Millions of Americans take cruises each year where they settle into a small cabin on a big ship, and are wined and dined as they set sail to a series of fun vacations. If it’s fun to do that on a boat, I figured it would be incredible to book a suite on the largest airliner in the world, the double-decker Airbus A380.
Recently, I decided to spend over 48 hours en-route from Delhi India to New York (via Singapore and Frankfurt Germany) as First Class Suites class passenger of Singapore Airlines, which is widely regarded as one of the finest airlines in the world. The Suites class of service is beyond international first class, as each passenger receives his or her own private suite with a door.
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This is the story of what happens when you take a cruise above the clouds.
1) SQ403, Airbus A380 Suites Class from Delhi – Singapore – Flying time 5 hours, 35 minutes
2) 18 hour layover in Singapore
3) SQ26, Airbus A380 Suites Class from Singapore to JFK via Frankfurt- Flying time 22 hours, 20 mins (with a 2 hour layover in Frankfurt)
Check-in at the Delhi Airport at 6:30pm
The Delhi Airport is a grand building that contrasts sharply with much of New Delhi, not to mention chaotic Old Delhi. Yet the dedicated check-in desk for Singapore Suites class passengers was nothing special. I was informed that my 9pm flight to Singapore would be delayed for two hours, leaving me with nearly five hours in the Singapore lounge to eat, work, and call anyone in an appropriate time zone.
Delhi has a dedicated business class lounge, plus a small little sub-section marked off for Suites Class passengers. But ironically, the section for Suites passengers is further from the buffet than the other seats. Also, the lounge is extremely cold, which means that you need to bring a sweater with you on your way to visit notoriously hot Singapore. Thankfully, the food served in the lounge is excellent. In fact, I probably ate more chicken and lamb curry than I should have, considering all of the gourmet meals I was expecting soon on board my flights.
Boarding SQ403 Delhi to Singapore, 11pm
As happens in most parts of the world, all of the passengers for my flight had mobbed the gate area, regardless of whether their boarding class had been called. But once on-board, I was surprised to see that the 12 first class suites were located on the A380’s lower deck, in front of the economy seats, while the upper deck is filled entirely with business class. I was immediately introduced by several people including a flight attendant, chef and lead purser. However, all were soft spoken, and combined with my imperfect hearing, I was always struggling to comprehend them.
As I settled into my suite, it occurred to me that this was either the largest airline seat I would ever occupy or the smallest hotel room I’d ever stay in. Yet on that flight, there were only two other passengers in suites class, and I was thrilled to be offered a large, double bed made up by the middle two suites.
All is not perfect in suites class. There are no overhead bins, so I stored my carry-on underneath the ottoman in front of me. This left no space for my personal item (a small backpack), so it had to be stowed in an adjacent empty suite. Had suites class been full, I’m not sure what the solution would have been. This is in sharp contrast to Lufthansa’s A380 First Class which I had flown to Delhi a few days earlier. It offers an entire closet for each passenger, with plenty of room for carry-ons and personal items. The seats in Singapore’s Suites class also lack many of the fine adjustments common to business and first class seats. And oddly, passengers are asked to unplug all devices from on-board power outlets during take-off and landing.
But that was the extent of my issues with this flight, as I was able to get a taste of the excellent food and service I would be experiencing for the next two days. On flights departing from Delhi, there is no Book the Cook service, Singapore’s system of offering an advanced selection of over 40 entrees. But I did have my choice of three different menus. Rather than make things easy, I chose one item from each menu including a lobster appetizer, lamb main course, and a chocolate chip bread pudding for dessert. I was thrilled to finish my dinner, don the pajamas offered, and retire to my large double bed in the adjacent suites. I wish the flight was longer as I was still quite groggy upon arrival in Singapore after a mere three hours of sleep.
Singapore Changi International Airport, 8am arrival
Arriving two hours behind schedule, my time in Singapore was reduced to a mere 16 hours. I proceeded straight to the lounge to take a shower and get breakfast. Suites passengers enjoy their own lounge, but have to pass through a gauntlet to get there. First you enter the KrisSilver business lounge, then the first class lounge, before entering the sanctum sanctorum for Suites Class called The Private Room. After my shower, I scheduled my free tour of Singapore which is offered by the airport to all transit passengers. However, the 11am tour was booked by the time I got there at 9am, and I had to settle for the 2:30p tour. Next time, my first task will be to book the tour, and freshen up later.
But that was just as well, as I desperately needed to get some more sleep if I had any hope of enjoying my remaining 16 hours in Singapore. After a short breakfast of French toast, I went to take a nap in one of the two small private rooms in the Suites area that are reserved for cell phone use. The staff even volunteered a blanket and pillow for me as I sprawled out across the chair and ottoman. As I drifted off to sleep, I noted the irony of a first class lounge being far less comfortable than my airline seat.
Upon emerging from my slumber, I decided to store my bags (a paid service in the terminal), and kill some time exploring the airport before my tour began. Singapore’s Changi International airport is not only massive, it’s barely recognizable as an airport. Think of it more like an enormous luxury shopping mall, which happens to have flights arriving and departing to every part of the globe. It also features a food court with some distinctly local restaurants.
The Singapore tour
The two hour tour gave me a chance to get outside of the airport as well as an opportunity to meet other passengers. This was just what I needed after spending six hours in the vast, lonely, and somewhat cold airport lounge. Stepping outside the airport into the warmth and humidity of equatorial Singapore is a welcome feeling, akin to entering a green house in the middle of a Denver winter. The tour was also enjoyable, and it was clear that our guide was truly proud of his modern and clean nation state. Apart from getting out of the airport, my goal was not to truly see Singapore, but to learn just enough to plan a future stay there.
On the tour, I met a fellow transit passenger from economy class, which I was able to guest into the First Class lounge, but not The Private Room for Suites passengers. That was just as well, as the ‘public’ room in the first class lounge offers an extensive buffet that compares nicely to the small buffet and menu service found in The Private Room.
Once my new friend departed, I decided to leave the lounge once again and trek to the transit hotel on the farthest end of the airport. It features a swimming pool that you gain admission to for a mere 17 Singapore dollars, about $12 US. The pool was a little bit on the cold side for me, and the so-called hot tub was just slightly warmer. Nevertheless, it was enjoyable to be outside swimming with a view of the tarmac and the sounds of departing aircraft.
Returning to the lounge, I’d learned a key lesson from this experience. When it comes to Singapore First class dining, you have to pace yourself. If you try to eat every breakfast, lunch, and dinner offered, then you’ll quickly run out of real estate in your stomach, potentially missing out on an even greater future feast. To that end, I declined some of the larger and more enticing options on the Private Room’s dinner menu, and instead had a light meal of assorted dim sum. That turned out to be a good call.
Singapore flight 26 to New York JFK via Frankfurt
Eager to commence my journey home from the opposite side of the planet, I departed the lounge and passed through security to reach the rather sparse gate area for my gate and five other flights. Here, First Class passengers have their own dedicated jet-bridge, with another for business class (upstairs) and a third for economy class passengers downstairs.
Pretty soon, it was clear that this flight would also have few passengers in Suites class. There were two other guests in Suites class, and again I received a separate double bed made up of the center two suites. On this flight, I was able to use the Book the Cook program to reserve the Boston Lobster, which is said to one of the finest dishes you can eat on scheduled passenger flight. It’s an entire lobster, although it’s a little small by American standards. Yet it’s still prepared as a lobster thermador, which is baked with cheese and mushrooms. It lived up to expectations and was one of the few in-flight meals I’ve had that compared favorably to terrestrial cuisine.
After diner, I enjoying about eight hours of sleep sprawled across the queen-sized bed in my separate double-suite. After the eight hour of sleep I’ve ever had on an airplane, I freshened up, had breakfast, and watched a movie before arriving in Frankfurt, about 12 hours after departure.
Myself and the single other transit passenger to New York in Suites class were greeted on the jetway by a Singapore representative and escorted through security to the Lufthansa Senator lounge. The Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge is also an option for Singapore business and first class passengers, but I felt like I would be offending our host If I were to abandon him for another airline’s lounge. The Senator Lounge is nothing compared to the KrisSilver First Class and Private Room lounges at Changi airport in Singapore, but it offers an excellent shower room, which was all I really required during the hour I was there.
SQ26 Frankfurt to New York-JFK
Once airborne on the final, eight hour leg of my odyssey, I was again able to try the lobster. This time, it was dish simply labeled lobster thermador, which is a large lobster tail prepared much the same way that my previous lobster was. I then took a nap in a separate, single suite set aside for me, watched a couple of movies, and caught up on some work. And because man cannot survive on lobster alone, I enjoyed a delicious shrimp dumpling soup before landing. Upon arrival in JFK, I was the first off the plane, sped through immigration (thanks to Global Entry) and met my ride at the curb within minutes. It felt like checking out of a hotel after an incredible two-day stay.
To book this trip, I transferred 113,000 points from my Chase Ultimate Rewards account to Singapore Airlines miles, and redeemed 112,625 miles. I then had to contribute a further $510 in taxes and fuel surcharges. You can also transfer American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou points and Starwood Preferred Guest points to Singapore KrisFlyer miles.
A quick look at Singapore’s web site reveals that I could book this itinerary for a surprisingly low price of just $5,762. This means that I received 4.6 cents in value per point redeemed, after subtracting the cost of the taxes and fuel surcharges I paid. That’s a great value no matter how you earned your points.
Life is not perfect in Singapore Suites, but it’s so close that the smallest inconveniences are magnified. For example, I was perpetually handed scalding hot towels, sometimes two or three times throughout my meals. At the same time, I was repeatedly given impenetrable chunks of ice cream that had been chilled to near absolute zero. And as often happens in business and first class, my movies were continuously interrupted by offers of more champagne. Oh, the horrors I endured.
But is flying Singapore First Class Suites and the Changhi Airport a worthy destination in and of itself? To the extent that any fine restaurant or luxury hotel is worth experiencing, so is Singapore First Class Suites. I’ve never actually been on a cruise, but I imagine the appeal of experiencing exquisite food and service is similar. But unlike a cruise ship, flying in Singapore Suites allows you to cross the globe in about the time it takes for a cruise ship to visit its first port. If I ever had the chance to do it again, I wouldn’t hesitate.