Singapore Airlines celebrates 1st Airbus A380

October 16, 2007|By New York Times News Service

TOULOUSE, France -- There were no Jacuzzis or bowling alleys. No casinos or gyms. But the chilled bottle of champagne perched on an elegantly laid-out double bed said it all.

Singapore Airlines introduced the interior of its first A380 superjumbo jet in an elaborate ceremony here yesterday, bringing an end to a decade of anticipation over what the airline has said would be a vast change in the level of quality and comfort in long-haul air travel.

"From today, there is a new queen of the skies for air travel," a beaming Chew Choon Seng, the Singapore Airlines chief executive, told a gathering of more than 500 international guests.

And with that, Chew introduced the singular features of his carrier's new 471-seat craft, which, in the premium-class cabin at least, sometimes resembles a luxury hotel more than an airliner.

Twelve private "suites" created by the French yacht designer, Jean-Jacques Coste, occupy the front half of the plane's lower deck. Designed to maximize privacy, each of these partitioned nooks is fitted with fully adjustable leather seats and a separate bed that folds out with a full-sized mattress, draped in crisp cream-colored linens designed by Givenchy.

A 23-inch LCD video screen hangs on one wall, where passengers can view a selection of up to 100 movies and more than 180 television channels. The same entertainment system includes a word processor and spreadsheet programs as well as multiplayer 3-D video games.

As if to enhance the already high expectations of his audience, Chew explained that four of the suites in the center of the cabin can be modified to become double beds for couples, simply by removing the privacy divider between them.

In a demure hint at the plane's honeymoon possibilities, the carrier had decked out one double bed with champagne and scattered the duvet with red rose petals. The bed's two seat belts - in case of unexpected turbulence - were discreetly hidden below the bedding.

Officially, of course, these beds are meant for sleeping only.

"We look forward to welcoming our premium-class guests for the purposes of travel and rest," said Stephen Forshaw, a Singapore Airlines spokesman. "That is all."

On the upper deck are 60 business-class seats, each almost 34 inches wide. These, too, convert into fully flat beds and include 15-inch LCD television screens, USB ports and in-seat power supplies for laptop computers.

The 399 economy-class seats spread across the back half of the upper and lower decks of the plane are designed to maximize leg and knee room. Each seat is equipped with an 11-inch video screen, a USB port and an electrical power port for laptops.

First- and business-class restrooms are roomy and feature shaving mirrors and an assortment of free toiletries. But Forshaw said the airline chose, for practical reasons, to forgo installing showers, which some rival airlines have said they would include.

"It would require us to carry too much water, which is just too heavy to be economical," he said.

As guests marveled at the opulent interiors of the plane, which makes its first passenger flight on Oct. 25, the festivities were also an occasion for the plane's beleaguered manufacturer, Airbus, to revel in a brief moment of celebration. The event followed nearly two years of corporate upheaval linked to the A380's highly publicized manufacturing delays, which will cost Airbus nearly 5 billion euros ($7 billion) in lost profit between 2006 and 2010.

Singapore Airlines will carry its first paying A380 passengers on Oct. 25 on a special flight from Singapore to Sydney, Australia.

The carrier will begin regular daily A380 service between Singapore and Sydney on Oct. 28. Forshaw said round-trip tickets for the suites on that route would cost about 7,500 Singapore dollars, or $5,127. Business-class seats will cost about 15 percent to 20 percent more than they do on other Singapore Airlines planes on comparable routes "because of the substantial amount of extra real estate" devoted to these seats, he said.

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