SILKAIR MI 633
SINGAPORE – SIEM REAP
Flight Time: 2:10HRS
DEP SIN: 1425LT (+8 GMT)
ARR REP: 1535LT (+7 GMT)
After my recent TR on SQ’s newest product, I thought the time was ripe to write a report about Singapore’s other full service carrier, Silk Air. There will be numerous comparisons made between the two airlines in this report, and I hope that it’ll allow my fellow a.netters to get to know a little more about this relatively less well-known carrier…
For years, Silk Air (MI) has been perceived as SQ’s poorer cousin. Unlike “big brother”, MI has never quite gotten its act together in terms of branding and positioning in the market. While SQ boasts of having a young fleet of aircrafts, excellent and innovative inflight products and amenities, internationally renowned inflight service and the much talked about Singapore Girls in their unique and classic Sarong Kebayas; MI has, since its inception as Tradewinds in the mid-70s till it was officially renamed Silk Air in 1992, always remained in SQ’s shadows.
MI currently has a fleet of A320s and A319s flying to lesser known resort and business destinations in Southeast Asia, China, India, Nepal and even Taiwan. The airline does not boast to have inflight services or even entertainment systems that other airlines talk about. In fact, stepping into a MI aircraft one would feel like he has taken a step back in time, before the advent of PTVs, before adjustable headrests, when the only form of inflight entertainment was the drop-down screens, where passengers had to rent a portable video player if they so desired to watch a movie that was not shown on the mainscreen (and even that is only available on longer routes).
Many who are familiar with the SQ-MI relationship would have heard that the latter had always been, to put it bluntly, bullied by big brother SQ. Routes that were dropped by the latter due to poor loads, but were deemed important enough to retain, were often passed on to MI. Take Kaohsiung for example; for as long as I could remember, KHH started off as an SQ destination. It was subsequently ‘thrown’ to MI, before SQ took it back some years later only to throw it back to MI in recent years. Shenzhen, Kathmandu are other examples of SQ destinations being passed to MI.
Besides these destination hand-me-downs, many also believed that a large proportion of MI’s all-female cabin crew were at one time or another, SQ rejects! How true all these rumors were, is anybody’s guess; but it is certainly a rumor that I’ve heard even from SQ staff themselves when I joined “big-brother” ions ago. It is therefore not surprising that many people, including myself, have always assumed that MI is a second tier regional carrier that was of a completely different (lower) league from SQ.
MI embarked on a massive branding exercise recently, and with that, it now actively positions itself as a premium, short-medium haul regional carrier. Tacky TV commercials aside, its new tag line “Where the World Unwinds” continues to give one the sense that the airline caters mainly to leisure (aka low-yield) traffic.
Tacky TVCs - ...
I had the opportunity to fly MI for the first time last year for a last minute work assignment in Siem Reap (REP). I had a choice of flying MI direct, or traveling on the cheaper option of Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways via BKK. Both flights would get me to REP at about the same time; however, on the return leg, flying TG would get me back to SIN much earlier than MI due to the latter’s later departure from REP and having an additional stop in Danang. I finally opted for MI, while my boss decided on TG… just so that he could be in SIN earlier to celebrate his wife’s birthday… isn’t that sweet?
I dragged myself out of the office just before 1pm on the day of my departure, and within minutes, was in a cab on the ECP speeding towards Changi Airport for my 2.25pm flight to REP. I arrived at terminal 2 twenty minutes later, and headed towards the MI counters sharing the same check in island as SQ’s business class counters. How weird it felt to be away from the ‘up-market’ SQ crowd this time
With hardly anyone else at the counters, check in was completed within 1 minute by the efficient, but not extremely chatty SATS agent. I was soon on my way to the Star Alliance Lounge located just next to the Silver Kris lounges for a quick lunch. MI uses the *A lounge at Changi. I suppose even its business class passengers were deemed ‘unfit’ to hang out with the SQ crowd… The *A lounge was rather quiet at this time of the afternoon as the bulk of SQ’s *Gold passengers had already departed on a myriad of flights earlier in the afternoon.
Scenes from the *A lounge…
The one thing that the Silver Kris Lounge next door does NOT have… WINDOWS with VIEWS!!
The selection of hot and cold food available in the lounge compared to what those SQ passengers were feasting on next door was in a word, miserable. Apart from the usual non-descript cold sandwiches, the only hot food available was a curry-like chicken dish with pickles and rice. Nevertheless, the meal was tasty and satisfying, and would last me till dinner in REP (just in case MI’s inflight meal weren’t as substantial as what I’d typically get on a 2 hr flight on SQ).
I left the lounge and headed towards the almost empty gate 20 min before the scheduled departure time and boarded the waiting A320 aircraft. MI’s young all-girl crew were friendly and cheerful as they greeted passengers at the door and along the aisle. Their poise and presence (and not to mention plastic smiles) somehow gave one the impression that they were SQ girls disguised in the new MI uniform! Even the way they styled their hair reminded me so much of their kebaya-clad colleagues in SQ.
Use your hands to cover the uniform in the photo below, and you’ll understand what I’m saying. Nevertheless, this is an old corporate photo. I read somewhere that since the recent branding exercise, MI management has relaxed the rule on how their FAs should style their hair. FAs could style their hair anyway they liked, even tying them in a pony-tail. I suspect those MI girls are still getting used to this new found freedom, as those pony tails were still impeccably tied, with not a strand of hair out of place.
Settling into my window seat, it was soon obvious that this flight would only be 60% full with lots of empty rows towards the back of the aircraft. While there were no high tech gadgets such as PTVs, and consoles, footrests or adjustable headrests, MI offers generous seat pitch in the standard 3 x 3 configuration. Interestingly, I found that the middle seats on each row were about two inches wider than the window and aisle seats, compensating passengers stuck in middle seats with more personal space. Does any other airline offer wider middle seats on their A320s? I’ve never noticed the extra space in the middle seats on VN and LH’s A320s that I had recently flown on. SQ should take a lesson from MI here, and stop packing their passengers like sardines. Then again, I suppose MI does not feel the need to pack their customers like sardines as supply seems to exceed demand on most of their flights…
The cabin was clean and well maintained, and showed no signs of age despite this being one of MI’s older aircraft in its fleet.
MI’s cabin interior – blue all over… light blue seats for Y, dark blue seats for J.
The extra width in the middle seat – unfortunately, not very visible from this angle…
The bulkhead wallpaper motif looks rather similar to the ones found in SQ’s B744s before the advent of Sky-suites in 1998.
Photo © Bailey - AirTeamImages
As I settled down in my seat, I kept my fingers crossed that I would have all three seats to myself that afternoon. Besides, there were so many other empty seats available. Cabin doors closed 5 minutes before departure, and just as I smiled in glee over the fact that I had bought 1 seat and was going to get 2 seats free, an elderly couple, the last people to board the aircraft, plonked themselves next to me! “What the…”
I forced a smile (probably as forced as some of the crew on that flight) as the couple made themselves comfortable next to me and kept my elbows firmly placed on both my armrests to prevent the lady from encroaching into my space. I tried unsuccessfully to start a conversation with the couple, but received blank stares instead. Hmm… non-English speakers I figured. So I hinted, politely in Mandarin, once again that there were plenty of seats behind the aircraft, and that they’d have more space to themselves there. This time, they smiled and nodded, and stayed put. I wasn’t sure if they understood me at all. They could have been Cambodians or Vietnamese going on to Danang, I couldn’t tell. I decided then that if I couldn’t move the mountain, I should simply move myself instead… and moved I did… 3 rows back where I enjoyed complete privacy. No passengers in front, behind or beside me.
Crew went down the cabin distributing newspapers and assisting passengers with their hand-carry. All very SQesque…
The overhead screens were activated and folded down to start the safety video presentation just as the aircraft pushed back. Compared to SQ, MI’s safety video was remarkably short, like an abridged version of SQ’s never ending safety video. The video ended within 2 minutes.
Announcements were subsequently made by the crew reminding passengers to ensure that their seat belts were fastened, tray tables were secured and window shades are up… sounds familiar?
I almost know SQ’s inflight announcements by heart, and frankly, there was very little difference between the announcements on MI and SQ! Apart from the fact that Singapore Airlines was replaced with Silkair, and the “…a member of Star Alliance” phrase was omitted, everything else sounded almost identical!
MI633 was pushed back from the gate on time. As it was a rather quiet time for the day for Changi Airport, we were in the air less than 10 after leaving the gate…
Giving way to big brother…
In typical SQ style, the MI crew swung into action soon after the seatbelt signs were switched off to prepare for the lunch service. No menus or headsets were distributed. I believe MI does not offer menus in YCL; and since there was no inflight entertainment to speak of, there were no headsets either. Instead, passengers were treated to a series of “silent” movies playing from the overhead screens. Yes, silent movies… we spent much of our time watching “Just For Laughs” and some other travel documentary. For those of you who are familiar with Just For Laughs, you’d understand why there was no need for any audio. Just watch the show and laugh if you find the antics funny.
Fold down overhead screens – Just For Laughs was being screened:
I was getting bored to bits waiting for lunch to be served, and flipped through whatever reading material was available in the seat pocket in front of me. Yes, I was even reading the fine prints on the safety card! Unlike SQ, there were no magazine racks at the back of the aircraft if you didn’t find anything interesting in the seat pockets.
The crew also came around offering blankets to whoever needed one. The cabin temperature was comfortable, but I asked for one nonetheless, just so that I could see what they looked like. These MI blankets were definitely thicker and warmer than the skimpy ones found on SQ's non-77W flights.
Lunch was finally served about 30min into the flight, and I was offered either chicken or fish. I was served my meal with a smile, and was offered a drink. I opted for a coke and was given a cup of it. “Enjoy your meal” the petite looking FA said, and left. Crew worked fast, were polite and ever willing to accede to any requests by passengers. I didn’t notice any crew engaging in any chat with the passengers… just like big brother. Additional rounds of drinks were offered after the crew had completed the distributing the meals.
Here are some snapshots of my lunch on MI:
The foil cover says Chicken Fricasse, but the FA told me that it was Mongolian stir-fried chicken. I’m not sure what it really was, but it wasn’t very flavorful or filling. I was glad I had something to eat before the flight…
Assorted “canned” fruits – Pieces of dragon-fruit, stuffed rambutans, grapes and melon. Definitely more variety than SQ’s standard tasteless papaya, sour pineapple and grape platter. Both SQ and MI caters their food from SATS catering.
Lunch was a simple affair. Just two dishes with no bread rolls or appetizer. I think SQ offers a bread roll even for the 1.30hr CGK flights. MI’s serviceware is similar to the ones that SQ used way back in the early 1990s, but in a different color. Everything on the tray were made of non-disposable plastic. They looked pretty out-dated. I wonder if they dyed them green after SQ handed them down??
Nevertheless, service was efficient, and relaxed. Two more rounds of coffee/tea or juices were offered before the crew cleared the trays. I requested for more coke, and asked for extra ice. “Sure, 3 cubes enough for you?” the FA asked as she poured the coke for me… and then proceeded to clear my tray.
The rest of the flight went by smoothly, and the duty free cart began its way down the aisle. I spotted a pair of goggles which I thought I’d probably need if I had time for a dip in the hotel pool during my stay in Siem Reap, and paid for it with my credit card without realizing that I hadn’t brought my swimming trunks along on this trip… nevermind! Just one of those impulse shopping that I'm prone to have. I passed my card to the FA, who had all this while addressed me as “sir”. She came back with my purchase moments later and handed me my receipt and card. “Thank you, Mr SQ772” (well, she addressed me by my family name, but you guys probably wouldn’t be able to pronounce it anyway) From then on, she addressed me by my name for the rest of the flight… “Everything ok, Mr SQ772?”, “Need another Coke, Mr SQ772?”…. She remembered my drink preference, and my name. I thought that was nice, and more than any of her contemporaries at SQ have ever done for me even in a relatively empty SQ flight in YCL. Thumbs up!
My swimming goggles which incidentally remains un-touched till this day…
20min to arrival, I decided to check out the lavatory. Nice and clean, but without the amenities typically found on SQ – no cologne, no moisturizer, no mouth-wash. Just the basic liquid soap. The rest are nice to have, but not absolutely necessary for such a short flight.
We began our bumpy descent into Siem Reap at approximately 1515LT. A storm was brewing down below, and acres of flooded fields could be seen as the aircraft approached Siem Reap international airport…
Heavy rain could be seen at a distance…
We touched down in Siem Reap Airport's new international terminal at 1540LT, 5 min behind schedule…
So ends my very first flight on Silk Air, as I trotted down the flight of steps into a very wet and humid Siem Reap. The crew on this flight would continue on to Danang, and then head back to Singapore before the end of the day. It must be a very tiring route for them.
Overall, it was a very good flight. Comfortable seats, clean cabin, but would have been better if they could provide some form of audio entertainment.
I must confess that I was duly impressed by the service provided by the MI crew. The service was efficient, and friendly. I wasn’t expecting MI’s service to be anything close to SQ’s initially, but I changed my mind towards the end of the flight. Those MI girls were as good, and in some instances, paid more attention to details than their SQ counterparts. I saw a determination in them as they went about their service. I suppose, having lived in SQ’s shadows all these years, these girls were determined to prove to everyone onboard that they were just as good, if not better, than the Singapore Girls. Assuming that they were really SQ ‘rejects’, I think they should still be proud of themselves, and it was certainly SQ’s loss to turn them away.
Despite the lack of advanced and brand new hardware (which big brother SQ continually comes up with), I would rate MI a 4.5 star regional carrier, and they’re definitely another great way to fly in my books!
And by the way, slightly off topic, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the majestic Angkor Wat should you ever pay a visit to Siem Reap. It’s a place that everyone should visit at least once in their life-time!
Your comments and critiques are most welcomed...
[Edited 2007-10-01 19:55:53]