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Singapore Airlines A350-900ULR to New York… Going the Distance in Style

todayDecember 14, 2023 24

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The world’s longest flight. Many routes have held that honor over the years. But right now the unquestioned champion is Singapore Airlines’ service between Singapore Changi and New York JFK, clocking in at an impressive 9,537 miles. I’ve been dying to get onboard since it launched. At long last, I got my chance.

The Airbus A350-900ULR was the clear star of the show. The “ULR” stands for ultra-long range. And the plane absolutely earns that title, handling 18-hour flights with ease. During our time in the sky with the ULR we appreciated the adaptations that allow it to handle routes that no other commercial craft currently can. The masterful inflight service touches of Singapore Airlines made the time in the sky fly by.

Read on for the full story — with plenty of photos and window-seat views — from the world’s longest-distance flight.

A long route with a long history

If you’ve been with us for a while, you may remember that ten years ago we live-blogged from an earlier version of this flight. Running between Singapore and New York / Newark Liberty, the flight at that time used an Airbus A340-500.

That aircraft guzzled huge amounts of fuel, which made it hard for the route to be profitable. Singapore Airlines cancelled the service in 2013, but the introduction of fuel-sipping dual-engine long-haul aircraft improved the math for ultra-long-haul routes. As a result, Singapore Airlines relaunched service to multiple U.S. destinations in 2018 on the wings of the Airbus A350-900ULR.

Singapore Airlines operates an exclusive subfleet of just seven of the ULRs, and uses them for their services to Newark, JFK, and LAX. The JFK route beats the Newark route by two miles, making it the new record holder at 9,537 miles. We flew that route in the Singapore-to-JFK direction, which thanks to prevailing winds has a slightly shorter flight time than from New York to Singapore.

Before we hit the skies we had to walk around the wonderland that is Singapore Changi Airport. The new Jewel shopping area there feels straight out of a sci-fi movie.

After a bit of exploring we headed to the gate to meet our aircraft (9V-SGD) up close.

Meet the seat

Boarding was a speedy affair, clocking in at around twenty minutes. That’s quick for such a large plane but there’s a reason for it: there are VERY few seats on this plane.

Singapore Airlines didn’t even bother including an economy class cabin. That’s to reduce weight, but also because most people wouldn’t want to spend 18+ hours in an economy seat. There’s two massive business class cabins, together occupying the front two-thirds of the plane and comprising an impressive 67 seats. In the rear third there’s a premium economy cabin with 94 seats in a 2-4-2 configuration. In total the plane carries 161 passengers, compared with 253-303 passengers (depending on region) on Singapore’s standard A350-900s.

The business class seats are spacious and convert into a broad fully-flat bed. Not a bad way to spend a full day in the sky.

For this flight we were in premium economy, which is still a comfortable place to be.

Most travelers — and especially AvGeeks — will prefer the paired window seats to the broader block of seats in the center section.

The best seats in the house are a set of six (three on each side) along the window at the very back of the cabin. Because of the fuselage’s taper, there isn’t enough space to place two seats per row in this space, so there’s just one seat with an adjacent large storage cubby by the window. You have to pay a bit extra for these seats, but the space and solitude can definitely be worth it.

I got settled in and started to familiarize myself with Singapore’s premium economy seat. Its strongest points are the large high-res screen, two USB ports per seat, and an unusually large amount of storage. The deep seatback pocket could fit multiple books or even a small bag. Plus there’s a water bottle cubby for each passenger.

Importantly, this seat is a great place to sleep. There’s plenty of recline, with both a leg rest that swings up from the seat and a foot rest that drops down from the seat in front. These planes have been flying for a few years and the seat padding has softened up a bit, though the finishes still look fresh.

Getting airborne

The views on taxi, takeoff, and climbout were amazing. On the way to the runway we got to see some other members of the Singapore Airlines widebody fleet. The takeoff roll was as long as you’d expect for a plane so chock full of fuel. Watch the video below, and don’t forget to show our YouTube channel some love if you enjoy videos like these.

Inflight food, Singapore-style

If you’ve flown the airline before, you know its crews offer up an amazing inflight experience. The moment the double chimes rang they sprung into action, starting with some snacks and drinks.

This flight’s meal plan includes a full lunch and dinner, with a third snack before landing. There are plenty of on-demand snacks for the stretches in between those meals.

One of my favorite parts of the flight was Singapore’s Book the Cook option, where you can pre-order meals from a much larger menu. Many airlines don’t even offer this sort of option in business class, but Singapore extends it to premium economy on long-haul flights. I pre-booked the nasi lemak for lunch and it was amazing.

As a little experiment, for dinner I booked the same dish I’d had on a business class flight earlier in the week. The first picture is the meal from this flight, and the second is the one from that business class flight.

As you can imagine, the plating was less fancy in premium economy than in business. But the dish itself tasted exactly the same. Getting fancy-class food quality in premium economy is a big win.

The final snack was very simple but still satisfying.

And you SQ frequent fliers will know what this specialty cocktail is.

Passing the time

For ultra-long-haul flights you’re really depending on the inflight entertainment options. Fortunately, Singapore’s KrisWorld system is excellent, with plenty of new release movies and TV shows.

The noise cancelling headphones were honestly better than a lot I’ve gotten in business class cabins.

As a huge additional benefit, everyone on the plane gets free wi-fi. It’s not enough bandwidth for streaming, but it was reliable. Other than a few short periods the coverage was pretty consistent. To keep your devices going, each seat has one power outlet and two USB ports.

Singapore Airlines does amenities a little differently than most airlines do. They hand out a very limited amenity kit, with a wider range of options on demand. The same holds true in their business class cabin, though the list of on-demand options is larger there.

The pillow and blanket they handed out were soft and substantial. I was able to get a solid seven hours of sleep, much better than my average.

A special surprise

We had reached out to the airline press office for some stats about the flight to help with our live tweeting, so we weren’t totally incognito for this one. By the way, if you want to be the first to see the stuff we do, follow us on Twitter/X.

#AvGeek things: when it’s midflight and the cabin’s dark, so you have to hang by the doors to take in the views

(worth it) pic.twitter.com/6U4M4pbRtk

— Airline Reporter (@AirlineReporter) November 12, 2023

The crew sprung a fun little surprise on us midflight, with a pair of Singapore Airlines chef bears.

Moments like this help show how enthusiastic Singapore crews are in general about their jobs. (Note: we’ll have a report on a separate flight where we weren’t on the airline’s radar, for you review purists.)

Are we there yet?

It turns out we got some major tailwind help. Compared with the usual flight time of 17.5 to 18.5 hours, our flight clocked in at 16 hours and 49 minutes (image credit to our friends at FlightRadar24).

Between the tailwind, the service, and the solid amount of sleep I got, I was almost surprised when it was time to start the descent.

We got to New York just in time for sunset. It made for some of the most gorgeous landing views I’ve had in a while.

Fun fact: this is one of the very few flights out there where you can sometimes see two full sunsets in one flight (at least in the winter).

The verdict

I never would have guessed it beforehand, but the world’s longest-distance flight flew by. There’s plenty of sleep to be had, thanks to the roomy premium economy seat with plenty of recline. And, for the time you’re awake, Singapore Airlines’ entertainment, food, and service are all top notch.

The A350-900ULR is a special aircraft to be able to handle routes like this. That said, even non-ULR A350s offer up a great passenger experience, with good cabin pressure (6,000 feet), better-humidified air, high ceilings, and vibrant cabin lighting.

Have any of you made it onto Singapore’s ultra-long-haul flights? We’d honestly love to hear your experience in the comments section below.

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