterrupted soundly until breakfast service began.

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Breakfast begins with a fresh fruit plate (it does vary slightly between passengers) of a good mix – there was passionfruit! This is followed by a choice of cereal, yoghurt, or Bircher muesli. I had the third option and it was delicious! Well-balanced and of a good consistency, it was generously portioned and sprinkled with dried apricots. A bread-basket was brought around and the warm danish and croissant were crisp and good. I had the American breakfast which I unfortunately again could not finish after all that bread and muesli. The omelette was a big step up from Economy and you get thick cuts of ham alongside potatoes, a most hearty plate. You are certainly well-fed throughout the flight, so do pace yourself if you want to sample all dishes! Warm sandwiches and (cup) noodle soup are also available as light snacks anytime (all nicely plated of course) if you so wish, in addition to the usual chips and sweets.

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Fresh fruit platter
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Peach danish and croissant
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Some very delicious muesli
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American breakfast
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Chicken noodle soup (in-flight snack)

I left Changi Airport very quickly with the aid of the priority Business luggage tags (even with the First/Suites tagged bags for the PPS passengers.)

It was an excellent flight home and rounded off my vacation most nicely. I had a great virgin flight on Singapore Airlines Business class and it did not disappoint my high expectations. The biggest impressions left on me were the top-notch hard product – new, elegant, and spacious – as well as the professional service from the crew – the first leg was slightly better but then again, the second leg was a more crowded cabin. I suppose the experience may not seem as extravagant as other airlines I have read about but it was thoughtful and superior. Singapore Airline’s certainly is a worthy fore-runner in setting the gold standard for international Business class products. I am most definitely looking forward to more of Singapore Airline’s fine premium class travel experiences and maximizing the value of miles. They really do take you further and elevate the entire process of travel. Hope your first experience on Singapore Airlines Business class is/was a wonderful one too!

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The sleek A350 plane taking us home from CPT

– C (Guestwriter)

 

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