This is part one of a Newark – Singapore – Ho Chi Minh – Siem Reap – Bangkok – Phuket – Ko Phi Phi – Koh Samui trip report and includes my review of the longest scheduled flight in the world, SQ 21 from Newark (EWR) to Singapore (SIN). The flight is operated with an Airbus A340-500 long-haul aircraft in a business only 100 seat configuration. SQ 21’s flight time is blocked at 18 hours and 50 minutes and departs from Newark at 11pm with a 5:40am arrival 2 days later, covering 9,534 miles (15,343 km).
Singapore Airlines does not offer car service to the airport so I made my own way to Newark from Manhattan, probably the most frustrating part of this trip! I didn’t leave particularly early as I knew there was no Singapore Airlines lounge at Newark and that passengers are instead given access to the SAS Club Lounge. Check-in was brisk and there were approximately four open desks with no other passengers in sight. I had my boarding pass and lounge invitation in under five minutes and proceeded through security to the SAS lounge. I had visited this lounge a few times before and while adequate, I had never been overly impressed. The lounge is on the smaller size and always feels like a cramped IKEA. Anyway, they had a selection of crackers, breads, and cheeses as well as some veggies at first followed by chicken and vegetarian rolls closer to the flight time. There is complimentary wifi, however there are few other amenities provided and there is no view of the Singapore plane from the lounge.
Boarding & Flight
I left the lounge early and headed to the gate, I wanted to see the aircraft and was curious about the boarding process as all passengers are in Singapore’s Raffles Business Class. They gate agent announced that all Singapore KrisFlyer elite members would board, followed by Star Alliance elite, passengers in the back rows of the plane, passengers in the front rows, and then the middle rows. I was in seat 37A (considered the back) but boarded with the Star Alliance elite group.
Two flight attendants were there to greet me as I walked on to the plane and another two greeted me in the middle section and again when I reached the back. Even though the flight was completely sold out, the boarding process with only 100 passengers was painless and quick. I was offered a drink prior to take off and went with some champagne.
The boarding door closed early and we began our taxi to the runway about 12 minutes ahead of schedule. The Newark to Singapore flight crosses the Atlantic as you would on a transatlantic trip to Europe and then continues southeast towards Singapore. Unfortunately, the captain informed everyone that there would be moderate turbulence for most of the Atlantic crossing and that we would take an extremely southern route over the ocean to minimize the bumps. Once we were up in the air the flight attendants came around with menus and snacks, but no amenity kits. Instead we were given eye masks and socks and the bathrooms were stocked with dental and shaving kits. It was a little surprising considering that kits are standard on the majority of US carriers operating much shorter flights and that purchasing a round-trip ticket on SQ 21 /22 averages between $8500-$11000.
Due to the turbulence, dinner was not served until about three hours into the flight but it was truly delicious. I really enjoyed the grilled black cod and the the crab and mango salad starter. It was also crazy to see the “Singapore Girls” doing their best to walk professionally down the aisles while serving the food during moderate turbulence. I fly all the time and this was some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced. I was surprised they even got the OK to get up at all, tough we might have had to skip dinner otherwise as the turbulence continued for the entire Atlantic crossing until we made landfall over the UK.
After about two movies in, I began to get hungry again and started browsing the light bites menu. There’s a snack area on board that offers bananas, apples, chips, and nuts, but I wanted something more substantial. I decided to go for the warm philly steak as well as some dim sum… I know what a combination! The philly steak was surprisingly good for something that was obviously frozen and re-heated and the chicken and vegetable dumplings were great.
Once I satisfied my hunger it was time to sit back and enjoy some movies. The entertainment system was excellent and consisted of a 15.4 inch screen, noise canceling headphones, and over 70 films. You’re also able to connect an iPhone, Blackberry, or any USB device to the system to watch your own movies or photos, this was extremely convenient as I was three episodes behind on the Amazing Race and quickly transferred them from my MacBook Air to a USB thumb drive for viewing. The seat itself was very comfortable with a width about 30 inches and a reclining position that I found really comfortable. The seat flips into a bed as well when you’re ready to try to get some sleep.
For someone who is under six feet tall I found the bed to be extremely comfortable, though I did wish that the pillow was full size like those that Delta provides. I’m not much of a sleeper anyway (even on an 18+ hour flight), so I really used the bed to relax and watch movies. I saw other people flipping their own seats into beds but when I went to do mine one of the flight attendants came over and made the bed for me (rookie mistake – no one flips their own bed on this flight). She softly placed the padding, a duvet, and the pillow in place and brought me two extra water bottles. The service throughout was truly excellent and I constantly received water and club soda refills, in fact I completely emptied them out of club soda and sparking water. If you prefer not to be interrupted you can press a do not disturb button on your remote which illuminates a do not disturb sign. The aircraft is also equipped with mood lighting as well which is adjusted based on the time of day and cabin service.
I also tried some authentic drinks, the Silver Kris Sling and of course the Singapore Sling…
Well after a total of five movies, a few of my own TV shows, and a short nap we were only a little over two hours from landing and breakfast was ready to be served.
I actually got to speak with one of the pilots while waiting for the bathroom and besides discussing how turbulent the flight was he mentioned that the updated route added about 40 minutes to our flying time and increased our distance by several miles, back at my seat the screen was showing that we had already traveled 10,179 miles.
Overall the flight was excellent with great entertainment, food, and service and an extremely comfortable bed and seat. The 19 hours literally flew by and there were still two movies that I was upset I didn’t have a chance to finish viewing! I even snapped a few pictures and exchanged emails with several of the flight attendants once everyone else deplaned.
Remember, Singapore began releasing saver first and business class award seats to their KrisFlyer members about two months ago and Star Alliance partners have had access to a few last minute award seats as well. I was successful in finding award availability using United’s website about three days prior to the departure date.
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