Singapore Airlines aims to revolutionise regional business class with direct aisle access flatbed seats being rolled out on across its Boeing 787-10 fleet and some Airbus A350 jets, but it could prove a tight fit for many passengers.
Singapore Airlines’ regional business class play is magic trick worthy of Houdini.
Gone is the 2-2-2 layout and ‘sloping sleeper’ of SQ’s older jets such as the Airbus A330, for example. All that stale, worn last-gen oldness vanishes in a puff of smoke.
In its place on Boeing 787-10s and some Airbus A350 jets: a modern medium-range seat with long-range pedigree, including a 1-2-1 layout which gives direct aisle access to every passenger…
…and a seat that converts into a fully-flat bed.
Australian Business Traveller took a pew on the delivery flight of Singapore Airlines’ first Boeing 787-10 – a 23 hour journey from Boeing’s Dreamliner factory at South Carolina to Singapore, via Osaka for a fuel stop – to bring you this detailed review.
Designing Singapore Airlines’ new regional business class seat
Singapore Airlines’ 2018 regional business class seat was created by the airline in conjunction with Stelia Aerospace, using Stelia’s Solstys III platform as a starting point but evolving into an all-new design which Stelia calls the Symphony.
The seat adopts a staggered forward-facing arrangement, with all 36 business class seats in the Boeing 787-10 ranked in two alternating row layouts.
One row layout sees the passengers in seats A and K located directly next to the window, with a wide shelf between them and the aisle.
This is obviously the pick if you really want that window view, but be wary if you’re a ‘passenger of size’ – the narrow gap between the seat in front of you and the shelf next to your seat is a tight 23cm (9 inches).
Almost any average-sized person will find this makes for a squeeze as you do a sideways stomach-sucked-in crab-walk from your seat to the aisle or vice versa.
In this same row, the middle seats (D and F) are next to one another, with each seat’s console between the passenger and the aisle – making for the same narrow passage as mentioned above.
A pneumatic divider panel between these paired middle seats offers privacy if you’re flying solo and not in the mood to be social.
If you’re travelling with your partner, however, feel free to leave the divider down – although it doesn’t disappear completely into the floor, unlike in the middle business class seats of SQ’s Airbus A380…
… so converting both seats into beds means you’re sleeping next to one another rather than with one another.
The second row layout – which alternates with the first – swaps things around.
The ‘window’ passenger is now seated at the aisle, with the shelf between them and the window. Less ideal if you like a view, but far better for accessibility.
The middle seats are also at the aisles, with each seat’s console keeping the passengers well apart – so much so that those seats lack a divider between them.
(Trivia time: in this arrangement the middle seats which are next to one another are sometimes called ‘honeymoon seats’, while those which are further apart are called ‘divorces seats’.)
Passengers sitting directly at the aisle will find the curved seat shell adds a degree of privacy.
My pick would be row 11, the very first row of the business class cabin.
The window seats (11A and 11K) are closest to the aisle, making it easy to get in and out of the seat – plus they have a unique bassinet position which sees the kidlet-capsule set into a very large recess just ahead of each seat.
But if a bassinet isn’t in place (or if you book this seat before a parent does) you'll have a great area for keeping a bag within reach during most of the flight, rather than stowing it away in the overhead bin.
So if you want a ‘corner office’ in SQ’s new regional business class, shoot for 11A or 11K.
And while the middle seats (11D and 11F) are close together in ‘honeymoon’ mode, which may deter solo flyers, there’s much more room (around 38cm, or 15 inches) for getting past the side shelf into the aisle.
Also note that Singapore Airlines hasn’t installed an overhead crew rest in the Boeing 787-10 due to the relatively short flying range, so the centre bins above row 11 remain available for you to use.
The SQ regional business class cheat sheet
If you’re trying to work out which seats have which orientation, here’s the cheat sheet.
Window seats with the passenger seated next to the aisle: 11A and 11K, 14A and 14K, 16A and 16K, 18A and 18K, 20A and 20K.
Window seats with the passenger seated next to the window: 12A and 12K, 15A and 15K, 17A and 17K, 19A and 19K.
Middle seats with passengers seated next to one another and away from the aisle (aka ‘honeymoon’ seats): 11D and 11F, 14D and 14F, 16D and 16F, 18D and 18F, 20D and 20F.
Middle seats with passengers seated away from one another and next to the aisle: 12D and 12F, 15D and 15F, 17D and 17F, 19D and 19F.
Be warned: seats 16A and 16K have no window, only a blank slab of fuselage.
SQ’s squeeze factor
Moving onto the seat itself presents another area where the squeeze factor kicks in.
Each seat is just a nominal 20 inches wide. That’s what an optimist would describe as a snug fit, and it’s noticeably so unless you have a very slim build.
By comparison, SQ’s own premium economy seats average around 19 inches wide, while its conventional business class seats (on the Airbus A350, A380 and Boeing 777) range from 25 to 30 inches.
Fortunately you can lower the armrests on both sides to gain around six inches, bringing the edge-to-edge width up to a more comfortable 26 inches.
But the squeeze is real. Sitting in a window-side seat with the armrest raised, my elbow closest to the window was almost jammed between the narrow edge of the armrest and the curved seat shell.
Lowering the armrest provided a little extra wiggle room but even then, when typing on my laptop my elbow was constantly brushing the padded sidewall unless I deliberately moved off-centre to the right side of the seat, at which point my right elbow was nudging the console.
When watching a movie on the seatback video screen the most comfortable position was to cross my arms. That’s far from ideal for a business class seat in which you could spend as many as eight hours, although of course that is the outer limit of this regional seat’s intended range – passengers on shorter hops around Asia may be more forgiving.
All the same, it’s hard to avoid the impression that these seats are a bit too narrow.
A regional business class bed
But if they’re narrow, they’re also long: the seats fold down to a fully-flat bed that’s 1.9 metres (76 inches) from head to heels.
And speaking of heels, there’s ample room in the cubby for your feet…
… and again, row 11 is the pick because of its location up against the bulkhead (rather than dovetailing into and under the seat in front) allows for a super-sized cubby for plus-sized plods.
The inner shell of the seat is covered in soft Alcantara padding with a quilted pattern. This not only provides a cushioning surface to rest your head against, it absorbs sound to reduce the overall levels of cabin noise.
The entire surface of the top of the bed is usable, and the cocoon-like surrounding makes this a great little nest if you need to snooze.
However, several passengers on the Boeing 787-10 delivery flight commented to me that the break line in the middle of the bed – where the seat back and base come together – created a noticeable bump which was best remedied by laying the airline-supplied blanket on top of the seat as a makeshift mattress.
A recess beneath the foot cubby area is the ideal place to stow your shoes or a small piece of cabin baggage (such as slim backpacks, laptop cases and handbags).
Also of note: the new business class seat uses a three-point harness for take-off and landing.
When that extra strap isn’t in use it retracts into the seat and hides itself away under a small tongue so you’d never notice it’s there.
Mixing (regional) business and pleasure
Inflight entertainment gets a solid upgrade from the 18 inch HD touchscreen monitor, which is as large any SQ business class screen.
This is paired with a touchscreen handset controller docked in a recess next to the seat.
The monitor can be titled downward for a better viewing angle if you’re lying in bed.
If you decide to get working above the clouds, Singapore Airlines’s new regional business class seat ticks all the technical boxes.
The console next to each seat has a 'cocktail table' that's also useful for temporarily parking your laptop, tablet or work-related documents…
… and behind this, a sliding panel reveals a universal AC socket and two high-power USB ports to fast-charge your tablet or large-screen smartphone.
We tested the AC socket with the large power brickette of a 15 inch MacBook Pro and found this fitted without drama.
A recess next to this power panel contains a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, but you can always toss these into the overhead bin to free up some space for your tablet, phone or ebook reader while it’s charging – or just slide in your amenity kit, reading glasses and what-not.
There’s also a concealed mirror fitted into the passenger-facing side of the shelf.
The slide-out table which reveals itself from under the video screen is massive…
… and it’s solidly mounted so there’s minimal bounce while you hammer away at the keyboard.
You can also fold the table back into half and slide it most of the way back in, then perch you laptop on top of it, to make it easy to leave your seat without having to disconnect everything and pack it all away.
However, the curved literature pocket won’t be the ideal place to stow your laptop.
Inflight WiFi is available on Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 787-10 jets with 100MB free for first class, and 30MB free for business class and PPS Club members.
The light touch
Running along the inner edge of the console is a touch-sensitive control strip.
Give it a firm tap to wake it up and you’ll find large illuminated icons for seat adjustments, the call button, an on/off switch for the monitor, overhead and ambient lighting controls and – my personal favourite – the Do Not Disturb button…
… which emblazons your wish for solitude next to your seat number facing the aisle.
Each button press on this control strip is accompanied by a short burst of haptic feedback similar to the gentle vibration of a smartphone’s alert.
While we’re talking about lights, the inner shell of Singapore Airlines’ new regional business class seat boasts a second lighting panel.
This has three LED spot beams angled to illuminate different parts of the seat: one goes almost straight down for when you’re in bed, a second casts down towards your lap where you might be reading a book, and a third shines more towards the tray table.
Each light has three brightness settings, which you cycle through with each tap of the relevant lighting key. A single OFF button immediately extinguishes all three lamps.
The overall style and colour scheme of Singapore Airlines’ new regional business class seats creates a family connection with the airline’s latest Airbus A380 and A350 business class.
The seats are finished in aubergine leather with subtle copper stitching while the pillow contains elements of orange-copper and blue, both of which are drawn from Singapore Airlines’ colour palette.
The cocktail table is clad in a textured satin powder finish while the sliding door opens to reveal a burst of burnished copper.
Gentle patterns weave their way across the seat shell’s various panels in a dusky grey-blue, caramel, blue and bronze with a touch of subtle metallic dusting on some surfaces.
The overall effect gives the 787-10’s business class cabin a premium feel of understated elegance, of high-end without the high-gloss.
Our take on SQ’s new regional business class
Anybody who’s flown in Singapore Airlines’ older regional business class will jump at the chance to fly this new Boeing 787-10 and Airbus A350 seat.
And with Singapore Airlines planning a rapid ramp-up of the new jets, there should be plenty of chances.
While I felt that the seat was too narrow for too long a stretch of travel, that has to be taken in the context of this being a regional business class seat. It’s intended for routes as short as 45 minutes through to an average of 3-4 hours and all the way to eight-hour journeys to and from Australia, which are often overnights.
That’s a broad brief for a single seat, and I expect most Singapore Airlines customers will be very happy to see this seat on their next regional flight.
David Flynn travelled on the Boeing 787-10 delivery flight as a guest of Singapore Airlines