BER­LIN BY BUD­GET CARRIER

What it’s re­ally like on a low-cost, 22-hour flight

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - FLYING LONG-HAUL - JOHN BURFITT

But why do I have to pay for a blan­ket when I have al­ready paid for my ticket?” the ag­i­tated woman a row over from me on the flight out of Syd­ney de­mands to know. “Be­cause, madam,” the Scoot flight at­ten­dant re­sponds, “this is a low-cost carrier, and that’s the deal with the low cost of the ticket. You pay for ev­ery­thing else.”

Her words summed up the re­al­ity of fly­ing a low-cost carrier, when the ex­cite­ment of land­ing a great deal and the an­tic­i­pa­tion of the des­ti­na­tion out­weighs what it is you’ve ac­tu­ally signed up for. In this case, we’re off to Ber­lin – from Syd­ney, there are 22 hours of fly­ing ahead.

What makes this jour­ney unique is the 10,000km Sin­ga­pore to Ber­lin leg is about to be­come the sec­ond long­est low-cost route in the world, at 12 hours, 55 min­utes. Only Nor­we­gian Air’s Lon­don to Buenos Aires route is longer, at al­most 14 hours.

With Scoot promo fares some­times as low as $800 re­turn from Aus­tralia to Ber­lin, this is a game-changer for the trav­eller who wants to spend more on the des­ti­na­tion than the jour­ney.

The task on this trip was to test if fly­ing this far on a low-cost carrier – with­out all the full-ser­vice bells and whis­tles – would be, as one travel col­league warned, “hell in the skies”.

The truth is, it wasn’t. Not even close. But it was de­cid­edly dif­fer­ent.

THE FIRST LEG: TO SIN­GA­PORE

The flight from Syd­ney leaves at 1.40pm, and my seat is in Scoot-in­Si­lence, the sep­a­rate 33-seat cabin in econ­omy, where chil­dren are not al­lowed. The seat is the same as the rest of econ­omy at 78.7cm pitch and 45.7cm width – the same di­men­sions as Qan­tas, with Scoot’s seat just a touch wider.

Scoot-in-Si­lence lives up to its name. It re­ally is quiet, but the plus­sized gen­tle­man next to me fills his own seat and half of mine as well. Spy­ing an empty seat across the aisle, I move my­self, but dis­cover later there can be a dan­ger in do­ing so.

There are no seat-back screens on­board, but through ScooTV there are movies and TV avail­able, for about $15, to screen on your own de­vice. I opt for TV shows I’d al­ready down­loaded on to my lap­top be­fore fly­ing.

As part of my pack­age, a meal ar­rives an hour after take­off. The Sig­na­ture Sin­ga­pore Chicken Rice is so dry, it’s al­most ined­i­ble. There’s a hearty menu on of­fer, rang­ing from snacks at $5 to meals up to $23 and soft drinks from $4 and al­co­hol from $8. I later no­tice in big letters across the back of the menu that no out­side food is al­lowed on­board.

What’s most no­tice­able is the ab­sence of the crew, who are rarely spot­ted in the cabin. When I later want a drink, I press the at­ten­dant but­ton three times in an hour be­fore some­one fi­nally takes my or­der. When I also ask about con­nect­ing the power in my seat – the socket is there, but you have to pay $5 to con­nect it – she says she will ar­range it and re­turn for pay­ment, but I never see her again.

I later get up to move to the front row of Scoot-in-Si­lence to stretch my legs, and this is when I see the crew fly into ac­tion. An at­ten­dant ap­pears and in­forms me I must re­turn to my seat.

“This is a Stretch seat and you pay for the ex­tra leg room.” I later learn it’s an ex­tra $40. I no­tice a def­i­nite pat­tern with the crew; en­gage­ment is kept to a min­i­mum, per­haps to make it clear this is not a full-ser­vice carrier.

We land in Sin­ga­pore five min­utes ahead of sched­ule. This first leg to Europe was a good re­minder of what fly­ing with Scoot is all about. It’s a seat and while you can choose var­i­ous bun­dles of bag­gage and food when book­ing, once on­board you pay as you go. Although the few times I was happy to pay for ex­tras, no one was that in­ter­ested in tak­ing my money.

THE SEC­OND LEG: TO BER­LIN

It’s past 1am and, after a five-hour stopover, time to take on the world’s sec­ond-long­est, low-cost route from Sin­ga­pore to Ber­lin. For this leg, I am in ScootBiz, which is ac­tu­ally more like pre­mium econ­omy. This is a sep­a­rate cabin of three rows of 18 spa­cious leather seats, with a 96cm pitch, 56cm width and 15cm re­cline.

This seat proves comfy and a huge step up from the econ­omy seat. A Snooze Kit with a blan­ket, pil­low and eye­shade is avail­able for about $18, but I’ve brought my own.

Aside from the space, what’s most no­tice­able is the crew. They are present, and it’s ser­vice with a smile as they start the flight with a small bot­tle of water. After take­off, I’m given a snack pack con­tain­ing a tasty chicken wrap, nuts and a cookie. I eat the wrap, then put the eye­shade down, and for the next six hours, sleep comes eas­ily – the long­est I’ve ever slept on a plane.

Upon wak­ing, I fin­ish the rest of the treats in the snack pack along with the minis­eries on my lap­top – power is in­cluded in this cabin.

A few hours on, an at­ten­dant ap­pears with break­fast, stewed chicken with rice. Of all the meals on the jour­ney, this was the best. As the morn­ing light creeps through the win­dows, the cap­tain an­nounces we are 45 min­utes from touch­down in Ber­lin. Even with a solid sleep, it feels like it has been a long flight, but I have no com­plaints about the com­fort.

Just after 8am, the plane pulls into the ter­mi­nal at Ber­lin Tegel. And so the Ber­lin ad­ven­ture be­gins.

THE VERDICT

Any way you travel it, Aus­tralia to Europe is a long trek. But what I feared might have been tough go­ing from Sin­ga­pore to Ber­lin was ac­tu­ally fine. Yes, I was in biz for this longer leg, but even in econ­omy, space wasn’t the real is­sue. The real dif­fer­ence is what’s in­cluded (the pol­icy of not be­ing able to bring food on­board seemed harsh) and in the stan­dard of crew ser­vice.

Would I fly them again? If the price was right in com­par­i­son to other car­ri­ers, yes. The up­grade fee from econ­omy into biz of about $150 is a great op­tion.

THE AU­THOR FLEW COUR­TESY OF SCOOT AIR­LINES

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