Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The BOOT - The Business of Online Travel

Your BOOT correspondent is on a work trip in Madrid - will be back posting in a week.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Seat Review - British Airways Club World (long-haul business class)

A work conference in Madrid opened up the chance to fly with British Airways long haul Business Class (or Club World). It is now a piece of Air industry folk law that one of the main outcomes battle between BA Club World and Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class for UK customer traffic to the US resulted in BA introducing a fully flat bed into business class, changing the definition of long haul business class forever.

I remember the first time I tried the BA flat bed and it was a revelation. Today some 9 years later and the product is even better. For your BOOT correspondent the seat is the best in the sky. I think Singapore Airlines has an edge in Service, Qantas has an edge in food and Virgin Atlantic has an edge in the BOOT factor (that something extra) but judged stand alone on the seat I prefer BA’s Club World to any other business class seat I have tried. On seat alone BA would win against another seat review so far. The overall rating has been let down by the entertainment system, placement of World Traveller (premium economy) and online check-in experience (probably highlighting a flaw in my scoring system).

The BOOT rating for British Airways International Business Class (Club World) is a 4.5 stars out of 6 or "Good Seat". Here is the detailed review
(Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews) (other seat reviews can be found here)

Getting on Board

Score 0.5

The Boarding process was uneventful but my check in process was a disappointment. I checked in online about 8 hours before the flight. This is supposed to be an advantage as it means I can get to the airport later and should have pick of seats. In the end it was a significant disadvantage. Firstly I could not print out a priority pass for going through Immigration quickly. The immigration priority queue requires this pass – it is not enough to have a premium class boarding pass. [thankfully I always carry a spare priority pass for these occasions]. Secondly I could not check in all the way even though my London to Madrid leg is also on BA, because it is on a separate ticket. My colleague checking in at the airport was given a boarding pass for the whole trip but I had to wait until I arrived in London to get my final boarding pass. Finally the machines at the gates are not designed to support bar code boarding passes – only magnetic strip ones. It meant that I had to pause at each gate while they looked me up manually. I will not be checking in for long haul BA again. Getting off the plane is also annoying. World Traveller Plus (BA’s premium economy) is physically located between First and Business, Means that if the front door is the only door opened that premium economy gets off before business. Sounds petty to type it out loud but every person ahead of me off the plane is a person ahead of me in the immigration queue, customs or quarantine queue and taxi queue. Each person adds minutes to me getting to my destination. 40 people can therefore add a annoying additional time to me getting where I want to go.

The Seat

Score 1.0

This will be the shortest part of the review. The BA Club World seat is the near perfect long haul business seat. It is comfortable, flat and spacious. The table slides easily to allow entry and exit without have to remove food or a notebook. The controls are easy to manage and out of the way enough not to be bumped mid flight. Sleeping is as good as I have experienced, mainly because the size of the seat allows for multiple sleeping positions. To be perfect the seat could be about 20 cm longer and 15 cm wider and maybe a little bit more cocooned. But then it would be a first class seat.

The Service

Score 0.5

BA are not in the class of Singapore Airlines for their attentiveness and detail but there is nothing worthy of a negative comment. Staff appear when requested and are eager to be a support.

The Food

Score 1.0

It seems mean to write the first thing that came to my mind when contemplating a review of the food on BA Club World. Anyway here it is. If you like English food you will love the food on BA Club World. My thought about the food is not meant to be as negative as that comment implies. Just like English restaurants are into their 10th year of a revolution to become some of the best in the world, so too BA have dramatically lifted the quality of their food. I was a bit disappointed with the cold/pre-plated dishes as on the whole they were dry and flavourless. But I enjoyed each of the mains presented. The Englishness of some of the servings was annoying (for example only marmalade is served with breakfast and I can’t stand the stuff). BA is the upper bracket with food. There are better airlines (ie Qantas) but BA has tipped over that point that turns a flight from manageable to enjoyable.

The Entertainment

Score 0.5

The BA video on demand system is neither remarkable nor sub-standard. It does what it is supposed to do – provide movies and TV on demand. However it behind competitors on the number of options available and some of the system functionalities. It is missing the huge breadth of Singapore Airlines (and the new United Airlines system for that matter) and the menu system is less intuitive. It takes longer with the BA system to look through the entire list of movies. This is all a software and content issues. BA would do well to upgrade.

The BOOT factor

Score 1.0

Just like BA led with the first fully flat bed (and podcasts on how to sleep) I have always liked and watch others try to copy the BA larder. The collection of food and drinks available for passengers to graze on at their leisure. It seems simple but I find easy access to a broad selection of fresh fruit ( and I admit it chocolate) makes for a great way to break up the tedium of 24 hours staring at a flicking screen. I also really like the laptop draw in the seat. If is large enough to fit everything I want at my fingertips during the flight – notebook, document wallet, book, iPod, toiletries. A little thing that makes a real difference. Only anti-BOOT factor is the size of the upstairs bathroom which I found cramped.

Final Score

4.5 - Good Seat

Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews

thanks to matt.hintsa on Flickr for the photo

Friday, March 27, 2009

Yahoo! kills FareChase

The meta-search model took a blow with the shutdown of the Yahoo! owned FareChase today. TechCrunch has the story.

Here is a Google cached version of what FareChase used to look like. farechase.yahoo.com now redirects to Yahoo! Travel.

Hard to say in this case if it is a mark against the FareChase model or just another botched Yahoo! product

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Some days I miss being a lawyer

Here is a picture of the email I received today from e-travel blackboard (an Australian travel industry newsletter). Nothing but depressing news. Any one got some good news to make me feel better.

Profit for AsiaRooms, losses at LateRooms???: Reading the TUI Online Destination Service Groups results announcement

Early this week I posted an interview with AsiaRooms Head of Marketing John Fearon. Was AsiaRooms first major press comment post their acquisition by TUI (if ever). It was a deliberate part of Fearon's plans to bring AsiaRooms out from behind the secrecy curtain. Co-incidently, yesterday parent company TUI published their results for Q4 2008 (ie quarter ending 31 Dec 2008). In the announcement (pdf here) there is a small paragraph on the Online Destination Services group at TUI (ODS) which includes AsiaRooms and UK stable mate LateRooms and the Spanish based Hotelopia.

The paragraph is a mixed story. It says that the ODS group is profitable - generating £1.1m for the quarter - but this is down from £4.2m from last year. And the business delivered £1.2m in synergies. If I read this right I see two things. Firstly that without the synergy cuts, the combined ODS business would have made a loss. Secondly Fearon stressed that AsiaRooms is profitable. Assuming he was referring to the business of AsiaRooms rather than the whole of the ODS group (John correct me if I am wrong), then it likely means that either or both of LateRooms and Hotelopia have slipped into the red and are losing money. If all true, then this provides further evidence of the pain in Europe right now.

Here is an extract of the entire paragraph (again full pdf here).
Online Destination Services Sector
"ODS reported an underlying operating profit of £1.1m, down £3.1m on the prior year (Q1 08: £4.2m). The sector delivered £1.2m of synergies in the quarter (Q1 08: nil) from the integration of the former TUI and First Choice businesses in our incoming agency division, primarily in Spain. The offline businesses, however, suffered from a decrease in volumes in the quarter due to the capacity reductions implemented by tour operators. Additionally, the agencies in Euro destinations experienced a reduction in excursion revenue due to the strengthening of the Euro against Sterling and as a result margins tracked behind last year. The online businesses continue to perform well."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Travel Discovery : Joobili raises money and targets Discovery & Inspriation

alarm:clock are reporting that Budapest based online travel start-up Joobili has raised some funds from Esther Dyson and Hamu & Gyemant (not sure who they are as in Hungarian). Caught my attention for two reasons. Firstly I am always drawn to online travel start-ups with cash, particularly during the Global F'n Crisis. Second because of the timing of this announcement. Joobili (pronounced "jubilee") are in the Travel discovery & inspiration category. Just last week I wrote a detailed post on this category as part of a profile of Triporati. Just yesterday I interviewed Triporati chairman Jim Hornthal (a post of which will be up soon).

Where Triporati came at the discovery & inspiration process through a "vacation genome project", Joobili are targeting "timely travel". One (Triporati) uses the desires of the consumer, matched to the expertise of the content and technology of the engine to recommend destinations. The other (Joobili) uses the dates of planned travel to help identify events that a consumer might want to attend, which then dictates the destination for travel.

In the slider interface on Joobili the consumer selects the date range, hits "inspire me" and then is presented with events and activities which can be refined further. For example I selected 1 July - 21 July 2009 and the first recommendation was the "Benicassim International Fesitval" in Spain. Number two the "Moldejazz festival" in Norway. I like the idea and have seen no one else doing this but think it will only work if the refinement tools are incredible - which means better than they are now. Not sure if it can work with the refinement after the "inspire me" button, not before (site is still in beta). As an Australian based user (and despite my surname) I am unlikely to ever rush off and visit the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in deepest darkest Wales (third choice in my search results). Below is a 2 min video on how the site works.

Don't know much about the founders including CEO Jared Salter and Tamas Gabor. But Jared also runs the company blog and is kind enough to already have the BOOT in his blogroll. Jared - if your out there, tells us more about the company.

PS last minute Google search before pressing publish found that Travolution has also picked up the story.

update Aug 2009 - Travolution have a post "Joobili's design evolution in four screenshots" if you want to see the site design change from private beta to now

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"The AsiaRooms of 2009 is not the AsiaRooms of 2005": Interview with John Fearon, AsiaRooms Head of Marketing

 Hotel -  Hotels AsiaRooms is one of the region's largest online hotel retailers. With 81, 908 hotels and counting (according to the site today) and a parent company that is the largest travel company in Europe (TUI), AsiaRooms is clearly a player that the BOOT should be paying attention to. Historically the company has made this hard as it has been very secretive with its numbers and plans and (to be frank) was not a company we wanted to pay attention to. Prior to TUI buying the company, AsiaRooms built up an unwanted reputation on online customer care forums for complaints and among the trade for scoffing at rate parity and associated price guarantees. Rumours of wholesale group rates being market up $5 and sold online became the standard trade fair post-session beer story when AsiaRooms came up in the conversation. The brand buzz was all bad. In fact the customer and industry complaint forums became the only source for profile information on the secretive company.

John Fearon the (relatively) new Head of Marketing for the Pattaya based AsiaRooms is determined to change all that. Determined to build on the TUI brand and infrastructure support to change the market perception of AsiaRooms and to bring the company out from behind the secrecy curtain. As John told me “we are not the AsiaRooms of 2005”. I had a chance this week to (virtually) sit down with Fearon and hear his plans for changing the reputation of AsiaRooms, overhauling their marketing plans, ditching meta-search and taking on all comers in a press to be number one in Asia.

In marketing, John's first target is to change the approach to paid search marketing. SEM and SEO is the frontier that John believes will sort out the winners from the losers in Asia (I agree). Is also the place he was happy to share numbers and metrics with me. After only three months of work Fearon is claiming to have doubled the amount of business coming form the search engines on the same level of spend. Not much of a metric to share but an indication of his marketing plans. He had a lot less praise for and desire to continue to invest in meta-search. Has pulled AsiaRooms out of Kayak and has no plans to go with hotelscombined. For the moment is sticking with Wego but as general rule does not believe that meta-search builds a brand or helps the business. Claims it forces you into “killing yourself” on pricing at the expense of the consumer experience. This is an interesting point. I am working on a separate post on my thoughts on the meta-search model but from what I am seeing the arbitrage gap (difference between price meta-search players buy traffic from Google and sell it to suppliers) is narrowing.

In supply the plan is to continue to gain access to cheap inventory - but with less (he did not say none) of the rate rule breaking.

Asia is a tough place to play but Fearon is not worried. AsiaRooms claims that profitability and support from the rest of the TUI nline Destination Services (ODS) group will prove another important factor. [FYI the TUI ODA group includes the UK based LateRooms and Spanish Hotelopia].

They will need more than good paid search plans and mothership support to make it in this market. Fearon says he is aware of this, especially with the Global F’n Crisis hitting Asia hard. He predicts the GFC will bring down a number of smaller brands (we off the record speculated which ones). But for Fearon this is the opportunity to bring AsiaRooms out and take competitors head-on. He has not been impressed by any of the marketing activities of competitors from the big four (Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and Priceline). "There is nothing they have done that made me say Wow".

Was interesting to finally hear a (confident) voice from AsiaRooms and one not afraid to admit to the reputation. He acknowledged that AsiaRooms broke a lot of the pricing rules in the past (and maybe that they still do) but is now looking to invest in brand and customer satisfaction (heck they even have a facebook fan page now!).

So what do you think? The consumer forums still don’t paint a pretty picture for AsiaRooms but the company is claiming a lot of changes since 2005. Either way the Asian online travel market war has moved to a different level.

Comments on the BOOT posts older than 14 days on pause cause of spam attack

Sorry to all but have had to limit comments on posts older than 14 days due to a massive spam attacked. Was hit with a spam comment every few seconds. More than 100 before I caught it and locked comments. Blogger only allows for comment deletion one and a time so very annoying to wipe off the spam mess. Will hopefully be able to fully turn comments back on soon.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Travelocity to remove air ticket fees on 31 March: the razor blade model and online travel

Back in December 2002 Travelocity announced that it had joined the industry trend for fees on airline tickets by introducing a modest $5 fee (original CNET story). Six or so years later, the WSJ has the story that fees will be removed on airline tickets by Travelocity starting 31 March. As I mentioned in the post on Expedia's decision to do the same, the industry is changed forever by this move. The media model will get a boost from this decision and become more important. So do the produce efforts around cross sell.

I recall in the early days of airline commission reductions and online hotel sales (around 2000, 2001). The industry was a-buzz with analogies for describing the new models taking hold. Milk at the back of the store" and the "would you like fries & a coke with that" were being used by online travel strategists as we planned moves to following offline retailers into the world of cross sell and margin managementl. The message being that the low margin product (air/milk/burger) was the lure to sell the high margin product (hotel/candy/post mix soda).

Now I believe that the airline ticket business in online travel is more like the Razor Blade/Razor model. This is where component one of a product (razor/polaroid camera/game console/air ticket) is sold at a loss to drive sales of the second component of a product (razor blade/film/game/hotel). With this model change comes substantive industry change.

thanks to B Tal over at flickr for the gnome shot

Friday, March 13, 2009

Proving an Airline Depression - Top three reasons you know the airline industry is screwed (for a while)

Three things I noticed recently that really prove it is hell on earth for airlines:
  1. Air New Zealand agreed to pay commission on fuel surcharges. Finally proving what we have all known, that fuel surcharges were a complete travel agent income denying scam and that airlines are getting more and more desperate to find ways to convince travel agents to shift share;
  2. 2008 compared to 2007, Cathay Pacific carried 7.3% more passengers, generated 14.9% more revenue but lost US$1.1 billion. How is that for a collection of numbers; and
  3. In 1990 I bought my first long haul airline ticket with my own money. A European round trip ticket from Sydney on Qantas to go backpacking. Cost A$2,100. In 2009 a close friend bought seats for him, his wife and two sons round trip from Sydney to Los Angeles on Qantas. Cost A$2,700. 1 person 17,000 kms, 19 years ago for just $600 less than 4 tickets to go 12,000kms . Given the inflation rate, $2,700 in 2009 is less than $2,100 in 1990.
What have you seen?

thanks to temp13rec for the photo

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Plane landing on water animation with voices - US Airways - 1549

Tower "which runway would you like in
Airline "we are going to be in the Hudson"

Tower "say again"
(all in the calmest voices imaginable)

This is a must watch animation of the landing of US Airways flight 1549 in the Hudson with the actual verbal exchanges between the tower and the aircraft. Video includes animated Geese. Voices prove that the pilot was/is the calmest man in the world. I have made calls to my wife telling here I will be late for a dinner date that have been more stressful. Can a plane land on water? Yes it can....!

Thanks to TechCrunch

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Travel Discovery, Triporati and the music business

Through post commentators and email exchanges with readers I have been thinking about whether or not we should be classifying all the travel content, planning, community and search sites that have emerged in the last year. Classification will help to identify competitor sets, clarify business models and help with predictions as to who will be the winners and losers. Also we need something to differentiate all the companies that have launched since 2006 with the word 'trip' in their name.

The first category I have decided to turn my attention to is "Travel Discovery & Inspiration". These are companies that help with the very first part of trip planning - coming up with the inspiration for where you want to go and what you want to do. That help the potential traveller narrow down a world of opportunities and possibilities into a basket of ideas to be explored and researched further. Another reason I want to start with this category is that I have been thinking about the general area of web supported discovery for some time now.

At WebItTravel 2008 in Singapore last October, Ram
Badrinathan of PhoCusWright asked me to name my three favourite start ups. One of those I highlighted was not a travel company (and is not even a start-up any more). I talked to him about music social network and discovery site last.fm. Last.fm is the best product I know for discovering music. It tracks the music you listen to, then looks around for other last.fm users that listen to the same music. Then it recommends tracks to you that people listen to who like the music you like. In effect it crowd sources music recommendations based on the similarity of your music tastes with others in the network. A great manifestation of this is your ability to listen to a 'neighbours' radio station. A neighbour being someone with similar tastes to yours and their radio station being a collection of their favourite songs.

Last.fm's chief rival, Pandora, has the same aim - helping you discover new music- but instead of using crowd recommendations like last.fm Pandora has teams devoted to the genomics of music (Music Genome Project). That is breaking down a song or artist into the elements or themes ('genes') and matching to artists or songs with similar genomics.

While they approach it in different ways the concept is the same - bringing to the web and technology the power of word of mouth and trusted advice as a tool in pre-purchase discovery.

The applications to travel are clear. Helping consumers to answer questions of "where to go next?" and "help me find somewhere to go" through networking with other consumers or expert fed technology based query engines.

Triporati is a company that has really impressed me in their efforts to undertake a Travel Genome Project and build a query engine for recommending travel destinations. I first came across Triporati at PhoCusWright 2008 in LA where they participated in the Travel Innovation Summit. They made the short list of six (out of thirty two) at that conference as well as being one of my picks for a top six spot.

Triporati was launched by online travel industry founding fathers/mothers Jim Hornthal (Chairman) and Sharlene Wang (Chief Product Officer). I call them that as they were the builders of Preview Travel, who's sale to Travelocity in March 2000 (announced in Oct 1999, closed in Mar 200o) marked the beginning of online travel as a serious economic force (and temporarily consolidated Travelocity's early lead in online travel). Like Pandora did with music Hornthal and Wang have drawn from travel writers and experts to identify 62 elements of choosing a destination. A user selects (and ranks) up to ten of the elements that interest them
and some other data (like home airport and number of travellers). Triporati recommends destination options. For example I chose a number of beach, swimming and snorkelling themes. Recommended for AsiaPac were Fiji, Tahiti and Queensland. For Europe Gran Canaria, Catalonia and the Italian Lakes Region. None of this is surprising but then I know the areas well and generating recommendations on sea, sun and sand is not that challenging. But in regions and search combinations that I am less familiar with I was presented with destinations and travel ideas that were new to me and intriguing. For example, selecting "Wine Tasting", "Zoo" and "Foreign Languages" I was presented with the Cuyo region in Argentina - near the border with Chile - which sounds amazing.

I have been trying to find others in the content/planning model that have followed this Travel Discovery & Inspiration path in using destination idea generation as the means for taking travellers down the trip planning (and therefore eyeball monetisation) path. There are plenty of sites using combinations of editorial and user generated content to provide advice and recommendations on what to do in a (known) destination but I have yet to come across another like Triporati which recommends destinations based on broad traveller . I did come across want2bethere.com in an email exchange last year and in 2007. They claimed to be working on technology that allowed a customer to outline the requirements they were looking for in a trip (through drag and drop), which would then be matched to recommended destinations. Unfortunately their website now seems to be down.

What do you think of my first efforts at classification? Do you know of other companies building discovery engines like Triporati (and last.fm/Pandora in the music world)?

FYI is an interview with Triporati Chairman
Jim Hornthal at PhoCusWright last November.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Q4 for Priceline, Expedia and Orbitz care of Seeking Alpha

Once again - if you are struggling to keep up with who made how much in online travel in Q4 Sramana Mitra at Seeking Alpha has done all the hard work for you. Her post "Online Travel: Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz" summarises the announcements and resulting share movements for each of EXPE, PCLN and OWW. Is this week's BOOT recommended read.

Photo from @jasoncalacanis

I still call Costa Brava Home...when is Perth Australia walking distance to the Mediterranean

If you haven't see it yet, check out the article over at Times online Costa Brava Pyrenees Tourism authority was caught using a stock image of a beach in Western Australia as part of their marketing campaign. Makes sense. You would not want to chose an East Coast image (ie Sydney) because it would be too much effort to have to photoshop out all the shark fins swimming in the water.

Advertising campaign for Costa Brava tourist board that was actually shot on a beach in Australia (Photo Jacobs Stock Photography/Getty/La Vanguardia)
(Jacobs Stock Photography/Getty/La Vanguardia) (Perth on the left, Costa Brava Advert on the right)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

No Vacancy Conference Sydney March 19

NV09: Innovation, Distribution, Inspiration
MartinKelly of TravelTrends has been kind enough to offer me a media pass to attend the No Vacancy accommodation industry conference in Sydney on March 19. If you are going, look out for me in the back blogging away.

Speakers include Wotif CEO Robbie Cooke, HotelClub's head of central marketing Jon Wild, Adrian Currie of Booking.com and Agoda, Cyril Ranque of Expedia and Grant Colquhoun of Travelocity/Zuji (full list here).

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Help Wanted part 2 - bringing talent retention to the recession

Exactly a year ago today I wrote a post called "Help Wanted: Finding staff in a Travel 2.0 world". The quick summary from that story was that in March 2008 it was almost impossible to fill an open head count role in the travel industry. My inbox at the time was full of job descriptions from entrepreneurs looking for referrals and notes from recruitment consultants looking for names...any name.

Now, 365 days later, saying that the world has changed is using a an over-used cliché because we have all run out of ways to describe a world economy in free fall. I could not find people to match to the opportunities because it seemed that everyone had the perfect job.

Now, my inbox contains a new email every day with a high quality resume. Top class BDMs, senior marketeers, product builders and more looking for roles after cuts and efficiency rounds. The only recruitment consultant contacting me with a job to fill (rather than a pitching for work) is looking for a role in a country that has banned Chianti, Chardonnay, Chablis, Chivas and all the other great "Ch" words.

Don't misread me. I am not turning against my own optimistic words from last September. There is no doubt that the travel industry will come through this and growth will return. But I am going to add a point to my comments from September. Initially I called the global f'n crisis (GFC) a chance for product/company innovation. I am adding to that that it is a moment for people/talent retention. If the CVs that I am seeing are an indication of the talent that is being let go then all in the industry need to take a moment and work first on retention plans during hard times rather than turning first to cutting and shedding.

thanks to Paul Photo Byrne on flikr for the photo

PS - need more proof of the GFC? China just announced a 20 million increase in the unemployment rate - effectively the entire population of Australia.

PPS - looks like my week long break from blogging lasted a day. Finally found some late night time to rejoin the blogerati.

BOOT on Pause - work is calling - back around 12/13 March

I need to take a week off from the BOOT to focus on a very busy work period. Will be back around March 12/133 with some posts on discovery and content sites, mobile apps, interviews and more. See you then

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Seat Review - Singapore International Business (Raffles) Class

This week took me to Singapore for time with Asian based team members. Was my first opportunity to try out the (now not so) new Singapore Airlines International Business Class (or Raffles Class if you prefer). On the homeward leg I also had my first chance to fly the over-hyped Airbus A380.

I say over-hyped because I find the reactions of the passengers dumbfounding and a confirmation that great PR can convince the world of absolutely anything. At the heart of this PR blitz is to convince people that this is something different about the A380. I don’t see it. As human beings we are used to air travel and we are used to it in very big aircraft with lots of people. The SQ A380 only takes about 15-20% more passengers than the largest configuration of the 747. But the PR spin around the A380 has convinced travellers that something different is happening. People are shuffling with excitement at the gate before boarding, pausing on the gangway to take photographs, giggling with amazement that there are split levels for boarding and so forth. Yet at its heart it is just an airplane. Sure it is a little bigger and sure it is a little quieter but really it is just a plane. Anyway – back to the seat review.

Singapore business class remains a benchmark for the industry. The atte

ntion to detail from the staff is second to none. The smooth and diligent processes they have set up for managing the flow of food, entertainment and service perfectly matched my needs. But (and this is a big but) I don’t like the new seat. It is significantly wider than any business class seat in the sky. However the trade off on width has somehow had an impact on length. For a person who is more than 180 centre meters length of the seat is everything. Sleeping was better than sitting but I struggled to find the comfort levels that the old seat used to provide.

The BOOT rating for Singapore International Business Class is a 5 stars out of 6 or "Great Seat". Here is the detailed review
(Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews)

Getting on Board

Score 1.0

As a biz class boarder it is always a joy to be able to sweep your way on board without queuing. All the major airlines have provided a dedicated channel for business class passengers but Singapore Airlines has managed to improve this process will a simple technique stolen from Walt Disney and your local bank. The gate queues in Sydney (both economy and premium) are separated by snake like marked out areas using ropes and poles. A simple thing but is makes the boarding process easier and faster for all.

The Seat

Score 0.5

If you read the description and saw the photos your expectations are that the new “mega seat” should be a hit. It is wide, it converts to a bed and has buttons and compartments for everything (including a do not disturb sign). But as wide and interactive as the seat is, it does not feel long enough. I could not get comfortable sitting. I always felt like I had to contort my legs into unnatural positions. When it came to sleeping it was like they were squeezing a herring bone experience out of a standard forward facing seat. By herringbone I mean the angular seating you see on Virgin-Atlantic Upper Class and the new Cathay Pacific business class. This meant I was sleeping on an angle on a straight seat. It felt odd and impacted on my rest. Unfortunately I think the new seats are a mistake. They are not a disaster but I now rank the BA, CX, VS, QF (flat) and old style SQ seats above this new seat.

The Service

Score 1.0

The attentiveness of the staff is world class. I feel they are completely committed to me enjoying the flight. The processes they have set up support meeting your needs quickly. Drink orders are taken before take off, ensuring speedy delivery of the first beverage after take off. Regular visits with water come without prompting or reminding. I have heard some criticise SQ staff as being too robotic and not being able to respond to out of the ordinary request. I have not found this. I love that each time I turn around looking for service it is there. Whenever I press the button for service someone appears. That I never seem to have to ask for a drink as the staff always seem to get to me first to ask me what I would like. Service is a nearly unmatched area of success for SQ.

The Food

Score 0.5

Fine. Good. Enjoyable. No Complaints. But (could you sense the “but” coming), it is not as good as it should be. Like all the big airlines, SQ opens their menu/dinner story with the names of their consultant chiefs. They list some of the most famous chefs in the world including Matthew Moran, Sam Leong, Gordon Ramsay, George Blanc and more. As a result you have expectations of the food being world class. Unforgettable. Unmatchable. But instead the food is (just) good. At times I found the food too complicated. Meaning that the flavours either did not match the description or there were too many flavours on the plate and they conflicted with each other. Not a strength.

The Entertainment

Score 1.0

If the measure for victory in the in-flight entertainment battle was the number of options, then Singapore Airlines would win by knock-out. Listed they have 112 movies, 181 TV shows and some 740 CDs available for video on demand. These numbers overstate the choice a little because some of the options are niche or targeted to specific audiences (ie 5 Musicals and 8 Operas listed in the movies option). But there is plenty to choose from and the system is easy to navigate. If I could find one area of criticism it would be that while there are an extra-ordinarily large number of TV shows to choose from I miss the great feature from Cathay where they carry a whole season of a show like “24” rather than just single episodes. The screen is enormous and the resolution near perfect – I am constantly amazed on competitor products how often I have to turn the contrast/brightness up to maximum yet am still unable to see all that is going on.

The BOOT factor

Score 1.0

Many examples of unexpected twists that heighten the experience. The iPod dock allowing me to land with a fully charged iPod. The large supply of magazines brought round to me rather than having to be found scattered around the aircraft. The size of the bathrooms, enabling me to get changed into comfortable clothes without needing to contort myself in a cramped and damp environment. These add so much to the enjoyment of the flight.

Final Score

5.0 - Good Seat

Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews

Thanks to alex-s over at Flickr for the photo