Sin­ga­pore Air­lines’ A350-900ULR busi­ness class Sin­ga­pore-Ne­wark New York

SIN­GA­PORE-NEW YORK NE­WARK

Business Traveller (Middle East) - - Contents - Craig Bright

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.

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 hor fun (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 meat 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

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