Singapore Airlines’ ultra-long-haul route from Newark to Singapore — discontinued a few years ago — was truly a legendary flight. On the wings of an Airbus A340-500, it clocked in just shy of 19 hours westbound, making it the longest regularly scheduled flight in the world. But when fuel prices rose, Singapore Airlines was forced to get rid of the inefficient A340-500s, and the ultra-long routes with them.
Then came a new generation of aircraft that offered enough fuel efficiency to make lengthy routes more profitable. Singapore Airlines’ Star Alliance partner United got the jump on launching a direct flight between the U.S. and Singapore, flying a Boeing 787-9 from San Francisco. Singapore Airlines (SQ) struck back with an Airbus A350-900 on the same route a few months later, but it wasn’t done there. SQ has its sights set on the return of the ultra-long-haul direct flights to Newark and Los Angeles. And very soon, it will have just the plane to do it: the Airbus A350-900ULR (for “ultra long range”).
Read on for more on what this very special aircraft means for Singapore Airlines, and what it could mean for you.
Singapore Airlines’ Ultra-Long-Haul Network: An AvGeek Legend
Before looking to the future of ultra-long-haul routes, let’s take a step back into the past. Back in 2013, AirlineReporter flew and reviewed Singapore Airlines’ ultra-long-distance A340-500 flights between Singapore and Los Angeles and Newark. It’s worth checking out our old coverage of those flights if you have the time:
Flying Over 21,000 Miles to Singapore, Part One – The flight from LAX to Singapore Changi
Flying Over 21,000 Miles to Singapore, Part Two – The stay in Singapore
Live Blogging the World’s Longest Flight, SIN-EWR – The flight from Singapore to Newark, the longest in the world
It took a very special plane to fly those routes, and the A340-500 fit the bill with its impressive range and all-business-class cabin. Another thing that made the plane special, unfortunately, was its exceptional ability to guzzle huge amounts of jet fuel. It stands to reason that reviving these ultra-long-haul routes would require a plane that can fly at least as long as the A340-500, while using much less fuel.
Meet The A350-900ULR
In 2015, Airbus announced that Singapore Airlines would be the launch customer for an ultra-long-range variant of the A350-900. The variant would bump the A35’s max flight time to above 19 hours, enough for the 8,700 nautical mile route to New York. It does so by packing 17% more fuel into the A350-900’s existing fuel system, rather than adding extra tanks. It also has a higher certified takeoff weight and some aerodynamic improvements to boost range. Singapore Airlines will start taking delivery of their seven ULR aircraft in 2018.
Ultra Long Haul: Old vs New
So how will the resurrected ultra-long-haul services to the U.S. compare to their discontinued predecessors? Let’s do a rundown by category.
When the direct U.S. routes launched back in 2004 with the old A340-500s, it was with a combined business class and “executive economy” layout. But shortly thereafter, Singapore reconfigured the planes to a 100-seat all-business-class configuration. The airline has not officially announced the cabin configuration for the A350-900ULRs, but a few sources have reported that the result will be a combination of business class and Singapore’s new premium economy product.
Nineteen hours would be an agonizingly long time to be stuck in economy class, so we can see why Singapore wouldn’t include economy seats in the configuration. It’s a bummer that there won’t be any cheap seats on these flights. But at least the inclusion of premium economy means that you can get on one of these flights for less than business class prices. For price-sensitive travelers, Singapore Airlines will still fly the one-stop 777-300ER services that they operate today, though frequency will probably go down on those flights once the non-stop flights begin.
Seat & Service:
The design fundamentals are fairly similar between the business class seat product on the old A340-500s and Singapore’s current business class. It’s a 1-2-1 across layout with direct aisle access. Passengers get a huge chunk of space and a very wide seat. It’s fair to say that the product is comparable to some other airlines’ first class seats. While the design fundamentals are the same, it certainly won’t be a stale product. Singapore has made nice changes to the finishes and finer touches of the seat. The business class cabins we’ve seen on the non-ULR A350s and refurbished 777s are gorgeous — check out one of our recent reviews.
While we won’t know much about the service on the ultra-long-haul flights until closer to launch, we have no doubts that the experience will be great. If you’ve flown Singapore Airlines before, you know what we mean.
Singapore made clear its intentions to re-launch direct flights to LAX and New York — the same destinations it used to serve with the A340-500. Those routes will launch in 2018. It will be interesting to see if Singapore returns to Newark or if it will switch to JFK. The latter is preferred by many New Yorkers. But JFK seems to often have lengthier approach patterns, and we wonder if that may be an issue at the end of a flight that pushes a plane’s range envelope.
Another question is whether Singapore may launch direct flights to another U.S. city. The old LAX and EWR flights were operated with a fleet of five A340-500s, but Singapore has ordered seven A350-900ULRs. The increase could simply be a way to bump up frequency, but we wonder if the additional two aircraft could support a new U.S. destination. It’s also possible that the San Francisco route may get the ULR, as the non-ULR A350 currently serving the route operates with payload restrictions.
Get Excited For 2018!
This is an exciting time for Singapore Airlines, thanks to an exciting plane: the A350-900ULR. By the end of next year, Singapore will be back to flying some of the longest routes in the world. Being on a plane for 19+ hours isn’t for the faint of heart. But once the flights launch, I’m sure many an AvGeek will make it a point to fly the resurrected routes out. We sure will!
Now it’s time for us to hear from you. Did you get a chance to fly Singapore’s old ultra-long-haul routes before they were discontinued? Would you be able to handle 19+ hours on a plane? Continue the conversation in the comments section below.