18 Hours in Nonstop Style: Singapore Business Class on the World’s Longest Flight
My last flight on Singapore 21, the airline's nonstop service from Newark (EWR) to Changi Airport (SIN), was in 2013.
After reading TPG's 2012 review, I decided to cover the journey for Engadget, my employer at the time, spending some 18 hours on SQ's gas-guzzling Airbus A340-500, a four-engine ultra-long-haul aircraft capable of making the 9,500-mile journey from New York to SIN without a refueling stop. Days later, the plane was retired, and so was the route — with hopes to eventually bring it back.
After years of waiting, that day arrived — Singapore 21 finally returned to Newark, with the inaugural departure this past Friday, October 12, 2018. I got to travel in business class on this historic relaunch, shortly after TPG's JT Genter traveled from Singapore to Newark in premium economy.
Typically, we'd book premium-cabin Singapore awards directly through KrisFlyer, but because this was an inaugural flight, seats were being held for media and other guests. Per TPG policy, we don't accept free flights for review, so the airline put an award on hold which we ticketed for 92,000 miles. Taxes were limited to the TSA's $5.60 fee, though they're a bit higher on the return.
At times, there's been excellent saver availability on this route, though some periods can be hit or miss. There's another interesting option as well: Book a paid seat in the premium-economy cabin and use 47,000 miles to move up at the saver level, or 70,000 at the "Advantage" level. If you can find availability, it's relatively easy to book award seats with Singapore, since KrisFlyer is a transfer partner of Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Citi ThankYou. See How to Book Business-Class Awards on Singapore’s New Nonstop From Newark for more detail.
Of course, business travelers and deep-pocketed consumers may prefer to purchase a ticket outright. Fares are steep, but not outrageous, given the distance flown and amenities on board. Assuming you book in advance, you can snag a round-trip in business class for roughly $5,100, or book a one-way ticket for about $3,800.
Airport and Lounge
With a departure time of 10:45am, I'd normally recommend planning to arrive at Newark by 9:15am. With a press conference and aircraft tour to attend, however, I was expected three hours earlier, at 6:15. The SQ staff was just putting the finishing touches on posters at the check-in area when I made my way to the business-class queue.
There was a film crew checking in in front of me, which took a bit of time, but soon enough I was handed my boarding pass, with instructions to head straight to SQ's contract lounge, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, which I very much enjoyed ahead of my Air India flight to London (LHR) earlier this year.
The Singapore team had apparently been under the impression that our flight was the only one departing from the gate area in Terminal B — when I walked up to the security queue, it became clear that that wasn't the case at all. With no premium lane to speak of, I found myself stuck behind 100 or so Spirit Airlines passengers — it took about 30 minutes to make it through the checkpoint.
I headed straight to the Clubhouse, hoping to grab a quick bite before our press conference and aircraft tour.
It's a very nice space — easily my second favorite Newark lounge, after the United Polaris Lounge in Terminal C, which you can also visit as a Singapore business passenger.
Since Virgin Atlantic and Air India flights depart in the evening, Singapore passengers have the lounge all to themselves.
Believe it or not, the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse is also accessible to Priority Pass cardholders, but only between the hours of 2:00pm and 6:00pm (1:00pm-5:00pm beginning November 4, 2018).
There's a small dining area at the back of the lounge — I'd head straight there if you're hoping to grab a bite.
Unfortunately, there isn't a buffet available — food is prepared to order. I requested a Clubhouse British Breakfast right away, but the press conference began shortly after, and for some reason my meal never arrived.
I did have time to use the Wi-Fi, though — speeds weren't outstanding, so I'd be sure to download any movies or TV shows to your device before you head to the airport.
There are two shower rooms available as well.
While I never did get to eat at the Virgin lounge, there was plenty to munch on at the gate — the Singapore 21 spread wasn't quite as lavish as what JT experienced before SQ 22, but I really enjoyed the chili crab and satay.
There were sodas and juice available as well, with Allegiant passengers boarding their flight to Savannah (SAV) at the gate just behind. Quite the juxtaposition with our inaugural celebration for the world's longest flight.
As with most major inaugurals, there were some executive speeches, followed by a ceremonial ribbon cutting.
And some... entertainment.
There were quite a few enthusiasts in the crowd as well, including Isabelle Chu, who had just arrived in Newark on JT's flight and was flying right back to Singapore with us. She had also joined the inaugural for the original SQ 22, operated by an Airbus A340-500 back in 2004.
After celebrations that seemed to go on forever, it was finally (almost) time to board through a giant gold and blue balloon arch.
SQ flight attendants were standing by at the gate, handing each passenger a hand-made fabric rose.
And with that, we made our way to the plane — eager to capture a video tour before passengers filled the cabin, I ended up being the first to board.
Cabin and Seat
There's only one SQ airliner capable of making this journey — the Airbus A350-900ULR (Ultra Long Range). Singapore's opted for the exact same business-class seat it offers on the regular A350, but with a whopping 25 additional lie-flat seats installed here.
There are 67 in total, arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration and spread between two cabins. Each seat measures 28 inches wide, with 60 inches of pitch and a bed length of 78 inches. My seat, 27K, was located in the much larger rear cabin.
It definitely feels like a huge space — while this is a common sight on the Airbus A380, I don't recall ever flying in a longer business-class cabin on a single-deck plane.
Just behind the second business cabin is a packed 94-seat premium-economy area, with most seats arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration, and three rows of 1-4-1 at the rear. JT Genter reviewed that product in great detail — don't miss his full impressions here.
Singapore's A350 business seats look fantastic, but there are a few design flaws, which I'll get into shortly — I prefer the newer A380 seat for sure, especially if you're traveling with a companion.
Speaking of your neighbor — center seats don't offer nearly as much privacy as those at the window, though there is a center divider that slides forward, offering more separation between the seats.
If you're flying solo, I would definitely go with a window seat if you can, though.
Best yet, grab a window at the bulkhead row — 10A, 11K, 19A or 19K. You'll have a bit of galley or lavatory noise and light to deal with, but bulkhead seats have a much larger footwell, making lounging and sleeping considerably more comfortable.
By comparison, non-bulkhead seats have a tiny foot compartment. It's awful, really — I'm of average height, at 5'9", and even I found the narrow, angled footwell to be very uncomfortable on such a long flight.
Unfortunately bulkhead seats went very quickly though — I was lucky to get a window seat at all, almost all the way at the back of the second cabin, at 27K.
There is one advantage of this older seat, however, compared with the version Singapore has on the new A380: storage. We're not talking tons of space — I still needed to store my backpack in the overhead bin — though there are several compartments, including one above the armrest.
There's another located within the armrest itself — you'll need to remove the supplied headphones to make use of the space, but I was able to store all of my smaller electronics there.
There's also a dedicated drink table, with a sliding compartment above, and another storage area beneath the (annoyingly small) footwell.
Each seat has a large, high-definition display. You can press a button and adjust it down, if you'd like, making it easier to see the screen when reclined a bit.
Strangely, it's not a touchscreen — the only way to select programming is with the wired remote, which I found pretty annoying to use.
There's decent connectivity, though — you can connect your own iPod (people still use iPods?) or HDMI device to the TV. Each seat also has a universal AC outlet, plus two USB charging ports.
Now back to the flaws — the recline. Most business-class seats recline from an upright position to full lie-flat. Not the case here. Passengers can only raise the leg rest and recline a bit without a flight attendant's assistance.
To move into bed mode, a flight attendant needs to release a latch and pull the back all the way forward — it folds down to the flat position, almost like a Murphy bed. Given that there's already a mattress pad in place, and the seat has a dedicated bed mode, I figured it'd be pretty comfortable for sleeping. Nope. My bed was hard as a rock — had I not seen the mattress pad with my own eyes, I would have assumed I were sleeping on a sheet of hard plastic. There also isn't an option to raise the bed up, so if you're in bed mode, it needs to stay completely flat — the only way to sit up a bit is to prop yourself up with pillows, which I found to be very uncomfortable after a while.
Still, I managed to get a full night's sleep, split between lie-flat bedtime and a couple hours of sleep with the seat slightly reclined.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
While Singapore offers super-posh amenity kits in first class, the airline previously didn't offer any kit in biz, opting to stock the lavatories with amenities and hand out things like eye masks and earplugs directly, instead. That changed with the re-launch of SQ21/22 — now, flight attendants walk through the aisle with a build-your-own amenity kit tray, letting passengers grab a bag and select only the amenities they want. It cuts down on waste considerably — a brilliant idea if you ask me.
Some amenities are still available in the lavatories, including razors, shaving cream, dental kits and more.
All passengers also get a mattress pad, blanket and three pillows. Unfortunately Singapore doesn't offer pajamas in business class — only in first, which isn't available on this plane.
Given that this was a special flight, all passengers (including premium economy flyers) got some extra goodies, too, including an inaugural flight certificate, an A350-900 model, Canyon Ranch lotion, a super-soft eye mask and an exercise band.
As for the IFE, there's an 18-inch display at each seat, with hundreds of movies to choose from, including dozens of Hollywood new releases.
There are also countless TV show episodes, including some complete seasons, plus two Canyon Ranch videos — one covering general travel wellness and a second focusing on exercises you can do in your airplane seat (perhaps only at a bulkhead row if you're working on your legs in premium economy). Note that the Canyon Ranch vids aren't easy to find — I was only able to pull them up using the search tool.
There are plenty of options to track your flight's progress, too — from the Wi-Fi info page to the wired IFE remote.
You can also access various moving-map screens, which I did throughout the flight.
Singapore provides noise-canceling headphones as well — while I wouldn't want to purchase a pair for myself, they're decent enough that I left my own in my bag for the entire flight.
The Wi-Fi's a bit of a different story though — it's very much hit and miss. I experienced many hours of downtime, not only when we were passing near the North Pole, a guaranteed dead zone. When the Wi-Fi worked, it was too sluggish to get work done, too, though I was able to upload some photos to Instagram — slowly.
Packages range from $6 for 20MB to $28 for 200MB, which I could easily blow through in just a couple of hours with a decent connection. Business-class passengers get 30MB of data for free, plus all passengers got a voucher for 30 megs from Panasonic to celebrate the inaugural flight.
Food and Beverage
Singapore offers a fantastic pre-order program called "Book the Cook," which I've taken advantage of a handful times, including on a recent A380 flight from Sydney (SYD) to SIN, where TPG and I had a Thermidor Showdown of sorts. Naturally, I was eager to see what would be on offer for the world's longest flight — unfortunately, Book the Cook never became active for our flight, though apparently it's available now.
Our food and beverage journey began as most premium flights do — with a selection of pre-departure drinks.
Given that we had some 18 hours onboard, the timing of the service matters a bit less than on, say, a short transatlantic redeye. Still, I was starting to get a bit impatient here. Due to some turbulence after takeoff, the crew had to take their seats for awhile — as a result, it took an hour for a flight attendant to make their way to 27K with some cocktail nuts.
My beverage of choice, a classic Singapore Sling, arrived a couple minutes after that.
I also asked to try a special healthy "mocktail" from Singapore's new Canyon Ranch partnership (more on that below). My coconut pineapple fresca was a bit sweet, but "packed with minerals such as potassium, magnesium and cytokinins, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits."
One of the highlights for me was the outstanding wine selection. Once I had a chance to browse the menu, I decided to skip the Charles Heidsieck Champagne and head right for the special Bordeaux, an outstanding 2006 Chateau Rauzan-Segla (about $80 a bottle). That's a higher-end wine than you can normally expect to find in business class — it's available only on SQ21 and SQ22, and only for a limited time (likely mid-November).
About 90 minutes after takeoff, my appetizer arrived. While there are dozens of a-la-carte items available later in the flight, everyone gets the same meal after takeoff — unless you've managed to Book the Cook.
Lunch began with seared prawns, served on a bed of quinoa. It was a cold dish, but flavorful.
A bread basket appeared moments later — I grabbed what looked to be a pretzel roll, but must have been something else, since it tasted a bit bland. It wasn't super-fresh either, so I didn't finish it.
About 20 minutes after that was my choice of main, the sous-vide beef fillet with wild mushroom cream sauce, sautéed veggies and potatoes. Other options included an Oriental chicken noodle soup, baked cheese-herb crusted halibut or deep fried pork in sweet vinegar sauce.
The steak was a perfect medium-rare, but unfortunately it wasn't properly heated — it was served closer to room temperature. A flight attendant promptly replaced it with another, but that was heated inconsistently as well — the items at the center of the plate were piping hot, while parts farther out were almost cool to the touch. Apparently this aircraft has a new oven system that's taking some getting used to — with some adjusted settings, I imagine they'll be able to sort out those inconsistencies soon enough.
Dessert was served from a tray, and included our choice of cherry ice cream or a salted butter caramel cake. I selected the latter, which I expected to be warm. It was served room-temperature, but still tasted pretty good. I wasn't able to finish all of it, though.
Finally, a flight attendant came through the aisle offering plates of cheese. The presentation left a lot to be desired, and I wasn't blown away by any of the cheeses. I wouldn't have minded skipping that course.
After a long nap, I decided to wake up with some TWG tea. There are a whopping 16 teas to choose from, but I went with Harmutty, described as "a robust black tea that improves blood circulation and will allow you to feel energized and refreshed." Exactly what I needed.
With that, the mid-flight meal was served, beginning with a selection of canapés: a cucumber stuffed with cajun chicken, a smoked haddock skewer and roasted pumpkin with mushroom. These were presented without explanation, and the flight attendant wasn't quite sure what they were, either — I later found a description in the menu, though.
I enjoyed my snack with another Singapore Sling.
For my mid-flight meal, I went with the healthy Canyon Ranch option, which I detail in full here.
My dinner began with a 221-calorie appetizer of roasted beets with burrata.
Next, I had the 307-calorie braised grass-fed beef short ribs, with a turmeric cauliflower mash, mushrooms and asparagus.
And for dessert, I opted for the 140-calorie lemon angel food cake with blueberries. Even though it was healthy, everything was outstanding — this was easily one of the tastiest meals I've had on a plane, and the beef was cooked perfectly this time.
That was followed by some off-menu treats (in that calories were no longer being accounted for).
I decided to skip the cheese this time, but I couldn't resist grabbing a chocolate.
Finally, a few hours before landing, I tried the lobster mac and cheese, after hearing some folks raving about it. It was fantastic indeed — just look at that gigantic chunk of lobster!
In the end, I did just fine without Book the Cook. The Canyon Ranch meal was by far my favorite, with the lobster mac and cheese a close runner-up. SQ management definitely needs to work on tweaking those ovens, though — both my steaks were cooked unevenly, and while I normally would have just eaten it anyway, the crew seemed eager to get it right, without success.
No doubt about it — Singapore 21 is a very special flight. Being able to fly nonstop between the New York City area and Singapore will save business travelers some three hours each way, while also enabling uninterrupted sleep.
That said, the evening arrival in Singapore might be a bit challenging for some to deal with, given that a business traveler leaving Newark on a Monday morning wouldn't make it to the office in Singapore until the following Wednesday. The late-night departure/early morning arrival of SQ 22 is perfectly timed for a productive visit to New York, though.
For me, this flight's future appeal will depend entirely on which seat I'm able to reserve. There are only four suitable window seats, in my opinion, located at the bulkhead, and another four in the center, at the front of each cabin. Any other seat gets you that tiny, bizarrely angled footwell. The airline also needs to add more padding to the bed and spend some time tweaking the ovens, but both of those issues can be corrected. The footwell, not so much.
Those quirks aside, I loved the Canyon Ranch meals, there's endless entertainment and SQ's crews are consistently some of the best in the biz. Singapore also offers excellent award availability from time to time, and while you need to book business and premium-economy seats with SQ's own KrisFlyer program, there are plenty of transfer opportunities, making it easy to accrue exactly the miles you need.