Singapore Airlines Trip Report: London to Manila via Singapore (2013)

Throwback Thursday Flight and Trip Review: Singapore Airlines (2013)

After thirteen months of being in Europe mostly for study, it was time to return home.  This chapter of my life, living on a different continent has undoubtedly passed by all too quickly.  However, it gave me an opportunity to look forward to flying with a world-class carrier.

Image Source: Avioners
SELECTING THE CARRIER


A little over one month before my scheduled departure, I was deciding whether to fly with Cathay Pacific (CX) or Singapore Airlines (SIA/SQ).  Both had pros and cons.  Around this time, I had also heard that Philippine Airlines (PAL) was soon to launch a flight between London and Manila but it would be too late for me as I was needed back in the Philippines in the final week of October.

When it came to Cathay Pacific, the main advantage was that I am a Marco Polo frequent flyer.  I was also impressed by the level of service they have provided on my past trips and the wider options for convenient connections to Manila.

Ultimately though, I decided to fly with Singapore Airlines.  First, the fare was much cheaper and had fewer restrictions in case I wanted to change my booking.  Second, despite having to fly earlier in the day, it allowed me to briefly visit Singapore so that I can say that I have visited the island nation at least once for each of these past five consecutive years.  I have visited Singapore at least once per year since 2009.  Thirdly, I would have the pleasure of flying on the A380 again. 

As for flying on the Singapore Airlines A380, I like to be seated on the upper deck, as SIA is one of the few A380 operators to extend its economy class to that part of the aircraft.  I like to be seated there because it has a 2-4-2 configuration so each passenger is always just one seat away from the aisle.  However, the A380 assigned to us had economy class seats confined only to the lower deck, as the upper deck was entirely dedicated to business class.  It is actually quite rare that Singapore Airlines deploys this particular configured aircraft on the London-Singapore flights.

I was also able to arrange an extra 5 kg of baggage for no extra charge as I was moving back to the Philippines.  

TIP: Are you moving to another country? Ask your carrier if they may be able to arrange for extra luggage free of charge.

Just a few days before the flight, I was also curious to see whether there were still seats available for flights within those next few days, but the call centre said there was nothing available.  In fact, passengers were also not accepted for the waitlist anymore.  I tried again on several more occasions but to no avail.  It goes to show how popular or lucrative the London-Singapore flights can get.  

FINAL DAYS IN LONDON

It was just about lunch time on October 20 when I arrived at London Paddington from Bristol.  I was going to stay here overnight at a nearby hotel called the Days Inn since the flight would be in the morning.  When I arrived at the hotel, the staff told me that the room wasn't ready yet, as check-in was still more than an hour away. So, I left my big bags at the reception for safekeeping. 

My final day was going to be jam-packed.  The first stop was the Westfield Mall in Stratford, East London.  I travelled there via a tube ride.  The main reason I was headed there was to see the Olympic Park one more time.  This would be my fourth visit to the area. 

Olympic Park
London's Olympic Park in Stratford
Image Source: Wikimedia
Later, I was on my way to see a friend living in Wadsworth Common, a suburb south of central London.  I had to transfer at Victoria station but luckily the travel card I purchased was valid for National Rail journeys in inner London as well.  From Victoria station, it took another 15 minutes to walk to my friend's place, while it was raining.  We had a nice chat for a little over an hour about our future plans.  I was happy for her that her venture in London provided enough to enable her to live near central London.  After a cup of coffee with my friend, I was headed back to central London.

I met up with another friend.  He was going to treat me to dinner at a nearby steak house close to Piccadilly station after a virtually successful finish to my studies in the UK.  We had chicken and chips (which is British for fries) for dinner and had a nice chat as well.  He said that he would try to accompany me the following day to the airport. 

Big Ben
Big Ben
Image Source: Wikimedia
After dinner, I went back one more time to the Houses of Parliament to hear Big Ben chime one last time.   Then it was off to the hotel.  The staff gave me one of their largest rooms.  It had a second bed but they charged me £79, which is not bad for a hotel in the heart of London.  

The next day was my flight.  I woke-up at 7:30 and had some breakfast at the dining hall.  It was complimentary and was composed of cereal, some bread, and fruit.   

Unfortunately, my friend was no longer available to bring me to the airport.  So, I thought I could use the time to buy some last-minute stuff for back home so I tried to go all the way to Sheperd's Bush.  When I went there, the mall was not yet open.  Instead, I bumped into the defunct but iconic Television Centre, which used to be the home of BBC Television until March 2013.  Shortly afterwards, I realised that I barely had two hours to go before the flight so I had to rush back to my hotel.  


BBC Television Centre in West London
Copyright Photo: hybridace101/PFN
PART ONE: SQ317 from LONDON TO SINGAPORE

Flight: SQ317
Aircraft: Airbus A380
Departure Time: 11.30

JOURNEY TO THE AIRPORT

After checking out, I rushed back to Paddington station.  Even if it was a short walk from my hotel, I did not get there soon enough to make the 9:55 train to the airport.  I had to wait for the next train which was 15 minutes away.  As Heathrow has a shared station for passengers using Terminals 1 and 3, it took some time before I actually reached my terminal.  When I arrived at the desk for check-in, we barely had 40 minutes before departure. I thought I would miss the flight.      

AIRPORT FORMALITIES

Fortunately, once I arrived at the check-in desk, the ground staff still accepted me for travel.  I was the only one in the queue presumably because other passengers dropped their bags at the desk earlier.  They tagged the bags accordingly through to Manila. 

A member of staff even escorted me through security and showed me a short cut to the gate.  On the way to the gate, I saw a postbox but the slot was too small for me to place my parcel in there so I didn't bother sending it anymore.  

An A380 of SIA at Heathrow Airport
Copyright Photo: hybridace101/PFN
As the staff member showed me to the holding area, many passengers were still waiting to board.  I boarded around 10 minutes later.  As I was seated in front, I found it to my advantage to be one of the last to enter the airplane.

ON-BOARD THE A380

An exciting part of this journey is that I was once again on-board the Airbus A380.  This is my second time on the super jumbo jet.  I was seated at 35C, an aisle seat at the front section.  

Interiors of SIA's A380
Copyright Photo: hybridace101/PFN
As usual, the flight attendants served hot towels before departure.  A basic amenity kit with toothpaste, toothbrush, and eye masks was also distributed.  We departed close to the scheduled time so it wasn't all that bad.  

I also noticed that unlike previous Singapore Airlines flights that I had travelled on, the flight attendants were more relaxed about the use of mobile phones.  In the past, the in-flight supervisor announced that we needed to switch our phones off for the entire flight. But this time, they said for us to keep our phones in flight mode and to turn them off just for take-off and landing.    

For lunch, I chose the chicken option.  The meat was more red compared to what I am used to eating but I still managed to enjoy it.  Crackers, cheese and bread were also provided so it was a decent meal altogether.  

Lunch on board SQ317
Copyright Photo: hybridace101/PFN
I was seated with a couple from Cambridge headed for Australia.  We had a lovely chat throughout the flight.  From time to time, the three of us walked around the aircraft to improve blood circulation.

The moving map, also known as "airshow," showed different graphics from the previous A380 flight I flew on. As for entertainment, I found the audio selection a little bit more limited compared to what I have experienced on Cathay Pacific. However, I was able to enjoy some comedy programs with the TV series Friends and Yes Minister during various parts of the flight.  The personal entertainment console also had a USB port, which I used to charge my phone, as well as an AC outlet for those who wished to use their laptops or charge their tablets.


IFE system on board SIA's A380
Copyright Photo: hybridace101/PFN
TIP: If you are flying with SIA's A380, you may want to have a USB stick handy with some audio and video from your personal playlists. SIA's system is capable of playing a passenger's files that are in MP3, MPEG and JPG formats.

WiFi on-board Singapore Airlines' A380 fleet is provided by OnAir.  OnAir is the same WiFi provider for Philippine Airlines (PAL) but unlike PAL, SIA charges based on the amount of data used.  From what I recall, the going rate was around S$20 (£10) for less than 100 MB, which was not enough for me.  Hence I didn't bother to use this service.

In the middle of the flight, I had a brief chat with the flight attendants about how SIA’s London-Singapore flights have been doing.  Jokingly, they told me that flights between the two cities had been so full that if they were allowed to sit passengers on the wing, they would do so.

I also asked them for extra crisps, for which they obliged.  Like Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines also has provisions for light bites any time during the flight.  However, in the case of SIA, you need to go to the galley and request it from the cabin crew, the food won’t be openly displayed on a trolley.

Copyright Photo: hybridace101/PFN
I did get a bit of sleep during the flight.  The second half was essentially a night flight.  For the most part, I was just thinking about going to Singapore for the fifth consecutive year.  

It was less than three hours to go before arrival and breakfast was around the corner.  I freshened up in the washroom.  For breakfast, we had an omelette with some tomatoes and hash browns.  I also got served some coffee and a loaf of bread.

Breakfast on-board SQ317
Copyright Photo: hybridace101/PFN
Before I knew it, we were beginning our descent into Singapore.

ARRIVAL AT SINGAPORE

After almost 12 hours in the air, I was finally back in tropical South East Asia.  We docked at Changi Airport's Terminal 3 shortly after 7 am local time.  The sun just rose minutes before the hour.  

RATINGS FOR FIRST FLIGHT

These are rated from 1 to 10 with ten being the best score. This covers aspects of the flight experience that SIA and its ground agents are responsible for with a focus on Economy Class.
  • Check-in (8/10): Check-in staff was very helpful in sorting me out despite my lack of punctuality.  I checked-in using my mobile phone.  However, a glitch prevented me from getting a mobile boarding pass.  I wish SIA can work on integrating their boarding cards with Apple's Passbook app.
  • Boarding Process (9/10): It didn’t take too long to get on-board.  Even as a staff member rushed me through security, we made it with some time to spare before I actually got on board.
  • Seat Comfort (9/10): The seat was reasonable.  Nothing to complain about.  
  • Food (9/10): Their meal servings were quite delicious.  It was also quite helpful that they had snacks for passengers who come to the galley.
  • Cabin Crew (9/10): I had no problems with the cabin crew. Nothing really remarkable but nothing to complain about either.  They were a bit lenient about the use of mobile phones.
  • Punctuality (10/10): More or less, we departed and landed on time.  This was important as it gave me some time to explore Singapore on this occasion.  
  • In-Flight Entertainment (8/10): The collection of audio and video was adequate.  It was a complete audio and video on-demand system.  However, it doesn't have as wide an audio collection as Cathay Pacific, but it's still well ahead of Philippine Airlines.  I enjoyed watching some of their comedy selections.  It was also good that they provided a USB port that doesn't just act as a phone charger, but also an interface that allows economy class passengers to play their audio collections on the IFE system.
The main criticism I had about SIA flights out of London would be their timing.  When I searched SIA’s website for flights that would take me back to Manila, the 11:30 flight departing London was the only flight with a reasonable layover time.  Passengers who want to maximize their last day in London will be at a disadvantage because if they want to leave London later in the day, the next flights leaving Singapore for Manila won’t happen until the following day.  In other words, they will be required to spend additional money to sleep over in Singapore unless they can 'bunk it' at the airport's bleachers.  SIA has corrected this by adding an extra frequency for London during the winter months and adjusted the timing of its last flight to Manila, but I was hoping they did this soon enough for my flight.


THE SINGAPORE STOPOVER 

Unlike previous journeys where I usually remained airside due to time constraints, I decided to explore Singapore again so that I could say that I had visited the city-state for five consecutive years. 

From the gate, I wanted to take a shower first.  To do this, I headed to the Ambassador Transit lounge.  It cost me only around S$8.50 (£4.25) to use.  

I passed by the information counter as well to ask for a WiFi user ID and password.  Although I had obtained one in the past, I forgot the details so I opted to ask staff at the counter for another one.  

TIP: Public WiFi in Singapore is widespread. However, users need to obtain a user ID and password. They can sign-up for it at Singtel, Starhub or M1's page, or transit passengers/visitors can ask for a temporary user ID and password from one of the customer service desks at Changi airport. Keep it as you will need this every time you connect to a hotspot. Smartphone and tablet users can download a Wireless@SG app to ensure seamless connectivity using the same login details.      

Passport control processing was quick.  The attending officer said I can explore Singapore even if I have an onward connection flying on the same day.  I was given a full 30-day allowance even though I was just staying in the city for a couple of hours.  I didn't have to claim my hold luggage from the carousel, so  I went to the left luggage section to leave my hand luggage so that I didn't have to bring it with me when exploring the city.  I was expecting it to be humid outside so I went to the supermarket in Terminal 3 and bought bottled water.

Arrival Hall of Changi Airport Terminal 3
Copyright Photo: hybridace101/PFN
I purchased a tourist day pass from Changi Airport station's MRT ticket office to use on public transport.  I boarded the MRT train close to 9:00 local time.  We made a transfer at Tanah Merah station.

TIP: Tourists can buy a tourist day pass for unlimited rides on public transport.  It costs S$18 for one day and includes a refundable S$10 deposit if returned before leaving Singapore.  

The first stop was a mall called Raffles City.  I went to its J.Co branch to have two doughnuts.  It was also nice to know that it was Filipinos that manned the till there on that occasion.  Little did I know that JCo also exists in the Philippines as well.

We had to wait a bit to go to the currency exchange stalls nearby as they only opened close to 10:00. Afterwards, I managed to walk a bit and see parts of the city centre.  I passed by Singapore Management University and grabbed a copy of their graduate school prospectus.  I also went to a nearby Post Office at Bras Basah to send some postcards to some friends abroad.

After that, I tried ringing some friends to see if they were available for lunch or something.  Unfortunately, they had other plans booked.

The weather was also humid - a far cry from what I was used to back in Europe.  It was a good way to prepare for the weather back home.

After walking around the centre, it was time to head for a quick lunch.  On this instance, I popped by Suntec City Mall.  I settled for Popeye's chicken and soon discovered that I wasn't able to finish the meal.  It was probably a reminder that my body clock hadn't yet been completely reset given the time zone difference. (London and Singapore/Manila are 7 time zones apart when daylight savings/summer time is enabled.)

Once we finished lunch, I headed to Marina Bay Sands.  I had a look around at the shops and at the magnificent skyline of Singapore just before returning to the airport.

Singapore Skyline from the Marina Bay Sands
Copyright Photo: hybridace101/PFN

PART TWO: SQ918 from SINGAPORE TO MANILA

Flight: SQ918
Aircraft: Boeing 777-200 (Regional)
Departure Time: 17:05

Image Source: Wikimedia
RETURN TO CHANGI AIRPORT

Given what happened almost 24 hours ago, I took it upon myself to return to Changi Airport with plenty of time to spare.  As much as I wanted to see more sights in Singapore, the flight I got back to Manila was the last flight of the day offered by Singapore Airlines.  I returned to the airport at almost 14:00 using the MRT, just over three hours before the flight.  I returned the tourist day pass to the MRT office in exchange for a S$10 (£5) deposit.  I also had cold drinks at Starbucks in the arrival hall of Changi Airport's Terminal 3. While there, I also surfed the internet to help pass the time.  

Nearly an hour later, I decided to re-enter the airside part of the airport.  I cleared passport control at Terminal 3 and the officer reminded me to proceed to Terminal 2, which is where my flight would depart from.  

Airside at Terminal 3, I bought a treat for some former colleagues back in Manila.  Although the confectioneries were not from Britain, I figured giving them something was better than giving them nothing. Afterwards, I used the Skytrain to go to Terminal 2.  I made it to my gate around an hour before the scheduled departure.  While waiting for my turn to board, I used the internet point at the holding area. Based on the speed of the computer I used, I suspected that the free internet terminals showed their age.  

ON-BOARD THE FLIGHT

In general, this was a very uneventful and unremarkable flight.  All I wanted to do was to get things over with and land back in Manila as soon as possible.  Overall, the flight was much akin to a "shuttle flight."

The good news was that I was seated in the very front of the aircraft's economy class section.  I was in a bulkhead seat, with only one other passenger seated in my block of seats.  Indeed, there were more Filipinos on this flight, but it wasn't as full as the flight I took from London.
  
The bad news though was that we were in Singapore Airlines' older Boeing 777-200 aircraft in the regional configuration.  This meant that the IFE system on-board the aircraft featured rolling audio and video channels only.  It was not an audio-video on-demand (AVOD) system.  I was hoping that one of the channels would feature another episode of Yes Minister, but unfortunately I did not catch it.  Even the colours on our personal monitors were not quite up to scratch.  However, I still was able to track the flight's progress on the airshow channel.

TIP: If you wish to fly with SIA between Manila and Singapore and plan to maximise your time in Singapore, expect to get bored on the flight.  The aircraft allocated for SQ915 (first flight to Singapore) and SQ918 (last flight back to Manila) are the older, regional 777-200 aircraft.  The business class seats on these flights are recliners, and it is 50-50 whether you will get AVOD as some of the aircraft have it but others do not.  

As in the previous flight, the in-flight supervisor announced that mobile phones should be placed in flight mode rather than be switched off completely.  

Just like on most other SIA flights, passengers in economy class were provided with a menu.  I honestly don't recall what the food looked like but I still found it filling and delicious nonetheless.

I just stayed in my seat for the rest of the flight.  As the airshow showed our position getting closer and closer to the Philippines, it was quite clear that this adventure was nearing the end.

ARRIVAL IN MANILA

We landed more or less on time at Ninoy Aquino International Airport.  Hence, there was no issue with timing here.  It was back to the Philippines officially.  Every reminder that I was back home was all in front of me.

But there was no news more disturbing than this: one of my bags did not make it onto the flight.  I found this out when one member of SIA's ground staff held a placard with my name just at the exit of the gate. Typically I would think that this would mean a VIP service or a rush service to another flight, but he told me then and there that there was a problem with my bag.  

I cleared passport control as usual.  As I collected one of my bags, I discovered that it was the larger bag that was unable to make it.  The staff member sorted it out by getting a copy of my baggage tag, taking my details and providing me with a hotline to contact.  They said that the bag would arrive on a later flight.  But since the other SIA flights departing London for Singapore that Monday did not make it in time for the connecting flight I was on, my big bag had to wait until the following day.

TIP: Avoid leaving valuable documents in your hold bags.  This includes older expired passports that still have valid visas.    

I exited the terminal and met my mum.  We were home within an hour.  The following day, my bag was returned in one piece.  With that, I concluded 13 months of experiencing what it was like to live in Europe.  

RATINGS FOR THE SECOND FLIGHT

These are rated from 1 to 10 with ten being the best score. This covers aspects of the flight experience that SIA and its ground agents are responsible for with a focus on Economy Class.
  • Boarding Process (9/10): It was relatively orderly.  What I would suggest is that Changi reinstates boarding via two doors as it did many years ago so as to minimise the crowds and allow premium passengers to board with less hassle.  Economy class passengers with Kris Flyer Gold and Star Alliance Gold passengers who have priority boarding have to queue with other regular economy class passengers when it is their turn to board.  
  • Seat Comfort (9/10): The seat was reasonable.  Nothing to complain about.    
  • Food (9/10): Their meal servings were quite delicious.  Nothing to complain about here.
  • Cabin Crew (9/10): I had no problems with the cabin crew. Nothing really remarkable but nothing to complain about either. 
  • Punctuality (10/10): More or less, we departed on time. 
  • In-Flight Entertainment (5/10): Although personal screens were provided, they were not on-demand.  In this age where AVOD systems proliferate on regional flights, a non-AVOD system makes it difficult for passengers to determine whether they missed a program or not without changing channels.  Although some flights between Singapore and Manila feature AVOD, it would be better if SIA made this consistent across all flights on this route.  
Again the timing of SIA flights between Singapore and Manila should have been something SIA should have worked on earlier. Other carriers have flights that depart Singapore for Manila after 19:00 so I couldn’t understand why SIA couldn’t follow suit.  They now do but why they couldn’t do so back then is something that puzzles me.  Moreover, those who want to maximise time in Singapore may be unlucky on-board the flight back to Manila as they usually have IFE without AVOD capabilities.  

I also have to thank the ground crew who alerted me as soon as possible regarding the bag problem.  It was not kept in suspense as they notified me immediately that the bag would have to wait.  They were as efficient as possible in dealing with this concern.  

-hybridace101

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