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Singapore Airlines as we know them now them only came into fruition in October 1972, which makes their name relatively new in the world of long-haul travel. The history of the airline can however be traced back to 1947 when Malayan Airlines began operating internal flights within Malaysia. In 1963 it’s name changed to Malaysian Airlines and then again in 1966 to Malaysian-Singapore Airlines in reference to the fact that both Governments were funding the business. In 1972 MSA ceased to exist and was replaced by Malaysian Airline System and SINGAPORE AIRLINE. Back then they had a flight network of twenty-two cities in eighteen countries. Today that has increased to ninety destinations in around forty countries. From the UK, flights with Singapore depart/arrive from both London Heathrow and Manchester.
~PRICING AND TICKETING~
The flights I used this year were –
SQ321 – Heathrow to Singapore – departs 22.15 daily – 747-400 SQ221 – Singapore to Sydney – departs 20.40 daily – 747-400 SQ230 – Adelaide to Singapore – departs 14.30 daily – 777-200 SQ322 – Singapore to Heathrow – departs 23.20 daily – 747-400
I booked my tickets around five months in advance through Lunn Poly. I paid £840 inclusive of taxes and my tickets (worth £1,171) were issued within a week. The alternative to this was booking online directly with the airline. Booking direct allows you to utilise the online 48-hour virtual check-in desk and chose your seat. However I would strongly advice, unless you have more money than braincells you DON’T. The price I was quoted at their website for the exact same trip and dates? Please don’t faint when I reveal the figure in question was in excess of £4,500… I worked out that the difference in price between the tickets in my hand and the online quote was in the region of £3,900. I can’t for the life of me work out how such a huge discrepancy can be justified; the extra benefit of booking direct certainly doesn’t even come close to justifying the price hike.
Singapore Airlines leave and arrive from terminal three at Heathrow and from terminal two at Singapore Changi. Forget the virtual check-in (which has a special desk at each airport), SIA actually allow us mere mortals a very generous six-hour time limit as opposed to the standard three hours. I arrived at Heathrow almost five hours before the flight was due to depart (I had no idea at this point about the extra time limit) and was amazed to be allowed to check-in!
As I was so early there was no queue and the staff member who processed me was very friendly, smiling and efficient. I was given the usual aisle/window seating choice, in fact the whole process only took a few minutes including the standard safety questions. The same can be said at the end of my holiday when I checked in at Adelaide. Granted this time there was a queue as I stuck to the regular three-hour time limit, but the line moved quickly and everyone seemed to be processed with the minimum of fuss. Again I was allowed a choice of seating. The lady passenger at the desk next to me had a bag that was too heavy but her excess was quickly popped into another bag that THEY provided and her check-in proceeded without another hitch and still with friendly smiles. Now doesn’t that make all the difference?
Baggage weight limits are pretty standard, 20kg (44lb) for checked-in luggage with one piece of hand luggage. I actually had two pieces of hand luggage but that posed no problems!
Both of my outbound flights were punctual almost to the minute both on departure and arrival but the return leg was a different story. At Adelaide, for reasons that were never clear to me, the ground staff were just in no hurry to embark the passengers and when the process did finally get underway it was done at an almost unbelievably leisurely pace. We did however make up the time in the air so that we arrived in Singapore virtually on time.
In Singapore we were all checked through to the small departure gate lounge when it was announced that the plane (coming from Sydney) had been late arriving so therefore our departure was going to be delayed by at least half an hour. Now I am fully aware that half an hour is neither here nor there normally but this announcement wasn’t made until the scheduled departure time had already passed, it was around eleven-thirty at night and we were all trapped in a small glass box with no access to any facilities. Couple all this with the fact that I wasn’t feeling at all well and I just wanted to go to sleep. They were clearly aware of this fact when they began check-in so why were we not all warned somewhat earlier than we were? Black mark there for SIA I think…
All of Singapore Airlines’ planes are, from what I could gather, fairly new. They are reputed to have the most modern fleet of aeroplanes in use and I concur from what I saw. All of the planes were scrupulously clean and well fitted out, the seats well upholstered (in either blue or purple) and the crew operated things like the cabin lights via touch screen units.
That said, the SEAT PITCH in Economy was pathetic. It was supposedly 32” but I beg to differ. Seating was very cramped on the 747’s both in width and pitch and I’m only just over five-feet tall and nine stone dripping wet. Things were okayish when the seat in front was upright, but should the person in the seat in front recline, you were looking up their nostrils and pinned firmly where you sat! Should you wish to get up and move around the cabin and weren’t lucky enough to have an aisle seat it was time to practice mountaineering if your neighbour had fallen asleep. Things were a little better on the 777 but not by much. At least it felt more spacious due to the plane’s design and the fact that the overhead lockers are far more streamlined in the cabin!
On the back of each seat is a small personal screen, which is where you can immerse yourself in the entertainment system. Headsets are provided free and incidentally it was SIA who began the practice of dishing these out without charge. They are the ‘hook over the ear’ variety and very comfortable. They also seem to be well insulated, as I couldn’t hear what anyone else was listening to. The system is controlled by a handset that is located (for storage) in one side of the seat, in the armrest. This handset serves many purposes. On one side it is the control for the screen, allowing you to switch between channels and on the other it is a satellite phone should you have a credit card and the urge to call your Mother at 40,000 feet!
KRISWORLD is a blanket name given by Singapore Airlines to cover their Movie/Audio/Games system. There’s a choice of around ten main movie channels, around ten audio channels, plus assorted comedies, documentaries as well as a weather channel, a news channel that shows the worlds headlines updated every hour via satellite and the obligatory navigator that shows where you are in the world. When you’ve watched all you can and had your fill of the audio channels you can play games: Nintendo, PC and multi-player choices are all available. I found the games to be pretty good with a wide selection available, which means there should be something there to suit everyones tastes. I did however find that everytime I ‘paused’ the game I was playing it wouldn’t restart, in fact it froze my own personal system and the crew had to reboot! At first I thought it was a one-off but it happened each and every time. A pain in the backside quite frankly…
On the way to Singapore from Heathrow I watched Red Dragon, which I had missed at the cinema. On the return leg they had Harry Potter’s latest effort as well as a James Bond movie but I was interested in neither! I did however enjoy the Robbie Williams concert they were showing…Some of SIA’s planes are now equipped to play ‘movies on demand’, meaning you pick your movie and start it when you want to instead of having to wait for the next scheduled showing. I was lucky enough to have this facility on the outward legs but not on the return. It really does make an incredible difference being able to pick what you want to watch and when; hopefully all of their aeroplanes will have this soon. Around an hour before arrival at your destination a short film is played that covers all the sights and attractions that are available wherever you are going. This is played both on the front ‘screen’ in each seating section and on the Krisworld personal system.
The CABIN STAFF were all very helpful and friendly; everything was done with a smile and they really couldn’t do enough for you, nothing was too much trouble. One push of the in-seat call button and someone was by your side virtually immediately. The women all looked very elegant in their Batik print uniforms even if they were a little bit stick thin and sickening! The men’s blue uniforms were also very smart and they all spoke perfect English.
The PILOTS were a bit of a mixed bag, they were mainly quiet but two of them stand out in my mind. The guy who took us from Heathrow to Singapore I could award a medal to, never before have experienced such a perfect take-off and landing; he certainly would have put any nervous flier at ease. The second one I’m singling out is called Roger. His name stands out but not quite for the right reasons! I had the ‘pleasure’ of being his passenger not once but twice and he seemed to love two things in life – turbulence and talking! He also seemed to want to prove the aircraft had three wheels as coming into Heathrow he managed to land the plane onto each…separately. Bounce, bounce, bounce; maybe he should be renamed Captain Kangaroo!
Singapore Airline boast that they have 'World Gourmet Cuisine’ and that would be a pretty accurate summation in my opinion. Authentic Asian meals are available for selection on all flights out of Singapore, flights from and into Heathrow have meals created by Gordon Ramsey and they all seem to translate well despite the average ability of airline caterers!
The onboard MEALS were, in a word, delicious. As with most airlines there was a choice between two hot courses for both breakfast and main meals, but dinners had FOUR courses; starter, main hot selection, desert, plus cheese and biscuits. All meals are served with fruit juice and bottled style water along with a choice of alcoholic beverage and tea/coffee. The main dinner selections all seemed to be between chicken or fish but vegetarian options can be pre-booked. Breakfast choices seemed to be between, say noodles or omelettes but each and every meal I tried was fantastic and very filling. Upon arrival in both Sydney and back in the UK I didn’t eat for almost twenty-four hours; I didn’t need to!
General Economy class AMENITIES were pretty good. Every passenger gets a pair of knitted socks and a toothbrush set upon embarkation but unlike other airlines I have flown with, no eyemask. To be honest though, when the cabin lights are turned out it’s pretty dark so it really wasn’t a problem. The pillows provided were the usual titchy sizes but the blanket was larger than others I have tried desperately to cover myself with! Each seat has its own footrest and I did actually manage to get quite a few hours sleep on each flight.
Toilet facilities were spotlessly clean and the stewardesses regularly checked them and sorted out any minor mishaps. The toilet cubicles were well stocked with various toiletries including hand lotion, after shave lotion and eau de cologne. Disposable razors and combs are also available from the crew, these articles are obviously now banned from hand luggage.
KRISSHOP is Singapore Airlines in-flight duty free service and gift shop. I didn’t personally purchase anything from the pretty extensive range of products available as I have discovered through experience that buying in Singapore is far cheaper, but the prices did seem pretty competitive for a mid-air service. The jewellery looked particularly good.
Overall Singapore Airlines seemed to me to be outstanding in most areas but sadly lacking in the economy class comfort factor. The food is excellent, the crew outstanding in their attention to detail and friendly warm smiles, Krisworld when it’s working is good and certainly has enough choice for all but the pickiest of passengers. Their prices from what I could tell are competitive as long as you book through a travel agent; I think the price I paid was pretty reasonable to say I was travelling in the middle of the Australian summer.
Why oh why then have they fallen into the ‘cram them in’ syndrome so synonymous with carriers like BA? The seats were neither generous in width or legroom and after parting with an awful lot of money for my flights I didn’t want to have to hone my mountaineering skills as well just to be able to get to the toilet!
On reflection I have given them four stars. I was tempted to give just three but I felt that would have been an unfair reflection of what is generally an excellent service. I couldn’t however go the whole hog and award five; they really do need to have a re-think about cabin space in Economy class. Come on SIA – you pioneered free drinks to all passengers and no-charge policy for your headsets; how about trying to treat us poor people a little better in the comfort stakes too?
Brilliant review! Informative, clear, and a breeze to read. Anyway definately deserving of an exceptional rating. All the best. Antony
Quakerman 30.11.2003 10:13
I am flying with them in five weeks to Singapore for a stopover (using one of their great deals) and then on to Auckland. It all sounds great except for the seat pitch. I had heard they were good in this respect. I'm flying out of Manchester but I am not flying back with them as I am going on to the USA and Canada and back over the Atlantic. Just hope I don't get Rogered! Harry
Sbanshee 24.06.2003 16:26
Sounds like that other wonderful airline Air Fungus (Aer Lingus) :)