When airlines take delivery of a brand new jet from the likes of Airbus or Boeing, the flight from the aircraft factory to the plane's new home is a unique "money can't buy" experience that's more like flying on a private jet.
Airbus celebrated the delivery of its 10,000th aircraft this month, handing over an A350-900 to Singapore Airlines – and Australian Business Traveller was invited along for the ride from Airbus HQ in Toulouse to Singapore.
It all starts at the Airbus private terminal in Toulouse, France...
Forget those long lines at check-in, queuing up for security or navigating your way through the airport to find the lounge – in Toulouse, Airbus runs its own private terminal to cater for these delivery flights, located on the opposite side of the airport from where regular passenger flights depart.
Check-in desks immediately greet you in the lobby. There's no need to pull up your itinerary or mention your destination and flight number: the staff here all know where you're headed, because yours is the only flight leaving from the terminal.
In a move that made us smile, the check-in staff insist on tagging our suitcase with a business class priority label, despite the fact that only seven journalists were on board and everybody was travelling up the front.
Next comes a very unique boarding pass, which looks nothing like what you'd ordinarily get from Singapore Airlines.
Now, you're probably used to having your checked baggage weighed when you drop it off, but there's another pit stop before these delivery flights: passengers are also asked to stand on a very large scale with their carry-on baggage and anything else being taken on board, to be weighed also.
This takes place one-at-a-time in another room to avoid any embarrassment, but by knowing the exact weight being carried on board, the airline gets once last chance to very precisely check the performance of the aircraft before it takes its first 'normal' passenger flight.
Once that's done, you're free to wander upstairs and relax wherever you like in the terminal, which curves around the one and only aircraft parked there and even has an outdoor balcony for a bit of sunlight...
Speaking of airport lounges, there's no separate or traditional 'lounge' here: the entire terminal is your private lounge.
Blank out the idea of flight information screens, announcements and boarding calls, too – when it's time to step aboard the aircraft, an Airbus representative comes by to personally notify you, before you clear security and stop by a dedicated passport control desk atop the aerobridge.
When you do have to leave France, this really has to be the best way!
From Toulouse to Singapore
We take our seat in 16A, and the first thing we notice is that pleasant 'new plane smell'. It's like a new car smell, but just hundreds of millions of dollars more expensive.
The crew quickly come by to offer a glass of Champagne, but what's unique about these flights is that Airbus – rather than Singapore Airlines – handles the catering, so there's no 'Book The Cook' service or indeed regular tableware, with everything delivered on single-use trays, plates, napkins and in plastic cups.
Cabin crew are also in high spirits and high numbers with no fewer than nine on duty to cater for just seven journalists and two Singapore Airlines execs, as was required to meet various safety regulations. That's one cabin crew member per passenger, which made the service quite attentive!
Look different to what you're used to? This is how the seat arrives fresh from the factory, with padding and also headrest covers installed later in Singapore.
Even without the usual tools at hand, that didn't stop the crew from offering to make our bed using one-off mattress pads supplied by Airbus exclusively for this delivery flight to make things more comfortable, plus an array of pillows and blankets – again, loaded only for today before SQ replaces them with its own signature products.
With so many other seats to choose from, I left the bed assembled in 16A for later, commandeered 16D as my 'working and eating' seat and assigned my laptop bag to 16F, giving it some extra privacy by sliding the divider closed. Heck, 16K was also up for grabs, but three seats felt like plenty.
We, and many of the other passengers, assumed this was everything, but were surprised when the crew followed-up with a choice between three further main courses. I opted for the veal with bacon-wrapped beans, carrot, olives and a potato rosti:
It was a surprisingly tasty dish, but do excuse the economy-style meal box – you certainly won't see these in business class on 'regular' Singapore Airlines flights. As with everything else, they're a one-off for this special delivery flight.
After a solid sleep, a change in cabin lighting wakes us up closer to Singapore, and when the crew offer to serve "breakfast in bed" rather than the inconvenience of trekking it all the way across the aisle to my nearby 'eating seat', who was I to refuse?
Breakfast is a simple affair of fruits, yoghurt, juice and scrambled eggs, but when I take a moment to decide between a regular croissant or a chocolate croissant, the crew insist I try one of each and enjoy a third for good measure.
Then comes one of the only announcements you don't want to hear when happily cruising along in your private jet: "cabin crew, prepare the cabin for landing", and before we know it, we've arrived at Singapore and it's time to leave the aircraft and return to reality.
But, not before taking a group photo with the pilots, cabin crew, fellow journalists, Singapore Airlines executives and other SQ staff including engineers and back-up crew, who all shared in the experience and helped to make the flight so enjoyable.
Singapore Airlines will now use this Airbus A350 to begin non-stop flights between Singapore and San Francisco on October 23, while flying it to other destinations closer to home in the meantime, including Melbourne.
Chris Chamberlin travelled on Airbus' 10,000th delivery flight as a guest of Airbus and Singapore Airlines.