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The hours fly by on SQ22, the world's longest flight
On board flight SQ22
THERE is a buffet. With very good satay. There are welcome speeches. There's singing. No dancing, but there is a rousing rendition of Frank Sinatra's New York, New York. But of course. People press forward, like horses chomping at the bit, held back by pretty women holding goodie bags.
Richard Quest sweeps past you in true flamboyant TV travel host fashion, talking backwards to his cameraman as he aggressively sashays ahead, dragging two cabin bags to good effect.
If you're more used to a cursory nod and droll "passport and boarding pass" treatment when you're boarding a flight, this is the first, and likely the last, time you will be treated like a VIP party guest.
But this is a special night, and a media scrum of camera-toting journalists and TV crews - plus paying passengers - are here to record the world's longest flight.
At least for now. But this moment of glory is for Singapore Airlines to savour, as SQ22 takes off from Changi Airport at around 10 minutes before midnight on Oct 11, on what was expected to be 18 hours and 45 minutes of uninterrupted flight time. In tow is a full load of passengers - 67 in business class and 94 in premium economy, give or take a few seats in the latter.
There are no inflight massages or showers awaiting you, but there's nothing like nestling into brand new business class seats, knowing you can rummage in the little cubby holes and storage bins with no fear of digging up some detritus left by the previous passenger and overlooked by the cleaning crew. Run your hands over the luxe leather seats, padded sides and enjoy how the leg rest rises up to meet your seat so your lower limbs can rest flat.
The seats are similar across SIA's 350 aircraft, but premium economy (there is no regular economy) passengers get a little bit more than their counterparts on other flights. There's an extended footrest, personal reading light and a tray table that pulls out in one piece like business class, not the flimsy double-flap ones in economy.
The best part is the 13.3-inch TV screen, so you don't end up squinting during an inflight TV watching binge. The only thing you can't escape is the sheer number of bodies in the space, and the odd squalling baby that seems to be planted just to upset people.
Eighteen-plus hours may seem like a lot of time, but it isn't really, especially if you're in business class.
Maybe it's the excitement of an inaugural flight, but it feels very well spaced out, given the timing of the meals and the adjustment of the cabin lighting that subtly gives your body cues as to whether you should be sleeping or waking up.
For example, a blue light emanates through the cabin before the first meal service because passengers have just boarded and will likely eat before they go to bed. The blue light supposedly promotes a state of wakefulness, after which amber light kicks in to lull you into a sleepy state. Then, when it's time for the next meal, the blue light gently wakes you up for it. The idea is that you acclimatise yourself to the new time zone, and wake up when it's morning in New York.
This formula works best on a non-stop flight because "you have 18 hours of freedom to plan your time", says Campbell Wilson, SIA's senior vice-president of sales and marketing, who is also on the flight.
It sure beats layovers where you're jostled awake to get off to go through security, hang around the airport before boarding again and repeating the cycle of meal services. "(This way) you can plan your sleep," says the veteran traveller who recommends light meals and no alcohol to avoid jet lag.
By working with wellness specialists Canyon Ranch, the flight offers a complete holistic experience revolving around "food, wellness and cabin ambience, where lower cabin altitude and pressurisation means your skin doesn't dry out as much", adds Mr Wilson. True enough, your skin doesn't feel as parched and your hair isn't fried by static electricity.
Food-wise, you can have your usual chicken rice or braised beef cheek for your main meal, or check out the Canyon Ranch menu of prawn ceviche, pork cassoulet and apple frangipane tart.
Pork cassoulet is usually a heavy, fatty stew but it has been trimmed down using lean meat and olive oil, says Richard Neo, manager of inflight services including food and beverage. The meat is understandably on the dry side but the tender white beans gently braised with just a hint of citrus are delicious, while the cheesy cauliflower steak with brown rice, tahini and pine nuts is a richer-than-it-seems entree in premium economy.
"Our team went up to Tucson (where Canyon Ranch is based) for training and we adapted the recipes to be served inflight," adds Mr Neo. Which is always a challenge given the altitude, the onboard reheating process and the change in taste buds when you fly. But if you care about arriving in good shape, go the healthy route.
While business class is a no-brainer if you can afford it, premium economy isn't bad at all. It's less claustrophobic and the seat reclines to a comfortable enough angle that doesn't give you a backache.
The extra leg room helps. The head rest adjusts to comfortably cocoon your head so you're not constantly nodding forward, says veteran economy class passenger Tilo Kruger, a Dublin-based risk manager in an aircraft leasing company.
"I was able to sleep quite well. I pay for my own tickets so flying economy means I have more money to spend on hotels and things." Mr Kruger has a hobby of being on as many inaugural flights as he can, regardless of airlines.
He was lucky enough to score a "hero seat" - a single seat towards the back of the cabin which are super hot sellers, especially since it doesn't cost extra (at least for now). You have all the leg room you want, so long as you don't mind sitting right at the back. But for the price, why not.
If you're planning to do some work on the flight, you take your chances with the WiFi, which works very well at times, but you can also go hours without connecting. So in between, take advantage of the extra 200 hours of entertainment on KrisWorld. Or plan your next trip to take advantage of the promotional fares starting at S$6,800 for business class and S$2,100 for premium economy.
On touchdown, our flight clocks in at 17 hours and 25 minutes. Which, after a smooth journey, helped by a super-efficient crew who stayed calm despite the sheer frenzy in the galley, makes you disembark happily thinking: Where did all that time go?