Sometimes one has to travel for all the wrong reasons: to attend a funeral of a close relative for instance. This kind of journey is, before it has even begun, surely condemned to be full of grief and despair, because how can one be expected to find joy in such dark times. Unfortunately, I found myself in such a situation not too long ago. Thank god my journey was on Singapore Airlines.
Booking last minute tickets, especially with a legacy carrier and in Business Class, is something that is never recommended. However, sometimes one has little choice and the need to fly overwhelms the steep price of the ticket. As they say, when you gotta go, you gotta go. There are many ways to travel from South East Asia to Europe. There is Malaysia Airlines, who offer great service and relatively cheap ticket prices, and Lufthansa who are notorious for their German efficiency. Thai International Airlines and Singapore Airlines are the other two airlines who fly directly to Frankfurt am Main (FRA) from their respective hubs in Bangkok and Singapore.
However, one could also use one of the Middle Eastern carriers, such as Emirates, Qatar Airways or Etihad. These offer even cheaper ticket prices, but one has to change aircraft along the way. When time is of the essence and a little comfort is needed along the way, the choice boils down to Singapore and Malaysia Airlines. Personally, the choice between these two superb airlines was decided by the fact that Singapore Airlines is a member of Star Alliance. Period.
So let the flying begin: two flights, three airports and a travel time of more than 20 hours in total. This trip report tells the story of my flights from Penang to Frankfurt.
General Flight Overview
Airline: Singapore Airlines (SQ)
Flight number: SQ 195
Origin: Penang International Airport (PEN)
Destination: Singapore Changi Airport (SIN)
Distance: 373 miles
Scheduled departure time: 17:30
Scheduled flight time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Class of Travel: Business Class
Penang International Airport has two busy departure banks everyday; one in the morning with flights to Hong Kong and Bangkok and one in the early evening when many passengers fly to KUL and SIN to connect to international connections. Therefore, the terminal was relatively empty when I arrived at 15:30, two hours before scheduled departure. Nonetheless, there was quite a queue at the baggage security check.
The reasons for the lengthy lines at the baggage screen soon became clear: passengers were taking more than four times the allowed amount of luggage with them. I really do not know if these people are first time fliers or if they just do not understand. Even the short queue lasted more than 10 minutes.
After I finally managed to clear the slow moving queues, the Singapore Airlines check-in area was right in front of me. As usual, the Air Asia side of the departures hall was crowded and noisy, but the counters of the full service carriers were almost empty. Then again, Air Asia has one counter per flight in PEN, but Singapore Airlines had three for Economy Class, one for Internet check-in and two for Business Class. That was six compared to one. As I arrived, both Business Class counters were empty, so the choice of where to go was all mine.
As I stepped towards the counters, the male Singapore Airlines agent at the left counter welcomed me to Singapore Airlines and wished me a good afternoon. Therefore, I went to counter 11. As I placed my e-ticket on the counter, the agent recognized me from a previous flight and welcomed me back once again. He then asked if I was also going to Frankfurt this time. I was seriously impressed. Not only had the he remember me, but also my previous destination.
It did not take long for my luggage to be tagged all the way to Frankfurt and for my boarding passes to be printed. As there were no new passengers checking in, I chatted with the agent a little longer about the Singapore Airlines operations in Penang. He was very well informed, polite and welcoming. At the end, he wished me a pleasant flight and mentioned that he looked forward to seeing me again soon. After this very encouraging start to my journey, I proceeded towards immigration.
There were no lines at immigration and security and I was airside more than one and a half hours before departure. Except for a few shops and one or two rather poor cafes, there is not much to do airside at PEN.
In terms of exciting and exotic aircraft, Penang has very little to offer. Therefore, after walking the length of the terminal, I decided to head for the Silver Kris lounge on the upper level of the airport. While Penang receives three Singapore Airlines flight each day, the number of premium passengers on each flight is relatively small. Therefore, the Silver Kris Lounge is quite small when compared to other Singapore Airlines destinations such as Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Nonetheless, it has recently been renovated and the food offerings are usually not bad either.
There were only a few passengers in the Silver Kris lounge when I arrived at 16:20. I sat down at a table next to one of the wooden dividers. The lounge chairs were very comfortable, but the tables were a little too high in contrast to the chairs. The large television screens, which were mounted on the walls, were also easily visible from all seats. The only downside of the lounge was the lack of natural light.
In my opinion, the overall ambience in the lounge was as it should be: peaceful and relaxing.
The food and beverage section was also notable for a lounge this size. Both warm and cold dishes were on offer and these included sandwiches, saffron rice and curry chicken. The taste of the warm dishes was not bad at all. In terms of the beverages, there was some hard liquor, beer and a large variety of soft drinks.
As SQ195%u2019s departure time drew closer, more and more passengers began to fill the small Silver Kris Lounge. Nonetheless, there was always enough seating for everyone and the food section was refilled regularly. The Singapore Airlines staff in the lounge was also friendly and proactive. Time passed quickly as I watched the news and enjoyed the food.
I left the Silver Kris lounge at 16:50, 10 minutes before boarding, and proceeded down to the main gate area. Sure enough, the Singapore Airlines aircraft was already waiting for me at Gate 8. However, when I saw the aircraft I thought it seemed rather large for normal SQ Penang standards. More often than not, Singapore Airlines uses Boeing 777-200/200ERs to fly to Penang, but this 777 just seemed larger than usual.
Sadly, I had little time to ponder over what aircraft this actually was, as boarding had already begun. I find that Singapore Airlines always goes a long way to ensure that their premium passengers have priority boarding; today was no different. There were clearly marked lanes for Business Class, Star Alliance Gold and Economy Class.
By the time I had arrived for boarding, Economy cabin had already been called for boarding. Nevertheless, the friendly Singapore Airlines agent made everyone else wait while she checked my boarding pass. I was impressed once again. After a brisk walk down the jetway, I was onboard SQ195 at 17:05, 25 minutes before scheduled departure.
Singapore Airlines has the largest fleet of 777s in the world at 76 aircraft. This includes 46 777-200/200ERs and 30 777-300/300ERs. Singapore Airlines uses the 777 on every possible route imaginable, from the extremely short hop to KUL to long transpacific flights. Usually, 777-200/200ERs are used on the short Penang - Singapore route, but today was different. As I had already noticed before boarding, SQ195 seemed slightly larger today. Sure enough, there was a last minute equipment change to a 777-300, which could hold 332 passengers in a three class configuration.
My aircraft today, 9V-SYI, looked as if it had just been delivered yesterday. The cabin was impeccably clean and very well maintained. The First Class section of the aircraft was closed on this flight, which was a pity because I wish they had just pushed everyone forward. Nonetheless, the older Business Class seats in the 2-3-2 configuration on this 777-300 were more than sufficient for the short flight. In fact, it was a little overkill. The legroom was also very generous and the cabin felt very spacious and comfortable.
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages
Photo © Serge Bailleul - AirTeamImages
This 777-312 had its maiden flight in July 2004. The aircraft is owned by Singapore Airlines and the first flight in Singapore Airlines colors was in August 2004.
At the door, I was welcomed by the in-flight supervisor and one of the Singapore girls. The in-flight supervisor took my boarding pass, addressed me by my last name and accompanied me to my seat. He then took a few moments to introduce himself and ask about my journey; a very nice touch. At my seat, a large pillow, a blanket and the menu were already waiting for me.
The in-flight supervisor was welcoming, friendly and talkative. He was also impressed by my knowledge of aviation and apologized for the equipment change. Personally, I had never been on a Singapore Airlines 777-300 before, so I did not mind at all.
The in-flight supervisor had also noticed that I was taking some pictures, so he told me I could roam around the aircraft and take pictures if I wanted to. I took him up on his little offer and decided to take a look at the unused First Class on this 777-300. The frontal cabin featured the old regional First Class seats and they were only marginally better than the Business Class seats. Nonetheless, it is always nice to have an undisturbed look around.
As I was looking around and taking a few pictures, one of the Singapore girls walked all the way into the First Class cabin to offer me a pre-departure drink. I thanked her for coming to find me and took a glass of Champaign.
The flight attendants on SQ195 were a breath of fresh air and even before I had taken my seat, the crew had already blown me away. They were just superb.
When I returned to my seat, a Singapore girl offered me a choice of magazines. I asked for Top Gear, and the stewardess promptly went to get a copy for me. By 17:20, 10 minutes before scheduled departure, boarding had been completed and SQ195 was pushed back from Gate 8.
The safety video was then shown as SQ195 taxied towards runway 22 for takeoff. Sadly, the weather was not playing along and dark clouds had moved in from the South. Sure enough, memories of my turbulent flight on Emirates a few weeks before filled my mind.
SQ195 taxied towards the active runway in a very slow manner, because there was not enough time to finish the safety video. Once the aircraft was ready for takeoff, we had to wait for a Firefly Fokker 50 on final before clearance was given.
At 17:30, the scheduled departure time, the Rolls Royce Trent 892 engines fired up to full thrust and SQ195 began to roll down the runway. It always amazes me how quiet the 777s are during takeoff compared to the 737s and 747s. The difference is vast. After a short yet powerful roll, 9V-SYI lifted off from Penang International Airport. The load on this flight was light: 0% in First (obviously), 35% in Business and 65% in Economy Class.
The initial climb was very rough as SQ195 flew through thick, dark clouds. Nevertheless, there were some beautiful views of Penang, the mainland and the bridge connecting the two. The passenger sitting diagonally in front of me did not care for any of this; as soon as we cleared the runway, he reclined his seat.
As soon as the seatbelt sign was switched off, the cabin service began. At first, hot towels were distributed by one of the Singapore girls as the smell of good food filled the cabin. In the meantime, I made myself comfortable in my seat. Compared to the regional Business Class seats of many European and American carriers, my seat was simply in another league. The 55 minutes flight was just too short to make use of all the features and free space.
The food and beverage service began about 15 minutes into the flight, and every dinner tray was delivered from the galley by hand. Personally, I dislike when food is served on trays in Business Class, but I guess this is excusable on a 55 minutes flight with a full meal service.
Once each passenger had received their tray, the in-flight supervisor came to ask everyone what main course they would like. He must have remembered all the choices by heart, because he did not write anything down. When it was my turn to order, I asked him what he would recommend. He replied that both dishes were nice, but he would give me the fish first. Note the word first, because at the time, I did not know what it really meant.
Sure enough, one or two minutes later one of the Singapore girls brought the Wok friend fillet of fish to my seat.
The taste of the food was a pleasant surprise. I am not a big fan of airline food, but this meal did not disappoint. The appetizer tasted fresh and the dressing complimented the vegetables very well. The fish was especially appetizing, with the taste of flavorsome ginger dominating the dish. Very impressive for such a short flight.
White and red wine was then served by one of the Singapore girls. I decided to take white wine with my fish. By now, just 30 minutes remained until our expected arrival in Singapore, so there was not much time left to eat.
As I was finishing my main course of fish, the in-flight supervisor came to ask if I liked the dish.
“I hope you enjoyed the fish Mr. Globetraveller.”
“I certainly did. Thank you for the good recommendation.”
“Thank you Mr. Globetraveller. Now let me bring you the chicken as well. If you liked the fish, I am sure you will also like the chicken.”
I was at a loss for words, but before I could even contemplate whether my full stomach could take anymore food, the Pan roasted chicken breast arrived at my seat. Such is life.
Just as the in-flight supervisor had promised, the pan roasted chicken was also very tasty. The mushroom sauce was surprisingly light and the olive potatoes were quite addictive. Sadly, my stomach was bursting at the seams and I could not finish my food. I usually do, but this was just too much.
I was still struggling with my food as the speedbrakes were deployed and SQ195 started to descend into Singapore. Nonetheless, the crew was not worried and told me to take my time. In fact, even though the flight was so short, the flight attendants never seemed to be in a hurry or rushed. This is, in my opinion, another trait of a very professional crew.
With 15 minutes to go until landing, my dinner tray was collected as I could eat no more. The captain then made an announcement about the weather in Singapore and our arrival. As the seatbelt sign was turned on again, I felt like I had barely settled into the flight. I wish it could have been one or two hours longer.
Once SQ195 had descended below the clouds, the southernmost tip of the Malaysian peninsular came into view. The speedbrakes were deployed once again, as the aircraft performed a series of sharp turns to line up with runway 20C.
The unsettled weather made for a very turbulent descent into Changi Airport and after several minutes of bouncing around, SQ195 landed on runway 20C at 18:23, 17 minutes before scheduled arrival. This early touchdown was a notable achievement for such a short flight.
Next to the low cost carrier terminal at the end of the runway, 9V-SKE welcomed me to Singapore. At the time of my flight, this A380 was brand new. It had just arrived from Toulouse and was about to have its first revenue flight. A nice welcome to SIN.
The airport was filled with Singapore Airlines 777s; it was Singapore Airlines territory. Funnily enough, at an airport full of impressive widebodies, Malaysia Airlines was represented by a little 737-400. Typical.
Soon, SQ195 pulled into the gate at SIN next to another 777-200ER. With the load being so light, there was no rush to leave the aircraft and everyone just slowly stood up and collected their hand luggage. I was the first person to leave the aircraft, 10 minutes before scheduled arrival.
Singapore Changi Airport is one of my all time favorite airports. There is always so much to see and do, and it is the only airport where I do not mind spending five hours in transit. Just for starters, there is free wireless internet everywhere. Lufthansa should take note of this, because they even charge for internet in their Business Class lounges in Frankfurt.
Although Changi handles in excess of 35 million passengers every year, the airport never feels crowded. I also like the flowers and plants as well as the fact that the floor is carpet. Overall, SIN is just a very nice place to be.
I now had a little more than five hours until my connecting flight to Frankfurt, so I decided to begin by having a look at the old Singapore Airlines Silver Kris lounge in Terminal 2. Since the opening of Terminal 3, the older Terminal 2 seemed much quieter, almost too quiet. Many of the gates were empty and the wide walkways were deserted.
After having a peek around some of the numerous shops on the main level, I took the escalators up to the lounge area. At the entrance to the Silver Kris lounge, a female Singapore Airlines agent welcomed me and kindly reminded me that my flight would leave from Terminal 3. I was a little worried that Singapore Airlines would neglect their old lounge with the completion of Terminal 3, but my fears would soon washed away.
As I entered the lounge, I noticed that it was very empty; there were almost no people to be seen. Even so, the lounge was still in excellent shape. The bar was well stocked with all the beverages one could ever want and the food consisted of several hot and cold dishes. In fact, this lounge is probably still better than most other Business Class airline lounges and the only thing it is missing, is some natural light.
As I was still completely stuffed from all the food on SQ195, I could not eat anything in the lounge. However, the hot and cold food selection looked pretty good and everything was filled up regularly.
The old Silver Kris lounge also has all the amenities one could wish for. There were nice and new showers, large flight information screens, free wireless internet and an excellent business area. In addition, there have also been some recent upgrades consisting of impressive new iMacs and NEC computers.
I was pleasantly surprised by the new upgrades and there were probably as many people in the entire lounge as the number of new computers. I grabbed myself a Diet Coke and caught up with the latest gossip on Airlines.net.
After relaxing in the lounge and snooping around the internet for about an hour, I decided to take a little walk around the vast terminal buildings at SIN. I started off at Terminal 2 and walked through the older Terminal 1 to the brand new Terminal 3.
While it was obvious that Terminal 1 is the oldest building at SIN, it was still very well maintained. In fact, it looked far better than many terminal buildings at other airports such as FRA, BKK and JFK. The entire airport is very clean and open, with high ceilings and numerous windows. It was just a pleasure to walk through.
As I arrived in Terminal 3, I had a little more than two hours until by connecting Singapore Airlines flight to Frankfurt. However, my experience in Terminal 3 and the onwards flight on SQ26 will be featured in the second part of this trip report.
On SQ195, Singapore Airlines showed why they are considered to be one of the best airlines in the world. The seats were crazy when considering that this was only a one hour hop and the crew was exemplary. They were extremely friendly and welcoming, while not being robotic or fake. The service on this short flight easily surpassed the service I received on far longer flights with other airlines. The food and beverage was also noteworthy. Based on this flight and many similar flights I have been on, I would unconditionally recommend flying with Singapore Airlines between Penang and Singapore. While I usually hate the cliché marketing one-liners used by companies, I can honestly say I agree that Singapore Airlines is a great way to fly. It is no wonder they were recently voted the world’s best airline by Skytrax.
(2.0) Booking & Reservation: 9.0
(1.0) Check-in: 9.5
(1.0) Airline Airport Facilities: 8.0
(0.5) Boarding: 9.0
(2.0) Seat: 9.5
(1.0) Entertainment System: 7.0
(2.0) Crew: 9.5
(2.0) Food and Beverages: 9.5
(0.5) Amenity kits and other freebies: N/A
(0.5) Arrival: 9.0
(1.0) On-time performance: 10.0
Overall weighted score: 9.12
I hope you have enjoyed reading the first part of this report. The second part should be ready very soon and I will also post the return flights in the coming weeks. As always, any comments and opinions are welcome and appreciated.