Why would someone pay more than $300 for a flight that's not just going nowhere — it's parked on the tarmac — and for food that you can get at any other fine dining restaurant (for less)? I had the opportunity to find out when guests and media were invited to the launch of Singapore Airlines' Restaurant A380 on Saturday (Oct 24).
Perhaps a testament to how travel-hungry Singaporeans are, more than 900 seats were sold out within 30 minutes of their launch for the lunch events on Oct 24 and Oct 25. Dinner slots were subsequently included to cater to the demand.
For the price of $321 for a Business Class seat, you'd get not just a six-course meal but also a chance to tour the entire SIA Airbus A380 double-decker superjumbo, including a peek into Suites Class and the cockpit. For those wondering, a Suites meal costs $642 per person.
For three-course meals on premium economy and economy, they are priced at $96.30 and $53.50 respectively.
What to expect
The Restaurant A380 experience begins right at the gates, where you're stripped of your passports and have to pass through the airport scanners, removing your laptop from your bag and all, as if it were a regular flight. For those who miss flying, this is where for once, you might sigh in nostalgia instead of annoyance.
At the waiting area, there are activities planned so there's somewhat of a carnival atmosphere.
There was a long queue for those who wanted to get their digital caricatures drawn, or one could try their hand at making batik roses. At some point in the day, there'll also be a "heritage showcase" of how SQ uniforms have evolved over the years.
Soon, we were ushered into the A380 for our tour.
Our eyes were opened to the luxurious Suites Class and what the inside of a cockpit and the pilot's personal cabin looks like.
After your tour of the plane is done, out you go again for the flight crew to prepare for service before you're called back to board for your meal.
Our group of five, as per safe distancing guidelines, got a surprise when we exited the plane to see the bridge lined on both sides with cabin crew in their full uniformed glory, waiting for guests to clear the space before they could enter.
Good thing was, they looked almost as excited to see us as we were to see them.
According to our guide, many of the crew and operation staff were roped in on a voluntary basis for the weekend's events.
By the time we were seated and our starters (their signature satay and garlic bread) had arrived, it was pushing 8pm.
I sat back and sipped on my complimentary Singapore Sling (the meal comes with two alcoholic drinks) and at the same time scanned for a movie to watch on their inflight entertainment system, just as I would on a regular flight.
The satay was honestly delicious, and I could also finally understand the hype behind their signature garlic bread, which was crispy, buttery and moreish.
The chicken, prawn and jellyfish salad comprised meaty prawns, a step above regular inflight salads that I've had but somehow still retaining that "airplane meal" feel.
I went for the Peranakan menu designed by Singaporean chef Shermay Lee, which had nasi lemak with sambal prawns and a fish in tamarind and turmeric. The rice was rich and lemak, if again, a little mushy. The fried ikan bilis though, packed a punch with its sweet, spicy and tangy flavours and was, to put it simply, quite shiok.
The deshelled prawns in gravy passed muster and the fish dish was piquant, but maybe just a touch too sour for my tastebuds.
I was almost fooled by the seemingly small portion (in relation to the huge serving plate), but with the appetisers and richness of the dishes, I was satiated even before I polished off my last spoonful of rice.
The biggest letdown must be the side of keropok, which had gone a little soft. And honestly, one wouldn't need the saucer of vinegary chilli sauce because the meal was already heavily punctuated with tart flavours.
For dessert, I was somehow served the baked cheesecake from the international selection instead of the gula Melaka ice cream wafer sandwiches that I had expected. Nevertheless, I was happy to have the cake though, and didn't request for a change.
But to focus on the food would possibly be to miss the point entirely.
It was food that fed the spirit rather than the body. And one that stirred up feelings of wistfulness and hope of better days.
For finance professional Dan Poh, 34, and his banker wife Nicole Wee, 31, who were my fellow diners for the evening, showing their support for the airline was their main motivation.
The frequent fliers were one of those who camped on the website to secure their seats the minute they opened.
The couple had actually reserved their seats for lunch with their friends but ended up with the dinner slot. But they declined to elaborate on the "overbooked" flight, stating that the "key thing was to support the airline".
The pair have also booked themselves tickets to Hong Kong after plans of a travel bubble between the two countries were announced.
Perhaps one could think of it this way: the price of a premium movie ticket with reclining sofa-like seats? About $40. And the cost of a fine-dining meal inclusive of cheese and wine? Maybe $150.
The knowledge that you are supporting the national carrier with your purchase? You can’t really put a price tag on that.
Last we checked online, there’s currently a waitlist for lunch and dinner slots next weekend (Oct 31 and Nov 1) at Restaurant A380 @ Changi.
Limited slots for the pre-dining tour of the A380 will be available, along with KrisShop discounts, a limited edition goodie bag and prizes if you turn up in “heritage wear” (batik-print anything, we guess).