FEBRUARY 7. 2019 — For a three-day trip to Singapore this past week (just arrived home yesterday, February 6), I booked the Singapore Airlines nonstop flight from Newark. It is, at the moment, the longest flight on earth at between 17 and 19 hours, depending. Singapore Airlines in Premium Econmy makes flying nonstop 10,288 miles better than merely bearable.
Although it saves substantial time over alternate ways to get to Singapore from the U.S. East Coast, and even with 30 years of experience flying ultra-long legs, I wondered if I could endure it, especially since I opted for Premium Economy, not Business Class. The A350-900ULR aircraft used on the nonstop is fitted out with only Business Class and Premium Economy seats—no economy class at all. PE fares were far cheaper than Business, so…
Bottom line: No sweat. I flew over, arriving Sunday night, and flew home late Tuesday night. Kudos to Singapore Airlines for making Premium Economy service as painless as possible. It was better than just okay; I would do it again.
NEWARK TO SINGAPORE
SQ21 was scheduled to depart Newark Sat, Feb 02 at 9:45 AM and to arrive Singapore Sun, Feb 03 at 5:15 PM. I checked in at the Terminal B Singapore counter, a 30-second process and headed through security.
There is no TSA Pre line at Terminal B reportedly because El Al flies out of there, too. I was given an “Expedited Passenger” card that allowed me to keep on my belt and shoes, but still had to empty all pockets and put liquids in a separate bin.
Entire TSA process took 16 minutes. On the face of it, not terrible. But for TSA Pre and Premium customers at 7:30 AM on a Saturday morning, I thought it was too long. I wondered what Business Class flyers thought after spending all that money on their fare to get stuck in a slow-moving security queue.
But of course security sucks everywhere.
We began boarding at 9:10 AM and completed quickly at 9:25 AM. Doors immediately closed, and the aircraft pushed back early at 9:30 AM. We were airborne by 9:45 AM. Extremely efficient boarding and takeoff process. Boarding was so quick that I could not get several text and email messages sent that I had planned to complete.
Both Business Class and Premium Economy were nearly full. I was in 33C, an aisle seat in the 3rd row of Premium Economy.
There are only 13 rows of PE, 31 to 43. Business Class makes up the majority of the interior of the airplane.
Seat comfort was comparable, in my opinion, to Cathay Pacific PE, but inferior to the American Airlines PE chairs that I experienced RDU/LHR/RDU the previous week. The Singapore seats are comfortable, but feel narrower than those on the AA 777. This is especially telling at the arm rests where I was constantly competing with my seat mate for elbow room.
I was surprised to later learn that the seats are comparable in width dimension, so my impression was wrong. Unfortunately, knowing the facts didn’t make it feel any roomier. Sometimes perception trumps data.
This A350 PE cabin is set up 2-4-2, which seems a bit cramped for the airplane. The SQ cabin crew opined that the A350 PE seats are indeed narrower than on other types of aircraft, but I did not check that facts on that.
I am picking nits here. The Singapore seats in Premium Economy are still far better than regular coach. FAR better!
Front to back (seat pitch) it is harder to tell. Distances are comfortable, but I am pretty short. If I was six feet or taller, I don’t know.
Near the back of the plane, the fuselage narrows, forcing Singapore to remove one seat on both sides of the last two rows. I sat in that last row on the port side, 42C, going home. Those seats have singular privacy (literally) and a good-sized table and storage bin between the seat and the window. More on that below.
There are three lavatories in the Premium Economy cabin, two on the starboard side, one of which is adjacent to the rear galley, and one on the port side also by the rear galley. I checked them all out. The two by the galley are the narrowest toilets I’ve ever seen on an airplane (excluding RJs). Hard even to turn around and feel more claustrophobic than usual on planes. The third lav is on the starboard side and has normal interior dimensions.
I enjoyed the pleasure of the friendly, well-trained Singapore flight crew, mostly young and every one cheerful. More male flight attendants than I remember from flying Singapore in the 80s and 90s; almost half are guys.
The usual tiny ditty bag of socks, tooth brush, and eyeshades, but no ear plugs. However, unlike American Airlines, the bag was noticeably cheap and made of an ugly plastic. If I wasn’t flying on super-proud Singapore Air, I would not make mention of it, but it is not what Singapore of the past would have provided based on past experience.
Every PE seat came with a big, real blanket and a very good pillow.
I was also provided with over-the-ear headphones labeled as noise-canceling, but in fact didn’t cancel out a single decibel. I returned my set to the crew and retrieved my Bose noise-canceling phones from my backpack. Soon I was enjoying a movie, the first of many on that long flight.
Well, not so long. It was a very fast flight at under 18 hours, scheduled to arrive Singapore an hour early at 4:15 PM Sunday afternoon, which was early Sunday morning back on the East Coast.
Kinda spoils the fun of bragging rights to having survived the world’s longest flight when it isn’t so long, I thought, fleetingly. Then came to my senses and thanked the heavens that it was no longer.
Tattered and torn duty free catalogs and Singapore in-flight magazines in seat backs (I checked several) told me that the airline isn’t keeping up its past superior standards of perfection. In earlier years Singapore would have replaced all paper materials with the slightest signs of wear between flights.
Same with the menu for Premium Economy: Mine was dog-eared from reuse and contained menus for both Newark-Singapore and Singapore-Newark. That told me the menu selections never change in either direction. Again, I was surprised that Singapore’s standards have slipped a bit.
Drink carts came around at once after leveling off. Unlike American Airlines, Singapore served a tasty Blanc de Blanc Champagne from Reims, which is to say, real Champagne! I enjoyed two nicely chilled glasses.
Lunch was a choice of Asian fish and Asian veggies, BBQ chicken, or a lamb dish of some kind. All came with the identical stale bread and tiny slab of orange cheddar cheese and a couple of crackers. Also a wilted salad.
A mediocre coach meal I was once served in the early 2000s on a Northwest DC-10 from Minneapolis to Paris popped into my brain as the analog to what I was looking at.
I looked back at the menu description, which said it was a “Prawn Waldorf Salad.” Wow, sounds fancy! Someone must have switched out mine for the pale green stuff in the little plastic bowl on my tray.
I had the fish with rice and Asian vegetables. The entire complement of food was, to me, pathetic in flavor and quality.
Again, I am probably being too harsh on Singapore Airlines because I flew SQ in real First Class on magnificent 747s in the 80s and 90s. My memory of bottomless bottles of vintage Krug Champagne served in crystal flutes and numerous tins of Beluga caviar served on sterling silver is indelible, and I can’t help but compare to the fare before me in Premium Economy.
It was a cruel memory from a bygone era that kept me from giving the meal service higher marks. Truth is, PE is not Business Class, and certainly not International First Class. With that reality in mind, the meal was on par with expectations for Premium Economy.
The cabin crew was outstanding.
Ah, youth! It’s always smart to hire young men and women to do a tough job like that because they are so persistently cheerful. The under-30 flight attendants on board that flight were funny, upbeat and happy, lightening the mood of every flyer. I kept going back to talk to them in the rear galley because they were so much fun to be around.
I checked out the menu for later meals, and I prayed for improvement. At least the people who brought it love their job.
Singapore Airlines charges $75 extra (each way) for a bulkhead seat in Premium Economy by an exit door with no windows. I guess if I was real tall that unlimited legroom would be worth paying for.
On American Airlines, I didn’t have to pay extra for the legroom on my Premium Economy bulkhead seats, and on AA, I had two windows rather than no window and no drafty exit door beside me.
I watched a movie, or maybe two. Time has a way of resisting normal rhythm on such long flights. Pretty soon we were over the Black Sea and headed for Iraq, Afghanistan and then India. We were nearing the halfway point of the flight. I could not believe we had already come so far.
I did a lot of stretching at frequent intervals (at least once an hour) in the rear galley area. There was no place to walk on that plane except to the back because the two aisles are isolated by the large Business Class cabin in the front.
Also drank plenty of water to stay hydrated. I started a third movie. I wasn’t yet sleepy.
Singapore has installed big seatback HD screens that make watching movies appealing. For reading, there is a light on a gooseneck with 3 brightness levels–very handy.
Not impressed with the fold-down foot rest. It’s useless if you are over about five feet.
Nor the recline. It is a cradle seat design, meaning the bottom and back rigidly tilt together rather than the bottom remaining stable when the seatback is reclined. I have never found cradle seats comfortable.
The leg rest is the third element of seat manipulation. It hardly came up at all and left my legs dangling oddly.
I eventually found, after trying all combinations of adjustment, that the seat was comfortable only when in the fully upright position with no leg rest or foot rest. I couldn’t sleep well in it, but I dozed a lot.
Maybe it was only my body’s idiosyncratic unfitness to the seat. Certainly many other passengers seemed to like the seats, as most appeared to be sleeping. I envied their slumbers.
Cabin crew remained bright and cheerful and came through every 30 minutes or so offering water, juice, and snacks. These and any desired beverage, including Champagne, were also available to grab and go from the rear galley.
Except for the poor seat design, the flight couldn’t have been much easier or pleasant to bear the long hours cooped up in a carbon fiber tube.
Lavs on the plane were kept spotless, clean, and neat. I wish the cabin crew on American Airlines from Heathrow to Raleigh two days prior had done as well.
After a third movie, more snacks, and a light meal, the flight was nearly over. Looking at the moving map, I saw that we were overhead George Town and Butterworth (Malaysia), my family’s jumping-off place to the Thai islands several years ago when we visited Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand over that year’s Christmas break.
We were, at that time, due to land at 4:30 PM, 45 minutes early. I had watched four movies, including Spike Lee’s BlacKKKlansman (recommended).
Recapping the outbound (EWR/SIN) flight:
The PE seats seemed narrow. This nagged at me near the end of the flight. If the actual dimensions are the same as other Premium Economy seats, then there is some quirk in design that makes the SQ Premium Economy seats feel cramped compared to the American Airline PE seats I just flew on two days previous.
I don’t like the cradle seat tilt-recline design. Other customers seemed happy sleeping in them.
The Singapore Airlines cabin crew was spectacular start to finish, efficient and cheerful.
The airplane was clean and functional. That is, everything worked. On flights that long, every screen, light, and seat function must work to keep passengers pacified. SQ did a great job on that.
Ditto for the lavatories. All worked and were kept clean throughout 18 hours despite nonstop use.
Seat pocket materials needed to be refreshed.
The IFE (in-flight entertainment) system had lots of great movie selections and other content.
Singapore Air did an exemplary job planning and managing the flight. The airline staff’s ultra-long-haul expertise was on show on the flight. Bravo!
SINGAPORE TO NEWARK
Changi’s Terminal 3 is home to Singapore Airlines, and of course hometown pride requires that you keep up appearances. It’s been given an extensive updating, and it looks beautiful.
Truth be told, all of Changi gleams because, well, because that is the way Singapore does things: Everything gleams in Singapore!
And that’s the truth.
Check-in to SQ22 at Singapore Air’s dedicated Premium Economy counters—a whole long line of counters, all staffed—took less than one minute. Again, that’s so Singapore.
A surprise at immigration: To leave Singapore, I had only to scan my passport and provide an electronic thumb print. No human interaction, no queue, no delay, took all of 30 seconds, and I was inside security. Of course there was a TSA-style security screen at the gate later.
I found one of four Priority Pass lounges at Terminal 3 and enjoyed the view from the lounge deck while sipping a Tiger beer, a tasty lager and Singapore’s staple brew. Later I found my way to the gate early to account for security screening.
The flight was due to leave at 12:40 AM, and boarding began just before midnight. The flight back to Newark was very light. Maybe a quarter full in PE, and Business looked nearly empty.
The single Premium Economy seats at the back of the plane, including mine (42C), were wonderfully private and had a locker between my seat and the window. It was plenty big enough to hold my backpack, making it easily accessible. I admit that I loved it. It felt like Business Class roominess and luxury—but for the reasonable fare of Premium Economy!
The lead flight attendant, Ken, introduced himself and gave me an early glass of Champagne even though it’s not policy to offer it in PE when boarding.
Ken later brought up from Business Class a bottle of vintage Charles Heidsieck Champagne. I realized at once that I must have been flagged in their system for special treatment on that flight. Be that as it may, I didn’t complain and appreciated the little extras. The special Champagne and personal touches did not improve the meals, however.
The captain announced that it would be a short 17 hours and a few minutes to Newark.
The route of flight moved north and east after takeoff. Originally, we were routed over Mongolia, northern Russia, and far north Norway, approaching North America well north of Greenland from the east.
With 11 hours to go, however, we were flying just east of the Japanese archipelago with a 155 mph tailwind, which gave us an astonishing ground speed of 739 mph. We were due to arrive Newark early at 4:45 AM, 45 minutes early.
The route skirted the Aleutians, crossed central Alaska, and approached Newark from the west across Canada between Hudson Bay and the Great Lakes. The moving map said we would cover a total of 10,288 miles on the flight.
Recapping the return (SIN/EWR) flight:
Service was again spectacular on Singapore Airlines in Premium Economy, thanks to the cabin crew. They were killing me with kindness, regularly bringing food and drink (lots of orange juice and apple juice), as well as asking about my well-being and contentment. They were once again fun to be with. Just as on the outbound flight, I had interesting chats with several flight attendants in the rear galley during my routine stretching exercises.
I remained unimpressed with Singapore’s PE cradle seat design.
The meals were again mediocre, I thought, and the mid-flight “pizza box” was scarcely larger than two packs of cards and unappetizing. Good thing I wasn’t flying for the food.
Seat 42C was marvelously private and boasted the large cabinet between it and the two windows in which to stow my backpack.
One downside to sitting in the last row on this A350-900ULR aircraft is that the back of the plane was ice cold from beginning to end. To stay warm, I wrapped myself in 3 blankets and kept my shoes on over two pairs of socks.
On the whole, however, my complaints are few. Singapore Airlines is a great way to fly, and I would definitely book this nonstop again. The incurably cheerful attitude of the flight attendants makes the nearly long flight almost fun to endure.