Tuesday, May 30th was a special day for Singapore Airlines as it launched its new route between Stockholm and Singapore via Moscow. It was also a special day for Stockholm’s Arlanda airport, which was welcoming a major new long-haul route and the first from the airport that is operated by an Airbus A350. Singapore Airlines has even provided Arlanda with a technician for the first three months of the A350’s service to act as an instructor for SAS technicians who will have technical responsibility for the aircraft. After all, it’s a state-of-the-art aircraft that is not common in the northern latitudes of Scandinavia.
BusinessClass was invited to attend the premiere and what follows is our report from the trip, in which we travelled in Premium Economy on an Airbus 350-900. As you would expect on an inaugural flight, check-in was quick and easy and the atmosphere was happy and festive. The flight proceeded an inauguration ceremony, which you can read more about here. We should also mention that, when travelling in Premium Economy, you have your own check-in desk and your own baggage drop-off.
Boarding started at 10:45 from gate F69, and the first travellers to be welcomed aboard were those with bonus cards of higher denominations. Then came BusinessClass’ turn with Premium Economy and finally Economy. When you first clock eyes on the aircraft, you’ll notice the huge wings that are 64.8m from winglet to winglet. It’s as big and long as on a Boeing 777-300ER, but 3.5m longer than on an Airbus A330-300. Singapore Airlines invests heavily in the Airbus A350. There are 14 machines in its fleet already, and it’s waiting on another 53 to be delivered from the Airbus factory in Toulouse. The aircraft have three classes on board; with 42 seats in Business Class, divided into two cabins; 24 in Premium Economy; and 253 in Economy.
I got set number 31A, next to the window. The cabin is configured in a 2-4-2 formation, and, as row 31 is the first row in the cabin, it affords the most legroom. As you can see in the picture, I had two rather large windows at my seat – fortunately equipped with manual pull-down blinds. On board the main competitor of this aircraft, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, there are electrochromic windows, which allow you to electronically control how much light the window lets in. But these do not work particularly well, in my opinion. It never gets completely dark and if the sun is shining outside, you can still notice the heat coming through the window. Not optimal!
Please also note, row 31 is assigned to families travelling with a baby, with seats 31 D and G marked for this reason. On this trip, there was only one baby on board it, but it was further behind in the Economy cabin. I recommend seats A, C, H, K in row 31.
In row 32 or 33, space is a bit more restricted, but still a good 38 inches, which is the default for Premium Economy. Lufthansa, SAS, Qantas, LOT, British Airways, and Air France use this benchmark, just to name a few. The seat itself is a bit wider than in Economy, and it does not feel crowded in any way. The table is folded out from a space between the chairs and, as you can see, you have double armrests in the middle. You do not have to rub shoulders with your neighbour and you can comfortably relax in comfort – in fact, at no time during this long trip to Singapore did I feel as tired and uncomfortable as is ordinarily the case on long flights.
The neck support on the seat was good and you can adjust both the height and the ‘wings’, which support your head from the sides. You adjust the seat with three different buttons that control the angle of the backrest, leg support, and the footrest. It’s a comfortable seat for both sitting up straight to eat or work, as well as when you want to rest or watch a movie. But sleep… that’s another story. I’m all of six-foot tall and it was difficult to find a comfortable sleeping position. It’s not down to a lack of space, but because the leg support does not raise high enough. I personally think it’s better on aircraft where the footrest is under the seat in front of rather than as part of the leg support. There are certainly different opinions about what is best but I solved the problem by placing my cabin bag along the wall, laying a blanket on top, and resting my legs on the makeshift construction. In any case, Premium Economy is much more comfortable than Economy!
Before it was time for take-off, we got a small, steamed warm washcloth and were offered champagne, juice or water. This was my first flight in an Airbus A350 and even though my seat was just relatively near the engine, the noise level was surprisingly subdued. You could quite easily talk to your neighbour without raising your voice. Overall, I experienced both the noise level and the vibration level to be comfortable aboard this aircraft specimen, which has been in operation since July last year. It would seem I have a new favourite aircraft! Of course, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is a nice aircraft, but this cabin felt more spacious and airy, and as I’ve already told you, there are real blinds the windows have real blinds.
The A350-900 also has mood lighting, although a limited range of settings was used during the flight. Despite this, the lighting felt comfortable and throughout. A more important issue is how to handle the pressure in the cabin. It’s lower than many other aircraft, where the cruising altitude is usually around 8,000 feet or just under 2,500 metres. When flying with an Airbus A350 or a Boeing 787, you are at approximately 6,000 feet or 1,800 metres. The difference is significant and you are noticeably less tired. I have flown with a Dreamliner many times to and from Asia, and when flying with a Boeing 777 or 747, I clearly felt less rested or more tired upon arrival. This is a big step in passengers’ well-being.
The first part of the trip, from Stockholm to Moscow (a stopover one would rather avoid, I think most would agree) took about an hour and a half. In Moscow, everyone had to get off the plane, bring their hand luggage through the transit area, and onwards through a security check. There were no problems, but it took some time and was not particularly enjoyable. Ideally, there should be a way around this. Here at BusinessClass, we are keeping our fingers crossed that this route will prove successful for Singapore Airlines so that bringing passengers to and from Stockholm will not require the stopover in Moscow. But that is often what happens with a new route: just look at the route between Kastrup and Singapore. It has been operating for some 40 years now, and, back in the day, one had to stop off in Zurich. I have done this a number of times, but the difference was that we could stay on board the aircraft.
The food served on board was of the highest class. Here’s what the menu looked like:
If you have special requests regarding your food, you can use the “book the cook” service to pre-order your desired dish up to a day before departure. This option, however, was not available on this premiere flight.
After dinner, I leant back in my seat and watched a film. Singapore Airlines fantastic Krisworld system worked absolutely as it should. Due to my front-of-the-cabin position in row 31, the screen was on the wall in front, a bit further from the eyes than on other rows – but it was not too far and the screen impressed with its superfine resolution. When travelling in Premium Economy, you get a pair of noise-reducing headphones – the type that covers the entire ear and plugs into the socket between seats. There is also a USB port if you want to charge your mobile phone or tablet. There is an additional USB port under the screen in front of you.
Also between the seats, further down towards the floor, there are two electrical sockets. An attractive feature when seated aboard an Airbus A350 is the ability to connect your phone to Krisworld and control the entire system from it. It worked without a glitch and the Wi-Fi signal was strong and stable throughout the flight. As it was a premiere, all travellers in Business and Premium Economy were afforded one hour of free surfing. If you want Wi-Fi throughout your trip, it costs 22 Singapore Dollars or about £12.40. Not bad if you plan to stay online for the majority of the flight. It works on mobile, laptop and tablet, but you can only be logged on with one electronic device at a time.
The rest of the trip was undramatic and went without incident. We did experience a little thunder, but it made a rather nice light show as we soared somewhere over southern Afghanistan. After dinner, the light diminished quite quickly and for the rest of the trip, the cabin was darkened, except for two and a half hours before our scheduled arrival, when the cabin was lightly lit for the distribution of new steamed and breakfast. After breakfast, the light was dimmed again for roughly an hour.
The journey from Moscow to Singapore took nine hours and 35 minutes. We landed 10 minutes before our scheduled arrival time, at 6:45 pm local time. As always at Changi, immigration and customs were a breeze. My baggage arrived a few minutes after I arrived in the collection area – smoothly and efficiently. In a few days, I will report on the trip home from Singapore to Stockholm, on which I again few with an Airbus A350-900, but in Business Class.