Source: Airbus

The 19-Hour Flight Is Coming Back

Day and night on a plane may be agony to most of us. These are the people who demand it.

They flew nonstop to Singapore from New York and Los Angeles in business class. And they loved every minute of it.

Well, maybe not every minute. But when Singapore Airlines scrubbed those nonstops from LAX and Newark, N.J. (a major departure point for the New York City market), in late 2013, business travelers wanted them back.

On Tuesday the airline said it will resume the routes in 2018 on a new Airbus A350-900ULR (ultralong-range) model that Airbus is designing. It also said it will consider other U.S. destinations for nonstop service to the tropical city-state. The Newark-Singapore route takes 18 to 19 hours, depending on winds; the L.A. route is about an hour shorter.

The news underlines the importance to business travelers of saving every possible minute, and shows the competitive disadvantage Singapore Airlines suffers as it routes its U.S. flights to Singapore through Frankfurt, Moscow, Seoul, and Tokyo.

Those interim fuel stops incur extra travel time for people headed to Southeast Asia and could siphon business to Cathay Pacific Airways, another posh player in the region. Cathay has four daily nonstop flights from both New York and Los Angeles to Hong Kong, a global financial hub. From there it’s a short hop to Singapore and plenty of other cities in the region.

“Our previous nonstop services were widely acknowledged favorites among business travelers, and the resumption of this service, enabled by this new aircraft, underscores our commitment to the U.S. market,” said Singapore Airlines spokesman James Boyd. 

Singapore had yanked the routes because of the fuel expense of the sole aircraft in its fleet that could make the trip, an Airbus A340-500. At 15,344 kilometers (9,536 miles), the Newark flight is the longest nonstop commercial route ever. Jet fuel is much cheaper now than in 2013, and the new Airbus design is based largely on composite materials, which make the aircraft lighter and reduce fuel consumption.

The airline plans a new business cabin for the routes but declined to reveal details on amenities or how many seats the jetliner will carry. The earlier, A340 flights had just 100 business-class seats, which made the economics even dodgier for Singapore Airlines because of the need to command consistently high fares to compensate.

But it’s unlikely the flights will have nearly as many seats as your typical long-haul aircraft, given the need for weight savings and Singapore’s premium-cabin reputation on long routes.

Laying claim to the world’s longest flight isn’t just a public-relations boon for an airline. These routes also tend to cater to corporate travelers, who spend far more to be pampered, especially on herculean long hauls. Two months ago, Emirates said it would begin operating the longest flight (for now)—Panama City to Dubai—in February. Heading west, the flight will take 17 hours and 35 minutes, topping other marathon routes: Dallas-Sydney on Qantas Airways, and Delta’s Johannesburg-Atlanta flight.

(Corrects the number of daily nonstop flights Cathay has from New York and Los Angeles to Hong Kong, to four from three.)

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