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At the end of a long-weekend trip to Singapore, a nearly 22,000-mile round-trip from his home in NYC, TPG Editor-in-Chief Zach Honig decided to try out Singapore Airlines’ one-stop service from Changi Airport (SIN) to New York (JFK). Here’s his review of business class on the 21+ hour flight.
Last week, I had an opportunity to fly on United’s inaugural flight 1 — a 16-hour nonstop haul from San Francisco (SFO) to Singapore (SIN) on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. As I had booked the flight as a round-trip, I was planning to fly United back to SFO and then to my home in New York City, but after some careful consideration I opted to book a one-way flight in Singapore Airlines’ A380 business class instead, changing my nonrefundable United return to early next year (at which point I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to try United’s new Polaris “soft product” with the existing 787 seat).
My last long-haul flight on Singapore Airlines was actually on one of the carrier’s final nonstops from Newark to Singapore, back in November of 2013, which I reviewed for Engadget. That flight offered nearly identical business-class seats to what I flew on the A380, and was operated by the Airbus A340-500, which Singapore no longer has in its fleet. The airline plans to relaunch nonstop service once it receives the Airbus A350-900ULR in 2018, but for now Singapore offers service on the A380 with a stop in Frankfurt in each direction, which adds several hours of travel time.
While the obvious comparison to United’s new route would be to Singapore’s 777-300ER flight from SIN to Hong Kong to San Francisco, which features the airline’s latest business-class seat, UA’s new nonstop is an arguably better option than a one-stop flight on SQ, so I instead decided to fly directly to New York, where Singapore still has the edge when it comes to total travel time. Unfortunately, the JFK flight only offers Singapore’s older business-class seat, since the replacement has yet to make its way to the A380. Still, the airline’s 1-2-1 business class is incredibly roomy, offering a more comfortable (and much more private) ride overall, compared to any other carrier with NYC-SIN service.
To give you an idea of just how long this journey felt, I’m going to include one image for every 10 minutes I spent on this A380 — so a total of 128 (including the two above) for the 21 hours and 15 minutes of “flying” time.
Booking Singapore Business Class
Given that this was such a last-minute booking (I began looking into options just 24 hours before my original United flight was scheduled to depart), I was hoping that I’d be able to find last-minute award availability on at least one of Singapore’s routes to the US. Unfortunately nothing popped up, and with business class nearly completely sold out, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase the one-way ticket at the jaw-dropping price of $5,483. I ended up saving $50 or so by booking via Orbitz rather than directly via Singapore’s website, plus I earned about $105 in Orbucks. If it weren’t for Orbitz’s lower price and the opportunity to earn Orbucks (which I’m planning to redeem for an upcoming hotel stay), I would have booked directly with SQ and paid with my Amex Premier Rewards Gold card to earn 3x points on airfare.
My flight booked into “C” class, so I earned 125% redeemable miles plus 100% elite-qualifying miles with United — roughly 11,917 redeemable miles and 9,533 EQMs, based on the nonstop distance from Singapore to JFK (as this is sold as a “direct” flight).
Unfortunately United doesn’t sell Singapore flights to and from the US. If it had, I would have booked through United to earn PQDs and 11x miles per dollar spent (based on my Premier 1K status). Based on the pre-tax fare of $5,161, I would have netted a whopping 56,771 United miles, rather than the 11,917 or so I actually earned — a rare opportunity to actually come out (far) ahead with the new revenue program.
Meanwhile, if award seats had been available, I would have needed to redeem just 72,250 KrisFlyer miles plus about $330, netting me about 7.13 cents per mile in value. TPG values Singapore miles at 1.5 cents each, so this would have been a tremendous deal. It would have even made sense to transfer valuable Ultimate Rewards points — I have plenty those available, thanks to my Chase Sapphire Preferred card. Unfortunately (or fortunately, since I had already made my purchase), award seats never opened up — even just a few hours before departure — though I did notice that there were several empty seats on both flights. Unfortunately, it generally isn’t possible to redeem partner miles for business or first class on Singapore’s long-haul flights.
Of the 86 flat-bed seats spanning the A380’s entire upper deck, there were about 10 seats available to select once my reservation had completed ticketing — about 2 hours after I booked. Fortunately, one window seat was still available — 96A, in the very last row. Normally I’d do my best to avoid sitting in the “very back,” but I didn’t have to worry about limited recline or galley noise here. Seat 96A also happens to be a bulkhead seat, since there’s an exit door just behind row 95, which meant I’d have much more room for my feet (more on that below). It’s only possible to select one seat for the entire trip, so you’ll only see seats that are available for both legs.
Once I picked my seat, I selected my “Book the Cook” meals, which need to be reserved 24 hours in advance of departure. Singapore’s Book the Cook provides a seemingly endless number of main course options — rather than opting for a generic “vegetarian” or “Hindu” offering, you can select your actual entrée for each meal. Here’s the list of options from Singapore, and here’s what you can choose flying out of Frankfurt (I got to pick two meals from each list).
My 21+ hour “direct” flight including four full meal services — that’s a tremendous amount of food for less than a day of flying. You can see my picks below:
My reservation also included two free bags (up to 32kg or 70 pounds each), but I only had a small rolling bag given the short duration of my trip to Singapore.
Exploring Changi Airport
Given how fantastic Singapore’s Changi Airport is, I decided to arrive at Terminal 3 with plenty of time to explore the airport and lounge.
I made it to the check-in area around 9:30pm (for an 11:55pm departure) and I had my boarding pass a minute or so after that. I didn’t receive a printable boarding pass, so the kiosk stop was a must. I also reviewed the seat map to see if the seats next to me were still open (they were). Interestingly, my boarding pass only listed Singapore to New York — there was no reference to Frankfurt.
After a very brief wait at immigration, I headed to one of Changi’s spotless restrooms before making my way to the lounge. The airport offers plenty of opportunities to provide feedback, from immigration to the restrooms (though I might avoid using the touchscreen at a public toilet).
I then headed to the SilverKris business-class lounge, located up one level just to the left of immigration.
The lounge was very crowded, but there was still plenty of seating available. SQ offers three types of lounges at SIN: a KrisFlyer Gold Lounge (accessible to economy passengers with Star Alliance Gold status), the SilverKris Lounge (which offers separate first and business-class sections) and the Private Room (accessible to Singapore Airlines Suites and first-class passengers).
I walked around for a few minutes to get a feel for the layout — I’ve visited when flying United business class before, but this was my first time accessing the business lounge before a long-haul Singapore flight.
The highlight is probably the large buffet spread, with a huge range of Asian and Western dishes.
I sampled some fish ball noodle soup, stir fry pork with rice noodles, tuna and cucumber sushi and a mini pizza. All of the food was decent, but it wasn’t nearly as good as what I enjoyed on board.
The one very disappointing thing about the lounge is that I found it impossible to get connected to the Wi-Fi. None of the open networks would let me connect, despite multiple attempts.
Fortunately, that left me with plenty of time to do other things — like check out the showers. There are a handful of showers available, and even though the lounge was nearly at capacity, I managed to get a shower room after waiting for only a minute or two.
Each shower room (like the main restroom) offers a basket of amenities, including a shaving kit and toothbrush.
The shower itself was fine, but the water pressure wasn’t fantastic and the soap dispenser had seen better days. The room itself was also quite small — I had to rest my luggage right next to the door, which made opening and closing it a bit challenging.
After a quick shower, I decided to head back downstairs and get some exercise before boarding my never-ending adventure to the other side of the world.
Even if you don’t have lounge access, there’s no shortage of free things to do at Changi. There’s a dedicated movie screening room upstairs, plus several of these TV viewing areas throughout the terminal.
There’s also a butterfly garden — I’ve seen plenty of butterflies there during the day, but they all seemed to be hiding at night.
I did see one butterfly — but just one — so after that I headed back inside.
Note that the butterfly garden is located in a fenced-off area outside, so it’s usually pretty muggy, even at night.
Gate B2 and Boarding the A380
About an hour before departure, I headed to our gate area (B2). On the way, I spotted our A380 hiding behind a much smaller Airbus A330.
One fairly unique aspect of Changi is that security screening is handled at the gate area — there was one checkpoint for B2 and several of the nearby gates. There was a fairly long line when I arrived, but apparently several of the other passengers were traveling on flights later in the evening, so they were being turned away at the front. I saw this happen to at least a dozen passengers during the two or so minutes it took me to get through security, so the airport could probably benefit from some better signage.
After I passed through security, I headed straight to the gate agent to explain that I was a photographer and inquire about early boarding. She told me to stay nearby and she’d let me know if the crew approved my request. In the meantime, I snapped a few photos of the gate area (to establish my credibility, of course), at which point I noticed that our SIN-FRA-JFK flight was actually a JetBlue codeshare (JetBlue flight 5306 — pretty cool!).
About 10 minutes later, I was invited to board early — about five minutes before the other passengers, which gave me plenty of time to explore the plane. I headed straight to the business-class jet bridge, which offers direct access to the upper deck.
As I approached the boarding door, I noticed a tray with a diverse selection of reading materials, including local and international newspapers.
The flight attendants were all smiles from the moment they first spotted me. It was immediately clear that this was going to be a great flight.
One flight attendant escorted me all the way back to my seat and even offered to roll my bag so I could snap some photos as we walked.
A380 Business-Class Cabin
Singapore’s A380 business-class cabin is gigantic, taking up the entire upper deck. There isn’t a business-class bar, unfortunately, as you’d find on some carriers, like Emirates, Etihad and Korean Air — instead, it’s just a ton of seats (86 in total). Singapore also operates another A380 configuration with just 60 business-class seats (and an extra 88 in economy).
Seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, so every passenger has direct aisle access.
As you can see, the seats alternate between beige and dark brown leather.
Each seat has a 15.4-inch TV, which is actually on the smaller side for business class these days (but matches United’s BusinessFirst offering).
There are two pillows waiting at each seat, along with a mattress pad and comforter (which you’ll find on the fold-down bed — more on that below).
The pillows are very comfortable, and having two of them available is definitely a nice perk for such a long flight.
Personally, I prefer the beige-colored seats, but that shouldn’t make much of a difference.
My row — 96 — was unique in that it was located in a sort of tiny mini-cabin, consisting of just four seats located just behind the rear door. I was very happy with my selection.
The seat next to mine (96D) ended up being occupied, though 96F was not. As you can see, all the seats in this row have a large fold-down “foot shelf.”
All non-bulkhead seats have a much smaller foot cubby, so I’d grab a bulkhead seat if you can.
Window seats also offer two storage bins, which I found to be an enormous help, given that the seat offers very little storage otherwise.
A380 Economy Cabin
The main business-class galley was located just behind my seat, but I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures there. Instead, I headed down the rear staircase to check out coach.
This particular A380 consisted of 311 economy seats spread between three cabins. Each seat has a 10.6-inch touchscreen in-flight entertainment system, plus USB and AC power.
Economy seats are arranged in a 3-4-3 configuration, so there are a lot of middle seats.
Seats in rows 31, 44 and 55 (pictured here) offer tons of extra legroom, as they’re located just behind the exit doors.
Coach seats have at least 32 inches of pitch — Asiana, by comparison, offers 33 inches on its A380.
While you probably won’t be terribly comfortable after 12+ hours in a middle seat, there is a fair amount of room to stand up and stretch out near the lavatories and exit doors.
And there’s also the spiral staircase at the back of the cabin, of course, but you probably won’t make it more than a step or two before a flight attendant intervenes — unless you’re on the A380 config with an economy cabin at the back of the upper deck.
Overall, economy looks fine, but where Singapore really shines is upstairs.
I was happy to return to my seat, where I still had a minute or two to shoot before other business-class passengers began to arrive.
Each business-class seat is a gigantic 30 inches wide, with 55 inches of pitch — by comparison, the first-class seats I flew on Thai Airways just a few months ago measured 26.5 inches wide. There’s no other way to put it — these are huge seats.
As I mentioned, window seats have two storage bins, which is fantastic.
Each seat had noise-canceling headphones in a plastic pouch, located in a special compartment. Also worth noting is the fact that seat belts have an integrated airbag, which can make the belt feel fairly heavy and bulky.
One of the few integrated storage areas is a wide literature pouch, which included the in-flight magazine, a duty free catalog and a menu that covered the entire trip (Singapore to Frankfurt to New York).
As you may notice, seat controls are limited to raising and lowering the legrest and reclining slightly — there’s no button to lie the seat flat (I’ll explain why a bit later). There are also dedicated buttons for the overhead light, a flight attendant call (and cancel) button and a button to illuminate the Do Not Disturb sign.
As for connectivity, there are two USB ports and a universal power outlet, located just below a compartment you can use to store your smartphone, glasses and other small items.
Unfortunately there aren’t any overhead air vents, so you’re at the mercy of the flight attendants when it comes to temperature — fortunately they kept the cabin fairly moderate (not too warm but not too cool).
Each seat has a small privacy partition at the side, but it’s still possible to see all the way across the aisle without leaning forward.
Bulkhead seats (such as mine) include this awesome fold-down shelf, which provided quite a bit of room to stretch out my legs.
And here’s the seat in bed mode. One thing you’ll either love or hate about these seats is that the back panel folds forward to present the lie-flat bed. That makes it easy for flight attendants to prepare your seat when it’s time to catch some shut-eye, but unfortunately the design limits the seat recline — rather than positioning your seat at full upright, full flat or anywhere in between, this version of Singapore’s seat only lets you sit upright, recline a bit or be fully flat in bed mode.
I opted to put my seat into bed mode when I was feeling a bit tired and just propped myself up with the pillows. It wasn’t quite as comfortable as it could have been, but it did the trick. I will say that the footwell cutout (to the right in the picture below) did get in the way, limiting the seat’s versatility somewhat.
So, what about the amenity kit? Well, there isn’t one, and you might find that to be a bit odd. I didn’t really mind, since I already own a lifetime supply of premium-cabin kits, but if you’re new to business class, this could be a reason for you to opt for Suites class or another airline altogether.
Singapore does offer nearly everything you’d find in an amenity kit a la carte — toothbrushes and shaving kits are in the lavatories, for example, and flight attendants pass out eye masks, socks and slippers — but if you’re on the hunt for a bona fide kit, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
Speaking of the lavs, they were spotless every time I visited. It was clear that the flight attendants came in to freshen them up very often.
“My” lavatory (the one located just behind my seat) was open nearly every time I checked — most passengers used the forward lavatories rather than those at the rear, it seemed.
You probably won’t believe this, but this is how the bathroom looked more than 10 hours into the first flight. Spotless!
The sink was kept very clean as well — if the flight attendants weren’t keeping it tidy, then I suppose the passengers were.
Back at the seat, it’s time to check out the IFE. Tucked under the armrest was a standard wired controller, with dedicated buttons for several sections of the entertainment system, along with play/stop/pause buttons and an LCD with a programming and flight-time remaining indicator.
The IFE system offered a large variety of new release and older films. During the flight, I watched Whiskey Tango Foxtrot and 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.
I also spent a lot of time watching the airshow.
The IFE screen is positioned a bit higher up at the bulkhead seats, but you can tilt it down (by pressing the release button at the top of the display).
As our flight was passing through Germany, the safety demos and in-flight announcements were made in English and German (but not Chinese, as they were on the United flight).
One very annoying thing about the IFE is that several static and video advertisements play before every movie and TV show, such as this ad for Club Carlson below:
A warning pops up before content begins — note the warning about “Aircraft Issues” that rolled just before Whiskey Tango Foxtrot began playing.
The IFE also has a nice selection of Singapore Airlines content, including this video about the Airbus A350 delivery flight:
As you can see, the display looks fairly small when you’re sitting up in “bed mode.”
Oh, and the provided headphones are actually pretty terrible — I opted to use my Bose QuietComfort 25s instead, but as you can see below, the only way I could get the audio to play on both sides was to insert the connector and then pull it out a bit.
Singapore also offers Wi-Fi on its A380s, but it’s provided by OnAir, so it’s sluggish and very expensive. I purchased a 30MB package for $12.99 — unfortunately the larger package didn’t appear until after I had used up my 30MB.
The performance was horrendous, even just after takeoff over Frankfurt — I imagine very few people were logged on at that point.
I ran one speed test and used up nearly 9MB of data. I decided to hit pause and save the rest for later in the flight, but when I connected a few hours later all my data had been consumed.
If you’ve managed to work through all of the movies and TV shows (and you’ve given up on Wi-Fi, as you probably should), there are always magazines.
I also entertained myself for at least 10% of the flight by looking out the window.
Food and Beverage (Singapore to Frankfurt)
I also kept busy by stuffing my face — four times (plus a snack) during the 21+ hour trek. The in-flight service began with a pre-departure beverage in Singapore, consisting of Champagne, orange juice and apple juice.
I went for the Champagne, which I positioned on the drink table for this obligatory boarding pass shot.
The menu was quite lengthy — all four meals were included (in both English and German), along with a snack menu (with soups and sandwiches) and an incredibly comprehensive beverage selection, with offerings ranging from a 2007 Taittinger Champagne (about $150 a bottle, if you can find it) and a 2010 Chateau Peyrabon (about $20 per bottle) to the airline’s signature Singapore Sling cocktail and Highland Park Svein whisky (about $45 per bottle).
After takeoff, I began the service with a Singapore Sling, which consists of gin, Bénédictine, orange liqueur, cherry brandy, lime, pineapple juice, bitters and Grenadine.
After that, I was served some warm nuts.
Followed by another glass of Champagne.
Soon after, a flight attendant came by to set my table for the “supper” service, which began with an appetizer of king crab with mango salsa. It was fantastic!
Each meal came with plenty of silverware, with a separate set for cheese and dessert.
I also had my first piece of garlic bread, which was flavorful but a bit harder than I would have expected.
This was followed by the lobster thermidor I ordered before the flight.
Then, for dessert, I had a raspberry cake.
That was followed by a cheese and fresh fruit cart (as you can see, the seat across the aisle ended up being occupied).
I tried a little bit of everything, including Emmenthal, garlic cream and smoked mozzarella.
After a few hours of sleep, a flight attendant noticed that I was awake and stopped by with a snack basket. I grabbed the cranberry fruit snacks so he didn’t feel bad 😉
Then, I ordered the warm panini sandwich with teriyaki pork, for photography purposes.
Fast forward a few hours and it was time for breakfast, which was served beginning about two hours before we landed in Frankfurt. I began this meal with a Bloody Mary, which was mixed perfectly — by comparison, United’s Bloody Marys usually consist of a mix with a splash of vodka on the top.
By this time, it was bright outside so I opened the window to improve the lighting a bit. (The sun mixed with the cabin hue resulted in some bluish light, so unfortunately you’ll see that in the photos below.)
My table was set for the second time during the flight, after which a flight attendant brought a fruit plate and my choice of tea. Singapore offers 14 varieties — I went for the Rooibos Red Tea from South Africa.
After that, a flight attendant brought a croissant with blueberry jam — as with the garlic bread, I was a bit underwhelmed.
Then I tried the musli, which I thought was even better than the version I had on the leg from Frankfurt.
For my main course, I had nasi lemak, which is described as “Fragrant rice cooked in coconut milk, accompanied by spicy sambal prawns, fried chicken, fried anchovies with peanuts, spicy pickled vegetables (achar), an omelette wedge and grilled fish cakes (otah).” It was fantastic. By far the best “breakfast” entree I’ve ever had on a plane.
I can still taste that spicy red sauce. So good!
Connecting at Frankfurt
After breakfast, it was time to begin our descent into foggy Frankfurt.
After an uneventful landing and taxi, we parked at the gate and all passengers (including those connecting to New York) were instructed to disembark. The connection instructions were a bit light — we were told to board no later than 10 minutes before the scheduled departure or risk being offloaded from the flight.
I followed signs to “connecting flights” — even though I was getting right back on the same plane, I still had a lengthy walk, followed by a quick (but thorough) security screening process and another long walk.
Once through security, I followed the signs to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge near our “connecting” gate. Singapore Suites and Star Alliance Gold passengers can access the Senator Lounge, while business-class passengers without status can access the (slightly less fantastic) Lufthansa business lounge.
Since I have Star Alliance Gold as part of my United 1K status, I was able to access the Senator Lounge.
The lounge seemed to have been redesigned recently, with tons and tons of seating.
In addition to the sofas above, there was bar-style seating near the buffet.
I spotted plenty of individual chairs throughout the main room.
There were also day beds available in a quiet, dark room off to the side.
And showers! I was thrilled to have a chance to shower mid-trip. Unfortunately my fellow passengers beat me to it, but I was able to access one of the many shower rooms after a 15-minute wait.
Lufthansa’s shower rooms were far superior to those available at Singapore’s Changi lounge, with fantastic water pressure and lots of space.
The sink area was also much larger — and while toothbrushes weren’t sitting out as they were with SQ, you can request one from a shower attendant.
After a quick shower, I checked out the buffet, though I certainly wasn’t hungry at this point.
I did grab a couple of pretzels to take home — they were still fresh and delicious when I arrived home more than 10 hours later.
I spent the rest of my short layover testing out the Wi-Fi — the performance was fantastic, which was much appreciated given that I had an important story to research and write.
After that, I was one of the final passengers to board.
I was quite pleased to see that the seat next to me wasn’t occupied for this leg.
Food and Beverage (Frankfurt to New York)
While there wasn’t a water bottle at my seat on the Singapore to Frankfurt flight, there was one on this leg. The crappy headphones were back in their cubby as well — I tucked those out of the way before I even sat down.
Then, more Champagne!
This was followed by another breakfast service after takeoff. The fruit wasn’t quite as fresh as what I’d had out of Singapore, but the German bread was a very nice change of pace.
As I mentioned before, I had musli again — it was still delicious, but not quite as good as what the airline catered out of Changi.
Then, for my entree, I had my Book the Cook selection of suckling pig with dark beer sauce. It was incredible! Much better than it looked (and it looked really, really good).
For dessert, I had the strawberry mousse cake.
And I know what you’re thinking now… is that it? That better be all of the food. Well, it wasn’t. There was much more.
About two hours before landing in New York, a “light lunch” was served. Honestly, I have no idea what made this lunch “light” — it was very much a full meal. I started with the marinated prawns with spicy glass noodle salad, and I finished every bite.
Then I had some more garlic bread, thinking that it might be better out of Frankfurt — it was, but only a bit. The olive bread was excellent, though.
Then, it was time for my fourth Book the Cook entree of salmon topped with cheese and an orange ginger sauce, which was served with steamed veggies and “Mississippi rice.” I had actually selected this option because of the “Mississippi rice” — I couldn’t figure out what that could be, and I’m still not quite sure. It seemed like regular steamed white rice with some wild rice mixed in. It was great, and while it didn’t feel very “Mississippi,” admittedly I’ve never been to that fine state.
Then, my favorite desert of all — Belgian chocolate Haagen Dazs with berry compote.
So. Much. Food.
This was a tremendously long time to spend on the same airplane. It was a great experience all around, yes, but I was definitely wasn’t eager to get back on after we landed in Frankfurt. The seats were huge and the bed was comfortable (more so for sleeping than relaxing), but holy crap was this a long trek.
So how did Singapore 26 compare to United 1? Believe it or not, there are pros and cons to each, which I’ll explore in more detail in a future post. I much preferred the food and beverage options on Singapore, and the flight attendants were incredibly responsive and generally very friendly, but United’s 787-9 is a brand-new plane — it’s smaller, yes, but superior overall. And Singapore’s Wi-Fi may be a total deal breaker for sure.
Again, I’ll be digging in much deeper shortly, but in the meantime, I think the United vs. Singapore debate comes down to a few things:
- Convenience — From NYC and Houston, Singapore’s one-stop options likely make more sense, but that isn’t necessarily the case from other cities in the US. And if flying somewhere other than San Francisco, I’d also rather use my stop there to clear immigration than waste time in an airport lounge (though Global Entry makes immigration a breeze).
- Price — Paid business-class fares are nearly identical, starting at around $4,500 round-trip from anywhere in the US to Singapore.
- Mileage earning — With paid business class, you’ll do far better with United’s revenue-based earning scheme, and upgrades may be easier to come by for top-tier elites, too.
- Seat — Singapore gives you much more privacy and space, but as great as it may be, the A380 seat design feels dated (this likely isn’t the case with the 777-300ER).
- Food and service — Singapore all the way! The food was amazing and the flight attendants were smiling from beginning to end.
(Note that you can also fly Singapore’s A380 to Los Angeles (via Tokyo), Auckland, Beijing, Hong Kong, London, Mumbai, New Delhi, Paris, Shanghai, Sydney and Zurich.)
Have you flown Singapore’s A380?
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