By now I am pretty sure that everybody on earth with a computer has read Derek Low’s well-done blog post detailing, in words and great pictures, his flying experience in Singapore Airlines’ over-the-top “Suites Class” ($23,000 one way) on the A380 whale plane from Singapore to New York. Okay, there are a lot of selfies, but you have to admit that Mr. Low did an outstanding job of describing the flight from the outrageously decadent “Private Room” lounge on the ground to the accoutrements of the luxury “Suites” toilet in the air. If you haven’t read about it, click here.
I’m not flying these days nearly as often as I used to, but I can relate to Mr. Low’s zest for trying the experience. When I was pulling down a tidy annual sum and my clients were springing for international business class for me to fly overseas, I’d often pay the difference out of my pocket to experience international first class, or use miles for the difference, or wangle the budgeted money for business into a first class fare class that was as cheap (like Around The World First Class deals). Several times I was able to fly around the world in First Class for $5024, including taxes. At one time I kept count of the number of times I’d circled the globe, but I used those ATW fare deals on so many airlines so many times that I lost count.
Someone asked me if I was jealous about his burning frequent flyer points on this trip, and I laughed. I’d have done the same thing exactly! My hat’s off to him for taking the plunge and to Singapore for creating a super first class experience. This is especially encouraging in an era when real First Class has mostly sunk out of sight in favor of Business Class.
Today’s international Business Class is not the same experience as international First Class used to be, at least not to me. Sure, the seats lie flat now, which they didn’t used to, and that’s a plus, but the service in general has declined. The luxe factor is gone, except on the few routes and airlines that Joe Brancatelli wrote about here back in July. Not so long ago, international First Class was famously dubbed “flying sharp end” by author Martin Amis in his book Money because First Class cabins were always up front (literally in the nose of 747s). There was a mystique and a glamour about flying First Class overseas that never translated to C Class (Business). So I really enjoyed reading about the SQ Suites Class because it made me recall memorable flights that offered true luxury like the Concorde.
I flew three segments on the BA Concorde, which technically trumps everything else, past or present. Seeing the curvature of the earth from 60,000 feet above sea level while scooting along at Mach 2+ (1350 MPH cruising speed) and sipping a glass of Krug Champagne or a fine vintage Bordeaux is hard to beat. The “mach meter” installed in each cabin was famous:
The Concorde Lounges at JFK and Heathrow were as sumptuous in their day as The Private Room, though they did not aim for the feel of a London Men’s Club. The Concorde Lounge atmosphere was designed to be a bit more convivial, though if privacy was what you wanted, Concorde passengers were discreet and polite. Nobody would bother you.
The interior of the Concorde was small because the airplane was designed to fly at twice the speed of sound. The plane held only 100 passengers in a 2-2 seat configuration, all first class, of course, in two cabins. My first impression of the classy gray leather seats was of a fancy DC-9 that had been outfitted with all First Class seats. The seat pitch, however, was more than adequate, and the seats were quite comfortable. Since the Concorde was all about speed (3.5 hours London to New York), seat comfort and lots of space were not as important as on relatively slow conventional aircraft like the A380. I never heard anyone complain of Concorde seats or space.
But those three and a half hours were unforgettable. After the thrilling acceleration and steep takeoff climb, drinks were refreshed and meal orders taken. Concorde service was impeccable, classy, refined, and delicious. From the Royal Doulton crystal designed solely for Concorde service to the endless supply of fine Champagnes and wines to fill them with and serving the freshest comestibles, Concorde was as special in fact as its hype.
Here are two of the Royal Doulton glasses the crew of my last BA Concorde gave me when I deplaned because I had admired them so much, along with some of the other memorabilia British Airways Concorde crews piled on me:
The sleek, futuristic Concorde design is timeless. It looked then and still looks now like something out of a science fiction movie. No commercial aircraft has ever been so beautiful to look at. Its nose even pivoted for landing:
The Concorde was the pinnacle of flying of its day (retired in 2003), just as Singapore’s Suites Class on its A380s is now. I’ve had friends express surprise, even resentment, that people would be so foolish as to fork over $23,000 for such an ephemeral experience. In today’s troubled and uncertain economic times, with the Middle Class (that’d be me) squeezed as never before, it does seem like an unnecessary extravagance. But sheepishly I admit, though I may not have the wherewithal any more to see what that’s like, I enjoyed sharing it vicariously with Mr. Low. Good on him for boldly doing it.