This is the second post in a series of recent travel experiences, the first of which was on how United’s policies almost seem designed to cause frustration. This one is more positive, before heading into the horror that was my experience with Travelocity.
My mom turned 60 in November, so I went back to Malaysia to celebrate – though I’m still earning enough vacation days to come back to parity, since I had only recently started the new job. Now, while Seattle looks geographically closer to Malaysia, unless you get a very specific set of flights, it’s actually further way by travel time. That’s because Toronto has a plethora of direct flights to various parts of Asia, whereas Seattle has relatively fewer. For my timeframes, there was truly nothing convenient or economical. And while I haven’t done a United international flight for a while, my experience with Asian airlines was overwhelmingly better, so I wanted to avoid them if possible, while sticking to Star Alliance if I could (that backfired too, in a different way).
In the end, I wound up with a doozy of an itinerary: Seattle -> Los Angeles -> Tokyo -> Singapore -> Kuala Lumpur, a grand total of over 30 hours of travel. The way back was even longer – 36 hours, an extra stop in Portland, and a 9 hour overnight transit in Singapore. The fare was pretty attractive – I had to pay around $200 to get to Los Angeles, but the route from there was under $1100, much cheaper than any other option besides Air China which I was unsure of (and isn’t a Star Alliance airline to boot). Equally appealing was that both long-haul legs – between Los Angeles and Tokyo, Tokyo and Singapore – were on Singapore Airlines. I used to fly SQ on occasion when I was younger, and always recall it being a positive experience; they are consistently rated highly in studies, and they seem to be among the first to get the latest aircraft. And they are a Star Alliance carrier to boot.
When it came time to board in LA, I was not disappointed – the flight was on the relatively new, absolutely gargantuan Airbus A380:
No, I did not miss my flight in order to get a picture of the A380 taking off. Nor would I likely have gotten this nice a shot, even if I did – if you follow the link above, it will take you to an account of the first flight, by a photographer who posted that and a number of other pictures. It’s good reading if you want to know more! I’ll put a break here to save you if you’re reading on RSS and not interested…
If you want to fly on an A380 with any North American carrier, you are out of luck – none of them have it. If you’d rather try the American-made Boeing 787 Dreamliner, well, you’re still out of luck; the planes might go through final assembly just a little north of where I now live in Everett, WA – but the only operator I know of with the plane in service is Japan’s ANA. My only experience flying ANA, years ago, was also great – though I’ve stopped frequently at their Star Alliance lounge in Tokyo for a bowl of hot soba noodles. They have udon too, if you prefer!
The A380 is absolutely enormous. Whereas the 747 had a small upper deck, the A380 has a full width upper deck that spans most of the length of the aircraft. I was seated up here, though unlike the 747, it’s not all business class up there – there’s a big economy section, where I was seated. Wikipedia says the typical configuration holds over 500 passengers, with an all-economy configuration getting as high as 800. The real draw for the super-rich is perhaps the onboard suites – a fully enclosed space of your own for the duration of the trip. But at a cost of $13,400 for my trip, suites seemed to priced for those who would normally fly private – or own their own planes. I guess a free upgrade would really mean something if it was to a suite!
Service and the overall experience, as I remember them, were great. I was lucky enough to get quite a few upgrades to business class on Air Canada while flying internationally, and while the fully reclining seats are great and Air Canada was pretty good all around, the food quality and service level in economy class on Singapore Airlines seems on par with what I’d expect in business class on AC. The selection of onboard entertainment was far better than any of the other airlines I’ve flown; audio/video quality was also quite decent for an in-seat system. On my last Continental flight, they were trying to get me to pay money for in-flight entertainment in order not to be bored. Here, I watched Captain America, Green Lantern, Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Part 1 and Part 2, and some Chinese film – and that’s just LA to Tokyo. Nobody asked for my credit card. Yes, those were all pretty brainless selections :).
So, what about that 9 hour overnight layover in Singapore Changhi airport? Let’s just say 9 hours there is better than 90 minutes at Newark airport. Does this look like an airport to you?
Sure, the upper right image is clearly of an airport. But there isn’t an airport on this continent that’s even close to Singapore as a place to spend time, and though I’ve flown through KL, HK, Beijing, Taipei, Tokyo, and other airports in Asia – plus quite a number in Europe – Singapore is unquestionably the best, and by a decent margin. Why?
- Lots of airports have free Wifi now. Singapore also has hundreds of free Internet access terminals throughout the airport. Their only flaw is that they run IE instead of Chrome :). (And it’s a real flaw because it’s IE6!) There’s Ethernet ports and AC power for you too. Most airport Wifi is really low quality. In Singapore, you can watch videos and play Starcraft. A decent chunk of my transit was playing Starcraft. It was better than Rogers. I’m not kidding!
- See the movie theatre? It’s an actual movie theatre; small, but OK quality. It’s free, it’s running 24 hours a day, and has a number of not-horribly-old movies. I watched the 5th Fast-and-the-Furious movie, which wasn’t great – but it’s a theatre, not a personal screen, so I didn’t get to pick. I wanted to watch X-Men: First Class, but my flight didn’t arrive early enough for that.
- The image on the lower left? Just one of a number of seating areas with comfy chairs, this one showing a sports channel. Behind it is a Sony “Xperience Zone” – with free games and other entertainment.
- There’s a huge selection of food, and several of them are open 24 hours a day. If your flight arrived at 3am, as mine did, it’s not a problem.
- I included one shot of one of their tranquil areas, but there’s a whole butterfly garden in there for you to walk around.
- If you do need to rest, there are a bunch of areas set up for exactly this purpose, with contoured chairs for you to lie down in. They’re away from the hallways and noise.
- We have free massage chairs at Google. They have free massage chairs all over the airport.
- Need a room or shower? There’s an in-airport hotel inside the security area, so you never need to clear customs to spend the night. There’s also a nice hotel outside customs, still in the airport.
- United lounge in Newark? Closes at 8pm. My flight out was delayed till 1am. The Singapore Airlines lounge here? 24 hours, of course, with food during all of those hours, and a full breakfast buffet.
Basically, it’s vastly better than any membership-only airline lounge (which I’ve been to many of), but it’s free for all passengers.
Well, all good things come to an end, and in this case, the “end” was Los Angeles airport, where after a long wait to clear immigration, I got to do the lengthy walk outside to a different terminal to check in for the next leg of my flight. After which, I had the privilege of going through another long security line to get back into the boarding area. Welcome home! Oh, and I wasn’t flying an A380 on those final legs either: