World’s longest flights coming in for a landing


Singapore Airlines announced this morning an order for 25 new widebody aircraft from Airbus with delivery expected starting in 2017. That’s not huge news, really, but there is a part of the transaction which makes it such: Airbus will be buying back five A340-500 planes from Singapore Air as part of the deal. Those five planes happen to be the aircraft configured in an all business class operation to serve the world’s two longest routes. By the end of 2013 the carrier will no longer operate the nonstop flights to Los Angeles or Newark.

Singapore Airlines’ CEO Goh Choon Phong noted as part of the announcement, “Although disappointing that we will be halting these services, we remain very committed to the US market. Over the past two years we have increased capacity to both Los Angeles and New York by deploying A380 superjumbos on flights via Tokyo and Frankfurt. We will also continue to explore additional options to enhance our US services.”

These ultra-long-haul flights have teetered on the edge of profitable in recent years due to the significant fuel requirements to operate and the increases in fuel costs airlines have faced. The carrier has shifted between all business class service and a mix of business and premium economy seats in an effort to make the route work financially. This latest move will allow the carrier to keep their fleet young, something the carrier focuses heavily on historically (their last 747-400 was removed from passenger service earlier this year), while also removing the operating cost issues associated with these flights and aircraft.

I was fortunate enough to get a seat on the Newark – Singapore flight as an award trip back in March. I saved at least a few hours going with the non-stop flight rather than one of the many connecting options. Still, it was a very, very long time in the air. Almost too long. The carrier has since added in-flight internet connectivity to the planes so that would probably help pass the time a bit more easily, but it is still a 19 hour flight.

At the end of the day, this is a slightly sad change in that the legend of these flights is pretty significant. That said, they are rarely available for award travel and it is a very limited number of seats flying each day. On horribly inefficient aircraft which burn a ton of fuel to make the trip. I cannot actually say I’m sad that they’re going away.

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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.

16 Comments

  1. I traveled SIN-EWR a month ago, using UA award miles committed in July. I traveled well behind the wing to view the landscape, and was well rewarded. Occupancy was around 66%, not too strong.

    Sorry to hear the flights are going away. Are they the longest commercial flights of all time?

  2. I’m also very happy to have tried this flight from Newark back in March. I believe that lax-sin was a little longer and longest in the world.

  3. Economically, the problem for the airline is that far too much of the payload is the fuel needed to complete the flight. And over time, premium-class-only flights have struggled to be profitable. I think there is some natural counter-cyclism between business and leisure travel, and so carrying a mix reduces the losses on days when business demand is weak.

    As you noted, for pax, 19 hours in the air isn’t really comfortable, either. The planes aren’t designed to let you stroll around every few hours – if everyone did that, it becomes a problem. Somewhere in the 12-15 hour mark, a flight becomes too long, and a connection with a nice lounge helps to break things up, even if it adds a few hours to the trip. Probably makes more sense that putting a shower on the plane.

  4. If I were in the air for that long, I’d want a plane with a fitness center, not a bar/lounge.

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