Singapore Airlines' new premium economy seats elbow their way into an increasingly crowded market for the ‘better than economy’ segment, going up against the likes of Qantas, Air New Zealand, British Airways, Cathay Pacific and most recently Lufthansa.
The formula for premium economy is already well-established.
Begin with more comfort and better meals than economy. Then add extras such as additional checked luggage and priority check-in, with noise-cancelling headphones during the flight.
Singapore Airlines premium economy certainly ticks all of those boxes, and against a few tough challengers and despite a few drawbacks we'd rate it overall as the world's best premium economy.
Singapore Airlines’ premium economy seat – crafted by highly-regarded firm JPA Design and clad in leather – is 19.5 inches wide on the Airbus A380 and 18.5 inches on the Boeing 777-300ER.
On both jets the seat pitch is 38 inches, well above the average 32 inches of economy. That translates into ample room around the knees, which is where most travellers feel the squeeze – especially on long international flights.
The 8 inch recline also provides an additional serve of relaxation over the 6 inches of economy, while simultaneously sliding out the base of the seat to increase your sense of stretch.
More importantly, the well-padded seatback has been sculpted for maximum lumbar support around the lower back and sides, so you feel like you’re being gently cradled.
The headrest has plenty of vertical movement and also wraps around from either side to help you find that ‘just right’ spot.
Each seat also sports both legrests and footrests, compared to other premium economy designs where it’s an either/or choice.
A wide padded legrest swings up from the front of the seat to support your calves and lower legs, while you can park your feet on a T-bar which swings down from under the seat in front.
Both mechanisms are activated by clearly-labelled switches next to the seat.
Passengers in the front row find their legrest includes an extended footrest, as shown below.
Also note: on seats next to the aisle, the side panel can slide down to make it easier for 'mobility-challenged passengers' to get in and out of their seat (as shown below, at the launch of the new seats).
However, there's no reason that any passenger can't drop that panel to give themselves a little extra room during the flight.
Singapore Airlines’ premium economy seat also has a raft of spaces and nooks for your assorted inflight items.
That includes two seatback pockets: one for slim tablets (although it helps to ditch the airline’s own literature), the second for larger laptops.
A considered touch is the netting at the bottom of these pockets to stop small loose items from disappearing into the seat itself.
Smaller recesses behind the armrest of the seats in front are designed for your smartphone or reading glasses.
A longer cutout under your own armrest is also an easy place to stow reading glasses, amenity kits and such.
Other finishing touches include a small tray for holding your drinks...
... and an adjustable LED reading light.
The overall colour scheme isn’t quite what you’d expect from Singapore Airlines – shades of slate are lifted by splashes of orange and sky blue, extending from seat stitching to the pillows and blankets.
But it’s a contemporary palette intended to defeat the dreary and add a dash of playfulness to the cabin.
So is there any downside to Singapore Airlines’ premium economy?
It seems there’s a slight mismatch between the seat pitch and the recline.
Both are generous, without doubt, but when passengers in front put their seat into full recline, your own setback screen ends up as ‘in your face’ as if you were in economy.
There’s no drama on that score if you’re both reclining, to watch your video screen or grab some shut-eye – but if you’re intending to use your laptop, either for working or to catch up on some downloaded videos, there’s not a lot of room to keep the laptop’s lid fully open and upright.
Singapore Airlines offers some of the best inflight meals in the sky, so the bar was already set rather high for premium economy.
As with economy, the entire meal (but for dessert, which was a small tub of Serendipity ice-cream) comes out on a single tray.
The lunch menu for my Sydney-Singapore flight included a small appetiser of roast chicken with marinated vegetable salad, with a choice of main courses
- stewed beef with seasonal vegetables and mashed potatoes
- slow braised chicken with fried garlic, vegetables and steamed rice
- ‘se mee rad nar’, or fried vermicelli with seafood
However, there are a half-dozen additional dishes if you opt for Singapore Airlines’ Book the Cook service, which lets you choose your meal before you fly. This makes for not only a broader selection of meals but in my experience they always have the edge compared to ordering off the regular menu.
Book the Cook has long been the exclusive domain of first class and business class so it’s great to see the service expanded to premium economy.
On my Sydney-Singapore flight the premium economy Book the Cook options for lunch were:
- beef carbonate with mashed potatoes and roasted vegetables
- butter chicken and jalfrezi vegetables
- lamb shank korma with basmati rice
- pan-friend hoki pasta with lime sauce
- roasted chicken thigh in creamy mushroom sauce
- seafood thermidor with saffron rice
- Szechuan beef with vegetables
From that impressive selection I chose the butter chicken.
With tender flavoursome chicken, perfectly-cooked rice and vegetables plus a sensible amount of sauce rather, this could have passed for a business class meal.
A refreshment course served a few hours before reaching Singapore offered a choice between braised egg noodle with tasty minced pork and shredded vegetables (below), and a beef & mushroom pie.
Entertainment & Service
Each premium economy seat gets a relatively large and very sharp 13.3 inch high-definition screen plus a pair of noise-cancelling headphones, partnered to the latest version of Singapore Airlines’ KrisWorld inflight entertainment system.
The library is well-stocked with movies, TV shows and music from around the world, including latest release films and box sets of TV series – perfect for catching up on missed episodes or just some indulgent binge-viewing.
My Singapore Airlines' Boeing 777-300ER flight featured a conventional controller...
... whereas my return Singapore-Sydney journey on an A380s saw a swish touchscreen controller.
The downside of the touchscreen model is that it's all too easy to bump the high-tech controller’s screen and activate the seatback screen, which is annoying during an overnight flight when you’re trying to sleep.
Every Singapore Airlines premium economy seat gets its own AC power outlet with a multi-plug ‘universal’ socket, although its location at the front of each seat makes for some bending over and fiddling around to line up the plug with the holes.
The tray table is large enough for a mid-sized laptop, although there’s a bit of annoying bounce as you hammer away at the keys unless you position your laptop close to the table’s hinge to minimise the jiggle.
Each passenger gets access to two USB sockets: one directly beneath the seatback video display…
… and a second behind the armrest, next to your headphone jack.
The USB port mounted in the seatback module is a high-power version designed to charge tablets.
A sign of the smart thinking that’s gone into this design: adjacent to this USB port are pockets perfectly sized for stowing a tablet or smartphone while it recharges.
The USB jack behind the armrest is a more conventional lower-power version which still has sufficient juice for topping up the battery of a smartphone or similar.
(For all that, I can’t help but wonder why Singapore Airlines didn’t opt to make both USB ports cable of charging a tablet rather than relying on passengers to work out which socket they need to use.)
All aircraft fitted with Singapore Airlines’ premium economy also boast a satellite Internet connection.
Fire up the WiFi on your smartphone, tablet or laptop, join the OnAir hotspot, select your plan and whip out your credit card.
Plans start at US$6 for 5MB of data – suitable for quick smartphone social media sessions and web-based email, as long as you avoid sharing photos of your meal with the world at large – through to US$29 for a meatier 30MB geared towards tablets and laptops.
AusBT review: Singapore Airlines’ inflight Internet service
Customers travelling in Premium Economy Class will also receive an amenity kit that will come in exclusive limited editions, like these ones featuring SG50 motifs to commemorate Singapore’s 50th birthday.
The amenity kit, which consists of a toothbrush, toothpaste and a pair of anti-slip socks, is designed as a collectible item, and pouches can be clipped together.
Apart from the close quarters if the passenger in front of you reclines all the way, there's little else to fault in Singapore Airlines' premium economy – taken as a whole, the seats, meals, service, entertainment plus optional inflight WiFi Internet makes this the best premium economy I’ve ever flown.
David Flynn travelled to Singapore as a guest of Singapore Airlines.
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