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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

Executive travel: Singapore Airlines' Premium Economy a cut above

'Mid-range' class noticeably upgrades traditional economy seats in terms of dimensions and material

Singapore Airlines offers Premium Economy. Reuters
Singapore Airlines offers Premium Economy. Reuters

With pressure on companies to reign in costs - while still ensuring their executives arrive after a flight as fresh as possible – the Premium Economy ticket is proving increasingly attractive.

Singapore Airline’s offering in this bracket on the busy business route between the Far Eastern hub and Dubai is a prime example.

The option proved popular on our mid-afternoon flight from the city-state to DXB; filled by a mix of holiday travellers, home-bound expatriates and executives.

Set in a cabin section of our Boeing 777-300R between regular Economy and Business Class, Premium Economy is more an enhanced version of the former rather than devolved Business.

While the latter features flat-bed chairs, Premium Economy noticeably upgrades traditional seats in terms of dimensions and material.

Additional space comes by way of a configuration of eight seats across – four central and an aisle either side – compared to standard Economy at nine seats from window to window.

At 19.5 inches wide, with an eight-inch recline and pitch of 38 inches, all seats boast bonus legroom. A seat in the front row gave us the most space with the TV monitor placed a comfortable position on the wall in front rather than as part of the seat set-up.

Said 13.3 inch HD screen contains one of two USB points for charging devices and is the gateway to a healthy entertainment selection, mixing varied music choices, classic and new popular TV series as well as Hollywood and regional and international movies.

For nighttime flyers looking to sleep, Premium also upgrades the headphones to full-ear, noise-cancelling ones that bar most cabin noise.

Entertainment is navigated by a hand-held, touch sensitive (at times over sensitive) paddle that packs into a side panel and doubles as your gaming control.

The welcome aboard includes hot towels, and later in your journey, as well as liquid refreshments once airborne and with dinner.

Another extra Singapore Airlines’ Premium Economy brings is access to its Book the Chef dining menus, offering a wider variety of main meals inspired by the brand’s "international culinary panel". You must, however, remember to utilise this online service at least 24 hours before takeoff, as we discovered while trying to select as we checked in online the morning of our flight.

That said, both regular menu dishes were available in-flight and the chosen fish fillet was tasty and all the more enjoyable for good cutlery.

Access to Singapore’s expansive and - in the case of largely domestic Terminal 4 - cutting-edge Changi International Airport is simple.

Passengers scan their passports at automated immigration gates at Changi International Airport's Terminal 4 in Singapore. AFP
Passengers scan their passports at automated immigration gates at Changi International Airport's Terminal 4 in Singapore. AFP

Located on the eastern, coastal side of the city, it is close to the exhibitions and conventions district and 20 to 45 minutes on the metro, depending on hotel - in our case the new business-friendly Courtyard Marriott Singapore Novena - or meeting locations.

While cabs are costlier than in Dubai, but less so than in London, you’re at the mercy of the traffic, which didn’t appear too hostile even during rush hour in the bank tower-lined roads beside Singapore’s showpiece Marina Bay Sands district.

The air-conditioned metro cuts through possible tarmac turmoil, but involves at least one change to access the airport and conventions-dedicated spur.

Passage from check-in hall to departures is swift, with electronic passport scanning, followed by a human check.

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Self check-in, baggage tagging and drop off are possible, although curiously (in Terminal 3, on our journey) there was no security scan of hand baggage until the departure gate.

A small, automated train takes passengers to distant gates, as do moving walkways.

Ours was an easy walk and boarding was efficient, with Premium Economy passengers seated slightly ahead of regular Economy – also giving quicker deplaning and baggage reclaim once at DXB.

“Since introducing Premium Economy in Dubai in 2016 we’ve seen demand for travel in the [premium] cabin grow substantially,” says Christian Stenkewitz, general manager Arabian Gulf at Singapore Airlines.

“Premium Economy has proven especially popular to Australia and New Zealand, but also to destinations across North Asia including Hong Kong, Japan and Korea.

“Premium Economy is valued by both our corporate and premium leisure travellers and it is the ideal product for customers looking for a more exclusive and personalised travel experience, clubbed with additional comfort and perks. We are happy with our customers’ feedback and feel encouraged by the positive response our Premium Economy product has received.”

Having occupied a regular Economy seat on the journey out of Dubai, there’s certainly significant comfort bonuses to be had upgrading to Premium Economy.

While you cannot lie out flat, the additional space and softer seating promotes opportunity to sleep away the six hours-plus flight time, without the significant extra cost of Business and First.

And that makes good budgetary - and human comfort – sense on this popular Asian route.

The writer paid for his economy seats, but received an upgrade courtesy of the airline.