The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING - STORY MARIA SHOLLENBARGER

What, ex­actly, should a flight ex­pe­ri­ence that costs up­wards of $12,000 look like? Ser­vices and cui­sine; er­gonomics and space; in­dul­gences and ameni­ties; and pri­vacy, pri­vacy, pri­vacy: these top­ics con­sume the at­ten­tion of the top brass at air­lines on ev­ery con­ti­nent, of­ten to the tune of hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in re­search, de­vel­op­ment and ex­e­cu­tion. Who will craft the wine list, up­hol­ster the seats, de­sign the du­vet, cre­ate the op­ti­mised per­sonal sound sys­tem, pro­vide the pres­tige sk­in­care? And how, above all, to outdo the comp set? They’re the ques­tions that are much on the agenda in com­mer­cial avi­a­tion, from Doha and Dubai to Seat­tle and Seoul – and, with par­tic­u­lar news­wor­thi­ness lately, Sin­ga­pore.

It was with no small amount of an­tic­i­pa­tion that trav­ellers awaited the roll­out of Sin­ga­pore Air­lines’ new Suites and busi­ness class across its A380 fleet. The first plane launched in De­cem­ber, with Syd­ney as the in­au­gu­ral des­ti­na­tion; Fe­bru­ary saw se­lect Sin­ga­poreto-Lon­don flights added, mean­ing that, with a bit of plan­ning, one of the most daunt­ing long-haul trips Aus­tralians con­tend with – Syd­ney to Lon­don – can now be made in one of SIA’s very sleek new suites (with fares start­ing, as it hap­pens, just up­wards of $12,000).

SIA has long dom­i­nated var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional Best, It and Hot lists for over­all ex­cel­lence (in the case of global con­sumer ti­tle Travel + Leisure, a whop­ping 22 con­sec­u­tive ones, as Best In­ter­na­tional Air­line). It was the first air­line to pro­vide free head­phones, drink and meal choices in econ­omy class (1970s); the first to in­stall satel­lite phones on board (early 90s); the first to of­fer video- and au­dio-on-de­mand en­ter­tain­ment, across all classes (2001); and the first to fly the A380.

And clearly its lead­er­ship thinks ul­tra-pre­mium travel is here to stay. “The new cabin prod­ucts are the cul­mi­na­tion of four years of work, in­volv­ing ex­ten­sive cus­tomer re­search and close partnerships with our de­sign­ers and sup­pli­ers,” says chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Goh Choon Phong. “We are con­fi­dent that the re­sults will gen­uinely ‘wow’ our cus­tomers, and en­sure that we con­tinue to pro­vide an un­par­al­leled travel ex­pe­ri­ence.”

“Wow” is in­deed the word, par­tic­u­larly for the Suites. Just six are al­lo­cated to each plane, three to each side of a cen­tre aisle, at the front of the top deck. They mea­sure just un­der 5sqm, and fea­ture a tall swivel arm­chair clad in deep brown Poltrona Frau leather and a sep­a­rate fold-down, 2m-long bed, dressed with cot­ton sheets, a down du­vet and mul­ti­ple down pil­lows; when not in use, this tucks neatly up into the suite’s front wall. The chair ro­tates up to 270 de­grees, and re­clines up to 45, via a con­trol panel con­cealed in one arm. A sidetable com­part­ment opens up to a large swiv­el­ling din­ing table/work­sta­tion, strate­gi­cally spotlit by an el­e­gant nickel wall lamp. A 32-inch tele­vi­sion, mounted on the wall, also has man­ual swivel ad­just­ment for op­ti­mal view­ing from the bed or the chair. In a clever con­ces­sion to cou­ples, the suites in the sec­ond and third rows can be joined via a slide-down wall, al­low­ing the beds to be con­fig­ured as one dou­ble. Ad­ja­cent to each suite’s slid­ing door is a spa­cious wardrobe, with a sep­a­rate, ded­i­cated bag com­part­ment built into a stor­age sta­tion un­der one of the two win­dows. A tas­selled leather case re­plete with ameni­ties (in­clud­ing, for ladies, a full-sized eau de toi­lette) by Lalique – which also de­signed the em­broi­dered bed linens and the crys­tal ser­vice – sits in one re­cessed com­part­ment; an­other holds a pair of Bose QC25 noise-can­celling head­phones.

With their sump­tu­ous, neu­tral-toned ma­te­ri­als – wood, stone, con­trast-stitched piped leather – and lav­ish

al­lo­ca­tions of space, the Suites evoke more the ex­pe­ri­ence of pri­vate air travel than com­mer­cial fly­ing. This is the point, ac­cord­ing to Jac­ques Pier­re­jean of Pier­re­jean De­sign Stu­dio, who was tasked with the Suites re­design. “The Suite cus­tomer has bought a room, not a seat, to him or her­self,” he says, “and is free to live on board as he or she likes. Ev­ery­thing is de­signed to re­spond to this.” Hence the tablet mounted next to the win­dow, from which light­ing, TV, air con­di­tion­ing, and ser­vice re­quests can be touch-con­trolled; and the mul­ti­ple USB and multi-adapted prong charg­ers (I counted three within easy reach of the seat); and the In­marsat GX Avi­a­tion high-speed wifi, said to be up to 100 times faster than the pre­vi­ously avail­able ser­vice.

This “your choice” con­cept is show­cased es­pe­cially im­pres­sively at meal­time. SIA’s con­sult­ing Culi­nary Panel is an in­ter­na­tional All Stars list fea­tur­ing the likes of Carlo Cracco, Ge­orges Blanc, and Matt Mo­ran of Syd­ney’s peren­ni­ally ex­cel­lent Chiswick. The Suites menu, sev­eral pages long, fea­tures fine wines (names like Chateau Cos d’Es­tour­nel are reg­u­lars in the mix). Then there’s the equally im­pres­sive Book The Cook ser­vice, which al­lows trav­ellers to pre-order their meals from a com­pre­hen­sive range of dishes: Western or In­dian, Thai or Sin­ga­porean, fresh sushi, even a series of low-fat/sugar/salt op­tions grouped un­der the head­ing De­li­ciously Whole­some (ex­am­ple: flaky Chilean sea bass on a bed of kale and quinoa with tomato jelly and al­mond flakes, cre­ated by Al­fred Por­tale of New York’s Gotham Bar & Grill). A stel­lar Krug 2004 vin­tage is now the house wel­come pour, along­side the 2006 Dom Perignon. And if Tiger isn’t your thing, there’s that finest of English ales, Old Speck­led Hen.

Busi­ness Class is where SIA has re­ally made its name, how­ever. The 777-300er fleet was given a sig­nif­i­cant re­design as re­cently as late 2013 (which then in­stalled across its A350 fleet as well); yet such is the com­pet­i­tive na­ture of the mar­ket that the com­pany al­lo­cated a large part of its stag­ger­ing $1.1 bil­lion over­all spend on the A380 roll­out to reimag­ine it yet again.

John Tighe of Lon­don-based firm JPA has worked on SIA busi­ness class de­signs for 15-odd years. “The SIA re­mit and busi­ness model are to al­ways stay on top of the pile; they’re hy­per-aware of the com­pe­ti­tion,” he says. The 2018 it­er­a­tion is no­tably more state-of-the-art, both in look and feel. The mono­coque seat – a sin­gle, com­pos­ite car­bon-fi­bre struc­ture with all the parts at­tached, whose sides fold slightly up and around the seat – is both more sleekly fu­tur­is­tic-look­ing and more prac­ti­cal in ap­pli­ca­tion: the thin­ner mount­ing base amounts to quite a bit more leg and stor­age room for the seat be­hind. “The seat now low­ers elec­tron­i­cally within the struc­ture to the full bed length, in­stead of flip­ping over. It al­lows for each seat to be much closer to the one be­hind it,” says Tighe. “You feel cos­seted in­side this shell-like struc­ture, with, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, more room for your legs and your things.” Calm­ing pink­ish-vi­o­let light suf­fuses the cabin, re­flect­ing a new pal­ette that in­cor­po­rates aubergine and bronze in with the req­ui­site browns and neu­trals. AC sock­ets and USB ports are built into a con­trol panel along with en­ter­tain­ment con­trols and sev­eral read­ing and am­bi­ent light op­tions, and a very use­ful lit­tle back-lit van­ity mir­ror. The seat width has de­creased from 71cm (in the 2013 re­design) to 64. But space still feels at an ut­ter pre­mium – par­tic­u­larly for cou­ples shar­ing cen­tre-aisle seats: a re­tractable wall be­tween them low­ers com­pletely, al­low­ing for the widest dou­ble-bed con­fig­u­ra­tion in any busi­ness class cur­rently fly­ing the long-haul skies. An­other in­no­va­tion in a long and il­lus­tri­ous list, if not quite as sub­limely pri­vate or lux­u­ri­ous as those ad­join­ing beds up front in Suites – but worth the in­vest­ment, nonethe­less.

Clock­wise from far left: a Suite, dou­ble Suite and bath­room; a busi­ness-class en­ter­tain­ment con­sole; the busi­ness­class mono­coque seat

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