Not only do I love to fly, but a flight also can never be long enough for me – even in economy class. Not everyone agrees with that, especially with the latter part of the sentence, which is why Singapore Airlines has not even installed any economy class seats on its plane for the world’s longest route. I fulfilled my childhood dream of the ultra-long flight last month. Did Singapore Airlines live up to its great reputation, or is its premium economy not that premium after all? You will find out in this report!
Table of Contents
Here are the facts about the flights:
- Flights: SQ21/22 between Newark and Singapore (
- Seat: 32H
- Plane: Airbus A350-900ULR
- Flight times outbound: EWR 9:45 – 17:15 +1 SIN
- Flight times inbound: SIN 0:40 – 6:30 EWR
- Flight duration: About 18 hours
- Month: March 2023
There is not much to say about the booking. I paid US$1,440 (~€1,334) for the round trip. Seat selection is complimentary, so I chose the aisle seat in the second row on the right side of the plane. The 4 seats at the emergency exit (with “infinite” legroom) cost US$120 (~€111) extra and the solo seats in the back even cost US$140 (~€130). We’ll come back to the solo seats later.
It is also worth mentioning that Singapore Airlines offers the route from both Newark and New York JFK. In theory, the flight from JFK is 5 km longer and thus the “actual” longest flight in the world. In reality, however, the optimal route is not consistently flown. Instead, they always fly eastwards in order to take advantage of the wind. So the EWR route is longer one way, JFK the other, and depending on the wind the flight time varies by up to an hour anyway, so that 5 km difference is really negligible.
What is more interesting is that the two airports are approached at very different times. One flight arrives in Newark in the morning and flies back to Singapore in the morning, arriving the next afternoon. So the advantage of Newark is that you practically have the airport to yourself. This saves a lot of time, especially when entering the US – and then you still have the whole day ahead of you. The flight to JFK leaves Singapore at noon and arrives in New York around 18:30 – practically a wasted day. And in the other direction, you arrive in Singapore 2 days later in the morning. Personally, the flight times for Newark were much more comfortable for me, which is why I chose these flights.
Check in & Boarding
Singapore Airlines’ Airbus A350-900ULR, which was specially ordered for this route, has 67 seats in business class and 94 in premium economy. This results in over 41% of passengers being entitled to business check-in and priority boarding – in addition to Star Alliance Gold passengers in premium economy. This led to the unusual scenario that the queue for business was longer than for premium economy. Nevertheless, everything went quickly and smoothly at check-in.
Premium economy passengers do not have lounge access included – unless they are Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers. In that case, they can have breakfast in Newark in the Virgin Clubhouse – with the business class passengers. In its own hub in Singapore, frequent flyers are accommodated in a different lounge than business class passengers.
A final curiosity for this segment: Singapore Airlines has scheduled 30 minutes for boarding in Newark, but a full hour in Singapore. This is due to the fact that in Singapore the security check takes place directly at the gate, but due to the relatively small number of passengers (like in an Airbus A320), the 30 minutes would have easily been enough. The usual extra checks and questions that always take place on US flights were waived in Singapore.
I have already flown between Frankfurt and Singapore in Singapore Airlines’ premium economy and actually thought/hoped that the seats on the ULR plane would be a little more spacious. This is unfortunately not the case. Legroom is just under 97 cm – which is the industry standard, but still felt narrower than, say, at Delta. In addition, the rows were installed in a 2-4-2 arrangement. For comparison: Even Lufthansa has only installed 2-3-2 in the A350.
The seats felt correspondingly tight for the considerable flight length of 18 hours. The (negative) highlight is at the back of the plane. As is well known, the rear of the aircraft is narrower, which is why most airlines switch from rows of 4 (in economy class, mind you) to rows of 3, at least in the last row. Singapore Airlines chose a different path. The row of 2 by the window becomes a solo seat with a huge storage compartment next to it (which you can charge a nice US$140 (~€130) extra for) and the row of 4 remains – and protrudes into the aisle. Behind is the curtain to the kitchen and lavatories. This is the only galley for the 94 passengers. Since the seat is practically hidden behind the curtain, a passenger is constantly slamming into the seat when they want to go back to their seat. Luckily I was in the second row from the front, but I really felt sorry for the gentleman in row 43 on such a long flight.
Aside from the fact that the seats are a bit cramped, they’re otherwise quite comfortable and offer the usual features of a premium economy seat: power outlets, a water bottle slot, and a fairly large screen. A reading lamp is also available for each passenger.
Food & Drinks
Three meals are distributed during the flight. The first full warm meal is served about an hour and a half after departure. Exactly halfway, the second real warm meal is served. About 3 hours before landing, a warm snack will be distributed in the dark. Before we go into the culinary details, I would like to briefly say something about the schedule:
On the outbound flight, I found the schedule really ideal. Lunch was served at noon New York time and dinner was at 19:00 New York time, which was also 7:00 in Singapore and could also count as breakfast. The snack was around 14:00 Singapore time, which makes perfect sense. As my colleague Felix says: both thumbs go up.
The timing of the first meal on the inbound flight made less sense. Dinner was served at 2:40 Singapore time. I understand that with a flight departing around 1:00, it is difficult to find a good time for the first meal. But I would like the crew to ask before departure “Will you be dining tonight?” like Delta does, instead of waking me up to eat in a rather brutal way.
Now let’s move on to the food itself. All premium economy passengers have the “Book the Cook” option available free of charge. This means that you can pre-select what you want to eat from a relatively long list of dishes before you fly. This is not possible for the warm snack, but at least for both main meals. There are around 8 different dishes to choose from per meal, some Western, some Asian.
On the outbound flight, the feature didn’t work as the crew had no information about my pre-ordered meal – for neither of the two meals. That wasn’t the end of the world, though, as the “standard” food was delicious too. By the way, there are no printed menus, only the spontaneous question for “Beef, Chicken, or Pasta”. I chose the beef. It was delicious, but it was a bit too much rice and not enough beef for me. Afterwards, Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream was distributed for dessert – even twice on request. Hard but tasty.
Half way, I chose meat with Mac & Cheese and BBQ sauce. As anyone who’s travelled with me knows, I’m a real Mac & Cheese fan, and I would like to emphasize how delicious this meal was – even if it may not come across that way visually (or even by the sound of the unusual combination).
The warm snack in the dark, about 3 hours before landing, was an absolutely sticky and rather bad pizza, which I gladly ate anyway. As soon as something has cheese, I’ll eat it.
If the 3 meals are not enough for you, you can always take advantage of the wide range of other snacks in the galley. Sandwiches, chips, chocolate, cup noodles, biscuits, muesli bars, warm croissants – everything was there. Just not always at the same time. Singapore Airlines kept swapping out the snacks. But you could always ask for things that weren’t on display at the time – if you happened to find out about their existence during an earlier visit to the galley.
I will not now go into detail about the meals on the inbound flight. Only the following should be said: Book the Cook worked on the return flight – which was probably also the reason for the rather brutal wake-up call. The Book the Cook meals are served first – whether you want it or not. I would therefore advise against using Book the Cook on the red-eye flight. The pre-ordered French Toast with cranberries and custard halfway through the flight was the best I’ve ever tasted, though.
The first point I’d like to address is sort of related to the previous section: the crew stopped by with drinks every 20 to 40 minutes throughout the flight. Compared to other airlines, this is really outstanding.
Even though the crew was mostly friendly, I also noticed some negative things. For one thing, the crew kept talking about “economy class”. Please use the toilet in the “economy class” at the back, in the “economy class” the following meals would be distributed, etc. That’s not something terrible, but anyone who pays a “premium economy” ticket doesn’t really want to be treated like an economy class passenger – even if you automatically get that feeling because there is no lower travel class on the flight.
Other than that, I noticed that the toilets were often in a dirty condition. And I already mentioned the violent awakening for dinner.
Overall, I was satisfied with the service – don’t get the wrong impression. But, unusual for Singapore Airlines, there was room for improvement on both flights.
The last thing to mention is that the cabin was lit during the first and second meals. Otherwise, the light was always switched off.
I have (almost) nothing to complain about the screen – it was big and thin, had a good resolution and the touch controls worked perfectly. On the outbound. On the inbound flight, the touch aspect didn’t work at all. Fortunately, I was still able to operate the screen using the wired remote control.
As far as the media library is concerned, I draw a mixed conclusion. There were exactly 400 films to choose from. That’s good. However, most of the films are only available in the original language, with a maximum of 3 subtitle languages, if at all. That’s rather bad. There were a few TV series with only a few episodes each. This is very bad.
Seven commercials were played before each film, so each time you spent more than 3 minutes with commercials. You could fast-forward, but it’s not that smooth, and I think seven commercials is a bit excessive – especially for an airline with such premium claims.
At the same time, there was an enormous music media library. Nowadays, everyone tends to listen to their own selection of music on their phone, but still. What was the most positive aspect for me, however, are the 4 TV channels. There is a sports channel, CNN, CNBC, and BBC. So I was well entertained because I then just watched four football games while playing Football Manager on my laptop and was quite happy.
Games cannot be played on the screen, and the flight map also stopped working for the rest of the flight after heavy turbulences over New England. It worked on the inbound flight, though.
Internet is also available for the entire flight without limit at the very reasonable price of US$16 (~€15). Otherwise, you can also get 3 hours of free Wi-Fi if you have a KrisFlyer account, which is also free. Since I was too stingy for the $16 and too lazy to create a KrisFlyer account, I decided to enjoy the flight offline. Therefore, I cannot make any statements about the quality of the Internet connection.
The positives first: Each seat not only had a very good quality pillow and blanket but also a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Each passenger also got a water bottle.
Then the bizarre thing: I had drunk my water bottle and wanted to hand it to the stewardess to throw away at some point during the flight. This was rejected. The bottles are to be refilled. So I should either keep the bottle empty or she would bring it back to me refilled. A bit confused, I opted for the latter and got my bottle back shortly afterwards, with water in which you could see particles floating around. The whole thing may be good for ecological reasons, but this ruckus (which also seems a bit unhygienic to me) for a boring, standard plastic bottle seems a bit exaggerated to me, and also very un-premium.
Now the negative: There is no amenity kit. This is generally the case with Singapore Airlines – even in business class – but there are all kinds of amenities in the business toilets. Not in the “economy” toilet. There are several airlines that offer a small amenity kit on flights half the length, even in economy class. Even if it were just earplugs, an eye mask and a toothbrush, there should be something in premium economy on an airline like Singapore Airlines on an 18+ hour flight.
Before the inbound flight, I found the information hidden somewhere in the app that you could get a toothbrush, earplugs and eye mask on request. But I haven’t seen anyone do that. Would it be so bad to actively distribute these little things? Or to print out this information? Or at least display these items in the toilet or galley, as in business class? There’s nothing premium about how this was handled.
This section is not about landing and immigration – which was just like with any other flight. Rather, I would like to briefly say something about the physical condition after a good 18 hours of flight time. Surprisingly, I arrived much more relaxed than after 8-hour transatlantic flights. This was because there really was enough time to accommodate several hours of sleep during the flight. I was also able to cope well with the maximum possible jet lag of 12 hours. However, this is much easier on the day flight than on the red-eye flight.
If you want to save yourself a hotel night (not a bad idea in expensive cities like New York and Singapore), you should take the red-eye flight. But if you want to avoid the jet lag, you should take the day flight. With a day flight you depart wide awake in the morning, stay awake until the second meal, then fall asleep for a few hours and arrive at your destination in the afternoon. Then you are rested enough to stay awake until around midnight, but also tired enough to then fall asleep and start the next day in the correct rhythm. When flying at night, you tend to sleep on the first half of the flight, and then land around 6 in the morning after having already been awake for the last few hours. If you don’t want a brutal jet lag, you would have to stay awake for at least 12 more hours. It’s really not easy, and you’ll probably fall into an unfavourable rhythm.
- Check-in and Boarding
- Food and Drinks
- In-Flight Entertainment
Singapore Airlines has done very little to make its premium economy more comfortable for the 18-hour flight. On the contrary – due to the absence of an economy class, one is regarded as the lowest travel class.
Singapore Airlines mainly impresses with its catering. Nobody spent this flight hungry or thirsty. All in all, it was a great experience to fly the longest route. However, the seat was nothing special and the “stinginess” with the extras was rather disappointing.
Cover Picture: Ditmar Lange