The Asia-to-Australia market has always been competitive but also a lucrative one as part of the Kangaroo route (Europe to Australia). Qantas has been fighting primarily with Asian airlines such as Thai Airways or Singapore Airlines but also with British Airways which has also been present on this route for a long time. Some other European airlines have tried, like Austrian, but couldn’t get breakeven. The major change over the last few years however, has been with the 3 Middle East carriers. Competition has definitely increased and prices have dropped.
Indeed, Qantas used to have a large network and a mini hub in Singapore, serving various European destinations. It has now retreated and counts mainly on Emirates to serve Europe. From Asia, airlines such as Garuda or low-cost careers have also developed their network further. Scoot or Jetstar now serve longhaul destinations from Australia.
Today, we will compare 2 airlines from Singapore (SIN) to Australia (SYD and MEL), in business class: British Airways (BA) and Singapore Airlines (SQ). They are respectively part of Oneworld and Star Alliance.
- Boeing 777-300ER
- 7 hours 45 minutes – Take off 19:25 – Landing 05:10
- Price: SGD 3,371.- one-way, through BA.com (USD 2,440.-).
On the ground
British Airways is located at Terminal 1 together with other Oneworld airlines such as Cathay Pacific and Qantas. Terminal 1 is not the best of the 4 Changi terminals but is still efficient and a stressless experience. There is no queue at the business checkin desk and it took only 1 or 2 minutes for the Checkin attendant to print out the boarding pass and to process the luggage. As for other classes, BA has a queue for online checkin and economy.
As Business class passenger, you have the choice of using either the BA lounge or the Qantas one (QF). Despite BA having renovated their lounge in 2015, the Qantas facilities have had excellent reviews and even won a design award. We will therefore head to the latter for food and pre-flight drinks. A full review of this excellent lounge can be found here.
After drinks and a light dinner, we head to the gate for boarding which includes security check. This is very quick and without issue. BA has a different gate for First class. Business and economy class passengers board together, which is suprising.
in 2000, BA was the first airline to come up with a fully flat bed in business class. The cabin was also innovative in the sense that some seats faced backward. It hasn’t changed much since then and despite an overhaul in 2006 which gave more privacy with larger seats, the layout remains the same.
This seat is of standard size with a width of 20 inches and pitch of 72. However, it shouldn’t be discounted as an average seat. It has a few benefits. For example, it is actually quite comfortable when lying flat. This is important to mention as some seats while being flat can be hard or even have a bump right in the middle! This is not the case here and both lounging and sleeping have been very comfortable on this almost 8 hours flight. Another good point is the cabin layout. First, windows seat passengers can really feel they are in their own suite as show on the picture below. It is ideal for solo passengers and sleeping is even better with less disturbance from the aisle. There is also a sliding separation between both seats, allowing couples to talk to each other if they wish to. Another benefit of this layout is the two middle seats which are “couple seats”. There is no separation between them and they can therefore be converted into what seems like a large bed! On this 777, the configuration is 2-4-2 (in comparison to the 1-2-1 of SQ detailed below). This is possible as the width at feet level is much less than the 20” mentioned above.
Considering new products on the market nowadays, this is probably a bit tight and can feel a bit claustrophobic. Another point to mention is that anyone not seated at the aisle would have to jump over the legs of a neighbour. It is the main inconvenience of this seat compared to most airlines’. It is otherwise a good choice for a good night sleep.
Champagne, orange juice and water was served before take-off. Shortly after, the dinner service started with a choice of drinks and a small bag of cashew nuts. We would have appreciated nuts served in a small cup as many competitors do.
Two choices of starter were then offered, one being vegetarian. It came with a side salad and was served on a tray. The general impression of service was OK, not more. The cabin crew was polite if not a biz lazy and not trying too hard. It felt more bistro style than restaurant.
There were 4 main dishes to choose from which included a vegetarian and a low carb / light one. Note that no meal was available for booking before the flight. I selected a plate of cold antipasti with Parma ham, quite simple but tasty and good enough given the excellent food already tried in the Qantas lounge. The wine offering was good with Champagne, and among others, an excellent Spanish Malbec. Finally, British cheese, dessert and coffee was served. No espresso was available on this flight.
About 2 hours before landing, the crew came around to serve a light breakfast; fruit juices, fruits or bircher muesli. As a hot dish, an egg, bacon and cheese ciabatta was served with a selection of bread and pastries. Understandably, this is a short flight but we would have appreciated a proper English breakfast!
Connectivity & Entertainment
BA doesn’t propose any wi-fi service on its flights yet, apart from their London to New York service. A power outlet was available on this 777 and was compatible with UK, US and European plugs (110V). An USB outlet could also be found. This is standard throughout BA’s business class, except for older 777 and 747 where a EU/US outlet and no USB.
The entertainment system was acceptable with a good selection of new and old Hollywood and European movies in various languages but not many Asian movies. A few TV shows were also on selection but clearly less than airlines such as Emirates or Singapore. The Screen is not very big at a bit more than 26cm. Its main flow is the fact that it cannot rotate down. It then becomes impossible to watch a movie while lying down as the screen would be too high up. Not too much of a problem however on this short overnight flight.
From an Asian perspective, the service was a bit of a let down. While the cabin crew is professional, it felts more like a bistro. There was not much proactivity and the whole experience felt a bit mechanical with not much of a smile. Even compared to other European careers such as Lufthansa or Swiss, the difference in training was showing.
- Airbus A350-900
- 7 hours 50 minutes – Take off 18:25 – Landing 00:15
- Price: 58,000 Krisflyer miles.
On the Ground
Singapore Airlines checkin is at terminal 2, the international terminal. The checkin area is divided between First, Business, Premium Economy, online checkin and Economy. About 2 hours before the flight, there was no queue and the checkin was pleasant and professional. A fast track card is also given to Business Class passengers for both immigration and security checks. These were a breeze and only took a few minutes.
In Melbourne, SQ Business class passengers can use either Singapore’s own lounge or Air New Zealand. Unfortunately, the latter was closed for refurbishment during this review trip. The SQ facilities are split in two areas for Business and first class passengers. It is modern with warm colours and fine touches such as gold rolex clocks. The lounge doesn’t have natural light and is not very big. It looks fine for 1 hour, the time to take a shower and eat a bit but is definitely nothing exceptional. Long buffet dinning tables are available for a quick meal. Lounge chairs are quite comfortable and all have power outlets and a cocktail table.
The food is rather limited with some stir fried noodles, fruits, salad and a few sandwiches. A nice touch is the professional Nespresso machine. Finally, the reading material is not very varied and is composed mainly of free airport magazines.
Boarding is without an problem and is rather well organised (SQ boarding process can be messy in Singapore).
This flight is on a brand new A350 which holds the new SQ Business class Seat. Similar to the 2007 version, aka the largest business seat in the sky, it has been further designed to include passengers feedback. The seat is slightly narrower (28 inches) but includes more storage. On the side, a stowage area is available for laptops, tablets or newspapers. There is also a compartment to put a water bottle and other belongings. Also next to the TV screen, another compartment is big enough for a phone, glasses, wallet etc.
While the layout is still a 1-2-1, the 2 middle seats also offer good privacy with a large sliding panel in the middle. Under the foot ottoman, a fixed plastic container can be used to store shoes. Also, as for SQ’s former seat, you will have to get up and push the back of the seat forward to transform it into a 2-meters bed. It is definitely more comfortable than the former version and is truly flat (the former one had kind of a bump in the middle). However, the foot area is really narrower and looks like a small hole where you insert your feet. It is not a major issue but could have definitely be better thought of. The best would be to sleep on your side.
While seating, the table is more ergonomic and easier to handle. One note on the TV screen. It is a large screen of 45 cm (almost double than BA!). While many will really enjoy watching movies on such large LCD screen, I found it too big as such close distance to the seat. You get use to it but I wouldn’t be surprised if some get a headache after 2 hours.
Finally one word on the cabin. the A350 is truly a success and has an enjoyable environment; it provides a higher cabin pressure and humidity. You will also notice the led lighting changing with the time of the day and the big windows. The aircraft is also incredibly quiet and probably on par with the A380.
As usual, Singapore serves a glass of Champagne, orange juice or water at boarding. The dinner service started half an hour after take off with drinks and nuts. I tried the French Bordeaux which was dark and ripe with a pleasant soft mineral taste. The appetiser was a salmon and mesclun salad, classic but tasty with a mustard and dill dressing. The choice of main dishes included a creation of Matt Moran, a Sydney celebrity chef, a vegetarian option as well as an Asian dish. I tried the Moran dish which was a grilled feef fillet in a dark bordelaise sauce. Such dish can be hit or miss on board an aircraft. This one was good, tender and the meat was cooked medium, served with an excellent spinach and mushroom gratin.
Some Artisan cheeses follow with fruits. Finally the dessert was a choice of chocolate ice cream or cappuccino cake. This was a good meal with quality ingredients. Unfortunately, it can get very repetitive with SQ and dishes sometimes lack a bit of originality. Compared to BA above, we would however rate the food quality higher and mention that SQ does serve Espresso on board with a choice of pralines.
2 hours before lending, the cabin came with a refreshment; a choice of warm pastrami sandwich or a Thai stir fry chicken with asian greens and rice. While it is slightly better than the refreshment offered by British Airways, the Western option could have been better. Nevertheless, at almost 11pm, this was not much of an issue and not many passengers ate.
Finally, SQ offers Book the Cook on his flights which is clearly a net advantage over BA. It doesn’t mean booked dishes are better, but at least you do not have surprises and can order what you wish.
Connectivity & Entertainment
Wi-fi is available on board and every seat has USB ports an power supply. The inflight entertainment system is extensive with a large choice of English, European and Asian movies, it is definitely wider than BA. As mentioned the screen is big, much bigger than on British Airways, and allow for movie watching while laying down (the screen can rotate down slightly).
The comparison with the Singapore to Sydney flight is striking but expected. The service is polished, very detail oriented and the crew is proactive throughout the flight. For example, swiftly offering to prepare the bed for each passenger. The dinner service is also more sophisticated and no tray is used. Dishes are served individually and not pulled out of a cart in front of the passenger.
It is probably not fair to compare such different airlines. SQ has been known for its service excellence for many years and clearly targets a premium clientele. Costs for both airlines are also very different as well as the market they serve. British Airways has certainly a good hard product and has shown to be innovative when it comes to its meals and its offering. That being said, the service is clearly lacking and its crew gives the impression of not being upbeat, tired and nonchalant. The devil is in the details and BA doesn’t seem to be too interested. Singapore Airlines in general, but also in this flight, can sometimes be uninspiring with a lack of originality in its meal service. It is however perfect when it comes to service on board, down to the last detail.