It doesn't get much better than this: Singapore Airlines’ A380 in business class from Frankfurt to New York
Fifth-freedom flights always feel a little special as they allow you to fly on international airlines without setting foot in the airlines' home countries. For North American-based travelers, this usually means the chance to experience great aircraft and excellent service, often at a lower cost than flying carriers from their own countries.
One of the most iconic fifth-freedom routes out of the U.S. is offered by Singapore Airlines between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Germany's Frankfurt Airport (FRA). The route became even more enticing earlier this year when it was upgraded to be operated an Airbus A380 with the carrier's newest first-class Suites and business-class seats.
After a recent trip to Germany, I wanted to get back home to New York as quickly as possible (read: nonstop flights only) and fly in business class, so Singapore Airlines seemed like a no-brainer to me. After all, Lufthansa's current business class is arranged in a dense 2-2-2 configuration, Delta doesn't offer its top-notch Delta One Suites on this route and I've already experienced United Polaris plenty of times. So I booked myself on Singapore Airlines instead and prepared to enjoy the experience. Here's what it was like.
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We booked this flight with cash, paying $1,875 for one-way in business class and a return trip in premium economy at a later date. This ended up being cheaper than simply booking a one-way, business-class ticket.
TPG booked the ticket through American Express Travel and paid with the Centurion Business Card from American Express to earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar — a total of 9,375 Membership Rewards points, worth $188 based on TPG valuations. If you don't have the Centurion Card, you can earn the same return with The Platinum Card® from American Express (on up to $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). I also earned 7,712 Alaska miles, worth $139, for crediting the flight to Mileage Plan.
The information for the Centurion card and the Centurion Busines Card from American Express has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Alternatively, it's easy to book this flight with points. Saver-level, business-class awards on this route cost 72,000 miles each way through Singapore Airlines' KrisFlyer program (though this will go up to 81,000 miles starting July 5, due to the recent KrisFlyer program changes). You can transfer points to KrisFlyer from all of the transferable points programs — American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One Rewards, Citi ThankYou and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
Singapore Airlines operates out of Terminal 1, area C, at Frankfurt Airport.
There were two check-in counters for business-class passengers and the line was very short when I got there a few hours before my flight. Passengers with Star Alliance Gold status also have access to this line.
Singapore Airlines business class passengers are invited to use the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge. It's located on the upper level, near gate B43, and is currently open from 6 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily.
The lounge was modern and clean, and was fairly empty during my morning visit. There were plenty of tables, couches and chairs, many of which had power outlets nearby. There were also some semi-private relaxation rooms, with daybeds and TVs. Although I didn't use it, there was also a shower room, ideal for those with long layovers.
The food selection was basic for an international business-class lounge but adequate. It consisted of scrambled eggs, cherry tomato confit, frikadellen (German meat patties), cold cuts, fresh fruit, pastries and yogurt. Drinks were self-serve from the walk-up bar, including water, juice, coffee, tea, sodas, beer and various wines.
Although the lounge was not as fancy as a United Polaris or American Flagship Lounge, I thought it was a step above the Lufthansa business lounges, which I could have also accessed with my ticket, as those are usually more crowded.
After a short while, it was time to head downstairs to the gate to board my flight. Boarding was supposed to begin 60 minutes before departure but we ended up having a one-hour delay.
Boarding an A380 is no easy feat but the gate agents did a good job keeping the boarding area quiet and calm. There were separate lines for each of the four classes on the flight — Suites, business class, premium economy and economy. Suites and business-class passengers boarded directly onto the upper deck, while economy and premium economy flyers were split between two bridges on the main level.
Our flight was operated by a four-and-a-half-year-old A380 bearing the registration 9V-SKU.
Cabin and seat
The business-class section took up the majority of the A380's upper deck, with the first-class Suites occupying the very front cabin. Seats in business class were arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, with 50 seats in the main cabin and another 28 seats in a smaller cabin in the back.
Between the purple-hued Poltrona Frau leather seats with orange piping, sleek mood lighting and lack of overhead bins over the center seats, this was a truly gorgeous cabin.
The seats didn't have doors but still felt private thanks to the side wings on their shells.
Seats in the center section are ideal for couples since they can be converted into a double bed of sorts. However, there's a center partition that can be raised for privacy if you’re sitting next to a stranger.
I sat in 11K, which was a window seat on the right-hand side of the aircraft in the first row of the business-class cabin. It was basically the same as any other seat in the cabin, but got a bit noisy since it was right behind the galley.
The seats were 25 inches wide, which is significantly narrower than Singapore's older A380 business class seats. However, I actually preferred these seats as the old ones were almost too wide and, in my opinion, didn't provide enough support.
Unlike the old seats, these could be reclined to a fully flat bed without having to enlist the help of a flight attendant to flip the seat over. When fully reclined, each bed measured 78 inches, or 6 feet, 6 inches.
The footwell was located at an angle and was on the smaller side, but I still slept comfortably. That said, taller passengers might prefer center seats in the bulkhead row as those have much larger footrests.
Despite the lack of overhead bins over the center seats, storage wasn't an issue. For starters, you can fit a carry-on-sized bag under the footwell. There's also a small compartment to the side of the seat that can fit some reading material, a water bottle and a laptop. Non-bulkhead seats also had some storage space next to the seatback screen.
The seat controls were located on the right and were pretty self-explanatory, with preset positions available including upright, relaxing with the leg rest raised and fully flat. There was also a “Do Not Disturb” light that could be illuminated when I wanted to rest.
Other seat features included multiple universal power outlets, USB ports and a lighted mirror compartment.
There were two overhead lights, as well as a reading light built into the seat. Unfortunately, there weren't any individual air nozzles, but the cabin was kept at a comfortable temperature throughout the flight.
There were seven lavatories in the business-class section which were frequently freshened up by the crew so they remained very clean — the toilet roll was folded each time I went to the bathroom.
Amenities and inflight entertainment
The entertainment screen was crisp and large, measuring 18 inches across diagonally. It could be controlled either directly from the main touchscreen display or via the wired, touchscreen remote. There were hundreds of movies and TV shows to choose from, including relatively new releases. The only downside was that the screen didn't tilt, making it a bit difficult to watch a movie from the lie-flat position.
Waiting at my seat during boarding was a pair of noise-canceling headphones, which I thought were decent enough, though not as good as the Bang & Olufsen headphones provided at the very front of the plane. There was also a "care kit" (with a mask, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipe), a bottle of water, two pillows, a duvet and a mattress pad. The mattress pad was a bit thin, but I still thought the bedding was really comfortable overall.
Amenity kits weren't distributed until much later in the flight when most passengers were napping. They were made by the British perfume house Penhaligon’s and contained just lip balm, hand lotion and facial mist. To reduce waste, other amenities, such as slippers, socks, earplugs, eyeshades and hairbrushes, were only available by request.
Additional amenities, such as dental kits, shaving kits, eau du toilette, hand lotion and facial mist, were available in the lavatories.
Wi-Fi, which was provided by Panasonic, was available in a few different packages. You could either purchase data based on usage or time, but there was no package that covered the entire flight. The best option was probably the three-hour unlimited package for $15.99, but buying multiple of these packages on longer flights could get pricey.
As a business-class passenger, I got 100 MB of free Wi-Fi. The speeds were good enough for sending some emails and texts but the data cap was really restrictive. I did appreciate the ability to pause my session, though.
Food and beverage
Despite the morning departure time, lunch was served on this flight. Due to COVID-19, there were no printed menus, but rather digital menus accessible via a QR code. Meal orders were taken while on the ground, but there were no pre-departure beverages offered.
The lunch options were a roasted chicken breast with black truffle jus, steamed halibut fillet, panang nuer (Thai beef curry) or braised pork cheek with carraway jus. Alternatively, there were six off-menu Book the Cook entrees, such as a Bavarian-style pork belly and honey-glazed duckling, available for pre-order. Then, later in the flight, there was a choice between braised egg noodles with prawns or ham and cheese toasties for a pre-arrival snack.
I ended up pre-ordering the halibut from the in-flight menu for lunch, and because I don't eat pork or shellfish, I requested an Asian vegetarian meal for the refreshment. Airlines usually don't let you reserve a special meal just for one meal so I appreciated the ability to mix and match.
Lunch started with chicken satay and spicy peanut sauce. However, because I ordered an Asian vegetarian meal for the second meal, Singapore provided Asian vegetarian starters for me, which was a pleasant surprise. My canape consisted of grilled vegetables with a piece of hummus toast.
That was followed by a lentil salad, which was light and fresh, albeit a bit bland. The regular appetizer would have been marinated prawns with apple-celeriac remoulade. I also enjoyed Singapore’s famous garlic bread and a pretzel roll from the bread basket.
My steamed halibut fillet was served with soy ginger garlic sauce, vegetables and steamed rice. It's hard to get fish right on an airplane, but I thought it was flavorful and cooked to a perfectly flaky finish.
After the main course was completed, a dessert cart was wheeled down the aisle. I had three out of the four options — a black forest gateau, lemon-lime sorbet and fresh fruit — for “research” of course. I skipped the cheese plate but it looked tasty. The entire meal took just under two hours.
After waking up from a nap, I rang the call button to ask if there were any snacks available and was offered Kit Kat bars, potato chips, instant noodles and soft Japanese buns.
The refreshment was served 90 minutes prior to landing. My special meal consisted of quesadillas stuffed with eggplant, tomatoes and some other vegetables. I'm not the biggest fan of eggplant so I didn't finish it, but it was totally fine, and I appreciated that Singapore served a warm pre-arrival snack.
I was also impressed by the extensive drink selection, which included 2012 Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne, an assortment of red and white wines, various cocktails and mocktails, top-shelf spirits and even hot chocolate. In addition, there was an entire menu of Illy coffees and TWG teas.
I would almost expect service to be impersonal in a 78-seat business class cabin, but that was not at all the case on this flight. At boarding, every business-class passenger was warmly welcomed and escorted to his or her seats. I was addressed by my last name throughout the flight and the crew seemed to genuinely care about my well-being. My glass was never empty and the flight attendants were quick to respond to the call button. Although less common in business class, it is worth noting that there wasn’t a turndown service.
Singapore Airlines is known for offering one of the world's best business-class products, and this flight was no exception. Despite their lack of doors, I found the seats to be private and comfortable for both sleeping and lounging. The service was top-notch and the food and beverages were excellent. I'd definitely choose to fly this product again, particularly on this route, where the competition lags.