Scoot: World's newest long-haul airline takes flight. So, how much does super-savings buy?
“Flight attendants disarm doors,” said the captain over the plane’s loudspeakers. Passengers craned their necks and darted their eyes to each other across the aisles.
The captain’s words would have been purely perfunctory at the end of Scoot airline's seven-hour inaugural commercial flight from Singapore to Sydney.
But we hadn’t even taken off.
In fact, we'd been on the plane for nearly an hour after a late push-off from the gate due to a “mechanical fault."
“It’ll be about 20 minutes before we can get this fixed," announced the captain. "Safety is our No. 1 priority."
Several passengers let out soft sighs. Flight attendants started rolling out snacks. The Oreos and milk had originally been meant as a special “slumber party” surprise snack.
Now they were being used to pass the time.
The old adage says, "You get what you pay for." Cynics who agree with that philosophy might also say, "I told you so."
Such was my first impression of Singapore Airlines' new Scoot, which bills itself as Asia’s newest no-frills, low-cost, long-haul airline.
In a media release, the company says it focuses on “safety, reliability and punctuality” as core values.
Getting the second and third wrong did not make for a good maiden voyage.
Nearly two hours after Scoot’s scheduled departure time, the plane gained speed down the runway.
We finally took off at 1:20 a.m.
Price versus comfort
“I wasn’t happy with Scoot," complained passenger Douglas Winkler after the flight."They’ve got a lot to learn. It seemed they didn’t know what they were doing.”
But the retired Sydneysider admitted, “I’m price orientated, so I would consider flying Scoot again, even though I prefer Qantas.”
Winkler said he paid about US$180 to scoot to Sydney, adding that a Qantas ticket would have cost him $400-$500.
Other passengers expressed similar feelings.
“It was delayed, but the price is right. I paid $200 roundtrip,” said Singapore resident Ying Neo.
“I wouldn’t expect much from a budget airline, but I would fly it again if the price is to my budget,” said Eileen Ngui, a Singapore mother of two.
These are the kinds of people that make up Scoot’s customer sweet spot –- those willing to compromise between cash and comfort.
Before the Singapore departure, CEO Campbell Wilson outlined Scoot’s intended customer base.
Data from Singapore’s Changi International Airport show that 26 percent of all air passengers who transit through the country use budget airlines, said Wilson.
With 47 million passengers in 2011, that’s more than 12 million potential customers.
A (very) unbuttoned Singapore Airlines
“It’s like a flying banana in the sky,” jokes a Singapore Airlines captain about Scoot. “You’ll see it coming.”
That’s not far off the mark. Scoot uses yellow and black as its two-colored brand for its current fleet of two Boeing 777-200s.
Scoot cabin crew -- nine to an aircraft –- are dressed more casually than their Singapore Girl sisters.
While Singapore Airlines attendants wear uniforms with obvious Asian influence, Scoot's crew wears black T-shirt-style dresses with a bright swath of yellow down the side.
That relaxed attitude –- “Scootitude,” as they say –- is also evident in the company’s simplified ticketing and pricing scheme.
Four words convey the pricing structure -- fly, bag, eat, biz.
The cheapest option is “Fly." I was quoted a price of about $400 for the Singapore to Sydney flight. This option includes just you, in an economy seat, with a carry-on bag. No check-ins allowed.
Next up, is “FlyBag,” which allows you to check in a bag weighing up to 15 kilos. Quoted price: $414.
If you’d like to eat, you can opt for “FlyBagEat,” which gives you the choice of a combo meal. Quoted price: $465.
Then there’s the “Biz” option that allows you check in a bag with a maximum weight of 20 kilos, two carry-on bags, meal service and a power outlet for a laptop. Website price: around $600.
Comfort level just hits marks
After a Champagne toast by the captain, and another apology for the delayed start, the cabin lights dim for our red-eye to Sydney.
As usual, economy seats favor the short and thin, though I was actually surprised with the legroom -- a 31-inch seat pitch that allowed me to nearly stretch out. That's at the low end of industry standards for economy class, a little more than you get on AirAsia (29 inches), a little less than you get on ANA (32 inches) and most others.
At 10 seats across in a tight 3-4-3 configuration, seat width was a pretty narrow 17 inches. Scoot’s website suggests that “extra cuddly guests” buy two seats.
One of the cabin crew reveals a “little secret” to me -- something called “S-T-R-E-T-C-H” seats. These are simply exit row seats that can be purchased for an additional fee -- between $4 and $12, extra depending on length of travel.
The S-T-R-E-T-C-H seats are bright yellow and orange and really can’t be missed. All other economy seats are a bluish-purple.
In business class, passengers sit in classic gray leather seats in a slightly wider 2-4-2 configuration. This provides a roomier 22 inches of width per passenger, with a 38-inch seat pitch.
About five hours into the flight, most people had gotten their meals except me. I flagged a passing flight attendant.
“I’m so sorry we missed you,” she apologized, looking at her list of FlyBagEat passengers.
She said that I could order a meal combo -- one hot entrée or sandwich, along with a cold drink (Scoot carries Pepsi, not Coke).
I ordered soya sauce chicken rice with Chinese mushrooms and quail eggs -– one of four hot options on the menu.
It came less than two minutes later, a completely different experience compared to other passengers' around me.
A man in my row complained he had been waiting for his lasagna for nearly an hour. The family of four in front of me received “hot” entrées that were cold.
Later, while stretching my legs in the back of the plane, I overheard a flight attendant whisper to another that other entrées had also been served cold.
My meal didn’t earn any stars, but it managed to keep me full.
In addition to chicken and lasagna options, nasi biryani (Indian basmati rice with chicken) and a creamy chicken stew were also available.
Additional cost for a hot entrée: about $8. A full combo meal: $13.
For snacks, Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was available: chocolate chip cookie dough, vanilla and chocolate fudge brownie.
Canned beer and pre-mixed alcoholic drinks were also for sale –- including a bottled version of the Lion City’s iconic Singapore Sling.
Interestingly, this Sling was produced in Austria.
iPads, not TVs
With long-haul flights, one question that invariably comes up is whether the airline features an in-seat, in-flight entertainment system.
Scoot does not.
In fact, CEO Campbell Wilson told me they ripped out 2.5 tons of cable from each plane to save on fuel. To balance that, Scoot rents out iPads for $17 for the entire flight.
The iPads are pre-loaded with films, TV shows and games.
The first edition entertainment guide lists "21 Jump Street" and "This Means War" as latest releases, "Avatar" and "Slumdog Millionaire" as favorites and "The Walking Dead" and "How I Met Your Mother" among television shows on offer.
The ultimate question as Scoot expands its service across Asia: will passengers continue to compromise on what they've come to expect in comfort from legacy carriers on long-haul flights?
Scoot thinks so.
There are growing pains to be sure, as evidenced by today’s inaugural flight. But with many travelers prioritizing price over comfort, the airline may find a steady flow of passengers if the price remains right.
In addition to daily flights between Singapore and Sydney, Scoot begins service on June 12 from Singapore to Australia’s Gold Coast five times a week.
Flights from Singapore to Bangkok and Tianjin, China (about an hour's drive from Beijing) are planned for later this year.
Shortly after Scoot’s inaugural flight to Sydney had landed this morning, the company announced it would start service to Tokyo and Taipei by the end of 2012.
Scoot says it aims to eventually reach India and even Europe through its long-haul, low-cost offerings.
Check www.flyscoot.com for the latest schedules and prices.