Singapore Airlines once again holds the crown for the world's longest flight with a nearly 19-hour non-stop route between Singapore and New York on a special ultra-range version of the advanced Airbus A350 jet.
This A350-900ULR carries just 161 passengers in two cabins – 67 in business class and 94 in premium economy – eschewing both first class suites and economy seats.
So what's it like to make this 19 hour trek? Australian Business Traveller stepped onto the inaugural flight of SQ22 from Singapore to New York to bring you this first-hand report.
Most business class passengers on the non-stop SQ22 flight to New York will begin their journey at Singapore Airlines' flagship SilverKris business class lounge at Changi Airport's Terminal 3.
In its favour: a great variety of meals, Charles Heidsieck Champagne for your pre-flight tipple and a subtle buzz as people set off for abroad or home.
The downsides: ahead of the late evening wave of overnight flights to Europe, the lounge is quite packed, and there’s a paucity of AC sockets for charging up your laptop, tablet or phone – although to be fair there's plenty of juice-time on the trip to New York.
However, given the fabled efficiency of Singapore's Changi Airport, you could arrive an hour before SQ22’s 11.30pm departure, skip the lounge (or duck in for a quick drink) and head straight to the departure gate.
Some SQ22 travellers – specifically the high-flying members of Singapore Airlines Solitaire PPS Club – will have access to the adjacent SilverKris first class lounge.
It's a much quieter and far more refined haven with bartender service, a selection of cooked-to-order meals and vintage Champagne (during our visit, the voluptuous Piper-Heidsieck Rare Millesime ’02).
Our take: if a PPS Club card is tucked away in your travel wallet you've got ample reason to get to the airport a little earlier.
From April through late October, SQ22 is wheels-up from Singapore at 11.35pm, with a 6am arrival into New York the following day.
The ‘northern winter’ timetable, which spans from late October to the end of March, has SQ22 departing at 12.40am to reach New York at 5.30am.
When we say ‘New York’ we mean the thriving mega-city metropolis, not the airport per se: the stateside anchor for Singapore Airlines’ non-stop flight is actually Newark’s Liberty International Airport, located in neighbouring New Jersey.
But if you’re a business traveller bound for the Big Apple, Newark is closer than JFK to lower Manhattan and New York's downtown financial district.
Singapore Airlines pegs the flying time for SQ22 at a nominal 18 hours 45 minutes, although by riding strong jet stream currents across the North Pacific our inaugural flight time was trimmed to 17 hours 25 minutes, resulting in a 5.25am arrival.
So exactly how does the A350 get from Singapore to New York? Singapore Airlines has several options depending on weather patterns and the time of year.
Our flight took the North Pacific corridor north-east towards Taiwan and Japan, through to Alaska, then spearing across Canada towards the Great Lakes and New York. That’s 16,700km from go to woah.
And there’s no getting around it: this is a long flight, and on a door-to-door basis it’s pretty much 24 hours.
Even passengers in the window seats don’t have much of a diversion: the flight leaves Singapore close to midnight and lands in New York before dawn, with just an hour or two of sunrise as we neared Japan before the eastbound Airbus A350 darted back into darkness.
A large chunk of the flight is spent sleeping, but even if you’re a sound sleeper there’s a finite limit to how much kip a body can have, and even with inflight entertainment content and WiFi you’re still spending 19 hours in that seat.
And yes, several times during the flight my lower back and legs ached – most noticeably with a tightness around the quads – which was my cue to get up, walk around and stretch.
The problem is that there is almost nowhere to do this. The aisles are narrow and often involved squeezing past crew as they went about their duties; the galleys are way too crammed and busy; the exit areas are either at the galley or directly ahead of a row of seats.
This is where I really noticed the lack of any secondary ‘social’ space such as a small lounge area with a self-serve bar for drinks and snacks. In my experience, being able to climb out of your cosy crib, change the scenery and chat with fellow flyers makes a noticeable difference on any long flight.
If you've flown business class on Singapore Airlines' standard Airbus A350 – which is already darting across the SQ network, including Melbourne and Brisbane, along with key destinations in Asia and Europe – then you'll know what to expect from this ultra-long range A350, and that's not a bad place to start – even if it hark back to 2013, when they were first introduced on the airline's Boeing 777-300ER jets.
First of all, this is a fairly comfortable and well-appointed seat bristling with almost all the mod cons.
I'm a fan of the way the seat pretty much becomes my personal nest, putting most of what I'd want during the flight within arm's reach.
Something that hasn't changed is the amount of storage space in and around the seat – there are several usable cubby holes which come in handy on long international flights.
This one, next to the video screen, is ideal for your amenity kit and other odds-and-ends.
Up behind your shoulder is a long open recess perfect for laptops, tablets, books and magazines.
Next to your knee is a pocket filled with SQ’s own collateral such as inflight magazines and a duty-free shopping catalogue, but if you turf those into the overhead bin it’s a neat fit for an iPad (just keep the safety card in the pocket).
Finally, the seat’s shelf contains a deep rectangular compartment with a pop-up lid.
This is home to the supplied noise-cancelling headphones, but if you’ve brought your own, throw the airline’s cans into the luggage bin and reclaim this storage space for yourself.
A small raised platform on the floor in front of your seat is the right size for a very compact bag (such as a handbag) or your shoes.
Speaking of carry-on bags, Singapore Airlines chose not to fit luggage lockers above the middle seats in business class.
While this makes the cabin feel especially roomy, anybody in those seats have to stow their luggage in the bins to either side, above the window seats.
Fortunately those bins are quite deep, and with ample at-seat storage there should be little reason for passengers – especially well-organised business travellers – to be hopping up and down to retrieve and put away items during the flight.
In terms of layout, every seat in the 1-2-1 cabin is adjacent to the aisle.
This means the paired middle seats are quite apart from one another, which is perhaps not ideal for some couples...
… although if you’re flying solo, the siding privacy screen could come in handy.
The window seats aren't exactly next to the window, with the bench and side panel between the passenger and the view.
In every seat, an extended wing between the passenger and the aisle provides an extra degree of privacy from other passengers.
The tray table is ample-sized for a 15-inch laptop, albeit with a little bounce if you're not a light touch on the keyboard.
Stepping out of the seat without putting the table away is extremely awkward, as the tray has limited forward movement and the armrests facing the aisle don’t collapse.
Directional LED reading lamps are at your left and right shoulders. Next to the laptop storage shelf is a concealed 'connectivity hub' with a multi-country AC socket and two USB power jacks – one of which is a higher-power outlet to fast-charge a large smartphone or tablet.
There are also two of the least-used ports ever installed on a plane: a multi-pin iPod socket for playing video storied on that device onto the larger seat screen, and a HDMI port for achieving the same results with your laptop or tablet.
With 19 hours in the air, the option to jump online via the A350's high-speed satellite Internet service has added appeal.
However, this being an the inaugural flight with scores of media, all of whom were given free unlimited WiFi and many soaked up bandwidth by uploading video clips – proved a poor example of what the system can deliver. Connections were patchy and unreliable, with speeds rarely exceeding what was needed for instant messaging or basic email.
For now, we’ll need to take Singapore Airlines at its word that passengers can expect around 6Mbps depending on how many users are online and what they’re doing, as well as the flight path (there's a 2.5 hour blackspot at the nothern extremities of the globe).
Even if you do score a speedy channel, the system charges for how much data you use rather than how long you are connected – which puts quite a damper on things, as data consumption can be relatively unpredictable.
Business class passengers get a free serve of 30MB, which can vanish in a quick session of email and Web browsing.
The 20MB Chat plan, intended for text-based messaging services, costs US$6, with a meatier 80MB for US$16 and 200MB for $US28.
Similar to many other Singapore Airlines business class seats, the setback flips down to reveal a fully-flat 2 metre (78-inch) bed with sheets, a blanket and pillows.
One welcome change on the A350-900ULR is the introduction of a mattress topper, which provides an extra layer of padding and definitely made for a more restful sleep on the Singapore-New York trek.
The angled sleeping position and relatively small footwell of the A350 business class seat isn’t for everyone.
The former meant I was very aware of sleeping ‘crooked’ when lying in my back – oddly, sleeping on my side made this less noticeable.
The latter certainly won’t suit passengers with plus-sized plods, but even those with regular-sized feet (around 8 for men and women) will find their feet resting against the walls of the footwell.
Managing the meal service on a 19-hour flight is far from straightforward, especially when that flight leaves just before midnight and arrives around 6am.
Singapore Airlines' approach is to offer two meals at 'recommended timings' – although passengers can choose to have their meals served whenever they choose – plus a to-be-expected refreshment menu available throughout the flight.
The two meals can be selected from the inflight menu, which includes many familiar items from Singapore Airlines' panel of consulting chefs alongside new options from US wellness specialist firm Canyon Ranch which put the focus on nutrition, hydration and ease of digestion. in addition, the airline’s highly-regarded Book The Cook service for pre-ordering meals is particularly beguiling with almost 50 dishes listed for business class flights out of Singapore.
90 minutes after taking off from Singapore the cabin crew served a light supper.
This came out on a single tray and included several items from the refreshment menu of other Singapore Airlines flights. I opted for the steamed lobster dumplings in ‘superior sauce’.
It was light and delicious, although I eyed my seatmate’s ‘Book The Cook’ Lobster Thermidor with envy.
Alternatives on the inflight menu included pan-seared lion head snapper fillet; beef hor fun (Chinese-style wok-fried rice noodles with beef and gravy); and a ham & cheese croque monsieur sandwich.
From three hours after take-off to three hours before landing, a refreshment menu of 'light bites and snacks’ kicks in.
The second ‘midflight onwards’ meal service is available from eight to 16 hours into the flight, although Singapore Airlines says it can be served “up to two hours before landing”.
This is a more conventional four-course meal with a canapé of chicken and beef satay, followed by an appetiser, main course and dessert.
For this flight I wanted to sample the new wellness meals developed by Canyon Ranch.
The appetiser was a delightful prawn creviche...
… followed by braised pork with citrus, a white bean cassoulet and spinach and parsley gramolata.
That certainly didn’t match perceptions that wellness meals have to look or taste unappealing and must lean towards being ‘hippy food’, and that seemed to be a common thread with these Canyon Ranch dishes, striking a balance between health benefits without veering too far left of field.
An example of this is the dessert, which was a French apple frangipane tart – I’m uncertain how that much sugar in the middle of a flight can be considered good for you.
Later during the flight I tried the sole Canyon Ranch item on the refreshment menu: a Greek yoghurt and granola parfait.
The Canyon Ranch menu even extends to an agave-ginger lemonade packed with Vitamin C, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory goodness.
Water is of course ideal to keep you hydrated during any flight, but there's also something to be said for a tipple or two, especially if it helps you sleep.
If that’s your thing, drinks available on SQ22 included Charles Heidsieck brut reserve Champagne, a 2006 Chateau Rauzan Segla Bordeaux and two Aussie chardonnays: a 2015 Devil’s Lair Estate from Margaret River and a 2016 Coldstream Hills from the Yarra Valley.
Singapore Airline has also added two wellness-oriented teas from TWG: Harmutty is a pick-me-up energizing tea with vitamins, zinc and antioxidants, while Bain de Roses is a soothing blend to help you relax and sleep.
The biggest area for improvement in SQ22’s meal service is that the second meal is rolled out around the middle of the flight, when most passengers seemed still to be sleeping: the cabin lights go up, meal trolleys roll out, tables are set, with all the associated noise and movement you’d expect for at least an hour.
Although Singapore Airlines allows passengers to take this meal at almost any time during the second half of the flight, it doesn’t really promote this ‘dine on demand’ option and sticks to a single cabin-wide serving session which is incredibly disruptive if you’re not in the mood for eating at that point.
I’d much rather see Singapore Airlines fully embrace dine-on-demand for the main meal and let each passenger choose when they’d like to eat and bringing meals directly to that seat, while the cabin lights and noise level remain lower.
Entertainment & Service
You'd expect that a 19-hour flight would come with a massive selection of entertainment on tap, and thankfully Singapore Airlines' KrisWorld system is jam-packed with movies and boxed sets of TV shows – over 1,200 hours, all up – and plenty of albums waiting to be discovered.
Recent releases screened during my flight included Ocean's 8, with Singapore Airlines perhaps aware that many busy business travellers – and that's surely the target audience of the non-stop New York flight – often have too little time to catch the latest flicks at the cinema.
I opted for Incredibles 2 (yes, it's almost as good as the first one) and the insightful Robin Williams biodoco Come Inside My Mind. That was four hours down, 15 to go.
The 18-inch display is rather oddly not a touchscreen, despite a very tap-friendly interface – so much so that you instinctively start to tap and swipe the screen before you realise that you need to drive the IFE through the touchscreen remote control tucked into one of the seat's sidewalls.
This is a very last-generation approach which makes using the entertainment system far more cumbersome that it should be.
If you've installed the Singapore Airlines app onto your iPhone or Android smartphone (or tablet, come to that) you can wirelessly pair that device to your individual screen to become a remote control.
For added techno-cool points: the app contains a catalogue of the inflight content, complete with trailers.
Not only can you browse the library ahead of your flight and plan which shows you'd like to watch, but you can add them to a Favourite list and, once your phone or tablet is linked to your seat's screen, treat the Favourites menu as your personal playlist.
The app also has a collection of digital magazines for tablets, although given their size you'd best download these ahead of your flight.
As you'd expect, the supplied noise-cancelling headphones are up to the task but won't replace your favourite cans from Bose, B&O, Sony or co.
Service through the flight was prompt and warm, and typical of what I've come to expect from Singapore Airlines.
One concession made for these ultra-long flights is that Singapore Airlines now offers a business class amenity kit, of sorts.
On other Singapore Airlines business class flights there's usually a pair of socks at your seat, with other amenities – dental and shaving kits, combs and brushes, even some facial mist and splash-on cologne – in drawers in the bathroom.
However, for the non-stop flight to New York, cabin crew come around with a tray of items for you to choose from.
It's an odd mix: the lip balm and hand cream make sense, as does the crease remover (a very good fit for the life of the high-flying business traveller). Less directly useful is the stain-removing soap bar, and there's no sign of a facial moisturiser or other practical skincare products such as eye cream.
The advent of ultra-long distance flights will really challenge airlines to rethink amenity kits, and I'd even suggest that products such as facial moisturising masks should be handed out.
Something else which was missing: pyjamas. Again, Singapore Airlines is among those carriers which doesn't do PJs in business class, but I'd have thought that for The World's Longest Flight they would make a sensible exception. After all, you spend almost 19 hours in your seat and a large portion of that time sleeping.
The non-stop flight between Singapore and New York is the sign of things to come, especially as Qantas weighs up its own direct services from Sydney and Melbourne to New York and London.
After making the near 19-hour journey of SQ22, I'd say that the concept works fine but from Singapore Airlines' perspective it needs some finessing.
Some improvements can be addressed: a more individualised main meal service instead of waking the whole cabin; a more considered approach to the amenity kit; and, please, pyjamas.
However, I feel that aspects of the seat design and the lack of any social area detract from the overall experience.
Would I fly non-stop from Singapore to New York again? Yes, without question. But there's a bit more to be done to make this flight fully meet and ideally surpass passengers' expectations.
David Flynn travelled as a guest of Singapore Airlines