Review: Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX business class

Route

Singapore to Cairns

Aircraft Type

Boeing 737 MAX

Airline

Singapore Airlines

Flight

SQ203

Cabin Class

Business

Seat

11K

Notes

The Good
  • Seat becomes a fully lie-flat bed
  • ‘Throne’ seats for solo flyers
  • Book The Cook meals
The Bad
  • Somewhat limited WiFi options
X-Factor
  • It’s a Boeing 737 with a lie-flat bed!

Introduction

Singapore Airlines is steadily marching towards fully lie-flat business class beds on all flights, from the hulking Airbus A380 to the nimble Boeing 737.

Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX business class.

Its latest Boeing 737 MAX jets are now crowned with a new business class seat that delivers on the flat-bed promise.

Singapore Airlines' Boeing 737 MAX business class seat transforms into a lie-flat bed.

Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX business class seat transforms into a lie-flat bed.

Not that Singapore Airlines calls it the MAX: mindful of negative publicity associated with the MAX brand following two fatal crashes and a drawn-out worldwide grounding, and perhaps also seeking to allay potential passengers concerns, the airline refers to it as the Boeing 737-8 (derived from MAX 8 model number).

Speaking of which, let’s address the obvious elephant in the room: did I feel at all hesitant about flying on the Boeing 737 MAX? 

The Singapore Airlines Boeing 737-8, aka the 737 MAX 8.

The Singapore Airlines Boeing 737-8, aka the 737 MAX 8.

Not a jot. I had no qualms about setting foot on the MAX, and would do so again without hesitation.

The intensive scrutiny which the MAX underwent during its global grounding, and the  subsequent revisions made to the jet’s design and operations, have made it among the world’s safest aircraft.

So what’s it like to travel on Singapore Airlines’ latest Boeing 737 MAX business class? I took a flight from Singapore to Cains to find out.

Flight

Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 737s ply the Star Alliance member’s regional network, which previously came under the wing of its SilkAir subsidiary.

At just shy of seven hours Singapore-Cairns is the longest of these regional routes, making it well-suited to the upgraded business class of the 737 MAX compared to the conventional recliners of the 737-800.

The flight (badged as SQ203) departs Singapore’s Changi Airport at 8.45am, so there’s ample time for breakfast at the airline’s flagship SilverKris Business lounge – and you’ll certainly be well-fed (thanks to two meals) and well-rested (thanks to the lie-flat bed) by the time you reaches Cairns around 5.25pm.

This was the longest flight I’ve ever done on a Boeing 737 and it proves that with the right seats and attention to detail in the whole service proposition, a single-aisle jet can deliver a very comfortable experience on the sort of routes where many frequent flyers prefer to see a twin-aisle aircraft like the Boeing 787, Airbus A330 or A350.

Seat

Headlining Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX is of course that superb business class seat and its ability to convert into a fully lie-flat bed measuring 1.93m (76”).

Singapore Airlines chose Thompson Aero Seating’s Vantage model – which is ‘baby brother’ to the Vantage XL seen on airlines ranging from Qantas to Virgin Atlantic – with styling by London’s Factorydesign.

Singapore Airlines' elegant Boeing 737 MAX business class cabin.

Singapore Airlines’ elegant Boeing 737 MAX business class cabin.

The Singapore Airlines Boeing 737 MAX has ten business class seats spread across three rows.

The unique layout of Singapore Airlines' Boeing 737 MAX business class cabin.

The unique layout of Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX business class cabin.

Rows 11 and 14 have a pair of seats either side of the aisle, making them best for travelling with a partner…

Rows 11 and 14 (Singapore Airlines skips row 13) have two seats either side of the aisle.

Rows 11 and 14 (Singapore Airlines skips row 13) have two seats either side of the aisle.

… and while the extended centrepiece between each seats makes it difficult to really ‘share’ the experience, this provides ample privacy if your seat mate is a total stranger.

Rows 11 and 14 are best for travelling with a partner or friend.

Rows 11 and 14 are best for travelling with a partner or friend.

Row 12 is where you’ll find two ‘throne’ seats, which are highly prized by solo flyers.

The 'throne' seats in row 12 are highly-prized by solo travellers.

The ‘throne’ seats in row 12 are highly-prized by solo travellers.

Not only do you get the row all to yourself, but the extra shelf offers more room to spread out, with additional working and storage space into the bargain, plus niceties such as a mirror tucked away inside a small cabinet.

More privacy, more space to spread out... what's not to like?

More privacy, more space to spread out… what’s not to like?

I was seated in 11K, which being the very first row at the front of the cabin has the most legroom…

Want maximum space for your legs and feet? Row 11 is the place to be.

Want maximum space for your legs and feet? Row 11 is the place to be.

As the first row in the cabin, there's excellent legroom.

As the first row in the cabin, there’s excellent legroom.

 and also the most space for one’s feet.

Front row seats usually boast the most room for your feet when the seat becomes a bed.

Front row seats usually boast the most room for your feet when the seat becomes a bed.

That’s more generous (especially if you have plus-sized plods) than the tighter confines of seats in row 14 abd the row 12 ‘thrones’.

There's less room for your feet in the smaller cubby of rows 12 and 14.

There’s less room for your feet in the smaller cubby of rows 12 and 14.

In fact, the biggest downside to these otherwise-desirable solo berths is that while they’re wonderful for sitting (just as you’d expect a throne to be), you’ll probably feel very confined by those two high walls when the seat is reclined into bed mode.

When the solo seat becomes a lie-flat bed, the high walls on either side can become very confining.

When the solo seat becomes a lie-flat bed, the high walls on either side can become very confining.

If I was travelling again in business class on Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX, I’d only shoot for a solo throne seat in row 12 on relatively short flights of up to five hours where I’d not be expecting to sleep or even nap.

Another difference between each row is seat width:

  • row 11 seats are 19” wide
  • row 12 seats are 22” wide
  • row 14 seats are 20” wide

As you‘d expect from Singapore Airlines, its Boeing 737 MAX business class seats are thoughtfully designed and very well-appointed.

Singapore Airlines' Boeing 737 MAX business class seats subtly pick up the airline's colour palette.

Singapore Airlines’ Boeing 737 MAX business class seats subtly pick up the airline’s colour palette.

The recess next to each passenger is topped by a high-power USB port, so it’s the logical place to store and juice up your smartphone and tablet.

The USB power socket is exactly where you need it to be.

The USB power socket is exactly where you need it to be.

There’s a second USB outlet, along with a ‘universal’ AC socket (which works with the most popular international plug types), at the front of the console.

There's a second USB socket alongside the AC outlet.

There’s a second USB socket alongside the AC outlet.

Another pocket under the IFE screen is perfect for a tablet or magazine…

More stowage space under the video screen.

More stowage space under the video screen.

… while your shoes can be tucked away into this little nook at the footwell.

Slip off your shoes and get comfortable...

Slip off your shoes and get comfortable…

The study tray table is large enough to accommodate even the most hulking laptop – if like most travellers you have a 13” notebook, there’s still room next to that for a small snack and drink.

Fire up the WiFi – the first 100MB is free in business class.

Fire up the WiFi – the first 100MB is free in business class.

There’s a noticeable mid-way gap when the seat transforms into a bed, and while Singapore Airlines doesn’t provide a mattress pad or ‘topper’ when you need some shut-eye – just the obligatory blanket and pillow – I didn’t notice the gap when I reclined.

'Mind the gap'? It's not really noticeable.

‘Mind the gap’? It’s not really noticeable.

Meal

Served shortly after takeoff, the main meal could double as a hearty brunch or an early lunch.

And with the extensive variety of Singapore Airline’s Book The Cook service available on flights from Changi – over 20 tempting dishes – why would you settle for the standard on-board menu?

First up was the airline’s signature satay as a starter. Yes, satay is also a signature dish for Malaysia Airlines, but when is more satay a bad thing?

Who can resist a delicious starter of satay?

Who can resist a delicious starter of satay?

For mains, despite being sorely tempted by authentic Boon Tong Kee chicken rice I simply couldn’t go past the Lobster Thermidor, which Singapore Airlines has revised and modernised with an eye towards today’s healthier eating habits.

This healthier take on SQ's iconic lobster loses nothing in the modernisation.

This healthier take on SQ’s iconic lobster loses nothing in the modernisation.

“We stripped the recipe back and looked at the key components – it was quite heavy on cream and very heavy on cheese – so we removed a little bit of the cream and we reduced the cheese content,” explains Antony McNeil, the airline’s Global Food & Beverage Director.

The saffron rice was replaced with a fondant potato, “which is basically grilled or caramelised and slowly simmered in the lobster stock so it takes up that enriched lobster flavour”, while seasonal vegetables complete the plate.

I’ll be honest – despite breakfast at the Singapore Airlines lounge, I could have polished off two servings of satay and lobster.

As it was, those single serves mean there was room for dessert. I opted for a delightful caramel banana cake…

Because there are no calories in the sky...

Because there are no calories in the sky…

… with the cabin crew happy to set aside a spare fruit platter and cheese platter for later in the flight. Both of those were on the modest side, so they actually proved better suited to a light snack.

The fruit and cheese plates are more of a light snack than a dessert.

The fruit and cheese plates are more of a light snack than a dessert.

Given the flight’s duration and its late afternoon arrival into Cairns, I was pleased at the option of a second meal – a slightly spicy nasi lemak – rather than a less substantial snack.

The second meal service saw this slightly spicy nasi lemak served up in business class.

The second meal service saw this slightly spicy nasi lemak served up in business class.

Entertainment & Service

Each of the 10 business class seats is fronted by a 16-inch HD screen loaded with Singapore Airlines’ extensive KrisWorld library of movies, TV shows and music, along with four live TV channels: BBC World News, CNN, CNBC and Sport 24.

If you’re the type who likes to plan ahead, Singapore Airlines’ smartphone app lets you browse that content library ahead of your flight and add programs to a personalised playlist: once you’re on board, just connect your device to the KrisWorld library via the inflight WiFi network and your favourites are ready to roll. 

Singapore Airlines' KrisWorld packs plenty of entertainment plus live TYV channels.

Singapore Airlines’ KrisWorld packs plenty of entertainment plus live TYV channels.

I also appreciated the relatively fast WiFi – clocking a steady 5Mbps download speed – which gets you started with a free 100MB for business class passengers and a handy two hours of messaging chat (for apps such as iMessage, WhatsApp and WeChat) for all KrisFlyer members.

After that, you’re up for US$4 for two hours of chat; US$10 for an extra 100MB of data; US$16 for 200MB; or three hours online at US$16, which is probably the most popular for short flights around Asia.

Unlike many airlines, Singapore Airlines doesn’t offer a ‘flight pass’ which is valid for the entire length of your journey.

For a daytime flight, the two thrones seats can become your office above the clouds.

For a daytime flight, the two thrones seats can become your office above the clouds.

It’s also worth noting that the two-hour chat and three-hour data plans can’t be paused – the clock starts ticking as soon as you log on – while you can pause and restart the 100MB and 200MB packages, handy if you need to take a break for lunch or dinner.

Given this particular Singapore-Cairns flight lasts almost seven hours, the crew had plenty of time to attend to and chat with each passenger in the 10-seat business class cabin, offering a warmly personal touch which some feel is generally lacking with Asian airlines. 

Apart from speedy service around meal time, there wasn’t the sense of hustle-bustle typical on shorter regional flights – resulting in a relaxed, leisurely experience, all the better for enjoying one of the best Boeing 737 business class seats in the sky.

The author travelled as a guest of Singapore Airlines.