It’s been quite a while since my last post. I’ve been doing quite a bit of flying, mostly on airlines that have already been covered extensively in some of my other trip reports.
But this one ought to be interesting. Today I’m on my way to Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital of the Sultanate of Negara Brunei Darussalam. Brunei is actually not that easy to get to, particularly from Switzerland. Of course my first choice would have been to fly Royal Air Brunei. They have a direct service from Heathrow. But alas, that flight stops in Dubai in the middle of the night on both the outbound and the inbound flight, which is inconvenient for two reasons: first of all, the interruption of the flight in Dubai means that you don’t really get a full night’s sleep. Secondly, the sector length for both the LHR to DXB and the subsequent DXB to BWN is about six hours each, which isn’t really enough for sleep either. I’m travelling on business, so I decide against this option. I don’t want to arrive feeling like a vegetable. So instead I shall be travelling with Singapore Airlines from Zürich via Singapore. This report covers the outbound leg from Zürich to Singapore.
On the outbound I have a connecting time in Singapore of eight hours. The return is worse still, with a whopping twelve hours layover in Singapore. But still, there are certainly worse airports to have to do a stopover in than Singapore.
On a positive note, the flights between Zürich and Singapore are operated by the A380. She may be ugly as sin, but she’s still quite an amazing bird.
The last time I flew Singapore Airlines was back in 2008. Back then I flew in First Class on the B777-300 from Zürich to Singapore and then onwards in regional First Class, I think it was on a B777-200, to Taipei. I was on a round the world itinerary which eventually also saw me take the Singapore Airlines B747-400 from JFK to Frankfurt, also in First. So I’m rather curious to see how time has treated one of the world’s most prestigious airlines in the intervening years.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
My first stop after I leave my flat is the Confiserie Bachmann on the square outside the station. They make the best pain au chocolat ever, with nice big chunky pieces of chocolate oozing out of everywhere. I think I may have already mentioned the fact in a previous post and so, simply for the sake of completeness, I am including in this post a picture of the delectable item.
And then from there I head across the square, into the station and down to platform seven, from where my train will be leaving. Being a Sunday morning, the train that normally runs on this route has been substituted by what is in fact a short regional train. And to be fair, the load is pretty light.
My only grippe is that the seat is rather hard. By the time we pull into Zürich Airport station 80 minutes later, my backside is feeling seriously worse for ware.
To look outside you’d hardly think we’re already approaching the end of May. We’ve had a few scattered days of sunshine here and there but other than that it’s been quite miserable. At least the low-hanging clouds do look kind of poetic, I guess.
Date: 19. May 2013
Aircraft: A 380
Airline: Singapore Airlines
Cabin: Business Class
Seat: 18K, later on moved forward to 17K
Arrival: 05:45, the next day
The airport is surprisingly busy for a Sunday morning when I arrive, with a mix of travellers and Sunday shoppers wandering, seemingly aimlessly, through the terminal.
The Singapore Airlines check-in counters are currently located on the mezzanine level between arrivals and departures of what used to be Terminal B and is now, if I’m not mistaken, Check-in 2. This is only a temporary location for Singapore Airlines while the check-in area one floor up is redesigned and renovated.
I am greeted at the check-in counter by one of my former students, who happens to be working for Swissport until he starts a new job in engineering in a few weeks. While he checks me in we have a little natter and I inquire about how he’s been and what he’s been up to. I figure I must have done a few things right in my job, because the next thing I notice is that he’s actually tagged my check-in luggage with a Suite First Class tag. Thanks for that!
We bid each other farewell and I make my way to security. After that it’s the passport control and then the underground shuttle that runs underneath the apron and runway 28 to the E dock.
I decide to give the Swiss Senator lounge a miss and try out the Panorama lounge at the E dock instead. This is a common purpose lounge which appears to be used by all airlines operating out of the E dock, with the exception of Emirates, who have their own lounge. Subsequently, the place is rather full when I arrive. Figuring it might be a while until I finally get some food on the plane, I help myself to a small plate of pasta and shortly after that it’s already time to head downstairs to the gate where boarding is about to begin.
By now you’re probably wondering why there aren’t any pictures of my ride to Singapore. So here we go (taken from different locations, including the lounge).
The boarding process is a very well organised affair, which is a good thing, seeing as Singapore Airlines recently stopped using the only gate at Zürich equipped with three airbridges.
This means that all Business Class passengers on the upper deck will have to board through the front door on ‘ground level’ and then from there take the stairs one floor up.
One of the male attendants sees me trying to take a picture of the stairs and offers to strike a pose. But before I can actually take the picture, he thinks better of it. Pity.
To be honest, my first impression of the cabin is somewhat underwhelming. It looks slightly worn around the edges. Other than that though, the seat certainly offers a lot of personal space, it’s very wide.
In Business Class there are only overhead bin over the central aisle. The window seats however, have some additional storage space as there are storage bins located by the side of the seat facing the window.
Every seat back is equipped with a set of USB ports as well as a universal electric plug socket that can take the British style plugs as well as the standard Swiss and European ones. Located immediately above that is a small compartment where you can place your glasses.
The general impression of the seat is that obviously a lot of thought was put into the design, it’s more functional than it is elegant. For example: the compartment where you place your glasses is lined with some velvety material to prevent the lenses from scratching.
Other than that, there are two cushions at every seat. I think I’d feel quite lost without them!
The Singapore Airlines crews hardly need an introduction and this flight is no exception. The crew is made up of a racial mix of young men and women, all of them eager to please. It has often been said of the Singapore Airlines crews that they lack warmth or personality. Some have even called them robotic in their mannerisms. On this flight however, this could hardly be farther from the truth. The entire crew are very attentive, service-oriented and very approachable, without however being intrusive. And that kebaya simply complements the female form beautifully…!
Service begins on the ground with a welcome drink. I have something that is apparently a mix of bitter lemon and seven up, and very refreshing it is too. And then after that I receive the first in a whole series of nicely scented, warm refreshing towels.
Push back is on time. With all the rain everything is looking lush and green outside.
Departure is to the south from runway 16, the usual. As we do a final left turn to line up with the runway, I spot this here. It’s used for fire training nowadays.
Seriously, they really don’t build them like they used to in the good old days. I know, perhaps I’m a bit weird that way. Probably if I weren’t I wouldn’t be writing this blog. But: for me an airplane has to have the sound and feel of an airplane. And that’s where the A 380 is a bit of a let down. First of all, it is really quite amazing just how quiet the cabin is. Even when we power up and go hurtling down the runway for take off, the noise in the cabin is at a pleasant level. And there’s not much of a sensation of acceleration either.
Quite surprisingly, Singapore Airlines no longer provide vanity kits on board. Instead, after take-off the crew distribute a pair of eye-shades and slippers. Everything else is available in the toilets, ear plugs need to be requested separately.
The meal service starts with the traditional chicken and beef satay, which really are tasty, even though I think I end up overdosing on the raw onion.
To drink with that I have one of Singapore Airlines’ signature non-alcoholic cocktails, ‘Awaiting the dawn’ I think it’s called. It’s a somewhat unusual combination of tomato juice and pineapple that works surprisingly well.
For the rest of the meal I stick with sparkling water.
The satay are quite tasty, but without a fork or a spoon it’s quite impossible to lop up all of the lovely peanut sauce. After the satay there is a short break while the crew prepare the main service. In the meantime, I think I’ll just sit back and enjoy the view.
First the table is set. Every seat is done individually. The starter today is dried beef with pasta salad, lettuce and antipasti, more specifically a spicy pepper filled with cream cheese and an olive filled with an almond.
With that I have a few slices of garlic bread and a Silserli, a typical Swiss type of bread that gets its name from the town of Sils.
The service is well-timed and efficient, without however being hurried or rushed. For the main dish I’m having the Indian spicy chicken with vegetable curry and pilaf rice. It’s quite a spicy dish, with plenty of flavour.
After the meal there is a choice of either vanilla ice cream with a fruit sauce or a passion fruit cheesecake, which I have. The dessert is nothing special really, its only saving grace being that it is made with Agar Agar and not gelatine.
The meal concludes with a selection of cheese, served with crackers, walnuts, dried apricots and grapes. With that I have a glass of port.
Once the meal is over, the crew come to take orders for tea or coffee. I have a peppermint tea, which the flight attendant brings me with a praline. In the meantime I look out the window some more. I never seem to tire of this view!
After the meal I try out the wifi connection. For USD10 you can download up to 10MB of data. You can select for the connection to stop once you have reached you allowance or to just continue billing you in 10 cent steps per 100KB. So I do a bit of surfing, answer some e-mails and What’s App my mum before eventually I decide to take a nap.
A few hours later I awake. It’s still about four hours to go to Singapore, so I switch on the inflight entertainment system. Singapore Airlines has quite an extensive selection of films. I start to watch Skyfall – again. Not so much because I thought the film was that good – twice is enough – but because I just love the opening titles with that song by Adele. I then switch to watching ‘Hotel Transylvania’, which is okay but seriously lacks a decent story line.
THE SECOND SERVICE
By the time that’s over, it’s already time for the second meal service, which begins of course, with the distribution of yet another hot towel, followed by a glass of fresh orange juice.
The meal consists of:
- a plate of fresh fruit
- a selection from the breadbasket
- a selection of hot dishes: I go for the omelette with veal sausages and potatoes
Like Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines will automatically give you a glass of still water to drink with the main dish. In addition, there is more orange juice and a cup of the most god awful coffee I have ever had the misfortune to taste.
Again the service is unhurried and pleasant. Throughout the meal service the mood lighting is set to what I presume to be dawn.
Once the meal service is over and yet another hot towel has been distributed and collected, the lights go out again. It’s now just 68 minutes to arrival in Changi at 05h45 am.
Our arrival into Changi is very atmospheric, really nice. With the engines in idle to slow us down, it’s gone quiet in the cabin. The passengers aren’t saying much either. The dark cabin adds to the mood. Eventually we touch down and within seconds the outer window pane starts to fog up with the humidity.
We arrive at one of the B gates at T3 which is equipped with three airbridges. I thank the crew, bid them farewell and disembark. From here I make my way to T2, from where my connection to Brunei will be leaving.
So what’s the verdict? It’s hard to put into words. Singapore Airlines is certainly up there in the top league of international airlines. Their Business Class cabin is very innovative and comfortable. Combined with the outstanding level of service provided by the cabin crew, the entire experience really is more like what many other airlines offer in First Class nowadays. However, from my recent experiences the same could also be said for Cathay Pacific and ANA – All Nippon Airways. Perhaps it’s just me and all the flying I do has made me blazé. Either that or Singapore Airlines have created an image that in actual fact even they themselves are unable to live up to.