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What It's Like to Fly for 18 Hours on the Longest Flight in the World

Where: Singapore
September 17, 2013 at 12:38 PM | by | ()

9,500 miles on one fell swoop. Welcome to the longest commercial flight in the world, Singapore Airlines non-stop between Singapore and Newark. As much as we hate the word "bucketlist," that's what this is—a superlative experience with an entry in the history books and, sadly, an expiration date.

The planned distance of flight number SQ 22 is 9,525 miles with a scheduled flight time of 18:55h. The return, SQ 21 from Newark to Singapore, is a tad longer depending on winds, but we count them together. Even the aircraft is special; it's an Airbus A340-500 arranged with only 100 seats, all Business Class. The 1-2-1 configuration means comfort and relative privacy for both solo travelers and couples.

November 23, 2013 is the final flight of SQ 22, and Singapore's route from Los Angeles (the second longest flight in the world) is also due to end, on October 20, 2013. You have been warned. This season is the last chance to get onboard the world's longest flights, but a white glove experience comes with a premium price; a roundtrip starts from $7,500 during these finale months (but they do accept Star Alliance miles for award bookings).

So why is it going away? Well, Singapore announced in late 2012 that they'd be upgrading their fleet with the addition of five more A380s and 20 state-of-the-art A350s. Part of the deal means Airbus is going to take the older, gas-guzzling A340-500s off the airline's hands. It's just not economical anymore, and travelers from the east coast will still be able to fly Singapore's A380 service to Singapore via Frankfurt.

To describe an 18-hour flight is akin to boring neighbors with photo slides of a water park vacation. Instead, we're breaking it down into the hourly highlights ("the short of it") and, for those rapt with pleasure for every detail, the long of it, in first-person:

The short of it:

HOUR 0 (pre departure): This is truly the best way to start the day. A ride to Changi Airport, breakfast in the SilverKris lounge, and a quiet gate of only 80 or so other people waiting to board the four-engined Airbus A340-500 just outside the windows. I usually try to be one of the first few people onboard, but not in this case; I want to enjoy the leisure afforded by this premium flight. I take my time snapping photos at the gate, then saunter down the jetway, and am the last passenger onboard. No fighting for overhead bin space, a glass of Bollinger promptly delivered, and only blue skies ahead mean I'm firmly in my happy place.

HOUR 1: Longest take-off roll down the runway ever; we're heavy with fuel for a flight to the other side of the world, so I shouldn't be surprised, but I am. Up and out of Changi Airport, I have a primo view of downtown and the cloudburst storm they're enjoying. The climb to altitude is a scenic one, and my nose is glued to the window for at least thirty minutes, until it's time to investigate my seat (34K) a little more and kick off my shoes and slide on some slippers.

HOUR 2: Flipping through the menu, I note that the seasonal feature is strawberries. Not ten minutes later does the first food arrive, "steamed prawn with rocket, ash goat cheese, walnut and fresh strawberries." The flight attendant drizzles strawberry sauce to complete the dish and it's all so Instagram-perfect that I go through the process and $25 payment for 30MB of in-flight WiFi access. There's no point in posting this image of food porn, however, as I'm only just beginning a veritable parade of well-plated meal courses.

HOUR 3: In advance of all the eating, drinking, laptop working and napping to come, I head to the rear lavatories for a selfie photo for posterity. Ten years from now I'll still be sharing the story of this flight, and it'll be nice to have a little image of myself to look back on, in this moment. Back at my seat, the lunch entree is served and it's the pre-ordered "Book the Cook" Lobster Thermidor, a dish legendary among Singapore Airlines flyers in-the-know. Want to order it yourself? Check out our guide to Book the Cook.

HOUR 4: As the flight path arcs up over Tokyo, the sky dims into evening and, with it, the cabin lights. Dessert has been cleared, laptops closed, and the wine of dinner is taking hold as eyelids droop and the seats are transformed, in only a few seconds, into beds with a mattress topper, bedding, and two pillows. On goes the eyeshade.

HOURS 5-7: I am down for the count, drooling and everything. That morning was pretty exciting before even stepping on the plane, so these three hours are meant to fortify me for the rest of the journey.

HOUR 8: Another Singapore signature is their satay appetizer. Since I'm located near the rear galley, I slowly awake from my brief sleep to the scent of another hot meal, begun by the slightly spicy skewers. At this point, a flight to Europe would be preparing for arrival and yet it feels as though we're only getting started—and we are! There's still another ten hours to go!

HOUR 9: As much as I loved that lobster thermidor of earlier, and the duck terrine and braised lamb shank of this meal, it wasn't until dessert that I fell in love. My beau: the Singapore ice jelly with fresh fruit and Kalamansi lime. The dish was a light and cooling finish to a meal of rich food and wines and, furthermore, it would sweetly but sadly be my last taste of Singapore for the time being. A little port wine later while reading, and I'm nearly ready for another sleep.

HOUR 10: Just past the half-way point of the flight, I open the window shade only to be blinded by the return of the sun and the snowy landscape of the westernmost terrain of Alaska. I may be the only passenger still awake at this point, but not for long.

HOURS 11-16: Sweet, sweet sleep. Again, I find myself able to get solid rest and nearly make a new personal record for hours comfortably slept on a plane.

HOUR 17: Breakfast is served somewhere over Canada, and I opt for the dim sum. Cabin lights are kept low and warm to gently wake up sleeping passengers. I enjoy one last mug of TWG tea's "Singapore Breakfast" blend, only served in Singapore's First and Business cabins.

HOUR 18: A last dash to the lavatory means raiding the amenity drawers for toothbrush and toothpaste, a comb, mouthwash and a quick dab of L'Occitane perfume. Men will also find razors, shaving cream, and L'Occitane cologne. It's not too much time later that we're landing and speeding past the big blue IKEA store across from Newark Airport. I'm home (almost!) and, to think, the last ground I touched was over 9,000 miles away in Singapore.

The long of it:

· Book it now. Seriously. After both this and the Singapore-Los Angeles nonstops are discontinued, the next flight in line to claim the title of "world's longest flight" is the 16-ish hour Qantas 747-400 between Sydney and Dallas, which is less unique an aircraft and offers less space per passenger. As you can imagine, interest in the last days of SQ 21 and SQ 22 is growing and, thus, so too are the bookings.

· Reserve a window seat, either before or behind the wing if you want to enjoy what are some seriously stunning views. My instinct that the rear of the plane would be less booked, with less chance of snorers, was correct and I'd chose 34K again.

· Absolutely give the "Book the Cook" program a go for at least one entree. The variety of options is staggering and each is prepared specifically for you, in gourmet restaurant-style kitchens.

· Boarding only 100 passengers goes quickly, so be on time to the gate. I was the last to board since I took so many photos of the plane from the gate waiting area, but I still had the experience of a flight steward guiding me directly to my seat onboard.

· As SQ 22 departs Singapore in the late morning, I recommend arriving to Changi with plenty of time to enjoy the breakfast buffet spread in the SilverKris lounge. Yes, you'll be eating on the flight as well, but some quality nibbles in the lounge ensure you won't gobble down that lobster later, without taking a little time to enjoy the experience.

· In order to stay within the $25 30MB in-flight Wifi plan, bookmark the log-on page which updates with a "data used" status bar. I loaded a few websites, but limited my online activity to posting and reading Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. There's no WiFi over the US, so use it up before you cross the border on SQ 22, and don't freak out if you're unable to connect during the first hour or so after leaving Newark on SQ 21.

All said and done, this "longest flight in the world" also deserves a few unofficial titles, such as "least stressful" and "most restful." 18 hours is nothing when broken up by many-course meals and many-hour sleeps. There's no worrying about switching planes, lost luggage in transit, being confined to your cabin class, or fitting in time for both working and sleeping. You can have your cake and eat it too, all the while adding your name to a bit of aviation history, so long as you grab that fork and dig in before November 23.

We traveled as a guest of Singapore Airlines on our way back from an event, but all geekiness, photos and opinions are completely our own.

[Photos: Cynthia Drescher/Jaunted]

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