Singapore Airlines / 18 Jun 18 / A380-800 / SQ25 JFK-FRA / Suites / 4A
Long before there was the Middle Eastern extravagant airline products such as the Etihad Residence and Emirates First Class showers and Business Class in-flight bars, Singapore Airlines boasted the world’s first “beyond first class” Suites. And that was more than a decade ago.
I have been saving up my miles to try out the Singapore Airlines Suites product for the longest time (well you can imagine, given that the product is over a decade old now), so finally the opportunity presented itself: I was going to be in the US and I booked myself a one-way redemption ticket on Suites from JFK to Singapore so I was really looking forward to try the product.
Unlike most other redemption tickets, I booked this itinerary only a week before the flight. For such a popular route and cabin, you will be surprised that there was still availability just a few days out from departure.
After Singapore Airlines adjusted its award charts and removed the 15% discount for online redemptions since last year, the one-way ticket cost me 120,000 miles and US$48.91 in taxes.
One tip: don’t be afraid to waitlist for redemption tickets. When I was within five days from departure, what I did was to call up Krisflyer membership services to enquire about the status of the waitlist. The agent on the phone will tell you that they will check on it, but more often than not I will get a email and SMS notification for immediate confirmation of the waitlisted ticket.
I read that this is not always the case, but one thing I find really this useful for is if your travel plans are flexible and you book on short notice.
Singapore Airlines only operate a single flight – SQ25 – out of New York John F. Kennedy Airport daily. The A380 service operates out of Terminal 4, the terminal that houses most of the international airlines, including Emirates, Virgin Atlantic, as well as Delta.
Flight today was due to depart JFK at 8.55pm, while I arrived close to five hours early at 4pm. When I arrive, most of the counters were already open, from Suites to Economy. I walked up to the Suites check-in counter and was promptly attended to before receiving my golden ticket.
Early check-in is available at JFK from six hours before the flight, but I’ll strongly encourage you to only arrive three to three and a half hours before. You will have enough time to check in, clear security and grab a meal at Shake Shack before walking to your gate, leisurely.
The biggest problem with the terminal was the lack of a dedicated security screening facility for premium passengers. While there is an entrance for premium passengers, the line eventually joins the general queue. Even with that, I had to wait in line for about 20 minutes before I was screened.
Right after security, I went to check out the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse. Singapore Airlines Suites passengers, as well as PPS Solitaire members, are invited to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, while all other business class and Krisflyer elite members are directed to the Swiss Air lounge.
Soon enough, the lounge made the announcement for Singapore Airlines passengers to board, so I promptly left the lounge and made my way to the gate, which wasn’t too far away. At the gate, the gate staff just began boarding passengers, starting with those with special needs and families with young children.
For those who are familiar with the A380, most major airports have A380-compatible gates where they have three aerobridges that can be connected to the A380 doors, two on the lower deck and one on the upper deck.
For some reason, there was only a single door attached to the lower deck this time round and that also means that boarding was a lot slower, with the Suites passengers stuck behind the large group of passengers requiring assistance. While this is not a major issue to me, but I was wondering if any of the Suites passengers were the likes of Crazy Rich Asians, who would be infuriated with waits of any kind!
Finally getting to the aircraft, my beautiful suite awaits me: Suite 4A. I took the whole of three seconds to take in the fact that I was going to spend the next 19 hours in this mini-apartment of mine, before I entered the glorious suite and stop being an annoyance in the aisle.
Popular belief was that Suite 3A and 3K were the best, given that they had three windows while every other window suite had only two. One particular thing to watch out for is that Suites 4A and 4K are really close to the galley, and that means being able to hear all the conversations in the galley. I personally didn’t mind (it can get awfully boring to spend 20 hours in-flight alone), but some people may be precious about the peace.
At this point in time, given that the product has been reviewed hundreds of times in the last 10 years, the oak and beige mini cabin needs no further beautiful visual introduction.
The menu was placed on the side table waiting for me, while the mini bolster, pillow and quilt was placed neatly on the ottoman. I plonked into my 35-inch wide leather seat, which comes with two adjustable armrests by the side if I prefer a snuggier seat.
The entire Suite cabin was full, all 12 suites were taken up, so the forward section was bustling with activities, with passengers settling into their seats and making themselves comfortable.
What is one thing that really stood out for me was the fact that there’s no overhead cabins. None. You simply stow everything under the ottoman in front of you. My neighbour over at 3D had a large and flat sheet that she couldn’t stow, so she simply handed it over to the cabin crew who took care of that.
I ever recalled someone telling me that the design principle for First class was that you should be able to put anything anywhere you like. Maybe that’s why there’s no overhead cabins.
And also behind each suite was a closet. If you have a coat, or change out to the pyjamas, the cabin crew will help you hang your clothes in that closet.
The suite was made up of a beautiful leather seat, with a side console that’s filled with everything you never knew you needed: a Bose noise-cancelling headphone in a hard case that barely fit into the side compartment next to you, and a multitude of sockets for your gadgets, including a universal socket and USB ports. I later found out these ports are available whether you are in seat mode or bed mode (more on that later).
On the side closer to the aisle was the in-flight entertainment remote control, as well as a dozen switches for lights everywhere in the suite. There was a light for reading, a light for dining, ambient lighting, backlight behind you… everywhere.
The ottoman across you can be used as a seat for a guest you are travelling with, and both of you could dine together if you’ll like. Unfortunately you can’t bring a friend from another class, that person has to be travelling in Suites too.
As for the bed, it is tucked behind your seat, folded up. I found out later during the flight that if you want to sleep, the cabin crew will have to fold down your leather seat and then set the bed for you. This is a little cumbersome, because that also means that you can’t exactly have breakfast in bed, which I was kind of half expecting.
Of course, the suites boast a wide 23” screen, but this doesn’t seem as large when its a gorgeous 60 inches, or five feet, away from you. In fact, when I was looking at the map I had to don my glasses to read the words off the screen. I believe the size of the screen was necessary for that kind of space.
I later also found out that there was a mirror tucked beside the screen. I was wondering its purpose, given that the cabin lights were dimmed almost the entire flight, making it impossible to use the mirrors.
After I spent enough time geeking out and checking out every nook and cranny, the friendly cabin crew came around asking if I will like a drink. I asked for a glass of champagne, and the cabin crew sheepishly explained that they were not allowed to serve alcoholic beverages on ground.
Never mind, I went with sparkling water, given that I had my share of champagne earlier at the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse. The water was promptly served in a Lalique designed rock glass.
Another cabin crew came around distributing the very beautiful Lalique pyjamas and amenity kit. Singapore Airlines only began working with Lalique a couple of months ago when it took delivery of its new A380s with the new suites.
I immediately got up and went to one of the two restrooms for Suites passengers to change into my pyjamas. The restroom was a pleasant surprise for me: it’s larger than the business or economy section lavatories, and also come with a leather padded seatboard that you could set down if you needed to sit for any reason.
I got changed comfortable in the restroom and when I got out with my clothes, I had a rather embarrassing tug-of-war with the in-flight manager who firmly offered to hang up my clothes when I thought I should do it myself. How wonderful it is to be rich, having people to hang your clothes up for you.
Soon, we pushed back for take off, and we were in the air shortly. The cabin crew, noting that I wanted a glass of champagne earlier on, came by again and asked if I wanted the Krug 2004 Vintage or the 2009 Dom Perignon.
I went for the Krug first, and this came quickly, along with a small dish of warm nuts. How luxurious.
About an hour after the flight departed from JFK, dinner was served. My aim was to try to stay up as much as I could through the night, so I was all in for dinner, unlike some of the passengers decide to skip dinner (how could they?!), shut the door and went to bed.
For passengers in Business and First class, a preview of the flight’s menu can be found online on Singapore Airlines’ website. For this first meal, as I was not impressed with the selection, I decided to go with the Book The Cook pre-order, the famous Lobster Thermidor.
But that’s only the main course. The full dinner menu looked something like the following:
Chilled Malossol Caviar
Hot-smoked Salmon Salad
San Marzano Tomato Cream Soup
Double-boiled Pork Soup
Mache, Endives, Vanilla Honey Poached Pear Salad
With a choice of apple balsamic vinegar dressing or orange yoghurt dressing
Seared Chicken Breast with Duck Confit Pudding
Fried Snapper and Prawns with Sam Ros Sauce
Lamb Loin with Lemon Rosemary Crusted and Natural Jus
Beef Noodle Soup
Selection of Cheese
Coffee and Tea
I had to try the caviar, given that it’s not every day you get to be pretentious and decide to open up an entire tub of caviar for the fun of it.
The caviar is served on a beautiful Wedgwood bone china plate, surrounded by the condiments including Melba toast, grated egg yolk, chives, red onions and a wedge of lemon on the side.
However, what has failed in this presentation is the absence of an inert spoon. If you search online, public opinion is that caviar should not be eaten using a metal spoon as it may affect the taste. Maybe I was supposed to scoop it up with my hands?
The caviar was good, but I admit it: I’m not refined enough to appreciate it. I’ll stick to ikura the next time.
Next up I went for a double-boiled pork soup. Now, I usually am very skeptical of soups given I know how long in advance airline food have been prepared. But this was unusually good and very, very heartening.
After the soup, of course there was the salad. Now, I’m not a big fan of greens in the air, so I took a few stabs at it and promptly got it cleared away, before the main attraction arrives.
The most anticipated moment was about to arrive: my lobster thermidor.
By this time, I was already more than half full, but obviously I wasn’t going to give up this gem.
The first glance at this dish, I admit, was underwhelming. It was a mish mash of orange and a bed of yellow.
But as I took the first bite, all was forgiven. The lobster chunk was full of flavour and tender. I was half expecting it to be slightly overcooked and rubbery, but my worries were unfounded. I definitely savoured every bite.
And with my lobster thermidor, I decided to switch up my champagne to the Dom Perignon.
While I was almost there after the main course, the dessert sounded a little too irresistible. I went for the Black Gotham, which contained chocolate creme us with vanilla cream, chocolate sorbet and cherry compote. It was the perfect end to my meal.
When the cheeses and fruits came around, I was too full to continue so I ended off the night with a Shiraz. I wondered if the cabin crew were chuckling at how much of a glutton I was.
By the time dinner was completed, we were already three hours into the flight and there were barely another four left to Frankfurt. As I was heading back to Singapore, my strategy was to try to stay up the entire night, but with the food coma that was starting to set in, I was feeling rather sleepy so I requested for my bed to be made.
Breakfast was supposed to be served in two hours’ time, and I was wondering how could anyone even digest that quickly. So as my bed was made by the in-flight manager, I told him that I will be skipping breakfast and instead be having just a flat white instead.
With my bed made with not one, but two pillows, I promptly jumped into it and fell asleep almost immediately. Indeed, it’s blissful to have a decent bed in the air. I liked that the bed was very firm, which I realise tend to be the preference of Asians but not Westerners. Given it was almost 3am in New York, I fell asleep in no time.
Barely a few hours later, a knock on my suite door came around and the leading steward gently opened the door, with my black coffee in hand as I’ve asked. He advised me that the flight was landing in less than an hour, and suggested that I go ahead and change out of my pyjamas while he keep the bed for me. I did as he suggested and when I came out, the window shades were all drawn up and I was once again in a bright and sunny suite.
The flight landed in no time, and Suites customers of course had the pleasure of disembarking first, which was a luxury. At the door was a ground staff, who promptly escorted most of us who were in transit to the Lufthansa’s Senator Lounge.
Overall the first flight of slightly under seven hours left me very impressed. The impeccable service, the glorious food and wine offerings, and of course, the timeless suite (despite being a decade old), was indeed a holiday of its own.