Long flights are great for epiphanies, as you have all the time and none of the quotidian distractions. Recently, on my trip to Melbourne, I had a good many hours aboard Singapore Airlines and, as I sprawled out in all that space, I couldn’t help but notice how the airline had gotten so much of it right. Considering that this trip was coming on the heels of a very hectic scramble all over south-east Asia and Europe involving many an airline, mine was not a momentary reaction to an especially well-chosen onboard champagne. It was based on a series of extensive comparisons, all done over minimum eight-hour-long hauls.
Singapore Airlines is definitely my favourite airline in the world and the reason it has made its mark with me is not by competing with the plethora of airline options out there. Instead, it has focused on understanding what makes luxury more tangible and, hence, perceivably accountable. They don’t have chairs that massage you—those ‘massages’ are mostly a noisy nuisance, an annoying tickle down the spine and no more—but they give you the largest, widest and flattest bed just like our railways. The screen isn’t touchscreen, but the small remote that works it is. It also doubles up as the perfect video game console—it has a tiny screen showing all the flight info you need as well.
The headphones are noise-cancelling like most airlines, but sit comfier than usual (only Lufthansa had it better with Bose). Then, the option to ‘Book a Cook’ (from their panel of culinary luminaries) when you check in online allows you to eat truly gourmet meals onboard (I had a 6oz Angus, as I headed back, as if in defiance to India’s beef with beef). The wines have been curated by a worthy panel and it shows when you are downing your third yummy glass. And then, instead of a branded amenity kit, they give you the most sensible thing that I’ve ever received on a plane: a pair of slippers to walk in to the bathroom. In fact, all their amenities—toothbrush, soap, cream—have been carefully appointed.
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Other airlines do try. The night suit on Jet is a nice touch—pity they never have my size. I’ve also enjoyed receiving the small house-shaped souvenirs they give away on KLM (or the chocolates on Swiss), but it’s not what makes my flight experience special. You see, by taking away the frills, yet retaining that which matters most, Singapore Airlines’ idea of luxury may seem austere, but it’s sensible. A lot of airlines get caught up trying to impress us with the flash, but at the end, what really matters is pure comfort, the only thing we truly crave for at 32,000 feet. The bed isn’t just claiming to be flat, it really is. The staff is courteous, yet never overwhelming.
So why am I nattering on about an airline? Because we, here on ground, can barely get it half right. Most of our F&B is plagued by a gross misunderstanding of what is luxury and what isn’t. The result is that we are given gold-plated cutlery that’s too heavy to eat in, plush sofas that sink and become the wrong height for the tables, starched serviettes rougher than sandpaper and drinks that sound bombastic, but taste nothing as spectacular.
So if you can, save up and take a trip with Singapore Airlines and learn. I only wish Singapore lay beyond the short five-hour-or-so flight because then it would have been easier to justify spending all that money on its business class (or drinking all that wine and not landing hungover). Maybe one will just have to fly to Australia more often.
The writer is a sommelier