Trip report: Singapore Airlines HKG-BNE

Airfares to Australia are eye-wateringly expensive at Chinese New Year, and since my work year starts in September, by the time I get my yearly calendar people in other occupations have often beaten me to the cheap fares. By the time we were able to book for Chinese New Year, direct carriers were charging astronomical fares, and competitors had bad connections, meaning I’d lose precious family time. So we got struck by a sense of inertia, and fares continued to rise or be sold out altogether. It got to the point where I imagined having to tell my family we wouldn’t be coming – until I chanced upon something decent with relatively decent connections. Business class was also on sale – $19000 compared to the $45000 of Cathay, but having just booked Easter and summer jaunts to Europe in business class, my other half balked and wanted to fly economy, given the relative proximity of Australia and the lack of a considerable time difference. In hindsight, with such an exhausting and emotionally draining annual trip, I won’t be doing it again in economy. Don’t care if I sound like a princess.

I took a cab to the airport and met my man there, who had arrived straight from work. We were given candies at check-in – a nice touch. A trait of Singapore Airlines (SQ) which makes it far superior to Cathay is how it always seems to have immigration cards, which are usually given at check-in. As we were transiting, we didn’t need one this time. We were given purple stickers to wear which had our flight number on it, for ‘easier boarding’, but I really don’t know why. Although it was Chinese New Year, the airport didn’t seem so busy and security wasn’t too bad. As a Hong Kong resident, as usual I breezed through the automatic immigration gates and headed over to a restaurant for a glass of wine.

Boarding was smooth and on time – nothing much to say about this stage.

25014759026_7f88ab71f0_b.jpg
Chinese New Year decorations at each gate

We had seats in the middle row as all window-aisle pair seats had been taken by those who presumably had booked their tickets and selected their seats long before we did. Luckily, the seat next to my other half was empty – it looked like the only seat in economy which was!

cabin
The cabin before takeoff

We had seats in the middle row as all window-aisle pair seats had been taken by those who presumably had booked their tickets and selected their seats long before we did. Luckily, the seat next to my other half was empty – it looked like the only seat in economy which was!

Pillows and blankets were supplied. SQ now have cheap earbud headphones, but I always use my own noise-cancelling headphones.

The crew checked those with special meals before takeoff, including my husband’s, but neglected mine. I had to ask the green kebaya-clad stewardess to confirm mine. It was confirmed, without eye contact or an apology.

The captain greeted passengers and warned of a slight delay due to congestion, sadly so common  at HKG. We had a tight connection to BNE, only about an hour, so I was a little worried. Last October we’d flown SQ to SIN for the weekend and had seen ground staff holding signs and waiting for passengers travelling on the same flight to BNE, also (unsurprisingly) having left HK late due to airport traffic, so I felt sure we’d be looked after. Still, I felt a little uneasy at the prospect of having to rush.

Hot towels were distributed hurriedly and we pushed back at 20:06. Given the captain’s earlier warning of a delay, I was surprised we’d pushed back so quickly. I was struck with how calm and quiet the cabin was – how pleasant compared to my recent noisy CX flights. Most of the passengers were softly-spoken Singaporeans (I discerned this by both the passport and the accent – I love the Singaporean accent, by the way) and Europeans. I hoped the next flight would be as quiet and calm, since it was an overnight one. The cabin was a little stuffy, and there were no individual air vents.
I turned my attention to the inflight entertainment, as I’d earmarked this flight for staying awake and relaxing, whereas I’d want to get as much shuteye (can’t really say sleep in economy!) as possible on the overnight flight. Krisworld certainly impressed me with its selection of movies, especially those from Japan. I’d just seen An at the cinema in Hong Kong the week before! I would later feel bored with the TV selections, however. What SQ calls ‘back to back episodes’ are just 3-4 episodes, unlike the box sets of Emirates, which can really make a flight go quickly.


Peanuts were distributed from a black plastic bucket held by the crew. It seemed a bit cheap, but I reminded myself I was in economy. The peanuts were double plastic wrapped, which seemed wasteful. Drinks were served from trays, with a choice of water, beer or juice.

peanuts.jpg

Special meals were distributed around an hour after takeoff, but again to my husband only, nearly taking my eye out as it was shoved in his direction. When mine did finally arrive, however, I was impressed. The seafood meal was of a really nice quality and contained generous portions of seafood – prawns and scallops, with pumpkin and broccoli and a creamy pasta sauce. The salad featured mango and salmon. I normally order the Indian vegetarian meal but given the flight time I thought seafood would be a better, lighter option (I am a bad vegetarian – living in Japan made me eat fish again!). As an aside, I like how to crew say “thank you for waiting” when they address each passenger and ask them for the meal choice.

Drinks came with the regular meal cart about half an hour later. It was no problem for them to serve me both Chinese tea and wine. I settled back and watched a movie called Unexpected, which I hadn’t heard of before and quite enjoyed. We were served ice cream, and unlike previous experiences, were given ice cream in spite of having ordered special meals – good. I then watched Trainwreck, which was predictable but decent enough to watch on a plane. As the crew cleared our trays, one particularly friendly crew member noticed with concern that my other half hadn’t eaten his rice. Given the full cabin, this small gesture was nice and made one feel noticed.

Green kebaya-clad stewardess later redeemed herself when I expressed my concern about making our connecting flight. She knew the schedules off the top of her head and knew that the next flight would leave a few hours after the one we were scheduled on, and reassured us that we’d probably be OK anyway. She said she’d just done that flight herself.

The captain made the usual announcement before landing preparations, followed by a recorded message in Mandarin – this really irks me on HK flights. Many airlines use the wrong Chinese language – it should be Cantonese, not Mandarin. Given the political situation here, it’s just plain insensitive. At any rate, it was particularly out of place because that was the first and only non-English announcement of the flight.

We had a great view of Singapore city during approach, but I couldn’t get any pics due to being seated where I was. I was somewhat excited to see my family in Australia, but also wished there was more time to stop and relax in Singapore before continuing on. Work had been so hectic before Chinese New Year and I wished I could take a breather so that I could be more mentally refreshed in order to enjoy the family time more. Little did I know that I would be bedridden for the next couple of days, and that my body was crying out for a rest!

We landed at 23:50, and luckily it was just a short walk over to the next gate for the flight to Brisbane.

SQ255
It was a nice, easy transfer and just a short wait at Gate B6 before we had to board our next flight to BNE. I knew it would be a full flight, and hoped that it would be a quiet one due to it being an overnight one. There seemed a wide mix of nationalities on this flight, ranging from Aussies clutching duty free bags from other destinations, presumably returning home after a holiday, Taiwanese families presumably on Chinese New Year holidays and various others. Perhaps there were other expat Australians returning home for a short visit. I can’t say I’m ever completely excited to visit home, as it’s always tinged with bittersweet feelings and exhausting to try to spend enough time with everyone. I’m sure other expats feel the same.

Like the flight I’d just stepped off, it was an A330 and we were almost in the same seats. Luckily, we were in the lot of 2 seats this time. Here we go again. An Indian stewardess in red kebaya greeted us disinterestedly at the aircraft entrance. Settling into my seat, I could hear some loud Cantonese speakers a few rows behind me who had possibly been on the same flight from HK. Luckily everyone seemed to be on the same page and quietened down for some shuteye later on.

dejavu.jpg
deja vu!

Takeoff was on time – so nice and efficient compared to HKG. The post-takeoff PA message involved the usual stuff but we were also requested to pull down window shades as we crossed the something line… sun line? I didn’t catch what they said exactly. Few people ended up following this request, anyway. The real light problem would later be due to the cabin lighting, anyway.

Menus were handed out shortly after takeoff and I really do like the fact that SQ hands out menus to those who order the special meals, too. I’m always curious to see what the carnivores are getting, and also to know what drinks are served.

Amenity kits were handed out, but they were a little useless- just a pair of socks and a toothbrush kit. The most important amenity on an overnight flight, IMHO, eyeshades, were left out. I later asked for some and they were promptly given to me. I also think the SQ amenity kit should have ‘do not disturb’ and ‘wake me for meals’ stickers like EK has, again which are important on an overnight flight when people want to sleep. I did see crew place ‘do not disturb’ stickers on some seats in front, but having to ask crew is a bit cumbersome.

As I settled into my seat, I did reflect on how comfortable it was for economy class and how SQ really are the best of the best. So good in fact that I pondered switching my loyalty over to Star Alliance, especially after walking through the amazing business class on a later flight! The recline is decent, the seat is well-padded although a little hard in the back. Excellent quality pillows and fleece blankets are provided. Economy class is never entirely pleasurable, but SQ does make it as pleasant as can be.

The usual drinks and peanut service was conducted, with drinks served from trays. I dislike the tray service, as you are only presented with three options (beer, juice, water) and have to wait if they don’t have your selection on the tray, as was my case with water.

I just wanted to sleep by this stage. It had been a long day and I wanted to rest before I had the whole day ahead of me of family time. I don’t see them enough, it was a short trip, and I wanted all my energy to devote to them.

Crew seemed to be going around and asking children for their food preferences. Our special meals were distributed at 01:43. My partner and I both had the South Indian vegetarian meal, which is only available ex-SIN. I felt confused by this meal service. It was nearly 2 a.m. Singapore time and a ridiculous 4 a.m. Brisbane time, and yet they were serving a full hot meal (and in our case it was also spicy hot – methinks I’ll stick with the seafood meal on overnight flights), which meant the lights were on and passengers had to keep their seats upright. Who in their right mind wants to eat at such a time? Conversely, the breakfast was so meagre that my first reaction was ‘why bother?’. Surely they could swap the services around – a light drink and snack service and let everyone sleep, and a decent hot breakfast before landing. This would suit both the destination and origin times much, much better.

mealbne.jpg
No faulting the quality, but definitely questioning the timing

This was the point I was seriously regretting flying economy – I envied the business class passengers for their flat beds, dimmed lighting and greater say over what time they were fed!

The drink service, which followed the regular meal service, felt never-ending. “Just let me sleeeeeeeeep”, I thought. I know I can’t be the only one who was thinking this!

At around 02:22 trays started to be cleared. The lights were still on. Any minute now, I thought…

Alas, it was time for duty free! For the love of god, turn those lights off. Over the PA system we were told that the duty free service would be suspended due to weather conditions… but the lights were kept on.

At some point following this, I fell asleep with the assistance of my beloved eyeshades. The lights must have been finally turned off, as a couple of hours later I woke up to a dark cabin.

Two hours before arrival, lights were switched back on and hot towels were distributed. It was now time for a disappointing breakfast. Really, why bother. I can’t remember what they used to serve for breakfast on overnight flights to Australia years ago, but I’m sure it was better than this. Please comment if you remember.

bkfast.jpg
Why bother!

I wasn’t hungry and just wanted a cup of coffee. I asked for real milk with my coffee, not the creamer stuff they give with special meals, and the disinterested red sarong-clad stewardess was confused by my request. Her colleague stepped in and fetched it. I don’t find SQ crew robotic, but this stewardess, evidently senior by her red kebaya, really lacked warmth or even a basic smile. In contrast, the male crew member who served me coffee was more engaging and friendly.

map
Almost there

35 minutes before landing, the captain addressed the cabin and told us we had 8 minutes to descent, and would arrive at 10:15 BNE time. It would be a beautiful 28 degrees. We were then subjected to the usual Australian government biosecurity message, which thankfully wasn’t the long-winded video of yore.

approachingbne.jpg
A familiar sight, approaching BNE

We landed at 10:21 and were informed the cargo hold would be sprayed to prevent some disease (I didn’t catch the name), so there would be a short delay at the baggage claim. “Short, my ass,” I thought, “It takes forever on a good day in Australia!”.

We were then informed that local quarantine officials would board our aircraft and we would not be able to disembark until given clearance. We saw the quarantine officer head towards the back galley, and it appeared it had nothing to do with passengers. Now, I am quite ignorant of such procedures and if you’re more knowledgeable, do correct me, but is this really appropriate given passengers have suffered a long, overnight flight to this country? If it has nothing to do with passengers, then surely this could be done after disembarkation? If a passenger needs to be located, we’re surely not anywhere far – either stuck at immigration, luggage collection or customs… we can’t get far.

bnefijiqf.jpg
Waiting waiting waiting…

Tick tock, tick tock.

Finally, we were given clearance and could disembark. Hello, Brisbane.

So, SQ offered as comfortable an experience as you could expect in economy, though the timing of catering on an overnight flight really needs to be reconsidered.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s