This week in San Francisco, Singapore Airlines put on a posh gala at the St Regis to celebrate the launch of its newest, longest nonstop flight between San Francisco to Singapore.
SIA will deploy its newest aircraft, an Airbus A350, on the 17-or-so-hour flight, the first of which departs from SFO this Sunday. It’s the first time an Airbus A350 has touched down for commercial service at SFO. Fares for November flights are currently about $800 round trip in economy, $1,800 in premium economy and $4,200 in business class. There are no first class seats on the A350. (TavelSkills editor Chris McGinnis will be on the inaugural flight, so stay tuned for his trip report!)
The city’s travel and diplomatic community gathered for a fancy fete where we dined on appetizers, meals and wine served in business and first class on Singapore Airlines flights. On the floor of the event space were two of Singapore’s latest generation business class seats– just like the ones on its new A350– along with a dozen or so “Singapore girls” to assist in transforming the plush leather seat into a nice wide bed for sleeping.
Prior to the event, I was able to sit down with Mr. Mak Swee Wah, Singapore Air’s Executive VP – Commercial, to talk about the new plane and the new nonstop flight, which will be the longest in the SIA network. Here are some highlights from our chat:
TravelSkills: What’s so great about the new A350? What will passengers notice about the plane as soon as they walk onboard? How does it differ from the current B777s used on the route?
Mr Mak: This is the very latest generation twin jet in the market and is much more efficient than other planes. It is perfectly sized [253 passengers] for us to deploy on less dense routes. Singapore-Amsterdam was the first route for our A350s and San Francisco is the latest. The first thing passengers may notice when boarding is how spacious the cabin feels. The shape of the A350 fuselage is such that the side walls are nearly vertical, providing additional shoulder and head space for passengers seated at the windows. When onboard, passengers will notice the latest generation of our seats in all classes- for example, in business class, they’ll enjoy the third iteration of our new business class seat. The carbon fiber used to construct the plane not only makes it lighter and more efficient, it also helps in pressurization and humidity, which makes flights feel more comfortable and helps prevent jet lag. It also makes inflight food taste better. Hepa-filters keep cabin air as clean as in hospitals. Plus, the windows on the A350 are larger than on other Airbus planes- so better views, too.
TravelSkills: SIA is using SQ 31 and SQ 32 as the flight numbers for the SFO-SIN nonstop service. Did you all consider giving the new flight the iconic SQ 1 and SQ 2 designation that you now use on the SFO-Hong Kong-Singapore flights?
Mr Mak: There’s a logic to our flight numbers. For example, all the flights to/from the Americas have single or double digits. Since SQ1 and SQ2 were our first flights ever to the US, we want to preserve that history. Our flights to Singapore via Hong Kong are well established and popular, so we don’t want to change a good thing. When I see the numbers 31 and 32, though, it makes me think in Cantonese where numbers can have significant meaning. The number 3 signifies life and the number 1 is something like long-lasting or longevity. So flight #31 could be about long-lasting life. With 32, you have 3 meaning life, and 2 meaning easy or comfortable. This is not how the company came up with those flight numbers, but it’s a nice way for me to explain them to you and your readers!
TravelSkills: What did Singapore Air learn about long distance flying when it ran A340s between Newark and Singapore- an 18-20 hour flight that was then the longest in the world?
Mr Mak: We flew the Airbus A340 between Newark and Singapore from 2004-2013. It was an all business class flight with just 100 seats. On long flights like that, our service proposition really comes out and we take a three pronged approach offering good seats, good food and good entertainment. On the new A350, we’ll have the latest generation of our inflight entertainment system, which is arguably the best one in the world. We are currently working on expanding flexible dining options on ultra long haul flights so passengers can eat and sleep on their own cycle. [Later in the evening during a speech Mak said:] When we launch New York-Singapore nonstops in 2018 with the new A350ULR [“ultra long range”] we will reclaim the crown of the world’s longest commercial flight. And we’ll make business travelers in New York and Singapore very happy.
TravelSkills: Are there any plans to upgrade or enhance the Singapore Air Silver Kris lounge at SFO?
Mr Mak: We are looking at our options there. We are aware of the complaints from passengers about the facilities and are working on solutions to improve the lounge.
TravelSkills: United is sure to put its Polaris business class on its SFO-SIN nonstop soon. How will SIA compare or compete with that? How will you convince the many hardcore United Mileage Plus members to fly SIA instead? That’s 17,000 miles round trip!
Our schedules, our hard and soft product, our route network and our well-known inflight service all contribute to a very compelling value proposition. We are also a member of Star Alliance, so MileagePlus members can still earn miles when flying on SIA.
TravelSkills: Will the A350 be able to fly full year-round or will there be weight or passenger limitations?
Mr Mak: The aircraft can definitely perform on the SFO-SIN flight. However during winter months when winds shift, we will have to carry more fuel and less weight– fewer passengers, less cargo or a little of both.
Paul Edwards, the head of Design and Brand Management at Airbus made a speech at the St Regis gala about the new flight and the new plane– here are some interesting nuggets about the A350 that he shared:
>The current version of the plane is the Airbus A350XWB, which stands for Extra Wide Body. At 19.6 feet wide, it’s more spacious than the competing Boeing 787 Dreamliner at 18 feet, 11 inches. The longer range version is the A350ULR which stands for Ultra Long Range, and will be deployed on the New York and Los Angeles runs. [Interesting to note that SFO is closer to Singapore than LAX!]
>The A350 is 25% more efficient than other similar aircraft, which means it burns less fuel per passenger making it “the most environmentally friendly aircraft in the sky”
>The A350 has the largest overhead bins flying– so large that they don’t install them in the center of the plane– which makes it feel much more spacious.
>Cabin air on the A350 is changed every 2-3 minutes and is recirculated through hepa-filters which helps maintain a “fresh smelling” cabin
>There are 12 separate temperature zones on the A350, so rarely will you find hot or cold spots.
>The rate of change in cabin pressure is controlled by onboard computers and gradually increases or decreases during take off and landing, preventing ear-popping.
>Cabin pressure is the same as you’d find at about 6,000 feet on the ground [so about like Denver]. Other aircraft have cabin pressure at about 8,000 feet.
>The A350 is about six decibels quieter than other aircraft, which results in better sleep– and less need for noise canceling headsets.
>In economy class, those obnoxious underseat metal boxes that contain inflight entertainment systems have been removed to provide more legroom.
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