Inside the Singapore Airlines Airbus A350 That Just Launched from Houston

Singapore Airlines flew its first Airbus A350 out of Houston last night. Indeed, it was the first A350 in Houston period.

This is the new plane which will become the workhorse of the Singapore Airlines long haul fleet. They’re replacing a large Boeing 777 on the Houston run, and have also changed the city it connects in enroute to Singapore. Houston – Moscow no longer makes sense with low oil prices, so they’re flying Houston – Manchester – Singapore. And with a smaller aircraft they may be able to make the 5 times a week service work.

Most customers will see the Airbus A350 as a huge advance – not only because, like the Boeing 787 it’s a more comfortable ride pressurized to a lower altitude, but because it features Singapore’s newest inflight products.

While the Houston flight previously had one row of first class and now will not offer a first class cabin, Houstonians trade that for a better business and economy product and the addition of premium economy to the route.

Singapore’s premium economy is one of the real hidden gems in travel — not only because it’s an upgrade from coach (with pre-order meal options and champagne) but because it’s an easy upgrade to business and a great value to do so with miles.

Though I’ve been on Boeing 787-8 and 787-9s, I’d never been on an A350 so looked forward to the chance to climb around onboard the aircraft before they boarded the inaugural.

Later this year we’ll see a new business class product and new first class suites on Singapore’s first new delivery Airbus A380. The business class product will be ‘more than an evolution’ on the current offering.

I find Singapore Airlines to offer one of the best business class products. There are two general knocks on it, though. One is that it isn’t super comfortable for lounging because instead of transitioning to a bed (and thus offering myriad options in between upright and bed mode) it flips over to become a bed. The tradeoff of course is a very good bed. The other issue is that to lie fully flat you angle yourself in the seat. I don’t mind this at all, but many do not prefer it.

Regardless, it’s a gorgeous and comfortable product and combined with Singapore’s food and service it’s a great offering. They don’t do amenity kits in business class (though there are plenty of amenities in the lavs) and they don’t do pajamas. But it’s a tradeoff most are more than willing to make.

I do like the soft product in premium economy. There’s one knock on though in my opinion: width. It’s a couple of inches narrower than the American Airlines premium economy seat.

In some sense where they shine though is in the main cabin, there’s no question Singapore offers a top notch business class but their thoughtfulness and attention to detail really shines in coach. Instead of seeing the back of the plane as just a place to cram in seats, they clearly realize that’s where most of their customers are.

Economy seats have foot bars, something that’s reserved for the majority of premium economy seats on American. They have cup holders. Each seat had a pillow and blanket – and both felt substantive. There are little touches that make the experience feel more civilized.

Economy of course isn’t the farthest cabin at the back of the plane, that belongs to crew rest.

Singapore is a premium long haul airline in a region seeing tremendous competition from low cost carriers. Those are a part of Singapore’s strategy as well, with the airline merging its Tiger and Scoot brands under the Scoot portfolio now offering both short and long haul service including a new flight all the way to Athens. (Two years ago Scoot trolled Spirit Airlines for stealing its corporate branding.)

We aren’t going to see Scoot in the U.S. — their 787s can reach Europe and even San Francisco but San Francisco is a more premium market. I’d actually love to see the Tigerair narrowbodies operating domestically, bring some competition to the U.S. market, but the major U.S. airlines will always lobby hard enough to stop that and of course the House Transportation Committee is chaired by Bud Shuster (R-Airlines for America).

After I got off the plane it was time for gate ceremonies, and passengers were treated to a welcome and snacks before boarding.

The cupcakes looked delicious but I had eaten in the Centurion lounge so I gave them a miss.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Will the new J seats on the A380 still involve laying sideways to sleep? I haven’t tried SQ J, but Seat Guru is full of complaints about that. I don’t want to be stuck long haul in an uncomfortable seat, since as several people have said “J is all about the seat”. But if the seat improves that could be an option as SQ FC is getting harder to book as an award.

  2. Gary, could you explain what you mean that to lie flat you have to angle yourself? So it’s flat but not horizontal?

  3. @ Gary — 773 that was previously used had TWO rows of First class seats as the plane didn’t have Premium Economy.

    IMHO, if you can afford to use miles, upgrading usually doesn’t make sense out of Houston as it’s usually better get a regular award. That was especially true when First was available.

    Based on a couple of reviews on TPG, I’m extremely disappointed in Business seat on A350. One of their reviewers was 5’2″ (IIRC) and even she complained. Their advice was to only fly if you can get bulkhead — then you don’t have to contort yourself into an uncomfortable position.

    A double-whammy of losing a direct route to Moscow and losing First class (which we found to be a lot better than Business) really stings 🙁

  4. I love SQ and love their Business Class especially. I don’t care about the frills nearly as much as the seat (and IFE to some extent) so don’t consider F any great loss. I do find that having to have the bed made up is kind of a pain, because it means that you can’t just close your eyes and fall asleep when sleepiness hits, but must get up and allow the stewardess to make up the bed first. Once that’s done though, I think the bed is terrific.

    As much as I like SQ, my flights on it have declined drastically since they ended the nonstops from Newark. There is no way I would choose to stop in FRA when I can get to SIN on CX through HKG (and have a choice of 5 flights a day), and while CX can get me to any point in Asia with a single stop (while SQ would take two stops). When SQ starts up the nonstops from New York again, I imagine that I will be back on them (assuming that they keep the fare competitive with CX).

  5. I read the reviews of the seat on A350s and uts clear I never fly them.

    Will these be the planes used out of LAX in future years? I was going to transfer a bunch of Citi TYP to SW, now I’m not sure.

  6. It isn’t really lying sideways or contorting yourself it is lying diagonallly. The see is effectively a reverse herringbone style one (like AA, Cathay etc.) just with a wider seat and a different way of making the bed. Your feet go into a foot cubby and you lie at a diagonal to the long axis of the plane. The main difference is you have a lot more rooom around he upper body than a standard reverse herringbone. If you try and lie straight down the bed it willl be too short for most people.

    I’m 6’2″ and find it more than adequate. Probably the best business class seat flying or a close second to the JAL sky suite.

  7. From the pictures above, it looks like the window seats are way more preferable. I do not like business class seats where space between seats is about the same as coach, and that’s how it looks for the middle seats on this aircraft. It appears that there is more space between the premium economy seats. Business class on the Singapore A350-900 looks to be a step above the Thai A350-900, but clearly inferior to Qatar’s A350-900 business class.

  8. Love your column. Curious to hear what your verdict on a350 vs b787 is. I flew on finnair’s A350 this month for the first time. Strong smell of fuel after takeoff, so 787 wins for me. Both are nice tho

  9. I may be off-base, but I have looked at seatguru and the airline websites, and both AA and SQ list the Premium Economy seats as 19″ wide and 38″ pitch, so there should be zero difference in the space of the hard product.

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