World’s longest flight: A review of Singapore Airlines’ A350-900ULR in business class from Newark to Singapore
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During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips and we are not publishing new flight or hotel reviews. While bringing our readers unbiased, detailed reviews of travel experiences is one of our core missions, now is not the time. We all love to travel and know you do too. So, to help keep you entertained — and maybe inspire you — we are republishing a selection of the most popular reviews on our site, including the one below. Hopefully, this will help you once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.
This review was originally published in January of this year. The Singapore Airlines nonstop flight from Newark to Singapore was last operated on March 25, and the airline has cancelled most of its flights for the time being.
Tons of IFE content on KrisWorld, top-notch food and beverages, impeccable service.
Seat uncomfortable for lounging or sleeping, usage-based Wi-Fi pricing, poor headphones.
Singapore Airlines has held the title for the world’s longest commercial flight on and off for the last several years, but last year Qantas of Australia made a splash when it decided to fly two of its brand-new 787 Dreamliners from New York and London to Sydney.
As part of Project Sunrise, Qantas used these flights as tests to learn more about the effects of ultralong-haul flying, but those were one-off test flights with no paying passengers aboard.
So the title of world’s longest scheduled commercial flight is still owned by SQ21, which operates daily between Newark (EWR) and Singapore (SIN). With a block time of 18 and a half hours to complete the 9,534-mile journey, Singapore Flight 21 is, well, long. This flight has always been on my AvGeek bucket list, so I couldn’t have been happier about being stuck in a metal tube for so much time. After my experience, though, it became clear that the flight’s certainly not for everyone.
Because of the convenience of a nonstop flight, Singapore charges a pretty hefty premium for biz-class tickets on the flight. It’s not unusual to see fares hovering closely to $5,000 or more for the round trip. If you don’t need a flat bed, though, it’s pretty easy to find deals on premium economy on this flight.
If you’re set on flying flat, your best bet is to use miles for your ticket. Unfortunately, Singapore long-haul flights can’t be booked with most Star Alliance partners. Your only two options are booking directly with Singapore KrisFlyer or with Alaska Mileage Plan.
Singapore releases a fair number of saver biz-class award seats, and the saver KrisFlyer award availability should match that of Alaska Mileage Plan. Singapore charges 99,000 miles for a saver seat, while Alaska charges 100,000 miles. Singapore also offers Advantage awards, which are more expensive (140,000 miles) than saver awards in exchange for expanded award availability.
Although no credit card points transfer to Alaska, all four of the major points currencies (Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards and Capital One Miles) transfer to KrisFlyer.
Flight SQ 21 departs from Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport, which is home to almost all international airlines flying out of Newark. Since most of the international departures from Newark leave in the afternoon and evening, Terminal B was empty when I got there at 7 a.m.
Singapore’s check-in counters are on the third level of Terminal B, and there was no wait for any of the 10 counters. I had already checked in online but couldn’t print my boarding pass without visiting a counter.
The check-in agent was extremely friendly as she engaged me in small talk. She printed my boarding pass and directed me to the security checkpoint and lounge.
Even though I had TSA PreCheck printed on my boarding pass, the PreCheck lane wasn’t open that early.
Singapore doesn’t operate a lounge in Newark and instead contracts the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse for its business-class passengers. The Clubhouse is one level above the gates, easily accessible by stairs or elevator.
The friendly lounge agent greeted me with a smile and explained that all food and beverages were included during my lounge visit. I chuckled when he handed me the lounge’s Wi-Fi password (it was “Spirit,” like the budget airline).
The lounge was packed when I arrived. Virgin Atlantic flights don’t depart until much later in the day, so the lounge must’ve been full with Singapore passengers. You can also access the Virgin Atlantic lounge with Priority Pass, but only between the hours of 12 p.m. and 5 p.m.
The lounge is basically just one large room with different seating areas. There are no windows, and this is definitely one of the more bare-bones lounges that Virgin operates.
There is a small bar and some formal dining tables, but you can order off the menu from anywhere in the lounge.
Virgin was serving breakfast when I visited, and I wanted to save my appetite for food on board. All food and drinks were served by a waiter, as there was no buffet in the lounge.
My biggest gripe with the lounge was the bathroom and shower situation. There are two single-use restrooms and two single-use showers that double as restrooms when no one is showering. For a lounge that can easily fit 100 people, two single-use restrooms aren’t enough. I had to wait multiple times to use the restroom.
I spent about 45 minutes in the lounge getting caught up with work before heading to the gate. The gate area was empty, which wasn’t surprising, since Singapore A350-900ULRs — the ultra-long-range version of the Airbus A350 — only have 161 seats.
The departures board was the first and only reference to Singapore’s flight being the world’s longest.
Boarding began exactly 30 minutes before departure, and the entire plane was boarded within 15 minutes.
Cabin and Seat
Singapore’s business-class cabins on the A350 are really sleek and visually appealing. Seats are in a 1-2-1 configuration and split across two cabins. The cabin feels incredibly spacious, thanks to the lack of overhead bins in the middle of the plane.
The more intimate forward business-class cabin only has five rows of seats. The main business-class cabin is double the size, with 10 rows of seats. I’d definitely choose a seat in the forward cabin in the future for its privacy.
If you’re flying alone, I’d do everything in my power to select a window seat, though a couple would find the middle seats great. There is a small privacy partition that extended between the middle seats for pairs of strangers.
The seats themselves are stunning. I particularly liked how the colors alternated between beige and brown. To add more privacy, the window and middle seats are slightly staggered from each other.
The leather seats definitely gave me boardroom vibes, but they were slightly more uncomfortable than a plush office chair.
At 28 inches wide, these are some of the widest business-class seats in the industry. But though the seats are wide enough to fit two average people, the footwell is incredibly small. Furthermore, because of the cabin configuration, the footwell is misaligned with the seat, meaning that you have to either sleep diagonally or in a fetal position.
I’m about 5 feet, 10 inches, and I had issues getting comfortable while sleeping or relaxing. If you’re tall, you’ll definitely want to choose a bulkhead seat, which has unobstructed footwells.
If the bulkheads are taken, you might want to consider another routing, since you may have trouble sleeping on the 18-and-a-half-hour flight.
There is a legrest that can be raised to 180 degrees, but the seat itself doesn’t recline that much. When it’s time for bed, flight attendants convert your seat into a bed by flipping the seat over, kind of like a Murphy bed.
Once in bed mode, you can’t raise the seat to watch TV or get more comfortable. The bed is incredibly wide, but the sleeping surface noticeably hard. Singapore used a thin mattress pad that didn’t help soften the seat.
There is also an uncomfortable diagonal seatbelt that you needed to wear while sleeping when the sign belt sign was illuminated.
The seat has plenty of storage. There is a narrow shelf for sliding in books, computers, iPads and papers. There is also an enclosed compartment to the right of the TV above the cup holder.
Just below the cup holder is a small mirror. There is another enclosed storage compartment on the armrest, which is where I found a bottle of water and the provided headphones.
The self-explanatory seat controls are on the armrest closest to the aisle.
The other nice thing about the seats is the variety in lighting choices. It’s nice to be able to simulate an office environment when the cabin lights are dimmed. There are three lights to the left of the seat, one to the right and one above the seat. (There aren’t any personal air nozzles next to the overhead light, though).
When it’a time to eat or work, the tray table can be extended from the armrest adjacent the window. The 20-inch-wide and 14-inch-long tray table is massive and can be raised or lowered. The tray table also swivels for easy egress during meals.
There are four standard-size bathrooms for the 67 business-class passengers. There was never much of a line, and the bathrooms were kept pristine throughout the flight.
Overall, the seats definitely look prettier than they are comfortable. The seat and bed are quite hard, the footwell is tiny and awkwardly positioned, and the seat doesn’t recline much. Though the oversized width compensates for some of the seat’s flaws, I’d still prefer a reverse-herringbone seat over the ones Singapore installed on the Airbus A350-900ULR.
Amenities and IFE
Singapore’s Airbus A350-900ULR operates some of the world’s longest flights, so you’ll be happy to hear that there’s plenty of content to keep you occupied during your journey. KrisWorld, Singapore’s inflight-entertainment system, had over 300 movies and 700 TV shows. Of the movies, about 20% of them were new releases like “The Lion King,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Toy Story 4.” If you’re a frequent traveler, you’ll be thrilled to learn that Singapore rotates many of their movies on a monthly basis. In November, Singapore offered 79 new movies on board.
Aside from random TV episodes, there were 49 full seasons of TV shows, including HBO classics like “Big Little Lies” and “Game of Thrones,” as well as dramas like “Billions” and “This Is Us.”
There was also a robust game and music library on KrisWorld. With all the content, I didn’t miss the lack of live TV — and I almost didn’t miss the tailcam.
The moving map was high-quality and highly customizable.
Although the content selection itself was impressive, the actual TV screen was not. The high-definition TV screen measured 18 inches wide and tilted slightly downward to make it easier to watch TV in bed (though it still wasn’t particularly comfortable).
Unlike most other cutting-edge entertainment systems, Singapore’s was not touchscreen. Like a toddler, I found myself stupidly pressing the screen for a few minutes before realizing that I needed to use the remote instead.
For a flight so long, it’s important to be connected to home, but Singapore dropped the ball on inflight connectivity. Wi-Fi, provided by Panasonic, was available throughout the flight. Note, however, that most flights on this route go via the North Pole, where there’s no satellite connection. To take advantage of favorable winds, though, we proceeded via Europe, so we had a Wi-Fi signal the entire flight.
Business-class passengers got 100 MB of free Wi-Fi, and any additional data cost extra. Singapore charges based on usage, as opposed to time, which is really frustrating. I purchased a 200 MB package of Wi-Fi for $15.99, and I was through with the pass within 30 minutes. Expect a hefty bill if you’re looking to stay connected for most of the flight.
Furthermore, the speeds themselves weren’t great. I measured 779 ms of ping and 1.46 Mbps download. The upload test repeatedly failed.
There is a universal power outlet, a 0.5 A and 1.0 A USB port as well as iPod (really!) and HDMI connectors.
In terms of amenities, Singapore takes a different approach from most other carriers: They don’t offer traditional amenity kits. Instead, there were low-quality slippers, socks and an eye mask waiting at my seat during boarding.
If you wanted traditional amenities, they were in the bathrooms. The lavs were stocked with single-use mouthwash, toothbrushes, shaving kits, combs and hairbrushes. There was also a shared bottle of eau du toilette, facial mist and hand lotion made by the British perfume house Penhaligon’s in each restroom.
Flight attendants came through with a toiletries bag about midway through the flight. The bag had Laundress fabric freshener and fabric wrinkle remover, as well as hand cleanser, lip balm and a 1-quart Ziplock bag for toiletries. It was definitely a nice touch, but I missed the traditional amenity kit.
There was one plush pillow on the seat during boarding. Flipping the seat into bed mode revealed two other similarly sized pillows, as well as a thin mattress pad and duvet. While the mattress pad and duvet were of average quality, I loved that Singapore gave three plush pillows. It made all the difference in getting somewhat comfortable on the otherwise hard bed.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
With over 18 hours in the air, you’re bound to get hungry at some point. Fortunately, Singapore’s menu is exhaustive, and the food actually tastes good.
Once I got seated, the flight attendant serving my aisle came through with a tray of predeparture drinks. Singapore didn’t serve liquor on the ground, but I knew I’d have plenty once airborne, so I selected the coconut pineapple agua fresca — definitely a refreshing way to start the voyage.
As we were on our climb out, I browsed the menu for the flight. Singapore outlines the dining schedule in the menu, and I was happy to see that there was a meal right after departure, as well as a second meal on demand anytime between eight and 16 hours into the flight. Refreshments were always available on demand after the first meal service was completed.
Aside from the extensive inflight menu, Singapore also offers its Book the Cook service, which allows you to select from nine off-menu main courses at least 24 hours before your flight’s departure. I was quite satisfied with what was being served on the inflight menu, so I made all my selections on board.
Once we hit our initial cruising altitude, flight attendants came through taking drink and meal orders. I had the famous Singapore sling, which was served alongside warm nuts.
Lunch began shortly thereafter with a green salad, which was served with smoked salmon and avocado picked at a farm just days before our departure.
From the breadbasket, I took some of Singapore’s famous garlic bread and a sesame pretzel roll to accompany my meal.
The main was served about 90 minutes after takeoff. The baked, cheese-herb-crusted halibut filet was a tad too tough. At least the vegetable medley and potato side were delicious.
Once my main was cleared, I had a choice of cherry ice cream or mocha mousse cake for dessert. I had the cherry ice cream, a refreshing treat to end my meal.
Lunch didn’t fill me up. I hadn’t eaten breakfast in the lounge, so I was still hungry. Fortunately, I had lots of time to try many of the refreshment options on board.
I started by perusing the snack basket. I took SunChips and nuts, which satisfied my salt craving. But then I started craving something sweet, so I raided the snack basket again, this time for a bag of Tate’s cookies, a Hershey’s cookies-and-creme bar and an unbranded package of peas and crackers.
The snacks held me over for a few hours. Although I wasn’t totally hungry yet, I ordered more food, all in the name of research.
The two refreshments I tried were the tikka masala wrap and vegetarian rice noodles. Both were excellent, but I preferred the rice noodles. The wrap was served warm, and my only complaint was that I would’ve preferred naan instead of a traditional wrap. I have no complaints about the rice noodles — they simply hit the spot.
I fell into a brief food coma before being woken up about nine hours into the flight by the cabin lights. At this point, the crew was preparing to serve the second meal.
Just like all the other food I’d had thus far, this meal was delicious. The smoked trout appetizer was light and refreshing.
I had the steamed cod filet with fried soybean crumbs as my main, and it sure didn’t disappoint. The cod was flaky and tender, and the spicy Asian noodles added kick to the otherwise bland fish.
There was a choice of chocolate cake or apple pie for dessert, but I was so full at this point that I chose neither.
Singapore did a fantastic job curating an exhaustive menu for the world’s longest flight. Not only was I spoiled for choice, but everything I ate was delicious, too.
When flying with Singapore Airlines, you’re either going to have a good crew or a great one. On my flight, we had the latter.
From the moment I stepped aboard, I was referred to as “Mr. Griff” for the entire flight. Throughout the flight, the flight attendants checked on me every 20 minutes and offered snacks at each hour during the night. During the meal services, the crew was proactive about drink refills and removed my tray the minute I finished my food.
When the crew wasn’t roaming the aisles, it only took them three minutes to respond to the call button.
In terms of service flow, it was interesting that the first meal was served on trays from trolleys while the second meal was placed directly on the tray table. I don’t really have a preference for how the meal is served, especially since the service took about one and a half hours either way.
The crew also did a great job of catering to passengers’ sleeping schedules. Some passengers went right to bed after takeoff, but the crew kept their lunches waiting for them if they wanted it when they woke up. The flight attendants were incredibly flexible about mixing and matching courses as well, and I heard one passenger request a lunch appetizer for dinner.
After experiencing 18 hours of Singapore’s legendary service, it was clear to me how the carrier continually wins awards for the best airline service.
So would I do it again? Absolutely — and that’s not just the AvGeek in me talking.
SQ21 is a really special flight. Aside from the title of the world’s longest flight, the dining experience and service are so good that you may not want to get off the plane when you land.
The biggest issue with the flight was the seat itself. Though the seat is oversized compared to competitors, it’s not comfortable for relaxing or sleeping, especially if you prefer a soft mattress or have trouble sleeping at an angle.
My recommendation? Do whatever you can to select a bulkhead seat on this flight. If you can’t, rest assured knowing that there’s enough IFE content to keep you entertained for multiple trips from New York to Singapore. But if you’re a particularly sensitive sleeper, it may make sense to seek an alternative routing with a more comfortable seat.
All photos by the author.
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