Friday , 18 October 2019
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Singapore Airlines: a 5-star no more

As a regular flier around the world, I would always experience the mental shock of coming down the levels as I transited from my Singapore Airlines flight, on to a domestic US carrier. It did not matter whether it was American, Continental, Delta, United, or US Airways, it did not matter if the transition was from economy to economy, or from Business class to domestic First class, it was a always a jarring, thud of a drop. Never mind that I was probably the only person in the domestic First class who had actually paid a First class fare, compared to my upgraded cabin mates.

In my life, with over a million flown miles on Singapore Airlines, and the highest level of frequent flier (Solitaire PPS) achieved after 5 continuous years of loyalty, I have been upgraded only once.

I am not complaining. It was this fanatical devotion to non-dilution of their premium classes, and slavish offering of the best customer service, that put the premium classes of foreign airlines like Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Air, Virgin Atlantic, and others, way way above, their full service “cheap” US carriers, even on international routes.

The US “full service” carriers led the world in, to the glamorous world of air travel, and also in, to the decline of mediocrity, with their generally poor service, all the way from the reservation till baggage collection, or in many a case, attempted baggage collection. Distributing free class upgrades like candy, only lowered the quality of service in the premium classes, and with it, brand equity, even further.

Twice, I have faced drinking water rationing on an international flight, both with a US carrier, both in Business or First class. Once with United ex Heathrow to JFK, and once on Delta from LAX to Tokyo. 8 or 10 hours with one small bottle of water ?!?! Why ? The catering department forget to load enough water!!!! Compare this with Emirates which offers its First class passengers showers on-board its Airbus A380.

Global road warriors will agree that Emirates and Singapore Airlines are the two airlines which epitomise the highest levels of commercial aviation passenger comfort and customer focus, in all classes. If Emirates is the King of full service carriers, Singapore Airlines is surely the Queen.

Photo by : Lianhe Zaobao
I was shocked to read, the queen has decided to move its guests out from her full service 5 star palace. On November 4, Singapore Airlines announced it has decided to start charging passengers a US$50 surcharge for confirmed exit row seats in economy class. On the same date the same airline also announced it was lowering its fuel surcharges.

This follows most US airlines deciding to charge for “options” like check-in baggage, flight attendants are resisting US Airways’ moves to charge for soft drinks, US Airways even charges for pillows and blankets. What aspect of these airlines’ actions would even remotely, make us consider them “full service” ? “Full dis-service” may be.

Many of us have seen this spoof of an airline announcement by MAD TV. In 2007 we all laughed at the ludicrousness of this announcement. No more.

In India, in their quest to show low “airfares”, airlines have taken “componentisation” of the total fare to extremes. Basic airfare, fuel surcharge, congestion surcharge, transaction fee, and the list goes on. Gentlemen, we know our basic math, and can total up all the charges. Treat us as adults.

Coming back to Singapore Airlines. Previously, the economy class exit rows were normally occupied by the Krisflyer members. At a time when company budgets are shrinking and executives are required to fly economy, the additional legroom of an exit seat is one of the soft perks the loyal, but harried traveller, can look forward to.

With only 2 to 8 seats per flight, even Singapore Airlines’ spokesman Stephen Forshaw will agree, it is not a revenue raiser. My question to CEO Cheong Choong Kong, why risk the alienating your passengers by this move ?

There could be logic in this move, but customer perceptions do not follow logic. Either you are a “5 Star” airline or you are not.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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