I can’t express quite how much I love Changi Airport. After I first encountered it, on a Qantas stopover from Melbourne to London, I was so taken that I booked a trip back to Singapore for a long weekend. If the airport was that good, I figured the destination itself must be amazing. As it turns out, the airport has the edge. It’s got a room full of live tropical butterflies for goodness’ sake!
The Silverkris lounge at Changi T3 is – as you’d expect, given that it belongs to the flagbearing airline – swish. It’s huge, with lots of caramel marble surfaces, mod wood panelling and flattering mood lighting. It sets just the right tone for a J-class lounge: quiet and slick. You can work, or you can work your way through a few flutes of fizz and flick through some glossy magazines. Judging by the sudden flurry of activity each time a new Champagne cork popped, the crowd on the afternoon I flew out of Changi were more in the mood for the latter.
Many airlines have all but dropped First Class entirely, focusing on J-coded products as their top tier product, with a premium-lite cabin to act as a buffer before you hit the cheap seats, but not Singapore. There’s no ‘Economy Comfort’ section on Singapore Airlines A380 (sorry KLM, but that really is an oxymoron at 30,000 feet). The focus is rigidly divided between Economy, Business, First and Suites, with separate lounges for Business and First. This is an airline that’s big on class distinction, always offering a carrot to upgrade, until you get to the Suites. Any step up from that really won’t be involving anything scheduled and commercial.
Singapore’s Business Class is, one imagines, a bread and butter product, although that make it sound too prosaic; Poilâne and Le Beurre d’Echiré instead, perhaps. Its 34-inch wide toffee leather armchairs are much more photogenic than anything else at a J-class standard flying right now. On the lucrative Asian and Oceanic routes, this product has a slavish following. Demand is growing: in September 2012 the carrier added a fourth daily flight from Changi to London.
“You’re a rich man. You’ve always been a rich man…” If this was the case, I wondered, why aren’t you in a Suite?
I boarded the flight to London through a different door from Economy and Suites passengers (all the Business seating is upstairs on the A380), which gave the impression of being on an all-J-Class flight. There are no stairs to climb: after the boarding bridge, you’re already on the upper deck. It’s almost a disappointment not to encounter an Economy seat, just so you can remind yourself how special the offering in Business is.
Business Class seating on the A380 is in a 1-2-1 configuration, and the seats feel as vast as they look in photographs. When in its bed position (76 inches long) it’s truly flat, with very good quality linen. There are a couple of reading lights, and a very solid layout for working in terms of sockets and storage compartments. It’s an immensely comfortable set up. Food is excellent, and the Book the Cook service – which allows you to preselect your meals from an extensive list online before you fly – is a great idea. My rib eye with garlic mash was just the ticket. The TV monitor is nothing short of incredible – a 15.4 inch screen. For all the hundreds upon hundreds of movies and TV shows that Singapore’s AVOD system comes loaded up with, I didn’t really fancy much of it, so stuck largely to my iPad, although what I did watch on the plane’s screen was torturously punctuated with the most annoying banking advert of all time, beginning with an unsettling, velvet throated voice over: “You’re a rich man. You’ve always been a rich man…” If this was the case, I wondered, why aren’t you in a Suite?
It’s difficult to pick holes in any of the Singapore Airlines Business Class experience. Except… there’s that undeniable feeling that elsewhere on the plane, behind a final set of curtains, in a way that doesn’t quite match up to other carriers, there’s undreamt of, serious unbridled luxury going on. It’s not that the service isn’t great in Business, because it is. It’s seamless. But as the name suggests, it’s business-focused rather than sky’s-the-limit luxury oriented. You’ll eat well and you’ll sleep well and you’ll love it. But, unlike other airlines where the front few rows serve largely as an upgrade perk for frequent flying businessfolk and all you get is an inch more seat, a nicer wash bag and a more expensive glass of Champagne, Singapore Airlines takes it different tiers of luxury and privilege very seriously indeed.