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
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
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
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