Singapore Creates Impossible Expectations

Filed Under: Singapore

A few weeks ago a hilarious image was circulating the web about the overall examination results for a kid at a primary school in Singapore. Via SGAG:


As you can see, he got straight “A”s, but under remarks it said “Must work harder for better results. There is still room for improvement.”

Hah! And that brings me to my flight last night from New York to Frankfurt in Singapore Suites Class — it was good, but by comparison it wasn’t good enough. And that’s Singapore’s fault. Because they’re so good. Let me explain.

Back in August I flew from Frankfurt to New York on Singapore Airlines in A380 business class. I was fully expecting to be disappointed, given that the business class cabin has 86 seats, and I had previously almost exclusively flown Singapore Airlines first class on longhaul flights.

But I was wrong. The service was amazing. I’m a tough critic and notice everything, but the service was flawless. There wasn’t a single aspect of the service I could critique. Not one. I felt like I was the only passenger, despite the fact that I was in a huge cabin. The crew was just that good.

So last night I flew Singapore Airlines Suites Class, and the service was… well, by any other airline’s standards very, very good. But by Singapore’s standards it was below average. And that’s simply a function of how high the average level of service on Singapore is. When almost all of your flights are flawless, a still excellent but not quite as exceptional flight is subpar, right?

Singapore Airlines A380 Suites Class

What wasn’t amazing about the service? Was I not addressed by name? Was I denied as much Krug as my heart desired? Was the crew not genuine-seeming? Nope, none of that.

The age old Singapore first class champagne question — Dom or Krug?

They just didn’t seem to listen as well or be as coordinated as other Singapore crews I’ve had. On at least a few occasions one crewmember asked me if another crewmember had already done something (“did my colleague already take your order?”).

That wasn’t a big deal.

The flight was 6hr40min, which doesn’t allow much time for sleep. The meal service was a bit on the slow side, and was done two hours after takeoff. Then again, realistically how much faster can you really serve a five course meal? So that was totally fine.

Singapore Airlines Suites Class caviar service

Here’s the one thing I’m slightly less forgiving of.

When my bed was made, the leading stewardess asked if I wanted to be woken for breakfast. Now let me start by saying that if I weren’t writing trip reports I would have slept through breakfast, because I sure as hell don’t want to eat three hours after having a five course meal. But I do perpetually feel the need to take one for the team… for you guys, of course. 😉

Crew: “Mr. Schlappig, would you care to be woken for breakfast?”
Me: “Hmmm, how long before landing will that be?”
Crew: “About 90 minutes before landing.”
Me: “Since it’s just a fruit plate could we do an hour before landing, and could I have a cappuccino when I wake up, please?”
Crew: “Sure, why not?”

After a sub-three hour nap I was awoken…. with 90 minutes to go to Frankfurt. Below is the airshow after I woke up, went to the restroom, changed out of my pajamas, my bed was turned back into a seat, etc.

Airshow between New York and Frankfurt

Whatever, not the end of the world. I figured I’d at least get a cappuccino out of it.

After sitting there for another 15 minutes I was finally given a fruit plate, juice, and water… and asked if I wanted some coffee or something else to drink.

Singapore Airlines Suites Class breakfast service

I ordered a cappuccino again, which was served 10 minutes after my fruit plate was.

Singapore Airlines Suites Class cappuccino

I know I’m being picky here, but am I off base?

It’s not that I expect perfection, but I’ve gotten so accustomed to it on Singapore… is that really my fault?

Oh well, it must suck to be as good as Singapore!

  1. OMG, you made it sound as if it was the end of the world, whereas they only “forgot” your cappuccino. At least they asked again. This is totally forgivable.

    Get your head out of the clouds Ben (pun intended) 😛

    Glad you are safe and enjoyed the flight though 🙂

  2. And this is why Singapore is not a very happy place, when travel bloggers place such unrealistic demands on cabin crew…

    Oh, think of the poor Singaporeans! 😛

  3. Well, having been bred under the Singaporean education system – if one wants to go to an elite secondary school at age 13, those grades will definitely not make the cut. It’s an ultra-competitive system in Singapore. Hmm, that was 1997 – the same year I had to take the PSLE (standardised examinations that all 12 year olds in Singapore must undergo). Scored 2 A*s and 2 As and felt it wasn’t my best effort either, so I would understand how this teacher feels… Wouldn’t be resting on my laurels unless I had the 4 A*s in the bag.

  4. To make your expectations higher, take United’s Global (Dentist Chair) First with rude flight attendants before you take Singapore and you would definitely be much more positive 😉

    I think Singapore spoiled you way too much 🙂

  5. Your expectations are certainly very *VERY* high, but when you consider the product you were flying on, hell, they should be. It’s no different then staying at Four Season vs a Marriott. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Marriott’s and the service is generally very good and the product very nice, but when you fork over for a premium product, like Four Seasons (or in this case Singapore Air Suites), then you expect to have things be flawless. Better or worse, this is the attention to detail that makes a premium brand premium to begin with.

  6. Off with their heads! This is Singapore the Facist Potemkin City-State after all. Woke up 30 minutes early + no cappuccino with the wake up? Or laugh it off. Whatever.

  7. If your standard is perfection, it is too high. And if you are saying SQ is responsible for that because they were perfect before, you are penalizing them for their occasional perfection.

  8. Has anyone else been getting these really annoying auto-play video ads on the BoardingArea blogs for the past few days? They’re terrrrrible.

  9. You should try flying DL or UA sometime. Then you would really have something to whine about. Slow meal service is endemic to most airlines, 2 hours compares favorably to LH which often takes 3 hours. Cappuccino – good luck finding that on United. And my last FA on Delta brought me a bottle of red wine after I requested white and insisted that was what I had been drinking!

    I would love to fly SQ but I can’t justify paying 100% higher airfare …. even if the service is better.

  10. doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. However, on such a short flight I’d skip breakfast to sleep more, and have it at the arrival’s lounge in Frankfurt (I assume you can use the LH first class arrivals lounge?) It’ll probably be better and fresher food as well.
    I hope I’ll get to experience the singapore suites someday.

  11. As I have come to expect, it seems most of the comments are either criticising the expectation of near-flawless service or making a comparison to UA or another airline.

    This is not UA/DL/AA first class – this is Singapore Suites class. The brand is built around the expectation that all aspects of service are a class above first, and this is coming from an airline that already has, by all standards, an excellent first class product. Singapore Airlines offers the suites product as unmatched luxury in the sky. I think Jason made a good comparison above when he related this to the difference in quality and service one would expect when staying at a Four Seasons vs a Marriott.

    When I am flying a product that claims to be best in the world, I would expect all aspects of that product to be best-in-class. If the flight attendant agreed to wake me up 60 minutes before landing and to have a cappuccino at the ready, you can damn well bet that’s what I’m going to expect.

  12. Thanks for the fun read and mini-flight report, Lucky.

    I hope one day to take one for the team and suffer through Singapore Suites Class also.

  13. I think you need to fly that long-haul coach flight in economy you were considering. But since you were in first, it’s more reasonable to have the expectations your requests will be met.

  14. You are not off base. These are expensive tickets – very expensive – either in points or cash, and these products are designed to attract a high-end customer. It’s all in the details. Sometimes it all clicks, sometimes it doesn’t.

    But when you’ve had it all click, multiple times, it’s very noticeable when little things don’t go right.

    I had a comically bad experience at the St. Regis in Singapore last year. And if I’m honest, the truth is if the sign out front had said Sheraton, it would have been fine. But at those prices, they owe me my money’s worth.

  15. @rh. It seemed near flawless to me. Other than the breakfast sevice issues, I didn’t hear anything I would call a flaw.

    If one person wants a quick meal service and another wants a less rushed service (I always prefer that), then neither way can be considered a flaw unless it was stated it would be one way and executed another.

  16. I tend to find this type of whinge very entertaining. Every time Ben posts something along the lines of this article, where he’s complaining about a minor aspect of top-tier service, the comments become a deluge of people claiming he’s ‘over-entitled’. The whole purpose of this blog is that he reviews first and business class travel. What is he meant to do, sit down to every flight with a sense of wide-eyed wonder that they gave him both soup AND salad?

    The claims of over-entitled are particularly off base, considering half of the posts on this blog are posts detailing which credit card and which deals the average person can take advantage of to get these tickets for cheap. I don’t think Ben moves any more money around than the average 40hr/wk worker.

    Just keep doing what you’re doing mate. And keep whinging about the little things because it’s funny. If I’m going to spend 140,000 miles on a plane ticket, I’ll be damned if they forget my cappuccino.

  17. You are totally in the right here. This is a premium product. You made a couple of simple requests and they dropped the ball.

  18. You are absolutely correct to find fault in what is offered as their premier service. However, breakfast has to be the lowest payback item on a longhaul flat-bed service. Even if they offered to flambe crepes suzette by my suite I would still be grabbing my quilt and eyeshade till they prepared the cabin for landing.

  19. i kinda don’t understand why breakfast in Suites has to be served 90 min before landing… 45 seems more like it.

    but i totally see where Ben is coming from… sometimes i feel like the flight attendants cater better to biz class passengers than to F travelers. the reason being is that people in biz are often rude and entitled… while travelers in F are usually nice and polite. so the FAs feel like they don’t have to try as hard.

  20. For the cost of the Suites, which are pitched to the very highest (or perhaps tallest) end of the market, I would think you should at the very least receive the same caliber of service you’re accustomed to receiving in the “cheap seats” of first class. It sounds like you had a crew that was disorganized and didn’t communicate well with one another, and that’s worth noting.

    If the tradeoff for having one’s own private roomette is that your needs may fall by the wayside because you’re out-of-sight, out-of-mind, the Suites have the potential to become just that: a tradeoff, versus a luxury that justifies the extra expense. I highly doubt that’s what Singapore intends, so I’m sure they’d be glad for the feedback from an experienced flyer.

  21. You’re in the right, and RH summed it up nicely referring to the strange comparisons to UA and other carriers. This wasn’t a comparison piece, this writeup was about a “super-premium” product where you received less than super-premium service. I would have noticed it, too.

    There aren’t a lot of individuals who fly in premium cabins with great regularity, so many people aren’t able to perceive the fact that nothing on your blog is about flying in the back of a Delta DC-9 and comparing that world hunger or some other inapt thing. You’re reporting on something completely different.

    I guess, put another way, some of the readers of your blog probably shouldn’t be readers of your blog if for no other reason that they’re sort of “basic” in terms of reading comprehension and understanding of purpose, though for your sake I’m glad that they’re here for the clicks you get, so yeah, every cloud/silver lining and all that.

  22. @ Kurt +1. Those ads are really, really annoying!!
    @ Lucky, Anything that can be done to get rid of those?

  23. Actually just flew 6 segments on SQ – SFO to BKK and back via Moscow ending up in Moscow. The service ranged from spot on to uncomfortably obsequious to robotic. The food was the highlight until we hit Moscow when it became so inedible that I literally started to chew my supposedly Asian mystery meat (do Asians cook with dill?) dish and spit it out. The guy one seat over from me sent his meal back, I wasn’t going to say anything but when the FA saw I hadn’t touched it she asked me why so I told her. She however didn’t offer me anything else. Like say one of the late night snack sandwiches…mostly though the thing that killed me was the arm cot cover in a thin piece of vinyl they call a bed. My body still aches from having spent 23 hours on it. I’m 6’1 and even though I had a bulkhead the entire time I found I still had to sleep on an angle with my head in that little cubby hole, with hard metal poles poking into me at every turn. And I had three different seats in the row just before First class on the 77W which seemed dirty and worn with a particularly cluttered galley toilet area where I always felt in the way and only one of the rest rooms was was big enough to change in the other were small coach toilets like you get on United. The most damning thing I can say about the seat, as lovely and wide as it is, is thatit’s hard and without the 2 pillows impossible to find a comfortable position to sit or rest in. The seat I had on AA or UA transcon had more padding and was way more comfortable to sit in and even to sleep in albeit more confining. At the end of the day SQ’s “space” is mostly an illusion, because you can use it, you’re still stuck on an angle with your feet crunched up, I’m 6’s and could not stretch my legs out in any position. It left me miffed as to why everyone seems to be so in love with SQ (Ben) but maybe it’s the difference between first and biz?

    Sorry I digress, I love your blog and I love that you can call shit even with an airline you have been crushing on for so long.

  24. I think it would be important to remember if this happens again. If you receive erratic service in Singapore Suites on your next flight, then this may be a trend. If not, then this is an outlier. But as you say, it may only be that one set of crew.

  25. Yes Ben, you’re spoiled. That’s why we read your blog. You are discriminating and take the trips we aspire to. Then you give us the ammo we need to replicate them. To wit, my wife and I are taking the Queen Mary 2 home from Europe next August and thanks to you, we were able to book Singapore Suites on the way over.

    If your post was simply about how bad they were, I would have an issue. It wasn’t. You were very upfront about the fact that you were spoiled and being picky. Sh!#. I’ve read posts about the surly staff on BA FC and was thrilled at how well we were treated last summer. You KNOW you’re being picky. If these small issues caused you not to enjoy your flight, well yes, you may need therapy! But if you were laying it out for us – and really, I just took it as how wonderful an airline it really is – well, no harm, no foul. Trust me, I’m not changing my plans. My ultimate destination on the way over is Edinburgh and the posts about the new AA flight from JFK to EDI made me thing about the non-stop for a second or so. But there’s no way I would pass up this one and only opportunity for Singapore Suites. Of course, I never told my wife that we could do a non-stop!!!

  26. Sounds like the service I just had on TG FRA-BKK.

    Didn’t realize you were in FRA. I spent some quality time in the Senator lounge. Would’ve said hello if I had seen you.

  27. If CX can fix me eggs to order literally 35 minutes out of LAX, SQ can let you sleep a little longer. Time is money and sleep is invaluable. I’d have been upset. The cappuccino was simply an additional issue.

  28. +1 Josh

    Gee, I sure hope they clean up this lousy service before my first ever Singapore suites flight in Sept. ; )
    Keep up the good work, Lucky.

  29. :DD you know what they say .. you have to have fly economy to appreciate first..In your case : you have to fly other first class to appreciate Singapore first 😀
    this post made my morning 😀 !

  30. Another ‘kudos’ to Josh for his comment. This blog is about premium travel. Lucky’s criticism was well-founded, especially since SQ markets its first/suites class as being truly exceptional.

    @Neil S. I will be taking my first trip to Singapore this February. I’ll be flying with my boss from Jeddah in Saudia’s perfectly putrid business class. Nine hours on a plane with no vodka! But at least I was looking forward to staying at the St. Regis, until I read your comment about your experience being “comically bad.”

  31. I have flown SQ First amongst others for the last 8 years. In all i would have done at least 40 Segments. In the last couple of years i have found most offerings in First way below standard especially the service and food. I now avoid flying them when ever i can. Recently on a flight from LHR-SIN marked the first occasion i had to complain about staff and food during a flight. And it does take quite a bit for me to complain.

  32. Having flown SQ suites and F a few times, I just find the service to robotic. I also find the food way below CX F or even EK. Good thing you were using points. Now they could wake you up 30 out and feed you. However it’s not the SQ way. Someone pointed out above CX can do it. I just flew Dallas Dubai on EK Suites they did it. Maybe you had an off crew.

  33. Well for Singapore, anything below 90 for tests is not good enough.
    I remember being upset getting a B for a test in Junior College ( High School equivalent ) when others were failing.
    How foolish I was then, thinking grades were everything!

    Education in Sg is extremely stressful and many students who went overseas do score very well.

  34. Are you even aware that above your so-called “straight As”, is the higher grade of A* (A star)?

    Having a result of A*AAA (2 languages + math + science) is the minimun needed to get into the top 10% of schools, and having something like A*A*A*A is needed to get into the top 3%.

    This is inherited from the British system where the national exam for high school students i.e. the Advanced Level (A-level) exam has an A* grade above the A grade.

    To get into Oxford University or Cambridge University, a result of A*AA, or A*A*A, or A*A*A* is needed, the last especially for overseas students.

    There is nothing hilarious about a good Singapore or UK teacher urging his/her student to work harder to achieve an A* over and above “straight As”.

    What is hilarious is an unconcerned parent (unlikely) or an ungrateful student (more likely) who does not appreciate the concern of his/her tough-love teacher. What is the poster of that “hilarious” image expecting? An American-style teacher who says: “good job” when nothing good has been achieved, “you are special (just like everyone else)”?

    The joke is on you, Ben.

    Yes, “straight As” are not good enough. MUST WORK HARDER FOR BETTER RESULTS (of A*A*A*A*). THERE IS STILL (lots and lots and lots and lots (i.e. 4 times)) ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT (if you want to go to oxford/cambridge university after British A-level, or top secondary school after Singapore’s primary school exam).

  35. On a (some-what) related note, upon your visit to the most touristy area of Dubai (or was it Abu Dhabi?), you concluded that the city is sterile, devoid of culture, blah blah blah whereupon dozens of your readers corrected you that you should visit parts of the city further away from the tourist area..

    Likewise, upon your visit to Singapore’s gambling den (aka Marina Bay Sand) and nearby areas, you somehow make the astonishing claim that Singapore (i.e. its government, which you obviously held in high regards in your supposedly non-political blog) has eliminated universal poverty, there are no beggars, the city is ultra-rich and successful, blah blah blah.

    Looks like you have not learn from your mistake: you gotta venture beyond the tourist area (e.g. by taking the subway to the last stop)

    Perhaps this video on Singapore will open your eyes?

  36. that’s hardly good service in Business, let alone First.. definitely clueless.. CX crew is more flexible and never forces a cookie cutter service on you..

  37. On a (some-what) related note, upon your visit to the most touristy area of Dubai (or was it Abu Dhabi?), you concluded that the city is sterile, devoid of culture, blah blah blah whereupon dozens of your readers corrected you that you should visit parts of the city further away from the tourist area..

    Likewise, upon your visit to Singapore’s gambling den (aka Marina Bay Sand) and nearby areas, you somehow make the astonishing claim that Singapore (i.e. its government, which you obviously held in high regards in your supposedly non-political blog) has eliminated universal poverty, there are no beggars, the city is ultra-rich and successful, blah blah blah.

    Looks like you have not learned your lesson: you gotta venture beyond the tourist area (e.g. by taking the subway to the last stop)!

    Perhaps the video above this will open your eyes?

  38. ROLF. Just yesterday I read Gary’s review of his long haul first class EZE-GRU on AA. How pathetic that was in comparison to the flawed service you got on Singapore Airlines!

  39. Not sure why anyone can think that a teacher was especially harsh given that we can see percentage scores. In an American system (assuming 4.0-base, no curves, no +/-, etc.), the top grade ‘A’ corresponds to 90% or more. That means the student had 4 B’s and 2 A’s which is good but not at all exceptional.

    P.S. I do agree with a general sentiment expressed here — paying more for a certain service/product usually leads to heightened expectations.

  40. I appreciate Ben’s ‘pickiness’. I fly intercontinental about twice a year. I’m not an Emirates regular who shuttles monthly in first on the company dime. The airline I fly has become for me as much as the destination. Flying CX or SQ or EK in first is as much a part of the adventure as where I land. So when I fly one of these premium airlines in first, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I want all the bells and whistles, and even tell the flight attendant when I board, “This is a once in a llifetime dream for me, so bring it on.” And they always do and I always have a great time.
    Sure, Ben’s standards are high. But that’s what makes his blog so worth visiting. One thing I love is that while he’s picky, he still can muster the wide eyed amazement of a child.
    SQ suites is an aspirational, super-premium product, and so should be flawless every time out of the gate. DL, UA and AA don’t aspire to compete in this Kentucky Derby of the Skies. But there’s an fascinating battle between the super-premiums that Ben is here to give some insight into who’s winning. I don’t have the time or money to fly all of them, but I’m glad Ben does!

  41. Although I love SQ service and product I do find that they are anal about preparing the cabin for landing. They usually have everything wrapped up, including earphones collected, sometimes before decent even starts. It can be annoying when watching a something on the tv and they cut it off leaving you with 30+ minutes to twiddle your thumbs.

    Anyhow some airlines are good at the last minute meal service before landing, some are not – SQ is not.

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