Introduction and Highlights of SQ346

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About This Trip

Graduation from university marks the culmination of 16 years of formal education and hard work and the transition into another stage of my life. Many question the relevance and the necessity of a graduation trip to mark this critical transition, but I personally view such an event as perhaps the last time where I would be able travel freely without being burdened by responsibilities and worries of work or family.

The first destination which I had in mind was actually Amsterdam. Amsterdam was, and still is, a dream destination for me where:-

1) There are excellent locations and subjects to indulge in for aviation photography at Amsterdam-Schipol airport;
2) It is also where my favourite bus manufacturer DAF is based at;
3) Picturesque canal-lined streets to stroll in;
4) It is also the home to fields of tulips during the spring season. Tulips also happens to be my favourite flower as well, ever since I laid my eyes upon fields of them during a trip to South Korea a few years ago.

Unfortunately, along with thousands of other NTU students, I was called upon to perform 'national service' for the good of our country by having all our carefully crafted plans and schedules thrown upside down due to the Youth Olympics Games in 2010.

Rethinking our plans, we decided to visit Switzerland as some of us were able to take advantage of the Swiss Youth Pass. As compared to the standard Swiss Pass, the Youth Pass offers a substantial savings of 20% and is valid for youths up to the age of 25 years old. It would also mean that this would be the last year where we would be able to take advantage of this offer. The Swiss Pass (and Youth Pass)is applicable for unlimited travel in Switzerland on almost all modes of transport and includes substantial discounts for travel on privately operated mountain railways and a number of museums.

The second destination that was considered was the central Mediterranean archipelago of Malta where there was a sizeable number of old British buses that were used as public buses. The bulk of these buses was more than 30 years old and had become such an iconic representation of Malta that they were a tourist attraction in their own right. However, the Maltese government had awarded a new tender to Arriva Group of UK to overhaul the public transport system and this included the replacement of the old British buses with new buses that would comply with the stringent EU emission guidelines. Thankfully for us, we were able to visit this amazing country before the stipulated handover date of the public transport system to Arriva Group on 3 July 2011.

The Plan

My travelling companions had a strong desire to fly on Singapore Airline’s A380, while I had my sights set on flying Thai Airway’s A340-600 to Zürich instead. Unfortunately, the fares for my preferred option had increased drastically at the time of booking and I had thus ended up flying together with my friends on the A380 to Zurich. However, it was still definitely a very agreeable alternative as it was still significantly cheaper than Thai Airways and it would also be my maiden flight on what is currently the world’s largest passenger aircraft.

The map below outlines the route that we had taken during this trip. Our trip focused mainly on sightseeing in Switzerland, Malta, Vatican City and Italy, while passing through Germany, France and Austria. In addition, we also made a detour into the Principality of Liechtenstein before heading back to Zürich for our flight back to Singapore.



Singapore Airlines SQ346



Date: Saturday, 11 Jun 11
Aircraft: 9V-SKB, Airbus A380-841
Seat: 74K
Departure Gate: B4

Scheduled Departure Time: 0120 LT
Boarding Time: 0050 LT
Push Back: 0122 LT
Takeoff: 0137 LT on runway 02L

Scheduled Arrival Time: 0800 LT
Touchdown: 0743 LT on runway 34
Actual Arrival Time: 0751 LT
Arrival Gate: E59/E67

Booking

After a number of false starts and negotiations between the Maltese government and the Arriva Group, the confirmation date for the handover of the public bus system was finally slated to be Sunday, 3rd July 2011. With this final piece of news, we proceeded to confirm our Europe itinerary and booked our tickets on SQ's website. Booking was straight forward apart from a minor hiccup during the payment stage that was rectified with a quick call to the bank's customer service centre.

Although it was still four months away from our intended travel date, the window seats on the upper deck for both sectors were almost fully reserved and we had narrowly managed to secure our reservations for the remaining 2 pairs of seats on the upper deck.

Check-In

The bulk of Singapore Airline's long haul flights depart in the late evening from Singapore and this had unfortunately resulted in a series of long queues at the check-in counters. A common check-in row was set aside for economy class passengers and were further sub-divided into two sections to manage the crowd. We headed to the queue which was reserved for passengers who had checked-in online or via SMS and had to endure a 15mins wait before we were attended to by a cheerful check-in staff.

Our baggage was quickly checked-in and we were issued our boarding passes and baggage check receipts.



Changi Airport's Terminal 3 is seldom busy in the day and Changi Airport Group had been actively persuading airlines to move from Terminal 1 to 3. However, a series of red-eye departures by various airlines to medium haul and long haul destinations had conspired to produce this unusual scene at the entrance to the immigration hall. It took a further ten minutes of shuffling along the queue before our travel documents were inspected by two bleary-eyed security officers. Thankfully, immigration formalities were a breeze by using the automated clearance lanes with our biometric passports.



Singapore Airlines Flight 346 to Zurich is also code shared with US Airways, Swiss International Airlines and LOT Polish Airlines. There were only 2 security lanes which were initially opened to handle our flight and another SQ flight to Copenhagen, but a further 2 lanes were quickly opened as more passengers streamed into the gate closer to the departure time. It seemed that many regular passengers using Changi Airport had also learnt to ignore the "Boarding" and "Last Call" status and only enter the gate when it shows "Gate Closing"!


Interior of the common waiting area for Gates B1-B4. Gate B1 was boarding SQ352 to Copenhagen.


Boarding for our flight was commenced shortly after we had cleared security, and passengers seated on the upper deck were invited to board the aircraft after the premium passengers had done so. LED displays were also used to inform passengers of the specific seat rows in the aircraft that were being boarded. The ground staff also seemed to be under immense pressure to board the passengers in time for a punctual departure. It was observed that they were rather high-handed in their means to hurry stragglers in the queue and to reject passengers who were seated in rows that had not yet been called for boarding.



The A380 experience begins from the moment when one walks down the third aerobridge that leads to the upper deck entrance of the aircraft.


We were welcomed by a flight steward and a leading flight stewardess at the entrance to the upper deck. The leading flight stewardess on the right was also in charge of serving the section where we were seated in during the flight.


The Flight

After passing through the relative serenerity of the business class cabin, the economy class cabin at the rear was a scene of chaos as passengers struggled to stow their carry-on bags in the overhead compartments. However, the overhead compartments were located at such a height that most had difficult in placing their bags in it. It was also particularly amusing to see a stewardess having to balance herself precariously on the edge of the seat frame as she struggled to reach up to close the luggage bin.

A feature of window seats on the upper deck on the A380 are the provision of storage bins at the side due to the curvature of the side walls. It is worth nothing that row 74 has non openable storage bins but it is still very useful as a ledge to place one's belongings. In addition, the window seat at row 75 also has a misaligned window.

A warm towelette service was performed shortly after the passengers had settled down. An amenity kit with a Givenchy logo printed on the front was distributed to passengers and contained a pair of socks, toothbrush and a comb. Following which, a menu and a pair of headphones in a zip-lock bag were handed to passengers as well.


The aircraft was pushed back from the gate on time and I was very impressed by the quietness of the cabin as the four Rolls Royce Trent 900 engines were started up. The safety video was played on the overhead drop down screens and on the IFE screens in English. In addition, German subtitles were also displayed in the video. (Zürich lies in the German speaking region of Switzerland. However, Swiss German differs slightly from standard German, with one of the differences being that the Swiss uses 'ss' instead of 'ß' as shown in the video).


We quickly turned onto runway 02L and started to roll down the runway. The massive aircraft gained speed slowly and amidst a cacophony of rattles, squeaks and other uncomfortable sounding noises, shuddered as she rotated just in before the SATS Cargo Terminal. A lacklustre climbout followed as the aircraft lumbered into the night sky, providing me with what is definitely the worst takeoff which I had ever experienced in a widebody aircraft. It however, definitely lives up to its nickname of a 'whalejet' as it does give the impression of a whale attempting to soar into the air with the grace of a concrete block. (I wonder if it is due to an intentional de-rate of the engines on take-off as other A380 takeoff videos seemed very smooth).



A pre-meal snack of peanuts and a choice of drink was offered to passengers shortly after the seatbelt signs were switched off.


The Krisworld IFE system was also made available to passengers and after checking out the entertainment options, decided to settle on Gnomeo and Juliet, which is an animated film where garden gnomes are given a life of their own.

Supper was served an hour into the flight and a choice of chicken of fish was available. I had the fish option which was described in the menu as "Battered Fish with lemon ginger sauce, seasonal vegetables and steamed rice". Apart from the sauce being more on the salty side than it hinted of ginger, the battered fish was great and was well heated. Moreover, the potato salad was also fresh. The portions were also rather generous. The banana and coconut cake with vanilla sauce was a disappointment as it was hard and the vanilla sauce tasted closer to melted butter.


My friend had the chicken option, which was described in the menu as "Pan Roasted Chicken with tarragon sauce, sauteed green beans with carrots and roasted potato".


Passengers who had falled asleep were not waken up for their meal and a sticker was pasted discreetly on the side of their headrests. The trays were cleared extremely fast and I was barely halfway through my meal when the cabin crew walked past to clear the trays. Shortly after the bulk of the trays had been cleared, the cabin lights were dimmed to allow passengers to rest.

A snack service was offered halfway through the flight and passengers were invited to grope around in a basket in the dark for their desired snack. A choice of Toblerone chocolate bar, potato chips or apples were available. There was also a regular drink service where a cabin crew would walk down the aisle with cups of mineral water or orange juice every hour.

I decided to watch The Green Hornet which features Jay Chou as a talented and creative mechanic but promptly dozed off due to the bland plot. Meanwhile, an attentive cabin crew had drawn the shades on the window as dawn was starting to break.

Waking up at 39,000ft over a very cloudy Afghanistan



My requests for postcards and playing cards were quickly met, with the items being delivered on a tray within three minutes. I also decided to check out the aft lavatory a second time and found amenities such as extra toothbrushes and combs to be well stocked and replenished. In addition, the moisturiser bottle at the side of the basin had been thoughtfully replaced with a bottle of mouthwash.

Passengers were woken up two and a half hours prior to landing as the cabin lighting was turned on. Unlike the premium cabins, Singapore Airlines does not fit mood lighting in the economy cabins. However, a purple hue could be seen emanating from the gaps in the curtains from the business class in front.

A hot towel service was provided to passengers with scalding hot towels being served this time instead of the lukewarm towels prior to takeoff. The breakfast service soon commenced and I had the cheese omelette option which was excellent and very substantial. Substantial care had been taken by the caterer to include sweet pineapple cubes and seedless grapes, which was unlike the extremely sour pineapple served on a certain United Airlines flight which might be intended to jolt passengers awake. The lead stewardess also apologised for the delay in serving the hot drink as she had to get a new pot from the galley. Upon seeing us taking photos of our meals, she also joked about us being photographers with the 'big cameras'.

Cheese Omelette with Chicken Sausage, tomato and potatoes with fruit yoghurt, fruit appetizer and breakfast roll (which was not warmed but not rock hard). A hot cup of tea and a glass of orange juice complemented the sastifying meal.


After the trays had been cleared, we decided to explore one of the biggest attractions on the A380 - the aft spiral staircase. It also seemed that many other passengers had the same idea as well!


Lift in the aft galley for transporting meal trolleys between the two levels.


Lower Deck interior


Upper Deck Interior. The upper deck was significantly quieter than the lower deck.


One of the many features of the new SQ economy class seat is a mirror which can be revealed by sliding open a cover on the tray table. I would imagine that this would be very convenient for ladies to check on their make-up!


It is always a challenge to shoot out from the window on the upper deck of the A380 as the exterior window pane is very much smaller than the interior window pane. This also gives rise to internal reflections between the 2 panes of glass.


As our flight crosses into continental Europe, I decided to watch a National Geographic documentary "Megafactories" which shows the futuristic Maserati factory where the marque's signature Gran Tourismo is assembled.


Soon, the cabin was being prepared for landing and the cabin crew were concluding the last of their duty free sales. An overview of the route taken by our aircraft over the past 11hrs.


We approached into Zürich-Kloten from the south and the Griefensee appeared on the starboard side as we broke through the thick layer of clouds.


Dübendorf Airbase while overflying the town of the same name


We made a very firm and bumpy landing onto runway 34 on a wet and overcast morning in Zürich. A welcome announcement was made in English and German as we vacated the runway and taxiied towards the midfield terminal E which handles the non-schengen flights. The flight docked at the specially constructed A380 capable gate 9 mins ahead of schedule.

The three aerobridges which are attached to the A380 at Zürich-Kloten.


Zürich-Kloten is also the homebase of Swiss Intl Airlines' long haul fleet. There is definitely no doubt that we are now in Switzerland!


A long queue soon formed in the narrow confines of the aerobridge as it was unable to handle the large number of passengers who were disembarking at the same time.


The highly efficient driverless Skymetro links the midfield terminal to the main terminal building at a precisely maintained frequency of 3mins.


Our first taste of Swiss efficiency - countdown timers which are accurate to the second.


Immigration was hassle-free as it was probably the only foreign checkpoint which I had encountered where one does not need to fill up any immigration forms! Singaporeans are able to enter the EU without visa for up to 90 days.

Baggage claim information


Baggage claim belt. Our check-in luggage were already on the carousel when we arrived at the baggage claim.


The baggage claim also has a screen which shows the departure times for the trains at the neighbouring Zürich-Flüghafen station. This intermodel integration of information is one of the many reasons which make the Swiss Transport System a joy to use.


Arrivals 2 Hall


We proceeded to the Swiss Transport System office in the adjacent building to validate our Swiss Pass. Zürich Kloten airport is only 16km away from the city centre and can be easily reached via the S-bahn or the Intercity trains which call at the airport station.


It only takes approximately 15-20mins to reach Zürich Hauptbanhof from the the Zürich Flüghafen station. Some of the train services offer a convenient direct transfer between Zurich airport and Geneve airport, which is also codeshared by a few airlines.


Next Post: Zürich Central & Polybahn - Day 1

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