My subpar flight on Singapore Airlines…

A couple of days ago I posted about the Singapore Airlines flight that left me disappointed. I flew New York to Frankfurt in first class with a friend, and we selected the two middle seats in first class so we’d be able to sit together. I’ve flown Singapore Airlines first class many times and have been blown away each time. As I’ve said a countless number of times, each Singapore Airlines flight is a performance by the crew. And despite my high expectations every time, they still manage to exceed my expectations.

My friend, on the other hand, had never flown Singapore Airlines, and I had been raving about it to him for days. So I’m guessing his expectations were even higher than mine had ever been, though I was certain he’d be equally impressed. Singapore just doesn’t disappoint. It’s part of their culture.

Anyway, on to the flight. The first class cabin had only two other passengers in it until a few minutes before departure, when the first lady of Zimbabwe and her entourage filled up half of the first class cabin. The gentleman seated across from me, a German Lufthansa HON member (their uber-top tier status) shook his head and commented to me “it’s nice to see she’s flying first class and eating caviar while half of her country is starving.” It has nothing to do with the problem I had, but just an interesting side note. It was also odd to have her bodyguard seated across from me in first class the whole flight without once reclining his seat.

The captain announced the flight time of 6hr40min, which, as usual, is painfully short for a redeye.

After takeoff my friend tried to recline his seat. While the footrest worked fine, the seat wouldn’t recline in the slightest. Instead there was just a constant thud noise as he pushed the recline button.

We brought this to the attention of the crew, and they had us stand there for about 10 minutes as they tried to fix it. Now, it’s worth noting all three first class flight attendants were trying to fix the seat, so it delayed the service in the rest of the cabin (which is a bit problematic on a short redeye for people looking to sleep).

After 10 minutes they decided there was no way to fix his seat. Fortunately the row of two seats behind us were the only two other seats available, so we were able to move to them. It’s closer to the galley meaning there’s more light, but that was perfectly fine given the situation.

My friend tried to recline his new seat again, and this time it worked. Then he tried to put the footrest up, only to find nothing happened. At this point the flight attendants once again have us stand up as they try to fix his seat, which lasts about 15 minutes. They decide they can’t fix that seat either.

So at this point we’re almost an hour into a 6hr40min redeye not having eaten at all with nothing more than the flight attendants shrugging their shoulders.

The flight attendants suggested we go back to our original seats for dinner (without my friend being able to recline), and then offer to try and manually recline the seat in the other row into bed mode.

Fine, mistakes happen. I think it’s totally unacceptable that two seats in a row are broken in first class, but I suppose it happens, and it’s certainly not the crew’s fault.

But that’s not even my main complaint. If you’ve flown a foreign carrier you’ve probably noticed the role of the “in-flight supervisor.” In the US you have pursers, though that title means nothing. Those are people that get paid an extra dollar an hour to do the paperwork. At international airlines, in-flight supervisors have a totally different role — they’re actually supervisors, and supposed to personally welcome aboard each first class passenger, deal with any issues, and make sure all the other flight attendants are doing their job. As a matter of fact I’ve found the in-flight supervisors at Singapore Airlines to be among the most engaging, and without exception have had them stop by my seat for a few minutes to talk just after takeoff and just before landing when seated in first class.

But this in-flight supervisor was so indifferent that I was floored. He never greeted a single first class passenger, and while he provided service, he didn’t say a single word to either of us. Not once. He would plop down drinks, and whenever I said “thank you” he would just look at me.

The other flight attendants were fine (they were the leading steward and leading stewardess — yes, the three highest “ranking” cabin crew were working first class), though this in-flight supervisor couldn’t have come across as more indifferent. Having a first class passenger with a broken seat twice is a huge service failure. My friend wasn’t looking for any sort of compensation, but you’d think an in-flight supervisor would at least apologize profusely for such a situation. As a matter of fact, none of the flight attendants made any effort to apologize. They shrugged their shoulders and tried to find solutions, but that’s it.

So my friend got off his first Singapore flight rather disappointed and tired (thanks to the short flight time and hour wasted right after takeoff due to them trying to fix his seat and not serve dinner).

So no, even Singapore isn’t perfect… I’m guessing that means the end of the world is near. šŸ˜‰

Filed Under: Singapore, Travel
  1. So how would you suggest seeking compensation in this situation? Even if you were flying on miles, this seems like a pretty significant service failure.

  2. Did they manage to get the seat in the row behind to go flat manually into bed mode?

    Those 747 first class seats are TIRED. The cabin itself is kept pretty darned clean, to be sure, but a lot of the seats are just past the end of their useful life. And while service is normally excellent and engaging, I’ve not found SQ especially good at handling situations that don’t go as expected (which is rare).

    Add in reports of JFK-FRA frequently existing outside the normal range of SQ service…

    Sorry you had a bad experience!

  3. SQ is my primary carrier & what I have noticed is that the SQ flight crews that are not in SIN on a regular basis have adopted some “western attitudes”. (The LAX to NRT, prior to A380, crew was less than stellar) I’m sure the guy was just having a bad day but maybe it’s time for some re-training.

  4. Not just related to SQ, but always check your seat on the ground!

    More often than I’d like I’ve seen full flights where a J (or sometimes f) seat doesn’t recline. One time, on the then-new DL BE seats in 1999, I flew to STR and the guy next to me had to sit upright the whole way over the Atlantic. Flight was completely full, so there were no alternate seats. The FA said to him that had he notified them at the gate, they would have delayed the flight to get it repaired. But, once they close the door, it would only be at the captain’s discretion to call for a repair. (We were in the air already, so for us, there was no option). While I’m sure he got some consolation miles, what he really wanted was to lay semi-flat and sleep.

    Some people look funny at a grown up “playing” with their seat on the ground. I’d rather get those looks than the look of “that poor guy” when my seat is stuck upright!

  5. Such a disappointment! This is one of those cases in which I being the marketing manager o the PR representative of SG, would send you a letter to apologize and would offer you (and your friend, of course) a free trip in first class to any destination of your choice.

    But most important, after having fixed the seats!

    PS How come the first lady of Zimbabwe has a U.S. visa? Unacceptable as well

  6. I’ve had a broken C seat on the 747 on a fully booked SQ flight. The crew tried to fix it but to no avail and the also just shrugged their shoulders.
    Subsequently I haven’t been on one of their long haul flights in years, as a written complaint didn’t even get a response.
    I voted with my wallet.

  7. I just flew on a LH A380 in First Class earlier in the week and was having seat problems as well. However, the German purser was outstanding and fixed it herself. By the way, the First Class terminal and the Porsche to the plane were awesome!

    But I commented to her that the problem with these fancy new seats is they have too many motors and electronics and are difficult to keep in good repair. She said it is a constant battle to keep the seats in working order.

  8. Since you didn’t mention that your original seat and your new seat had problems, why not just have your friend sit in the other functioning seat? Seems like a no brainer…

  9. @jorgeluis500, why wouldn’t someone from Zimbabwe have a US visa?

    Sucks that happened, especially when your friend had never flown them before, its always the wost when you talk up something and it disappoints!

  10. That sounds horrible, especially if the manager was treating the HON and first family well but giving you two the cold shoulder…

  11. You say that hard product failures are excusable, but I’m less forgiving in the premium cabins. When you travel in a seat that regularly sells for thousands of dollars, anything less than a satisfactory experience is unacceptable.

    SQ owes you tons of miles or another trip. One of the reasons people pay a lot of money is for service — and in this case, it’s for “this really, really, doesn’t measure up to our high SQ standards. We are embarrassed, as this is totally unacceptable.” After all, one does get what one pays for, does he not?

  12. I just googled her. First result: “First Lady Caught With Pants Down”.

    That didn’t happen on your flight I hope šŸ™‚

    I’m surprised she got a US visa too. I thought sanctions were still in place.

  13. I understand that your friend was able to use the seat in front of you (or behind you) depending which row you remained in.

    Even though it’s pretty bad that a couple of seats in F don’t function properly and they didn’t specifically apologize, most airlines wouldn’t really do much in terms of compensation if there is another seat the passenger can use. They would if there isn’t another seat to use.

    I assume you’d have told us if either of your seats didn’t work and your friend couldn’t use it. šŸ˜‰

  14. @ JetAway — I got the impression that they didn’t treat her very well either. After takeoff she put on an undershirt and basketball shorts, which was a bit surprising for a “first lady.”

    @ gba — You know, I’m really not sure. Frankly I think I’ll just let this one go and not have as much enthusiasm about SQ in the future. I’ve gone out of my way to fly with them, though obviously not for good reason. My next flight was on Lufthansa, which was *spectacular*.

  15. Mrs. Mugabe may have been visiting the UN as part of the Zimbabwe delegation, in which case sanctions wouldn’t apply.

  16. @ Gary — Yes, they did eventually, though only after wasting an hour after takeoff. And not being able to have a comfortably reclined seat sucked for my friend. He could only sit straight up or lay fully down.

    @ dmodemd — That sure is what it felt like!

    @ mark — Because we were traveling together and wanted to sit together. If we hadn’t wanted to sit together we would have selected the superior seats along the side of aircraft. It’s a function of managing expectations.

    @ Matthew — He was actually not especially nice to anyone.

  17. @ Dan — The worst part is that the plane sits at JFK for about 10 hours during the day, so they’d have plenty of time to fix any issues.

  18. No recline on a red eye in SQ F?

    I’d want half the miles back (for that segment), if not more.

  19. @Lucky: Well the fact that he didn’t single you out makes it a little better…

    But just a little.

  20. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to sit next to Robert Mugabe’s wife without giving her an earful.

  21. @Nate-And she would likely have responded with a barrage of helpful shopping tips as her many “diplomatic” trips to NYC involve checking out the best stores and boutiques.

  22. @jorgeluis500 – That’s the price we pay for hosting the UN. I’d personally like to see them relocate to Havana.

  23. I think the problem with SQ is that even they have such high expectations of themselves — that everything will be perfect all of the time — that they’re not really trained to handle problems well! I, too, had a hardware failure on a long-haul flight, and received no apologies or offers of compensation (not that I asked, but none was offered). They actually seemed lost as to what to do, rather than outright indifferent.

  24. Ouch. Of course, tuff happens, but… It sounds like your particlar leg was a dissaster waiating to happen. NYBanker has a good point! Check the operation of everything possible and well before pushback! I’m not at all sure that the line ‘owes’ your friend any compensation, but a comment or letter in apology would have been nice. Hmm… Let’s also remember that they know wo you are and how you and your friend are flying. No matter how you stretch it, you and your friend are NOT helping them make a profit. Maybe the cabin chief simply does not like bebefits flyers! (When flying on his own time, I’ll bet that he DEMANDS the best of everything!) Lastly, that German gentleman’s comment about the First Lady of Zimbabwe is appropriate. WSe don’t know why she was going/doing what she was, but it probably had **nothing** to do with improving the lot of *her* people. I wonder the cost of her party’s combined fares! Ouch again. – Craig

  25. How would you get a compensation if using UA/SU (or other *A) miles?
    THe only thing I see possible is a voucher of some sort from SQ. Anyone?

  26. I has an invol downgrade on SQ a few years back on a DL award ticket. I was obviously not pleased. Sq did upgrade me from j to f transpac coming home and refunded the DL miles in full for the downgraded portion.

    DL was not helpful (despite my pm status), but sq was.

    A well worded letter to sq will get the purser spoken to (which seems in order based on what you describe) and likely get you some points back.

  27. A number of years ago I flew in first class on one of the last Pan Am flights to Europe before they were consumed by Delta. While everyone slept, I chatted at length with an older, melancholy Purser who regaled me with stories from the old days at Pan Am. One of the many was of her proudest day . . . the day she become a Purser and was presented with her own silver carving knife set which was to become part of her flight kit henceforth. Yes, the days when being a Purser — which of course comes from cruise ship vernacular — on one of the flying boats meant something.

  28. Something which is not clear to me: “Were there any free seats available that did function?”. You mentioned that you wanted to sit together, however, if there were other seats I quite frankly cannot see why the fuss.

    One can have a bad flight, esp when flying a lot. The purser had a bad day, this can happen. The rest of the crew went out of their way trying to fix the problem (forgetting their normal duties, indeed they should have managed this part better but not the end of the world).

    Again, if you are upset that you could not sit next to your buddy (but there were other functioning seats) it is my opinion you are making too big of a deal out of this one…

  29. I have to agree with Ken here. If a functioning seat existed on an overnight flight where you were going to eat (upright) and sleep (seat back) then you should have eaten together and had your friend go sleep directly behind you in a comfortable relaxing seat. I’m not sure what the fuss is about here as well.

  30. Just an FYI, Singapore Airlines takes complaints and compliments of their crew very seriously… If you complain about the Service Manager, I am sure he will get scolded!

  31. Complains are passe. I suspect that this might just be a ploy to fish for freebies from the airline in question.

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