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


Anonymous said...

Your Boot fans at Wego headquarters in Singapore are very upset that you did not pop in to say hello:)

Tim Hughes said...

@wegoers I wish I had time. I was there for 3 days and left the hotel for a some total of 4 hours. Felt like I was locked in a (very nice, 5 star) cage. Next time I promise

Anonymous said...

I love flying by singapore airlines. It's really the only way to fly. If you are new to visiting singapore, you might want to check out this singapore tourism guide online. Lists all the places that you should visit and what you should try out.