A stellar and special product for an intra-Europe shorthaul, showing promising signs of a strong longhaul product, though I'd be likely to grade the product more harshly on a longhaul flight
A fifth-freedom flight is a purchasable flight between two countries, neither of which are the airline’s home base. The flight continues on from one of these cities to the airline’s home base. This can be a fun way to sample a new airline without flying to its home base, especially when an airline adds a shorthaul tag at the end of a longhaul flight.
In January 2022, Singapore Airlines introduced a five-times weekly fifth-freedom flight between Barcelona and Milan. The new route complemented Singapore Airlines’ existing fifth-freedom flight between Copenhagen and Rome, though unfortunately Singapore Airlines pulled the latter flight in June 2022 in favour of a direct flight to each city.
I had the chance to try this fifth-freedom flight in business class, which was operated by a Singapore Airlines A350. This flight flies from Barcelona to Milan and continues onto Singapore, but I was only booked onto the former segment.
Booking Singapore Airlines’ A350 Business Class
Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles offer decent value redemptions, though their biggest problem is that they expire. Having a stash of KrisFlyer miles about to expire, I used miles plus cash to redeem a one-way business class ticket from Barcelona to Milan for 35,700 KrisFlyer miles + €98.85. Using just miles would only have cost 34,000 miles and about €18 in taxes, though Singapore Airlines basically never releases award space on this route – I tried to waitlist on a separate booking as a proof-of-concept, and sure enough it never cleared (miles plus cash doesn’t require award space, whereas using just miles does). Paying upfront would’ve cost about €342.
This wasn’t an amazing value redemption considering the flight is under two hours long, but given I didn’t really have many other options of using my KrisFlyer miles before they expired (as I didn’t have enough to redeem anything meaningful), my out-of-pocket came to “only” €98.85.
My Experience Flying Singapore Airlines’ A350 Business Class
My flight was scheduled to leave Barcelona at 10:40 AM. I got to the airport fairly early at about 8:15 AM, to coordinate with bus schedules leaving Gavà Mar (where I was staying – I reviewed the AC Hotel by Marriott here). Stupidly I decided to check-in my carry on, thinking I’d be able to review the flight more easily – stay tuned.
Singapore Airlines Check-in at Barcelona Airport
Check-in was painless, and despite not being able to issue a mobile boarding pass due to “document checks”, no documents were checked ahead of this intra-Schengen flight. The boarding pass I was given indicated that the flight was departing from gate E77, though the agent crossed the “E” out and wrote “C” instead. I quickly realised after that both of these gates led to the same jetbridge, with C77 being for Milan-bound passengers and E77 being for passengers continuing onto Singapore (who would’ve had to be stamped out of the country).
I was able to access fast-track security, and went to the Sala VIP Pau Casals lounge, which I’ve reviewed here. Despite having a 10:40 AM departure time, my boarding pass indicated a boarding time of 10:25 AM. I wondered if this was because the airline typically boards Milan-bound passengers after all Singapore-bound passengers had boarded (which typically wouldn’t be a big deal, though was in my case, since I wanted to grab cabin photos onboard the A350).
Wanting to know a little bit more about the boarding process onboard this unique flight, I got to gate C77 at about 10 AM, where the inbound flight from Milan pulled in late. Flightradar24 was indicating a delay, though neither the departures boards nor Singapore Airlines’ app had indicated that we’d be delayed.
Singapore Airlines A350 Barcelona Airport
Turns out both gates begin the boarding process at the exact time, which was scheduled for 10:10 AM (as per what was written on the gate departures board). The gate area to Milan was really empty, with probably less than 20 people total getting off at Milan. It was surreal boarding an A350 with such a small crowd, though I knew there’d be more people coming from upstairs.
The friendly gate agent announced a boarding time delay until 10:40 AM, which was about exactly when boarding started. All of the gate agents were super friendly, and I was one of the only business class passengers getting off at Milan, which meant that the boarding process was completely painless. I also had a bit of a head start towards the aircraft, since gate E77 was a floor above, though did board behind an infirm passenger seated in the forward business class cabin.
Boarding was done entirely through the forward set of doors. Even on the jetbridge I knew it would be a great flight, as the crew warmly came to help the elderly passenger in a wheelchair get onboard the aircraft.
Singapore Airlines Flight SQ377
Wednesday, April 5, 2023
Origin: Barcelona El Prat (BCN) Gate: C77 Dep: 10:40 (11:30)
Destination: Milan Malpensa (MXP) Gate: B8 Arr: 12:20 (13:05)
Duration: 1 hr 40 min (1 hr 35 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900 Reg: 9V-SMI
Seat: 22K (Business Class)
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Cabin and Seat
Singapore Airlines’ A350 features 42 forward-facing business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. The forward cabin features 26 business class seats laid out across 7 rows (the last row only has two middle seats).
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Forward Cabin
I had assigned myself a seat in the rear cabin, featuring a further 16 seats.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Rear Cabin
Specifically I’d chosen seat 22K, the right window seat in the last row of business class. This is typically my preference, though I was also hoping the seats around mine would be empty, since people typically assign seats as far forward as possible. They largely weren’t, though I still enjoyed the lack of foot traffic after boarding was completed (since boarding was done from door 1L, there was no foot traffic advantage to being in the forward cabin anyway).
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Seat 22K
On first impression, I was struck by how high the seat walls were. I didn’t feel particularly partitioned off from the aisle or from the passenger across me (though I couldn’t see her unless either of us leaned forward), though there’s almost no way you’ll be able to see the passengers in front of you. The below photo was taken at just below eye level, where I tried to do justice to the privacy the seat afforded.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class View from Seat 22K
If Singapore Airlines’ A350 business class only operated routes like these and didn’t have a bed mode function (since the seatback folds down to become a bed, which nobody had time to do on this flight), it would easily be the world’s best regional business class. Of course you can say that about any cabin, though given that we couldn’t easily transform the seat into bed mode on this short flight, this assessment felt particularly apt for a flight like this. Of course it’s also one of the best intra-European business class products (which otherwise looks like economy class with a blocked middle seats), though perhaps less indulgent than a seat that actually turned into a bed.
Under the left armrest were some intuitive seat controls, though presumably bed mode was a mechanical function located elsewhere, since I didn’t spot it being one of the controls.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Seat Controls
There were a few storage compartments at the seat: one by the platform to my right (big enough for water bottles, amenity kits, etc.), a literature pocket-style compartment by the side of the seat, a compartment above a drinks platform in front of the seat (which housed my RX10 camera easily), and a separate compartment below the footwell, where I could place a laptop. My bag had to fit in the overhead bin, however. Next to the seat were also USB, HDMI and 110V universal power ports.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Various Storage Options
The tray table was deployed out of the side of the seat, and could be swivelled round. In this configuration you can easily get out of your seat even when the tray table is down, though if you wanted to eat or work facing the window, you could do so.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Tray Table
To my right was the touchscreen IFE remote.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Remote Control
Next to the TV screen was a ledge for drinks, as well as a mirror.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Mirror
To the left of my seat was a sizeable (though not massive) privacy partition, where there was also a reading light. There was another reading light to the right side of my head.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Reading Light
While you had to fold the seat over to turn it into a bed, the seat itself featured a decent amount of recline, which was sufficient for a flight with a flying time of just over an hour. The seat featured a footrest that folded all the way up to meet the footwell. The fully reclined position is shown below.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Reclined Position
I’d probably have preferred the seat to go a little further down, though that’s probably a function of the seat’s “fold-down” design. The seat was comfortable for lounging, and I didn’t get to try it out in bed mode on this short flight.
I forgot to take a picture of the footwell on its own, though I want to make a comparative point. I’ve got to acknowledge that the footwell in Singapore Airlines’ business class did feel like it’d be very tight in bed mode. The usable space is almost entirely by the side ledge, with basically no extra length under the seat in front. As someone around 170 cm tall (I don’t think I’ve grown an inch since I was 16), I’m sure I would’ve fit comfortably in the diagonal position, though I can see how taller sleepers would struggle. This is a fairly big minus, since there’s not a lot of usable bed length here.
I’ve pinched a photo of the standard footwell from Upon Arriving, shown below:
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Footwell (credit: Upon Arriving)
For some reason I did manage to grab a picture of the footwell of seat 19K, the bulkhead seat in this cabin, which was empty. As you can see, there’s significant addition to bed length, and lots of increased width by the foot as well. I’d still say you probably can’t sleep parallel to the aircraft fuselage (since the bed still feels fairly short to me), though I didn’t get to try it out on this hour-long flight. I’d definitely go for one of these seats if they’re available on a longer flight, as they’re available first-come-first-serve to all passengers at no extra charge:
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Footwell in Front Row
Obviously this is a spectacular hard product for an intra-Europe flight, though I imagine we’d run into a couple of comfort-related issues if flying this seat longhaul, especially in bed mode. A lie-flat position certainly wasn’t needed on this shorthaul flight, though this did feel less “fun” than a seat that would otherwise recline into a bed. That’s the most first-world of first-world problems, however.
Singapore Airlines A350 Premium Economy Class
I was seated directly in front of the 24-seat premium economy cabin, so had a look. I’ve flown Singapore Airlines’ A380 and 777 premium economy before, but never on the A350. The seats are slightly different, and feel like a cross between their A380/777 product and Zodiac’s premium economy seat (otherwise available on Cathay Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Air New Zealand, etc.). This is the same premium economy seat that operates Singapore Airlines’ ultra-longhaul flights between Los Angeles/New York and Singapore.
Singapore Airlines A350 Premium Economy Class
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Amenities
Let’s talk about the area where this flight is really one-of-a-kind – the soft product. Starting with the amenities, each seat featured one massive plush pillow. This is Singapore Airlines’ day pillow – they have a separate pillow for sleeping.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Pillow
Waiting at my seat was a pair of headphones, which seemed sturdy, though I didn’t use them.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Headphones
Extra pillows and blankets were available on request, where the flight attendants would fish them out of the “back” of the seat and hand them to people. I ended up fishing my own out, and found a firmer and more substantial sleeping pillow, as well as a very comfortable blanket. A mattress pad is also available on longer flights.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Sleeping Pillow and Blanket
Amenity kits are available on request on Singapore Airlines flights of under six hours (for flights over six hours everyone is provided one). I asked if I could get one for my parents and was handed two, though stupidly left both onboard when deplaning – they were the same colour as the seat, which didn’t help. The amenity kit was from Penhaligon’s, whereas the amenities inside were from L’Occitane.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Amenity Kit
Not only is this a spectacular set of amenities for a shorthaul flight, but the above also shows hints an industry-leading set of amenities on their longhaul flights as well.
Ground Delay and Takeoff from Barcelona Airport
Upon taking off I was welcomed by a male flight attendant and given a choice between champagne and blood orange juice, and I chose the former. It was Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, which I enjoyed.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Pre-Departure Champagne
I was then welcomed by the female flight attendant who would be serving me during the flight. She was so warm, friendly, and amazing at what she did. She addressed me by name and informed me of our flight time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, and said “if you need anything let me know”. She asked if I’d be continuing with them to Singapore, and I said no.
I was handed a menu. It seems that Singapore Airlines uses the same menu booklets for all flights between Singapore, Milan and Barcelona (regardless of segment, and direction). I’ll show the inside of the menu later.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Menu
Boarding was completed at around 10:55 AM, and I’d guess the plane was about half full. At 11:05 AM we were shown the safety demonstration.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Safety Demonstration
Captain Jimmy came onto the PA and announced that a team of 12 cabin crew would be working this flight, and informed us of our flying time of 1h 30m and good flying conditions. He first announced a departure delay of 10 minutes due to air traffic control (we’d presumably missed our departure slot because of a late-arriving inbound aircraft), and later extended our departure delay by 20-30 minutes due to air traffic control, despite stating that the aircraft itself was “ready to go”. At this point I started to get a bit antsy, as I’d gambled a little, and bought a train ticket from Milan to Florence. I’d paid an extra few quid to make the ticket refundable, though unfortunately I couldn’t change the departure time without refunding the ticket, and (contrary to my expectations) same-day tickets were running at over €100 and would get me to Florence much letter than I would’ve hoped.
During this time we were handed a bottle of water.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Bottle of Water
Seated across me was a Singaporean couple (in the two center seats) that I believe were going home. They were taking selfies, and when I offered to take a picture for them, the lady in 22G said “no”.
She later offered to take a picture of me in my seat however, and I obliged.
Yours truly in Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class
While I was surveying the menu I asked the flight attendant whether a full drinks list would be stocked on this flight (while she was passing by). She said yes, and asked if I was eyeing anything in particular. I wanted to try the Singapore Sling, and she said she’d bring it over right after takeoff – sure enough, I was presented with a Singapore Sling within a couple of minutes after the seatbelt sign was turned off.
Pushback finally happened at around 11:35 AM, 55 minutes after our scheduled departure time (which typically wouldn’t be a big deal, though in my head I was antsy about the fact that I had to catch a train at Malpensa Airport within two hours). We were fourth in line for takeoff, and a couple of Vueling aircraft departed for us, as well as this stunning Aegean Airlines A321neo.
Aegean and Vueling aircraft taking off at Barcelona Airport
At 11:50 AM, an hour and 10 minutes after our scheduled departure time, we finally rocketed out of Barcelona Airport from runway 24L. Our climbout was quite steep, especially since we had a light load. The amazing weather also made for some stunning views, especially as we crossed the Costa Dorada and into the Mediterranean Sea. From there it was a massive left turn as we hugged the coastline of France and Monaco, before heading due north into Milan.
Stunning departure views from Barcelona Airport
The seatbelt sign was turned off about 10 minutes after wheels-up, a while before we hit our cruising altitude of 30,000 feet.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Cabin after Takeoff
Within a few minutes of this, the female flight attendant serving my aisle came back with a Singapore Sling, as aforementioned. It was deliciously sweet.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Singapore Sling
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class WiFi
The WiFi was successfully activated about 10 minutes after the seatbelt sign was turned off. Singapore Airlines offers unlimited free WiFi for business class passengers, and all I had to do was enter my seat number and last name. Unfortunately I found the WiFi to be on the slow side – a far cry from what I’d experienced on British Airways the day prior – though it was definitely usable (I forgot to do a speed test). It’s certainly a nice touch for business class passengers to receive complimentary WiFi, and PPS members in any cabin get free unlimited WiFi as well.
All KrisFlyer members get two free hours of WiFi in economy and three free hours of WiFi in premium economy (this would’ve lasted them the flight on this short leg), and WiFi is otherwise priced as follows:
- USD 3.99 for 1 hour
- USD 8.99 for 3 hours
- USD 15.99 for the entire flight
These are very reasonable prices for a longhaul flight, especially since there are no data caps. I remember how just a few years ago Singapore Airlines had some of the slowest and most expensive inflight WiFi out there, and even charged someone USD 1,200 in WiFi-related fees.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Inflight Entertainment
I didn’t have much need for inflight entertainment since I was connected to WiFi on this short flight, though Singapore Airlines has an industry leading selection of movies. The TV screen isn’t touchscreen-enabled though, which I embarrassingly found out while the flight attendant serving my aisle was passing by – she said “touchscreen isn’t enabled on this particular aircraft”.
I remember finding Singapore Airlines’ new KrisWorld entertainment system really hard to navigate in 2017, though that was partially because my seat was glitching out. This was still a bit of a pain to navigate (especially since the touchscreen-enabled remote didn’t correspond to the controls mounted next to it), though was much better.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Movie Selection
I really enjoyed that every for single TV show available, the entire season was uploaded.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class TV Selection
The moving map feature is perfectly fine as well, though it’s worth noting that Singapore Airlines is one of the few airlines that chose not to install tail cameras in their A350 entertainment systems.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Moving Map
Still, though, you won’t get bored onboard a Singapore Airlines flight, even when the WiFi isn’t working.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Lavatory
I had the chance to check out one of the three dedicated business class lavatories. I did like the bronze colour pop, though otherwise there’s nothing special about the lavatory – there aren’t even any amenities that you wouldn’t otherwise find in economy.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Lavatory
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Food and Beverages
The meal service began at a relaxed but efficient pace after takeoff. The menu read as follows:
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Menu
Obviously that’s a very limited food menu, though it sort of makes sense, since this flight is otherwise a tag before a much longer flight to Singapore. The full drinks menu was available though, and was much more extensive:
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Drinks Menu
Despite the short flight time, meals were still brought on trays, instead of on a trolley. I had a choice between a pastrami and smoked salmon sandwich, and chose the pastrami sandwich. All things considered it was good – the bread wasn’t stale at all, which I wasn’t expecting – but this isn’t a very impressive meal offering even for an intra-Europe flight. I feel like on a similar flight on another airline (perhaps not on this segment, as the only other airlines operating this flight are Vueling, Easyjet and Ryanair), you’d probably get a more substantial hot meal in intra-Europe business class. I’m not really complaining, though, since literally everything else on offer is leaps and bounds ahead of what you’d get on another airline.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Meal – Beef Pastrami Sandwich with Cheddar Cheese and Mesculun Salad
When I finished my Singapore Sling the flight attendant serving me asked if I wanted another drink. I asked if she could recommend a drink, and she recommended the KrisFlyer Sling. When she returned, she explained that it was usually yellow, though their catering facility in Milan catered blood orange juice instead, hence the red colour. How cool! The drink was served with some room temperature nuts.
The KrisFlyer Sling was different as it featured orange juice (as well as pineapple juice) and champagne, and I loved it too.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class KrisFlyer Sling
For those interested, the menu on the subsequent Milan to Singapore flight looked absolutely divine:
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Menu for Onward Milan-Singapore Flight
There seemed to be a lot of egg noodles on the menu, though the on-demand options were very substantial, and I’m sad I didn’t get to try them out. The variety of food and drinks on Singapore Airlines’ longhaul business class is so extensive, and the extensive drinks selection bled over to this short tag-on flight as well.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Service
Albeit the fact that this flight was just an hour long, the service felt relaxed, and the crewmembers were so good at what they did. I asked the flight attendant serving my aisle how staffing worked for these segments, and she explained that they work the flight from Singapore to Milan, have a layover, power-trip the Milan to Barcelona to Milan segment, continue their layover in Milan, before flying back to Singapore. She clearly loved her job, and was incredibly personable – I didn’t interact with the other crewmembers as much, though had similar impressions of them as well. (I did get her name, but didn’t ask for her permission to share it since I was dashing for my train, so won’t.)
I’d also had the impression that inflight service would spring to life for ten minutes before seatbelt signs would turn off and the crew would disappear, but this was far from the case. Inflight service was probably in action for about 50 minutes, and the crew would address me by name at almost every interaction, even if they were just passing by.
Shortly before landing I asked if I had time for an espresso, and the flight attendant mentioned that she’d be able to make me a quick one. I even had a choice of which bean I wanted, and (somewhat arbitrarily, based on the descriptions) I chose the Guatemalan coffee. The seatbelt sign turned on very shortly after, and I figured I’d lost my opportunity – not so, as the flight attendant returned with an espresso in a takeaway cup, saying that I could keep it until landing. Despite completing pre-landing checks, she still managed to squeeze in a “hope you enjoy the Guatemala”.
The espresso itself was really great, though I was thinking more about my onward connecting train journey a little more than the chocolate notes within it.
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class Espresso in Takeaway Cup
Singapore Airlines service on a good day is simply next-level, and their attention to detail sets a role model for how we should approach serving others in our day-to-day jobs.
Landing into Milan Malpensa Airport
I checked in with the flight attendant before landing to see how long it typically took to leave Milan-Malpensa Airport. She advised that 1:43 PM was very optimistic (this was the time I had to catch the Malpensa Express to Milan-Centrale, where my train to Florence was leaving at 3:10 PM), especially since I had to pick up a bag.
Anyhow, we began our final descent into Milan Malpensa Airport at about 12:50 PM. Weather in Milan was good, and slightly cloudy. We headed straight to runway 35L without a holding pattern, and were wheels-down at more or less exactly 1 PM, before having a short taxi to gate B8.
Landing into Malpensa Airport
Getting out of Malpensa Airport was super easy – I somehow didn’t clock that I wouldn’t have needed to get through border control, since this flight was intra-Schengen. However, as I’d expected, I reached baggage claim at 1:10 PM – my bag came out at 1:33 PM, exactly the time at which I’d set myself to be sensible, cancel my train and find another way to get to Florence. I made the train at 1:42 PM, a minute before it was scheduled to leave (this involved missing the entrance for the train station and queueing for the lift, so I’m not just a slow runner, for those familiar with Malpensa Airport).
I’m never checking in a small roller bag again, unless I have to…
Conclusion: Singapore Airlines’ A350 Business Class
What a treat to fly this short two-hour flight on Singapore Airlines between Barcelona and Milan. This wasn’t a perfect “shorthaul flight on longhaul-configured aircraft” experience – there wasn’t much of a way to reach the fully flat position on this short flight, and the food options were significantly scaled back. However, the soft product on this flight really shone, and made me really want to fly Singapore Airlines’ business class longhaul – I had access to the full bar, the amenities were extensive and showed promise of an excellent longhaul soft product, WiFi was free and usable, and the crew were spectacular. The main meal selection between Milan and Singapore and on-demand snack selection looked sublime, though (obviously) I didn’t get to try it out – we’re not even talking about their excellent Book The Cook programme, which brings onboard catering to the next level.
Not all of you reading this review will be looking to fly Singapore Airlines shorthaul. On a longhaul flight, I can see problems with the bed comfort, despite not trying it out, and that can be a deal-breaker in business class. For this short flight between Barcelona and Milan, though, this was definitely a 5/5 experience (especially given how weak intra-European competition generally is, not even just on this route), and I’d give 6/5 stars if I could.
Read more from this trip:
What’s your favourite fifth-freedom flight?
I think this is the only time premium economy is sold as a distinctive class on an inter-European flight.
(SAS markets thier European biz class as premium economy, but you know what I mean)