On October 30, Singapore Airlines launched new nonstop service from Houston (IAH) to Manchester England (MAN). Thanks to a great flight deal and my $300 Chase Sapphire Reserve travel credit, I was able to experience the inaugural for just $259 out of pocket.
From the announcement of Singapore Airlines’ new flight, I was excited to try out the “World’s Best Airline“. Using Google Flights’ saved flights option, I stalked the price of the inaugural flight IAH-MAN. When the price dropped to $559 round-trip, I knew I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.
I whipped out my brand new Chase Sapphire Reserve to make the purchase. As this was my first travel purchase with the new card, I received the entire $300 travel credit as an immediate offset to my purchase. I still earned 3x Ultimate Reward points on the entire purchase.
This flight booked into Singapore Airlines K booking class. Checking WhereToCredit, I found that I could get 100% mileage from Ethiopian Airlines or 10% from Singapore, SAS or Virgin Australia. Rather than earning orphaned miles with Ethiopian, I listed my Singapore KrisFlyer number as the frequent flyer program to credit.
I arrived at Houston Bush Intercontinental’s Terminal D a little more than three hours before the flight. At the Singapore Airlines check-in desk – which was located at the far end of the terminal – Singapore Airlines greeted passengers with a cute sign commemorating the inaugural flight.
Thanks to a well-staffed check-in desk and a very light load (95 passengers), there was no wait for a check-in agent. One peculiar thing to be wary of: the Singapore Airlines check-in agent weighed my carry-on to ensure that it was under seven kilograms (about 15 pounds). Once the weight was confirmed to be within the allowance, the agent tagged my bag with a “Cabin Baggage Security Tag”.
At Houston IAH Terminal D security, there’s a fast-track lane for premium customers, crew and passengers with disabilities. Unfortunately, TSA PreCheck isn’t available. There was a sizeable line when I went through security about three hours before departure. My wait time from entering the security area to clearing through took 27 minutes.
Inaugural Flight Celebration
When I arrived at the gate, the caterers had just finished setting out food for the celebration. Upon presenting my Singapore Airlines boarding pass, I was welcomed to have any of the food or drink available.
In an ode to our destination, there was “Sheppard’s Pie with Ground Beef”. The “Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce” was a nod at Singapore’s roots. I guess that leaves the egg salad as the American cuisine?
The real ceremony occurred at the other side of gate D1, where there was a stage with a podium and customized banner set up.
A few news outlets had personnel on hand for the ceremony, but otherwise the ceremony was sparsely attended.
The ceremony included a performance by a local lion troupe (yes, they insisting they were lions, not dragons). The two lions and drummer put on one heck of a show.
Then, there was a ribbon cutting ceremony – complete with oversized scissors – by representatives of England’s consulate, Singapore Airlines and Houston’s airports.
Then, it was finally time to board for the inaugural flight.
Boarding began with first class, business class, Singapore Airlines’ PPS Club members and Star Alliance elite members.
Economy was boarded in three groups from back to front: Group 4 consists of rows 51-56, Group 5 consists of rows 41-50 and the final Group 6 has the remaining economy passengers in rows 31-40.
Singapore Airlines is clearly excited about this new route, even having a cameraman on hand to film the boarding process.
Immediately after entering the boarding door, Singapore Airlines had a table of bags prepared to celebrate the flight and people to hand them out.
The bags included a certificate thanking the passenger for his/her support as well as a lanyard celebrating the inaugural flight.
With the industry trend has been to move toward 10 seats across in economy on the 777, Singapore Airlines certainly stands out by offering a 9-abreast economy cabin, arranged 3-3-3.
On this particular arrangement, the 3-3-3 seating is maintained all the way until the last row (56), which is arranged 2-3-2. While this might be tempting for couples, you should be wary that the 2-seat pairings have almost no recline.
At check-in, I had picked an empty three-seat group back in row 54, but switched to row 53 at check-in. As the 3-3-3 arrangement is maintained although the aircraft narrows, the seats starting around row 53 start to feel a bit smaller and cramped at the window.
My row itself (53) was rather unique on this aircraft. When Singapore Airlines crew installed seats, this row was installed with a disproportionate amount of angling, meaning the aisle seat had a solid 3 inches less legroom than the window seat. So, be wary of this when picking seats.
Each seat was stocked with a sizeable throw pillow and plastic-wrapped blanket.
Speaking of recline, these seats have the standard 4-5 inches of recline for economy. The seat actually slides forward when you recline, providing a feeling of more recline without taking up as much of the space for the passenger behind you.
However, the cabin did feel a bit dated. There were some obvious stains on seats and general wear to the equipment (such as the headphone jack issues mentioned below). The overhead compartment above my seat jarred open shortly after takeoff. It remained open as we climbed, but as soon as the seltbelt sign was turned off, a crew member rushed over to close it.
The well-stocked in-flight entertainment system is accomplished without an underseat entertainment box. Combined with slender seat supports and small life vest boxes, this leaves most of the underseat free for bag storage and/or extended legroom.
If you don’t want to stretch your legs out fully – or have short legs – each economy seat has a retractable and adjustable foot rest.
This aircraft isn’t equipped with individual air vents. During taxiing and the initial climb, it was warm enough in the cabin that I was slightly sweating – with no way to adjust the temperature.
Even in standard economy, Singapore Airlines’ passengers get an amenity kit. The kits were handed out shortly after take off and included a pair of disposable socks and a toothbrush/toothpaste kit.
While it seems petty to nitpick when you get any sort of amenity kit in economy nowadays, a small tube of chapstick would be an appreciated addition to the kit. I relied on the tube I brought quite a bit during the flight.
Food & Drink
Immediately after handing out the amenity kits, the cabin crew passed out menus to each passenger. These menus included a pleasant welcome, beverage choices, dinner and breakfast options for our IAH-MAN flight and food options for the continuing flight from MAN to Singapore (SIN).
Next, the cabin crew handed out peanuts and then passed through the cabin yet again with a selection of drinks on a tray. The drink choices were orange juice, beer or a white wine (2014 Moselland Reisling Qualitätswein). Just two minutes later the flight attendant passed through yet again to offer up the remainder of the drinks on the tray.
Less than an hour after takeoff – right at 9:00p Houston time – dinner service began. In the rear economy cabin, the cabin crew served dinner from back to front. Choices were between:
- Braised Fillet of Fish – with oriental black peppercorn sauce, vegetables and fried rice
- Roasted Smoked Pork Shoulder in Chipotle Sauce – with sauteed vegetables and buttered rice
I chose the fish as my meal. I found the fish perfectly cooked; it was moist with just enough spice to keep it from being bland – but it shouldn’t be too much spice to bother sensitive palates. I was also pleased to find the fish contained no bones (which I’ve actually experienced on a flight).
The fish was served with fried rice, which – although a bit crunchy – was better. The mustard-based potato salad was an interesting complement to the “Norwegian shrimp”. The roll was served cold and hard. I tried about half, but regretted eating any of it.
Once all meals had been served, the flight attendants didn’t mind giving me one of the leftover pork dishes for me to sample. I found the pork to be a bit fatty and tough for my taste. But, the spicy tomato sauce topping definitely made the dish flavorful. Sticky jasmine rice was a filling staple. The meat and rice was complemented by cooked yet crisp vegetables.
The Western breakfast consisted of an omelet and breakfast potatoes. Every breakfast potato that I’ve had on a flight has been disappointing – either tasting grossly reheated or disconcertingly hard. Singapore’s potatoes were the first I’ve actually enjoyed. The cheese omelet was tasty, but the turkey sausage was somewhat bland. The Asian option, on the other hand, consisted of slightly greasy noodles with dark pieces of chicken.
Both meals were accompanied by a fresh fruit plate and a disappointingly cold and hard roll. The fruit plane consisted of sizable chunks of pleasantly fresh fruit – cantaloupe, pineapple and melon.
Each economy seat has a ~11 inch in-flight entertainment screen. However, the screen is not a touchscreen, so passengers have to rely on using the provided remote.
The screen is set-up so that you can see your own screen, but your neighbors’ screens appear quite dim. In the photo below, all three screens in this row are on and playing the same intro video. As you can see, only the one directly ahead of you is clearly visible.
The disappointing part of the IFE system is the sound quality. Two-prong headphones were handed out prior to pushback, but I found them to be of surprisingly-poor quality. When I tried to plug my one-prong earbuds into the IFE system, I got much better quality sound – but only one ear of sound.
Using my two-to-one prong converter, I was able to get good stereo sound – at least at some seats. However, at my seat – and a few others I tried – both the provided earbuds and my earbuds+converter still only got only ear of sound.
Thanks to a decent amount of pitch and a universal power plug, this aircraft is especially well-suited for working on laptops. However, don’t expect to get any work done on-line.
The Wi-Fi options were quite costly. But, shortly after we reached cruising altitude, I connected my laptop and purchased the Basic plan to test the Wi-Fi.
The first sign of a bad connection was the multiple times that the payment page loaded as a blank page.
Once connected, I opened speedtest.net and tried to test the speeds. After the website failed to load multiple times, the Wi-Fi dashboard page refreshed to let me know that I had just 5 MB left. Finally, the speed test page loaded and produced abysmal results.
I closed the test to open Gmail, but my data plan ran out before the page could fully load. The whole process from connecting to Wi-Fi to running out of data took 37 minutes and resulted in just a handful of pages loading after purchase. In summary: the on-board Wi-Fi is a waste of time and money.
We all know how Singapore Airlines has outstanding service in business and first class, but I was interested to see if this was also the case in economy. In short, yes. Of the 33 airlines that I have flown on, Singapore Airlines’ economy soft product is easy in the top 4, along with the excellent service I’ve received on Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines and Etihad.
Although, for some the service might come across as a bit intense. After boarding was complete, the flight attendants passed through the cabin repeatedly to directly ensure seltbelts were fastened, footrests were stored and phones were turned off. The crew also passed through to hand out and collect warm towels and earbuds.
To explain away my excited photo-taking, I mentioned during the boarding process that this was my first time on Singapore Airlines. The crew remembered this fact and – as we were descending into Manchester – gave me a goody bag of Singapore Airlines swag to acknowledge my first flight with Singapore.
Other passengers experienced the crew going even further above and beyond. Shortly after dinner, I noticed the crew gathering around a woman about 10 rows up. Curious about what happened, I mentioned this to the crew in the galley. They happily noted that it was the passenger’s birthday and that I should go get some cake.
Awkwardly, I approached the passenger to wish her a happy birthday, and she happily handed over a slice from a surprisingly large cake. From discussions with the passenger, she wasn’t surprised about this. It seems Singapore Airlines will help you celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and honeymoons. Her husband had called ahead to let Singapore Airlines know about her birthday and so they celebrated it with her onboard.
One disappointing aspect of the service wasn’t actually the fault of the flight attendants. The captain of the flight left the fasten seltbelt sign off even through a decent amount of turbulence. This led to meals and drinks being served even when there was quite a bit of sloshing around. During both dinner and breakfast, my tray ended up getting wet from spilled coffee.
The captain would only end up turning on the seatbelt at the point where I’d expect other airlines to instruct crew to take a seat. Once we reached that point, the cabin crew would then passed through the cabin to verbally remind passengers to fasten seatbelts, and then pass through again to check each belt. For the safety of the crew, I’d like to see Singapore Airlines be a bit more quick to turn on the seatbelt sign.
We arrived at the gate seven minutes after schedule. However, due to the light load, we were quickly unloaded and in immigration. I stayed behind to snap some photos, so I arrived at immigration last from the aircraft. When I did, there was absolutely no one in line and I was able to clear through right away.
However, our checked baggage didn’t clear as quickly as us passengers did. The checked bags didn’t start dropping out until 31 minutes after gate arrival.
For those continuing on to Singapore, note that you do have to deplane in Manchester and take all of your carry-ons with you. There was a sign set up at the entrance to the immigration line directing Singapore Airlines transit passengers to a special checkpoint to be cleared back into international departures.
This was a very enjoyable flight, made even more special by the inaugural flight celebrations and very-light load. Singapore Airlines certainly impressed throughout the trip. From a superior soft product to a competitive hard product, I would lean toward flying with Singapore Airlines again – maybe even paying a bit of a premium over other choices.