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My Long-Haul Experience With Singapore Airlines Vis-A-Vis Malaysia Airlines

Posted by on 26 June 2009

DH and I flew on Singapore Airlines (hereinafter referred to as ‘SQ’) for our recent trip to Amsterdam. That was my first ever long-haul flight with SQ and I was very, very pleased with the service. To sum it up: we were flying Economy Class but the service was First Class.

This is how the plane’s interior looks like:

aircraft cabin

View from the back:

aircraft cabin

This was my lunch for the Amsterdam-Singapore (AMS-SIN) flight:

inflight meal

That’s salmon salad you see on the top left, with a small bowl strawberries and melon balls beside it for dessert. The main dish was fish with steamed vegetables (it tasted better than how it looks). Then there’s the usual bun with soft margarine and with a Dutch touch — a small piece of Gouda cheese.

Sorry, I didn’t have the foresight to take a photo of the other in-flight meals that we had.

DH and I chose a special meal, hence we ended up with the fruits for dessert while everyone else had caramel. But guess what? Since the flight was not full, I asked one of the stewardesses half-jokingly to give us some of the caramel if there was any extra. And they gave us one each! The caramel was damn good, I tell you, topped with whipped cream and a small sliver of dark chocolate. It was so good I just dove into it, even though I longed so much to take a photo of it first. I just couldn’t wait to get my teeth into it!

Generally speaking, the food was okay although not quite up to par with that of Emirates Airlines (hereinafter referred to as ‘EK’). EK still tops my list when it comes to food. I mean, in-flight meals for Economy Class are not exactly gourmet fare. But for airline food, I think EK’s menu is one of the best.

toblerone But when it came to snacks, it was SQ’s time to shine. They served large green apples (for the health-conscious), cream cheese and lettuce sandwiches (for the hungry), and Lays potato chips and Toblerone bars (for the nibblers).

For what seemed like the entire duration of the flight, the flight attendants — mostly Indonesians and Malaysians — traipsed noiselessly up and down the darkened aisles, bearing trays laden with mineral water and fruit juices, discreetly taking away used cups, taking orders for other types of beverages.

And when I mentioned to the the head steward that I had troubles sleeping, he offered to bring me a steaming hot bowl of instant tom yam noodles.

instant noodles

Ahh! Talk about the ultimate comfort food at 35,000 feet! It was pure bliss to indulge myself with a bowl of hearty noodles drowning in red-hot spicy soup. For once, I didn’t care that I was gulping down massive doses of MSG. The taste reminded me so much of home. The heat brought such comfort to my stomach.

Sated, I happily sent back the empty bowl to the galley, so that I could personally thank the head steward (incidentally a Malaysian Chinese from Malacca!). What really caught me by surprise was his subsequent offer to make me a cup of chamomile tea with honey, to make sure I could get relaxed so that I could fall asleep! I declined politely, as the spicy noodle broth was more than enough to do the trick. But his offer was really totally unexpected because in all my years flying in Economy Class, this was the only time I ever got such an offer.

The only time I got ‘special treatment’ during a flight was when I was still a student, barely in my twenties, flying to Manila alone, after visiting my parents in KL. One Indian steward offered me a few skewers of satay which was probably meant from Business Class. As I nibbled on the offering, he suavely asked me to join him for dinner that night at Shangri-La, where he and the rest of the crew were staying. Ada udang di sebalik batu rupanya. (Literally: ‘There was a shrimp beneath the rock, apparently’ meaning: He had a hidden agenda!) Umm, no. I didn’t take him up on his offer.

Hence my wonder at SQ’s head stewart’s special offer, knowing (assuming?) that he had no such intentions because (1) he knew fully well I was travelling with DH and (2) he kept respectfully addressing me as ‘Puan‘ (Madame).

I promptly dozed off after my tomyam indulgence. By the time I woke up, everyone else in the plane were having their breakfast. The flight attendants must thought it best not to disturb my sleep, hence, they didn’t wake me up. They did, however, thoughtfully leave my breakfast on a tray beside me, as the adjacent seat was empty. Thus, I had ample chance to eat up before the plane started its descent towards Singapore’s Changi Airport.

I did wonder to myself if I was mistaken with my assessment of SQ. But two weeks later, I flew with MH to and from Capetown, thereby giving me a good opportunity to compare both airlines in terms of amenities and service.

The lowdown:

1. Food: MH’s hot meals were great (choice of beef steak or chicken with potatoes to Capetown, peri-peri chicken or beef lasagna to KL) but they had no snacks to offer other than Hwa Tai biscuits — the type of biscuits sold in tins, packed individually in transparent plastic packaging. Sedih betul (how sad indeed)!

Hwa Tai biscuits

Photo from

Even sadder was the quality of the juices that they served on the KUL-CPT flight — they tasted so bland, they must have been watered down. (A cost-cutting measure perhaps?) CPT-KUL on MH was slightly better — they served salted peanuts and the juices tasted much nicer.

In the past, Malaysia Airlines used to serve ice cream and instant noodles as midnight snacks in their long haul flights. At least they did the time I flew with them to Zurich in 1999.

2. Amenities: When SQ flight attendants handed out comfort kits, I was excited at the label (‘Givency for Singapore Airlines’) but felt dismayed at the contents — a pair of socks and a disposable toothbrush kit.  But when I flew with MH, they didn’t hand out anything. And that’s when I appreciated SQ’s comfort kit. MH did have a few toothbrush and shaving kits in the lavatories but they were in very limited quantities and I assume only frequent travellers could have probably known where to find them.

Givenchy comfort kit

MH’s edge over SQ? Feather pillows with smooth pillowcases. Smooth as in — it felt like satin cotton material. SQ didn’t make enough impression on me for me to even remember what it was like. And sorry, KLM, your nonwoven pillows and nonwoven pillowcases just don’t cut it. (I’m a fan of feather pillows, can you tell? And I’m fussy about sheets and pillow cases, so I can really tell the difference.)

3. Inflight Entertainment: It seems that individual movie screens and on-demand movies have become the industry standard lately, so this feature is nothing to shout about for both MH and SQ. Both airlines have quite an offering of new movies as well as some favourites, but I feel that KLM’s inflight movie selection is much more extensive. Both MH and SQ also have advertisements just before the movies, which I found quite annoying, unlike KLM which had nothing of the sort. But it was easily circumvented by pressing the ‘forward’ button.

Singapore Airlines inflight entertainment

4. Service: MH takes pride in being voted as “World’s Best Cabin Staff” for the 6th time this year. To be fair to MH, I wish to state for the record that I had no complaints with the service. However, I found SQ’s staff to be friendlier, their smiles to warmer. MH’s staff’s smiles looked forced, verging on bored.

Maybe I’m just too persnickety than most people because when I asked DH about his opinion on SQ’s service vs MH’s service, it was just the same to him. Perhaps the crew on the MH flight that day were tired or having a bad day. But, you see, this is exactly the problem with  first impressions — you only get one chance to get it right. And the first impression I got with SQ was absolutely positive, whereas MH was just on the ‘okay’ side.

Will I fly MH again? Definitely, mainly because they fly direct to many destinations that I frequently go to. But if SQ’s fare is considerably cheaper than MH, I’d definitely go for SQ next time, even if it means a short stopover in Changi Airport. Unless MH shapes up and does something about its menu and service, I wouldn’t be surprised if their revenues continue to take a tumble.


UPDATE (15-Oct-2010):

Malaysia Airlines redeems itself! No more Hwa Tai biscuits for snacks. Read all about it here.

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