10 Takeaways From The World’s Longest Flight In Business Class

Filed Under: Singapore, Travel

Yesterday I took the world’s longest flight — SQ 22 from Singapore to Newark — in business class. Shorty after the flight I shared my impressions of the odd meal service flow on the flight, which I thought was worthy of a separate post, given what a complex issue it is.

In this post I wanted to share my overall takeaways from this flight, in no particular order:

Solid food, not great service flow

This is just a short recap of the point I made in the previous post. I thought the food itself tasted pretty good, I just though the service flow was poorly designed, in particular with the main meal being served right in the middle of the flight. I think the main meals should be served at the beginning and end of flight, with a more optional service in the middle of the flight.

Some aspects of the menu also didn’t make sense, like that only two items on the entire menu were breakfast options.

The A350-900ULR is one sleek plane

This is such a beautiful plane, with only 161 seats spread across business class and premium economy. You have a forward business class cabin, that’s the size you’d usually find on most planes.

Then you have a massive business class cabin behind that.

Then you have an intimate premium economy cabin in the back.

What a cool plane!

Excellent bedding, not excellent bed

I appreciate some good airline bedding, and that’s an area where Singapore Airlines delivers on this flight. Business class passengers get three pillows (all of which are excellent), plus a nice blanket. That’s impressive.

Unfortunately the bed as such isn’t great. I’ve written about my issues with the Singapore Airlines business class seat in the past, and how it’s hard as a rock in bed mode. So in the end I was able to nap, but I’ve had better sleep on planes.

The flight has the same old Singapore business class seat

Beyond the bed, I have to specifically call out that I really don’t like Singapore Airlines’ seat. I feel like Singapore Airlines used to be so innovative, but that’s simply not the case anymore with their hard product.

Their business class hard product is fine, though I don’t even rank it in the top five of business class seats. The seat is hard, if you want to stretch out you have to do so in a footwell to the side, and you also have to get up to flip your seat over between bed mode and relaxing mode, which is a bit annoying, given that you might do so several times during an ultra longhaul flight.

Wifi is good but expensive

Wifi is an important feature when you’re in the air for more than two thirds of a day. The good news is that Singapore Airlines chose Wi-Fi that’s as high speed as it gets.

The downside is that Wi-Fi is expensive, and the cost is based on data usage rather than time. Business class passengers get 30MB of free Wi-Fi, though you’ll run through that pretty quickly. Otherwise the biggest option is a 200MB package for $28.

I ended up buying four packages, so I spent over $100 for Wi-Fi on the flight. That’s a lot of money to spend on Wi-Fi, though at the same time, it allowed me to essentially have a truly productive workday while onboard, which I’ll take over an airline with a garbage OnAir Wi-Fi system that’s much cheaper, for example.

Still, I’d much rather they offered a pass for the entire flight at a more reasonable cost.

The crew was incredible and hard working

Singapore Airlines crews range from good to exceptional (unlike most other airlines, where they might range from very bad to very good). The crew working the flight couldn’t have been kinder, especially as they had a lot of passengers to take care of.

I couldn’t help but feel like it’s kind of cruel to work a flight like this. The flight leaves at 1AM, so presumably most crew members boarded the plane tired. And then they have to work for 17 hours. The crew did get five hours of rest (there are two “shifts,” and they get a three hour nap in the first half of the flight and a two hour nap in the second half of the flight), but still, this is such a tough route to work.

Despite that, they were constantly smiling, attentive, and even looked every bit as put together when we landed as when we took off (while I looked like a mummy at that point).

18 hours of light deprivation is tough

As I hinted at in the previous post, the challenge with this flight is that everyone is on a different schedule.

For a flight in late October, it was dark outside for about the first six hours of the flight, then it was light outside for a few hours, and then it was dark for the rest of the flight. The entire time all windows in the cabin were lowered, and the cabin lights were completely dark with the exception of the first hour or so, the last two hours, and a roughly two hour period in the middle of the flight.

It makes sense that this is the case, though the lack of light for 18+ hours (especially if you were in Singapore before, where it was already dark for six hours by the time you boarded) was tough on my body, and drained my energy.

There’s nowhere to stretch your legs

While some other airlines have an onboard bar and social area, the A350-900ULR doesn’t. On one hand I get it — operating an ultra longhaul flight is expensive, and they need to have as many premium seats as possible to make the economics work. On the other hand, I don’t — if there’s one flight in the world that needs some sort of a space to stretch your legs, it’s this one.

It’s not the lack of a social area that bothers me, per se, but rather that there’s nowhere to stretch your legs, as even the areas around the bathrooms are quite small. I felt like I had no choice but to just sit the entire time.

No amenity kits and no pajamas (sort of)

While Singapore Airlines is known for their excellent soft product, the airline doesn’t offer amenity kits or pajamas in business class.

That’s mostly still the case, even on this flight. They don’t offer pajamas — you’d think they would, but nope.

The airline does offer a quasi-amenity kit, though. First they offer slippers, eyeshades, and socks, as they do on most longhaul flights.

In addition to that they come around with a basket containing several types of amenities, and they even have a leather pouch you can put them in. I don’t get why they don’t just fully offer an amenity kit at this point, but Singapore Airlines tends to be a bit stubborn.

18 hours flies by, but also doesn’t

The flight time was 17hr15min, so in the end you spend over 18 hours in your seat. I take flights all the time in the 12-15 hour range, so I wondered if this would feel significantly different. The answer is yes and no.

When I had supper, took a nap, and worked for a couple of hours, and still has 12 hours to go to Newark, yes, it felt long. But by the end of it I’m not sure it actually felt significantly longer than my usual ultra longhaul flight.

I guess it’s like many things in life, where the days are long and the years are short. In the case of this flight, the minutes were long but the hours were short, I guess. 😉

So no, I can’t say it felt that much longer than other flights.

What do you make of this flight — does it sound like pure bliss, pure hell, or something inbetween?

  1. “The flight leaves at 1AM, so presumably most crew members boarded the plane tired.” Ummm, why wouldn’t they have taken a nap just before leaving for the airport?

  2. Woah no amenity kit or pajamas? I think I just heard QR laughing…
    I think this might not be worth it as compared to a single transfer with ME3, no stretching even in bed mode or the galleys would be brutal for my legs.

  3. Honestly?
    I prefer the AA/CX 77W Business Class seat anytime.
    I have done my share of DFW-HKG flights and it was really comfortable because the seat is comfortable. The free internet for 20 bucks was also very good.

  4. I wish every airline did that with their amenity kits. There’s so much wastage when it comes to those things. If you only select the bits you really need or want it cuts down on so much trash.

  5. I’m actually glad WiFi is a potential moneymaker for SQ on this route; it’s the right route to focus on and if it helps the fundamentals of the flight economics (and by extension the company), I’m all for it.

    Having said that, I’m fortunate not to need to be plugged in when I travel.

  6. “I felt like I had no choice but to just sit the entire time.”

    You do know walking up and down the aisles is also an option…

  7. Lucky, nice that you highlighted about how tough this flight is on the crew. Things like non-perfect beds seems trivial compared to working and getting short naps.

  8. As this leaves SIN at 1 AM, if you are local they would presume that you had your dinner before coming to the Airport around 10 – 11 pm or if you are transiting you would have some food in the lounge. So the main objective here is to provide sleep for next 6-7 hours, if you are hungry, skip the mini meal and wake up for the main meal when its breakfast time in SIN.

    A lot of thought would have been put by the management and the chefs on what’s best for the passengers travelling non-stop for 18 hrs.

  9. Asians – in general – like their beds hard, way harder than most Westerners, so that’s why you may have an issue with the seat/bed’s toughness.

  10. @Ram Providing for sleep for the next 6-7 hours assumes that you fall asleep as soon as you reach cruising altitude, which is not the case for some people. It takes me awhile to “wind down.” I’m not one of those people who falls asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow. Realistically, I’d probably fall asleep 1-2 hours into the flight, which would then only leave about 4-5 hours of good sleep before they wake everyone up. Hardly ideal.

    I agree with Lucky. Leave the middle portion of the flight open for a dine on demand option, since everyone is on a different schedule. And keep the scheduled meals at the book ends of the flight.

  11. To me, flights like this are pure hell and I avoid them like the plague. I’d much rather break up an ultra long journey somewhere where I can get off the plane, maybe get a shower or visit a lounge, and then take another flight to complete the trip.

  12. I recall you mentioning once that your preferred way with a lie flat seat was to let it down fully flat and sit up while in bed mode for the added distance this creates. Did your preference change for the SIA seat because of the hardness of the bed mode?

  13. In Southeast Asia lots of things in this Menu is breakfast items. People growing up in SE Asia eat breakfast as another meal… hainanese chicken for example… in Thailand they even eat spicy stuffs for breakfast. Lots of westerners expats in Asia also adapted to this.

  14. I’ve never flown long-haul business class, but I don’t think I’d make this my first go of it, given there is no place to stretch my legs. I am actually mostly a fan of long flights since I grew up having to take them to Israel with family so have mostly good memories from those non-stops. That being said, I don’t think this flight seems worth the discomfort at this point. If it looked more comfortable, I’d go for it, but I kind of think that the lack of a dedicated stretching/walking/hangout area is going to prevent me from ever wanting to book this, especially combined with the erratic-sounding schedule of it all. Just doesn’t seem worth it!

  15. I hate that they make us lower the window shades, or that they darken the windows centrally. I want to see! I want light!

  16. @ Greatmoosy — It is indeed something I generally like to do, and I did it on this flight as well. But when you’re in the same seat for 18 hours, variety is nice, and the challenge of switching between the modes got annoying.

  17. Flight doesn’t seem worth it the more and more I read about it. Too long and business class ends up feeling watered down. No pajamas on a 17 hr flight, what gives? I do agree that 2 large meals at the book ends of the flight would be my preference. But as others have stated, tons of research has been done to say otherwise. Flight looks fine but not one I’m jumping at to book at this time.

  18. How was the cabin temp? I know a lot of the asian airlines like to have the temp way too high for my liking, wondering how SQ was.

  19. Why would they not leave SIN at 1 pm instrad of 1 am? Would make more sense, no? What is the rationale for this?

  20. @Nina – The 1 am departure means it gets into Newark at 6:30 am. This way, you have a full day ahead of you in Newark, instead of arriving in the evening and the day is pretty much gone.

  21. SQ has the best product out there…what other option do you have? You won’t catch me taking some low life North American product for sure.

  22. @Peter Agree, I want light on my flight. Could not care the least about the amenity kits as long as they have toothbrushes. Wish wi-fi were unlimited for the flight. Dine on demand should be a given here. Most important, the plane needs a lounge. Will take it next year, but seems like the ME3 might be a better route for comfort.

  23. @ Peter and Nevsky. Give me the light! I always take a window just to ensure I control the shade. Must admit has caused some arguments with both seatmates and crew.

  24. Any airplane looks sleek with only J and premium Y. Wonder if the 787s larger windows and lower pressure altitude would be more beneficial on this flight.

  25. I am pleased that Singapore Airlines allow passengers choose amenities that they require rather than dumping a wasteful cosmetics bag. Personally, I bring most of the products I require for the flight myself.

    Paid and reasonably priced Wi-Fi access is also a plus as it ensures better speeds – compared to Emirates with its complimentary access as unusable speeds due to traffic congestion.

    Dine on demand is the only service element I would introduce on this route. Plus a small first class cabin, even if only four seats.

  26. The problem with a social area or even the area like on Qatars A350 for a long flight they need all the galley space I guess also on QF PER – LHR QF offer pajamas in business and apparently have great meals sound they like are doing it better than SQ

  27. I agree with Concorde02. I’ve lived in Thailand for almost two years, and can’t remember the last time I had “breakfast” food for breakfast. Most days it’s stewed pork leg with rice, Hainanese Chicken Rice (sometimes fried!) or even crispy pork belly with rice. Americans’ fixation on needing particular items in the morning seems bizarre to me now.

  28. A coincidence that when you took this flight, Philippine Airlines also started its longest flight from JFK to MNL on their new A359 clocks under 17 hours and also one of the top 10 longest flights in the world. They even partnered with Wolfgang Steakhouse of New York to serve steaks onboard. It will be a challenge to maintain the quality and doneness of those steaks as it’s one of the most difficult to prepare in an airline meal. It’s also historically significant for Wolfgang because Manila is the first Southeast Asian location of its restaurant.

  29. Why would they not leave SIN at 1 pm instrad of 1 am? Would make more sense, no? What is the rationale for this?

    Ultra long haul flights are special –

    You may find this is related to the temperature at takeoff. Fuel expands in heat- the weight is the same and you can’t get as much in the tanks as you can when cooler by 10 degrees celsiius.

    Then there is also the air density issue – the hotter it is the harder it is to get airborne so you use more fuel on takeoff and climb out.

    So you want to minimise fuel burn – leave at coolest time. Even in Sydney the difference on a A380 taking off to the US at the hottest part of the day and waiting for a southerly/cool change to pass through is a lot of fuel. Qantas has been known to delay by short periods to take advantage of this if they can still make the arrival slot at the destination.

  30. I much prefer the take what you need attitude to amenities. Getting a kit is so wasteful. I try not to take them any more, and feel guilty if I take them because I’ve forgotten an eye mask or like the pouch and end up trashing everything else. Singapore should be applauded for this approach.

  31. I’d love to know who designed or approved that hideous seat design! And getting up to set the horrible thing into a bed just adds to the frustration.

  32. Rich: thank you for your point regarding fuel, I have never considered that; so interesting, such a complex industry (related to why it has traditionally been such a poor investment?)

    ” The free internet for 20 bucks was also very good.” Only in the airline business (or on AA?) does free cost 20 dollars 😉

    Since I very rarely comment: Thanks for such an enjoyable blog, Ben (and crew- incl I could never get enough of Tiffany’s posts)!

  33. I also travelled in the same flight, sat in the front cabin, arriving EWR early 29 Oct. The meal arrangement was indeed a little weird even the FA confessed to me that he could quite understood the logic of the arrangement. Gladed I pre-ordered my meals through Book-the-Chef. Food quality and presentation was top notch.

    SQ should swallow its pride and switches to the more conventional mechanism in the seat design (from seat to flat bed) even though the latest design is no doubt very elegant and eye pleasing. I ended up sitting on the flat bed mode with extra pillows and cushions for comfort instead of taking the hustle to turn it back into seat mode. I also noticed that there were a few seats, mine including, needed to be reset for it to work at all. An initial thought of sitting up-right for the world’s long flight did scare me but glad it wasnt the case after the FA finally managed to fix it after a few resets!

    Our flight on 28 Oct was only the 7th service since SQ renewed this route cited the Chief Purser and I think they are still perfecting the routine and the crew training. A case in point one FA served me tea trying to pour milk into it with the tea bag still in; 1st encounter for me in J. Otherwise I would say this is a lovely flight. My return flight next week is via FKT with the A380 and would love to see the difference between the two.

  34. Lucky/Fellow readers, need your help here!

    If flying to Bali from Miami…

    Would you rather spend 88k SQ to fly Biz LAX – SIN – DPS or 110k AA to fly Biz MIA – DOH – DPS?

    Key considerations:
    – I already transferred Points to SQ and issued tickets for 2 Pax so would have to cancel and keep those miles with SQ for future use (not worried about being able to use them).
    – I have the QR flights on HOLD and the miles readily available.
    – If flying SQ, would be staying in LA for a couple days before starting the journey.
    – Positioning flight to LAX is virtually free due to a voucher/travel credit.
    – Connection times are short and very similar 1-2hrs respectively.
    – Both options incurr minimal
    and very similar surcharges.
    – SQ Metal:
    LAX-SIN: A350-ULR (obviously!)
    SIN-DPS: New 787-10
    – QR Metal:
    MIA-DOH: A350 (non-suite).
    DOH-DPS: 787-8

    I haven’t flown any of these products so I’m really interested to hear your thoughts. I’m torn since my wife thinks it would be “easier” to take an ultra long-haul flight and then a short connection rather than take an ultra long-haul flight and then another long-haul flight, but the QR option would save us the trip to LAX.

    Happy wife – happy life, so I need to make sure I’m making the right decision.

    Thanks in advance for your feedback!

  35. It’s not stubbornness. It’s arrogance. And SQ won’t listen to you, because you’re not Singaporean. Singapore-style service (not limited to the airline — it’s pervasive in hotels, too) means that it’s scripted. Not just for the company and FAs. The customer is supposed to read from the script, and not ask for changes or off-script options. The assumption is that SQ knows better and “you’re supposed to want….”
    * You’re not supposed to want pajamas, because SQ says that most customers bring their own (unless they fly in first, apparently).
    * You’re not supposed to want the amenity kit (unless they fly in first, apparently).
    * You’re supposed to want a square seating area where you (a) slide around in seat mode because the seat is a bench that is too wide and (b) you sleep at an angle with no leg room.
    * You’re not supposed to want more breakfast options.
    * You’re supposed to eat mid-flight, because SQ tells you when to sleep.
    * You’re not supposed to want a seat that reclines into bed mode so that you can lounge with a greater degree of recline, because the flip-over bed is better.
    * You’re not supposed to want a softer sleeping surface, even though the flip-over bed could more easily support such a surface than a reclining seat, because softer beds are for p***ies.

    The Thais and the Japanese chuckle quietly about this kind of “service.”

    @Jeremy, @Tiffany Amen. If you’re a Singapore hotel, the hotel has a captive audience. (No one is going to commute in, and the options in Johor are bad anyway.) If you’re an airline passenger, you can choose another airline to get to or through Singapore.

    Also, while we’re talking about meal and snack options in business class on such long flights, I must call out CX for poor options on its IAD-HKG service. Mid-flight snacks should include options other than dessert.

  36. Also, if SQ is going to wake you up in the middle of the night to eat, and if you don’t have a good option for stretching your legs on the plane, remind me what benefit you have with the non-stop, vs. flying CX with a 90-120 minute layover and use of a fabulous lounge (the Pier in particular), not to mention a softer bed and a place to put your feet?

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