Singapore Makes A Move Toward Higher Luxury… And Higher Density On Its A380s

A380, Singapore Airlines

When Singapore Airlines first launched its A380s a decade ago, it was quite the spectacle. Though people had long heard about the 800-seat capacity of the A380, Singapore rolled out a relatively-light 471-seat configuration. The vast majority of those seats were obviously coach, but it was those 12 lonely “Suites” (a level higher than First Class) that garnered most of the press coverage. Over the years, Singapore has made several changes to its configurations, most actually decreasing density, but the biggest was just announced last week. This change brings the airline back to 471 seats, but it should improve revenue-generating capabilities. The A380 is just a tough airplane when it comes to making money, but this should help improve the situation. This appears to have been an interesting exercise in aircraft space maximization.

The initial Suites were in a 1-2-1 configuration on the lower deck at the very front of the aircraft. The extra width on the lower deck made that configuration possible, but now Singapore is moving the Suites upstairs. Now the configuration will be an incredibly spacious 1-1 across at the front of the upper deck. With that kind of generosity, it’s no surprise that Singapore would move this upstairs. It is narrower up there, but for a 1-1 configuration it’s still remarkably roomy. I mean, there is both a seat and a bed in each Suite. Look at this:

At the same time, this gives Singapore the ability to dedicate all that dead space on either side of the stairs to the First Class cabin. That is one of the more frustrating design features of the A380 since you can’t put any seats in those areas. Singapore will instead put a gigantic lav there.

These 6 Suites will replace 20 Business Class seats in the front of the upper deck, so it doesn’t seem like an exercise in density off the bat, but it is. Behind the Suites, the rest of the upper deck will be filled with 78 Business Class seats. That area today holds only 66. The new Business Class seat is attractive, and looks like an evolution of the existing seat:

In the press release, this caught my eye:

A unique feature of the new Business Class seat is that it has a carbon fibre composite shell structure, as compared to conventional aircraft seats which use metal as the primary support structure. This thinner base structure allows for better optimisation of the seat and creates more under-seat stowage space to accommodate a full-sized cabin bag and laptop bag or handbag.

That thinner base also seems to allow the airline to reduce seat pitch from 55 inches down to 50 inches. This and some monument reconfiguration (lavs, galleys, etc) makes a big difference. Behind the last door today, for example, Singapore can only fit one row of Business. In the new configuration, it will be able to fit two.

Back on the lower deck, the area that used to hold 12 Suites will now be where the 44 premium economy seats are located. That means everything behind that first door will just be a sea of coach seats. Coach seat pitch remains at 32 inches, but it does look like there’s been some more creative placement around exit doors and in other places to get a few extra seats onboard.

It appears that we’ve come full circle. The new configuration will actually match the 471 seat count on the initial Singapore A380, but take a look at this chart showing some of the evolution.

Suites Business Premium Economy Economy Total
Original 12 60 399 471
Old High Density 12 60 38 333 443
Old Low Density 12 86 36 245 379
New 6 78 44 343 471

Compared to the original configuration, everyone either gets an equal or better experience. There are fewer Suites, but they are far more spacious and luxurious than before. There are now more Business Class seats that, despite the lower pitch, should give just as good of an experience as before, if not better. There is a premium economy section which didn’t exist the first time around. And coach won’t have a measurable difference in space, but it will have upgraded entertainment etc. This new configuration should be able to generate far more revenue than the original configuration thanks to the premium economy cabin and expanded Business Class.

Singapore will put this on its 5 new deliveries as well as on the 14 A380s which it is keeping for the long run. Only the 4 being returned to the lessors (a fifth is already gone) won’t see this interior. It’s never been easy for airlines to figure out the right way to use the A380, but this seems like a big improvement for Singapore both on the passenger side and from a revenue perspective.

(All photos via Singapore Airlines. See more photos here.)

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9 comments on “Singapore Makes A Move Toward Higher Luxury… And Higher Density On Its A380s

  1. Serious question: *why* can’t you cram coach seats into those areas beside the stairs? My guess is that it’s a dead end, and there must be some version of a rule about having a path to two emergency exits. Not sure why that wouldn’t apply to Etihad and its super-duper suite thing, too, though.

    1. grichard – I don’t think there’s enough room. It’s too narrow to put seats and an aisle to reach them.

  2. Singapore’s A380s are long due for an upgrade! I flew on at least two of them a year ago, it was obvious the business class seats should have been upgraded a couple of years ago!

  3. Do you know if they will price the new larger suites differently (from incredibly expensive to even more so)? Or was there just not enough demand for 12 suites per flight so they aren’t losing revenue from that?

    1. Jason – I don’t know if pricing will change, but I imagine it will be hard to command a higher premium over what’s there today. This is probably better matching demand.

  4. And hear I read about Emirates removing 1st class on some 380’s to cram in more seats. Seems counterintuitive for Singapore to have such a low density unless people really are ponying up for those suites. I suppose they are but in my world I’ve never heard of a corporate travel policy that would cover that even for executive level. And the biggest companies I work with always have their C-suite people flying private jets. So what is the market – Hollywood types? To me this all seems very “peak luxury” similar to what airlines were doing with the first wide bodies pre-oil embargo days.

    1. To be fair, while many large companies have private jets, not that many of them have private jets that can fly from Singapore to Europe nonstop. That said, I’m surprised at how many “short” ( And the biggest companies I work with always have their C-suite people flying private jets.

  5. The thing with SQ is that they don’t operate all that many ULH flights. CX operates more. These types of products make sense if you’re actually living on an airplane for a few days. But 12-13 hours? That’s not that long in the grand scheme of things. (CX’s flights from NYC/Chicago are in the 15-16 hr range.)

    Even CX has cut back on the first class cabin instead of trying to bling it out.

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