In flight: The short route to Singapore


In many ways calling it the short route is silly. After all, it is the longest scheduled commercial flight in the world, clocking in at more than 18 hours. Singapore Airlines flight 21, Newark to Singapore, is simply ridiculously far. But it is the fastest way to get from the New York City area to Singapore and it is a pretty stylish way to do it, too.

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The route is flown on an Airbus A340-500 with only 100 seats, all business class. Booking one of those seats used to require a large chunk of cash (or getting lucky with a couple routings out of the Pacific Islands) but recently they started showing up in limited quantities for award bookings. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity and even though I don’t really have any pressing reason to be in Singapore I’m on my way. It seems like a reasonable enough place to spend a couple days. And the flights to and from seem pretty fun, too.

The Seat

With such a low density seat map there is plenty of room on board for each seat and Singapore Airlines takes advantage of that fact. The layout is 1-2-1 across the A340 body, the same spacing as First Class on Lufthansa. The seats are about 30″ wide; it is quite spacious.

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When the time came to convert the seat to a bed it actually flips forward rather than reclining all the way back. This is good and bad, as it somewhat limits the reclining positions available, but it also means that the full width is usable for bed mode. I chose the bulkhead seat so the footwell was full width as I don’t really lie my feet going in to a cubby hole. That part worked out well, though there is a gap between the seat and the well, basically forcing you to sleep at a slight angle.

Also, the bed is quite firm. Not a problem for me but I could see how some might not enjoy it too much. With a few pillows and sufficient booze in my system from the lounge and from dinner I had no problem sleeping for a solid 8 or 9 hours. Or again for another few hours after my mid-flight snack.

Checking in for the flight at the counter the agent was somewhat surprised that I had selected the seat I had. He mentioned the proximity to the lavs and the potential noise and smell issues there. That turned out to not be an issue for me, though I can see how it could be annoying.

Food & Beverage

There are three meals served during the flight. The first is a dinner served shortly after takeoff. Next is a lunch mid-flight and finally breakfast shortly prior to arrival. I very much prefer this sequence of service over the option from Thai on their soon-to-be-retired LAX-Bangkok flight. It just makes more sense. Also, the food was much better.

My first meal started with a salad and bread. Fresh veggies and a couple strips of seared fish on top, with a nice balsamic dressing.

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For the main course I had the braised pork served over egg noodles in a broth. Excellent presentation and the food was quite tasty, too.

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Finally, for dessert, I had both the chocolate ice cream and the chocolate mousse, though I did pass on the petit fours.

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Somewhere over Uzbekistan, I was hungry again. Having been asleep for the past eight hours that seemed to make sense and I wandered back towards the galley to see what my options were. Set up in the galley was a nice spread of chips, fruit, cookies and other snacks; I grabbed a couple for later. But I was thinking of something more substantive. The flight attendant greeted me by name (little things like that really make me happy) and offered up a few lunch options. I went with the chicken over udon noodles. About 10 minutes later she brought it out to my seat.

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The flavors were great; no real surprise there. But it wasn’t heated all the way through. I actually didn’t mind that too much, but it was somewhat surprising. My seatmate ordered the same a few minutes after I did and his was heated evenly. Go figure.

Oh, and they had Dunkin Donuts on board. They spelled it wrong in the menu, but they had an actual box of Dunkin – the variety pack – and gladly served up donuts upon request.

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For breakfast I had another noodle option, sliced beef in broth with noodles. The omelet looked fine, too, but I like the flavors of the soups. This also may have been the first time I’ve had a 4-course breakfast, with fruit, pastries and yogurt all preceding the actual meal. The bagel was actually quite good, too.

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In-flight Entertainment

The IFE system on Singapore routinely gets high marks and it is easy to see why. The screen is large – 15.4″ – and the range of titles available is rather extensive. Whether you want TV, movies, audio or games, there are plenty of options to choose from. Me? I just watched the moving map when I wasn’t sleeping. But I like that there were lots of other options available.

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Also, there is a universal plug, a couple USB plugs, iPhone/iPad interface and RCA jacks for hooking in to the system. Even if you don’t like what they’re showing, there are still plenty of options.

Lounge/Ground Services

The lounge used in Newark is the SAS lounge. It is pretty nice and for the late departure of the Singapore Air flight there are no other passengers in the lounge. They up the catering a notch to offer a more substantial meal option around 9:15pm, tiding folks over until the dinner served on board. I enjoyed the self-serve alcohol and a bit of a snack and then headed out to the plane.

As I mentioned before, the first agent I dealt with suggested that the seat I had wasn’t so great. I told him I was flying with a friend so I didn’t want to change anything until I could speak with my friend. Turns out the same guy also handled that check-in and remembered that I had mentioned we were flying together. Again, a little thing, but one that was quite nice.

No arrivals facilities in Singapore upon landing at 6am is a bit rough, but that’s how they roll.

Other bits

A couple other things of note related to the trip. First, it is not at all common to see numbers like these on the flight map data page. More than 18 hours and more than 15,000 km left to fly is insane. The flight actually ended up being nearly 19 hours in the air due to headwinds.

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Next up, it is somewhat strange that there is no amenity kit on the flight. All the goodies are stocked in the lavs and it certainly reduces waste, but I was still a bit surprised. They do distribute eye masks and socks to all passengers.

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Finally, the pilot put the plane down so hard on arrival in Singapore that we actually bounced off the runway. And when we pulled in to the gate the APU was inoperable. Dunno that the two are definitely related, but it was one of the hardest landings I’ve ever experienced. Of course, the FAs played it down suggesting that it just felt hard because we had been flying 19 hours. But the look on their faces when it actually happened belied that smoothness.

Overall there is very little bad to say about the experience, other than that 19 hours in a plane is a really long time. I’m quite happy I got the opportunity to make the trip and look forward to having this as an option for future award travels.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

12 Comments

  1. Maybe the pilot was a former Cathay Pacific pilot. My two most memorable hard landings were both with Cathay Pacific.

  2. I flew this route back when it was two class. (I was in J.) While certainly a long flight, SQ does it well…and it sure beats connecting. The flight goes over the pacific coming home to EWR.

  3. I did this route twice in 2011. It is a long flight, but a great way to go. Didn’t really enjoy the SAS lounge that much. I would use the Delta lounge and switch to SAS near flight time. I never had any hard landings, and always booked my hotel so I could check in at 6 am. On one of my returns I was stranded at EWR due to snow for 2 days. That wasn’t fun.

  4. I did this flight on Tuesday night using US miles to go all the way to Melbourne for 110K miles round trip. It took 18 hours and 30 minutes and we had a very smooth landing. I did book the cook and had the sea bass which was great. I had the udon noodles twice during the flight. First time the noodles were a little under cooked but the beef was very good and over all still pretty good. I ordered it again a few hours later because I was hungry again and wasn’t interested in other snack options and this time it was more like what you describe, a bit under heated but again I still enjoyed it.

    IFE is great but I like CX better due to a much larger selection. For someone that flies a lot and watches a lot of tv/movies you can run out of things to watch quickly. I don’t understand why airlines can’t upgrade their offerings, I mean all it would mean is larger hard drives to hold more movies/shows. In fact my SIN-MEL flight which I assumed would have the same IFE options was actually limited version of what was on EWR-SIN and I was unable to finish watching the last few episodes of the tv show Boss that I started on the EWR-SIN flight which since SIN-MEL flight only had 2 episodes available.

  5. Does the airline provide the RCA and iPod cables needed to hook up your own device into their entertainment system? Or are we expected to bring our own wires/cables on board?

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