When travel becomes part of work, it can
get mundane and routine after a while. Same plane. Same airline. Same food. Same seat. Yawn... Oh look, a different dessert this time! Yippy.
Once in a while, you also get an outstanding crew that makes a world of difference to the flight, despite all other circumstances. I recently found myself having to travel non stop, every week, for 7 weeks in a row (currently in week 5), and week 3 was scheduled for a trip to Manila. SQ flies 4 times daily to Manila, and many people would probably think that all flights would be your bog-standard SQ flight, but no....
One of the biggest complaints of travelers is the problem of inconsistency, of not knowing what you get till you're on board. Airlines with large fleets often have old planes with old products, new planes with new products, old planes refurbished with new products, and some planes lost in translation (or refurbishment). However, very few people know that Singapore Airlines actually has a whopping five
different Business Class seats plying the skies at this present moment! The 3 most common would be the latest long-haul Business Class, available on the A350s, and over half the 777-300ER fleet which are currently in the process of being refurbished. Then there's the slightly older long-haul seat, available on all A380s, the unrefurbished 777-300ERs and some 777-200ERs. Next up is the Regional J, installed on all A330s, some 777-200s, and all 777-300s. But what many don't know is the existence of two aircraft in the super old cradle-style seats, and just one
lone 777 decked out in the famous purple Spacebeds, SQ's first lie-flat J product. The first 2 ply the Bangkok and Manila route, while the Spacebed flies just twice a day, to Manila and back as SQ 916 and 921. So if you're flying to Bangkok or Manila, choose your flights wisely....... or be shocked purple.
This time, against my better judgement, I thought i'd take a trip down memory lane and booked myself onto SQ921, to go back more than a decade and a half ago when this product was first launched, when I was but a little boy who still needed a pillow under me to be able to look out the window. The Flight
I reached Manila's Terminal 3 just after 5pm, well in time for my 7pm departure. There is a security check before entering the terminal, and thankfully I could pull up my booking on my phone to be allowed in. Terminal 3
I headed straight to the SQ counters, which, considering it was a Friday evening, were deserted.
I approached a friendly check-in agent who with a quick glance at my passport was addressing me by name throughout check-in. Excellent service; even the agents in Singapore don't/can't do that. Up till a few hours before the flight, the seat map for my flight was still full and I was in 15K. I asked for a window seat further front, and was granted 12A, which I happily accepted.
Immigration and security was fairly quick, and I was soon air-side.
I'm pretty sure SQ exclusively uses gate 115 here at Manila. They even have a booth set up nicely, and everytime I travel here it's always been this gate, right below the lounge.Still showing the previous flight number, which had just departed a few minutes ago.
The SilverKris lounge was up one level. Here at Manila, it was one of the new home away from home lounges launched by SQ, and opened when they shifted over from T1 to T3. The lounge is quite large, but for sure there are a ton of status passengers every flight because it has always been packed. At this point I figured I was a little early as it was only half full, but later on it filled up to the brim, and I estimated maybe 50? 60? people.. I've once traveled on the 773-operated Friday flight and I could swear there were 100 people in there.My my check out that long thick piece of meat.
I was a bit hungry and so grabbed some food and a beer just to tide through till dinner on board.Our aircraft being turned around.
About half an hour before departure, I was pretty restless and so decided to head down to the gate, although a boarding announcement is normally made in the lounge.Walking past the CX lounge.
Once downstairs, my boarding pass and passport were checked at the above-shown 'booth', and Business Class passengers were directed to the left. On the right was a huge seating area for Economy class passengers. Interestingly, the agents tearing the boarding passes at the booth would gather a stack of BPs, then bring them over to the counter just prior to boarding and scan them one by one. I suppose it's to expedite boarding once it begins.After waiting for about 5 minutes, a gate agent walked over to invite the few passengers on this side to begin boarding.Making my way down (town?)
I've heard of people saying that a great crew can make a great flight, and you'd know it once you step on board the aircraft. This
had to be one of those flights.
I was welcomed on board by an extremely charming IFS, and directed to my seat 12A. Upon turning right into the cabin, I was greeted by a sea of purple, a sight I hadn't seen in about 6 years..The Spacebeds!Seats 12AC
My seat mate turned out to be right behind me and we exchanged a quick smile and hello and that was that. I think everyone had had a long day at work...
The seat was exactly as I remembered it. For a 15 year old aircraft this plane was still in good condition. In fact the signature SQ scent seemed even stronger than on other aircraft (overcompensation... perhaps?)
The overstuffed pockets were the same, as were the faux wood paneling that we don't see anymore on SQ nowadays in the newest products.Seat controls
And that magic button was still there - the one that at a single press converts the chair into a angled lie-flat bed.
Between the seats was a socket to charge your device, the audio jack and a private reading light.Thoughtful holes for shoesUrgh. Gross!!
The incredibly young leading steward came by to offer welcome drinks. I took a champagne but probably downed it so fast before I could take a picture. Hmm. Meanwhile the other crew members were busy helping passengers stow bags, while I could see the IFS welcoming status passengers on board. The smooth flow of service and genuine interactions with passengers were what struck me as unique to this trio of crew serving Business Class tonight.
At this point it was getting cold so I unwrapped the blanket. Unfortunately it had a sour smell (or could it be my seat mate's feet??) and I had to ask for a new one. The leading steward (LS) was very apologetic about it and handed me a new one in no time.
And then it
Suddenly my right arm rest collapsed a notch. Uh. What just happened?
Ok clearly I'm getting too fat or something maybe.
Pushing all the buttons didn't work and physical strength couldn't get it back up either. Oh well. Hopefully nobody notices it.......
Aaaaanyway. We were soon welcomed on board by the captain. Doors were closed, and pushback commenced. Also, the safety video was so grainy I probably wouldn't feel safe if it was my first time watching it. Lol. The cabin was secured for take off (the LS very kindly helped me stow my bag on top) and soon we were powering down the runway into the night sky.The over-powered Trent 892s sounding lazy tonight...
*Ding* the seat belt signs went off. I immediately bolted for the toilet. Hm. Must've been that glass of beer in the lounge and champagne...
I bumped into the IFS who greeted me and ask if I'd like to move to an empty row 14 for more comfort. However I declined the offer as I wanted my window seat. It's rare that IFSs bother to remember passengers' names on short flights, but this very-young-for-an-IFS was already doing a fantastic job of that, and also to go one step further to offer suggestions on how to improve passengers' comfort on board.
After my pee break, i settled back into my seat and decided to (try to) get comfy. However.
Only problem was, I seemed to have gotten the seat stuck. Somehow the sunken armrest must have screwed up the mechanisms because I could only move the legrests, or the seat bottom forward. I could not get it to recline. Argh. To stay, or to move? After twiddling with the seat controls for about 5 minutes, I gave up. I figured seat comfort was more important for this 3 hour sector than a pitch dark window, and so I started packing up my things to move.
A Miss Blue Kebaya walking by could sense something wrong and actually checked on me, so I told her my seat was stuck and I'd be moving. Without hesitation she went over to 14D and reclined the seat, to ensure that it was in full working condition.
Even the sharp IFS picked up on the commotion and came over to apologize for the inconvenience. Well, I guess I should have listened to his advice and moved to 14D in the first place heh. We had a short chat about the lighter-than-expected load in Business. Apparently it was supposed to be full but many passengers who arrived earlier at the airport hopped onto the 5pm flight back to Singapore. Hm, something for me to consider next time...
Comfortable in my new seat, I decided to put on a show while awaiting for the meal service to start. The trolley soon rolled down the aisle, and the tray was presented. Here is the menu for reference:Smoked duck breast appetizer
I had a glass of chardonnay to accompany the excellent starter. Miss Blue Kebaya despite being, uh, blue, was very experienced and confident when speaking with passengers. The LS soon came around with a bread basket and i chose garlic bread of course. By this time all 4 crew (there was an extra trainee) had passengers' names (or at least mine lol) memorized by heart. I personally don't think I could do
So a big problem with these old gen seats are of course the very last-generation IFE screens.
My wide-screen movie was now puny on those square-ish screens.Effectively about 40% of the screen size was redundant. Ah welll..... at least it functioned I suppose. I mean this aircraft is ancient by SQ's standards...
The crew really were doing an excellent job, engaging each and every passenger while still keep an eye on service flow. When I had finished my dish, it was immediately cleared. It was only a short wait later before the IFS hand-delivered the main course from the galley, wishing me an enjoyable meal. For tonight, I craved something a little bit more Asian so I went for the Sweet and Sour Pork with Fried Rice.Check that out!!
100/100 for presentation. I mean, even that square block of rice was still intact!! And didn't that pile of meat look appetizing?? Taste-wise, perhaps an 8/10 simply because there wasn't enough sauce. I like my Ku Lou Yok in nice thick sauce, the more tangy the better...
Nonetheless this had to be one of the more authentic meals catered from out stations. I didn't realize that due to my movie running I was actually eating really slowly and everybody else had received their dessert. Whoops!
Eventually my tray was cleared and Mr IFS came out with desserts on his tray. There was a choice of Chocolate Brownie, or Mango Salted Caramel Ice Cream. The problem was, I'm a sucker for anything chocolate, and especially brownies - those thick gao gao kind. But I had to have them with ice cream otherwise it'd feel like something was missing!
"Is it ok if I have both?" I asked with the straightest face I could muster.
"Of course! Wow you still have space for 2 desserts!" replied Mr IFS with a chuckle.
Yes of course I did eh heh.
Presentation would've been perfect if not for that dubious-looking brown worm-like thing... Well anyway that was coffee sauce, not *cough*ahem nevermind.... Again I ate my dessert leisurely, and yes, I finished it all. And once again this had to be one of the better desserts I've had on board SQ. Sometimes in Business Class they really give out very cheapo desserts like jelly, or sponge cakes.
Once done, I asked Mr IFS if I could have a hot chocolate. Not only did he oblige, but he also promised to use hot milk instead of water (i suppose?) to make it because 'it tastes much better that way'.
As he delivered the hot chocolate (which really was very nice), I had a very nice long chat with Mr IFS about his life working with SQ, asked some questions about what flying would be like as a PPS member, and also shared some of my experience on board SQ with him - both good and bad. I know not all passengers bother or like it but I think it's nice to have rapport with the crew and good ones really make a good impression on behalf of the airline. Soon though he had to leave to carry on his duties.
"Mr pokfur please allow me to reheat or make a new hot chocolate for you? I'm sure it's gone cold by now..." Mr IFS offered.Well
if you insist.... So off went my cup of half drunk (not) hot chocolate to be reheated. Can SQ service get any better than that?? Talk about being pampered.... Even mum wouldn't do that for me...
Mr IFS soon redelivered the (very) hot chocolate, and I went back to finishing up my movie.
I thought it'd be fun for old times' sake to test out the comfort of the Spacebed, so after my movie was over I reclined my seat fully.Bed mode.
And actually it was quite comfortable! More comfortable than I remember, for sure. I'm not sure I could've gone a whole night on this seat, but that point is moot now anyway. SQ better not randomly send this plane on a long-haul flight!! As we began our descent into Singapore I reverted my bed back into a seat. The cabin crew began their usual clean-up and checks on the passengers. I contemplated briefly about moving back to 12A for the landing, but in the end decided to just stay put and not bother the passenger in the aisle seat.14 more minutes to go.. Or was it 1h14mins??
I feel like time drags by when sitting in an aisle seat?? I literally sat there twiddling my thumbs with nothing
to do. Ok maybe I should
have shifted back after all. Ah well, eventually we touched down gently onto Singapore soil and I was back home! It was a fairly short taxi to the gate, and we ended up at the furthest gate F60 from the main terminal (explains the short taxi). Unfortunately in the hustle and bustle of disembarkation Mr IFS was very busy so I didn't get to say a proper goodbye to him nor thank him for the fantastic flight and service. Well, hopefully I'll bump into him again someday on another SQ flight!Conclusion
I think this flight was nostalgic in more ways than one. The old cabin brought back memories of when I was a young boy, and when 777s were new
and Trent 800s were the biggest things
I had ever seen hanging off an aeroplane wing. Also, the on board service was top notch and completely natural by all cabin crew. Nowadays some (thankfully it's only a minority) of the younger crew don't seem to have their heart in the right place when it comes to service. Also in a bigger J cabin such as on the 773s, quite a lot of the passenger interaction is lost, naturally, but today's flight made up for that for sure.
A special shout out goes out to Mr IFS and his crew, whom I have already complimented via SQ's online feedback. I think I will remember this flight for quite a long time - it certainly raised the bar quite high!!!