Wow, after so many months of waiting the trip is over in just 4 days. It may be short on days, but certainly not short in fun and excitement! I shall start my review on how this trip came to fruition.
How it started
Despite all the talk early this year about going on this flight, I still did not see myself doing this trip due to time constraint from my work commitment. On the day the ticket was released, I did not manage to get a Business Class ticket. I wasn’t too keen on flying 19 hours seated upright. It was more than a week after the release that my enthusiasm got the better of me (during a casual chat with my fellow flyer CJ over beer and pizza). With only Premium Economy left (and on waitlist), that was my only choice left. To my surprise, my waitlist cleared almost immediately. It took me another 3 more weeks before I confirmed my ticket (after my buddies and I finally decided to go for it). We left it as it is but we reminded each other of how many more months left before the inaugural.
Months became weeks, and weeks became days. October 11 finally arrived. This trip was particularly exciting and meaningful for me for a few reasons:
- I missed the old SQ22/21 on the A340-500
- My first ever inaugural flight
- First flight with my fellow frequent flyers
- The chance to meet other expert flyers
- Rollout of the much anticipated A350-900 ULR (with a range of almost 18000 km!)
In the end 4 out of 5 of us made the trip, while our friend ST could not make it due to work commitment.
For this trip, I booked my check in via JetQuay Terminal (one of the many benefits of Citi Prestige card) which was reintroduced (after it was removed towards end of 2017). It turned out to be a bad idea as CJ and I missed the initial fun during the check in (made worse by the slow check in process in the terminal). This was on top of my problem of doing an online check in earlier. I could not do an online check in despite calling Krisflyer for help. Turned out that I was randomly selected for additional security screening (note the AQQ selectee printed on the boarding pass). I was expecting an SSSS type of screening (like what I had in Calgary Airport last year) but it turned out to be nothing more than a few additional questions concerning your electronic device.
Meeting Up and Gate Party!
Once things were sorted out, we made our way to the Krisflyer Gold Lounge (our meeting point). Along the way, we passed by gate B8 where we saw things being set up for the gate party later.
Inside the lounge, we immediately put on our custom-made inaugural t-shirt (nicely designed and produced by Pier). Almost immediately, we attracted attention as someone approached us to find out more about this special t-shirt. He then introduced himself as JT Genter, one of the many writers from The Points Guy (TPG). I found out that he will be joining us in the Premium Economy section (to my surprise). He later explained that he is the one who does most of the Economy reviews on TPG. Only recently he has upgraded himself to doing Premium Economy. He flew in from US via HKG (after doing the Cathay Pacific A350-1000) and just in time to do the A350-900ULR back to USA.
After some drinks, we made our way over to the gate proudly wearing our specially designed t-shirt. At the gate, heads were turned the moment we entered. Cameramen (from both the media and Singapore Airlines) begin taking our pictures. Some of us were interviewed as well.
Given the capacity of only 161 people, B8 was more than enough to cater for this special event. We were treated to a buffet reception where everyone mingled around. Soon Mr. Campbell Wilson (senior Vice President of sales and marketing) started the even with his speech. This was followed by a short speech from the US ambassador to Singapore.
With the speeches out of the way, it was the crews’ turn to perform – belting out classics from USA. A short pop quiz session soon followed where trivia were thrown to guests and those who answered correctly were given a souvenir (which is a nice leather passport cover with SQ emblem on it). It was during the reception that I managed to meet the famous miles blogger, Aaron Wong (a.k.a The MileLion) who was travelling in Business Class with a fellow MileLion reader (Wilson) travelling in the same cabin (how I envy them for able to snag the Business redemption ticket).
Once the stage is cleared, we took turns to take individual and group photo on the stage.
our sumptuous buffet spread for the evening
Soon, boarding was announced and we made our way onto the plane. As we entered the plane, goodie bag was distributed to each passenger (I shall go into the content of The Goodie bag later).
This is my first and only experience in Premium Economy. I have never redeemed any Premium Economy seats before as I felt that it is low on value for miles (70k vs 92k for Business Class). However, I am willing to make an exception for the inaugural (and I have no regrets doing it). I paid about $80+ for this flight (on top of the 70k miles).
I managed to snag 31G as I confirmed the flight rather early (end June). It may not come with an excellent pitch of the 4 priority seats (31 A,C,H,K) but it’s FREE! One catch though, if you have a baby next to you then all the best. I had one next to me but thankfully, he handled the flight pretty well (his parents did very well!). The disadvantage of this seat is that the TV is at a distance from your seat (making it harder to use the touchscreen feature). The lack of a seat in front of you means you don’t get the water bottle holder too. This is more than compensated by the lack of a chair reclining in your direction and the ability to stretch your legs. The seat itself is fairly comfortable, certainly an upgrade over the regular economy. It is upholstered in leather (vs fabric in Economy). The standard seat comes with a 38” pitch (more in bulkhead seats) and 18.5” width. This may sound generous but I may still find it tough to fit in the standard seat given my height (189cm). Thankfully, the width of the seat fits me in nicely. The seat comes with a calf rest (which served no purpose for me) and foot rest. At the armrest on the aisle side, I have a small document pocket and the non-movable hand rest on opposite side, a small table (which also serves as cocktail table). Seat table is stowed in the hand rest for the bulkhead seat. Special mention should be given to the “throne seats” (seats 40, 41, 42 C and H) – single seat with an extra-large side storage. These seats are excellent for solo travellers but proximity to the toilet may be a problem for some. It may not come as a surprise if Singapore Airlines decide to turn these seats into Priority Seats.
Food & Drink
Unlike long hauls which comes with 2 meal services, ultra-long hauls come with 3. Singapore airlines has introduced their famed Book-The-Cook feature to Premium Economy. Though more limited, there are few good local favourites available e.g. Nasi Briyani, Nasi Lemak and Chicken Rice. For this trip, I booked both the Briyani and Nasi Lemak. The first meal commenced about 1 hour after take-off. Those with BTC and special orders will get their food first. This is good for those who are hungry, but I ended up finishing my food without any beverage accompaniment. Beverages were only served when the rest of passengers get their food. I hope that this is just a small hiccup being the first flight instead of the SOP. I hope Singapore Airlines can look into improving this part of the workflow. There is a small snack mid-flight where we were given a pizza. Snacks were available throughout the flight which include wraps, chips and nuts. The third meal was served about 3 hours before touching down in Newark. It was served earlier than usual as we expected to have bumpy ride going into Newark due to winds from Hurricane Michael hitting Florida. Just like the first meal, I got my BTC meal early with no accompanying beverage until the meal cart started going.
On board menu
Both the Nasi Briyani and Nasi Lemak were excellent choices. The briyani was flavourful and the curry was not too spicy (although I personally would prefer it to be spicier). Nasi Lemak was good too, but I still rate the Briyani over Nasi Lemak. The anchovies were not crispy the fried chicken a little salty. One special mention is the Canyon Ranch option of cauliflower steak. I was initially confused as to what it is – is it a steak with cauliflower or steak made out of cauliflower. It turned out to be the latter. I had the opportunity to give it a try when I was hanging around the galley – it is a large piece of cauliflower (interestingly shaped almost like a piece of steak) accompanied by brown rice and beans served with pesto sauce. It certainly tasted better than it sounded or looked. One caution though is that cauliflower and beans can make you feel gassy and it may not be that pleasant constantly passing out gas on a full ultra-long haul flight. Despite all the hype, I am not too convinced of the Canyon Ranch option.
The meals are served in a tray just like how they do in Economy Class, with the addition of table cloth in the tray, napkin and better looking cutlery.
First meal (supper) – BTC Nasi Briyani
Beverage options are pretty standard like those on Economy with the exception of champagne. On this flight (and the return flight), Moet and Chandon was the champagne on board and it is certainly an excellent choice for Premium Economy. I was expecting a plastic glass but turns out that we had our champagne in glass! I am not sure if this will be the standard champagne for Premium Economy, or it was only loaded for this flight (or only for ultra-long hauls). Hopefully, this will be the standard. A new mocktail was also introduced (of course by Canyon Ranch) which helps with on board hydration. It is the Canyon Ranch Agave Lemonade. It is a lemonade with a tinge of ginger and it was certainly refreshing.
The entertainment is certainly top notch courtesy of the famed Krisworld system. Krisworld is famed for its large and fairly up to date contents. For this 18.5 hours flight, additional contents were loaded to keep passengers entertained on such a long flight. Each seat comes with a 13.3” touchscreen Full HD monitor which is very generous. The screen do look small however for those in bulkhead seats due to the distance of the screen from the seat. Those who are short may find it challenging to use the touchscreen feature. This can be quite troublesome as the new remote control lacks certain features (such as play and fast forward buttons) compared to the previous generation remote control.
The new noise cancellation headphone stood up pretty well in my opinion. Granted, it is nowhere near the superior Bose QC25 used in Business and First Class. It was still able to shield out a good portion of the cabin noise and felt more comfortable than the Phitek series. If you have a better headphone (e.g. Bose QuietComfort or Sony MDR series), just put the cabin headphone aside.
Wi-Fi was available on board. As a special token, everyone got a complimentary 30mb data (which is minuscule) but the gesture is certainly well appreciated. Alas, the connection was so bad that my uplink speed was 0 mbps (that’s right it’s not a typo). When I spoke to the Panasonic engineer (who was on board to monitor the system), he said that some tweaks may be needed given that this is a new route SQ is covering. The tweak certainly worked well as the connection speed on my return flight was much better! Pier also noticed that the video and audio went out of sync on his set. This however was only on a few shows.
Service is good but could be better given that this is Singapore Airlines we are talking about. The crew were friendly and approachable and a special mention to Leading Stewardess Ashley, who had been exceptional and friendly throughout the flight.
Some lapses did occur however. First was the lack of beverage with BTC mentioned earlier. The crew also missed serving my friend his first meal until he asked for it (not acceptable for SQ standard). There was also a lack of pre-departure drink service (which is already missing in short haul economy flights). I am not sure if this is the new protocol or SQ assumed that everyone had enough of drinks at the gate party. I hope that the pre-departure drink service is not removed given that this is Premium Economy and not standard Economy. Other than these issues, the rest were relatively minor. No one is perfect and what more a new flight like this. I do hope these things can be ironed out with subsequent flights. I do note some of the crew serving this route previously worked on the A340-500 before (such as Ashley) hence allowing them to draw some experience from their previous ultra-long haul flights which is certainly useful.
As for the A350-900ULR, it is essentially the same A350-900 with some modification to accommodate extra fuel for this ultra-long haul flight. These modifications can be changed to convert the plane back to a regular A350-900. The cabin is also modified to accommodate only 161 passengers (67 Business and 94 Premium Economy) instead of 253 in regular A359. Modifications were also made to the seats to further lighten the weight of the plane. Despite these changes, MTOW of the plane went up by 5 tonnes (from 275 to the maximum rated 280). The seats are essentially identical to the 2013 cabin (for Business) and 2015 for Premium Economy. The ceiling is supposedly higher for better passenger comfort.
One feature worth mentioning is the noise. It was a little loud during take-off but throughout the flight, the engine noise was pretty manageable. Once you put on the noise cancellation headphones, you are good to have a nice sleep. My new friend that I met on the flight, Kristopher, mentioned that an article he read noted that the noise in the cabin measured at about 70+ dB at the front cabin (Most surprising about this plane was the smoothness. And it was so much quieter than we expected. In fact, we were told the average decibel level was 80-85 decibels. But in business class it actually was lower: around 70 decibels. In the back, in the premium economy section, it was 80. – CNN). The A350-900ULR certainly felt much quieter than the 777-300ER.
The air does feel pretty dry and JT did a measurement with his own hygrometer which showed a Low 20-21% humidity (I am not sure what the normal cabin humidity is).
There are 3 toilets (all located in the rear) for Premium Economy (ratio of 94:3) passengers. The toilets are pretty small and the waste bin filled up pretty quickly.
There is also a lack of space to hangout on the plane. For Premium Economy, the only space to hang out is at the aft galley. This is not great as we may impede the movement of crew and we will also end up disturbing the crew’s rest as the crew rest area is situated directly above the aft galley.
Despite the limitations, AV geeks like us had a good time hanging out there sharing past experiences and tips while giving comments about the new A350-900ULR. I got to meet fellow enthusiasts like Kelvin (from Malaysia) and Kristopher (from Canada) who even brought along his old A340-500 pamphlet which he bought from eBay! His regret was that he lost his boarding pass from his previous SQ22 flight (I do feel sad for him).
So what are my thoughts about the inaugural? Should I have waited a little longer where Business Saver was made available? My answer is likely no and I would not miss this flight even though I was only flying in Premium Economy. Why?
- THE EXPERIENCE!
The atmosphere was certainly fun and everyone was excited about this flight. Half the passengers in Premium Economy (I think) are enthusiasts who made this flight for the sake of this inaugural flight. You can feel the excitement when everyone clapped the moment the plane took off and landed!
- The chance to meet other aviation enthusiasts
I only got to know my friends (Jon, CJ, Pier and ST) 3 years ago. Hence, I missed the opportunity to do the A380 inaugural (in 2007) and Boeing 747-400 last flight (in 2012). Despite many talks over WhatsApp about flying together, it is tough doing it as we all have our own day jobs. The SQ22 inaugural presented an irresistible chance for us to fly together. Through CJ, I was invited to join the special First-To-Fly club and got to meet up with other members.
- The chance to meet the experts!
First, we met JT from The Points Guy in the lounge. He was seated just 4 rows behind me (in 35G) and he is a very friendly guy (I managed to get a picture with him too!). Of course we have our local expert, the esteemed Aaron Wong (aka Mile Lion).
- Photo opportunities! (Hahahaha)
Normally I am not one to put my face on my reviews but this is a special trip (and my face has already appeared in many media) that I will make this an exception. I have to thank Pier for this as the t-shirt he designed for this trip stood out so prominently that everyone (media and fellow passengers) wanted to take pictures with us! Some of us were also interviewed by media who were intrigued with this bunch of guys doing this trip for the sake of flying. Also present was Richard Quest, the famous CNN aviation journalist. We had people asking if they can buy the t-shirt from Pier to some who lamented how come SQ didn’t give them the t-shirt!
Our flight landed at about 520am at Newark Liberty International Airport (about 40 minutes ahead of time). The plane did the Pacific Route (from the path on the map – courtesy of Kristopher). Those of us in Premium Economy took about 40 minutes to clear the immigration. Besides us, there was another flight from Tel Aviv but generally EWR is less chaotic than JFK. Before we left, we had one last photo op with the crew of SQ22 at the baggage area. After exiting, most of us decided to just chill over a cup of coffee while Isabelle (who is one of the managing partner of Bonaventure Travel in Perth) quickly zipped back upstairs to the departure area to catch her second inaugural flight (SQ21 Inaugural) back to Singapore.
The final question would be – is this flight doable in Premium Economy? I would say YES (especially if you can get the ticket at less than $2000). I would recommend one to splurge on the priority seats and get the throne seats if possible. Move around regularly and drink lots of fluids. Make use of Krisworld or talk with your traveling partners. It will make the flight feel more enjoyable! At 70000 miles, I would probably not recommend it but to splurge the extra 22000 miles for Business Class instead.
A special thanks to my business partner CHC, for helping to cover in my absence 😉
Side note – there was no water cannon waiting for us, that accolade was reserved for SQ21 inaugural instead 😦 (this is likely due to our arrival time of 6 am)
Last but not least, what was in my goodie bag? We had:
2 special glass with the SQ logo printed on it
A commemorative certificate
A stick on pad
A quick look on the Premium Economy amenity kit:
Here is also a list of links covering our inaugural flight from various media:
The MileLion featuring the gate party and the Business Class review
CNN’s Richard Quest’s hourly update
Singapore Airlines promotional video
The Straits Times promotional video
Traveller (Steve Meacham travelled in Premium Economy)
Next Up – SQ21 Business Class review (coming soon)……