This report covers a recent flight taken from Singapore to Paris with Singapore Airlines. While it was originally booked as an economy flight, I was given the option to bid SGD 280 (about USD 205) for an upgrade to premium economy. Given that I don't usually play the miles game, and not on this particular occasion, it seemed like an interesting deal – particularly as premium economy ticket prices were going at around triple the price of standard economy.
Two days before my flight, I received an email from Singapore Airlines notifying me that my bid for premium economy was successful. In addition to a superior hard product, premium economy customers on Singapore Airlines get the option to pre-order their meals in advance through Book The Cook. While the meals are not presented any differently from your standard economy offering, the larger number of choices you have make this a very nice bonus to have. In any case, even if the passenger does not choose to take up this option, they still have three choices available to them in premium economy instead of the usual two in economy.
A look at the choices. Not shown but available were Hainanese chicken rice (including a version with roasted chicken), nasi lemak with fried chicken, and spiced nasi biryani – all regional specialties typical of Singaporean cuisine.
I ended up choosing beef brisket for dinner… …and dim sum for breakfast. The day of the flight would find me in Changi Airport's Terminal 3. This is the terminal of choice for most of SQ's long-haul flights to Europe. Late night is a particularly busy time at this terminal, given that most of these flights are timed to have a business-friendly early-morning departure.
Despite this, the terminal was pretty quiet… As a Singaporean resident, I benefit from the use of automated passport clearance gates, making immigration clearance an especially painless procedure. FIDS showing my flight under its codeshare of VA5674. Today's flight would depart from gate B4.
Singapore Airlines SQ336 Singapore Changi (SIN) - Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Boeing 777-300ER 9V-SWV January 18, 2019
Singapore Airlines runs 10 Boeing 777-300ERs weekly to Paris; one is the daily SQ336 service, timed for a business-friendly early morning arrival. The other is the thrice-weekly SQ334 service, timed for a mid-morning arrival. All the aircraft on these flights are outfitted with their 2013 seat products, including touch-screen IFE systems. Premium economy, however, would only debut two years later, after much hand-wringing about whether the airline ought to introduce the class or not.
Today's star was 9V-SWV, a 5.4-year-old Boeing 777-300ER delivered in September 2013, originally without premium economy; she would later receive those fittings in November 2017. The premium economy cabin on Singapore Airlines' 777-300ERs features 28 seats, arranged in a staggered 2-4-2 configuration. While we're on this topic, I personally draw my limit at 2-3-2 in premium economy; I think Singapore Airlines gets away with doing this only because they are a five-star airline and because the staggered configuration does indeed add a sense of roominess to the cabin.
Singapore Airlines' premium economy seats are outfitted in dark grey leather with orange accents, which give them a very smart and refined look. Despite the airbrushing regularly associated with the promotional media of products like these, the real-life impression does not disappoint… except, of course, on one minor count. You'll see that the window seat in front had a loose panel near the foot rest, which is especially noticeable when you compare it to its aisle-seat sibling. Premium economy features a larger IFE screen, about the same size as a typical laptop screen. While the software is identical across the entire aircraft, the larger screen size does make for a more vivid viewing experience.
Every seat has double armrests with cup holders at each end. This certainly helps reduce the feeling of being cramped when you're in the middle two seats. This, I found, did indeed go some way toward sweetening the prospect of 2-4-2 in premium economy. The IFE handset, as well as the controls for the seat recline and calf rest, are located in the side of the seat. There is also a small cubby located underneath the controls. I didn't use it though – the very inconspicious design was practically an invitation for you to leave something behind there by mistake. There is also another cubby located in the opposite side. Note, however, that this larger cubby is not available to window-seat passengers, who get a regular armrest instead. The legroom was excellent and certainly in line with what I expected from premium economy, though I probably get an advantage from the fact that I'm a small person to start with. These seats offer 38 inches of seat pitch versus 32 in economy. Oddly enough, I found that it didn't actually make that much difference, and I actually had to raise the calf rest before I felt comfortable with the pitch. The seatback compartment in front has a double pocket, which is useful if you have a laptop that is too large to stow in the cubby. I still wouldn't recommend putting too many stuff in there; the design of the compartment is such that the pocket will sag outward significantly the more you put things in it. The tables for each seat are stowed in the armrest. There are also USB charging ports and personal reading lights for each passenger. The reading light is especially useful, since the fixed position of the overhead lights often result in the passenger having to adopt awkward positions in order to read their book. For what it's worth, premium economy passengers still have their own overhead lights, which tend to be useful more for illumination given the clearly superior quality of the personal reading lights. There are also water bottle compartments as well as individual power plugs located underneath. We pushed back at 12:15am sharp, and the safety video started playing while we were en route to the runway…
We took off at 12:35am, starting our 13-hour voyage across the continent… Shortly after takeoff, oshibori and amenity kits, containing socks and a toothbrush kit, were distributed… A shot of the cabin just after takeoff. Meal service started as we were overflying Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia… The beef brisket I had ordered a couple of days ago was served. One bonus to Booking The Cook is that you get your meals first, along with those with regular special meal requests. The meat was very well-cooked: firm, juicy, and very flavorful. The meal is also served with a scone and a side dish of chicken pasta. I did, however, run into an unexpected wrinkle… the water that came with the dish was literally frozen… I went to get a replacement cup of pineapple juice instead, but quickly ran into another wrinkle… the chicken pasta was also frozen! Without describing the problem, I told the flight attendants I would need their assistance when they were done. That assistance only came a good half hour later, by which time everything had thawed. The flight attendants apologized profusely, which I reminded them was not necessary: I had intentionally withheld the problem because I knew if I had identified it upfront, they would have descended upon me right away. Such is what happens when you deal with a five-star airline! One advantage to an armrest table that you don't really think about until you actually experience it is that it gives a sense of having significantly more room, since you are able to easily access the seat pocket in front of you while eating. Due to the spatial logistics involved, this is much more difficult to do with the seat-back table typically found in regular economy. Afterwards, bottles of mineral water and ice-cream were distributed. By the time we were done and settled in, we were halfway over the Indian Ocean. One wrinkle to premium economy on the 777 is that it doesn't have its own bathrooms, meaning you have to walk through the entirety of the first section of economy to get to them. it is worth it, though, as these bathrooms have significantly more room than you might expect from a typical aircraft john… The bathroom was also well-stocked, with mouthwash, napkins, and tissues. The only issue, though, was that the trashcan was nearly full, which only got worse toward the end of the flight. I went to sleep shortly afterward, and when I woke up, we were overflying Afghanistan. Midnight snack time! Us working our way across the Black Sea. Almost exactly three hours before arrival, the lights turned on for meal service. By then, we were already about to make landfall over Romania. Oshibori were distributed beforehand for the passengers to freshen themselves up with. A shot of the cabin as people were getting ready for their breakfast. The roominess of the staggered-row cabin is particularly visible here, especially taking into account that almost everyone was reclining their seats at the time. If you're familiar with Chinese dim sum the way I am, one thing that might throw you is how closely your mental image of the food may be associated with a sumptuous selection spread out over several tables… this one looked like a tasting sample by comparison! This dish, however, was very aromatic and well-cooked. And nothing frozen this time around! Included in the selection were steamed popiah (a type of Chinese spring roll), har gow (steamed prawn dumplings), shumai (pork dumpling in this case, though fillings can vary), and lo mai gai (glutinous rice, usually with shiitake mushrooms). By the time we were done, we were about to cross into Germany. Along the way, I got a surprise request from the flight attendants to fill in a comment form on their service. I think they were in love with me after the way I had handled the frozen pasta incident! And of course, not forgetting a small gift from them. Yay to pushing that five-star airline service, Singapore Airlines! About to make landfall over Luxembourg… …and crossing northeastern France on our way in… … with a nice view of the town of Laon down below… Descending into Paris Charles de Gaulle… Aaaaaand touchdown! At 13 hours 45 minutes gate-to-gate, this was officially the longest flight I'd ever taken by total time taken. Good way to end off my first experience with premium economy! Passing by some Airbus A340-300s belonging to the Armée de l'Air (French Air Force). And, finally, approaching Terminal 1…
Singapore - SIN
Paris - CDG
Given the huge divergence in list price between premium and regular economy, and the small size of the cabin, it is very clear that premium economy is much better taken as a upgrade bonus than as a regular class of service. And my experience on this flight confirms this impression once and for all. I genuinely did enjoy my experience, but in being a bit contrarian here, it is abundantly clear that Singapore Airlines is able to get away with 2-4-2 in this class only thanks to its excellent service and the superior design of its hard product.
One other thing worth noting, for this flight at least, is that premium economy does not get its own set of cabin crew; the cabin crew for this section is shared with those for the economy section behind. While the flight attendants are noticeably more attentive, as is probably befitting of this class, their response time tends to be much slower as a result. I think this can be contrasted to, for instance, regular economy on the upper deck of Singapore Airlines' A380s. Even though the number of seats in both scenarios is comparable (28W+67Y versus 88Y), attention tends to come very quickly on the A380's upper deck since the flight attendants have a physically smaller cabin to sweep.
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