On 12th October at 05:24 hrs touching down at Newark Liberty International Airport it was official – Singapore Airlines had relaunched the “World’s Longest Commercial Flight” after flying a distance of 10,290 miles over 17 hours 25 mins from Singapore’s Changi International Airport.
The flight was operated on the newly delivered twin-jet A350-900 ULR (reg. 9V-SGB) fitted with 67 business class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration and 94 premium economy seats in a 2-4-2 configuration barring the last 3 rows which are in a 1-4-1 configuration (the best seats in the premium economy cabin if you want your individual space).
Singapore Airlines originally operated the SQ22 from Singapore – Newark from June 2004 to November 2013 on the gas guzzling all business class A340-500. With rising fuel costs, the yields were no longer sustainable, prompting the airline to cancel this route.
However, with Airbus investing in the new fuel-efficient carbon fibre reinforced polymer aircraft model (the A350-900 XWB) which was positioned to succeed the A340, Singapore Airlines decided to relaunch the route to give business travellers better connectivity between Singapore and the US, thus cutting down travel time each way by 3 hours.
As of today, Singapore Airlines which is the launch customer of this variant has ordered 7 x A350-900ULR aircraft, which it will utilise for flights between Singapore and the cities on the US West Coast.
Changi Airport and SilverKris Lounge
I had planned for this trip since May 2018, and this was definitely the highlight of my year. I flew in from Abu Dhabi (where I am based) on the morning of 11th October. After resting at the airport’s Crowne Plaza hotel, I made my way early at 1900 hrs towards the check-in counter for the 2335 hrs departure.
After completing the check-in formalities, I was interviewed by the Singapore Airlines’ in-flight magazine – SilverKris for a short sound byte (https://www.silverkris.com/worlds-longest-flight-touches-down-in-new-york/ )
Immigration was quick, and I headed straight to the SilverKris Business Class lounge. Being an aviation enthusiast, I had interacted with fellow ‘avgeeks’ over social media who were also on the inaugural flight. These guys being serious fliers were accommodated in the SilverKris First Class Lounge, and I was invited to join them there and talk planes over a glass of chilled champagne. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip! Some of them were on the inaugural SQ22 when it was originally launched in June 2004 and brave enough to return on the SQ21 back to Singapore after a 4-hour turnaround in Newark. Hats off to them!
The flight departure was at 23:35, however the gate opened at 21:35 for the pre-flight celebrations and speeches and interaction amongst passengers including a rendition of ‘Let’s Fly’.
There was quite a bit of media including CNN’s Richard Quest who live-blogged on the hour from the aircraft, some serious ‘avgeeks’ and senior airline and government officials. During boarding, the Singapore Airlines crew handed out goodies bags which included the ‘Inaugural Flight Certificate’, teddy bears, SQ engraved glasses, and an exercise band (courtesy of Canyon Ranch).
Cabin, Seat and Amenities
The cabin is divided into 3 sections – forward Business, the middle larger Business and Premium Economy in the back (there are no economy seats on this flight!). They even had a dead body storage… just in case.
Singapore Airlines offers the same business class seat which it provides on its regular A350’s. I was originally booked into 21A. However, on request of a young mother, I swapped seats with her husband who was in 24K. (I didn’t mind, as long as I got my single window seat).
The 67 Business Class seats are staggered in 1-2-1 configuration. If you are tall (above 5’9”), best reserve the bulkhead row seats which have a larger foot-well.
I have a bone to pick here on the seat design. For one, these do not convert to a flatbed at the press of a button. If you want to convert your seat to a flatbed, you need to call the flight attendant or flip it into bed mode yourself.
The backrest needs to be lowered for the seat to convert to a flatbed. But that’s not all; now you will sleeping at an angle (unless you get the bulkhead seat), as the foot-well is not below the screen but on the side, so you are sleeping at an approximately 30-degree angle which is uncomfortable on a 17+ and a half hour flight.
However, on the positive side, there is plenty of storage room for your electronics, bags etc. and the seat is also equipped with a USB charging port and a universal AC outlet.
Singapore Airlines does not hand out amenity kits in business class on other routes. However, this being an ultra-long-haul route, they have made an exception but with a ‘twist’.
‘Make your own kit’. A flight attendant walks through the cabin with a tray of amenities such as; facial mist, ear plugs, crease remover (which I thought was brilliant) etc…and you can build your own kit with what you think you need.
Singapore Airlines does not hand out pyjamas in business class, and they made no exception here, which I thought was a miss. I can understand not handing out on the medium and long-haul routes. However, consideration should have been made to hand out on this ultra-long range flight considering it is the World’s Longest.
Entertainment and WIFI
The IFE is an 18-inch display with no touchscreen (odd). You can only control the screen from the wired IFE remote. To complement the IFE, Singapore Airlines provides noise cancelling headphones which are decent.
The movie and TV selection was extensive and I did manage to catch some new movies there.
Singapore Airlines uses Panasonic’s WIFI which was very sluggish, even we were outside of the ‘blackout area’. The bandwidth just wasn’t there to surf the net or upload Instagram stories and pictures. All Business Class passengers got a complimentary 20mb usage supplemented with an additional 20mb voucher but was of no use due to the lack of internet speed.
Food and Service
As always, the Singapore Airlines soft product is solid (no pun intended). The service was excellent and to the highest standards by the 13 strong cabin crew.
For this ultra-long haul flight, Singapore Airlines teamed up with Canyon Ranch, an integrative wellness brand with the focus to design a nutritious menu along with rest, relaxation and general well-being.
A special Inaugural Business Class Menu booklet was published.
Two full meals were served in business class along with a choice of light bites between meals, and three full meals were served in premium economy.
This being a ‘red-eye’ flight to Newark, Singapore Airlines had carefully constructed the dinner schedule to ensure that the well-being of the passengers was not affected. (It also helps that they had prior experience of operating this flight).
Business Class Meals
The first one called the ‘After Take Off’ is served 1 to 3 hours after take-off for which I chose the Lobster Thermidor through their ‘Book the Cook’ option followed by some fresh fruits.
After the first meal, I caught up on some sleep and woke up about 15 mins prior to the beginning of the second meal service ‘The Mid-flight Onwards’.
For the second meal I ordered the following:
Canapé: Singapore Chicken and Beef Satay
Appetiser: Salad of crab with witlof, frisee and mache
Main Course: 6oz Rib eye steak
Dessert: Mango Cheesecake with Ginger Cookie Crumble and Fine Pralines
The above was paired with the Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve Champagne and a Singapore Sling which were my alcoholic beverages of choice.
After the second meal, an hour before landing, I was feeling a bit peckish again. So, I opted for the Egg Noodles with Fish Balls and Minced Chicken.
The meals were SUPERB. No complaints here.
The highlight of my year. As I mentioned in my short snippet to Bild (German Newspaper), I was thankful to be part of something historic.
As always Singapore Airlines has delivered a solid overall product.