Singapore Airlines First Class Suites
Sometimes, it really is better to travel than to arrive. Sometimes, an airline does something so wonderful that you actually look forward to being stuck in a metal tube for half a day.
Singapore Airlines has invented a new class above first: Suites, so called because you get a mini-room in the sky. I've flown in plenty of premium cabins in my time, but none like this. There's no question that this is one of the best flight experiences in the world.
The worst bit of air travel is the airport. So, at Changi (the home of Singapore Airlines, often named as the best airport in the world) the carrier has removed it. Suites and first-class passengers have their own terminal building. “Welcome, Mr Arlidge,” says the attendant Sue, as I arrive. There are so few Suites passengers that she has already deduced who I am.
Sue has printed my boarding pass in anticipation of my arrival - I checked in online. Since I only have hand luggage, she walks me straight through to the private immigration desk, where my passport is approved in seconds.
I walk into Terminal 3, where an escalator leads directly up to the first-class lounge. From here, receptionist Norizan welcomes me into the even more exclusive Private Room.
The space is reserved solely for customers flying first class with Singapore Airlines rather than passengers flying in first with partner airlines who might be permitted access to the general first-class lounge. Total time from kerbside to bar side is less than five minutes.
The Private Room is vast but there are fewer than a dozen passengers. “Champagne?” the waiter hardly needs to ask. “Today we are serving the Dom Perignon 2009.” Oh go on… On the specials board there’s Chilean sea bass with sliced courgette. Perfect. I don’t want to spoil my appetite on board.
Back down the escalator an hour and a shower later, I’m finally in the actual airport, but only for three minutes. That’s all it takes to clear first-class security and board. And that’s when things get much, much better.
There’s turning left and there’s turning left on an A380 superjumbo, the only plane big enough to realistically accommodate something as spacious as Singapore Airlines' Suites. Wai Fong, my personal flight attendant who will take care of me throughout the trip, walks me down a private corridor on the upper deck to a cabin with just six suites. I'm in Suite 1A.
Very few airlines come close to this level of exclusivity. Emirates has a similarly sized first-class suites-style cabin aboard its Boeing 777, while Abu Dhabi carrier Etihad offers just one Residence aboard its A380 services. That "better than first-class" service is comprised of a bedroom, living room and ensuite shower room and accommodates up to two passengers.
Back on Singapore Airlines, my suite has a sliding door, in the frame of which is a cupboard big enough to store my hand luggage and with enough hangers for a jacket, trousers and coat. It’s not only useful to have your bags close by, it also means you can get dressed and undressed without going to the bathroom. Just close the door for privacy.
The seat is bigger than anything I have at home and softer, too. It’s upholstered in tobacco-brown Poltrona Frau leather and set, facing forward for take-off, in front of a wall-mounted TV screen.
After take-off, it swivels through 360 degrees, so I can choose the view I want. It reclines but you can’t really sleep well in a chair, so there’s a separate 6ft3-long bed that drops down from the wall between my suite and the one behind.
It comes with Lalique-branded sheets and duvet and pyjamas. The headboard raises 45 degrees so I can spend my whole flight in bed either sleeping or sitting up to read or watch TV. There’s another large TV on the wall at the end of the bed. The Wi-Fi is fast and reliable.
I can eat and drink whatever I want, whenever I want. After an hour or two, I begin with the Malossol Caviar for my starter. I continue with Malossol Caviar for my main course. I end with some Malossol Caviar for dessert. Well, why not?
The wines it would be rude not to try include Krug 2004 Brut, 2014 Chateau Long-Depaquit Chablis and 2006 Chateau Cos d’Estournel Saint-Estephe. My digestif is Macallan Lumina single malt, which helps me to nod off for eight hours.
I sleep better than I’ve ever done at 39,000ft, not just because the bed is vast but because the plane is, too. Concorde may have been downright sexy, but it was cramped and, since it scythed through inner space at one mile every three seconds, you felt every stratospheric bump.
The A380 superjumbo is a $500m double-decker clipper in the clouds that swats away turbulence. When it's time for breakfast, Wai Fong wakes me up with a foaming cappuccino, bircher muesli and fresh fruit.
There are no showers — Singapore Airlines thinks they’re a marketing gimmick. Emirates and Etihad beg to differ — but the bathrooms on either side of the nose of the aircraft are vast and come with a full length mirror and vanity table, just in case the vanity mirror in my suite is not big enough.
What would I change, I wonder, as I come in to land? That’s an absurd question, I know, but... The colours of the cabin are a symphony of beige, notably the swirly carpet. Earth tones are as dull as, well, earth.
Unlike the first-class cabin aboard Emirates Boeing 777 aircraft, where the walls of each first-class suite extend to the ceiling, you can’t set the temperature just the way you like it (and you can hear other passengers snoring). The muzak is so bad even Barry Manilow would cringe. And the flowers are fake!
Oddest of all, there is no arrivals lounge at either Heathrow or Changi. The carrier’s head of sales and marketing, Campbell Wilson, says passengers don’t use them. Well, this one would have.
But I’m nit picking. Truly, Singapore Airlines' A380 Suites are a heaven in the heavens. And there’s one final surprise. As I get off, I pick up a “going home” present. A scented Lalique candle, so I can re-create Suites in my hotel room. I try. It’s not as good. Can I get back on?
Singapore Airlines’ A380 Suites are available on flights from Singapore to destinations including London, Sydney and Paris. First-class flights between London and Singapore cost from £6,995 return.