Singapore Airlines is reclaiming the role as operator of the world’s longest flight. The carrier confirmed today that it will serve Newark nonstop from its Changi Airport hub using the Airbus A350-900ULR starting in October 2018. The 9,500+ mile flight clocks in at just under 19 hours each way on the schedule. Tickets go on sale Thursday.
The world’s longest flight on the world’s most awarded airline is back. Fly non-stop from Singapore to New York. pic.twitter.com/8S13aYq8tv
— Singapore Airlines (@SingaporeAir) May 30, 2018
The carrier also confirmed that the flight will not carry economy class passengers. The ULR aircraft will seat 161 passengers in a mix of 67 business class and 94 premium economy seats. This layout is similar to the cabin layout Singapore Airlines operated with a decade ago when the route was flown by an A340-500. That cabin eventually swapped for 100 business class seats before the route was scrubbed entirely in the face of fuel costs spiking. Fuel costs are up today versus when Singapore Airlines first indicated a desire to restore the nonstop service to the New York City area but nowhere near as high as 2013 when the route last flew. Also, the A350-900ULR offers significant fuel efficiency benefits over the A340-500.
The airline expects to receive seven of the A350-900ULR in the last four months of 2018, allowing for the Newark route and other services as well. Newark will commence as thrice-weekly service on 11 October, growing to daily on the 18th as more aircraft join the fleet.
The nonstop service to San Francisco, competing with United Airlines, operates on an A350-900 today. United also operates nonstop to Singapore from Los Angeles, a route previously served by SQ’s A340-500. The LAX route is expected to resume nonstop flights on Singapore Airlines with the A350-900ULR. The carrier also teased an additional North America destination in previous comments about the ULR aircraft. Today’s news offers no further insight on that front.
All premium, all the time
The many iterations of cabin configurations in the prior SIN-EWR/LAX service focused on premium passengers. The re-launch will as well. Saving time on these nearly day-long trips is also a premium benefit that passengers are likely to pay extra for so flying only the premium seats makes some sense. The airline drives better revenue and expects it can fill the plane at a higher yield.
It also fills an operational need. Some of the longest routes flying today on A350-900 or 787-9 aircraft are weight-restricted, requiring seats to be blocked from sale or cargo capacity caps in order to complete the service nonstop. By reducing the cabin load by 92 seats from the 253-seat A350-900 flying today the airline can better avoid range issues. Even with the premium passenger profile predicted for the service the flights will not include a first class cabin. Demand for that ultra-luxury – and a willingness to carry the heavier product – is not present on the route.
Thanks goodness. Nothing says fun like a day in an airplane.
— Joshua Neyhart (@maniacmiler) May 30, 2018
How much is too much?
Even with the only premium seating on board there are questions about just how much is too much time on board. When Qantas launched its Perth-London service earlier this year the carrier highlighted catering and other passenger-focused efforts to reduce the stress of the ultra-long haul flight.
My longest flight was the delivery of an empty @qatarairways 787 from Seattle to Doha in Business. That was 15 hours and I was scratching at the windows to get out by the end. These 18-19 hours flights, I just dunno.
— Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) May 30, 2018
With plans to extend to 22ish hours, linking Sydney and London nonstop within 5 years, pending an aircraft that can fly that long, more effort will be needed on that front. Even passengers in the premium cabin will need something to do during the 18+ hours on board.
Access to inflight connectivity services helps offset that boredom, though it is not a panacea. And while various companies tease things like movie theatres and exercise facilities on board to allow passengers a bit of variety through their travel day none of those seem likely to fly for real in the near future. Moreover, the airlines and inflight wifi connectivity providers must come up with a solution that delivers for 100+ connected passengers over a much more challenging flight path and with more capacity than is typically delivered to an aircraft today. The polar routes offer no coverage on most commercial connectivity solutions today, leaving the plane in a potential blackout for a few hours. And the consumer cost of that connectivity remains high. Performance continues to improve as new satellites take to orbit but this is not a perfect offset to the time on board. At least not yet.
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