If I have been delinquent in my blogging over the past few weeks I apologize – I have been preoccupied with work. Overloaded may be a more accurate term, but that is no reason to neglect you, and I apologize for it. In my defense, I have a great article that was ‘in the can’ – all set to publish this past week. It has been delayed for legal reasons – or at least reasons that will cause me to rewrite much of it in order to protect the subject, a lovely and professional Air Canada flight attendant.
Sticking with the subject of air travel, I am currently on board an Airbus A380-800… the world’s largest passenger liner. A number of years ago I had the pleasure of circumnavigating the globe on a series of Boeing 777s and Airbus A330s, care of Air Canada, Air Malaysia, and Air France. On each of those flights I traveled in Executive First or First Class, and was extremely comfortable with both the seat (or in the case of Air Canada’s 777 the pod) and the service. We are still at the gate at Narita International Airport (there was a delay due to another aircraft) but so far I can tell you that this Business Class pod on the second floor of this mammoth aircraft is far and away the most comfortable and best equipped (as well as modern) one that I have sat in on any plane.
It may look like a regular seat at first glance, but looks are deceiving. When you realize that the width of the unit is twice that of my 14” widescreen laptop, and that even at my girth the seat width offers another foot of available space on the sides you will know that something is different. At 1m87cm I can still sit back and straighten my legs completely in front of me. This is what I call l a comfortable seat. Add to that the fact that I am sitting alone (the seat configuration on the second floor is 1-2-1, and I am in a window seat) and that the seat folds flat into a bed, and there is simply no way to call it ‘just a seat.’
When you build a plane this big, and are not trying to cram as many bodies into it as possible, you are able to give people more storage space than usual. Of course I have stowed both of my carry-on bags in the overhead compartment, but between my seat and the window there is a compartment that opens up and would allow me to store a lot more than just a laptop (which is, I confess, all I stored there as the plane took off). My tray table (9” wider and 4” deeper than my laptop) folds out of the armrest, and adjusts comfortably between myself and the console. Add to that the two drop-down drink tray panels in the console (one of which doubles as a mirror for those of us who might need to put on makeup), the glove compartment-like panel (big enough to put a smart phone, music player, and airline-supplied socks and eye mask), and the connectivity panel (with two USB ports, Ethernet, international electrical power) and I have to admit, this is a pod that someone put a lot of thought into.
Don’t get me wrong… the pods on Air Canada’s long-haul planes are great, but even with their diagonal ‘I am always sitting alone privacy’ design I still feel that these pods win out – especially (although not only) for a larger gentleman such as myself.
Although the movie that I chose to watch first is on Channel 2 of the in-flight entertainment system (a full 14” wide screen TV), I expect the next one I will watch is on 715… and unlike some systems that is inclusive – there are actually hundreds of channels on this plane. When the pilot told me to stow my laptop for takeoff I perused the printed guide for December. If you cannot find something that you are interested in watching then you are just not trying hard enough. I counted movies in at over a dozen languages including my three go-to languages of Hebrew, English, and French as well as Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Arabic, Persian, and several others I could not identify. This programming includes movies, TV shows, music, and documentaries. There are games and programming for both kids and adults, and everyone in between (I noticed all eight Harry Potter movies available on one of the pages).
The controls for the entertainment system (as well as the seat/bed) are in the armrest, but easily ejected into a wired remote control. This will be useful when I do lay out – the TV adjusts down so you can watch it from a prone position. They DID think of everything!
One of the issues I discussed with my new Flight Attendant friend on the Air Canada flight was the changes in her profession, and how several years ago her looks (which by the way were quite intact) would have been an important factor for her to keep her job. From the looks of the crew on board this flight that is still the case on some airlines. Please understand that I am not saying that this is necessarily a good thing, but it has been apparent throughout the service that the cabin staff consists mainly of young, slim, very attractive people – both the male and female attendants by the way. However once you get beyond their looks you cannot help but notice that they are truly dedicated to providing the most comfortable travel experience possible. That includes, by the way, spending the time to talk and joke with you. They truly seem interested in each and every one of their passengers (or at least in me… which is truly unlikely).
After dinner I plan to go downstairs. The top deck is only Business Class, but downstairs has both the Economy Class and, of greater interest to me, the First Class Suites. I don’t know if I will be allowed to see inside one, but if I can I will report back to you. I expect that the cabin crew in Economy are not all that different from the ones in Business Class, but I will talk to that too.
Dinner was lovely. The appetizer was a traditional satay that the Flight Attendant promised would be the best I ever had. I thought back to the road-side spot of the variety that Bruce Cowper insisted I find when I was in Malaysia, and knew that would be a challenge, not to mention the lack of Tiger Beer. While it was not a spicy satay is was absolutely delicious. That was followed by a three shrimp salad with citrus, and then a grilled tournedos of beef with forest mushroom sauce.
Desert consisted of a bowl of Azuki ice cream with green tea sauce, a cheese plate, and a selection of fruit. In a word, scrumptious.
I did walk downstairs… twice. The first via the staircase in the aft of the cabin, which took me to the rear of the Economy Class section. Seating is 3-4-3, and I am glad to be up here… even though the seats down below look to be as wide as the Executive Class seats on an A320. The plane seems to be only half full – as it happens SQ11 originates in Los Angeles and stops over in Tokyo. As such you could see that many people downstairs were stretched out across their three or four seats to sleep.
I could not access the front of the plane from downstairs; I was however able to walk to the front of the upper deck and walk down into the Suites. I did not walk around much, but the Suites are very nice from what I was able to see… several inches more space than the Business Class pods. I saw one gentleman working at is desk, which looked as though he was working in a modern office.
Once my movie was over I decided to skip the second one and get some sleep. Unlike the seats on other crafts I have been on that lay flat, this one requires that you stand to fold the seat down into a bed. This was actually quite clever – rather than having to try to make your chair comfortable as a bed, it folds down and the back of the seat actually is a mattress – or at least has the look and feel of one. Hidden behind the seat waiting for you is a second full-sized pillow (there was already one on the seat) and a blanket. I admit I did ask the flight attendant for help turning it down, and once I was settled in I closed my eyes for a four hour siesta – in a completely darkened plane where the eye mask provided was actually unnecessary.
Also interesting about the pod is that there is a complete second seatbelt to secure you when you are lying flat, which is much more comfortable than having to work with the same belt positions as when you are seated. I kept mine loose, which was helpful because I did toss and turn a little before falling asleep.
I felt a bit like a fool – I needed to call the flight attendant once again to turn my bed back into a seat, which she pleasantly and mercifully assured me happens all the time.
Before I lay me down to sleep I first decided to siphon some of the plane’s electricity; I plugged my Nokia Lumia 920, my Apple iPhone 5, and my Microsoft Surface Pro into the panel. So naturally now I checked the power levels of all, and was pleased that the two smartphones were completely charged, and only slightly disappointed that the Surface Pro was not. I had placed it into the armrest-adjacent storage that I mentioned, and when I closed the hatch it disconnected the power cable from the adapter. Oh well, at least my Lenovo still has juice!
The pilot just announced that we are about 45 minutes from Singapore Changi airport, and he turned on the cabin lights. We are going to have to fill out Immigrations forms, even though I am not leaving the airport. While I was not listening too closely, I did not hear him advise us not to chew gum while in Singapore – which I know to be a criminal offense thanks to my old friend Bill Sourour. Not strictly in anticipation of that I did not bring any gum with me, so if I get a hankering for a piece while there I will have to purchase it on the black market.
The flight attendant just came by and told me that as I am not leaving the airport I will not have to fill out the form. One less thing.
I went to the washroom to freshen up. In order to get a decent sampling to report to you, I have used washrooms at the front, middle, and aft of the craft. All three are huge (by airplane standards) and very comfortable. Additionally they each have supplies that I am not used to seeing on airplanes – toothbrushes and toothpaste, hair brushes/combs, and razors with shaving cream. I know why the last is not freely available on North American flights, but the other bits are usually given out in the Business Class kits that we receive when boarding. I had been surprised that the kits only contained slippers and the eye mask, so this was a pleasant discovery. While I did not feel the need to shave (I probably should have… if only to make a good impression on the shopkeepers at Changi) I did desperately wish to brush my teeth and comb my hair. Four hours of sleep will make your mouth taste foul even absent the wonderful meal (and several glasses of champagne), and lying flat on an actual bed with real pillows tends to result in bed-head. I will shower when I get into the Air Singapore lounge in Changi, but for the time being these amenities were a welcome relief to a weary traveler.
With thirty minutes left in the flight one of the flight attendants asked why I was typing and not relaxing. I told her that I was writing a piece about the flight, and she and all of her colleagues got very excited about this. They asked a bunch of questions (including whether I mentioned the satay) and I answered them all. After all, how often does a guy like me have the complete undivided attention of so many beautiful young ladies? J
At the end of the flight I was torn – on the one hand it is always great to get off an airplane, and on the other hand you don’t want great experiences to end. This one did, as they all must, for now. After a six hour layover I am getting onto another Singapore Air flight – this time a Boeing 777 – bound for Sydney. It will be an interesting comparison, and one that I look forward to. In the meantime it is nice to relax in the lounge (after a much needed shower and breakfast). Shortly I will head down and peruse the duty-free shops, if only to get some exercise today.
Thanks for reading, and see you soon!