The truth about flying business class
Ten years have passed since Singapore Airlines became the first airline to take delivery of the highly coveted A380.
To coincide with the anniversary, the first of five brand spanking new upgraded A380s was unveiled following four years of development work and a whopping $1.1 billion investment.
Australia was chosen for Singapore Airlines' inaugural A380 flight back then, and we're also the first to try the new cabin products this time around and by "we" I mean me. Well, me and 470 other lucky passengers.
During its maiden voyage from Sydney to Singapore and back, I have the happy task of comparing premium economy one way and business on the way back. From seats and service, to in-flight entertainment and food and drink - how do the classes on the new look superjumbo stack up against one another?
Whether you're just curious, or are seriously deliberating between splurging on a left turn or not, read on to find out.
As every frequent traveller knows, the flight experience begins at check-in. With a designated premium economy line at check-in, minutes were shaved off queuing. This class also equates to a very generous 35kg baggage allowance, priority boarding and priority baggage handling at the other end.
Hassle-free with my bags checked and my boarding pass printed in under four minutes. Check in luggage allowance is 40kg and while Changi Airport doesn't have a fast track lane, thanks to the ever-efficient Singaporeans the queue for passport control was only five or so people deep, which meant I was through to departures in less than 15 minutes allowing for more time to take advantage of the lounge.
Taking my seat in one of the 44 premium economy seats (there's 343 in economy) the first thing I noticed was the legroom - lots of legroom. For a shortie like me (I'm five seven) it's seriously spacious. Even those six-footers out there should be happy.
Decked out in a contemporary colour scheme of grey and muted orange, the leather finished seats are 19.5 inches (49.5cm) wide and have a pitch of 38 inches. At the touch of a button seat goes back with an eight-inch recline and another button a comfy leg rest rises. Handy drink cup holders are built into the armrest and the table (also in the armrest) is very mobile and noticeably larger, easily accommodating both my laptop, bottle of water and cup of tea.
Divided into three sections of 50, 20 and eight, each of the 78 seats is arranged in a forward-facing configuration that offers all customers direct access to the aisle. Upholstered in lush leather, large carbon composite "shells" on every seat creates a cocoon-like feel for additional privacy.
Fully adjustable using an electronic control side panel, each seat is 25 inches wide (63.5cm) with 50 inches of pitch. Other creature comforts include an adjustable, enlarged table, personal vanity mirror with light, cocktail tray and reading light that brightens and dims.
Being on a red eye, getting horizontal for a few hours of shut-eye was at the forefront of my mind. Preprogrammed buttons convert the seat to a comfortable flat bed (78 inches) at the touch of a button. To stretch out, you do need to sleep at a slight angle that some may find unusual, but as a confirmed foetal sleeper I was fine.
While I was in a window, all of the centre seats in the 1-2-1 configuration have a middle divider, which can be raised for privacy or - in an airline first - lowered to create a double bed. Perhaps my mind is in the gutter, but I couldn't help wondering about a potential surge in mile-high members as a result of this new feature.
More than enough. Overhead storage buckets aside, there's space under the seat, in a few compartments and the expandable seat back pockets are roomier than you'd expect. My laptop fitted easily, alongside three magazines, a paperback and my toiletry bag.
A well-thought design means there's space for everything. The carbon fibre shell structure also comes into play here as, compared to the conventional seat structure in most aircraft which use metal, its thinner material creates more stowage space under the seat.
My right side window seat (18K) had a cushioned ottoman shelf that easily fits my carry-on under it. Plus, there's multiple stowage compartments and neat cubby holes within arms reach. My overhead locker was made pretty much redundant.
Easily rivalling most of the business class bathrooms I've frequented, the bathrooms are kitted out with toothbrushes and toothpaste, combs and other staples. There's also a handy mouthwash dispenser and paper cups, alongside hand lotion and eau de toilette.
Slightly larger than premium, business toilets are also equipped with toothbrushes and toothpaste, razors and combs. There's a magnifying mirror for mid-flight make-up touchups and eyebrow tweezing, and upgraded toiletries from London-based Penhaligon's.
A 13.3-inch full HD touchscreen monitor (touchscreen is new to premium economy) paired with Phitek noise-cancelling headphones makes watching a movie or TV show a dream.
Smartphone users will love the free Companion app that allows flyers to shortlist movies, TV shows and music before their departure date and control the media once on board. KrisFlyer members travelling across all classes can also use the myKrisWorld experience, which enables users to save preferences from flight to flight, pausing movies and TV shows, and even getting recommendations based on viewing history Netflix-style.
Back to the actual choice - there's more than 1000 entertainment options, from Hollywood to Bollywood. I was torn between complete seasons of Game of Thrones and the latest box office blockbusters, though the "your favourites" category with classics such as Ghostbusters made this '80s kid jump in his seat with joy.
While offering virtually the same product - including the headphones - the TV (at 18-inches) is way bigger. Also, KrisFlyer members and those in the suites and business class have access to a small amount of additional in-flight entertainment.
FOOD AND DRINK
I'm a water guzzler and my need for H20 kicks in even more so when on a flight, so when water wasn't offered until a good hour in I started to get twitchy. Saying that, a glass of bubbly and some nuts were decent compensation.
A few days before flying I decided to use the airline's Book the Cook - a service for passengers in both premium economy and business to preselect meals up to 24-hours prior to departure. Specially created by a panel of all-star international chefs, including Matt Moran, menus vary for each city and cabin class meaning you can try something different on each flight.
My pre-ordered seafood thermidor with saffron rice was so-so, however I did appreciate that the accompanying bread roll had been nicely warmed.
Flat bed aside, food and drink is the biggest differentiation between premium economy and business. Boarding, there's a bottle of water waiting for me in the seat, and the prerequisite cashews and almonds soon follow after takeoff. As with the premium economy leg, I used the Book the Cook service and this time select the oven-roasted corn fed chicken breast with tarragon jus, creamy polenta and cauliflower. Arriving on nice china (all business class meals are served on Narumi designed chinaware) I devoured every morsel. Yummy.
The food offering is paired with a sizeable drinks menu of spirits, liqueurs and fine wines, including Australian wines and craft beers.
The world's first GX-enabled A380, the aircraft is equipped with Inmarsat GX Aviation's broadband connectivity system, so you can surf at high speed, text and tweet, even while you're 30,000 feet in the air. And handily - for those browsing and Instagramming throughout - there's an individual in seat power supply with two USB ports to ensure your battery never dies.
As well as the Wi-Fi, business seats come with a convenient "connectivity panel" with universal AC socket and high-powered USB port.
As with hotels, it's often the little things that linger in my mind after a flight. Such as the steaming (actual cotton) hot towel offered to me prior to departure, the oversized pillow (easily the biggest I've seen outside of business) and the thick grey blanket.
Boarding, I pick up copies of a few international papers, including The New York Times. Big tick. For some reason eye masks and ear plugs weren't handed out, but a nice pair of slippers awaited me in one of the many storage nooks positioned around my seat.
When it was time to hit the hay, I had not one but TWO pillows, a super plush duvet and a padded elasticated seat cover, which doubled up as a lumber support. Ingenious. Surprisingly, there 's no amenity kit for business class passengers, but the Penhaligon's products and toothbrushes in the toilet are more than adequate.
The writer was a guest of Singapore Airlines.
Singapore Airlines' new A380 airbus is running daily between Sydney and Singapore. Four new A380s are expected to be in service by mid to late 2018 with route destinations still to be announced. In addition to the five new aircraft, Singapore Airlines will also retrofit 14 A380s already in service with the new cabin products. The retrofit work is expected to be complete by 2020.
For more travel advice and inspiration, sign up to Escape's newsletter.