Sampling Singapore’s New Capital Express -from Canberra to the heart of Asia

CBR: Canberra, Australia to SIN, Singapore SQ292  Boeing 777-200
Scheduled Departure: 12:35  Arrival: 05:40 8 hour 5 min flight
Total distance: 6,205 km/ 3,856 miles /3,351 nautical miles

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Canberra, the capital of Australia must be one of the few national capitals in the world to not have an network of international routes connecting it to the outside world.  This means that every flight overseas from Canberra necessitates a change in Sydney (awful place to transit) or Melbourne (better)

Last September, Singapore airlines added service to Wellington and Singapore four times a week dubbing it the “Capital Express”. Qatar will start service to Doha in 2017/2018.

I was so excited to have Singapore offer direct connections from Canberra to the amazing Changi airport where transiting is a dream.  Wellingtonians now has a flight to Singapore which means they do not need to transit through Auckland saving time, money and hassle. Indeed most of the passengers on the plane the day I flew it were from Wellington with only 33 joining in Canberra.

Booking: 9/10

Singapore Airlines runs a few sales each year. I picked up a seat in one of those sales for an excellent price. Choosing “Flexible Travel Dates” in the first screen gives you full control over fare and date options. Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 4.26.27 pmWith fares ranging,  from $US636 to $US1124 roundtrip over the week I was flying, changing my travel dates by two days at each end of my trip reduced costs by a few hundred dollars.

Frequent flyer seats have not been so accessible on this route, I found.

Check in 7/10

When I tried to check in online, the Airline’s system informed me I did not have a valid ticket and to call their call centre. Not the sort of message you want to get 16 hours before take-off!

The gentleman at the Singapore Airlines Call Centre assured me I was indeed valid! He then made the irritating assumption that it was my fault that I was unable to check in. After I told him four times, I had tried multiple times and I did know what I was doing, I persuaded him to try and check in for me.

After he had tried three times and enlisted both a colleague and a supervisor to try as well, they concluded there was a “glitch in the system“. The same error message appeared for them saying I was not validly ticketed yet they confirmed the ticket was valid.

Go early to the airport and they will sort it out“, he said. So I spent the day with a lingering nagging concern that I may not be boarding that night!
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I was so early for the check-in that I got to have a 40-minute wait before it opened!  I had a nice chat with a woman who was off on a months adventure in India and Nepal. Because she was so excited, she had got sick of waiting at home and decided to wait at the airport!

In the middle of the wait, a cleaning crew arrived and began cleaning and replacing the overhead lights. They roped the check in areas off, trapping us inside and preventing others from arriving. The check in supervisor arriving to set up, had a discussion about the need to replace the lights versus allowing passengers to check in! Clearly, the airport had not planned this one well! She won!

I was the first to check in! My check in clerk had no issues checking me in. Ticket was valid. Now my Frequent flyer status wasn’t. My Virgin Australia Gold Status had vanished!  “You will be okay at the Virgin Lounge” I was told, “they have a separate system!”

We were handed departure cards for Aust and arrival cards for Singapore. That is a great bonus being able to do all the paperwork before departing!

The staff also weighed our carry on bags. Mine was 7.5 kilograms, just over the seven kilo limit. This was not an issue. The woman checking in next to me was having none of this! No way was she going to have her bag weighed! After five attempts which was starting to wear the agent’s patience, I pointed out to the passengre that everyone was doing it and I had happily complied. Suitably mollified, the passenger agreed to have her check in weighed -I got a grateful smile from the agent but I suspect that the passenger concerned, did not wish me well! I departed before her check in luggage weight was revealed!  At 30kg Singapore’s check in limit for economy is pretty generous.

From the check-in to security was a few steps and I was the only one in line at that time. I got a secondary security screening but was not too concerned as I had plenty of time.

Lounge: 8/10

Singapore Airlines are using the spacious Virgin Canberra Airport Domestic lounge which is located right next to the immigration hall. NB Only departing passengers can use the Virgin Lounge. Singapore Airlines passengers transiting through Canberra do not have access because of the way the international departures are set up.

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I was the first into the Lounge and warmly welcomed. The lounge staff did indeed accept my Gold Frequent Flyer status and confirmed I was eligible for access.  They could not provide me with any assistance for the return journey from  Singapore. (I do hope I can get Lounge access for my return flight!).

The lounge had a dinner buffet setup including soup, salad ingredients, some nuts, popcorn and other nibbles. Dessert consisted of cookies. There were no bread or crackers to go with the soup.  Filtered water, sodas, wine and champagne were freely available. When I finished my champagne one of the staff came across to top up my glass.

I took a shower before boarding. There are plenty of showers and the staff can provide towels, toothbrush and shaving kits.

Wifi was excellent but printing facilities are limited.

Boarding: 10/10

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At 10:35pm, the Lounge staff made an announcement “suggesting” we proceed to Immigration. I followed the suggestion at 10:45pm and was through the quiet immigration in minutes. We also passed through a secondary screening which included a scan of our hand luggage and a check of liquids. As is common at Australian airports, only 3oz/100 ml containers can be taken on board in a clear plastic bag.

We also passed through a secondary screening which included a scan of our hand luggage and a check of liquids. As is common at Australian airports, only 3oz/100 ml containers can be taken on board in a clear plastic bag.

The elderly couple ahead of me seemed very confused. A combination of age and a lack of English, seem to cause a lack of understanding about the screening process. They refused to take their liquids out. All very awkward for the security staff who tried to get them to cooperate in multiple languages! Eventually, the staff retrieved and checked the items with the passengers staring at them blankly. Some sort of escort/ wheel-chair service should have been organised for them. I saw them in Singapore where they did have a wheelchair and they looked haggard, confused and exhausted. My heart went out to them.

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Beyond the security area at Canberra airport, is a new international gate lounge. It offers a good selection of seating options with some workstations.  There is also a small cafe plus a teeny duty-free outlet with a small selection of products for those desperate for some retail shopping. I would wait for Singapore for better variety and pricing for duty-free.

Boarding was very straightforward. Families (of which there were a few) went first followed by Business and Gold passengers.

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We were warmly welcomed on board by a very bright, cheerful and fresh looking crew.

On Board  7.5/10

The Capital Express service is operated by a 266-seat “retrofitted” Boeing 777-200. This plane is able to take off and land on the short Wellington airport runway and have enough fuel to get to Canberra. The runway there is just 2,081-metre (6,827 ft) long.

Today’s aircraft 9V-SQM was almost 13 years old. Interior looked good, however. The plane was fitted with 38 Business Class seats and 228 Economy Class seats.

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The 38 Business Class seats are arranged 2/2/2 with a good pitch of 37 inches, seat width of 20″ and seat recline of eight degrees. Not lie flat!

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The Economy seating is nine abreast: 3/3/3.  No ten abreast possible on this plane because of the weight restrictions! Pitch is 32.0″ and width 18.0″. Every Economy seat got a blanket and pillow. Economy appeared to be 60% full on this flight.

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I was in 31C, the aisle seat of the front row of the Economy section of the plane so I had amazing leg room.IMG_7070

The cabin manager popped down to see me, just before take off to say she had reserved a row of three seats down the back of the plane. (See, Gold Status is useful!). They moved me there immediately after take off and I stretched out as much of my length into the 4.5 foot bed that resulted from having three seats together! I actually got a good sleep, as a result. Thanks team! I returned to my original seat just before descent.

There are three lavatories in the business cabin – 13 seats per lavatory. The six Economy lavatories are located in the middle of the cabin. There is one Economy lavatory for every 38 seats.

I like Singapore Airline’s ongoing provision of little extras in their lavatories which other airlines have got rid of such as Eau de Toilette and Mouthwash. It does mean that all the passengers seem to smell the same as we approached our destination!

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A hot towel was provided soon after take off. This was followed by Business Class and Economy Class amenity kits. Yes, Singapore still give Main Cabin passengers a small amenity kit!

Safety: 10/10

The safety video was played and cabin staff thoroughly checked the cabin for bags, obstructions and unseatbelted children (there were a few).

Take off

We departed six minutes early.  We were in the air less than two minutes after leaving the terminal. This is the advantage of both a small airport and being the only departing flight! Having flown into and out of Canberra primarily on small planes over the last year including ATRs, Boeing 717s and Q400s,  taking off in a decent size plane was a thrill! We zoomed along the runway at a very different speed compared to the small plane experiences. Rotation was smooth and the lights of Canberra Civic (downtown) and Parliament House soon swung into view. The plane headed north for eight minutes and then swung slightly NorthWest over Mulligans Flat Road (for the Canberrans!). We reached 38000 feet 13 minutes into the flight. The flightpath took us just west of Dubbo, then south of Alice Springs and south of Derby before leaving the Australian mainland.

We had a few bumps along the way until we reached the waters south of Bali, Indonesia. For just over an hour, it became the roughest flight I have had for years. We bounced and swayed and rocked for what felt eternity! The seatbelt sign was on continuously for the hour as we shook and battled the elements. The woman in front of me lost it and threw up in to her air sick bag as did some children a few seats in front of me.

Some brave (or stupid) passengers defied the captain’s order f0r all crew and passengers to remain seated.  One woman walked up the aisle with her baby. Heaven knows what would have happened if we had taken a massive drop! I switched between sleep and awake as the most severe jolts woke me a few times.

The cabin manager agreed with me that it was one of the worst experiences she had had with turbulence for a while.
Meals: 7/10

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I chose to sleep through the initial refreshments served soon after takeoff.

Breakfast was served two hours before landing.
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It consisted of a very small “Seasonal Fresh Fruit” serving, a standard yoghurt,IMG_7084 a very fresh bread roll, choice of apple orange,  tea and coffee.

An acceptable pork or frittata was available. Neither dish could be raved about which is disappointing for Singapore Airlines.

A hot towel was also given out before the second meal. A small gesture that I really appreciate.

 

 

Entertainment 7/10

This plane had an older version of the Krisworld entertainment unit. Compared to more modern services it was very clunky. I glanced at a couple of movies but stuck to my own book and laptop.

There was no power outlet in Economy. Business Class seats are equipped with 110V AC in-seat power. No wi-fi was available.

Landing

At the top of our descent, we experienced some chop but the remainder of the landing was nice and smooth. We ZigZagged across Bintan island and then flew across the top of Batam on the final approach.

Wheels down was an amazing 43 minutes early at 4:57am making this a 7 hours 27-minute flight.

I was the first Economy passenger off the plane (because of my seat location!). Warmly farewelled by the cabin crew.

Luggage took a surprisingly long time for Singapore and I was annoyed as my bag was the last. (Should have been tagged priority but it was not).

The Verdict

My Flight Rating:  83%  (4 out of 5).

About the Airline: Singapore Airlines began as part of Malayan Airlines in 1947. The airline became Malaysia-Singapore Airlines in 1964 before Malaysian and Singapore Airlines separated in 1972. The airline currently runs around  110 planes to 63 destinations. 

Skytrax: SQ has a 5 star rating from Skytrax. Skytrax customers rate them at 8/10.

My overall rating of  Singapore: 92% I rate them 7th out of the 95 airlines I have flown. This flight was a little below par compared to other Singapore flights.

Safety Rating: Airline ratings gives the carrier out of 7.

Frequent Flyer Program:  I earned Virgin Australia velocity points.

Positives:  The Lounge,  Warm Service, spacious cabin, early landing

Negatives: The so-so meal, check in glitches, and slow luggage

Would I fly them again? Yes.

 

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Comments

  1. You rate Thai over Singapore? I have flown both airlines over 20 times and never can I see I had a better flight on Thai than SQ. Ill even take SQ longhaul J over TG F.

  2. Thank you. Yes the countries did separate in 1965. The sentence is referring to the break up the airlines in 1972.

  3. Congrats on 20 flights. Frankly, overall, I rank them about the same. Yeah it surprises me too. I find Thai in flight service more personable than Singapore which can be very robotic.

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