SQ 943 DPS-SIN C B777-200 seat 15D

We left for the airport two hours before our flight, figuring we’d get there in half an hour, but due to a Galungan parade one of the main roads was closed and the alternate routes were thus jammed bumper to bumper. It took us one hour just to get near Kuta, usually a 10-15 minute trip, but then the traffic miraculously cleared up and we got to the airport a little under an hour before our flight.

Check-in was unproblematic, although I realized only later that we’d been unceremoniously shifted from my prebooked A/C seats across to D/E. Some last-minute duty-free shopping (bottle of Hatten rose wine, check) and a 5-minute breather in the lounge, which is a little tired, but has a reasonable selection of eats, a ridiculous amount of staff and has a noisy little outdoor patio in the “nice idea, poor execution” category… and then to the gate, past the economy class boarding scrum via the business class line. Rank hath its privileges.

There wasn’t much difference to the flight in, except that this time the plane did have AVOD, and (as all ex-DPS flights) there was no Book the Cook service. I neglected to snag the menu, but I had a rather blah baked snowfish dish, while Z tried out a rather reasonable lamb. The meal service was even more abbreviated than last time, with the ice cream replaced by such a generic dessert that I can’t even recall it afterwards. Z noted that the flight attendents addressed her by name, but not me, which may not be unrelated to the fact that my name is twice as long as hers…

The rest of the flight passed uneventfully and, to my mild disappointment, the flight landed at T2. Back in Singapore — but not for very long.

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SQ 946 SIN-DPS C B777-200 seat 15A

As I’d expected, the plane turned out to be one of SQ’s regional models, without even on-demand video. I’d prebooked seats together for us and, as I kicked back and praised the joys of having some space in front of me for once, Z poured rain on my parade by noting that she’s small enough to sit in any seat and has a proven ability to sleep anywhere. Well, the back of the bus is that way, m’dear… but then a stewardess came to distract us with a glass of champagne and a terrible drink of the month involving apples, bitter lemon and 7-Up, and her fear of business class (a rather rare ailment about frequent flyers, I suspect) subsided into a mixture of relief and a wrinkled nose of disapproval when a passenger on the opposite site turned out to be wearing flip-flops and shorts revealing pale, hairy legs. So much for business class being all business.

I had one last surprise up my sleeve: I’d preordered Book the Cook for us and even gotten her selection for it by asking her to pick her favorites off an e-mailed menu without telling her what it was for. Reconstructed from memory, our “Light Lunch” menu was:

Appetizer
Scallops with avocado salsa

Main
Hers: Slipper lobster Thermidor, buttered asparagus, and slow-roasted
vine-ripened tomato, and saffron rice
His: Fish souffle and spicy minced chicken served with pineapple rice and
curried vegetables

Dessert
Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough or Strawberry Something ice cream

The scallops were sublime, big and juicy and a surprisingly good fit for the avocado, definitely one of the best things I’ve eaten on a plane. The lobster — originally my choice, but ever the gentleman, I bowed to her birthday veto — was also cooked to perfection, but my Thai-influenced entree was a bit of a disappointment: all of it (souffle, red curry chicken, green curry veggies) was furiously spicy and tasted like something I’d get in a Bangkok canteen for 30 baht, which isn’t to say it was bad, just not what I’d associate with “gourmet”. The Italian wine she opted for was quite tasty, while the German riesling (the only other white on the menu) was sickeningly sweet and singularly unsuitable for my dish.

It’s a short flight to Denpasar, so the meal service was abbreviated, with no dessert/cheese platter or liqueurs (although port was on the menu). But the ice cream was tasty, even though I had to ask for it twice, and by the time Z finished exploring her seat controls, it was already time to descend.

SQ 375 DXB-SIN Y B777-200 seat 59D

I hate airport transfer desks: they’re always full of people with bizarre problems flying on bizarre itineraries that made my half-paper, half-electronic SQ-SV mutant combo look normal. This time around, a Chinese guy with a dodgy ticket, a very lost-looking Somali housewife and a pair of Pakistani mullahs had to be disposed of before the frazzled Filipino agent got around to processing me, and even my ticket took a couple of phone calls to sort out.

But eventually I had a boarding pass in hand and I set off to check out the Star Alliance Lounge, which based on the amount of LH propaganda lying around probably used to be Lufthansa’s. For an airport the size of Dubai, it was rather ridiculously small, with seating for maybe 40 and most of all of those taken even on this offpeak weekday afternoon. The full bar looked pretty good and they had rather spotty free wifi, but food offerings were limited to a few miniature sandwich-type things, chips and peanuts and the selection of newspapers was heavily Germanic (LH again?).

Back on the bird, which was coming in from Moscow and hence full of Russians knocking back vodka like it was going out of style. Somewhat to my surprise this turned out to be one of SQ’s regional models with no AVOD, and I understood why the people stuck on this thing for 12 hours were intent on getting liquored up. I’d forgetten to online checkin back in Saudi, so I’d ended up with an inner aisle seat way in the back of the bus, but the middle seat was empty and I could stretch out a little.

We took off on schedule and within minutes were back inside that crazy tail wind: I could feel the plane jittering a little as it was pushed forward and the airshow speedometer showed an amazing ground speed of 1138 km/h! Alas, once out of the Gulf the wind slowed down and meal service started. As I honestly can’t remember what I ate, I’m pretty sure it was airplane food, but part of the blame has to lie on Jhoom Barabar Jhoom, an utterly brainless Hindi comedy of the type that makes three hours on a plane fly past. A bit of laptop hacking later a simple breakfast rolled around (choice of muffin or danish with tea or coffee), and before I knew the plane was starting its descent, with a good half hour shaved off the scheduled flight time of 7:15.

SQ494 SIN-DXB Y B777-300 seat 35H

The flight started off ominously: on all seat-back and cabin screens was a freeze frame from the SQ safety video, showing a little girl with an orange oxygen mask on her face and the caption: “Take care of yourself before attending to others.” Kiasu or what?

That aside, it was another day, another SQ 777 — SQ is the world’s biggest operator of the 777 and unsurprisingly it’s also by an overwhelming majority the most common plane I fly. Fortunately life is made marginally more interesting by the fact that SQ has no less than four variants of this. The pedestrian B777-200 is the workhorse of the regional fleet, with neither on-demand entertainment nor decent business seating. B777-300s like this are a step up, with decent entertainment but still no near-flat seats; it’s only the B777-200ER that introduces the Spacebed in biz, and the still rare B777-300ER (aka “77W” in SQ-ese), which I’ve yet to fly, was SQ’s star until the A380 crashed the party.

But today, something a little out of the ordinary happened. We taxied out from the gate and lined up for our turn to take off… and waited, and waited, and waited some more. Eventually the captain came online: an indicator light for a punctured tire was lit. We taxied back to a safer position, waited for the mechanics to show up, and they eventually confirmed that, yes, a tire was indeed punctured. Nearly two hours after pushback, we arrived back the same gate we’d left from. They guessed 45 minutes to replace the tire, so I headed back to the lounge (T2 this time) for a quick bite and laptop recharge.

After barely 10 minutes in the lounge, it was time to try again, and this time we were off for real. I’d finished my first movie (an enjoyable if brainless Egyptian criminals-fall-in-love romp) by the time dinner rolled around. No Arabic catering here either, I’d had the same ayam rendang (chicken in dry curry) umpteen times before, but I’ve had worse.

And the flight continued. The lights went dark, I played with my laptop a bit, tried to sleep a bit, watched the barely entertaining Rush Hour 3, had a fairly bizarre “refreshment” of a croissant stuffed with salsa, tuna and yoghurt, had the lights go off again, and come back on only 30 minutes before landing. Soon we crossed over the northern tip of the UAE, flew past Dubai, executed a U-turn and came down for a landing, the Palm Jumeirah visible in the distance and the insane lit-up spike of Burj Dubai looking like a computer rendering error in the night-time sky.

Wahhabalinese Adventures 1: Singapore, Riyadh and Bali

At a squeak over 10,000 miles, this trip is no great shakes when it comes to distance, but there can’t be too many places on Earth with a greater level of contrast than its endpoints.

In the left corner, we have the virtually untouristed capital of a filthy rich, rigidly conservative, strictly Islamic absolute monarchy in one of the world’s most arid countries:


RUH DAFIF Riyadh [King Khalid Airport], SA

And in the right corner, we have the rather less wealthy yet famously liberal, only notionally Hindu and immensely tourism-friendly tropical paradise of Bali:


DPS DAFIF Denpasar [Ngurah Rai – Bali Intl], Bali, ID

I’m going to one of these for work, and the other for play, so my esteemed readers are invited to guess which one is which. Here’s the exact routing courtesy of the Great Circle Mapper:

SIN-DXB-RUH-DXB-SIN-DPS-SIN

That’s SIN-DXB on Singapore Airlines (SQ) Y, DXB-RUH on Saudi Arabian (SV) Y, and SIN-DPS on SQ C.

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