Affluent, food-loving Singaporeans aren’t averse to spending $500 on a meal. But generally, they expect that it’ll come with a bit of ambience. Thanks to the pandemic, that bar has been lowered. On Monday, Singapore Airlines Ltd. sold out seats to eat lunch on a grounded jet at the airport. Tickets ranged from $40 for economy to $474 for a private suite. Demand is so strong that the airline is adding dinner service and extra days to what was supposed to be a two-day stunt. For those who miss out, it will even deliver meals, along with an amenity kit, to a private residence for a mere $650.
As airplane food good goes, it doesn’t get much better than Singapore Airlines. But nobody pays the price of an economy-class ticket to Tokyo for the privilege of eating reheated food, no matter how good. Instead they’re paying a premium for a brief, nostalgic trip back to normality — when normality meant the ability to travel on demand. For a global travel industry beaten down by Covid-19, that perhaps offers a glimmer of hope.
There are few places where international travel plays a bigger role in the culture and economy than in Singapore, a 280 square-mile island with an unusually rich and diverse array of urban and rural attractions. But the country’s small size and easy proximity to Indonesia and Malaysia have allowed Singaporeans to take for granted their ability to cross borders. On weekends, Singaporean license plates are as common in southern Malaysia as New York plates are in Pennsylvania.
Singapore’s role as a global logistics and finance hub has also spurred its travel industry. For decades, the government has encouraged the recruitment of foreign businesses and workers. Non-Singaporeans comprise 57% of financial-sector senior management roles in the country, for example. And the government has continually updated its airport to attract more visitors and encourage airlines to make the city a layover hub.
It has succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations. Changi Airport regularly wins major awards and its traffic has soared. In a distinctive twist, it has also long been a place for locals to hang out. In part, this is practical: Most Singaporeans live within 30 minutes of the all-night, air-conditioned facility and its range of restaurants and shops (many of which are located outside security). But it also reflects Singapore’s globalized outlook. There’s a comfort level with being connected to those who choose to visit their city-state, and reciprocating those visits with huge volumes of outward travel.
Nowhere was that embrace of globalization more evident than in Jewel, a massive retail-and-entertainment hub that opened at Changi in 2019. It was partly intended to transform the airport into a new city center, complete with the world’s largest indoor waterfall.