May 1, 2011

Two different trips to London

After a long absence I recently made two flights to London within a few weeks of each other but on different airlines. Both of these flights were booked at short notice and I thought I’d share some comparisons.

The first trip I took was on Singapore Airlines from KL-Singapore-London and the second was on Emirates from Singapore-Dubai-London.

Both airlines use similar aircraft for the long haul sectors (A380 & B777-300ER) so it's easy to make a comparison between them.

EK 777

Singapore Airlines website is easy to use and no issues were encountered booking the flight from Kuala Lumpur to London via Singapore.

Due to Singapore Airlines handing over the operation of many flights between KL And Singapore to its regional subsidiary our flight on the short sector was operated by Silk Air.

Emirates has a number of flight options and careful attention need to be made to minimise transit time as well as avoiding the flight which stops in Colombo on its way to Dubai. I found the site a little clunky and the flight option I wanted didn’t seem to be offered unless I selected display by schedule as opposed to price. Once the booking is confirmed a copy of the conditions is emailed which is not the case with SQ.

Singapore airlines: 4/5
Emirates: 3.5/5

Check In
Singapore Airlines allow you to reserve a seat as well as select a seat when checking in on line which opens 48 hours before the flight. For flights operated by Silk air you can only reserve aisle or window however for check in you can select your required seat. On both the outbound and return flights the selection of available seats on the KL-Singapore sector were located at the rear of the aircraft and despite requesting a change at check in we were told that no other seats were available. On both flights seats located further forward were seen so I’m wondering its due to us being on a code share ticket.

For the long haul sector the initial seats we wanted were not available so as soon as the check in opened I found that some suitable seats were available. Based on experience the cause of this is either a cancellation or more likely that there is only a limited number of pre reserved seats available.

The check in staff in KL were pleasant and efficient however the staff at Heathrow seemed to have a bit of an attitude issue.

Emirates have a simple to use online check in system and I checked in online 24 hrs before and printed out my boarding pass. When I went to drop my bags the home printed pass was examined and then two conventional passes were issued. I queried this and was informed that not every airport allows home printed passes. Whilst I like the idea of home check in, other than allowing seat selection it doesn’t seem provide any other tangible benefits when the bag drop takes a while to complete and conventional boarding passes are issued.

Due to myself needing to make an itinerary change for the return sector and having to pay a small fee, online check in was not available. For some reason I was unable to also reserve a seat however upon contacting the call centre I was informed that the pre-allocated seats had all been used up however they there are some still available for Skywards members. The call centre staff were very good and signed me up to Skywards over the phone as well as reserving the required seats for me.

Singapore Airlines: 4.5/5
Emirates: 4/5

Boarding and Transit
Of all the airports in the world Singapore’s Changi Airport is probably the best and it’s transit facilities are extremely good. Terminals 1-3 are connected airside via an automated train with the journey time between them being just a few minutes.

The last time I visited Dubai was in 2005 so I was looking forward to visiting the new Emirates terminal. The sector from Singapore was slightly delayed so by the time I was passed through the transit security check it was 50 minutes before the flight so I guessed that it was soon time to board.

At Dubai the holding area was very full with a woefully inadequate number of seats to cater for the super large A380. As boarding time neared there appeared to be a delay and after a while the flight was re-timed although from where I was sitting I couldn’t see the screen or hear the announcement.

Having rushed off one flight I was rather thirsty and decided to try and buy a drink. When attempting to leave the boarding gate, myself and several other passengers were stopped and told we couldn’t leave. One particular passenger questioned the supervisor and asked to speak to his manager and the situation started to turn ugly.

In all my time flying I’ve never seen a more rude and aggressive member of airline staff and this particular man almost physically pushed the passenger back and then shouted at him to sit down. After several requests for water it took around 15 minutes for them to bring some which is extremely poor. With so many disgruntled passengers the staff simply locked the door so stop people trying to leave.

I was also told that its only the economy passengers who were not allowed to leave. Whilst this is possibly an isolated incident the poor behaviour by the Emirates ground staff left me very disappointed.

Emirates have boarding zone system rather than by row. This is quite a good idea but the implementation fails because the PA announcements are poor (was it B or D??) and the staff don’t check the boarding passes so a free for all occurs.

The return sector from London to Dubai stopped at a remote gate so disembarkation was slow. Considering that the terminal in Dubai is new and empty air bridges were observed it’s rather poor that the steps and bus at to be used.

Singapore Changi: 5/5
Dubai: 2.5/5


Singapore Airlines 
Singapore Airlines split the economy cabin over the lower and rear of the upper deck on their A380 aircraft. Due to the curvature of the aircraft the upper deck is slight smaller and seems quieter. The seating is laid out 2-4-2 and most of the window seats have a small storage bin next to them under the window.

The seats are slightly wider than Emirates and the leg room seems to be a touch better although the foot rest seems to get in the way. The Kris World entertainment system is very good however the Emirates offering outshines it by far.

SQ SeatIMG-20110417-00207
Singapore Airlines A380 seat
Emirates B777-300ER Seat
The food is generally good and menu cards are offered on both airlines. The only criticism I would have with the food is there are sometimes too many pork dishes offered. For example on one flight two of the three choices contained pork. Considering that Singapore is squeezed between Malaysia and Indonesia I’m surprised that SQ serve more than one pork based dish.

The SQ crews are always good although sometimes they can be a little robotic and perhaps less personal. On both of my sectors the crew were very good with somebody doing a water/juice round every 30-45 mins for the passengers not sleeping. Due to the cramped nature of the economy cabin coupled with darkness sometimes aisle seat passengers get knocked by the crew but I find this to be minimal with the SQ crew.

The flights from KL to Singapore were operated by Silk Air and due to it being a very short flight only a soft drink is served. The crew were pleasant and friendly and no issues were encountered.

Emirates have demonstrated rapid growth over the past few years to become a major player especially in the London to Asia market. On my last flight with them in 2005 I wasn’t particularly impressed with the offering with the exception of the AVOD system which is known as ICE.

Emirates and few other airlines have decided to fit 10 seats across in their 777’s compared to 9 in other airlines such as Singapore. The main effect of this is that the seats and narrower and although the actual space between the arm rests was ok I felt much closer to the person adjacent to me which wasn’t so pleasant.

Another effect this high density layout has is to make the aisles extremely narrow which results in everybody knocking you and the clumsy cabin crew knocking you with their trolley on a regular basis. On the outward sectors I sat firstly on the flight side then after Dubai on the left side and encountered full on strikes to my kneecap which caused me to eventually scold the crew!

I found most of crew generally rather clumsy and ungracious compared to the Singapore crew with frequent collisions between the trolley and aisle seat passengers as well as the crew also knocking into them seeming to be the norm and only cementing my opinion.

The Emirates A380 is a little more spacious than their 777’s with the economy class section being located on the entire lower deck.

An aspect of the crew which Emirates are proud of their diversity which has many as 8 or 9 different nationalities being present. Of the 4 sectors I travelled the crew varied from bad to ok. To elaborate a little more I found them rather inattentive, condescending and they didn’t seem to act as team when compared to other airlines.

On my first sector approximately 1 hour from touchdown we were told to put the seats upright, tables stowed and window shades opened. When I questioned the cabin crew why this was so I received a rather curt reply that its better for everybody if the cabin is secured early - right!!!

On most flights I’ve taken which are greater than 6 hours the cabin lights are usually dimmed after the meal to assist people trying to sleep. On the two sectors to London this didn’t happen and passengers were exposed to coloured lighting. The bright cabin also encouraged a lot of people to walk about which caused further disturbance for those trying to rest.

The food was average and the portions seemed a little small but no real complaints here. On the return Dubai - Singapore flight we were offered a chicken tikka wrap as a snack and when I asked for an apple as well I was told that I'm only allowed one item however if there were any spares then I'll get one.

The entertainment system was extremely good with a very comprehensive selection of music and films for viewing. One nice feature of the ICE system is the outside camera’s which allow you to watch the takeoff and landings from several locations.

Perhaps my issue is that having been a regular over the past 10 years with both Malaysia and Singapore Airlines bench mark has been set high and Emirates crew currently don’t come anywhere near it.

Singapore Airlines: 5/5
Emirates: 3.5/5

Other points to note
Most airlines don’t allow you to use your phone on board once the doors are closed. Emirates have a similar policy except upon landing as took as soon as you clear the runway an announcement is made that phones can now be used.

The luggage allowances are 20kg for SQ and 30kg for Emirates. Whilst you can usually go a little over there is no way that SQ will allow 30kg so kudos to Emirates for their generous allowance.

Only when you fly another airline do you sometimes appreciate how good Singapore Airlines are. If I have a choice and find a ticket for a reasonable price then I’ll fly SQ. Don’t get me wrong Emirates are not a bad airline however the points mentioned above and the fact that SQ has set the bar so high makes it difficult for others to match the product.

Singapore Airlines 5
Emirates 3.5

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