SINGAPORE-NEW YORK NEWARK
Singapore Airlines A350900ULR business class Singapore-New York Newark
BACKGROUND Singapore Airlines (SIA) reclaimed the title of longest commercial flight in the world in October with the relaunch of its non-stop service between Singapore and New York Newark. The flight covers 16,700km and is scheduled to take around 18 hours and 45 minutes.
Its previous service on this route (which stopped in 2013) used an older – and far less fuel efficient – aircraft, the A340. With the new A350-900ULR (ultra-long range), an extended-range variant of Airbus’s existing A350-900 aircraft, which SIA is the first carrier to operate, the airline hopes to make the route economically viable once again.
To do this, SIA has completely cut out the economy class cabin, meaning the entire aircraft comprises just 67 business class and 94 premium economy seats – roughly a 40-60 per cent split.
CHECK-IN I arrived at Changi airport Terminal 3 just after 1940 following a flight from Hong Kong, giving me ample time ahead of the 2335 departure of the inaugural flight SQ22 to Newark Liberty International airport. My luggage had been checked through to New York in Hong Kong, with boarding passes provided for both my flights.
THE LOUNGE Business class passengers on this flight will be allowed access to the SilverKris business class lounge, though for the inaugural flight I was permitted to use the SilverKris first class lounge next door. I have previously reviewed the first class lounge – see businesstraveller.com.
The T3 SilverKris business class lounge impresses with its size, and it’s an undeniably comfortable place to sit and dine. It could, however, do with a few enhancements: power outlets are incredibly sparse, particularly beside the seats, which are generally limited to small armchairs rather than a mix of tables and chairs, comfy seats and more private cubicles. The bar is also self-serve rather than manned and SIA, aware of these shortfalls, has indicated plans to spruce up the facilities next year.
BOARDING I headed to the gate at about 2215; we were given a pre-flight viewing of the aircraft, followed by commemorative speeches, then boarding began at 2300. THE SEAT The seat product for the A350-900ULR is the same as that on standard A350-900s – a good, spacious design that offers ample in-seat storage. This, however, is not the airline’s newest long-haul business class seat product. That was launched in December 2017 on board its new A380 superjumbos.
The business class cabin is split across two sections with a 1-2-1 configuration (A, D-F, K). I was in 25D, a centre seat in the middle of the second section with direct access to the left aisle. The seats are wide (29 inches) and recline to offer a fully flat bed, although this is done by folding down the back of the seat rather than pushing a recline button.
A multitude of cubbyholes are ideal for stashing away small items and devices, including a thin space perfect for stowing a laptop adjacent to the light and power outlet. There’s a large space beneath your seat for small bags, and a retractable divide that can be put up between you and your neighbour.
This seat’s main quirk is that, with the exception of bulkhead seats (pictured right), the footwell is off to one side rather than directly in front of you. This limits you to sleeping with your legs curled up and lying on either your left or right side, depending on the side the footwell is located, rather than being able to stretch your legs out fully. Ask a member of the cabin crew to help you fold the seat down to reveal the flat bed, mattress cover and blanket, as it can be tricky to do oneself and is not immediately intuitive.
The tray table is a good size and the in-flight entertainment (IFE) incorporates SIA’s new KrisWorld system, which passengers can log into using their SilverKris details to create playlists across different flights and even resume films they didn’t manage to finish previously. The 18-inch screens are HD, but not touchscreen – instead, the system is navigated using a sleek, intuitive controller. Noise-cancelling headphones are also provided.
BEST SEAT Single seats adjacent to the windows are obviously a prime choice, although there are some that might be worth grabbing over others. Seats A or K in rows 12-15 are a good bet, being positioned away from the galley and toilets; the front cabin is also forward of the wings, meaning your journey should be as quiet as possible.
Seats to steer clear of include 10A, which stands alone at the very front of the cabin with the galley directly beside it, and centre seats 17D and 17F at the back of the first cabin, which are also close to the galley and toilets that separate the two sections.
THE FLIGHT With around 18 hours to kill, the first thing to consider is mapping out when to sleep. This flight departs Singapore just before midnight and arrives in New York in the very early morning, so unless you’re thinking of sleeping the entire journey away, you’re either going to have to sleep earlier and have an extra-long day when you arrive, or try to power through the night and put sleeping off until later in the flight.
I planned to do the latter to make sure I was well rested upon my arrival in New York, so I aimed to eat, work and relax for the first eight hours, sleep for the next seven and then wake up for the final three in time for breakfast. This, of course, is easier said than done.
After boarding, I was offered a choice of champagne or orange juice from SIA’s new wellness-focused culinary partner, Canyon Ranch. We took off just before midnight and had our meal orders taken at 0020.
SIA has gone for flexibility when it comes to meal service times, and passengers are able to select their first meal one to three hours into the flight, and their second any time from eight to 16 hours into the journey. This gives you a good degree of versatility when it comes to choosing how you spend your time. It’s also possible to pre-select your meals before the flight using the Book the Cook option.
Choices for the first meal included pan-seared snapper fillet with red wine vinaigrette; beef (flat rice noodles); croque monsieur; and steamed lobster dumplings in soup. I opted for the noodles, which came about an hour later and were very tasty. That, combined with the fresh fruit that accompanied the dish, was satiating without being excessively filling – exactly what I was looking for.
A member of the cabin crew came down with a selection of amenities as part of a new “create your own amenity kit” concept unique to this flight. Along with a dental kit, earplugs, hand cream and lip balm, passengers can also grab a fabric Crease Release spray and a Wash & Stain Bar from The Laundress. (Socks, eye mask and slippers were already provided at each seat.)
A noticeable omission for such a long-haul flight, however, was pyjamas. SIA’s policy is to only provide these for first class passengers, but one would think that on a flight where good sleep is of such importance, pyjamas would have made the cut. I’d recommend bringing your own.
After eight hours I settled down for a solid seven hours of sleep. Unfortunately, at some point around the 11th hour, the cabin lights came back on for the second round of meals. This left me awake with just over four hours of sleep in the bag – not quite what I’d hoped for. The lesson? Use the provided eye mask and earplugs.
The second meal offered a broader array of options of varying portion sizes, including beef cheek in red wine sauce (from Australian chef Matt Moran); braised pork with citrus (from Canyon Ranch); Singapore chicken rice; braised egg noodles with seafood; parsley and cheese omelette; and a selection of dim sum. I plumped for the Singapore chicken rice that came with a selection of chicken and beef satays as an appetiser, which I highly recommend, as well as a crab salad and a selection of chocolates, cheeses, fruits and desserts. Meals are certainly sizeable and, with multiple courses, the challenge really is to keep yourself from overeating.
Fortunately the lights were once again turned off a few hours prior to landing, allowing me to squeeze in a couple of extra hours’ sleep – I’d already converted my bed back to sitting position, but I nestled down in the broad seat and managed fine.
SIA has introduced new refreshing beverages to this flight to help wake passengers up; I was partial to the agave and ginger lemonade, as the heat from the ginger and zest from the lemon deliver a pleasant shock to the system.
ARRIVAL We landed at Newark airport just before 0530 – a great time to arrive as the queues at immigration were nonexistent and I was through in a matter of minutes. My luggage was already on the belt by the time I got there – a pleasant surprise, and not something one can say about every US airport.
VERDICT SIA has done an admirable job in making this 18-hour journey comfortable. The choice of food and flexibility with when you eat gives passengers particular control over how they wish to manage their time.
Is this flight too long to do in a single go? Ultimately, no – there were times when the journey dragged, but at no point was it unpleasant, even when I wasn’t able to stick to my original sleep schedule.
The seats are very wide (29 inches) and recline to offer a fully flat bed, though this is done by folding down the back
Efficiency of flight time and overall quality of food and crew service
A return business class fare in mid-February starts from SG$6,935 (£3,870)
18 hours 45 minutes