A fascinating and adventurous winter week in Europe that had us stomping through London, Paris, Basel, and Brussels is about to come to a closing chapter. The relaxing afternoon tea near the Thames River, the chow down at a side street cafe at the Champs Elysees, the downward sliding on the slopes of Mt. Schiltron, and the chocolate shopping at Brussels are now a memory in the past. Our short vacation oddssey retreat has been utilized and the time has come for us to go back home and work. As they always say, all good things must come to an end. True; however, there was one last chapter in our trip that was still to come - a return trip home onboard SQ's First Class cabin, the very same First Class that brought us to Europe in the first place in the most fascinating display a traveller can ever dreamed of. Of course with those terrific flights I had, this was another opportunity for me to examine whether those SQ F encounters were a matter of reality and consistency or just a once in a lifetime excellence.
It has been a long day for us as the time has come to depart the continent and head back to the Far East. A brief morning stroll through Brussels with some last minute chocolate shopping followed by a journey across the English Channel onboard the Eurostar and a taxi spin through several roundabouts in the hectic London rushour traffic got us to Paddington Station for a hop into the Heathrow Express during the evening hours - a true saving grace that got us to Heathrow Terminal 3 in order to avoid the continuous traffic chaos that was bound to occur had we taken the full cab ride westbound along M4.
Around 7:50 pm GMT, we disembarked the express train and marched our way into the indoor check-in areas of T3. The scene at T3 was chaotic and certainly felt like a zoo atmosphere as usual with the masses of travelling body mingling in an endless cycle. SQ's check-in counters, located in Zone E, was already jammed with queued travellers waiting anxiously to be checked into flight 321 when we arrived - a first unwanted signal that this was indeed going to be another chock-a-block flight. In addition to the cramped areas of Zone E, the lighting in the vicinity was dark and poorly lit and more or less sums up the the disgraceful outdated infrasturcture of this airport which is also accompanied by torn carpets and peeled ceilings. Fortunatelly to our advantage, the First Class counter only had 3 passengers lined in front of us and the agent behind the desk was quick to handle each passenger's check-in process. Upon our turn she smiled, made eye contact with us, and examined our E-ticket receipts along with our passports. After successfully printing our boarding passes through the machine, she wrapped the baggage identification tag on the handles our two checked luggages and also placed a priority tag around them. At the end she informed us to check the monitors regularly around the facilites as our gate number has not been announced and would be informed shortly before boarding commencement. I am not sure whether this has to do with gate shortages at Heathrow, but even if it is related to that matter I find it inexcusable for them to delay the process. Other airports also have issues with gate availabiltiy, but they can organize the gate rotation in advance since they have all the airline's schedules operating in and out. Another disorganized element on behalf of the BAA management.
As we were leaving the counters to head back towards the elevators near the entrances, the amount of bodies lining up for our flights increased dramatically that one of the agents had to come out from behind the desk to organize the queues. Upon vacating the check-in lines moments afterwards, we discovered that the elevators located opposite of Zone E was not functioning nor was there a sign indicating that the operating device was out of order. We had to jam the button repeatedly and stand for 5 minutes before realizing that the system is a malfunctioned one. How ridiculous as it forced us to walk back through the cramped area of Zone E to take the alternative path towards the Fast Track lane located upstairs on the First Floor known as the escalator. Now this has left my fingers scratching my head for quite some time. Why on earth would someone design the spot of the escalators to be located smack in the middle between the longitude of the check in counters? In another word while we were checking in at the SQ counters, our views would somewhat be partially obstructed by the escalator if we were to turn around and look towards the counters located on the opposite side of the zone.
Anyhow we made our way up into the 1st floor and towards the fast track queue, which as noted by the meaning of the lane itself, got us through rather quickly despite the high volume of passengers during this time of the hour. Upon entrance into the airside facilities, we marched pass the semi circle path sandwiched between the gigantic World Duty Free Shop and made a dash towards the Silver Kris Lounge located near Gate 6A. The lounge has a separate First and Business class area. The First being located on the lower part and the Business being located on the upper section. As is the normal routine procedure with most SKL, the only required document to be presented for us to gain access was our boarding passes. The lounge itself, IMO, is one of the best at T3 - airy, spacious, and offers excellent views of the ramp, which even though dark outside during the time, gave us an opportunity to spot several SAS aircraft being loaded. Plenty of internet stations, couches, plasma screens - all of which were all well maintained. It was also a welcomed respite from the hectic scene taking place within the terminal itself. Food selections; however, was mediocre at best with only several offerings of sandwiches, cookies, and drinks. After a long train-taxi-train ride throughout the day, it was definately a relief to notice that the lounge had a shower as well as a sleeping facility to dwell in.
Took advantage of the shower facilities as a result to refreshen my body in preparation for the long flight back east and followed the sequence afterwards with a brief lay down. Soon after a quick glance at my watch indicating 9:20 pm had struct, I went straight to the nearest flight TV screen to discover that SQ321 has been assigned Gate 23 - located on the far end opposite side of the lounge. With the walking distance and amount of time required to get there taken into consideration, we immediately retrieved all of our carryons and shopping bags and made our exit through the lounge. A good 13 minute walk was indeed on the timing (Yes it was very crowded and could not walk any quicker than what I would have liked). As we finally reached the vicinity of Gate 23, a bevy of passengers were already packing the surroundings as evidently, boarding had just began momentarily.
Friday February 17, 2006
SQ 321: First Class, Seat 3D
Departs: London Heathrow (LHR)
Arrives: Singapore (SIN)
Departure Gate: 23
Arrival Gate: F41
Scheduled Departure Time: 10:15 pm
Actual Departure Time: 10:20 pm
Scheduled Arrival Time: 6:55 pm February 18, 2006
Actual Arrival Time: 6:44 pm February 18, 2006
Boarding for First Class passengers has indeed been called repeatedly. With that in mind, we wasted no time and queued with the other F passengers, submitted our boarding passes, retained the stub, marched across the lenght of the aerobridge and was greeted by stewardess Samantha. Acknowleging our presence, she immediately took action, bowed slightly, addressed us by our names, and escorted us to our seat located in the front cabin of the 744. She also offered to hang our coats at the closet located at the nose of the cabin. Purple carpets draping the floor as well as light brown wooden armrest, wooden framed PTV, gray cushions were evident in the 12 F class seats - all of which was filled and occupied for this fully booked flight.
After storing our belongings away and adjusting ourselves comfortably in the upright seating position on our skysuites, Samantha as well as the other FAs came around and offered us pre-take off champagnes with the ever so familiar (so familiar to me as I cherished it on last week's trip) Krug Grande Cuvee and Dom Perignon as the options to select from. From last Saturdays experience on the outbound flight as well as high recommendations from other frequent SQ fliers, the choice for me to take the DOM over the Krug was a relatively easy one even though I truly enjoy the Krug as well. Distribution of our Givenchy Pajamas, Bulgari Kits, flight menus, and a copy of the Singapore Strait Times soon followed afterwards.
As I was sipping through the DOM gradually, the captain welcomed us onboard through his PA announcement to infom us the last group of economy passengers has boarded and doors would close for the pushback shortly. Arrival into Singapore is estimated to be around 15 minutes ahead of schedule with a flight duration of approximately 12.5 hours. Push back indeed began shortly and the safety demonstration videos lit up everyone's PTV. As we were on our taxiway towards the runway, a pack of aircrafts were visible through the windows on Seat 3F as some had just arrived and the others, along with ours, were patiently waiting for their opportunity to line into the runway for takeoff. Still heavy traffic at Heathrow during this time at night. After maneuvering into a parallel position on the runway, our megatop accellerated down the lenght of 27L before rotating into the night skies.
Approximately after 2 hours has elapsed on the flight with seatbelt signs finally switched off, I decided to head over to the lavatories to change into my pajamas and several of the other passengers would soon follow as well. Luckily I was the first to head inside one of the two lavatories because the others behind me were also in a mad rush to jam their way inside. A quick change into my Givenchy and I was seated back into my sksuite ready for our first meal service.
Iranian ossestra caviar
With melba toast and condiments
Lobster with vegetable mille feuille and orange vinaigrette
Beef consomme with asparagus and white fungus
*Veal loin in a blanquette sauce with celery, celeriac and boiled fingerling potatoes
Malay style beef curry, spicy French beans, carrots with young corn and steamed rice
Mushroom ravioli with baby carrots, yellow squash in vegetable nage
With pickled ginger, wasabi and soya sauce
A selection of fresh fruit
Warm mango tart tatin served with
Mango ice cream and raspberry coulis
From the bakery
Oven fresh rolls
with a choice of extra virgin olive oil or butter
Freshly brewed coffee
Espresso or cappuccino
Selection of tea
To end on a sweet note
*Exclusively created by Gordon Ramsay, London
As I had requested the supper service to take place during this time of the flight, FA Samantha took that into account and began setting up my table in front of the PTV. She gently laid out the white cloth with blue edges followed by a large white plate placed in the center, two salt shakers adjacent to one another on the back of the plate, a BB plate situated on the left, two water glasses on the top right corner and a set of metal fork/knifes/spoons wrapped neatly in a white piece of napkin. She began by asking what I would like to drink to get this supper service rolling. "I'm a big fan of the Dom and wonder if I can get one again even though I had one prior to takeoff" I chuckled and asked. "Oh yes, we have plenty of them in stock and I'll be right back with that request sir" replied her acknowledging my needs. My second glass of DOM here it comes.
One of the superb highlights of this meal service was the Iranian Caviar for starters. I usually do not up for caviars very often on flights but decided to take a crack from the menu choices and I could not have been more pleased with the choice. Very striking in taste as was the beef curry for the main courses with just the right amount of spiciness fitted for my taste. Upon finishing my curry, Samantha came back with a glass of sprite I had requested earlier, cleared my center plate, and brought out the desert moments afterwards. Mango tart with mango ice cream was presented in front of us along with new desert spoons. Nothing really fancy about the appearance despite what I initially thought upon looking at the menu but was nonetheless reasonable. Unlike those extremely sweet tarts with over usage of sugar that I normally get in the U.S., this one was rather mild in sweetness and in a sense, more appropriate healthwise as far as sugar content is concerned.
After all chinawares and cloths cleared, tables wiped and stored away, I decided to take a brief nap. Unlike the outbound flight last week where I opted to make the bed myself, I had Samantha to do the honor of making my bed as I was curious to witness the touches and elegance if the whole scene was done by the profession of the FAs themselves. So as I stood on the outside, I witnessed her carefully converting the skysuite into a flat position, slipping an under sheet for extra comfort, and placing the pillows & duvets to conclude matters. With the bed all prepared for me to lie comfortally, I hopped on top slowly and fell into a brief sleep for approximately 3.5 hours. Nowhere close to the 7.5 hours I got last week, but I really wanted to maximise my flight experience and instead of a morning arrival, we will be descending into an evening Singapore time where I prefer to tire myself out and crash into the hotel bed at my destination.
We were halfway into our flight by the time I woke up and the sun outside the window has already rose. As the other passengers were still comfortably snoozing off, I decided to opt for a mid flight snack as well as another glass of DOM to keep me going. Apparantely Samantha had just returned from the back and was walking the isle next to my seat. That was when I took the opportunity to reqeust a shrimp wonton noodle soup as well as another glass of DOM. Without much hesitation, Samantha immediately acknowledged my request and headed out to sever and prepare them.
As I was slowly munching on my noodles and taking gentle sips on my Dom, I decided to flip open the Krisworld Wisement and keep my eyes busy. So many choices to choose from this gigantic IFE system in terms of variety that I decided to not bother with any movies or games. Instead I followed a documentary on the cheetas of Africa on the Discovery Channel.
Two and a half hour prior to landing, the crews around the F cabin was already busy in preparation for our brunch service and they were very organized and timely. At the same time, I decided to return to the lavatories to change back from the Pajamas to my original cloth.
A choice of apple, tomato and freshly squeezed orange
Fresh fruit plate
Choice of cereals or yoghurt
Cornflakes with milk or Birchermuesli
Plain or fruit yoghurt
Rice congee cooked with sliced garoupa fillet and topped with Chinese cruellers
Grilled ham steak with honey-jus, sauteed mushrooms, roma tomato and roesti
Freshly prepared eggs
Baked, soft-boiled or scrambled egg on toast served with choice or broiled ham or linguisa pork sausage
From the bakery
Assorted breakfast rolls
Butter, jam, marmalade or honey
Freshly brewed coffee
Espresso or cappuccino
Selection of tea
After setting up my tables just the way she did on the earlier meal service with all the organized cloth, culteries, plates and glasses placed according to the correct positioning, Samantha asked again what type of drink was interested in taking and believe it or not, I went with the Dom Perignon Champagne once again for the fourth time. I am not really able to find an excuse, but I will not deny the fact that I have been addicted to such a drink.
To get started with this meal service a plate of fresh fruit containing strawberries, slices of mangoes,and kiwis were laid out along with pastries being served on the BB plate, and a bowl of cereal that I had elected to choose. It was obvious that the FAs did not want to rush the service and thus allowed everyone to take their time and finish their starters before delivering the main courses. As for the main dish itself, I ended up selecting the fish congee. Again, a simple non-fancy dish that had all the right and sufficient amount of elements and ingreditents to satisfy my hunger and taste.
At approximately 5:35 pm SGT, the clearing process was well underway as all passengers including myself have finished consuming our meals and an announcement by the captain soon followed that descent into Changi has begun. Sun beginning to set as we slowly immersed through the clouds hanging over the Malay Peninsula. Landing was definately from the south along the Changi Coast and at around 6;45 pm on a Saturday evening local time we finally touched down at 2C. Traffic was moderately light at Changi during the moment, and after a brief hold on taxi after exiting the runway, our megatop continued towards its path into terminal 2 and eventually stationed at F41.
As usualy we were the first group to disembark the aircraft and got a smiliing farewell from each of the crew including as were vacating the aircraft with our belongings. A quick walk through the aerobridge got us into the terminal facility. Unlike Heathrow, Changi was a paradise with much up to date infrasturcture and clean interiors. Immigration and baggage retrieval took only 20 minutes combined as I always belive such procedures to be among the most passenger-friendly. In a short time, we were already loading our luggages and bags into the taxi for our ride into the Ritz Carlton Millenia in town where we will be spending the night and get a good night's rest before taking our flight back home to HKG via BKK the following day.
Overall another superb F flight with SQ and indeed proves that the excellence I encountered on the outbound journey was neither a one time excellence nor a fluke. There is no doubt in my mind that SQ First Class is the best there is out there. The only downside of having taken F class on SQ's LHR flights is that they are often packed to the brim. It is without a doubt one of their premium routes. All F seats on both flights I took, SQ321 and SQ322, were filled to the capacity. But despite the full cabins, it did not at all effect the fact that I was able to cherish this experience.
I'll have one more flight onboard SQ first the following day to BKK, and though it is only a brief flight of barely over two hours, it is definately something to look foward to after three solid F flights so far with SIA. After tomorrow, it will difficult for me to predict when I will again be presented with the opportunity to travel in F onboard an SQ metal. For many such as myself, such opportunities do not come very often and I am glad that I had the chance to do so this time around. A memorable flight and trip that I can savour for quite some time.