Singapore Airlines’ rejig of its Canberra flights has seen the failed Wellington-Canberra-Singapore 'Capital Express' route (launched with great fanfare in September 2016) replaced by a daily Sydney-Canberra-Singapore service.
It’s a win in almost every column.
Singapore Airlines gets a fifth daily Sydney flight, increasing its appeal over the two daily Sydney-Singapore flights of Qantas.
The schedule for SQ288 gives Sydney business travellers the option of an overnight flight, departing Sydney at 9.20pm for a 5.15am arrival at Singapore’ Changi Airport – even if this means a bit of a detour via Canberra.
ACT travellers get to trade up from the older Boeing 777-200 of the Capital Express to Singapore Airlines’ flagship Boeing 777-300ER with the airline’s latest ‘open’ first class suites (albeit just four of them) and business class seats.
And everyone headed to Singapore can easily transfer to Singapore Airlines' morning wave of departures to Europe as well as many regional SQ and SilkAir flights.
Australian Business Traveller joined the inaugural flight of SQ288 from Sydney to Singapore to see how it stacks up.
As we’ve previously detailed, Sydney has two Star Alliance lounges available to Singapore Airlines' business class passengers (and Star Alliance Gold-grade frequent flyers): these are the Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand lounges, handily situated next door to one another at T1’s southwest pier, near gates 58-59.
A flash of your boarding pass will get you into either the SQ or NZ lounges, and indeed you can visit both before your flight.
The main drawcard of the Air New Zealand lounge for evening flights is the tended bar, which serves up a decent range of beer, wine, spirits and cocktails along with excellent barista-pulled coffee.
The bar closes at 8pm – so if you get to the airport before 8pm, this is your first port of call.
There’s a lot less going on in the food department at the AirNZ lounge in these late hours: during our visit you could choose between pork & chorizo meatballs, spiced eggplant, some sandwiches and a range of salads.
The desserts were tempting, however.
In our experience the Air New Zealand lounge also has much faster WiFi: the SQ lounge's Internet feed is as slow as a wet week in Wagga, so if ploughing through work is high on your pre-flight to-do list, choose your lounge accordingly.
Almost all of Singapore Airlines business class passengers on SQ288 will, naturally, default to the airlines' neighbouring SilverKris Lounge.
In the coffee stakes, Singapore Airlines' SilverKris lounge relies on machine-made coffee (although it also has T2 teas) but bests its Kiwi cousin in most other respects.
Around 8.30pm we found it quieter than the Air New Zealand lounge, and the semi-private ‘productivity booths’ are built with business travellers in mind: there’s room for your laptop or tablet (with AC/USB power sockets), a plate of food and a drink.
Speaking of which, the SilverKris business class lounge has far better supper fare than the Air New Zealand lounge.
During our stay we sampled the Cajun chicken thigh fillets, beef vindaloo & coconut rice, and carrot & ginger soup; there was also yellow curry basa fillet, penne pasta with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, plus smoked salmon and salads.
I'd suggest you take advantage of a meal at the SilverKris lounge because apart from a light snack served on the Sydney-Canberra leg, you won't see 'dinner' proper until around midnight after SQ288 heads from Canberra to Singapore.
Given that most business class passengers will likely be in the Sydney lounge 90 minutes before the flight departs, 8pm sounds about right for dinner and a drink.
If you’re joining SQ288 at Sydney it’s business as usual – make your way through immigration and security, then head to the lounge.
If you’ve come through from Singapore and are continuing to Canberra it’s a bit more involved: you get off the flight at the arrivals level, go through the transit section and head up to the departures level to reboard your flight (or duck into the SQ SilverKris lounge if there’s time enough and you’re so inclined).
The first leg of SQ288 is a nominal 30 minute sprint from Sydney to Canberra.
The schedule posits a full hour in the air (from 9.20pm to 10.20pm) so there’s quite some padding – in our case the trip had an estimated flying time of 29 minutes but saw us arriving at 10.15pm.
It has to be said, there’s something quite novel about flying from Sydney to Canberra in a mighty Boeing 777-300ER (and before you ask, no, SQ isn't allowed to sell the Sydney-Canberra segment as a domestic leg on its own).
Once the flight lands in Canberra, everybody gets off, and passengers bound for Singapore show their boarding pass before heading upstairs via escalator to the departures area.
This is where everybody spends the next hour or so.
There’s no dedicated lounge for business class travellers or frequent flyers, although Canberra Airport has done a good job of creating space with plenty of seating for solo travellers, couples, larger groups and those who need to plug in their laptop or tablet and get some work done.
There are two parts to the departures area. The first is directly ahead when you step off the escalator and features a bar selling drinks and snacks, and looks to be the busiest and noisiest area.
But beyond that, across from a small duty-free store, is another wing of the departures lounge which during our stopover was far less patronised and thus a lot quieter.
While there's only an hour at most in this departures area, I felt that Singapore Airlines could have done something a little more for its business and first class passengers, such as reserving a section of seating and offering a free coffee or tea at the bar upon showing you boarding pass.
The second and longer leg of SQ288, from Canberra to Singapore, saw us called to reboard the flight from 11pm in time for an 11.30pm departure
Business class passengers get a pair of socks, slippers and eye-mask for the overnight leg, with further amenities (including dental and shaving kits) stocked in the bathroom, although no pyjamas are handed out.
After a 7½ hour trek north-west to Singapore, we touched down at a still-dark 5am.
(Business travel trivia: this entire service carries a single flight number of SQ288 because it effectively runs as a Singapore-Sydney-Canberra loop rather than be broken up into two discrete legs, each with their own flight number.)
Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 777-300ER is fitted with the airline’s Next Generation business class seats, which made their debut in mid-2013 and have since been carried over to the newer Airbus A350 jets.
Arranged in a forward-facing (not angled) 1-2-1 configuration, the design affords plenty of space.
A raised section under the foot-cubby provides space to stow your carry-on bag during take-off and landing…
… as well as your shoes during the flight.
Other smart storage touches include an amenity storage area above the cocktail tray…
… and a laptop nook conveniently located next to the AC and USB sockets.
Flipping over the back of the 28-inch wide seat converts it into a 78-inch (2 metre) long flat bed complete with mattress, topper and pillow.
The bed is skewed to an angle rather than straight ahead, which means some taller travellers prefer to sleep on their side with a bit of a bend at the knees.
Coupled with that bed, the 'Do Not Disturb' button comes in very handy on the Canberra-Singapore leg.
Despite the very short flying time between Sydney and Canberra, business class passengers enjoy a refreshment en route: on our inaugural flight it was a smoked duck salad.
This had barely been served before the PA announcement advised to prepare for landing and stow the tray tables, and it almost felt like a race against the clock – I’m not sure that the Sydney-Canberra leg even needs a meal squeezed in.
Following our 11.30pm departure from Canberra, supper was served just on midnight. SQ terms this a ‘sleeper service’ with just a main course and a small fruit plate – there’s no fancy appetisers or side dishes.
The meal can be served just after take-off as a very late supper, or two hours before arrival as a very early breakfast.
The business class menu on our flight included braised chicken in saffron & tomato sauce, mushroom quiche, a selection of dim sum., an ‘American breakfast’ (scrambled eggs and chicken sausage served with tomatoes and spinach and potatoes) and a lighter continental breakfast.
Passengers can also choose a dish from Singapore Airlines’ more extensive Book the Cook menu before they fly: you can peruse the full menu here, from which I chose the Tasmanian salmon in wild-lime butter sauce with steamed green beans and pasta.
It would have looked better – and certainly as good as it tasted – without that single soggy lettuce leaf atop the pasta.
Breakfast was available from 3am in Singapore-time, two hours before landing. Hitting your seat’s Do Not Disturb button will go some way towards maximising your sleep, although not everybody can snooze through the brighter cabin lights and the clatter of plates, cups and cutlery – that said, on this flight almost nobody had breakfast.
Entertainment & Service
I’d question if anybody would be watching inflight movies when there’s less than 7 hours for sleeping, and most of the passengers in the business class cabin seemed to agree – after the meal (and sometimes without it) it was time to bunk down.
But if you do want to relax with a video, especially on the flight’s Singapore-Sydney return leg, the massive 18 inch video screen and extensive library with several latest release over and boxed set TV series will keep you happy.
Inflight Internet is also available on Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 777-300ER, with 30MB free for all business class passengers (good for a quick hit of email, online news or social media).
After that 30MB vanishes all-too-quickly you have a choice between three data-capped plans: US$7 for 15MB, US$13 for 30MB and US$20 for 50MB. But the connection proved so slow that I’d suggest it isn't worth signing up for.
Service on this flight was typically Singapore Airlines: prompt yet unobtrusive. Especially on the Canberra-Singapore leg the crew seemed well aware that sleep would be a premium, so they bustled the meals out within a half hour of our departure.
The flight itself was typically Singapore Airlines and hard to fault for business class. The challenges come from the route and the timing: passengers leaving from Sydney won't be able to sleep until after departing Canberra coming up to midnight, although that's roughly the same 7½ flying time as a straight Sydney-Singapore trip.
Of course, you’ll likely want your accomodation sorted for an early checkin at the hotel after that 5.15am arrival into Singapore – this might mean having your room booked from the day prior.
That given, SQ288 will be a good fit into the schedule of busy Sydney business travellers who want to zip straight from their office to the lounge, while Canberra’s corporate flyers can have a relaxing dinner at home and even tuck the kids into bed before making their way to the airport.
David Flynn travelled as a guest of Singapore Airlines