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Why people shell out big bucks to eat on grounded planes

Novelty-seekers wanting to try business class or suites may otherwise not be able to afford the premium cabin experience in the air in normal times

Singapore

WHEN Singapore Airlines (SIA) said seats on its superjumbo-turned-restaurant sold out in 30 minutes, one common question was: "Who on Earth would want to do that?"

Plenty of people, it seems. For every person who does not relish flying, let alone schlepping to the airport and onto a parked plane for some reheated airline food, there is another who cannot get enough of the aviation experience and is willing to shell out big bucks for it.

SIA is opening up two of its Airbus 380s at Changi Airport as temporary restaurants for two weekends later this month, offering dishes from its menu, two complimentary alcoholic drinks and free flow of other beverages.

A meal in a suite costs S$642 per person, while prices are S$321 for a business-class seat, S$96.30 for premium economy and S$53.50 for economy.

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At the top end, that sort of money would easily buy you an eight-course degustation at Odette, consistently ranked as one of the world's best restaurants, or a dinner for two (including wine) at Cut, the Marina Bay Sands steakhouse that is part of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck's stable.

Frequent flyer Mayur Patel was willing to apply for the sweet suite seat. The regional sales director for travel data provider OAG Aviation Worldwide said that he wanted to experience the suite again after flying in one once from Sydney to Singapore.

As a member of SIA's top-tier Solitaire PPS Club for 21 years, Mr Patel also wanted to support the carrier because he feels attached to the brand.

But what motivates people to spend hundreds of dollars on a meal in a grounded plane when they could go to a five-star restaurant or hotel in town?

There are many aspects to looking at this. The economy class price point comes with the chance to experience the A380, perhaps for the first time, and get a meal, drinks and in-flight entertainment.

Some would say you can do all this at home with Netflix and a takeaway meal, but there is a sense of national pride and a patriotic aspect to support SIA given the many headlines on its financial struggles.

For some, it would be like going to the movies with extra legroom (for those opting for premium economy) with value-added thrown in.

There are also novelty-seekers wanting to try business class or suites who may otherwise not be able to afford the premium cabin experience in the air in normal times.

Some are social media influencers or want that Instagram moment from the splurge.

And what does SIA get out of it? In addition to capturing new revenue streams, this is a publicity event to showcase the A380 flagship product to travellers.

The A380 economy class and other cabins were overhauled in the past few years, so it is relatively new. It allows people who may not have travelled on long-haul flights to experience the new cabins.

The airline can then hook potential travellers with their service and product offerings once travel rebounds.

It is not expected to generate significant cash as there are food and beverage costs that need to be taken into account.

Airlines typically allocate S$20 a meal for economy class, and there are related costs so the contribution isn't significant. What they achieve is publicity.

Any idea of the most popular class of seating? Business class and suites have proved the most popular for those that could afford it, but premium economy got the same level of attention given the price point.

Mr Patel did not get his suite in the end due to the high demand for reservations and because prior commitments meant he could not change to another date offered. BLOOMBERG

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