This is a review on my flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur during the Diwali (Deepavali) festival in October 2022, in which I sneaked in a brief three-day jaunt to Chennai. I decided to hit two targets with one arrow: first, having experienced three Thai Airways A350s in June, I was curious to know how Singapore Airlines’ long-haul A350s compared (I also managed to fly the regional A350 this month to Bangkok); and second, and perhaps more importantly, I was eager to fly for the very first time a Oneworld airline — Malaysia Airlines — on an aircraft I had always wanted to fly but never got the chance to do so: the A330-300, which TG and SQ have unfortunately retired.
Now that SQ had stolen the title of ‘world’s largest A350 operator’ from Qatar Airways — the latter being entangled in a huge scuffle with Airbus that goes well beyond just paint issues — this would be an important flight for me with the largest A350 operator (and only operator of the A350-900ULR), though QR will always remain the first operator of both the A350-900 and the -1000, and the largest operator of the -1000. The return from Chennai to Singapore would be on an SQ 787-10, highly comfortable but a bit unremarkable in contrast.
Little did I know that I would get a very special aircraft, a one-in-ten-thousand special aircraft to be precise, on the first leg: 9V-SMF, the 10,000th Airbus aircraft to ever be produced, with a special fuselage sticker. Let’s dive straight into the report without any further ado — this being a very short flight indeed — unlike my previous reports where I spend a lot of time discussing context and background!
SQ126 | Singapore to Kuala Lumpur | 21 October 2022 | A350-900 | 9V-SMFYou are here
SQ527 | Chennai to Singapore | 25 October 2022 | 787-10 | 9V-SCLComing soon
Changi Terminal 2: renovated and renewed
Friday, 21 October. At 4:50pm I set out for Terminal 2 of Singapore Changi Airport, which had been reopened for passenger flights after a two-year-long renovation, and where SQ had now shifted all its Southeast Asian departures.
Immediately I was floored by the jaw-dropping beauty of the renovated terminal, with huge ceilings, bright corridors and carpets awash with a watercolour effect.
Before very long the boarding pass was printed, and the baggage checked in through to the final destination. I couldn’t get my preferred window seat on this flight, so a J-seat (next to the right-hand window seats) would have to suffice.
Soon enough I also cleared immigration through the automated gates, and was now airside.
A view of the departures, which as you’d expect is dominated by SQ and its Star Alliance codeshare partners. All SQ flights here are in the SQ1xx (Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam), SQ7xx (Thailand and Myanmar) or SQ9xx (Philippines and Indonesia) series.
Meanwhile at Terminal 1, it was Scoot and the Qantas group (including Jetstar) that dominated, plus other Oneworld airlines like QR, MH and BA, as well as Philippine Airlines and Bangkok Airways. Terminal 3, on the other hand, had a bunch of SQ flights along with a range of other airlines like Batik Air, Etihad and Aircalin from New Caledonia, which flies the A330-900neo to Changi.
Flightradar24 still wasn’t showing the aircraft for this flight — I had opened it en route to the airport in order to rule out those A350s that were currently in the air or scheduled to depart soon. When I reached Gate F54, however, my joy knew no bounds. This aircraft didn’t need Flightradar24 to be identified: given that huge sticker at the back, this was none other than 9V-SMF! I couldn’t be luckier.
The flight had a number of codeshares, from the Star Alliance and otherwise. It’s interesting that SQ has far more cooperation with MH, its rival from Oneworld, than with TG, its Star Alliance partner. There might be some bad blood between SQ and TG as Star’s two dominant airlines in the region. Equally intriguing is SQ’s codeshare with Air France from SkyTeam, though the SkyTeam logo is (probably intentionally?) missing below.
The only non-alliance airline here is Vistara, SQ’s Indian joint venture with the Tata Group, though soon it is merging with Air India, a Star Alliance member that has now been acquired by the Tatas. Historically SQ and AI have never cooperated, but with AI and Vistara merging, SQ will take a stake in AI — a massive step for its growth and refurbishment.
Here’s a better view of the special bird. What is even more special is that 9V-SMF had just celebrated her sixth birthday! The aircraft was built in September 2016 and delivered in October.
Some interesting visitors at this time, especially F-ONET, the Aircalin A330-900neo mentioned earlier.
Needless to say, I was over the moon, and I ensured that my parents knew as much!
I, for one, was also elated that it was 9V-SMF for a different reason: it continued my streak of the first aircraft type from an airline having a registration ending with F, and the second aircraft ending with J. To explain, my first two TG A350s in June were HS-THF and HS-THJ; my first two EK 777s were A6-EPF and A6-ENJ; and now my first SQ A350 was 9V-SMF — indeed, my second SQ A350 in December would be 9V-SHJ! To me this signified a first (F)-class experience on the first aircraft in each case, and a business (J)-class feeling on the second, despite all flights being in economy.
Soon enough, boarding was called, and I was absolutely pumped.
Flight: Singapore Airlines SQ126/SIA126 Date: Friday, 21 October 2022 Route: Singapore Changi (WSSS/SIN) to Kuala Lumpur International (WMKK/KUL) Aircraft: 9V-SMF, Airbus A350-900 (10,000th Airbus aircraft livery) Age: 6 years (first flight: 26 September 2016, delivered: 16 October 2016) Seat: 54J (middle) Boarding: 5:50pm UTC +8 Departure: 7:30pm UTC +8 Arrival: 8:22pm UTC +8 Duration: 52 minutes
Notes: * First A350 on Singapore Airlines, and therefore the first A350 not on Thai Airways. Fourth A350 overall, after three TG A350s in June. * First Airbus flown on SQ, not counting the Restaurant [email protected] event in October 2020, which did not involve flying.
Here’s the business class cabin on this type of A350 (9V-SM*/SJ* series), which is ordinarily configured for long-haul operations but which also operates several short-haul routes, the foremost being Kuala Lumpur. KUL is the shortest hop in the SQ network, which is also served by 737s, both MAXes and the far inferior 737-800s.
This is premium economy, which is missing from the 9V-SH* series of regional A350s.
I settled into my seat, 54J. SQ long-haul A350s (including the ULRs) share the same Panasonic IFE as the 787-10s, 737 MAXes, A380s and 777-300ERs. Indeed, the regional A350s (9V-SH*) are the only ones with a different IFE system, from Thales, which I personally prefer to the Panasonic system as it is easier to navigate and better designed — except for the map and airshow, where Thales cannot hold a candle to Panasonic’s far superior Voyager 3D system. This A350 has two USB charging ports instead of one, plus an outdated iPod jack, as well as a coat hook.
The long-haul A350s have white seatbacks and light-coloured seat covers, in contrast to the 787-10s and regional A350s, which have black seatbacks and blue and black seat covers.
From my aisle neighbour’s seat:
Seat pocket contents — there, of course, no longer being any inflight magazines anywhere in Asia, except India:
A look at the KrisShop magazine, which typically goes unnoticed by flyers. Weirdly, the KrisWorld entertainment magazine — which seemed to have survived the axing of the main SilverKris inflight magazine — was nowhere to be found.
Of course, the KrisWorld Wi-Fi portal also offered plenty of information and literature.
For some reason, there was a technical issue related to the bags being loaded, which caused a delay, and the flight could not push back at its scheduled time of 6:45pm. Nevertheless, the lights were dimmed in preparation for departure.
A look at the well-designed 3D Voyager system. SQ’s 737 MAXes take it a step further by showing interactive, ‘personalised’ details about the flight, courtesy Panasonic Avionics’ Arc platform. You will also find this on subsidiary Vistara’s brand-new A321neos, which fly to Singapore from Delhi and Mumbai.
It had been raining outside, and at 7:08pm the safety video played just as taxi started. SQ’s video is all about relaxation, tranquility and taking in the sights and sounds of Singapore, which make it a sharp contrast to TG’s exotic, exuberant rainforest-themed video or — as I would find out in a few hours — MH’s peppy, loud and hyperactive Satu, Dua, Tiga, Jom! (One, Two, Three, Go!) dance routine.
Not much could be seen outside, given both the darkness and the rain. Eventually we lifted off at 7:20pm.
Soon we were leaving the tell-tale ships around Changi far behind.
Cabin lights had been dimmed, accentuating the digital seatbelt signs on the A350, which are also found on the A220 — though the latter also has tiny overhead displays that no other aircraft has.
A message was shown to turn off data roaming, which I find an interesting add.
Later this was followed by other messages on the activation of the KrisWorld entertainment portal.
As for the content selection itself, there was plenty to keep you entertained for 50 hours, but on this 50-minute hop there was barely any time to watch anything at all.
Given the very short nature of this flight, there was a limited meal service consisting exclusively of a cup of apple juice. As Benjamin Schlappig from One Mile at a Time pointed out when he compared SQ’s bare-bones service on 40-minute flights to QR’s extensive ‘pre-departure drinks of choice, Arabic coffee and dates, your choice of warm or cold towel, a legitimate snack after takeoff and drinks of choice’ on flights of the same duration: (Indeed, you’ll be hard pressed to find any airline in the world that has a better narrowbody product than QR — until SQ’s 737 MAXes came along. I don’t count JetBlue Mint along with them, as it is in a totally different league in terms of market and positioning.)
There were pre-departure drinks, and I was addressed by name nearly a dozen times throughout the flight. The crew was friendly and did their usual welcomes before departure. But what I find sort of funny is that the actual service once airborne is extremely limited. Let me start for a second and acknowledge this is of course all ridiculous. No one needs a meal on a 37 minute flight. I’m writing this simply because I find the contrast between airlines funny. Anyway…
This is of course still great, though at first I thought to myself “why is Qatar so much better than Singapore when it comes to service on these short flights?” And then I realized it’s because Singapore Airlines is such a “by the book” airline. Their flight attendants remain seated until the seatbelt sign is turned off, and then they stop the service once the pilots tell the flight attendants to prepare for landing, which is done roughly the same amount of time before landing whether you’re taking a 40 minute flight or 14 hour flight.
On the flight the seatbelt sign was turned off seven minutes after takeoff, and 20 minutes before landing the captain said “cabin crew, prepare the cabin for landing.” So you guessed right, that meant the crew had 10 minutes to close the curtains between cabins, serve the snack, bring out coffee and tea, clear the tray, and open the curtains between cabins again. Hah.
This is when I discovered a hidden mirror in the tray table. Honestly, I never expected airlines to even offer coat hooks in economy, let alone mirrors, so I have to commend SQ for sneaking in some innovation there.
Here’s my journal entry for this flight. The ‘Roaring out the gate’ is actually a reference to a forum thread on Airliners.net a few years ago, ‘SMF Roaring out of the gate in 2018’, which referred to Sacramento (SMF) airport in California — this aircraft’s registration of course being 9V-SMF.
Scarcely had we taken off before we were already descending into the Malaysian capital — or, rather, its airport located a long way south of the city and almost near the coast. This marked my return to the first foreign country I had ever visited, nine years ago: in October 2013, my flights to and from Singapore were via KUL’s rickety LCCT terminal, which was thankfully demolished the following year.
This, for whatever reason, was what I was browsing on my IFE screen at the time: Cabin Crew by SIA Social Squad.
At 8:22pm the wheels touched down at Kuala Lumpur, bringing an end to this short flight, which was mainly notable for the special aircraft operating it rather than the scanty service, which SQ must not be blamed for. In any case, Chennai to Bengaluru, which has a similar duration, also sees hardly any service from Indian carriers.
Unlike the red A320s and A330s that dominate KLIA2, the main KLIA terminal is 737 country, with the sharp-nosed aircraft occupying most of the apron, consisting of both Malaysia Airlines 737-800s and Batik Air Malaysia (formerly Malindo Air) 737-800s and MAXes. Some of them are seen below, all of which I spotted with my naked eye, as I had no mobile data to fall back upon.
Batik Malaysia has greatly expanded its international operations, now that it — incidentally the global launch customer of the 737 MAX — has taken back its 737 MAX fleet that its Indonesian parent Lion Air had operated for quite some time (not including the ill-fated PK-LQP that crashed four years before, which was never operated in Malaysia). This is a far cry from two years ago, when I distinctly remember that Malindo had only two 737-800s (9M-LCR and 9M-LNP), with all other aircraft being ATR 72s.
It remains to be seen when MH will start taking delivery of its MAXes, which sadly will not feature seatback IFE screens, as MH is eliminating them from its 737-800 fleet. (SQ’s 737-800s — all ex-SilkAir — never had seatback IFE, with only streaming IFE instead.)
Don’t be impressed: the EDGE network in the 2020s is as good as no network at all. Indeed, why my Singtel SIM card did not connect to its Malaysian partner Maxis, but instead chose the rival Digi network, is a mystery. Nevertheless, it was hardly a problem as Malaysia Airports’ Wi-Fi coverage is solid and far-reaching — well until onboard the next aircraft — unlike Bangkok Suvarnabhumi’s ridiculous ad-filled offering which expires after every hour.
Now the cabin lights were turned on and the passengers made an orderly disembarkation from the aircraft.
One last look at 9V-SMF before heading to the next flight.
As I was very close to my next flight, what with the inbound being delayed, two airport officials were helpfully standing with a paper mentioning the flight number (MH180) and the destination. Given my rush, this is the only picture I could capture of it.
Details of MH180 will continue in the next instalment, which I will post in the New Year. Speaking of which, this is my eighth and final trip report on Flight-Report in 2022 — just enough to put me past the 75-point threshold for Bronze status.
Singapore - SIN
Kuala Lumpur - KUL
At just 54 pictures this is my joint-shortest flight report, tying my awful Thai flight from Chennai to Bangkok — a long shot from my typical 130+ pictures. Here the flight was so short that there was barely any chance to take many pictures, as opposed to that flight where I simply did not have the mood or inclination to capture that disgusting experience.
I’m giving a 9 for every score of this flight except for the meagre catering, but I like apple juice, so even that gets a high score. Service-wise SQ is SQ, as always. There’s not much to expect on a 50-minute hop between two of Southeast Asia’s biggest capitals, but the real highlight, of course, was flying 9V-SMF, and as an avgeek nothing can beat that. As we step into 2023, I hope to bring you many more experiences that I encounter on my travels, starting with the next flight, MH180: my first on Malaysia Airlines (and, by extension, Oneworld) and on the A330(-300).
Happy New Year 2023, everyone!
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Thanks for sharing this FR! SQ definitely offers the best hard product on this route, but if my memory is correct MH offers a salty/sweet along with drink service. A packaged snack is likely not making up for the gap in IFE, but does show where SQ can improve.
There are some older Y products with mirrors, SK and CI come to mind. Definitely something not seen in newer cabins.
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