‘Closest I’ve ever been to business class’: Singapore Airlines in premium economy on the A350-900ULR from Singapore to LAX
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“These seats are great — it’s the closest I’ve ever been to business class”, the passenger in 42C said to the passenger in 42H as he returned a borrowed charging cable at the end of the flight.
And I have to agree: The six solo seats at the back of Singapore Airlines’ A350-900ULR are pretty awesome, with their own storage bins between each seat and the window. Sure, they don’t provide the lie-flat seats and service you’d expect in a high-ranking business-class cabin, but on a premium economy product where often the primary complaint is storage space, you’ll likely be pleased with your flight in these seats, just like these passengers.
Singapore’s A350-900ULR is configured in a premium-heavy arrangement with only 161 seats — 67 business class seats and 94 premium economy seats.
Here’s what it was like to fly on Singapore’s A350-900ULR in premium economy from Singapore (SIN) to Los Angeles (LAX).
We booked a one-way premium economy cash fare for $844 (£654) from Da Nang, Vietnam (DAD), to LAX via SIN, although only the review leg from SIN to LAX was in premium economy. We were are able get a relatively reasonable cash fare for this one-way trip, and sales for Singapore premium economy from the U.S. aren’t uncommon. But you can also redeem Singapore KrisFlyer miles for premium economy.
I knew from my husband JT Genter’s review of Singapore’s premium-heavy A350-900ULR last year that the six solo seats at the back of the premium economy cabin are the best seats. I checked ExpertFlyer shortly after booking my flight and saw that only one of these six seats was occupied, although the other five were blocked.
As a Star Alliance Gold elite thanks to having Diamond status with Asiana, I called to see if I could be assigned one of these solo blocked seats. However, the phone agent repeatedly said all six seats were already occupied by other passengers. But I trusted ExpertFlyer over the phone agent, so I kept checking the seats as the flight approached. And exactly 48 hours before departure, the five solo seats that were blocked all become available. I quickly snagged Seat 41C, which was free of charge.
I was able to check in online 48 hours before my flight and completed my initial in-person check-in and bag drop in Da Nang, Vietnam, with SilkAir. None of the queues had any passengers, so I was quickly assisted. The entire check-in process in Da Nang, which included checking my bag, took about four minutes.
I cleared immigration and customs once I landed in Singapore and walked from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 via Jewel so I could experience the check-in process in Singapore.
Check-in for economy was in Aisle 4, but premium economy passengers and Star Alliance Gold and KrisFlyer Gold members were directed to Aisle 7.
In Aisle 7, there were two check-in kiosks and staffed check-in desks. I used the kiosk to print a boarding pass but then went to the check-in desk to reprint my boarding pass on card stock. There was no line for the kiosk or the desk.
The check-in agent wasn’t friendly when she noted that I should already have two boarding passes between checking in at DAD and using the kiosk in SIN. I claimed I misplaced the one from DAD and didn’t want the flimsy one from the kiosk, so she begrudgingly printed a new boarding pass.
Premium economy passengers don’t get any lounge access with their ticket, so I’m not including my lounge experience in my ground score for this review. But if one of your credit cards provides Priority Pass lounge access, you’ll have multiple lounges to choose from in each SIN terminal. Terminal 3 has three Priority Pass lounges in the departures area, but I chose to go to the SATS Premier Lounge in Terminal 3, since it won Priority Pass’ Highly Commended award for Asia Pacific in 2018.
I’d previously reviewed its sister lounge in Terminal 2. Based on my visits to both, I prefer the Terminal 2 location for its larger selection of food and quieter atmosphere. The Terminal 3 location offers more seating than the Terminal 2 location, though, as well as a larger variety of seating. And, almost every seat has a universal power plug and USB outlet next to it.
But the Terminal 3 location is open-air and has a food court below the lounge, so the lounge isn’t particularly quiet. There are windows next to the food court, but decorative metal blocks most of the sunlight (and also impede views of the aircraft at gates A2 and A3).
The Terminal 3 lounge offers the same make-your-own laksa area, a choice of five warm dishes, soup and a small selection of cold fruits, salads and desserts. There’s also a limited selection of self-serve sodas, Tiger beer, two red wines, two white wines, Gordon’s gin, Smirnoff vodka, Johnny Walker Black, hot water for tea and two coffee machines. There’s seating near the buffet, but on my visit, many guests simply ate at seats throughout the lounge. Used plates and glasses were cleared quickly.
The lounge Wi-Fi was unimpressive at 4.36 Mbps download and 4.19 Mbps upload. There were two unisex toilet rooms and two unisex shower rooms down a short hall at one end of the lounge. The rooms were cleaned and seemed to have an attendant keeping an eye on them, but there were no towels stocked in the shower rooms, so you needed to ask. There were also many magazines in the middle of the lounge.
I noticed while in the SATS Premier Lounge in Terminal 3 that a gate had been assigned for my flight, and that my flight would now be departing from Terminal 1. So I stopped by the Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 1 as well, using my Priority Pass membership. Although I found the lounge’s honeycomb cubicles comfortable for working, the lounge was very crowded, the Wi-Fi was relatively slow at 5.10 Mbps download and 1.12 Mbps upload, and the wait list for a shower room was very long.
Security checks were done at each gate in Singapore, and there was no notable seating at the gate before security. So passengers needed to find other places to sit until the gate opened for security checks at 7:45 p.m. for the 8:55 p.m. departure. Luckily, there were plenty of activities and places to relax throughout the airport. For example, there was a butterfly garden.
And there was even a free movie theater.
Security at the gate opened 70 minutes before the scheduled departure time, and a Singapore agent checked passports and scanned boarding passes shortly after security.
Then, passengers were left to wait until boarding started in an area with lots of lightly padded chairs. There were two charging stations, a water fountain, a water filling station and power outlets along the walls. But there were no restrooms or opportunities to purchase anything within the security-cleared sitting area.
My boarding pass noted that the boarding time was 7:55 p.m., but preboarding didn’t start until 8:23 p.m. There was no announcement for preboarding, though, so some able-bodied passengers attempted to board but were turned away. This would be the only time anyone would be turned away, though. Once business class was called at 8:25 p.m., anyone could board, as there were no further boarding pass checks.
I waited until Star Alliance Gold was called — which happened shortly after business class and PBS club — and was disappointed to see many passengers already seated in the premium economy cabin when I boarded.
Cabin and Seat
The premium economy cabin on Singapore’s A350-900ULR is mostly 2-4-2, although it becomes 1-4-1 for its last three rows.
The bulkhead seats provide ample leg room.
But, especially if you’re traveling alone, the single seats at the back are where you want to be — and where I was able to snag a seat on this flight.
I was in Seat 41C, in the middle of the three single seats on the lefthand side of the cabin.
One aspect that I absolutely loved about my seat on this flight was how comfortable it was in every position. There was lumbar support while I working upright, the table was a comfortable height, and the seat was comfortable for relaxing and sleeping when reclined. This was easily one of the most comfortable premium economy seats I’d experienced.
My seat was 19.25 inches wide, although I measured 42D as 19 inches. Each seat I measured had 38-inch pitch, which became 33 inches when the passenger ahead of you reclined. Although I wasn’t able to slide past my neighbor with this pitch, I had no issues working on my laptop even once the passenger ahead of me reclined fully.
Speaking of recline, there were two buttons near my thigh. The lower button deployed the calf rest, while the upper button reclined the seat. When you reclined, the shell of the seat reclined backward while the seat also slid forward. I didn’t have any issues with this, but taller passengers may find this uncomfortable.
There was also a footrest that could be manually lowered and set to different positions.
There was a headrest that adjusted smoothly up and down. The headrest had bendable wings that did an excellent job supporting my head when I slept. Next to the headrest was a light on a bendable arm that I found myself using multiple times during the flight.
On the console between each pair of seats was a remote near my thigh that could be removed from its cradle and extended. However, I never found a need to use the remote instead of the touchscreen for the inflight-entertainment system.
There were cup holders on the console between each pair of seats. But these weren’t usable once the tray table was deployed — although passengers without a neighbor or in a solo seat still had access to a cup holder, since the tray only blocked one.
JT noted when he flew Singapore’s A350 in October 2018 that the tray table was flimsy and awkwardly low. I didn’t have either of these problems, though, and actually found the tray table comfortable to work on.
I had no trouble with storage on this flight, due to the 22.5-inch-wide-by-11-inch-long-by-19-inch-deep storage box right next to my seat. I was easily able to keep my backpack, pillow and blanket in the compartment.
And the top of the storage bin served as a good secondary surface for objects during meal service or when I needed to get up from my seat.
If you aren’t able to snag one of the six single seats like I did, storage will likely be an issue. There was not much space under most seats.
And the seatback pocket didn’t have extra capacity, and the water bottle holder wasn’t useful for much besides a small bottle, camera or cellphone.
The only other storage area was a small nook right next to your thigh. But I can’t imagine storing anything here besides a phone or thin book.
There were three lavatories at the back of the premium economy cabin, including one immediately behind 42H. None were particularly large, but the wood panels made the lavatories feel slightly nicer than your average economy lavatory.
There was mouthwash, moisturizing lotion and dental kits with a toothbrush and toothpaste in each lavatory. And the flight attendants frequently freshened the lavatories, so they remained clean throughout the flight.
Amenities and IFE
The inflight-entertainment system was excellent. The seatback screen had a 13.25-inch diagonal, provided a crisp display, was responsive and only featured a short ad before shows and movies.
Although there weren’t any live cameras, there was a massive selection of movies, TV, music and games. And Singapore has seemingly fixed the lagging issues JT reported when he flew the A350-900ULR in October 2018, as I had no issues.
You could sign into the IFE system if you wanted. I didn’t have my KrisFlyer number easily available, and the system didn’t recognize my email, so I didn’t sign in for this flight.
But even without signing in, a nice feature was that the system would provide recommendations during the flight based on what you watched or listened to. For example, I listened to an entire Tiesto album early in the flight, so I was happy to see electronic dance music recommendations when I returned to the music section later in the flight.
Of course, you could watch a looping display of flight information and maps of your flight path.
Streaming TV from four stations was advertised when I connected to the Wi-Fi page. However, none of the four channels loaded during the three times I tried during different parts of the flight.
Robust-looking headphones were handed to premium economy passengers about 15 minutes after boarding began. These three-prong headphones were comfortable and provided rich sound that could compete with my Bose headphones. But the fit didn’t hug my head and ears well, seemingly because the headphones were too large for my head even on the smallest setting. The headphones provided decent noise-canceling, though, so I wasn’t tempted to use my own.
There was a universal power outlet for each seat in the console between pairs of seats. Unlike the cup holders, the solo seats at the back of the cabin only got one power outlet. This outlet was the type that you slightly twist to lock in the plug, and I found it made a satisfying click when it locked.
There was also a USB outlet and headphone jack on the side of the seat with the light. If you wanted to use your own headphones, you could plug your own one-prong headphones into the three-prong jack without any issues.
During boarding, there was a plush, soft pillow in a fabric pillowcase on my seat. This pillow was too large to comfortably use as a head pillow against the headrest, but it was excellent for hugging while sleeping. If you have a window seat it may be good for sleeping against the window. There was also a plastic-wrapped blanket on each seat at boarding. Although the blanket appeared worn and simple, it was larger than most blankets you receive and was surprisingly soft and warm.
I didn’t realize until shortly before the arrival meal that other passengers had received a menu. If I’d received a menu during boarding, I would have known that a simple amenity kit, eye shades, earplugs and a comb were all available if you asked a flight attendant.
I’d assumed for most of the flight that these amenities simply weren’t available in premium economy.
There was Panasonic Wi-Fi on board for purchase, though if you happened to be a PPS elite you got complimentary Wi-Fi access. You could attempt to use other data plans such as iPass or Boingo instead of purchasing a data package.
If you purchased a package, you could pause the connection on your device to conserve data, and you could disconnect one device and connect a different device.
I purchased a 200-megabyte package for $15.99. I attempted multiple speed tests from various providers before I was able to find one that provided a reading, so it’s difficult to say just how far 200 MB would get a normal user. In my limited usage of the internet, I found the Wi-Fi fast enough to use for emails, Slack and WordPress, and 200 megabytes was enough to get me through the flight.
Food and Beverage
Meals for Purchase
Up to 24 hours before departure you could select two meals — for an American, confusingly named dinner and supper — online. For each meal, you could choose from the inflight menu, Book the Cook and special meals. The inflight menu offered three options for each meal service, which you could preorder or select on board:
- Seared halibut fillet (supper, wellness selection by Canyon Ranch)
- Oriental chicken rice (supper)
- Tadka dal, aloo methi masala, jeera pulao (supper, vegetarian choice)
- Roasted chicken thigh with lemon pepper gravy (dinner)
- Wok fried pork with yellow bean sauce (dinner)
- Balti paneer mushroom, tadka dal, jeera pulao (dinner, vegetarian choice)
But, this wasn’t all. Nine Book the Cook options were also available and could be preordered for either (or both) meals:
- Coconut-milk chia pudding with strawberries (meatless)
- Herb-roasted chicken breast (wellness selection by Canyon Ranch)
- Nasi lemak with fried chicken
- Roasted cauliflower steak with tahini garlic sauce (meatless, wellness selection by Canyon Ranch)
- Roasted chicken rice
- Roasted chicken in garlic cream sauce
- Rosemary beef brisket
- Seafood pasta in creamed tomato basil sauce
- Spiced chicken nasi biryani
I made my selections just over 48 hours before departure, opting for roasted cauliflower steak for supper and coconut-milk chia pudding for dinner.
Hot towels were provided before takeoff, but there were no predeparture drinks. Drink service started at 28 minutes after takeoff and reached my row nine minutes later. Two bags of a cashew and almond mix were served with my choice of drink. Charles de Cazanova sparkling wine was available, as were a variety of other drinks including one red wine (Vina Borgia grenache) and one white wine (Frontera sauvignon blanc).
Book the Cook trays were delivered starting 44 minutes after takeoff, and I received my tray two minutes after the first tray was delivered.
My meal was a cross-section of cauliflower on a bed of grains. The dish didn’t have a lot of flavor besides the cheese on the cauliflower and the oil in the grains. My entree was served with a room-temperature roll, cheese and crackers and a cold chicken terrine vegetable salad — so if you’re vegetarian, be aware that ordering a vegetarian entree through Book the Cook doesn’t mean you’ll get a vegetarian appetizer.
Coffee and tea were offered to Book the Cook diners 12 minutes later.
I was surprised that only about 20% of the cabin had used the Book the Cook option, despite the option being complimentary. Departure meal service for passengers who didn’t opt to Book the Cook started an hour after departure and reached my seat 15 minutes later.
Ice cream was distributed to everyone 80 minutes after departure. Trays were collected from passengers periodically as they finished, so my tray only stayed on my tray table six minutes after I finished eating. The departure meal service ended 97 minutes after departure, with the cabin being darkened for the night.
The lights were turned on in the cabin two hours and 19 minutes before landing. Warm towels were distributed seven minutes later, and my Book the Cook meal was the first to be delivered five minutes after the towels. I’d ordered coconut-milk chia pudding, and it was a light, refreshing treat to end the flight. The only downside of the dish was that liquid from the strawberry topping leaked from the entree and made most of the tray including the linen napkin sticky. However, despite the stickiness of the dish, I’d certainly order it again.
I went to the galley in the middle of the flight and saw a tray of water and orange juice. As I was stretching near the galley, a flight attendant pulled out a basket of assorted chips, chocolate candy, a peas-and-crackers mix and muffins from a cart. As I finished a cup of water from the tray, the flight attendant offered a bottle of water to take back to my seat.
The basket of snacks remained in the galley until about four hours before landing. The menu listed three sandwich options (a warmed vegetarian snack, chicken tikka with cucumber raita wrap, and onion focaccia with turkey pastrami) as well as fresh fruit, but these items were only available upon request.
Service was adequate and noticeably more attentive than you'd get in economy on most long-haul international routes. But poor communication and a few awkward interactions prevented a higher score.
Service on this flight was mixed, with my general impression being that it was slightly better than it would be in economy on a high-quality airline.
My interactions with most of the flight attendants were professional and generally improved throughout the flight. I noticed flight attendants respond to nearby call buttons in less than 10 seconds on multiple occasions. And flight attendants walked through the cabin at least once an hour offering water and juice, as well as asking passengers who were awake whether they wanted a hot Milo drink later in the flight.
But there were definitely some aspects that caused service to lose points. I was never addressed by name, even as a Star Alliance Gold elite. I had to proactively ask for drink refills during meal service. And one flight attendant awkwardly and loudly greeted me by seat number to confirm my preordered meals before takeoff.
I enjoyed my flight and found the seat to be one of the most comfortable premium economy seats I’ve tried. The six solo seats at the back of the cabin — which become unblocked and open for selection by any passenger 48 hours before departure — provided ample room to spread out, as well as a personal storage bin. And being able to use the Book the Cook service as a premium economy passenger is a real treat. But some minor issues kept the flight from scoring perfectly.
Except where noted, all photos are by the author.
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