Footrests and fine dining: Manchester to Houston in Singapore Airlines A350 premium economy
I recently had to be in the U.K. for work, and one of the most interesting ways to get there is on Singapore Airlines' flight between Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH), my home airport, and Manchester Airport (MAN) in England.
Because this is a fifth-freedom route that originates in Singapore, Singapore Airlines is allowed to carry passengers just between the U.S. and U.K. on this route, one of a number of such routes it operates.
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Falling between regular economy and business class, premium economy continues to be one of the hottest trends in the airline passenger experience world, with carriers such as Swiss and Emirates adding premium economy cabins for the first time and other carriers such as Lufthansa refreshing their longer-standing versions.
Premium economy is also one of the most interesting products to review because different airlines have vastly different interpretations of what exactly premium economy means. Take the meal options, for example. The dining experience in the United Premium Plus cabin is currently very similar to what the carrier offers in its Polaris business class. On other airlines, such as Emirates, the meals are currently the same as what is being served in economy class.
While TPG has reviewed Singapore Airlines' premium economy before, we had yet to cover the long-haul experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Singapore Airlines, like many other carriers, has seen its soft product affected by the pandemic, and I was curious to see how that was manifested on this route. It turns out that the experience was largely similar to the one we reviewed prior to the pandemic.
More: 7 takeaways from my 1st Singapore Airlines business-class experience
On my 10-hour flight, I felt the Singapore Airlines premium economy experience was a palpable step up from economy but certainly not as luxurious as business class — by far. There would be one or two surprises (some positive, some negative) along the way, too.
For this flight, we paid $3,109.77: $2,204 for a business-class leg I flew outbound, $735 for the premium economy leg that I review here, and then taxes and fees for both legs, including the U.K.'s $244.90 air passenger duty tax.
We purchased this airfare using TPG's Centurion Business Card from American Express, which allowed us to earn 5 Membership Rewards points per dollar, as we booked it through American Express Travel. We then redeemed Amex points at a rate of 2 cents to 1, bringing the point total to 155,500 points.
The information for the Centurion Business Card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Saver-level awards were also available through Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer for 47,000 miles each way in premium economy and 72,000 miles each way in business class. That would have brought my total to 119,000 miles plus the same taxes and fees. However, we still ended up purchasing a paid fare for elite-status purposes as I am trying to requalify for United Premier 1K.
For this premium economy segment, I earned 500 Premier qualifying points, the maximum that can be earned flying economy or premium economy with Singapore Airlines. To qualify for entry-level Premier Silver this year, you need 3,000 PQPs along with eight Premier qualifying flights (a United or partner segment), or 3,500 PQPs without the PQF requirement. To qualify for top-tier Premier 1K status, you need 13,500 PQPs along with 36 PQFs, or 15,000 PQPs without the PQF requirement.
In the lead-up to my trip, I had heard horror stories about security at Manchester Airport, with lines stretching for hours. I decided to leave early and arrive in time for Singapore Airlines' ticket counter to open, which would be 7:05 a.m. — three hours prior to departure — according to the airline's website. The train trip from Manchester's Picadilly Station to the airport took 20 minutes and cost 3.50 pounds ($4.62) in advance.
I arrived at the airport at about 6:45 a.m., walked through a series of enclosed bridges that connect the train station to Manchester's Terminal 2 and was at check-in at about 6:50 a.m. to find that they were already open.
After a document check including confirmation of my negative COVID-19 test result, a health attestation form and answering the requisite security questions, I waited about three minutes for the agent handling premium economy and Star Alliance Gold passengers to become available (in the meantime, I had a friendly chat with the security agent, an older man, who said he can't wait until the U.S. removes its COVID-19 entry restrictions because it will make his job so much easier).
The check-in process was quick: an affable agent asked me for my home address, collected my attestation form and reviewed my vaccination card and negative COVID test results. Soon I had a boarding pass for seat 32H and was off to security.
At this point, it's worth noting that this experience at Manchester was the first time I had traveled through an airport without wearing a mask since 2020 and came about a month before a federal judge voided the mask mandate in the U.S. Manchester Airport had eliminated its mask mandate the week prior to this flight, and I'd estimate that about 98% of the passengers and staff that I encountered were not wearing masks.
Because I had such awful expectations for security, I was pleasantly surprised with the kindness and organization of the security staff. Although I’d been expecting to wait for over an hour, I got through security within 15 minutes after a regular screening and a pat down (after they found a nonexistent object of interest).
The best surprise of this trip was the formal lounge access I received, including an invitation that was printed on my boarding pass. To be clear, Singapore Airlines does not provide lounge access to its passengers traveling in premium economy. However, I received this lounge access due to my Star Alliance Gold status, which I hold by being a United Airlines MileagePlus Premier 1K member.
The Star Alliance Gold lounge benefit is mostly for lounges that are operated by a Star Alliance member airline and not a lounge that that airline contracts with. However, Singapore Airlines appears to extend that to its contract lounges as well, which is a much-appreciated gesture.
At Manchester Airport, that contract lounge was the Escape Lounge. You might also have access through Priority Pass and one of the several credit cards that has this benefit. However, it's common to pre-reserve lounges in the U.K. and there was a sign that seemed to indicate that unless you had a reservation or access via an airline, you were out of luck.
It was a busy place, filled primarily with people going on holidays, but I was still able to find a seat and a table. The space was bright, had multiple different seating areas and featured a hot breakfast buffet that allowed you to assemble your own full English breakfast. It also featured a full bar as well as espresso machines. I particularly loved the giant windows that looked out over the Terminal 2 ramp so I could keep track of various planes.
After about a two-hour stay, it was time to head to the gate. Not wanting to wait for the gate number to be announced, I just walked toward the plane that I could see with Singapore's iconic Silver Kris bird on the tail and eventually wound up at gate 210.
In contrast to the organization of the gate area in Houston on my outbound flight — which had different lines for Suites/first class/PPS Club, business class, premium economy and general boarding — there were no such designations at gate 210. Instead, there were just two unmarked lanes. Despite that, I found boarding to generally be orderly. Passengers randomly selected for secondary screening on this U.S.-bound flight (the folks with the dreaded SSSS on their boarding pass) were getting their bags swabbed inside the doorway to the jet bridge, making that space incredibly crowded.
It was at this point that I put my mask on for the first time that day. While Manchester Airport no longer had a mask mandate, Singapore Airlines did at the time of this flight (and still does).
At around 9:35 a.m., 30 minutes before departure, I boarded our A350-900, registration 9V-SMU, which had been delivered to Singapore Airlines in 2018.
Cabin and seat
I was greeted at door 2L — the second door on the left-hand side of the aircraft — by two flight attendants and was directed through the galley to the right side of the aircraft. After a quick walk-through of the A350's aft business-class cabin, I found Singapore's small premium economy cabin.
This cabin features 24 recliner seats arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration.
I sat in 32H, which is the aisle seat on the right-hand side of the aircraft in the second row of the three-row cabin.
Seats are about 20 inches wide, and rows 32 and 33 feature nearly 40 inches of pitch. Bulkhead row 31 features extra pitch, and it costs extra to assign those seats ahead of time — that add-on cost currently runs around $100 per seat, per direction.
Each seat manually reclines and also features a leg rest and footrest, with controls in the armrest.
A tray table folds out of the center console between both seats, and my 13-inch MacBook Pro fit nicely.
A reading light mounted on a flexible metal gooseneck is connected to the top part of each seat.
My particular seat had an IFE box in front of it, somewhat impeding the legroom when the footrest was not in use.
Two USB-A ports are available for each seat: one between the seats and one on the seatback in front. Two 110-volt outlets are located near the floor on the console between both seats. On my seat, this plug was in good condition and I had no issues securing the power brick for my MacBook Pro.
There's storage for water bottles in between the two seats in front of you. Each seatback features a literature pocket and a pouch for personal items, too.
Both a blanket and a pillow were waiting at each place. However, this is where my one big, negative surprise was. Upon turning my pillow over, I noticed that it had a large, unidentified white stain on it, which, to put it bluntly, was disgusting. Since I was not planning on sleeping anyway during this daytime flight, I promptly put the pillow in an overhead bin, where it remained for the rest of the flight.
The lavatories, which were shared with the economy class cabin, were comfortable and adequate for the number of passengers. Not once did I have to wait for a lavatory to become vacant. They featured limited amenities, including dental kits.
This setup was very comfortable and is, in fact, the base-level seat on Singapore Airlines’ A350-900ULR variants of the jet (there’s no economy section), which operate some of the carrier’s longest routes, including from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) in New Jersey to Singapore. While I'd much prefer being up front in that aircraft's oversized business-class cabin, this would probably be a comfortable way to spend 17 hours.
Review: Singapore Airlines in premium economy on the A350-900ULR from Singapore to LAX
Amenities and service
This aircraft featured Singapore Airlines' excellent KrisWorld inflight entertainment system. In premium economy, that's a 13-inch high-definition screen. The IFE system could be controlled by both touching the screen and by an included handset. The system features four channels of live TV, including CNN International and the BBC, as well as thousands of TV and movie titles. I spent much of the flight watching CNN and "The Office."
The inflight moving map display was interactive and could be zoomed, panned and tilted. The display was customizable and units could be toggled. Notably, games and reading material had been removed from the IFE system. Passengers in search of inflight games were directed to the Wi-Fi portal, where a variety of free games were available to play.
Three-pronged acoustic noise-canceling headphones were provided in a clear plastic bag. They were very similar to the headphones distributed in business class, except those headphones were of the powered, active noise-canceling variety. These headphones had a sturdy construction and were not collected prior to landing, as is the much-maligned practice of so many other airlines.
Wi-Fi, which is provided by Panasonic, was available in a few different packages and activated above 10,000 feet. Because this reservation had my United MileagePlus number on it and not my Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer number, I was not eligible for any complimentary Wi-Fi on my flight. Had I used my KrisFlyer number instead, I would have been eligible for a 2-hour chat session, worth $3.99.
I purchased two, three-hour surf packages for $15.99 each. I'm glad that Singapore Airlines now offers some form of an unlimited package. The last time I flew the airline, it was aboard an Airbus A380 in 2015 and the only packages available to purchase had data caps on them, which made it difficult to get any real work done using a laptop.
I would have gladly paid a bit more money to purchase a full-flight pass, but Singapore does not offer such a package. The closest the airline gets to this is offering a full flight of free W-iFi to those flying in Suites or first class — a product not offered on the A350.
More: 8 reasons I’m excited about Singapore Airlines’ A380 Suites flying to the US
The Wi-Fi speeds won't win any awards but were sufficiently fast to get my work done, and the service was consistent throughout the flight, which I appreciated.
The lavatories were kept clean and featured dental kits as an added amenity, though those were long-depleted by the end of the flight. It would have been nice for these to be restocked, as many people like to brush their teeth before landing.
The flight attendants on this flight were service-oriented, as is the norm on Singapore Airlines. The inflight service was in line with what you'd expect in premium economy. Two flight attendants were dedicated to premium economy, and because there were only 24 seats in the entire cabin, the service was efficient and attentive, though it lacked the personalization consistent with more premium cabins. For instance, I was never addressed by my name.
Multiple beverage services were conducted throughout the flight, and snacks were available by ringing the flight attendant call button, though I would have liked to see them proactively offered in the aisles during a 10-hour flight. (I can also understand that the airline wants to keep traffic in the aisles to a minimum.)
Food and beverage
Singapore Airlines is known for its catering, which is also an area where premium economy products often diverge from each other: Certain airlines serve meals that are closer to economy class meals — like Emirates — while others are closer to business class in quality and size — like United.
As was the case in business class, Singapore Airlines did not distribute menus on this flight. Instead, the menus were available ahead of time on the airline's website, which is also accessible for free on the aircraft's Wi-Fi system. While I was particularly disappointed at the lack of a printed menu in business class, I had more tolerance for the digital menu in premium economy, as there is often less of an expectation of one.
For the first meal service, I selected the lamb rogan josh, a Kashmiri curry dish. These kinds of dishes often heat up really well on an aircraft, so I was looking forward to it and was not disappointed. The chunks of lamb were full of flavor and juicy and the large portion of rice was a very nice accompaniment, as were the veggies (primarily carrots), which were the right flavor pairing for this type of dish. The size of the portion was in between economy and business class (maybe a hair closer to economy class — I would have preferred a bit more lamb and a bit less rice).
The main was served with a delicious and fresh quinoa salad, and I say that as someone who isn't a big fan of quinoa. Dessert was served on the tray along with the salad and the main and was a very British vanilla clotted cream ice cream. Serving ice cream with your salad and main is an omnipresent reminder that a sweet treat awaits you — and to eat fast, lest you want it to melt.
The white wine selection was more like what you’d find in economy; though crisp and satisfying, the Frontera Chardonnay on my flight retails for around $6 per bottle.
As has long been the norm for Singapore Airlines, real silverware was provided, though I would have appreciated some real glassware instead of plastic cups.
I was blown away by the efficiency of the flight attendants during the main meal service. The service was completed about 45 minutes after takeoff. I honestly don't know how they were able to serve food so fast. While I appreciate a relaxed service in business class, especially on a longer, westbound transatlantic leg, I prefer a faster service in economy and premium economy, as removing the trays faster gives you significantly more room.
The pre-arrival meal, which was served about two hours prior to landing, was a first for me. It was the first time — in any cabin — that this meal was of equivalent size and quality to the main meal.
Since I was starting to feel peckish toward the end of this 10-hour flight, it was a welcoming sight to see that much food offered. This time, I selected the fish dish — a pan-fried fish fillet with spicy hollandaise sauce served over pasta. The fish was moist and I really enjoyed how the hollandaise sauce for the fish doubled as a pasta sauce. The fish was accompanied by another delicious Middle Eastern-inspired salad and a double chocolate mousse pudding and was again served on a single tray. This meal really hit the spot, tasting a lot better than the photo looks.
After a windy and turbulent approach into Houston, we arrived at the airport's international Terminal D 22 minutes early.
Singapore Airlines' premium economy was a comfortable way to cross the pond on a 10-hour long-haul flight.
It was perfect for a daytime flight where I wasn't intending on sleeping, and I felt productive. Had it been a red-eye flight, I would have probably been able to catch some shut-eye in this seat, though a lie-flat bed it most certainly is not. The seat felt similar to the domestic first-class recliner seats in the United, American, Delta and Alaska fleets that ply the U.S. skies.
Thanks to my unexpected lounge access available to all passengers with Star Alliance Gold status, and despite the disgusting stain that I found on my pillow, the entire experience was a solid in-between product. It splits the difference from economy to business class and is priced appropriately for that.
I would easily book Singapore Airlines premium economy again, especially on a daytime leg. It's a good value and solidly meets or exceeds expectations.