A 12-Hour Delivery Flight on Singapore’s Nearly Empty A350-900
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You’re probably already familiar with the concept of an inaugural flight — typically an airline’s first flight to a new destination, or the first time a carrier operates a new aircraft type on a commercial flight. But by the time an aircraft inaugural rolls around, the plane has already flown several times, including a journey from the factory to an airport of the airline’s choosing, often many thousands of miles away. These flights are called “delivery” or “ferry” flights, and usually take place within a day or two of an airline taking possession of a new aircraft.
Most of the time, only the pilots and perhaps a couple crew members are on board a delivery flight, along with some airline engineers on occasion, but this week’s Singapore Airlines A350 delivery marked a very significant milestone — SQ took possession of the 10,000th aircraft Airbus has ever delivered — so the 12-hour flight from Airbus HQ in Toulouse, France to Singapore’s Changi Airport was open to a small number of guests.
When Singapore Airlines extended a last-minute invitation to join, I couldn’t pass it up. I recently flew business class on the airline’s A380, which was fantastic overall, and, making this delivery even more appealing, I was told that the in-flight experience would be entirely different. I was not disappointed.
Check-In and Boarding
Several airlines operate nonstop flights to Toulouse Airport (TLS) — I had arrived at the main terminal building a few days earlier on a Eurowings regional jet. Airbus delivery flights typically leave from the Delivery Center, though, which is located on the opposite side of the airport. I was told to arrive at 1pm, two hours before departure, but I was too excited to wait that long.
The Delivery Center has two sets of check-in desks, though Singapore Airlines 8895 was the only flight departing that day. It’s not everyday that you see a Singapore flight attendant standing at a check-in desk! Passengers and crew could check their bags if they wished, and another employee weighed each passenger individually with their carry-on luggage — since the plane had such a light load, it could (in theory) be necessary to distribute passengers throughout the cabin.
That process only took a minute, at which point I ran into our captain as I was heading upstairs to the main waiting area.
The Delivery Center serves double duty as a mini-terminal and an events venue, with an auditorium and several cocktail areas. This is where the 10,000th aircraft delivery ceremony took place the day before.
There were plenty of snacks available, including sandwiches.
As well as breakfast breads, such as croissants. I had just eaten lunch and was expecting a fair amount of food onboard, so I didn’t partake in the pre-boarding snacks.
There’s only one main gate, which is where our A350 had been parked for the last few days. There are two jet bridges, which allows the gate to provide direct access to both decks of an A380. The Delivery Center also includes a satellite terminal, so it can accommodate more than one plane at a time.
All passengers were issued boarding passes, which were collected at boarding, just as with a regular flight.
Passengers and crew passed through a security screening and passport check — the process was much more formal than what I experienced with last year’s Qatar A350 charter from JFK.
I managed to snap one more picture of the plane from the jet bridge.
A few journalists weren’t able to join the delivery flight, so they watched our departure from the balcony (sorry guys!).
Roughly 45 minutes after our scheduled departure time we pushed back from the gate and began taxiing to the runway.
There’s no shortage of interesting plane spotting at TLS!
We passed by three engine-less Qatar A320neos.
And a Qatar A350 that had yet to be painted.
A couple minutes later and we were off. Then, shortly after takeoff, the captain suggested that passengers head over to the port side of the aircraft to snap some incredible photos of the Swiss Alps.
The flight time from TLS to SIN was roughly 12 hours — with our delay, we were expected to land about 20 minutes late.
Exploring the A350
Backtracking a bit now… One of the highlights for me was that the plane was nearly empty. There were seven journalists on board, a few engineers and nine flight attendants — Singapore law requires that a minimum of nine flight attendants work any A350 passenger flight, though commercial flights typically have a few more. We also had three captains and one first officer — our 12-hour flight time necessitated a relief crew.
All of the passengers ended up sitting in the business-class cabin, and most were in the forward-most section.
Having had a chance to explore the plane the day before, I had already scoped out my preferred seat — 19K.
I’ll be digging into this a bit more in a future post, but I very much prefer the bulkhead seats on this particular aircraft — to the extent that I might consider a different flight if a bulkhead seat weren’t available. As you can see, my seat (below) has an ottoman that extends the width of the seat, while non-bulkhead seats have a very narrow foot cubby (as you can see if you scroll up a bit).
You’ll get even more foot space in the center bulkhead seats, including 11D, 11F, 19D and 19F.
Each business-class seat had two pillows and a blanket.
There was also a mattress pad, though Singapore’s typical business-class bedding wasn’t available on this delivery flight. I found the bed to be fairly comfortable, but it was a bit stiff for my liking — I’ll be curious to see how it fares on a commercial flight. It’s also worth noting that I’m 5′ 9″, so I can usually sleep normally in any lie-flat seat. And, since I had grabbed a bulkhead seat, the narrow foot cubby wasn’t an issue.
I also noticed that these seats (and those in premium economy) have a very bulky airbag built into the seatbelt. That’s something we’re seeing more often on newer planes. Personally, I find it uncomfortable, so I ended up unbuckling my seatbelt more than I would have liked.
Given our light load, there was plenty of storage in the overhead bins. Notably, Singapore’s A350 does not include overhead bins above the center seats, which gives the cabin a much roomier feel. I could see storage getting a bit tight with a completely full plane, but it wasn’t an issue here.
Given that none of the passengers had been assigned seats in the second business-class section, I had the cabin all to myself — or so I thought. A few minutes after departure, several passengers came forward from economy — I imagine they were sitting there to balance out the weight during takeoff.
For the rest of the flight, business class was the only section with passengers, so I took some time to check out seats throughout the plane. We recently reviewed Singapore’s new premium-economy seat (pictured below) — PE is arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration.
I spent a fair amount of time trying out several of the seats in this cabin — just as in business class, some are definitely better than others, so stay tuned for a deeper dive.
One of the biggest perks is the fold-down footrest.
Meanwhile, the same applies to economy — I much preferred some seats over others. If you can’t snag a bulkhead seat, I’d consider grabbing something in the middle of the smaller economy cabin (to minimize light and noise), which is located just behind premium economy.
The second economy cabin is much larger, with 136 seats (compared to 51 in the smaller cabin closer to the front).
Here’s one of my favorite seats — 48A.
I really love the gigantic touchscreen in-flight entertainment system in economy — there’s certainly no shortage of content to watch, and it’s easy to find what you need.
Food and Beverage
The flight attendants were absolutely fantastic. They were very friendly, and always available — no surprise given the roughly 1:2 passenger:flight attendant ratio. The service began with a hot towel.
Another flight attendant came through with pre-departure beverages — Champagne or juice.
Airbus handles all of the catering for most delivery flights, so the food and wine isn’t what you’d normally get on SQ, though it was still very good overall. There isn’t any liquor available, though, which means no Singapore Slings or other cocktails.
Shortly after takeoff, a flight attendant came by with a large assortment of snacks, including cheese, smoked salmon, foie gras and mozzarella with tomato and olives.
I sampled all of the snacks except for the foie gras, along with some white wine — everything was tasty. Only plasticware was available during this flight as well — it’s not often that you’ll see food served on a napkin in business class.
A few minutes later a large tray of food appeared, including a couple kinds of fish, a salad, cheese and a fruit tart. I thought it was more than enough for a single meal.
I was halfway through my dessert when a flight attendant came by to offer a hot entree as well, which I didn’t really need at that point, but…
I had a choice of steak, veal or a veggie dish — I opted for the steak. Sadly, it was very tough and disappointing overall, though I did enjoy the asparagus and the rest of the meal was very good. (Airbus: please lose the steak.)
After the meal the flight attendants set up a snack bar in the galley.
And then breakfast was served roughly two hours before landing, with a choice of “pancakes” (really a crepe stuffed with chicken and cheese) or scrambled eggs. Everything tasted fresh, though the croissants were a bit stale by that point.
Entertainment and Wi-Fi
Business-class seats each have an 18-inch monitor, with tons and tons of on-demand content. Naturally, I tapped “Let’s Begin” to get started, but nothing happened. As it turns out, Singapore has disabled the touchscreen feature, though it is available in premium economy and coach.
Fortunately, the airline’s standard noise-canceling headphones were available on this flight. They’re certainly no Bose QuietComfort 35s, but they do the trick.
Since there’s no touchscreen to speak of, you’ll need to select content using the handheld remote (which does in fact support touch).
The A350 entertainment system also supports Singapore’s KrisWorld Companion App, which allows you to use your smartphone or tablet to browse and pre-select content.
Speaking of content, I wasn’t sure this delivery flight would offer any at all, I was very relieved to see that there was plenty to choose from. I’ll leave these details for our full review of the SFO nonstop flight, which we’ll have up in about a week, but you can expect recent and older Hollywood flicks, international films and more.
There are also tons of TV shows available to watch, including a handful with back-to-back episodes (definitely a plus on a long flight!).
There was also Wi-Fi on board, and unlike on the A380, this Wi-Fi is priced based on usage time rather than data consumed (that’s great news!). It’s $12 for one hour, $17 for three hours or $22 for 24 hours. It performed decently at times, but overall it was pretty sluggish.
The connection also seemed to drop off entirely on occasion, but this was the first time “real” passengers put it to the test, so hopefully it’ll work flawlessly by the time SFO service starts next week.
After some quality sleep and a decent breakfast, along with a few episodes of Fresh off the Boat, it was time to prepare for landing.
Arrival in Singapore
After a bit of turbulence before our descent, Singapore finally came into view. I moved over to the left side of the plane to snap a picture of Marina Bay and the famous Marina Bay Sands hotel and casino.
We flew past the airport then made a series of left turns to come in for landing. We taxied past an A380, which I had just flown a few months ago in June.
We parked at a remote stand and gathered together for a group shot. That’s nearly everyone who was on the plane below — 16 employees and guests, four pilots and six flight attendants (the other three appear to have missed the photo opp).
I flew 12 hours in a brand-new plane with just a couple dozen people on board, despite seating for 250+. The business-class seat was comfortable, the staff was phenomenal, the food was surprisingly good (considering it wasn’t catered by Singapore Airlines) and I got a solid six hours of sleep. What’s not to love?
Of course, the real test comes next Sunday when Singapore launches nonstop service to San Francisco. TPG Senior Editor Kaeli Conforti will be on board the return leg (SFO-SIN), so stay tuned for her impressions of SQ’s legendary long-haul service on a (presumably) full flight.
Will you be traveling on Singapore’s new nonstop flight to San Francisco?