First some background: My entire adult life has been spent learning how to mend broken hearts. I am an Interventional Cardiologist. As my late grandmother used to say, it was written on my forehead the day I was born to help the sick. However, about two months ago I wasn’t able to save a middle-aged executive with 2 children from heaven’s gates. I was able to repair the damage to his heart but the brain had suffered profound injury. There was nothing else I could’ve done, we followed the play book line by line, but in the end he lost his will to live. Or as some would say, he lost his closing argument with his God.
As you all can imagine, how to deal with this is what they don’t teach you in Medical School 101. I needed to get away from medicine, daily life and death decisions, never ending work, and 80+ hour weeks.
I think my God heard my need and when an opportunity came up to visit Hong Kong, my wife convinced me to get away for a week, travel, and escape. I started planning but the itinerary kept growing and it eventually resulted in my “Dream Trip”. The next best thing next to medicine; to fly, photograph, and write. My second calling in life: Photojournalism.
Now onto the trip report. The itinerary as follows:
1) DFW – SFO American Airlines, Flight 399, Boeing 763, Coach
2) SFO – SIN (via Honk Kong) Singapore Airlines, Flight 1, Boeing 747, First
3) SIN – Hong Kong Cathay Pacific, Flight 731 A330, Business
Hotel: Peninsula Hong Kong
4) Hong Kong – SIN Cathay Pacific Flight 735, A330, Business
5) SIN – Sydney Singapore Airlines, Flight 221 A380, Suites
6) Sydney – SIN Singapore Airlines, Flight 222, A380, Suites
Hotel: Four Seasons Singapore
7) SIN – SFO Singapore Airlines, Flight #2, Boeing 747, First
8) SFO – DFW American Airlines, Flight 1600, Coach
My wife and daughter dropped me off at International Terminal D in Dallas. As much as I will miss them terribly for 8 days, I was also nervously excited. Checked in, security que was short and arrived at the gate. It appears that wide body jets for American all depart and arrive through terminal D. The bird that took me to SFO.
|AA to SFO|
To be honest, I was not that excited about this sector as I usually fly American out of Dallas and I am familiar with their service. Boarding was slow and the flight was late leaving approximately 20 minutes. The first feel for this Boeing 763 was that the plane looked and felt old but the first class section on this 2 class flight was updated. I had seat 20B exit row. The middle row bins are very hard to open and close and a standard carry-on struggles to fit. The service was adequate for American Airlines standards, 1 formal drink service and a second offering of OJ and water. The flight attendants however are looking of age, and I wonder if young people are not applying for such jobs due to the uncertainty of the airline industry or from the economy?
Landing in SFO was smooth, but when I deplaned a small technical problem occurred, I have an IPHONE which locked up on me…after some asking around, I found a place called TRIPLET in the arrival section of the International terminal. I had to log on to Itunes and reset all options. Now that the phone was fixed I returned a few phone calls and proceeded to check-in at SQ.
|First Class Check-In SFO|
The main counters were not yet open except Business and First Class. Check-in was rather disappointing,, I was expecting a little more from previous trip reports. Eva checked me in but didn’t even attempt to address me by name. I would summarize the experience as efficient but bland. Maybe my expectations were high and I started hoping it wasn’t a trend for the entire flight.
After check-in I went straight to security thinking I can hit the lounge, however there is no separate security line for premium passengers at SFO. Went straight to the gate and our beautiful baby to Singapore via Hong Kong was parked and being prepared.
|SQ 1 to Singapore|
The lounge is to the right of security but was closed when I got there. Lounge opened 5 minutes later with an apology from the attendant. Lounge is split into Business on the right and First on the left with 24 seats in the First lounge. The bar was well stocked with Scotch, Wine, Beer, Soft Drinks. The First class section had 1 shower. The food consisted of small finger sandwiches, chips, and fruit. Quite limited! I wasn’t expecting much as many previous reports also confirmed these findings. The view was also disappointing. The windows were dirty and the view was of terminal 3 and domestic flights.
|SFO SK Lounge 1st Class|
After charging up all my tech gadgets, a quick shower, off to the gate 93 where a sizable crowd had formed. First Class boarding was called and I was the first to board for the 14+ hour flight to AND OLD: Hong Kong - Kai Tak International (HKG / VHHH) (closed), China - Hong Kong">HKG . Again, no personal greeting at the door! I find this unlike previous reports. A very nice SQ “girl” Daniella in the customary green SQ sarong escorted me to 2A and then finally a personal “May I take a picture of you Dr. Jacob? “ Okay now I am happy! Next came an offering of champagne (2000 Dom Perignon), followed by a warm towel, and reading material. 8/12 seats filled on this flight.
|Dom, Tastes Better in 1st Class|
|The Coveted 1K|
A simple greeting by the captain and then push back at 11:50 pm, 15 minutes before scheduled departure. We taxied a long way and with no delay the 744 flew into the cloudy SFO night. Of interest, a CX and EVA air flights were the only two other flights to follow us.
Once in the air the exceptional service started. I had the “Book the Cook” option of Ribeye Steak. I was tempted to change to the one of the main offerings of the night, the braised ribs, but finally decided against it. I will let the following pictures do the rest of the writing.
|Book the Cook Option Ribeye Steak|
|Chocoalte Ice Cream|
|The Famous Blue Mountain offee|
Initially a serving of Tuna, well presented and tasted quite fresh. Of note all the “F” symbols were placed properly facing me. Next course, clam chowder. Main Course, Ribeye Steak with potatoes and veggies. Decided to skip the cheese and fruit platter and went straight for Chocolate Crème Brulee
I had the French Chateau St. Julien and Napa red wines with dinner. Exceptional wines of, you only know the difference between wines when you have the good stuff. Finally, a cup of Blue Mountain coffee which was soooo good. How can airplane coffee be so good? Starbucks needs to take lessons from SQ.
Once the table cleared, Givenchy sleepers, socks, eyeshades were handed out. I was impressed with the quality of the material of the sleepers. I think we all took turns sing the restroom to change. The bathrooms are quite small and outdated but this again is a 747, will be interesting to compare this to the A380 later. When I returned to my seat, Steve had placed the seat in full flat position with Duvee, 2 pillows. Very inviting, as I was climbing in, Steve disappeared and Daniella appeared to “literally” tuck me in followed by “Goodnight Dr. Jacob, I hope you sleep well”
The bed I must say was very comfortable, a little narrow probably compared to the newer premium products. Then the pacific ocean turbulence hit, quite rattling for an hour but eventually went to sleep for about 4 hours.
After waking up, spoke to Steve in the galley for about 30 minutes. He has worked for SQ 10 years and we exchanged airline stories. He told me that SQ had initially wanted the A380 service to SFO to begin before Qantas inaugurated their flights to LAX, but this was pushed back partly because of the weak US economy AND SQ is lobbying the AUS government to fly SIN-SYD-LAX. These are not confirmed statements just what he told me. He also told me that beginning January 2009, SQ #1 will also be replaced by a 777ER. He genuinely felt sad as he trained on the 747 first class product. We spoke about the A380 and how the company selected senior and well experienced staff to service the Suites and Business passengers. It was clearly evident he had that devotion to his trade which is tremendously lacking these days. It is what separates being good from exceptional.
Finished watching the movie Wanted with Angelina Jolie, Steve asked if I would like a snack and I opted for the reuben sandwich. This was the best single dish I ever had on a plane. It was almost like a grilled pannini, served hot with chips. I enjoyed it so much, I forgot to take a picture. After I ate it though, I began to think what damage it was doing to my coronary arteries, but it is First Class. Couldn’t really sleep the remainder of the flight, I found myself just staring out the window. I am not even sure what was going through my mind, but it was one of those self-reflecting moments.
Few more hours passed and then Daniella came to request my breakfast wish. The whole technique must be admired. One of the following videos shows it clearly with the guy in 1K. She first kneels so that she is below eye level, almost looking up at you. Next comes: “Goodmorning, Dr. Jacob have you had a chance to decide what you would like before we land. We have 4 courses, may I review the menu with you?” Well perfected and crafted but done with the most genuine and innocent smile. I noticed throughout the flight, the female FAs attended to the male passengers and vce versa for the female passengers. Does anyone know if this is SQ protocol? She then came to me and same exact procedure.
|Breakfast Main Coarse|
After the trays were cleared, the captain disclosed we were within 45 minutes of landing, I then proceeded to change out of the Givenchy sleeper. My one comment is that the bathrooms are quite small and restrictive to change clothes in. I also noticed that the bathroom is cleaned after each passenger use. Now I was under the impression that all passengers had to de-plane in Hong Kong for the hour for cleaning, but I was wrong. Outbound flights from the US, there is no such rule. I asked Steve and he told me it was determined by rules of the country where the flight landed. I think this surprised the other 7 in F, but very strangely we all collectively decided to go stretch and walk around. Apprently none of us had been to Hong Kong before. I thought that was interesting! So as we exited and walked to the lounge, I got to talk to other passengers.
|Hong Kong SK 1st Class Lounge|
|SK Lounge Deli and Bar Hong Kong|
The lounge was disappointing. Appeared very outdated, had limited food options and drinks. I kind of expected this as Hong Kong is Cathay’s turf. Quickly left the lounge and walked around, the airport has old and new parts of the terminal we were in. So many wide-body jets, Qantas, ANA, JAL, NWA, BA….you name it this airport has it.
|SQ 1 Being Prepped for Singapore|
|Air NZ to LHR|
The flight to SIN was just over 3 hours. Same 8 of us in F plus 3 new middle-age Americans who were traveling together. 2 out of the 3 were so annoying, I eventually had to put the BOSE headphones to get some peace. Laughing, drinking (it was 8am), using foul language. I sensed the FAs were a little nervous but nothing was done about it. The funny part was that one was trying very hard to out perform the other. Typical fraternity behaviour and sadly the usual suspects almost always being Americans. Anyway sorry….back to the report. The crew changed here in Hong Kong and I must say the the new crew followed better protocol per SQ standards. I was greeted by my full name with the correct pronunciation. I wonder if the old crew told the new crew about passenger like/dislike. The new FA Sheela new that I liked my Blue Mountain Coffee with milk and 1 scoop of brown sugar. Shortly after take-off, crew came around for meal requests.
|Brunch to Singapore|
By this time, I was so full from eating from the first sector, I skipped 1/3 courses. It was strange for me to eat lamb and chicken for breakfast but since I got the eggs and veal sausage before landing in Hong Kong, I thought I would be brave. The lamb was very good along with the potato, the chicken and sausage was mediocre. Trays were cleared and despite having another cup of coffee, I slept like a baby until 5 minutes before landing in Changi. Taxied to A3 in between 2 A380’s! One to London and the other I was told to Tokyo later this afternoon.
Few Terminal 3 pictures. More on this in Part 2 and 3. All I can say……truly amazing. Nothing like I have ever seen before. So modern, clean, eco-friendly…..I can continue forever.
So my humble conclusions, being as unbiased as possible. Please keep in mind this is hard after traveling 18 hours in arguably the best the skies have to offer:
1) Check-In and Lounges: SQ really needs to improve
on this front. The check-in was bland without personal attention. The lounges in SFO and Hong Kong are very small. They provide good food and showers but overall needs a step up to the next level.
2) Equipment: The 747, sitting from my perspective of 2A is very quiet. Take-off and landing seemed so effortless. SQ operates the latest 747-400’s but even this plane is looking of age. I think there is only 14 left but all appear to be in the process of being phased out.
3) Service: The flight attendants are phenomenal. They take concept of service to a whole new level that we Americans are not accustomed to. However, as compared to more recent TR our service was “sloppy” at times.
4) CULINARY: The food from the Book the Cook option is very good. The food is well presented on china, plentiful and paired with excellent wines. The Blue Mountain coffee is out of this world. I wonder if it is served in any other premium class.
5) MISC: This category fills in the rest. The thrill and excitement SQ makes one feel on their flights is beyond words. The never ending attention to detail is something I am used to in my professional world and not many people can appreciate.
Please provide comments as this is my first TR. I thank many of you who answered my questions about the process.
I am working on Trip Reports 2 and 3. I will change it according to how you provide feedback. Thank You!