The guy a couple of rows ahead of me has the right idea. Just 30 minutes into the inaugural non-stop flight from Singapore to San Francisco, he was ready to call it a night. He changed into his pyjamas, transformed his seat into a 2m-long, fully-flat bed, and promptly withdrew from the world of the awake.
Clearly, proper rest meant more to him than discovering what else Singapore Airlines’ new Business Class has to offer. Nor did he let the significance of the flight get in the way of his sleep.
But I was working – alas, occasionally the job involves being flown in Business Class for a trip to San Francisco and the Napa Valley – and there were things to do and take note of.
Our A350-900 was really new. SIA got it nine days earlier, and it is the 10,000th aircraft delivered by Air-bus. If you like driving around in a new car, you will love a trans-Pacific journey aboard a new plane.
Launched last October, the service between Singapore and San Francisco is the longest flight in the SIA network, with the 13,600km one-way trip taking between 14 hours and 35 minutes, and 17 hours and 45 minutes, depending on the direction and time of the year.
The flights take off in the morning and arrive in San Francisco in the morning, too. The return flights also depart from San Francisco in the morning but reach Singapore in the early evening the next day.
Here is a situation in which comfort makes a huge difference, and SIA’s new Business Class is certainly comfortable. And the bonus: up to 24 hours before your flight, you can reserve the main course for your meals. This “Book the Cook” programme is available as well to those flying in the airline’s Suites, First Class and Premium Economy, but the selections vary.
Business Class passengers departing from Singapore get to choose from Western, Japanese, Chinese, Singaporean, Malay, Thai, Indian and a category called “Deliciously Wholesome”.
The latter is apparently for people who are serious about healthy eating and are sold on the appeal of salads and ingredients like quinoa, kale and tofu.
Some of the “Book the Cook” dishes are created by the eight accomplished chefs on the SIA’s International Culinary Panel. The menu descriptions alone are tantalising enough to almost make you forget the Singapore Girl.
However, the range of options is narrower for flights from other cities. (Fortunately, the menu does not overpromise; I was served food that was many notches above standard airline fare, and it was great to dine with restaurant-style tableware and service.)
There was evidently plenty of demand for seats on my flight. The check-in counters at Changi Airport that Sunday morning were busy but the process was smooth.
I skipped the SilverKris Lounge and headed straight for the boarding gate, where SIA staged a launch event. Going through security at the gate was interesting, though. I was informed that a computer somewhere had randomly picked me and several other passengers on the flight for additional screening.
I later found out that was why my boarding pass bore this code: SSSS. It stands for Secondary Security Screening Selection. The extra layer of checking was not a major hassle and it did slightly liven things up for me.
The A350-900 comes with higher ceilings, larger windows, an extra-wide body and lighting designed to reduce jetlag. A passenger may not necessarily notice all these, but if he enjoys travelling in this aircraft more than he has other flights, the new features probably have something to do with that.
The Business Class seats are forward-facing and are arranged four in a row in a 1-2-1 configuration, which gives every passenger direct access to the aisle.
Considering that you spend more than half a day in the aircraft when taking the Singapore-San Francisco service, comfort and privacy are decisive factors, and that is why the seats deserve the most scrutiny.
Privacy is taken care of by the seats’ curvaceous fixed back shells that extend to the sides.
The window seats offer maximum privacy because the passenger has no immediate neighbour. Between each pair of seats in the middle of the cabin, a partition can be raised to enhance your private bubble.
More than 70cm wide, the leather seats in Business Class are spacious and plush. The roomy footwell allows you to stretch your legs with ease.
The seats are festooned with panels, compartments (or stowage space in airline lingo), buttons, labels, lights, switches, sockets and ports. This translates into greater utility and convenience.
And when you are ready to turn in, the seats can go wholly horizontal. But I had to enlist the help of a stewardess, who struggled quite a bit to convert my seat into a bed.
That aside, it was an inviting bed, complete with a cushioned headboard, linen, duvet and pillows.
It felt like I was in a capsule hotel, minus the claustrophobia, of course, but pampered with five-star service.
The trouble is, I am a terribly light (and perhaps reluctant) sleeper and it is always difficult for me to get some shut-eye when travelling, even in luxurious settings. I envied that guy in the pyjamas.
And so I turned to inflight entertainment while hoping for sleep to overcome me. It helped that the seats in the new Business Class have large LCD screens, almost 46cm, and passengers are supplied with noise-cancelling headphones.
A nifty feature is the ability to turn your smartphone or tablet into the remote control for media playback. You do this by downloading beforehand the SingaporeAir mobile application. When on board the plane, you link your mobile device to the in-flight entertainment system via the app.
It took some effort to get the hang of it, but once I had figured out how to use my smartphone to control the media playback, I rarely bothered with the handset. And sleep could wait.
This media trip was sponsored by Singapore Airlines, which flies non-stop from Singapore to San Francisco daily on the A350. For more info, visit singaporeair.com/a350.