One Last Suites Hurrah — A Week in Central Europe via Singapore Suites and Lufthansa First
- Introduction and Booking
- Singapore Suites Check-in JFK and Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse
- Singapore Airlines Suites Class JFK-FRA and FRA EasyPass Enrollment
- 36 Hours in Prague and Czech Airlines PRG-BUD Review
About ten minutes before the scheduled boarding time, I left the lounge and made my way to the departure gate. While Terminal 4 at JFK is decently nice landside, the terminal is rather drab post-security. I quickly reached the gate and, unable to grab any good photos of the A380 that would be taking me to Frankfurt due to some rain, ended up sitting in the waiting area by the gate.
In his book Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, long-haul pilot Mark Vanhoenacker talks about the concept of “place lag”, the brief cognitive dissonance that occurs when our minds have trouble reconciling where we are with our surroundings. One of my favorite things about travel, and when this is never more apparent for me, is when I hear several vastly different languages being spoken all at once. Think Lan Kwai Fong on any given late night, where, as one writer put it, “It’s perhaps one of the only places in the world where a person can hear ‘I love you, baby,’ drunkenly slurred in six languages simultaneously.”
I was struck by a sense of this as I took in the unique mix of passengers on this fifth freedom flight and listened to the numerous conversations going on in, among others, English, German, Mandarin, and Tamil. Maybe it was the single malt or maybe it was just my anticipation of the flight, but it was here that I paused to think about how truly lucky we are in this hobby. While it’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of earning and redeeming miles, nitpicking premium cabin products, and “maximizing value”, we can sometimes lose sight of how lucky we are to be able to explore the globe and have experiences that the majority of the world’s population never get to have.
Not long after I had come down from my perhaps overly sentimental moment of reflection and five minutes after the printed boarding time, boarding began, first with passengers needing assistance and then Suites class.
- Singapore Airlines SQ 25 JFK-FRA
- March 28, 2017
- Airbus A380-800
- Dep: 8:57 PM Eastern Daylight Time
- Arr: 10:27 AM Central European Summer Time
- Duration: 7 hours, 30 minutes
- Seat: 3A
After making the long walk from the gate through the jetbridge, I was greeted at the door of the plane by multiple flight attendants, each of them addressing me with a smile by my last name. As I have a difficult-to-pronounce Chinese last name that is almost universally butchered, I always find it to be a nice little treat that SQ flight attendants are able to correctly say it (Mandarin Chinese is, of course, one of the four official languages of Singapore).
The friendly flight attendant who would be working my seat showed me to 3A and asked if I had flown Suites before and was familiar with the seat/suite. I said that I had a few times in the past, and with a big smile, she responded, “Well welcome back, Mr. Stephen, it’s great to have you with us again.”
Despite having been around for a while now, the Singapore Suites hard product is to this day still a treat to behold and one that remains competitive with newer products. While the “bones” of the suite have remained more or less the same in the ten years since it first came out, the finishes of the seat and the paneling in the suite were subtly updated a few years back. 3A, my preferred seat on Singapore Suites, has four windows and is positioned perfectly in the cabin: back far enough from the staircase but forward enough from the galley. While many have complained about the (dis)comfort of the seat itself, I’ve never found this to be an issue and settled quickly and comfortably into my throne. I’ll apologize now for the subpar quality of my photos; the night before my trip, the camera on my phone got a bit dinged up in what I’ll simply call a bourbon-induced incident. Not long after I settled in, a flight attendant came around to distribute a warm towel along with pajamas, slippers, and an amenity kit. The amenity kit was dark gray, large-sized (in contrast to the uselessly small kits many carriers offer these days), and Salvatore Ferragamo-branded. Other than the surprisingly generous-sized bottle of Ferragamo cologne that SQ always offers, the amenity kit contained the standards. Unlike previously, the pajamas are no longer Givenchy and they have no branding other than the Singapore Airlines name and logo. The style of the pajamas is the same as before: the top is a gray quarter-zip, while the pants are gray drawstring pajama pants, and the set still comes in a cloth carrying bag.
A few minutes later, the in-flight service manager came around to see if I had any questions about the menu and to ask what I would like to drink once we were in the air. Eager to keep my buzz going and consume enough alcohol to at the very least offset the $200+ I paid in fuel surcharges for this ticket, I asked for a glass of champagne. Very apologetically, he told me that they no longer serve champagne as a pre-departure beverage in the United States. Airlines are required to pay duties on alcohol served while on the ground in the US and while Singapore Airlines previously served Dom Perignon as their pre-departure champagne (it’s a bit cheaper than Krug), they have at some point in the past year or so decided to follow the trend set by several other carriers and have completely stopped serving alcohol on the ground.
Throughout the boarding process, each of the other flight attendants working Suites class came by at some point to introduce themselves, all of them addressing me by name. As is standard with Singapore Airlines flight attendants, the flight attendant working my aisle crouched down to the level of my head every time she came around to talk to me. Noticing that a total of 5 out of the 12 suites and one middle suite were occupied, I asked her before pushback if I could have the double bed once in the air, and she cheerfully said yes.
We pushed from the gate two minutes after the scheduled departure time and in typical JFK fashion taxied for roughly twenty minutes to get to the runway. With no one ahead of us for takeoff, we quickly began our takeoff roll and before I knew it we had rotated and were airborne. Though I’ve flown the A380 many times, I’m still amazed every time at the illusion of how seemingly slow the takeoff roll is.
The seat belt sign was turned off after just a few minutes and the flight attendant promptly brought the Krug that I had asked for earlier, apologizing for not being able to serve it while on the ground. Noting that I had pre-ordered the lobster thermidor through the Book the Cook service, she asked what I wanted for the rest of my meal. Having decided that I wouldn’t waste stomach space on dessert or non-caviar starters, I decided to opt for the lamb entrée as my “dessert”, and asked for the caviar service as an appetizer.
The meal service began with caviar, of which I was given a generous portion along with the traditional garnishes. The flight attendant also asked at this time if I wanted to try some Dom Perignon as well, to which I responded with a resounding yes. Singapore Airlines is of course the only carrier to serve both Dom and Krug in first class and while most SQ flight attendants are very obviously proud of that fact, this particular flight attendant was a bit more subtle, which I appreciated.
After the caviar was cleared away, the flight attendant brought out some garlic bread and the lobster thermidor. It was, as usual, delicious and incredibly rich.
The lamb came next, accompanied by onions, carrots, potatoes, and some sort of cornbread-like bread. The lamb was cooked well and the onions tasted great, however I found the rest of the dish to be lackluster. While all aspects of the service were good during the meal, I was especially impressed with the flight attendant’s ability to keep up with my pace of eating (and drinking). I’m a fairly quick eater and as a result often experience long wait times between dishes when flying. Whether it was the light load in first class or just truly excellent and customized service, my glasses never went empty and I never waited more than a few minutes between courses.
The meal service concluded about two and a half hours into the flight. Not long after I saw the other passengers’ dessert plates being cleared, two flight attendants along with the in-flight service manager quickly made the double bed in suites 3C/D as I had requested.
With a little over five hours to go, I decided to have a couple more drinks before heading to bed. I browsed the KrisWorld entertainment system for a while, but didn’t find anything particularly compelling. I also briefly considered buying wifi, but given the poor reputation, my previous experiences, and the high price of the wifi on Singapore’s planes, I decided to forgo internet for the few hours I had left onboard. I had several more glasses of champagne and finished up reading some news articles I had previously downloaded onto my phone before moving over to my middle suites for a nap.
While the Etihad Apartment is larger, the Lufthansa first class seat more visually stunning, and the Cathay Pacific bed supposedly more comfortable, there is a singular sense of contentment and pleasure that one experiences while laying in the Singapore Suites double bed. You might have had a little too much to drink, or you might be disappointed that the flight will eventually come to an end, but that moment in which you take stock of the fact that you are lying in a double bed while cruising at thirty something thousand feet is one of pure bliss. SQ was of course the first to pioneer the double bed concept and, though they are making changes to their Suites cabin, this is something that I really hope they are able to maintain in some form with the new cabin layout.Within a minute of me moving to the bed, the flight attendant who was working my suite proactively brought me a bottle of water, despite a bottle having already been left at the bed. She also asked if I needed anything else and whether I wanted to be woken up for the breakfast service prior to landing. I asked to be woken 90 minutes prior to landing and the flight attendant cheerfully agreed as she wished me a good nap.
Many people who like to write and read these kinds of trip reports love to debate and wax poetic about the relative comfort and strengths/weaknesses of various first class beds. While I have no issue with the discussion that goes on, I’ve personally never felt strongly about any given bed over another. Suffice it to say that the Singapore Suites bed is quite comfortable and I slept soundly with no complaints.
I woke up about an hour into my nap to use the restroom. As is common with many Asian carriers, the cabin was a bit warm, to the point of (very) mild discomfort. On way to the restroom, I ran into the in-flight service manager in the galley and asked him if it would be possible to lower the temperature a bit. Appearing genuinely embarrassed, he quickly and profusely apologized and said he would lower the temperature immediately.
After using the lav I returned to bed, where I slept comfortably for another two hours until I woke when I heard the quiet clinking of silverware and noticed the cabin lights coming back on. As I opened the door, I found my flight attendant standing there (presumably about to knock to wake me up) with another bottle of water, which I very much appreciated. I moved back to my seat for breakfast, which was a pretty standard continental breakfast with croissants, coffee/tea, and some assorted fruit.
As we began our descent into Frankfurt, the crew came around to hand out landing cards. As during boarding, each flight attendant came around individually to thank me for flying Singapore Airlines. The ISM came around as well and again apologized quite emphatically for the cabin temperature. While in the grand scheme of things a slightly warm cabin is not a big deal at all, I thought it was quite emblematic of SQ’s devotion to customer service that the service manager seemed to be so personally affected and horrified by my mild discomfort.
It was a clear day in Frankfurt and I took in the views of the countryside as we descended. My eyes were glued to the windows after landing — no matter how many times I fly through Frankfurt, I always find taxiing around the airport to be such a treat, between the exciting widebody traffic and that gorgeously clean Lufthansa livery everywhere. A bit disappointed that the flight was over, I grabbed my things once we parked at the gate and bid farewell to the crew.
At the door of the aircraft, there were several agents holding signs with passengers’ names; one agent had a sign with my name and my connecting flight information. I introduced myself and she told me that she was there to make sure I made it to immigration. Not expecting an escort, I was pleasantly surprised, but this quickly subsided. After simply walking with me up the stairs from the lower floor jetbridge where first class deplaned to the upper floor jetbridge where business class was deplaning, the agent pointed down the hall and said I should be able to find immigration on my own. Looking back now, I’m not sure if she was a dedicated agent assigned to me because I was a first class passenger, or simply someone who was there to help direct me as a passenger in transit. As some passengers from SQ 25 continue on to Singapore and don’t need to clear immigration while others end their trip and thus must enter Germany, SQ typically uses agents at FRA to help guide passengers. Given the “service” that the agent provided, I’d venture to say she was simply there to help direct transit passengers rather than act as an actual ground escort. Ultimately while it was a nice touch, it really was not of much use as I still ended up walking to immigration by myself.
Overall, the flight and service met my expectations for what Singapore Airlines should offer. The food was good on the whole and the service was pleasant, but nothing was particularly exceptional and I’ve certainly had more outstanding service on Singapore Air in the past. Would I normally redeem 100,000+ miles for this short seven-hour flight? Probably not, but knowing that Id likely have fewer chances to do it moving forward, I figured it’d be worth it to experience it one last time. Looking back on my experience on this flight, I don’t regret my decision, but I’d hesitate to say that I got any sort of outstanding value for my redemption either.
After clearing German immigration, I went to register for EasyPASS, the German counterpart to Global Entry. Automated EasyPass gates can be used when entering Germany from non-Schengen countries or departing Germany to leave the Schengen zone at all of the major German airports and, given how congested things can get during peak times, can be quite convenient to have. Registration for US citizens is free and, from both my experience and those of others, generally quick and easy.
At FRA, the EasyPass enrollment center is at the German federal police (Bundespolizei) office located landside in Terminal 1, near one end of the terminal (very right side if you’re on the street facing the terminal, very left side if you’re standing in the terminal facing the street). Directly across from the Lufthansa first class check-in area is a rectangular glass and steel structure with signs for the German federal police (look for a white sign that says “Bundespolizei”).
Appointments are not necessary in advance, and I simply strolled in and said I wanted to register for EasyPASS. With no wait, I was given 3-4 forms to fill out; this took about three minutes. I then chatted with the friendly police officer while he registered me into the system on his computer. In less than fifteen minutes, my registration was complete and I was told that I could immediately begin using the automated EasyPASS gates. I was impressed with the ease and pleasantness of the entire experience, and how starkly it contrasted with the way interactions with CBP and TSA in the US often go.
After thanking the officer, I left the office and made my way to the Lufthansa check-in area (non-priority, sadly), where I printed boarding passes from a kiosk for my onwards flights from Frankfurt to Brussels on Lufthansa, and Brussels to Prague on Brussels Air. As I wasn’t leaving the Schengen zone, I did not get to try out EasyPass. I spent the remaining 90 minutes before my next flight in the Lufthansa Senator/business class lounge catching up with a friend who was also transiting FRA that day and was able to guest me in. I won’t be reviewing that lounge here, as 1) the Lufthansa Senator lounges at FRA have been reviewed by others, 2) the lounge was fine but nothing exceptional, and 3) my friend and I had a lot of “catching up” to do so even if I had wanted to review the lounge, I was far too many drinks in by noon to even try.
After having a blast catching up with an old friend and downing considerably more drinks than social norms allow for in the early afternoon on a weekday (had to prepare for my flights in coach somehow…), I stumbled to the gate for my flight to Brussels, which was uneventful. I passed the time during my layover in BRU at The Diamond Lounge, a priority pass lounge which was sufficient but not worth reviewing. My flight from Brussels to Prague, as well, was unmemorable.