Airline: Singapore Airlines
Flight Number: SQ21
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900ULR
Origin: EWR – Newark, NJ (USA)
Destination: SIN – Singapore, Singapore
Flight Time: 18 hours, 15 minutes
Cabin: Premium Economy
Earlier this year Singapore Airlines announced the return of their Newark to Singapore non-stop route. Singapore hadn’t flown the route since rising fuel costs and inefficient aircraft caused them to cancel it back in 2013. It returned in October as the longest non-stop commercial flight in the world, unseating the Doha to Auckland jaunt flown by Qatar Airways, at just under 10,000 miles and 19 hours.
When I read back in June on one of my favorite blogs, God Save the Points, that Singapore was having a two day sale on their Premium Economy cabin for the upcoming new route for $1,297 roundtrip all in, I jumped on it. The novelty of it seemed intriguing, and I hadn’t been to Singapore yet, so I said “what the heck”. It’s worth noting that there were other sales after this one, with the price falling below $1,100 roundtrip at one point, but I felt like I got a bargain, so I wasn’t complaining.
Arriving at EWR:
We were scheduled to take SQ21 from Newark on 11/21/18 at 9:45am, arriving in Singapore the next day at 5:15pm, and SQ22 back from Singapore on 11/27, leaving at 12:40am, and arriving back in Newark the same day at 5:30am.
After spending a couple of days in New York prior to our flight, we walked a few blocks from our midtown hotel on Wednesday morning to the Port Authority Bus Terminal on 42nd St. From there, for $19 each, we took the Newark Express bus across the river to Newark Liberty International Airport. Traffic the day before Thanksgiving was surprisingly light, and we arrived at Terminal B in about 35 minutes.
We made our way to the Singapore Airlines check-in counter on the upper level, where there was absolutely no line at all, then through the also empty security checkpoint, and within a few minutes we were at our departure gate.
Singapore Airlines has enlisted the brand new high-tech A350-900ULR for this flight and our ride was waiting at the gate when we got there. This is the new ultra long range aircraft specifically designed for these very long non-stop flights.
Boarding started right on time at 9:15am, and was very orderly. We were warmly greeted and directed to our seats by a smiling flight attendant, and by 9:30 we were in our seats getting buckled in. It looked as though there were a few empty seats in the back, but the flight seemed mostly full. As we got ready to taxi to the runway, the Singapore Airlines safety video was played on the seat back screens. It was a beautifully made video, filmed in and around Singapore, showcasing many of the must-see spots around the city. It most definitely stoked my excitement for my first trip to Singapore, and by 10am we were on our way!
Shortly after reaching cruising altitude we were given a very basic amenity kit, containing socks, a toothbrush and a speck of toothpaste. It was definitely nothing special, but I actually quite liked it as a momento of the flight, since the front of the bag had a cool graphic showing the Singapore skyline, with printed lettering signifying “First to Fly A350 Ultra Long Range”.
In addition to the amenity kit, a pair of eye shades were handed out separately in a small pouch with the Singapore Airlines logo. Not sure why those weren’t just included in the amenity kit.
Boarding Grade: A
This particular plane is setup with only Business Class and Premium Economy Class, no coach class. There are 67 Business Class seats and 94 in PE. The Premium Economy cabin is setup in a 2-4-2 configuration, and myself and a friend were seated next to each other in the second row of the cabin in seats 32A and 32C. I will admit that when I first took my seat by the window, I was a little worried about the legroom. I knew from a little research that the seat pitch was a disappointing 38 inches, but part of me was hoping it would feel like more. You see, I’m very tall at 6’-6”, and I tend to overthink things sometimes (ok, more than sometimes), so in the 5 months I had had to analyze every aspect of surviving a 19 hour flight in Premium Economy, I envisioned room for my legs. It got worse with the seat reclined, because the seat slides forward, reducing the legroom even further.
In reality, it wasn’t ideal for me, but it wasn’t all bad. You will definitely not want to have anything on the floor under the seat in front of you, so keep that in mind if you plan on trying to tough out one of these long flights. I had originally put my computer bag under the seat, but quickly realized that wouldn’t work for very long, and put it in the overhead bin. That was a game changer!
The seat also wasn’t as comfortable as I was hoping. It definitely seemed harder than it could have been, and that’s a huge consideration when you’ll be sitting in it for the better part of a whole day! I folded up a sweatshirt and sat on that, which seemed to help a little bit.
Luckily, although I’m tall, I’m not overly wide, so the 19.5 inch seat width seemed fine to me, but I can see where it could get a little uncomfortable for someone just a little bigger than me. There is a foot rest under the seat in front, which is nice. There is also a support below your own seat that rises to theoretically support your calves, but that is only useful if you are short enough that your legs rest on it. There was a larger than normal pillow, and a large blanket included at each seat which added to the comfort.
As for seat storage, there was a small vertical storage rack in between the two seats in front of us, but other than that and the seat back pocket, there wasn’t anywhere to keep your things.
The entertainment system was the highlight of the trip! The seat back screen size was very large, at 13 inches, and the screen resolution was very good. There was a selection of approximately 300 movies, and 200 TV Shows, with many full seasons available. I passed a considerable amount time watching the last 3 Mission Impossible movies. I find that time passes faster on long flights if I’m watching long movies, vs watching back to back 20 minute TV shows, and each of the MI movies clocked in at over 2 hrs, so those 3 movies alone accounted for more than 1/3 of the flight time.
My favorite feature of the entertainment system was the Airshow channel. I found it mesmerizing to watch the route we were flying, and I went back many times to check it out. It was easily accessible from the entertainment home screen, but was also conveniently accessible by tapping the globe at the top of any screen you happened to be watching.
There were Singapore Airlines branded noise-cancelling headphones available at every seat, but I don’t particularly like over-the-ear headphones, so I used my Bose QC20 in-ear noise cancelling headphones. There is a 3 prong outlet between the seat backs which accepts the plug for the provided headphones, but I was able to plug my single-plug headphones into the outlet with no problem whatsoever.
For charging your USB gadgets there were ample plugs, including one next to the television screen, one in between the seats near the headphone plug, and one in the center at the foot of each seat.
Three levels of wifi connectivity were available for purchase on this flight, with prices ranging from $6 for next to no data, to $28 for 200mb of data. I was ready to pay and try it out, but admittedly, after trying unsuccessfully for quite some time, I gave up and just relied on the seat back entertainment for the rest of the flight.
My feeling is that comfort on a flight of this length is the most important factor, bar none, so here are my overall thoughts on the seat. You can have below average service or entertainment, and still make it ok, but if you aren’t comfortable, you’re in trouble. I would say the seat situation was just ok, not great by any means. The seat was hard, the legroom was already minimal, and was further reduced by reclining, and overall I just found it tough to stay comfortable for long periods of time. I found myself constantly trying to find a comfortable position, even just for watching movies. I was only able to sleep for a couple hours early in the flight, but I usually have a hard time sleeping on planes, so that’s not a great indicator of the seat comfort, but I will just say I was expecting more from Singapore Airlines vaunted Premium Economy.
Seat Grade: B-
Service stated about 15 minutes after takeoff, almost immediately when we reached cruising altitude and the captain switched off the “Fasten Seat Belt” sign. The first service was a nice selection of drinks and a couple packages of mixed nuts. The menu was in the seat back pocket.
Here is the menu for our flight:
At 10:35am, around 35 minutes after takeoff, the first meal service began. It was served similar to what you would receive in economy on other long haul flights, as just a single tray including the salad, the entrée and the dessert, except that the meals were served with a linen napkin and real silverware. Even though we were leaving Newark in the morning, lunch was first out of the gate, and we each had the Pan Fried Fish in Thai Choo Chee Curry Sauce with vegetables and rice, which was surprisingly quite good. The salad was a cole slaw salad with turkey ham, which was also very tasty, and dessert was a small container of Haagen Dazs Ice Cream, which is always welcome. Seafood is my favorite type of food, but after reading a recent story about it not being a good idea during a flight, I was hesitant to order fish. I’m glad I did though, as it was tasty and flaky, and after I finished I wished there was more.
Around 5 ½ hours into the flight, the flight attendants came around with a light snack service. We chose the chicken sandwich, which again, really hit the spot. There was nothing great about the sandwich, in fact I can’t even really remember it at this point, but I was a little hungry, and it was food.
The second full meal service began around 9 hours into the flight, and was off the “Light Dinner” menu. I chose the Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder in Mustard Sage Sauce, and keeping with the theme of enjoying each meal, this one was also quite good. It came with sautéed vegetables and polenta. As I ate the polenta, I actually had no idea what it was, but really enjoyed it. It wasn’t until I looked it up on the internet later that I found out what it was. Dessert was a small cup of tiramisu.
During the next few hours, the crew came around regularly with water, juice or agave lemonade, and then around the 13 hour mark, supper was served. I had the Braised Chicken in Grainy Mustard Sauce, served with vegetables and steamed potatoes. Unfortunately the picture I took of it didn’t come out too well, but as with the other meals, I also enjoyed this one.
Around an hour and a half before landing in Singapore, we were served the final meal of the flight. It was a packaged four cheese pizza, Pizza Quattro Formaggi. It was served warm, and I hate to be a broken record, but this really hit the spot as well. Maybe I was just extra hungry due to the circumstances of sitting and watching movies for such a long period of time, but I feel like I was fed very well.
The one minor complaint I did have with the meals, is that the portions were fairly small, but no complaints at all with the taste. I do understand why they keep the portions small, since they feed you several times, it’s just that when you enjoy something, naturally you want more of it.
I’ve read other reports of this flight and the disappointment with the Premium Economy service. Some reviewers suggesting that the reason for the lackluster service was that the Business Class cabin was too large and required more attention than was expected. I guess those reports were written by authors who are used to the higher level of service in Business and First Class, and expected the same in Premium Economy. I personally was very happy with the service, but admittedly, I’m very low maintenance.
Because I was awake for most of the flight, I made note of how many times the crew came around, and it was substantial. In addition to the usual drink and meal services, the crew came around with water and juice refreshments, or a snack or piece of fruit, 12 other times, and always with a smile and a thank you.
I’m certainly no foodie, but I know a bad meal when I have one, and I felt that the meals on this flight were excellent. The portions were small but adequate, so we were never hungry, and the crew made sure we were always hydrated with their constant refreshment runs. Even the couple of times I was standing in the back galley, waiting to use the restroom, the flight attendants proactively asked me if they could get me anything. That was a first for me!
Service Grade: A
After our pizza snack, the cabin crew came around to prepare the cabin for landing and at around the 17 hour and 45 minute mark we started our slow descent into Singapore.
At 10am local time, 18 hours and 15 minutes after leaving Newark, New Jersey, we landed at Singapore Changi Airport.
After exiting the airplane, there was no line at all at immigration, and we were through to baggage claim within a few minutes. We collected our bags at Carousel 42 and then we looked for the desk for the airport shuttle that would take us to our hotel, the Conrad Centennial Singapore.
Overall Flight Grade: B+
It doesn’t hurt that the destination for the world’s longest flight is Singapore. Whether you’re going there for work, for pleasure, or just for the thrill of taking the longest flight, it’s an incredible city. The other thing that doesn’t hurt is that Singapore Airlines is a pleasure to fly. Being tended to by flight attendants that actually seem to be happy makes a world of difference, especially on a flight of this length. It can’t be easy for them to keep a smile on their faces for this long, but they all managed to, and people noticed.
The seat comfort in Premium Economy wasn’t optimal, but it was definitely bearable. Keep in mind that my height is well above average, so for me it’s a little harder to fit into small places. If you’re on the fence about trying out this marathon flight, I highly recommend it. I hope to do again myself very soon!