The longest commercial flight on the planet set off from Changi International Airport Terminal 3 last night at 11:37pm, and arrived at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport a day later at 5:29am (US Eastern time).
Excited passengers boarded the sleek, brand-new, two-class Airbus A350-900ULR (ultra-long-range) aircraft at around 11pm before settling into SQ22’s 67 business suites and 94 premium economy seats. As they headed down the aerobridge, airline staff handed out memorabilia that included a signed flight certificate from Captain SL Leong.
The marathon 19-hour, 16,700km route will initially be served three times a week, departing Singapore on Monday, Thursday and Saturday, with daily operations commencing on 18 October. The airline has an additional seven A350-900ULRs on order and from 2 November will fly non-stop to Los Angeles.
The two flights are just the latest services that signify the airline’s stronger presence in the US: in October 2016 SIA commenced non-stop flights between Singapore and San Francisco and by the end of this year will be operating 27 non-stop services a week from Singapore to the US.
“These new flights will also provide convenient connections beyond Changi Airport, helping to boost connectivity to and through the Singapore hub,” the airline’s senior vice-president for sales and marketing, Campbell Wilson said at a pre-flight reception inside the gatehold room.
“Flying on Singapore Airlines is not about one single service or feature – it is a holistic experience comprising the best seats, great food, plenty of entertainment, the opportunity for good rest and, of course, unparalleled service,” he told SilverKris as he boarded the flight, adding that he was looking forward to relaxing with several “nice meals and a few good sleeps” before clearing through emails and being ready to hit the ground in New York.
To fight any jet lag, the A350-900ULR will offer passengers a more comfortable travelling experience with features such as higher ceilings, larger windows, an extra wide body and lighting designed to reduce jetlag. Its carbon composite airframe also allows for improved air quality due to optimised cabin altitude and humidity levels.
The airline has also engaged wellness brand Canyon Ranch to design additional meals as well as exercise and stretching videos specifically tailored to the flight. Business class suites benefit from a new mattress topper and a choice of hard or soft pillows, while premium economy seats have also been updated with calf rests. The IFE now has 1,200 hours of movies, television and audio to choose from.
Passengers – many of them plane enthusiasts who had flown in from around the globe just to take this flight – arrived at the gate earlier for the reception, clinking champagne flutes and enjoying a colourful performance by cabin crew crooners, including the Frank Sinatra classic New York, New York and Etta James’ smooth-as-velvet At Last.
CNN international anchor and self-confessed “avgeek” Richard Quest was also on board the flight, live-blogging the entire journey. As an experienced long-haul flyer – in 2005 Quest was aboard a 22-hour Boeing demonstration flight that entered the Guinness Book of Records – he had a few words of wisdom for his fellow passengers.
“The key is all in how you plan a flight of this duration, otherwise you’ll sit there bored. You need to maximise the time that is relevant to where you are going – set the clock to where you are going and sleep at all the right times,” he advised.
Quest himself didn’t get much sleep though, tweeting and filing updates to his live CNN story for most of the 19 hours.
“There has always been a level of, and dedication to, quality that is very unique to Singapore Airlines,” he told SilverKris. “But in the last five years I’ve seen that improve even more. There is now an even greater degree of flexibility, and that’s huge. I am most impressed not by the frills but by the perfectionist nature [of the airline].”
Vippin Bagga from New Delhi decided to take a detour to a business meeting in Toronto in order to be on the inaugural SQ22. “I could have easily have flown from India to Toronto, but I chose a longer path so that I could experience all of this,” he said.
Cherag Dubash flew in from his home base of Dubai just to be on board SQ22. “I’m an ‘avgeek’ and have an Instagram [dedicated to aviation]. This will be the longest flight I’ve taken, but I’ve got my routine planned – I’ll first set up my GoPro and then settle into movies and surfing the net,” he said.
Dr Chong Jeng How from Singapore is from a group called “First to Fly”. He was travelling on SQ22 with eight other members of the group, who met during another of SIA’s world firsts 11 years ago – its first commercial flight of the double-decker Airbus A380 – and discovered a common interest in aviation. “This flight is a friendship thing for us – it’s a time to bond with each other,” he said.
And while connecting to the flight’s WiFi was priority for many passengers, Tilo Kruger from Ireland was doing just the opposite. “For me, a flight of this length is a great opportunity to escape and disconnect,” he said. “That’s what I love about flying.”