Flight: SQ286, April 2000
Aircraft: 747-400, 9V-SMC
Departure time: 1345
Departure gate: 5
Sector: AKL SIN
I decided to try Singapore Airlines’ famous inflight service for my trip to Hong Kong this time instead of Cathay Pacific, and it turned out to be an interesting experience…
Pre-September 11, check-in at the airport was quick (ah, the joys of not having to stand in a long queue for hold baggage to be screened as SIA requires now at AKL), check-in being handled by Air New Zealand agents in the main check in hall. The lady informed me that my boarding pass would get me access to the lounge and that the departure gate was 5 (clear-sided bridge, yay!)
With time to kill, I went straight through immigration – a nightmare. Although about 80% of the counters were open, I had foolishly booked travel on the first day of the New Zealand school holidays. Result – a queue stretching almost all the way out to the entrance to the departures corridor. I was not impressed, and judging by the looks from other passengers, they weren't either. Why Auckland don’t keep up with the times and either offer express clearance for premium passengers, or, like most airports, offer priority channels for New Zealand passport holders, is beyond me.
Most of my time to kill was spent in the extremely hot and stuffy immigration hall, with a one hour queue and a few airline agents at the other end panicking over travellers who left it to the last hour to go through immigration alleviating some of the boredom. Still, I wasn’t very impressed. I’ve been through shorter queues for passport control virtually everywhere else.
With about 20 minutes left to go till boarding, I decided to give the lounge a miss and occupy the rest of the time with some plane spotting. The only aircraft I vaguely remember is the Cathay Pacific A340-300 B-HXE readying for pushback from gate 10.
Strolling back up to gate 5, and wishing Auckland Airport would join the twenty-first century and install some moving walkways, SQ286 appeared to be in the full swing of boarding, a move no doubt inspired by the horrendous queues for passport control.
Singapore Airlines is handled by Air NZ in Auckland, and NZ4286 is tagged as a codeshare service on to this flight. The agents were nothing special, polite and pleasant enough, processing the boarding passes manually.
The procedure ex-AKL is for the main bit of the boarding pass handed back to you, and the airline keeping the stubs, a move usually the other way round at most other airports. I was surprised to find this was the procedure for all four SQ flights I took this trip. Perhaps this has now changed as I have observed that SIA have new boarding passes out, which look remarkably like Cathay Pacific's in design, in that the class of travel is prominently displayed on the left hand side.
A male steward is on hand at door 1L to greet incoming passengers, and to direct them to their seats. This aircraft was equipped with the old First class seats, and I must say that they did not look very impressive to me – I have an impression of purple and green reclining back into what looked like grey plastic buckets.
This was the time when SIA continuously kept sending its non-new First class equipped aircraft to Auckland. With no competition on this route in First class, I guess SIA had better uses for those planes.
My allocated seat today is 11C, on the upper deck, right at the front on the left side. Flight attendants are busy preparing drinks in the galley but one flight attendant, Sharon, escorted me to my seat as she was coming back from escorting someone else.
The new Ultimo seats were fitted on 9V-SMC. Impressive – liked the electronic control panel and the blue ‘upright all’ reset button. The privacy dividers I must say were as good as useless. The seats are upholstered in two different patterns, alternating such that no pair of seats will have the same pattern.
Flight crew came by with drinks shortly after as bright music is played over the cabin speakers. Standard choice of orange juice, water and champagne.
Menus are handed out prior to take-off, along with a round of hot towels. I was surprised to see that the menu also had the ex-Singapore menu as well as the AKL-SIN menu. I was not impressed as this seemed to be really finicky cost cutting. Towards the end of the flight, I observed flight attendants poking around seat pockets and collecting the menus back, obviously a company policy which I feel reeks of cheapness and does not reflect well upon SIA in my view.
Anyway, pushback was delayed slightly due to some pesky transit passengers who had the nerve to get delayed
but we were on our way shortly after, rumbling for a takeoff towards Henderson. Flight time was somewhere in the region of 9 hours verging on 10.
After departure, I extended the legrest, which was very comfortable, and the crew began preparations for the meal service. I can’t actually remember what happened – I assume tablecloths were laid and trays handed out, but nothing struck me as particularly untoward.
The menu had a really elegant illustration of a silver fern glistening on a blue airbrushed background. There is a preface of a very odd looking bunch of people – SIA’s ‘culinary panel’ and a long spiel about their various accomplishments. I had the chance to taste two of the ‘special creations’ later on HKG-SIN and SIN-AKL and I can safely say that they were completely disgusting. I now make a point of steering well clear of anything ‘especially created’ by ‘talented chefs’.
SIA also offers a lighter alternative of refreshments available throughout the flight of hot soup with crispy wholemeal crackers, flavourful Chinese instant noodles, sandwiches and a range of assorted biscuits. To complement my meal, my menu informs me, is SIA’s ‘special touches’ – freshly brewed espresso and cappuccino, and unique Kris Chilli sauce.
At the bottom is a little disclaimer saying that espresso and cappuccino are not available on selected Megatop 747s, Jubilee 777s and Celestar A340s. The small print also contains some sort of code with the flight number, sector and a few miscellaneous letters… this is a 3 month menu March-June.
Mixed seasonal salad
Tenderloin of beef in potato crust with Italian pesto sauce
Peperonata (Italian style mixed capsicum stew)
Wok fried prawns in hot bean paste with dried chillies
Steamed rice with egg julienne
Roasted escalope of ostrich in black pepper and thyme gravy
Seasonal vegetable medley
Buttered spiral noodles
Dark chocolate crème brulee
Coffee – tea
I must admit I was tempted to try the ostrich but opted for the beef itself. Rather tough and didn’t like the pesto much. A hot bread basket was offered once or twice – the usual selection of rolls and garlic bread. Drinks were available with the meal. Water top-ups were non-existent – much better on Air New Zealand.
I had a little flick through the PTV programming, and wasn’t very impressed. There were about three movies in English, one of them being kid-orientated, and two Chinese movies and a lifestyle channel of some sort. Even though the aircraft was not Wisemen equipped, the choice was poor.
The video games were a good way to pass the time, despite my efforts to try and race a little car around a futuristic track (it ended up flying off the side every time) and a quick nap with a pillow and decent blanket provided soon saw dinner being served.
Marinated chicken salad with spiced raspberries
Fresh garden salad
Grilled marinated chicken with Asian spiced yoghurt*
with fragrant rice
Wok fried salmon in black pepper and onion sauce
Chinese greens with carrots and black mushrooms
Grilled lamb noisettes with pearl onions in sage sauce
Selection of cheese with garnishes
Mandarin orange and pineapple gateau
Coffee – Tea
* Exclusively created by Mr Dietmar Sawyere of Forty One Restaurant, Sydney
I chose the salmon, which was considerably more tasty than the beef for the light meal, although the noodles were a bit on the crispy side i.e. undercooked or overcooked, whichever way you want to look at it!
The fruits and cheese were served together – the usual selection of melon bits etc., and then crew came by with the coffee and tea service, and the pralines.
Soon 9V-SMC began to descend into Singapore Changi Airport, the British pilot coming on over the PA system to advise of arrival information. A spectacular view of Singapore was visible as we began our final approach in. Parking today at gate E26, with the reclaim belt displayed on the sign as we exited the transit area.
Immigration was practically empty, with a big bowl of fruit lollies (rather like Air NZ’s) at each counter. The reclaim belts were the flat-belt type, like at Auckland, and luggage was offloaded pretty swiftly, with my bag being first on to the belt, a first-time experience for me!
Customs, like at most Asian airports was non-existent and that ended my first leg on Singapore Airlines!
Inflight product (seating and catering)
I was impressed with the Raffles class seat – at the time I thought it better than Cathay Pacific’s, particularly due to its electronics system. The wheel of time has turned and now, comparing the Spacebed to CX’s new Business class, I have to say that CX has turned out a more elegant product. The Ultimo seats will have been installed for a very short time – perhaps the shortest in history? Catering was okay, nothing spectacular and, as stated earlier, I thought the very obvious collection of menus prior to landing to be in very poor taste. Inflight entertainment I considered to be particularly weak, with a poor selection of movies.
I honestly can’t remember that much of the flight, which seems a good indication that none of the flight attendants were spectacularly rude. I do remember thinking that the service wasn’t all it was hyped up to be – yes, it was good, but I have had equally good or better service on other airlines, including Cathay and Malaysian (and even a really good crew once on British Airways).
Sorry for the continuous comparisons with Cathay but that really is the only airline I travel regularly and so their standards are the 'yardstick' which I use to measure up other airlines by on similar routes.
I know this report lacks more detail than some of my other ones, for two reasons. One, this trip was two years ago, and my memory is hazy; and two, I would be interested to know which type of style all you readers out there prefer.