I ‘m at this rather noisy party at Terminal 2 of the never-ending Changi Airport in Singapore, trying to get the sushi roll to behave with a pair of chopsticks as I stand next to a large banner that says: “First to Fly— The Airbus A380.” In less than two hours, the inaugural Airbus A380 Singapore-Tokyo red-eye flight will take off, only the third destination in the world (after Sydney and London) to welcome the world’s largest aeroplane—a craft the size of a seven-storey building, that seats 471 passengers, including a dozen people who will have the privilege of an “enclosed suite” to themselves at 30,000 feet.
The Jean-Jacques Costa- designed suites take comfort to another level
This is a craft like no other and as the only airlines in the world to have received these giant birds till now, Singapore Airlines knows it’s a big deal. So, each of us taking the inaugural flight, gets a commemorative stamp in our honour.
There are Japanese tycoons travelling with us and a few Australian vineyard owners, who have, predictably, booked the “Class Beyond First” suites, which cost just under Rs 3 lakh.
We are a bunch of seven journalists from seven nations, invited to take the inaugural flight. A group of six or seven rather colourful characters join us as we prepare to board—all friends who live in different parts of the world, but who have a common passion—they meet in Singapore every time the airline launches a new Airbus A380 flight and take the inaugural flight.
“All of us have flown to Sydney and London. It’s Narita’s (Tokyo’s Airport) turn now,” says Sam Ringer, the leader of the group, who hails from Australia.
A class beyond first:
A private suite, a designer bed, sipping wine as you watch a film. Life at 30,000 feet just got better
But first things first. We board the aircraft an hour in advance. The 12 suites— private cabins in the sky—are on Level 1 and each one is a masterpiece in style and class.
Designed by the famous Frenchman Jean-Jacques Costa (who designs the most amazing luxury yachts), the four Rolls-Royce Trent 900 engine-powered craft’s luxury suites have sliding doors and roller binds for complete privacy.
We settle down on the Poltrona Frau-upholstered brown leather seats. There is a full-size bed next to the chair—the duvets and cushions on it have been designed by Givenchy.
As I lie on the bed and dim the lights (which can be adjusted to any level and at any angle), a couple of colleagues from Japan and Indonesia walk in and make themselves comfortable on the sofa next to the bed.
As SIA’s senior VP of Products and Services Yap Kim Wah tells us, one can hold mid-air conferences here over lunch or dinner.
The ‘friends’ who fly on all inaugural A380 flights to different sectors around the world
I click the remote to switch on the 23-inch LCD TV and am promptly given a choice of over 100 films from different genres. An attendant takes my coat and places it in my private wardrobe.
All First Class passengers also get a Ferragamo amenity kit. But this is only the beginning. The menu and the choice of wines are simply amazing. The food, prepared by the seven-member culinary panel, is literally “world cuisine” and has been prepared by Michelin- starred celebrities like Gordon Ramsay, Georges Blanc, Yoshihiro Murata, Alfred Portale and India’s Sanjeev Kapoor.
The air hostess takes orders for dinner and lets us know that food can be served any time we want. All courses are served in fine bone china and crystal ware, also designed by Givenchy.
We order coffee and are promptly given a choice between Santos Bourbon, Colombian Supremo, Kenyan AA or Jamaican Blue Mountain. The wine list is longer, with over a dozen Australian, German, French and Italian whites and reds on offer. The business class:
Back in the Business Class, the luxury is almost as fabulous. The 34-inch-wide seat converts into a six-feet long flat bed—space enough for two people to squeeze in.
The 16-inch LCD TV has the same choices of films and the menu is also the same. I settle in with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon to watch a recent Oscar-winning movie on my bed, switching off the main lamp but keeping the reading lamp on.
Capt. Baldev Singh, who commanded the inaugural flight
An adjustable table fitted to my seat doubles as the food tray as well as a desk for my laptop, since it can be adjusted to any height and level. The Business Class is on the upper deck and just behind us is the in-flight bar.
It seems most of the Business Class (and those Economy Class passengers whose seats are on the upper deck) are determined to stand all the way to Tokyo. In other words, the bar is packed all through the seven-hour flight.
While the suites are for the seriously affluent, costing around Rs 3 lakh for a Singapore-Tokyo-Singapore return ticket, the comfort is beyond parallel. As Ringer, who booked himself a suite, said: “This is the ultimate experience on air. You don’t feel like flying on any other aircraft after this.”
Even though a “mild little typhoon” delayed our Tokyo landing by a few hours (we enjoyed a view of the sea, barely a 100 metres away from our aeroplane, during our forced stopover at Nagoya airport), the seven-hour flight was worth its weight in gold.
That I was lucky enough to be booked on the same Airbus A380 on my return was a bonus. And I had a friend in the cockpit this time—Capt. Baldev Singh.
A Malaysian of Indian origin, who now lives in Singapore, Singh is one among the eight pilots who underwent a training session to qualify as an Airbus A380 pilot.
During a quick snack when the craft was on auto-pilot, he told me: “Please mention that an Indian is one of the eight in the world who can fly this plane. And I had the honour of flying the inaugural flight, too.”
At 30,000 feet, inside a luxury suite and sipping an Australian wine, I get patriotic and raise a toast to my new Malaysian-Singaporean-Indian friend.