In late 2016 Singapore Airlines (SIA) inaugurated new nonstop flights between San Francisco and Singapore using a brand new Airbus A350. The 8,450 mile flight takes about 17 hours depending on winds.
SIA invited TravelSkills editor Chris McGinnis to jump onboard to report on the experience. For more background on this historic flight be sure to see our previous post: Singapore Airlines opens up about its newest, longest nonstop flight.
Fares for November SFO-SIN roundtrips are currently about $800 round trip in economy, $1,800 in premium economy and $4,200 in business class. There are no first class seats on the A350. There are 42 business class seats, 24 premium economy seats, and 187 standard economy seats on this bird. United also flies nonstop between SFO and Singapore using a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
At the gate, SIA and SFO teamed up to celebrate the first SQ 31 flight with a gate event that included a noisy, good luck, send-off dragon dance with drums, plus food, drink and swag (luggage tags, model planes) for all passengers. It’s always super special and exciting to take an inaugural flight– every passenger boarded with a big smile.
Looking out of SFO gate 93 at the brand new A350, I was looking for its most distinguishing features so I could always remember how to spot it on runways. From now on, I’ll always notice the A350 by its unique curly wingtips (see ’em?) and the blacked out, round-edged cockpit windows. Currently, it’s the only A350 flying into SFO.
Thankfully Singapore Air arranged for me to get on the plane a few minutes early to take photos of each cabin before take off. When I got onboard, the Singapore girls were busy scurrying around getting the plane ready, but took the time for a quick photo.
Economy class seats are configured 3-3-3. To me, the best economy seats are in the bulkhead at rows 47 and 48 on either side. The two seats on either side (not center) of row 47 don’t have seats in front of them (only a door), and the window seats in row 48 have open space in front of them, too. These seats are near lavatories, which might be bothersome if trying to sleep (but who really is able to sleep in economy class anyway? Not me!).
See SeatGuru for a full layout of the plane here.
Same goes for Premium economy seats– bulkhead is probably best. However, on our flight, an unlucky set of parents were seated in the bulkhead (typically where airlines place parents flying with babies) and their baby cried for nearly the entire flight. So you take your chances when choosing the bulkhead.
There are two sections in the 42-seat business class, separated by a galley. I was in seat 19F, on the bulkhead behind the galley. These bulkhead seats have nice “wraparound” ottomans that other seats don’t, so when the seat back folds down into a flat bed for sleeping, you have plenty of space to move around. The non-bulkhead seats are a bit cozier and feet must fit into a narrow space for sleeping. Not uncomfortable, but not as spacious as those bulkhead playpens. Note that the bulkheads in the center are larger than the bulkheads by the window, so given a choice, take the center. Downside to the bulkhead is proximity to the galley, which can be noisy and bright if you are trying to sleep.
When checking in at SFO, gate agents provided business class passengers with a voucher good for 30 MB of inflight Internet. That 30 MB ran out in about half an hour of browsing and email, so I bought a 24 hour pass for $22. The connection was fine for light browsing and email, but I was unable to upload photos to share on my Facebook or Twitter feeds as I’ve been able to do on other transoceanic flights.
Amazing: Singapore Airlines’ inflight menu is 14 pages long! The airline is experimenting with a new flexible dining option on the SFO-SIN flights, so you have about 10 choices for appetizers and main courses (one of which, oddly, is a barbecue pulled pork sandwich). There are two meal services on this flight, but you can also choose to eat whenever you want. I chose to enjoy the full dinner service, which began an hour or so into the flight and took about two hours to finish– no problem on a 17-hour flight, right? An elaborate meal helps pass the time!
There are all kinds of cool new things about the A350, but the one that really knocked my socks off? The automated trash bin the the lavatory! Watch the video above to see how its motion sensors open and close the the flap so you don’t have to touch it. What a great idea since I’m always a little grossed out when I have to push my used towels into the bin.
Another amazing aspect of Singapore Airlines service… the six pieces of silverware you get to use for dinner!
Some excellent wine choices, including Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve champagne pre-flight as well as a 2012 Chateau Belle-Vue Cru bordeaux.
When I fly international carriers, I always try to go native and ask for whatever is the most local and exotic, so I was surprised to see so few Asian entrees on the new business class menu. When I asked my flight attendant about this, she recommended the lamb biryani– an Indian dish, but since Singaporean cuisine is such a melange of different Asian flavors, she said that this was my best bet if I wanted to go native. She was right! It was delicious and spicy. I want it again as I type this 24 hours later!
The passenger across the aisle ordered “grilled US choice beef filet” and I was able to catch the flight attendant for a photo of this perfectly prepared and garnished dish before she served it.
Since this was a brand new plane for flight attendants, there were some timing issues and hiccups in the meal service– having flown Singapore Airlines several times before, I noticed the imperfections. However, on a new plane, just like at new hotels, I’m very forgiving, and once crews learn how to work on the new A350, service bumps will surely even out.
My RX for sleeping well on planes includes a Bucky eye mask, Mack’s silicone earplugs, and Nite-Time melatonin tabs. On this flight, I tucked in and slept well for about five and a half hours– until those poor parents with the screaming baby began pacing through the business class cabin and allowing the kid to wail in the nearby galley. Oy.
Singapore Air does not provide amenity kits on this flight. Slippers and eye masks are in seat side bins. Toothbrushes, razors, combs, mouthwash and lotion are available in lavatories. Unlike my recent trip to Sydney on Qantas (a 14 hour flight), Singapore does not provide pajamas for business class passengers, so I suggest you pack a t-shirt to sleep in and ask flight attendants to hang your shirt so it’s fresh when you get off the plane.
One key reason I was able to sleep well on this flight: Flight attendants kept the cabin blissfully cool. I’ve had other wonderful business class experiences that were marred by overheated cabins. Yuck!
Once I woke up, flight attendants came by and asked to help convert my seat from bed back to upright seat. Singapore’s business class seats are unique in that the seatback folds forward to make a nice wide bed– on other airlines, the seat usually reclines fully into a flat bed. After I was situated and upright, I asked for a nice warm cup of green tea, a perfect way to wake up as we flew over the Philippines.
I slept through the second meal service, but I had pre-ordered a big bowl of noodles as my breakfast… or lunch? Not sure due to the time change. In any case, it was a nice way to wake up and greet the afternoon in Asia, even if the soup arrived lukewarm.
Singapore Air’s inflight entertainment system is arguably the best in the world— there are hundreds of movies, TV shows and games to choose from. But my favorite by far is the inflight map! This one offers all sort of viewing options that I could sit and watch for hours. The video above shows what we saw as we approached Singapore. Talk about exotic! Wow.
Our flight path took us out over the Pacific to the north of Hawaii, over the top of the Philippines and into the South China Sea, then straight into Singapore.
Singapore Changi airport is considered one of the very best in the world for a variety of reasons, including the gorgeous garden displays throughout the terminal. A perfect example is this beautiful bird set up to welcome passengers as we entered the customs and immigration halls– through which we passed in about 30 seconds.
Overall, I must admit I was a bit apprehensive about getting on a plane for 17 hours— even when I knew I would be sitting in a big business class seat on Singapore Airlines. I thought I’d reach a point where I’d be screaming to myself “get me outta this plane!” But it never happened. This flight, which ended up being 16 hours and 11 minutes due to calm headwinds, was no different than a 12 hour flight to Europe, or a 14 hour flight to Australia.
What’s the longest flight you’ve ever flown? Tell us about it in the comments!
Disclosure: Singapore Airlines covered the cost of airfare and hotels for this trip. TravelSkills paid for meals, transfers and incidentals.