Wow: Singapore Airlines’ A350-900ULRs Won’t Feature An Economy Cabin?

Up until 2013, Singapore Airlines flew nonstop from Singapore to both Los Angeles and Newark using their A340-500 aircraft. At the time these were the world’s two longest flights, and the planes were in a special all business class configuration, with just 100 seats. Unfortunately Singapore Airlines ended up discontinuing these routes, and they returned the planes to Airbus. A340-500s are gas guzzlers, so I can’t imagine how much money they were losing on those routes.

However, in 2015 Singapore Airlines announced their intentions to restart these routes in 2018, when they take delivery of their A350-900ULR aircraft. While Singapore Airlines already has some A350s in their fleet, they don’t yet have the special “ULR” (ultra long range) variety, which are needed to operate these routes. They’ll be the launch customer for that plane, and have seven of them on order.

This plane is much more fuel efficient than the A340-500, so Singapore has a better shot at making these flights sustainable.

Singapore-Airlines-A350
Singapore Airlines A350-900

I’m sure a lot of us have been wondering what the configuration will be like for Singapore’s few A350-900ULR aircraft, given the specific routes they’ll be operating. The economics of ultra longhaul flying are tough, so airlines need to be able to command a price premium to make these routes profitable.

Well, @A350_Production on Twitter (an unofficial but reliable source when it comes to the A350) suggests that Singapore’s A350-900ULR aircraft will feature just 162 seats, including 68 business class seats and 94 premium economy seats. So it sounds like Singapore’s A350-900ULR aircraft won’t feature an economy cabin.

As a point of comparison, Singapore’s standard A350-900 aircraft feature 253 seats, and even that’s a pretty sparse A350 configuration. Other airlines have closer to 300 seats on their A350s.

So Singapore’s A350-900ULR configuration will look very similar to the configuration they had for their A340-500s when they first started service. Initially they had both business class and premium economy, and eventually they cut premium economy and went for an all business class configuration.

Singapore is also rumored to be introducing a new business class product for the A350-900ULRs, so I’ll be curious to see what they come up with.

Singapore-777-Business-Class - 5
Singapore Airlines’ current business class product

Are you surprised to see Singapore Airlines go with such a sparse configuration on their ultra longhaul planes?

Comments

  1. Anyone have any pics of the old premium economy referred to above? Never seen or heard of it before..

  2. Such a shame they are not putting a first class cabin on the plane, its unlikely they will fill all 68 business seats so maybe 4 or even 8 first class seats may have been worth it. :/

  3. Not really surprised. The ULR J-class should be lighter to save fuel, and more work-oriented than even the latest version (whether or not we’ll see them install better footwell is in the future). I’m thinking maybe the Zodiac Fusio, or something to rival QR’s QSuites. Either way, it still won’t make up for the overcooked meals they seem to love serving their customers 🙂

  4. @lucky Can’t say I am surprised though I would ask, as someone who is not particularly knowledgable on this, what the level of demand is for non stop flights in a premium cabin between Newark and Singapore and whether passengers are originating/terminating in Singapore or just connecting. Seeing as this flight will probably be priced at a premium, if you’re going to be connecting somewhere anyways then passengers are likely to choose a cheaper option.

  5. First class seats would probably be too heavy and even those business class seats would be selling at a fare comparablr to one stop first class seat price i believe

  6. @San “Such a shame they are not putting a first class cabin on the plane”

    CX regularly sells F seats for $18k JFK-HKG so SQ should be able to sell SQ Suites on this plane for a whole load of cash often enough to make it worthwhile on such a super-premium route.

    That would be amazingly nice for the infinitely rich SIN-EWR commuters that do exist. Probably should include a helicopter shuttle as there’s nothing first class about going to EWR on land (and underground).

    I’m more of a W passenger myself, but I like knowing nice things exist.

  7. This is probably because if they had the extra weight of a full contingent of economy passengers, the aircraft wouldn’t be able to fly such a long route. This is the same tradeoff they faced when they introduced the A340-500 … it’s not necessarily because they think this will be the revenue-maximizing configuration for the aircraft.

    It might be somewhat more successful than it was then, though, since premium economy is a much more common concept and product these days than it was back then, so more customers might have a better understanding of why SQ will be (presumably) charging so much more than economy pricing on this route.

  8. AI “whether passengers are originating/terminating in Singapore or just connecting”

    If you’re connecting to anywhere else, you should switch planes at NRT or ICN. It’s extremely inefficient to fly such a long direct route no matter how light and efficient the plane; you should break up an air journey halfway if you can to save fuel.

    So this flight will be ideal for O&D pax only. NYC and Singapore have yuge international trade connections so it’s just barely possible to make it work for premium flyers.

    The reason why it’s so inefficient, potentially using double or more the fuel compared to switching, is the Rocketry Equation (q.v.). You not only have to carry pax, but also the fuel that you’ll need the whole way. The longer you go, the more fuel you need which makes the plane heavier which means you need more fuel per mile for the initial part of the journey which makes the plane heavier still which means more fuel in a vicious cycle. Longer flights can mean double or triple total fuel consumption for just a slightly longer journey.

  9. I like the idea of a premium heavy cabin, but won’t all those business and PE seats on the non stop undermine their sales and revenue on the SIN-FRA-NYC route? PE to NYC is already very expensive I’m not sure how much extra they can charge non stop.

  10. They were selling out probably 50% of their flights with the 100 seat J toward the end of their tenure. I believe 68 may be right for now as they re-build the market (many folks have migrated to CX vs taking the FRA flight). It would not surprise me if in a couple of years they pull the W seats and go back to an all J plane as the market demand moves back to the convenience of the non-stop over time on EWR-SIN.

  11. I find this extremely surprising. They obviously have some serious gamblers in the higher echelons of SQ’s management team.

  12. Not surprised at all. It’s been known that in order to meet the 19hr endurance required to reach NY, payload reductions in addition to max fuel capacity increases was necessary.

    Leeham has covered this in great detail: https://leehamnews.com/2015/10/13/airbus-a350-900ulr-enables-singapore-airlines-to-reopen-singapore-new-york/

    SQ is perfectly willing to cede low-yielding traffic to its one-stop competitors or its own HKG-SFO, ICN/NRT-LAX, FRA-JFK, and MAN-IAH flights. This config is surprisingly close to the original 345 64J/117 “Executive Economy” configuration before SQ refitted the entire fleet to 100J, which probably was a little too J-heavy (less so for EWR, as it was always higher yielding than LAX).

    The PY landscape has changed considerably since 2004 and SQ has without doubt become far more confident about a J/PY-only offering for the ULR.

    The current SFO non-stop looks like it will stay.

    I have little doubt that SQ will be able to fill the J cabin, especially on SIN-EWR. They’ve ceded an extraordinary amount of premium traffic in recent years to the likes of QR, EK, BR, CX, NH, etc.

  13. Smart move for Singapore Airlines. I am at a major investment bank (which has Morgan in its name) all my colleagues secretly agree Hong Kong has no future without support from China and Singapore will be new finnicial hub. Singapore is more inclusive than Hong Kong, especially if you are not white. (Indian could be senior executive in Singapore Government but not in HK government). Due to the inclusive environment, we moved lots of business to Singapore and there are lots of trips between Singapore and New York now. Company policies allow everyone fly in business class for such a long route so I see no reason that flight won’t be overbooked all time.

  14. I once flew EWR-SIN in premium economy back in the days, connecting to ICN. Yes, there would have been shorter alternatives, but I wanted to try the route – AND I was actually allowed to fly it with my economy ATW ticket 🙂 On my flight the premium economy section was almost empty, and the FAs had lots of time to talk with passengers etc.

  15. in 2005 or 6, when SQ started their A-340-500 nonstop to Newark & JFK, the cabin was also half biz and half premium economy in a 2-3-2 layout. Curious to see if SQ goes for the old 2-3-2 or 2-4-2 on their A-350’s. And will the nonstop flight now be into JFK or go back to EWR. What happens to JFK-FRA-SIN A-380 service ?

  16. Perhaps the premium economy section of rhe flight can do better now than a decade ago as more and more airlines are having such a product and apparently there are also more companies letting their employees travel in this class too.

  17. I’m extremely suprised there is no F cabin. I would assume there is enough demand for atleast one or two rows maybe in a 1-1-1 configuration even(not sure about width of fuselage on the a350 vs a380) as there are a lot of C-level execs entitled to F travel in both cities. Maybe they felt it would have to be priced to high due to the J fares already nessecary on this route being in the high thousands even in corporate contracts. Still I could see C-level execs expensing it with no problem especially with corporate discount then you also have the vast amounts of Uber rich who live in both cities can’t imagine weight of F seat being too significantly higher than a J seat. I would also be curious about crew rest on the EWR route will they have to have 3 sets of pilots or is two enough? Crew rest for cabin crew won’t be as bad due to premium configuration meaning less attendants.

  18. @Ben. Should be strong demand in the business class section. New York is the second biggest financial center in the world and singapore in number 4. So a lot of HNW travel.

  19. the demand needs to be in terms of monetary value for SIA and not be redemptions to keep the routes, if not it will be discontinue again pretty soon. im curious how much are the fares going to be. As I still have family in Singapore I would love to have these routes back and new configuration makes it even better as i prefer to have lesser people in the plane haha

  20. One man’s sparse is another’s heaven!

    I LOVE this. Let’s hope others follow suit.

  21. “A340-500s are gas guzzlers”

    The A340 dont use gas but jet fuel. Get your fact straight.

  22. Owen,

    Yeah, imagine flying F from Asia and then having to take a crappy bus into downtown Newark to connect to Penn Station.

    Quite a step down.

    Fine with no Economy seats those. If price is an issue then folks will be willing to accept a stop or change somewhere

  23. For an aviation “enthusiast” you use the abjectly incorrect term “gas-guzzlers” so frequently. Do you always have guzzling on the mind?

  24. Might be better for “the rest of us”. All the premium business traffic goes this flight. Leaves us more award space on the other SIN-US flights.

  25. SQ flights to LAX and New York were always Premium economy and business class (with no economy class) until they made it all business class .
    I flew these routes all the time (as I live in Singapore) they were full capacity when they had premium economy but when they changed to only business class they were always empty , it was not a good move on SQ part at all.
    Bringing back these non stop flights with premium economy and business class will be well received in Singapore as many people study in the west /east coast and many people in this region (Indonesia,Malaysia etc) have property there too.

  26. They’ll have no problem filling the Y+ seats as long as roundtrips are <$1600. SQ often sells Y+ roundtrips to SE Asia for $1200 (it's a steal!). SQ's old A340-500s had 100J seats. So they must feel pretty confident about filling 68J seats which compare almost exactly to their current A380s, which has 12F + 55J seats (67 premium seats).

  27. Not surprised at all. I believe that anyone travelling on the extreme ultra long haul flights will be interested in some sort of comfort. Travelling in coach / economy in anything more than 8+ hours, is really a pain in the arse.

  28. Come on, guys. Nobody who flies international first-class, at least not those on award redemptions, is taking a public bus into New York City. Singapore could fly into Greenwich and it wouldn’t matter. You’d have a fleet of Ubers or limos out front.

    I also second the comment about Singapore as opposed to Hong Kong. I do quarterly trips to Asia/Pacific. International financial services interests are very nervous about Hong Kong, especially with the one-country, two-system policy expiring in the not too distant future. Even the Financial Times’ correspondent in Hong Kong had a big essay — I think it was last week — about just how much Hong Kong has changed in recent years.

  29. FNT-DD, the problem is that the roads are often jammed, Transit is far quicker at peak times but it means sharing with the hoi polloi.

    I travel F a lot and I’m happy to take the bus or train at either end – it makes a nice change after a long rarefied flight and keeps me in touch with the real world.

    But some of my snobbier fellow F’ers would rather stew in traffic for 3 hours. So be it.

  30. @nathan
    Remember, before they went nonstop on SQ22 SIN EWR, there was SQ24 SIN AMS second daily to NY area. When they cut SQ22, SQ26 became A380 to compensate. May get downgauged to 77W like what happened to SQ12 when they added SQ8, but I think they might wait and see first how bookings are affected. I do think they ultimately will cut it, especially If EU laptop ban goes into effect. We might even see SQ26 rerouted to a via Asia service given laptop ban doesn’t exist from Asia yet.

  31. @FNT Delta Diamond If they flew into Greenwich, it would just be the wife picking them up in the Rover or maybe a Q7.

  32. Ben, as I have already said – please use apostrophes properly. It is not Singapore Airlines’, the company is a singular noun, it should always be Singapore Airlines’s. Otherwise, it would mean all the airlines of Singapore. The apostrophe goes after the S only if it is a plural. You don’t say Charles’, it’s Charles’s.

  33. This is awesome! I think this route would benefit by having an onboard bar.

    I remember when SQ stopped the nonstop service SIN-EWR it was a lot harder to find award availability on their JFK-FRA-SIN route… so hopefully with this flight back again there will be more availability on their A380 route between NYC and SIN.

  34. The assumption is being made that SQ will fly into EWR with the non-stop and not into JFK, presumably because that was the destination of the last non-stop to the New York area.

    It remains to be seen. They already have operations at JFK and it really wouldn’t make sense to split operations with EWR.

    @n: Both are technically correct, but the modern day usage greatly favors Singapores’ over Singapores’s.

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