Just a little while ago, I was on the complete other side of the planet.
After touching down at New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International airport outside New York – completing the inaugural journey of the longest flight in the world – I can tell you this: It was an unforgettable night … followed by a day … followed by another night.
In about 17 hours and 25 minutes, we flew from Singapore halfway around the globe nonstop aboard Singapore Airlines Flight SQ22 – now the most ultra of ultra-long-haul routes.
It was a little bit of a travel endurance test for everyone on board – passengers and crew. The sheer achievement, mechanical and human, to make it happen – amazing!
Marketed toward business travelers, SQ22 spans 10,377 miles (16,700 kilometers), give or take, depending on the exact flight path. Cruising at around 41,000 feet at about 575 mph, the route was made possible by a new, super-efficient twin-engine Airbus A350-900ULR jet that seats 161 passengers. Also on board at takeoff: 111 tonnes of fuel.
In addition to checking out the new jet, we experimented with new gadgets aimed at maximizing sleep and minimizing jet lag.
This may sound bizarre to the unfamiliar, but to reach our long-distance destination the shortest route is not a straight line. It’s a curved line because the Earth is round. So we flew a curved line nearly over the top of the world and down through Canada to save fuel and precious time.
Now that we’re back on solid ground, here are five things we learned during our voyage:
This is the future
The first thing I kept thinking about this flight once we were wheels down at Newark was: This is a revolution in aviation. These new sophisticated twin-engine airliners like Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner and the jet we flew on – the Airbus A350-900ULR – they’re designed to make ultralong routes like this one profitable.
Most surprising about this plane was the smoothness. And it was so much quieter than we expected. In fact, we were told the average decibel level was 80-85 decibels. But in business class it actually was lower: around 70 decibels. In the back, in the premium economy section, it was 80.
Bottom line: The overall performance of the aircraft was exceptional.
The food was excellent. The dumplings were excellent and the beef was good. Of the two meals served in business class, for the second meal, I would have changed the timing to later in the trip. But if you ever need anything, of course you can ask.
In premium economy they serve three meals at fixed times. Hot drinks and cold snacks are available all through the flight.
Overall, more than 500 meals were served to the 161 passengers on board.
As for the crew: They were ready. They were prepared for the long haul. Even by the end of the flight, they looked fresh and continued to offer amenities to passengers. The aircraft was clean – including the bathrooms – which were kept clean constantly throughout.
Fighting jet lag
Before you board, prep yourself mentally and physically for 18 hours on an airplane. Exercise. Eat lightly, limit your day-of diet to soup for example, or just snacks. I used a couple of gadgets designed to help with jet lag – special eyeglasses and a wrist band. I won’t know if they helped until later, because I’ve been awake since early this morning and I only got about five hours of sleep on the flight. (I would have gotten more, but I was gladly working hard, in your service!)
There were four possible tracks we could have taken across the Pacific to New York via the Great Circle Route, as it’s called, which takes you north over Alaska. Because of the prevailing tailwinds during our flight, the track we followed took us in a northerly direction staying east of China, east of Japan, east of Russia and making landfall into Alaska and northern Canada, before turning more south toward New York. (The route roughly follows the one shown in the map below).
This is called the NOPAC route. It’s the preferred route because it’s slightly shorter – thereby saving us time and fuel.
Passengers on board told us they definitely would choose this ultralong route between New York (Newark) and Singapore over the alternative – which is flying from New York to Frankfurt, Germany, and changing planes. Singapore Airlines says travelers save four to six hours of travel time by taking this new route.
Unlike the previous route between Newark (EWR) and Singapore (SIN), which was flown with gas-guzzleing four-engined A340-500s, I believe this route will be profitable and is here to stay because this new Airbus A350-900ULR is 25% more fuel efficient then the previous aircraft.
In fact, we landed with 8 tonnes of fuel left in the airplane fuel tanks, after taking off with 111 tonnes. Albeit we did have a nice tailwind pushing us along. Flying the opposite direction – from Newark to Singapore, will burn more fuel.
In-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi
The in-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi on the flight was good. In fact, we had been told there would be a significant Wi-Fi blackout on board at some point during the flight because of the track we were flying, but the blackout was never as long as we anticipated. We were able to live blog and post to social media most of the flight.
As for the on board video entertainment, airlines like Singapore and Emirates put huge resources into their on board video. Obviously it’s even more important on an ultra-long-range flight. This flight had personal screens with a wide variety of choices. US carriers are encouraging passengers to bring their own devices and connect to the on board server where they can watch the blockbuster of the week.
I’d love to go home and get some sleep, but I’m still on the clock. I’m on my way to do live TV reports about our journey. And what an unforgettable journey it was!