Why We Should Let Singapore Run the U.S. Airlines

I travel a lot. Over 1.3 million miles on United Airlines, almost as many on Delta, and more than I even know on other carriers ranging from South African Airways to FAT (Far Eastern Air Transport – and yes, that is truly their acronym). When you travel from continent to continent with regularity as I do, you cannot help but notice a tinge of dissimilarity between the carriers. That's putting it mildly. Perhaps "night compared to day" would be more descriptive, and accurate.

I recently flew from Tokyo to Kuala Lumpur, via Changi, on Singapore Airlines.

My journal entry that day became the title for this article. Flying Singapore Airlines reminded me how good the U.S. carriers never were.

Let's be honest. Singapore's business class isn't good. It's downright awesome. But what about those not rich enough, lucky enough, or corporate-expense-report-eligible enough to fly business class? Let's do a quick rundown on economy class, per my recent experience.

The Economy Experience

Expecting to have to queue at Tokyo Haneda, I was pleasantly surprised to step right up to the counter. After a cheerful welcome and efficient check in process I was given directions to the ANA Star Alliance Lounge. "Wow," I thought, "why did I deserve that?" It turns out that Star Alliance Platinum or Gold members are entitled to visit the lounge without fee, special membership, getting elected president of an OECD country, or being endowed with Don Corleone's selling skills. In America, our apologies, but you are scarcely ever getting into a United Airlines lounge (it used to be called "Red Carpet Club" but I now call it "You're Not Worthy"), with such anemic credentials as Star Alliance Platinum or Gold. No, you'll need to fork over $400 for an annual pass or buy a business class ticket for say $6,000, otherwise it's "no soup for you." I've yet to do the math but suspect it works out to about $10 per cup of coffee for using it.

The ANA lounge is serving a succulent breakfast replete with onigiri (Japanese rice balls),miso soup, Singapore street noodles, salad, yogurt, a selection of breads and pastries, and other treats. I board my flight with a full stomach and full satisfaction. Now let's move on to the good bits!

I spirit myself over to the gate and enjoy expeditious boarding. Taking my seat in row 36, aisle, I notice significant differences between Singapore Airlines and the typical U.S. carrier. There's a USB power port and inputs for your personal video device. The video screen is larger than an iPad and loaded with the latest movies and TV shows from around the world, all on demand. The astutely designed tray table folds in half and stows high, which provides me extra leg and, especially, knee room. I was very comfortable, and I'm close to 6 feet tall.

Designed into the seat back is a snappy little cup holder which, when deployed, provides access to a cleverly concealed spectacle compartment for the convenience of your upcoming nap. No more stashing my specs about in the seat pocket which, in the U.S. at least, should have "biohazard containment" stenciled across it. Or putting them next to me on the seat so I can find them flattened later, or find them never, later. Like the seven iPods I once used to own.

A feature that did not grab my attention until a few hours into my journey was a footrest. Yes, a footrest. In Economy! I fold it out, to discover not only is it well designed, having just the right width, curvature and tilt, but that it is also adorned with horizontal ridges devised to massage and impart a sort of acupressure foot reflexology to my road weary feet. Bonus!

If a U.S. carrier were to unearth such aninnovation (evidently they’ve never flown SQ) you can be sure they’d be issuing a press release, touting such opulent creature comforts as reason yet again to devalue your air miles while increasing ticket prices as they harvest the additional “value” being heaped upon their passengers out of the goodness of their hearts. Or they would just ask for your credit card and charge an "on board amenity fee." But I digress…

Just prior to takeoff a flight attendant hands me a menu. I was about to say, “Pardon me, but I think you've got this cabin mixed up with First Class!” That was until I read the words “Economy Class” on the elegantly composed cover. Indeed, the food was excellent, on par with fare that I have happily paid for at many a decent restaurant. I selected the Japanese cuisine, which featured a Japanese salad, sukiyaki beef over rice, somen noodles, and other delicacies.And then, to my delight, I find two items that I have never, ever, seen in the economy class cabin on a U.S. carrier, at least not in my lifetime: Silverware. Made of… stainless steel. In the shape of… silverware. And a Wine Glass. Made of… real glass. In the shape of, well, a glass but let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth.

What an honor, this economic luxury! Another glance at the menu reveals a selection of wines on board, both fine and complimentary. I choose at first the German Riesling which was excellent. Then, later, the Cabernet Syrah, which was equally delectable. Compare that to your typical, “Here’s our finest $2 a gallon ferment, served to you in a screw top plastic bottle you get to open yourself and keep if you want; oh, and here's a plastic cup at no extra charge – now hand over $8 or your wallet, whichever is greater” on your typical U.S. carrier over international waters. No comparison. We finished up with Häagen-Dazs ice cream for dessert.

The cabin darkens. I flip on the convenient reading light intelligently situated underneath the video screen as not to disturb my neighbors, and complete my entry paperwork. After taking in a couple episodes of Top Gear (the original Brit one of course) I settle into my seat for a pleasant journey to Singapore, secure in knowing I have a return flight to look forward to in SQ economy class. With treatment this good, do I really need business class?

Singapore airlines Economy Class will do the trick, any day of the week. Now if I could somehow convince them to take over the legacy carriers' routes in the U.S., the world I inhabit would be a much better place. CLE –> SFO on SQ? I'm on it like a car bonnet!

Executive Summary: Why We Should Let Singapore Run the U.S. Airlines

  • Abundant and courteous counter staff, gate agents, and flight attendants
  • Lounge access for Star Alliance Gold and Platinum members
  • Excellent meals, which you order off a tastefully designed menu
  • Complimentary beer, wine and top-shelf spirits
  • Ergonomic, highly engineered seats with superb amenities
  • On time departure AND landing (yes both are important)
  • Incredible attention to detail
  • Putting the customer first!

Author's Note: I have no financial interest in Singapore Airlines and absolutely no affiliation apart from being a paying customer. While this article is unabashedly critical of the U.S. airline industry my ultimate aim is to demonstrate, by positive example, that an airline can satisfy its customers while earning a profit. Will the U.S. air carriers please rise to the occasion?

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James Domingo is an entrepreneur, consultant, public speaker, creative thinker, startup investor, and also president of The Domingo Group. He specializes in business development, corporate strategy, cross cultural leadership, and globalization.

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