Friday, October 30, 2009

Winging It to Singapore on Singapore

SINGAPORE - The 9-hour-plus flight from Auckland to Singapore went smoothly, typically so, on Singapore Airlines. It's one of the world's Tiffany carriers and has had a decided halo effect among experienced travelers for years.

Consider: The business class cabin on my flight boasted massive consoles in front of the seat that provide passenger privacy and offer features such as a vanity mirror, a socket for plugging in a laptop and other personal electronic devices, and a large video monitor. The seat folds out into a comfy bed, and if you need anything else to relax, the wine selections by Singapore Air's wine consultants - among them the eminent British wine guru Steven Spurrier - will help.

Raffles class - that's business class, in Singapore vernacular - also has one of the better interactive in-flight program menus in the sky. There are hundreds of CDs on demand, an extensive roster of Asian and Western movies and TV shows, video games and one of those interactive maps that help you track the progress of your flight; the map alternates big-picture looks at the flight path with focused looks at the terrain you happen to be flying over at the time - in my case, that meant the vast interior of Australia, with its mountains and deserts. I've always enjoyed this feature on long-haul flights, returning to it from time to time between building a sampler of tunes from music CDs and turning the pages of the book I'm reading. As I often do, I'm delving into my default author: Graham Greene, and his bittersweet novel "The End of the Affair.''

Singapore Air, as a Star Alliance member, shares a spacious and especially well-appointed lounge with fellow Star member Air New Zealand at Auckland International Airport. The Koru Lounge has two long tables, each table lined with 10 chairs and 10 sockets, for people to plug-in and work: 20 work stations all told. Didn't bring your laptop? There are four free PCs available. There's also a living-room-like space, where I saw people having afternoon tea on a china teaset. Miracle of miracles, the Koru Lounge also has a cell-phone-free zone. Braying mobile phone yakkers are among my prime travel beefs, so I count this quiet refuge as a definite plus.

The lounge food is varied and good. Forget the bags of nuts and cheese squares and crackers you get at many U.S. and some European airports; at Auckland there is soup, fresh green salads and international dishes such as Moroccan chickpea salad. Plus, a coffee machine - I made a "flat white,' the Kiwi term for a capp with an extra jolt of espresso - and a choice of half a dozen NZ wines (typically Sauvignon Blancs) and beers (typically light and refreshing lagers.) If you have some time to spend in this hub airport, New Zealand's largest, this is a nice place to do it.

I plucked a non-alcoholic ginger beer made by Wellington's Mac's Brewery out of the drinks case and out of curiosity began reading the copy on the label. It gave me a farewell taste of Kiwi wit:

"Ginger beer is a great New Zealand tradition. Unfortunately, that tradition frequently involves something that comes in large, fizzy drinks bottles, and has a propensity to explode because your auntie used too much sugar.''

Mac's ginger beer, I am happy to report, didn't blow up in my face. It had a nice balance of sweet and spicy and a lingering taste that stayed with me as I made the long walk across the airport terminal all the way to Gate 15, where a Singapore Airlines jetliner was waiting for the flight to Changi airport.

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