A New Class

Singapore Air taps passengers to upgrade its new fleet

By: Jim Calio

This is the first Image
Business Class features a 30-inch-
wide seat that folds into a flatbed.
Airline passengers often complain of broken reading lights, tray tables that jam and entertainment systems with little selection. It can be especially maddening on long-haul flights, when clients are looking ahead to 10 or more hours in the air.

In the past, engineers and airline employees would decide the configuration of the seats in the cabins, and the results were sometimes cookie-cutter, inconvenient and uncomfortable.

To alleviate the problem, Singapore Airlines has decided to try something new: The airline has asked passengers how to update its new planes going into service on international routes.

The results can be seen in the airline’s newly configured 777-300ER. Outfitted with a flat-screen entertainment system featuring 80 movies, 100 television shows, interactive games, CDs and even in-flight language courses, the 777-300ERs now operating on the San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York routes, have put passenger comfort first.

To understand what customers wanted, several years ago the airline organized focus groups with some of their most frequent flyers. The selected groups used “tools,” such as string, construction paper, easels and marking pens, and even hotel furniture to design passenger-friendly environments.

“We were looking to get an emotional reaction, as well as a rational one,” said Singapore Airlines spokesman James Boyd. “These are all hardened road warriors. They had a lot of opinions, and they weren’t afraid to give them to us.”

The focus groups which met in New York City, London and Singapore decided that there were two things passengers valued above all else on long-haul flights: personal space and the ability to sleep.

On a recent San Francisco-Singapore trip, I tested the airline’s revamped classes. First Class featured huge, bench-like seats 35 inches across, which seemed more like sofas than airline seats. They convert into flatbeds and clients can also request pajamas. Business Class was almost as comfortable, with a 30-inch-wide seat that also folds into a flatbed, while Economy Class, although lacking the flatbed, is also comfortable with seats two inches wider than the industry average.

Of course, the service on Singapore was superb in all the cabins, which is one of the airline’s great attractions.

The 777-300ER will be rolled out over several long-haul routes through early 2008, when delivery of all 19 aircraft will be complete.

In October, Singapore Airlines will take delivery of the industry’s first A-380. Although the plane can hold 555 passengers, the airline may sacrifice some seats for greater passenger comfort.

And again the airline used advice from focus groups to design the new jumbo jet. It seems to be a smart move, and one that other carriers will likely follow if they haven’t already.


Hermann Freidanck believes that “you should never have a bad roll on an airline,” and, as the head of Singapore Airlines’ catering department, he thinks it’s his job to make sure it never happens.

Freidanck, an ex-chef, runs his operation out of the airlines’ cargo terminal area at the Changi airport in Singapore. He oversees a staff that includes 52 affiliates in other countries.

“You will never get restaurant-quality food on a flight,” he said, “but you can come close.”

While cooking in-flight poses a fire hazard, new cooking tools, like microwaves and steam-injected reheat ovens, make food more appetizing and easier to prepare.

“In the past, we would package the food all on one plate and the sauce would run into the rice and it would dry out,” he said. “Now, we are able to assemble the dishes on board, and that makes a big difference.”