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On his recent round-the-world trip, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen made a quick stop in Bali. To get there from Hong Kong, he flew Singapore Airlines economy via Singapore. Here’s his review of the experience.
Until my recent trip around the world, the last time I flew Singapore Airlines was back in 1992 when I went to Asia for the first time as a kid. So when I found out I would be flying Singapore again from Hong Kong to Bali via Singapore, I was interested to see what the experience would be like over two decades later.
The flight from Hong Kong to Singapore is just under 3 hours, and the subsequent flight from Singapore to Bali is about 2 hours, so with a 90-minute layover I was looking at about 6.5 hours of travel. Both segments of my flight were aboard 777-200’s that Singapore Airlines operates regionally.
On the Ground
In Hong Kong, I arrived at the Airport Express train station in Central just under two hours before my flight, checked my suitcase directly at the station at the airline’s desk, and got my boarding pass printed out. The agent there had a sign saying the last possible baggage check time was 80 minutes before my flight was supposed to depart, so I had plenty of time.
The ride to the airport took just over 20 minutes and cost 100HKD ($12.90), which I think is a great selling point to spending a stopover in the city, and I walked right off the train into the terminal and to security. I had to pass an immigrations checkpoint, which only took a few minutes, and then I was at my leisure in the airport.
The flight began to board about 30 minutes before departure time, and was basically a free-for-all after business class had boarded. I waited until the line had subsided and then made my way onto the plane. It always mystifies me how Asian airlines loading up big planes like this one – after all, it’s capable of crossing oceans, and many US airlines fly the 777-200 on their premium international routes – can get all the passengers onboard so quickly and efficiently with seemingly no system in place, while US carriers can’t seem to board a 737 in less than 40 minutes!
The plane was configured with a business class cabin up front with 30 angled lie-flat seats in a 2 x 2 x 2 arrangement, and two economy class cabins with a total of 255 seats in a 3 x 3 x 3 configuration. Each economy seat had a pillow and blanket waiting on it. I rarely use these when I fly, but both my flights were freezing. I’m almost never cold on an airplane (I usually bring a hoodie along just in case, but I was bundled up by the time we got to Singapore.
The seats have 32 inches of pitch and are 17.5 inches wide. By contrast, American Airlines’ 777-200 economy seats have 31-32 inches of pitch and are 18 inches wide. Each seat had its own 9-inch entertainment screen controlled by a handheld console in the armrest, and offered over 100 channels of movies and television in several languages. Flight attendants handed out headsets during boarding, so you could start watching as soon as you sat down. The odd thing was, these weren’t video on demand (VOD) systems, so the programs ran on a loop and you would jump in during the middle of a movie. If you wanted to start at the beginning, you would have to rewind all the way.
I watched The Grand Budapest Hotel, but my screen had issues and kept skipping. I told the head flight attendant about it as she happened to walk by; she checked on it for me and tried restarting it, but said that my seat was known to have that issue. There was nowhere else for me to move, so I was stuck there, but she asked if she could bring me a glass of wine or anything as a consolation. I said no, but figured I could ask for miles in a customer complaint after my flight if I wanted to.
After the cabin doors were closed, flight attendants came by with hot towels (I might or might not have used mine to wipe down my armrests and table in addition to my hands!), and then passed out a selection of water, orange juice and beer as soon as we were up in the air.
About 30 minutes into the flight, meal service started. The flight attendants began by serving the special meals, and then brought around lunch. The flight departed at about 2:45 pm, so it was really a mid-afternoon meal, but I was hungry. There were even two choices to select from.
The “international menu” started with a Waldorf salad, with beef goulash and vegetables over pasta as a main dish, then cheese and crackers and ice cream. The “oriental selection” started with marinated conch and cucumber salad, stir-fried chicken with ginger and spring onion over steamed rice, Chinese snack crackers and ice cream. I went with the Asian menu, which turned out to be mediocre. I only ate a few bites of each item because it wasn’t very interesting. Still, I appreciated not only having a choice, but also being served a full, hot meal on a three-hour flight.
For beverage service, the airline offered the usual selection of soft drinks and water, as well as a signature Singapore Sling cocktail (I didn’t see anyone order it, though), a few French wines including a Chardonnay and red Bordeaux, spirits and Singha beer.
Meal service lasted about an hour total and the rest of the flight was quiet, with one more beverage service before landing. We got to the gate right on time, and I was off the plane, onto the airport shuttle train and at my new terminal within 10 minutes.
The Second Flight
My second flight, though shorter, went pretty much the same: hectic but quick boarding process, the same plane and configuration, hot towels and headsets, and meal service starting about a half-hour in. This time there were no printed menus, but there was a choice of a fish curry or spicy beef with steamed rice and curried vegetables, which I chose. The tray also came with a side of marinated, grilled vegetables with smoked salmon and a pistachio cream cake. The meal was again average, but it tided me over until I could reach my hotel in Bali and get something more substantial.
All in all I would say my experience on Singapore was pretty great. It was a total of about 5 hours of flying time, and it was all really pleasant. Its strange boarding such a big plane for short flights like these, but it’s nice being on the larger aircraft since they feel more spacious and comfortable. The service was impeccable – polite and efficient, perhaps a little aloof, though with a few smiles sprinkled in. I also really liked having actual meal service and (on my second flight) an entertainment system with tons of options.
I’ll definitely rank Singapore as a top airline choice for flights within Asia on future trips (and I actually flew their business class from Singapore to Copenhagen a few weeks after this trip as part of my award ticket, and had another great experience). In fact, I’ve been studying their award chart pretty thoroughly since the announcement in May that its Krisflyer program had become the 11th Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner for cardholders of the Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold and/or Ink Plus.
I only wish US airlines could match this level of service and ease when operating domestic flights. It would make flying fun again.
Have you flown Singapore Airlines within Asia recently? How was your experience?