Singapore Airlines (SIA) uses Airbus A350-900 Ultra Long Range (ULR) aircraft to operate the world’s longest commercial flights, linking Singapore with daily service to both New York JFK and Newark. The premium-heavy twinjet features just 161 seats, with 67 in business class and 94 in premium economy.
Over the Thanksgiving break, I was thankful to snag a business class seat on SIA’s daily, 18hr 30-minute flight from JFK. I took advantage of the airline’s generous policy of allowing one to lock in an award space in advance of transferring credit card points.
The check-in process at JFK Terminal 4 was rather impersonal with just a couple of counters available for human assisted check-in. I was instead guided to a kiosk where I had no trouble checking in. The experience was certainly not premium, and this extended to the lounges on offer — the Primeclass Lounge and SIA partner Air India’s Maharaja Lounge.
The Maharaja Lounge, in particular, is quite dismal. It is essentially a single, small room with some decent but cuisine-agnostic food, consumed on paper plates with plastic cutlery. A self-serve, sparsely stocked minibar was also available. The lounge was full and rather unpleasant. It was, at least, clean. Air India has since hired hospitality design firm HBA for a much needed redo of its Delhi and JFK lounges.
Thus far, my experience had been no different than it might have been on an economy class ticket with Priority Pass lounge access. Boarding felt similar with a line-up of 60-odd business class passengers being herded through the gate.
But that’s when the premium magic happened. As I boarded and turned toward the first of two business class cabins on the A350, I was greeted by friendly crew members. The CMF (color, materials, finish) design is smart, with copper accents and muted colors exuding class.
Waiting for me on my Jamco-made custom seat was a plush pillow, whereas the blanket was situated behind the seat. Slippers, an eye mask and socks were also provided. So too was a bottle of water, some decent noise canceling headphones, and a Penhaligon’s branded amenity kit. The kit was meager with just some hand lotion, a lip balm and a facial spray inside. SIA instead stocks its bathrooms with facial and oral care products.
The airline doesn’t offer pajamas in business class — a definite oversight on such a long flight — but I had carried my own.
The seating configuration isn’t staggered, and all seats are biased toward the aisles. Wonderfully padded, the seats offer a generous 28″ width and 60″ pitch.
A large and sturdy tray table pops out of a storage area. It is also height adjustable, facilitating work or meals as needed. Other storage areas are available, and there is enough space for a backpack under the footrest.
I found my window seat to be extremely comfortable. Alas, there was only one window to look out of, as the seat shell blocked the other.
The 18″ IFE monitor is large and crisp but lacks touchscreen functionality, which seemed strange given that the airline’s mid-haul product features a similar distance from seat to screen and that product has touchscreen functionality. Instead, on these seats, a remote with its own touchscreen is the only method of control. It’s less than ideal.
A non-alcoholic pre-departure drink was offered. Champagne was served immediately after takeoff, along with warm nuts. The lower cabin altitude of the A350 is one part of the jet lag mitigation strategy on this flight. The other is to serve food based on the destination time. As our takeoff was at 10.30pm New York time, our first meal was a sort of lunch, per Singapore time.
The service was organized, warm and efficient throughout the flight. For both meals, my starter plate was removed almost as soon as I finished with it. SIA’s Book The Cook service allows you to pre-select meals from a menu that, out of Singapore at least, is enormous and features some famous restaurants. The menu out of JFK is more modest but I was able to select a prawn and pork dumpling soup which was one of the tastiest meals I’ve ever eaten on a plane.
Touchscreen absence aside, the IFE system was excellent. I counted over 400 movies, about 250 TV titles and, importantly on such a long flight, 54 complete TV series seasons. Binge watching is definitely encouraged on board. SIA also offers four channels of live TV and free Wi-Fi in business class. Unfortunately, on our aircraft, the Wi-Fi system was non-functional. We were informed of this before takeoff.
The lack of Wi-Fi turned out to be the only fly in the ointment of an otherwise great flight. SIA also subsequently gave me a S$200 voucher to its Krisshop website as compensation for the failed connectivity.
During the few hours between meals, crew members periodically offered drinks and water. Around 9pm Singapore time, it was dinner time. This meal, from the menu, was rice and pork. The rice, especially, was wonderfully cooked and fresh.
With darkness outside and service complete, I was ready to lean into sleep. Many flyers have strong feelings about this seat’s requirement that the passenger get out of the seat to convert it into a bed.
While slightly inconvenient, the tradeoff is that the bed, with a mattress pad, is already made on the sleeping side of the backrest. Instead of sleeping on a seating surface, I was met with a comfortable bed.
With the large shell around the bed providing privacy, it was very easy to find a comfortable position. One has to sleep in an angled fashion in order to access the footrest area. This is an annoyance for some but didn’t bother me at all. My Fitbit tracker told me that I got seven hours of straight sleep — a record for me on a plane.
Before nodding off, I requested a wake-up call in time to be served coffee. About an hour before landing. I was gently roused by an attentive cabin crew member but was unable to secure any caffeine due to continuous moderate turbulence. I did get a stir fried noodle snack as a warm breakfast but it was accompanied by water instead of some stronger stuff.
Arriving in Singapore at 6am, I was surprised at how fresh and awake I felt; I had no noticeable jet lag. The impression of this record-breaking flight, except for the on-the-ground experience at JFK, was top class. SIA’s service was stellar, the food delicious, and the bed designed for restful sleep.
The fact that this type of travel is available daily is amazing. So too is the ability to wake up on the other side of the planet, ready to get stuck into Singapore’s famous street food.
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All images credited to the author, Karun Mukhi