I flew on the world's longest flight in premium economy — here's what the 18-hour voyage was like

Benjamin Zhang/Business InsiderOur chariot, a Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900ULR.
  • Singapore Airlines recently relaunched the longest flight in the world, between Newark Liberty International Airport and Changi Airport.
  • The trip between New York and Singapore covers 10,000 miles and can take up to 19 hours.
  • Business Insider took the inaugural flight to Singapore in business class.
  • Then we made the flight back in premium economy.

In October, Singapore Airlines reintroduced its nonstop flight connecting New York and the airline’s homeland in Singapore. At 10,000 miles, with a duration of up to 19 hours, it is the longest flight in the world. And it is likely to retain that title until Qantas launches its long-awaited nonstop London-to-Sydney route that could last as long as 20 hours. (But neither Airbus nor Boeing has an aircraft that could do that flight economically, so don’t hold your breath.)

Singapore Airlines hadn’t operated a nonstop service between the Lion City and the Big Apple since 2013, when it shelved the flights because of high fuel prices. At the time, Singapore used Airbus A340-500s on the route.

While it has exceptional range and capability, the A340-500 was a relic of the 1990s, and the thirst of its four engines proved too uneconomical to sustain. Even a shift to an all-business-class layout couldn’t generate enough income to save the route. So in 2013, the airline canceled the service and returned the A340-500 fleet to Airbus.

Fast-forward five years, and things are quite different. Singapore is the proud owner of a fleet of seven new Airbus A350-900ULR airliners – ULR stands for ultra-long-range – representing the latest in commercial aviation.

The carbon-composite A350’s pair of massive Rolls-Royce Trent XWB turbofan engines team up with the plane’s sleek wing design to deliver a 25% reduction in fuel consumption over the aircraft it replaced, the company says. In ULR specs, Airbus managed to fit an extra 6,300 gallons of fuel into the A350’s tanks, pushing the range up to more than 11,000 miles.

Business Insider recently had the chance to fly in business class on the inaugural Flight SQ21 from Newark Liberty International Airport, just outside New York City, to Singapore’s Changi Airport.

After a week in Asia, it was time to go home on Flight SQ22. Here’s how I spent the 10,000-mile flight in premium economy.


On October 12, Singapore Airlines relaunched Flight SQ21, its nonstop flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Changi Airport in Singapore.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The 10,000-mile flight lasted about 18 hours. It was daunting, but the comforts of business class made it a lot easier.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

After a week in Singapore, it was time to return to New York on Flight SQ22.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Singapore Airlines Flight SQ22 departs nightly at 11:35 out of Changi Airport’s Terminal 3.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

So I made my way to the airport around 9:30 p.m., just to be safe. I’m always taken aback by just how clean, orderly, and aesthetically pleasing Changi Airport can be.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

With a quick scan of my passport, I could access and print my boarding pass and bag tag at the kiosk, and then I dropped off my checked bag. Since there was no line, things went quickly.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

After a quick passport inspection, I made my way to the airside retail area. I perused the duty-free shops for a while, but I didn’t buy anything. The Moutai was still too rich for my blood.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

An hour before departure, I arrived at our boarding gate. Unlike most airports, Changi has a security checkpoint at each gate rather than in a central location.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Since there were fewer than 160 people on our flight, the line went quickly.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Like the rest of the airport, the secure boarding area was immaculate.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Waiting for us was our ride, one of Singapore’s new Airbus A350-900ULRs. In fact, our plane, 9V-SGA, was the first ULR that Airbus delivered to a customer.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Here’s a better look at 9V-SGA. Singapore’s A350-900ULRs are fitted with 161 seats: 67 in business class and 94 in premium economy. That’s about 90 fewer seats than the airline’s standard A350-900.

Singapore Airlines

Time to board the flight.

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I was greeted with a smile.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

I made my way past business class to the premium-economy section, which takes up the rear third of the cabin.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Each premium-economy seat boasts 38 inches of seat pitch. So passengers have half a foot more space between each row than they would in economy class.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Each seat is 19 inches wide, and there’s a 4-inch center console that gives passengers some extra elbow room.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The seat reclines 8 inches, with an adjustable calf rest and foot bar.

Singapore Airlines

Each seat is equipped with a 13.3-inch high-definition touchscreen running Singapore’s KrisWorld entertainment system.

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I was fortunate to get seat 31A, which is by the window in the first row of premium economy.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Legroom wasn’t an issue.

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This space would come in handy when I needed to get up and stretch during the flight.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Boarding was quick, and soon we were ready to push back from the gate.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Time for takeoff! Estimated flight time: 18 hours and 25 minutes.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Shortly after takeoff, service opened with a glass of orange juice and a bag of mixed nuts.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

We were also provided a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a pair of anti-slip socks.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Since I was in the first row of premium economy, my screen was in a compartment just in front of the center armrest. KrisWorld, based on Panasonic Avionics’ eX3 infotainment system, works really well — it’s responsive and intuitive to use, and it can even be synced to the Singapore Airlines app on your phone, allowing passengers to personalise the experience.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

You can operate the system on the touchscreen or with this wired remote control. On one side are various control functions …

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… and on the back is a keyboard.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The KrisWorld system usually features about 1,000 hours’ worth of movies, TV shows, music, and podcasts. But for this flight, the airline added 200 hours of entertainment options. I went with “The Incredibles 2.”

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Premium-economy passengers also get a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

An hour into the flight, meal service commenced.

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The three options were a baked fish filet in dill and caper sauce, oriental chicken rice, or roasted cauliflower steak with tahini garlic sauce.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

I went for the fish, which was moist and well-seasoned. It certainly tasted a lot better than it looks in this picture, and the fudge brownie cake was truly decadent. The airline offers a variety of beers, wines, and cocktails with meal service, but I went with a glass of water and a Diet Coke, which, in my experience, is less dehydrating than alcohol.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

As for the flight, the airline doesn’t have a single path between Newark and Singapore, but variations on three paths. One flies over the northern Pacific, another flies over the Atlantic, and a third route flies north over Canada and past the North Pole, then heads south over Russia and China.

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The airline chooses the optimal route for each trip to take advantage of favourable winds and weather. Our flight from Newark to Singapore took the polar route, while our return flight used the Pacific route.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

After dinner, flight attendants handed out bottles of water and then turned off the cabin lights — time to sleep I guess. I turned on a documentary about the history of comedy and woke up more than five hours later, then decided to stretch my legs and walk around the cabin. Most people were still asleep, so I headed toward the back of the plane to check out the lavatories.

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The bathrooms on the A350 were small, but not terribly cramped.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

They were stocked with additional toothbrushes and combs …

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

… along with bottles of eau de toilette, lotion, and facial mist.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The mouthwash dispenser was a useful feature.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

On my way back to my seat, I stopped by the galley for a glass of water. There, flight attendants offered me a selection of snacks including sandwiches, chips, crackers, trail mix, and fruit.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

I picked the croissant with chickpea masala, tomatoes, and lettuce. It was a rather unconventional mélange of ingredients, but the result was delicious.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Soon it was morning.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Nine hours into the flight, the crew came around with another round of refreshments.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

The cheesy focaccia was warm and tasty. I also enjoyed the agave lemonade. The mango mousse cake wasn’t my favourite — a bit too tart for my liking.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Ten hours into the flight, the seat — though quite plush for an aeroplane seat — was starting to get uncomfortable.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

So I took advantage of the space in front of me to do some stretches.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Because of the route and the timing of the flight, the outside world went from night to day and then back to night.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Soon it was time to settle in for another nap and some quality TV. Around Hour 13, flight attendants came around with another round of snacks. This time, I got a Diet Coke and a bag of cheesy chips.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Here I am 15 hours into the flight. I was still very content with the experience, but also ready to be on terra firma.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Fortunately, it was soon time for breakfast. I had a choice of egg casserole, egg noodles with Chinese barbecue pork and vegetables, or apple pancakes. I chose the noodles, and they were magnificent, well cooked and flavorful, as were the pork and the sautéed veggies. The croissant was buttery and flaky, while fruit and yogurt added a sweet finish to the meal.

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The route selected for the flight came with a healthy tailwind. At one point, we were cruising at more than 700 mph.

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Here’s a look at New York City.

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And here’s MetLife Stadium.

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We landed in Newark at 4:45 a.m., an hour and 15 minutes early.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

Here’s one final look at the Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900ULR.

Benjamin Zhang/Business Insider

In total, our flight, scheduled to take 18 hours and 25 minutes, took only 17 hours and change. Still, it was an incredibly long trip.

I had no problems with my flight to Singapore – but I was also in business class. Frankly, 18 hours of lounging in bed while being served gourmet meals isn’t exactly roughing it.

Premium economy is different. It’s one word away from economy, the thought of travelling in for 18 hours is terrifying even for experienced travellers.

Fortunately, Singapore opted for a premium-economy cabin. The extra inches of legroom and generous seat recline certainly made a difference.

As expected, the service was impeccable, and the in-flight entertainment system offered more than enough to keep me preoccupied.

In short, I’d definitely do it again.

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