Still world-class: A review of Singapore Airlines Suites on the A380 from Frankfurt to New York
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[tpg_rating ticket-class="first" tpg-rating-score="84" ground-experience="13" cabin-seat="19" amens-ife="11" food-bev="21" service="20" pros="Impeccable crew, fantastic privacy and space in my suite, and the bed was more comfortable than my bed at home." cons="Check-in agents were not friendly, boarding wasn't clear and the Wi-Fi kept dropping out" /]
On yet another visit to New York the TPG U.K. team decided to try out all four classes on the same Singapore Airlines A380 on their fifth-freedom flight from Frankfurt to New York to film a special video for our YouTube channel. I was lucky enough to end up in first class on the flight, so as well as capturing the experience on video, I thought it would be a great chance to provide a full written review as well.
As an Australian native, I've flown Singapore Airlines many times over many years — they're one of the largest foreign carriers in Australia, and Singapore is a popular transit point between Australia and Europe. Though Singapore Airlines has installed its new Suites class on some of their A380 aircraft, this route still features the older product.
I've never had a bad flight on Singapore Airlines, so I was keen to see how the older product was holding up and how the experience would be on this unique route, thousands of miles from Singapore itself.
As you might expect, cash fares for a one-way, first-class ticket were not cheap, retailing at around $4,500 per seat. This is an example of a fantastic way to use miles. Singapore Airlines reserves first-class award seats on its own metal to members of its own KrisFlyer loyalty program, and does not release them to partners, even if there are last minute seats available.
We were able to find availability booked about a month in advance using 86,000 Krisflyer miles plus around $150 in fees and taxes, easily booked online. This gave us an incredible value of 5 cents per Krisflyer mile value, which is almost four times TPG's valuation of Krisflyer miles. We paid for the fees and taxes using the The Platinum Card® from American Express in order to earn 5 points per dollar (by paying directly through the airline).
Singapore is one of the only airlines that partners with all four of the major transferable point programs: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One. It’s also a Marriott Bonvoy transfer partner. Recently, too, Alaska Airlines added the ability to redeem MileagePlan miles for Singapore Airlines flights -- even in first -- which gives these already valuable miles even more utility.
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This was one of the first transatlantic flights of the day from Frankfurt Airport (FRA), and I arrived while it was still dark.
The Singapore Airlines check-in area was right near the door, so was able to quickly walk right up to the Suites check-in counter.
I was quickly helped, but the check-in agent was cold and unfriendly. She asked me for my address in New York very quietly, and when I asked her to repeat the question, she rolled her eyes and snapped the question again. The check-in crew appeared to be outsourced and had none of the warmth and charm Singapore Airlines staff is famous for.
There were also Frankfurt Airport security staffers milling around the check-in area, and they didn't take too kindly to my camera, even though I was not photographing staff or other passengers up close. Overall, the check-in experience was pretty unpleasant.
Onto security, where the situation wasn't much better. The security staff shouted at me in German to move forward to one of the X-ray machines and then shouted even louder for me to step back and not place my items on the belt yet. Again, unpleasant.
Once through check-in and security, the terminal, though spread out, was reasonably quiet and easy to navigate early on this Sunday morning.
Of course, Lufthansa has its world-famous First Class Terminal at Frankfurt Airport, but it doesn't allow first-class passengers in partner airlines to access that space. Instead, they are directed to the Lufthansa Senator Lounge.
As I was heading there, I saw signs to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, which I could also access with my Singapore Airlines Suites boarding pass, so I popped my head in there to have a quick look.
This lounge was bright and fresh (and also deserted so early in the day).
There was a standard selection of basic spirits and buffet food available, as well as a coffee machine.
The X factor for this lounge was the semi-enclosed nap rooms, which would be great for a long layover.
While it was fine for a business-class lounge, there was nothing very first class about it.
I kept moving onto the Senator Lounge to see if that was any better.
Regardless of the confusing access policy, the lounge itself was surprisingly nice, and I preferred it to the Air Canada lounge. I really liked the dramatic lighting, and the entire space felt fresh, spacious, clean, modern and organized.
There was no proper Champagne on offer, though there was a wide selection of self-serve drinks available.
There was also a separate staffed bar with an impressive-looking cocktail menu. At 7 a.m., the bartender didn't have a lot of customers.
There were also several hot food items at the buffet.
I saved my appetite for the expected feast on board.
There were showers available and a spa within the lounge, though treatments were not free. They cost up to 40 euros ($45) for just 15 minutes, so I passed.
As this was a major Star Alliance hub, there were great views from the lounge of several Air Canada aircraft outside.
If you have the choice of both lounges I would recommend the Senator Lounge. Though it doesn't compare to the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt, it was still a decent lounge and really relaxed me after the unfriendly check-in and security experiences.
Boarding an A380 requires a lot of gate space, and I was pleased to see separate signs for each four classes on the flight. But though there was a sign directing Suites passengers to board just to the left of the business-class passengers, there was no lane to actually line up in.
After standing near the sign with my golden ticket (literally, the boarding pass is gold), hoping the boarding staff (the same unfriendly staff from check-in) would notice me, I gave up and joined the long business-class queue.
A ground crew member was combing the queue, kicking out people who didn't have priority boarding. When she saw my Suites boarding pass, she pulled me out of the queue.
"You're in the wrong queue!" she said. "You can go straight into the Suites lane."
"There is no Suites lane!" I replied.
She alerted the other staff members, who quickly scanned my boarding pass and checked my passport, and I was onto the aircraft.
I recognize that Singapore Airlines has less control over the ground experience at an outstation like Frankfurt than they would in Singapore Changi (SIN), but the check-in experience especially was not up to the high standard of customer service Singapore Airlines is famous for. All four of the team (checking in at different counters) experienced unfriendly check-in staff, so I didn't just happen to catch one agent in a bad mood. This is an area the airline could work to improve. It could also work on clearly setting boarding lanes that can actually be used by passengers, rather than just setting up signs with arrows in different directions.
Fortunately, the crew on board quickly made me forget about the ground crew.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Cabin and Seat" tpg-rating="19" tpg-rating-max="20" configuration="1" configuration-2="2" configuration-3="1" width="35" bed="73" tray="22" tray-2="22" lavs="2" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Singapore Airlines has updated A380s with an all-new Suites product, but the Frankfurt-New York flight has not yet received the new product, which seemed strange to me as New York is typically a flagship route for most airlines.
Despite it being an older product, I was still wowed by the cabin when I boarded. The seating reminded me a lot of a railway carriage. The cabin finishes were brown and cream, which sounds boring on paper but is sophisticated in person.
I had selected 1A (naturally!), and if you are traveling alone, I cannot recommend Row 1 enough. It was incredibly private, as there are no center seats. Instead, this is where the stairs go to the upper deck of the aircraft. With the private jetbridge and bathrooms for the Suites cabin at the back of the cabin, it was possible to go the entire flight without seeing another passenger.
I could easily walk around in my suite as I explored the features upon boarding.
There was a plush leather seat with legroom for days.
The seat recline did not go fully flat. The bed was hidden behind the seat. The recline was certainly sufficient for lounging.
There was a large storage space under the footrest-cum-ottoman, which could easily store my backpack.
The crew advised me I had my own wardrobe just outside my seat and hung my clothes there when I changed into my pajamas.
There were all sorts of storage compartments in the suite — so many, in fact, that I didn't even find some of them until later into the flight.
There were also charging and USB ports.
The suite had nifty shades that could be lowered for privacy at the front and back.
There was also a sliding door providing complete privacy. It did stick a little, as it had obviously been opened and closed thousands of times in the past, but I was still able to do it myself throughout the flight. The high walls meant I could not see any crew or other passengers, unlike the pointlessly low walls on the new British Airways Club Suite.
Midflight, I took a short nap, and the crew happily made up my bed, with impeccable attention to detail.
I'm 6 feet tall and find some lie-flat seats a little tight, either the top of my head or at my feet, which often seem to touch the end of the bed.
No such problems here. Even pointing my toes, I could not touch the end of the bed. People have noted many times over that the beds in these suites are very hard, but I feel that it was probably the most comfortable bed I have ever had in the sky, more comfortable than my (proper) bed at home. Though I didn't want to waste this amazing flight sleeping, I managed a short nap and could not have been more comfortable.
Overall, while I was slightly disappointed to have the old product, it was still in fantastic shape and a world-class first-class seat.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Amenities and IFE" tpg-rating="11" tpg-rating-max="15" screen="22" movies="150" tv-shows="35" live-tv="Yes" tailcam="No" wifi="0" wifi-2="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
As soon as I sat down, the procession of goodies and gifts began. First was a pair Bang Olufsen noise-canceling headphones in a case.
Next, the crew asked for my size in pajamas and provided a pair of Lalique-branded ones (and slippers), as well as sleep socks and an eye mask.
Next came the Lalique amenity kit, which also featured Lalique products including a small aftershave bottle.
There was also a large plastic Ziploc bag in the kit, likely to store carry-on toiletries.
The amenity kit did initially seem sparsely stocked (there weren't even earplugs), though I remembered Singapore Airlines stocks premium bathrooms with products to allow passengers to help themselves rather than receiving a kit of items they may not use.
I checked out the bathrooms, which were huge and spotlessly clean every single time.
Sure enough, there were plenty of additional products in the bathroom drawers.
The standard inflight magazine, sick bag and duty-free catalogue was also in one of the storage compartments in my suite.
There was a 22-inch screen at the end of my suite.
If I'm being incredibly critical, the screen, while large and fairly crisp, was not positioned at eye level directly in front of me. Presumably it was to maintain the aesthetic of keeping the screen in the middle of the suite wall, though when I was seated it was slightly up and to the left and couldn't be adjusted.
The screen could be operated by the remote control to the right of the seat, and there was a long list of movies and TV shows available.
With my suite door closed and in complete privacy, I attempted to watch the remake of "The Lion King." The original version was a huge part of my childhood, and I've seen the live stage show five times in several different countries. I managed to make it to just before Mufasa's untimely death before switching it off -- I didn't want to bawl my eyes out on the plane no matter how private my seat was.
The IFE system on these planes is an older generation, and the system on Singapore's newer planes is much newer, faster, less buggy and packed with features. Wi-Fi was available on the flight, complimentary for Suites passengers, though it kept dropping out to the point I couldn't even run a speed test.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Food and Beverage" tpg-rating="21" tpg-rating-max="25" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" meals="2" champagne="Krug 2004" dine-on-demand="Yes" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
You may have heard the famous catchphrase of Singapore Airlines' first class: "Dom or Krug?" This was one of the first things the crew said to me as I settled in to the seat. I started with a glass of the 2009 vintage Dom Perignon, which retails for around $200 a bottle. This was delivered with water, a hot towel and warm mixed nuts.
After takeoff, the crew asked if I wanted to switch to the 2004 vintage Krug Champagne (which retails for around $400 a bottle), or stick with the Dom. They brought out both to help me make up my mind.
This was definitely the best Sunday brunch I had ever had.
I switched to the Krug. I enjoyed both but probably have a slight preference for the Krug.
With the important beverage decision out of the way, the crew took my order for brunch, giving me the option to eat just after takeoff or whenever I liked. Having skipped most of the food in the lounge I was ready for a feast. A downside of the early departure time was that the main meal was a brunch, with a lighter lunch served closer to landing. This meant no caviar, and it's difficult to make breakfast seem spectacular compared with, say, a multicourse dinner.
The crew carefully set my huge tray table for me with Wedgwood fine bone china.
Being breakfast, first up was a plate of fresh-cut fruit, followed by Bircher muesli.
For my main, I had the seafood noodle soup for a taste of Singapore. It arrived hot, flavorful and with fresh, decadent seafood like scallops and prawns. I've had dishes like this at hawker stalls in Singapore before, and this dish was just as good as anything I've had on the ground. Go easy on the chili sauce — it has a real kick to it!
The little touches like a stand for both the chopsticks and the soup spoon were the sort of attention to detail that make Singapore Airlines a world-class carrier.
To finish brunch was a chocolate mousse with chili flakes. I can't say I've ever eaten chocolate mousse at 10 a.m. ever. It was a nicely presented, though a touch grainy, so I didn't finish it all.
I had a coffee with my dessert, which was excellent.
Despite not being overly hungry, I was invited to commence my light-lunch second meal whenever I liked, and I chose around 90 minutes before landing. A "light" meal in Singapore Suites means "only" three courses.
Once again, the table was carefully set.
To start with was a cold lobster appetizer. It was light, fresh and delicious.
The only big fail of the meal was the pretzel that was offered to me as part of the bread basket. It looked old, shriveled and unappetizing, so I don't know why I even selected it. I guess I had pretzels on the brain having departed from Germany. It tasted about as good as it looked.
For my main course, I had the beef cheeks. I probably should have asked but didn't realize it was served as a stew. It was tasty but similar to my brunch main course.
Although it was still technically morning, I decided to try and least one nonsparkling wine. I was very happy to see a red wine from my home state of South Australia. The crew brought out the bottle and an empty glass, presented it to me and offered me a taste before I agreed on a full glass.
For dessert there was a rum babka, which I ordered another coffee with. Considering it wasn't even noon in New York yet, I managed to get through a tremendous amount of food.
[flight_stats ticket-class="first" review-stat-section="Service" tpg-rating="20" tpg-rating-max="20" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="Yes" turndown-service="Yes" /]
The onboard crew was simply faultless.
I've never had a bad crew on my 20-plus Singapore Airlines flights over my lifetime, and this was no exception. There was something so incredibly comforting about how they took care of me the second I stepped on board, especially after the less-than-perfect check-in (I've taken points off the ground experience score, not service score, for that). I was addressed by name at every single interaction by every single staff member I interacted with despite only telling one of them how I preferred to be called. Midflight, I went to the bathroom, and a crew member I had not seen before (I believe because he was working a different cabin) was in the jumpseat near the galley resting for a moment. He enthusiastically said, "Hello, Mr. Ben!" as I walked past.
During the meal service, there were little touches that made it perfect. Rather than just asking if I wanted a drink, the crew proactively recommended different drinks based on how far into the flight it was or what I was eating —Champagne for boarding, a red wine with my lamb and so on. I don't think my glass ever went empty the entire flight, and I had to cut myself off in order to ensure this review would be properly completed! When I ordered the seafood soup, the crew thoughtfully and respectfully asked if I preferred chopsticks, a fork or both.
Every single time I visited the bathroom, it had been refreshed by the crew, including each roll of toilet paper being folded into a point.
With the number of photographs I was taking and the GoPro mounted on my Suite for the video (stay tuned to the TPG U.K. YouTube channel!), the purser quickly realized I was a dedicated AvGeek, and we ended up having a good chat about the difference between the old and new A380 Suites and which routes they were being deployed on and why.
We landed at JFK on time, and a private jetbridge was connected just for Suites passengers. I was through immigration within minutes, and my bag was waiting for me on the luggage carousel when I arrived.
In my experience, having flown many hundreds of flights on dozens of airlines, Singapore Airlines is one of the world's most consistent airlines. There weren't a lot of surprises on this flight (other than the check-in), because that's what Singapore does so well: provide an excellent experience each and every time.
In Row 1 with my door closed, I forgot there was anyone else on the plane -- the 400 people behind and above me were out of sight and out of mind. It is insanely private and luxurious, and I cannot recommend this row enough. For their old product, the Suite still felt industry-leading, with plenty of personal space, and that bed was like sleeping on the clouds we were soaring above. Though the flight time meant a very early breakfast and early lunch, not the optimal times for extravagant cuisine, I enjoyed most of what I ate.
The airline has less control over the ground experience at outstations than at its hub in Singapore. It was only my second time flying out of Frankfurt, and there were few redeeming features, especially when comparing it to nearby Munich (MUC), which is a beautiful airport to use.
But it was the crew that were the most memorable part of this excellent flight. There is not a single thing I can think of that the crew could improve. Singapore Airlines really is a great way to fly.
All photos by the author.