Singapore Airlines (A350-900) Economy From Houston to Manchester
In October 2016, Singapore Airlines (SQ) began flying a fifth freedom flight from George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) in Houston to Manchester Airport (MAN) in the UK — before that point, it had connected through Moscow — and in January, the carrier switched the aircraft type from a 777-300ER to an A350-900. My friends and I are massive Liverpool FC supporters and against all odds, our schedules, match tickets and finances aligned recently, allowing us to go to a Champions League match versus Sevilla. The easiest way to get to Liverpool from the US is to fly to Manchester and then take a train. Not only was I excited for the match, I was also stoked since it would be my first time on an A350 — and this one, tag 9V-SMO, was just delivered on June 17, 2017.
At the time, last-minute round-trip flights from Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA) to MAN started around $1,600. Since I had re-qualified for United Gold status earlier this year, I was looking for the best combination of price and experience on this flight. I decided to book the outbound flight with cash and the return trip with miles because I noticed a routing of particular intrigue — SEA to IAH to MAN on a combination of Alaska Airlines (AS) and SQ, which clocked in at around 16 hours. I was surprised to see this since Alaska and Singapore are scheduled to become codeshare partners on September 27, 2017. I had heard amazing things about SQ's economy product and booked the ticket for $870, which was also the cheapest option — the next cheapest was on Icelandair for about $1,100.
Before booking, I tried to call Singapore Airlines to see if I could book this flight with KrisFlyer miles. There were two options: the IAH to MAN leg was only available to waitlist for 22,500 KrisFlyer miles plus $24 for a saver award or I could cash in 40,000 Krisflyer miles plus $24 for a standard award. There was also no availability from SEA to IAH. I called United just to see if I could book it with MileagePlus miles, but the 1K agent claimed he could not price the itinerary for the SQ flight, so cash it was!
I paid a total of $870 with my Citi Prestige Card, earning 2,610 Citi ThankYou Points in the process. I credited the AS flight from SEA to IAH to my American AAdvantage account — earning 1,500 miles thanks to the 563 bonus miles I get from my American Airlines Platinum Status — and the SQ flight to my United MileagePlus account for another 3,524 miles.
If I had credited the IAH to MAN leg to KrisFlyer, I would have received 4,705 KrisFlyer miles — I opted for MileagePlus since I already have a stash of miles and the flexibility to change flights with my current 1K status. Since this was an M class fare, I would only earn 75% of the actual mileage.
Check-In and Lounge
After arriving from SEA in Terminal A, I took the SkyWay train to Terminal D. When I checked in for my flight in SEA, the agent said I should head to the gate in Houston to grab my boarding pass for the onward flight to Manchester. Luckily, the SkyWay is airside, so there was no need to go through security again. An SQ employee was already stationed at gate D1 even though the flight wasn't departing for another 2.5 hours.
Leo, the SQ agent, was really professional throughout our interaction and when I inquired about upgrades, he mentioned a promotional offer in which upgrades to Premium Economy were $250, while moving up to business class would be $2,500. The premium economy buy-up seemed like good value, but I declined. Having only flown in SQ Suites and in business class in the past, I wanted to see what economy would be like on what many claim to be the best airline in the world.
I then made my way to the United Club in Terminal C. Note that I couldn't retrieve my boarding pass, which detailed my Star Alliance Gold status, through the SQ app so I didn't have access to any of the United Clubs until I obtained my physical document.
As usual, the club was pretty crowded, though there were a few scattered seats open.
I spotted the standard United Club offering, like cold cuts, salad, cookies, cheese, crackers, bread and soup.
There was a bar in the corner with complimentary well liquor, house wine, Miller Lite and Budweiser, though you could also pay for the good stuff.
The lounge was remodeled in the spring of 2017 and felt modern, with plenty of outlets near every seat. There were great views of United planes heading to the C gates and plenty of natural light. To the right past the check-in area was a customer service desk with some high tables to work from, along with a few private phone rooms. While there were no showers available at this particular United Club, an employee said they will be available at Polaris Lounges in the future.
I grabbed some carrots, red peppers, a brownie and a cup of tea before finding a spot to break out my laptop and send off a few last emails. I am usually disappointed with the quality of United Clubs, specifically when compared with other Star Alliance Gold lounges of carriers like Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Brussels Airlines. This time was no different — in my opinion, removing showers from all United Clubs is a huge step backwards since many business travelers would appreciate a shower before or after long-haul flights.
At 5:50pm, I headed back to gate D1 since we were scheduled to begin boarding at 6:10pm. Like United, SQ has five boarding groups. Group 1 included PPS Club and business-class passengers, while Group 2 was for Star Alliance Gold Members, KrisFlyer Silver Members and premium economy passengers. Groups 1 and 2 were cordoned off to the left side of the gate, while Groups 3, 4 and 5 were to the right. All passenger's passports were checked before we could enter the boarding area. Boarding didn't commence until 6:30pm and was quick and efficient.
Cabin and Seat
To get to my seat in economy, I had to first pass through the beautiful business-class cabin, which was arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, with each row alternating between light brown and maroon seats. The seats sported elegant hues of cream and brown and were equipped with a stylish gingham patterned pillow.
The premium economy section was arranged in a 2-4-2 layout and while the seats looked comfortable, the color scheme reminded me of EasyJet's, which doesn't jive with the overall SQ brand.
There are two economy mini-cabins on this aircraft. The one toward the front has only six rows and definitely feels more private, while the one to the rear has 17 rows. It's all set up in a 3-3-3 configuration and felt spacious.
The seats are 18 inches wide and have 32 inches of pitch. While not statistically amazing, they felt really comfortable for someone my size — I'm 5'11" and weigh 150 pounds.
There's also quite a bit of recline and a small footrest you can flip down with your feet.
When I asked Leo the check-in agent if the flight was full, he mentioned there were a lot of open seats. I had requested a seat toward the back next to some other empty seats, hoping they would stay open — luckily my prayers had been answered! I was seated in 58A and 58B was wide open, which made for an even more comfortable ride.
After boarding was complete, flight attendants came by with piping hot, lemon scented towels for all passengers, which was really refreshing.
Before we began taxiing, the SQ staff also came by with menus and amenity kits.
Menus and amenity kits in economy? Was I dreaming?
The amenity kit was simple — a dental kit with socks in a small SQ-branded zipper bag. Again, nothing special, but pretty cool for a coach flight.
At this point, a flight attendant came over and explained that they'd received my vegetarian meal request but unfortunately, the food did not make the flight because I had booked it so last-minute. I totally understood — I'd barely booked this flight within the 24 hour window — and informed him that I also eat fish, so he said he would do his best to fix something up, though there were no guarantees. A few minutes later, the FA said he would be able to put something together using some of the food from the other cabins and the noodles they were planning on serving for breakfast. I was absolutely blown away by how proactive he was, especially how he was willing to go "off-script" to give me great service.
Soon after takeoff, FAs came by with headphones and adapters in case you wanted to use your own pair.
The IFE screens in economy on the A350 are absolutely massive, coming in at 11.1 inches, and can be controlled with a remote or by touch. The quality of the screen was also really high. The entertainment selection was varied, with lots of new movies, HBO shows, travel shows and plenty of international content. I caught an episode of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown and watched Trainspotting 2.
The remote itself also has a screen on it, so while you're watching TV, you can also check out the flight overview, which shows the time and distance to your destination.
There are two USB ports and an AV input so you can also hook up one of your own devices to the screen.
One small complaint: there is no personal ventilation on this A350 so you are at the mercy of the airline. Temperature was not an issue on this flight though.
The bathrooms were clean during my one and only visit, and I saw flight attendants tidying them up on at least two other occasions.
The lavs were stocked with mouthwash, lotion, cologne, toothbrushes and razors.
Food and Beverage
There were two meals served on this flight: dinner shortly after takeoff and breakfast shortly before our arrival in Manchester. Dinner service began about 20 minutes into the flight and small packets of peanuts were distributed before the drink cart rumbled through. While there was no Champagne, we were offered a full selection of beer, wine and spirits. I went with a Singapore Sling — when in Rome, right? — which was poured straight from a mixed bottle over pineapple juice and ice. It basically tasted like a boozy Hawaiian Punch.
Dinner trays were served soon after, and the vegetarian meal the FA had conjured up was really good. It was essentially some noodles cooked with soy sauce, sautéed with shiitake mushrooms, carrots, greens and crumbled tofu topped with scallions, and was served with a small smoked salmon and coleslaw appetizer that was firm and flavorful, along with some dry bread, crackers, Tillamook jack cheese and a small cup of water. Another nice SQ touch is that everyone gets metal cutlery.
There was one more beverage service that came through before small cups of vanilla ice cream were distributed for dessert. Overall, dinner was flavorful and somewhat healthy, which I appreciated. And there was no shortage of booze.
About two hours before we began our descent, the FAs kicked into gear for breakfast. First came a beverage cart serving juice, tea and coffee. They came by to drop off my veggie meal early, a congee with some red chilies, greens and what tasted like zucchini — it was full of crisp, wholesome vegetables, packed with flavor and I felt warm and rejuvenated after eating it. Also on the tray were some fruit, yogurt, apple juice and the same dry bread from dinner. Overall, both meals were about as good as I've ever had in economy and probably better than a lot of domestic first-class meals within the US.
Singapore Airlines truly lives up to the hype, even in coach. From the gate agents at IAH who helped me find the perfect seat to the flight attendants onboard who conjured up two incredible vegetarian meals for me, the service was nothing short of remarkable. While this particular flight was pricey at $870, I was technically paying more because I'd booked it at the last minute. In the future, I would pay a premium to fly SQ economy even if there were cheaper prices or slightly quicker itineraries available. I also hope the carrier keeps flying this route through MAN because it's definitely the best way to get to Northern England from the US.
Have you ever flown in economy aboard Singapore Airlines' A350? Tell us about your experience, below.
All photos by the author.