As you may have seen, United recently announced a new nonstop flight from San Francisco to Singapore starting June 1st. At 16 hours 20 minutes westbound and 15 hours 30 minutes eastbound, this marks the longest flight currently operated by a US carrier (with the second being Atlanta-Johannesburg on Delta). Since this is a very long time to fly, it’s worth knowing what to expect on this flight since the experience can be either pleasant or excruciatingly painful.
As a quick background, there are currently no nonstop flights from the US to Singapore. Singapore Airlines operated a nonstop flight from Newark to Singapore until 2013, which checked in at a whopping 18 hours and 30 minutes flight time. That ended in 2013 when it came time for the airline to remove the A340-500 from the fleet.
Singapore Airlines currently operates 1-stop flights to Singapore from New York/JFK via Frankfurt, from San Francisco via Hong Kong, and from Los Angeles via Tokyo. The airline intends to restart non-stop flights from Newark and Los Angeles to Singapore when they take delivery of their new Airbus A350-900 Ultra-Long Range aircraft that are capable of flying that distance. To me, these are the two main options I’d consider in trying to get to Singapore – endure the nonstop on United, or 1-stop on Singapore. This is one scenario where I recommend a 1-stop flight over a non-stop and here’s why:
United’s cabins have never impressed me from a passenger comfort perspective. The 787-9 operating this route has a three-class cabin with economy, Economy Plus, and BusinessFirst with lie-flat seats. While business class is always more comfortable than economy on any carrier, United’s cabins are far from comfortable for a 15+ hour flight.
Singapore’s business seats (and Suites on their A380’s) are far superior in terms of comfort and quality of food & drink. Even though United’s seats lie flat, they’re certainly not the most spacious business product. Not all seats have direct-aisle access either, and it’s less than ideal to have someone climbing over you every time they have to get up to stretch during such a long flight. Singapore’s seats are much wider and private, and the brown tones of the cabin are more relaxing and warm than the cold blue and grey United cabin. Therefore, if flying in a premium cabin, Singapore is the easy choice. Economy and Economy Plus are pretty standard, so that’s where the service comes into play to tip the scales. Singapore Airlines’ cabin service is much more friendly and their food is superior to United.
I recommend United’s nonstop flight only if time is your main concern and you need to get to your destination as soon as possible. However, if you have a couple extra hours, flying Singapore Airlines is the better option here. A quick layover in Hong Kong or Tokyo gives you the ability to stretch your legs and even opens up the opportunity for a stopover to see another city for a day.
I consider this new route a net wash for quality. It decreases the amount of time needed to travel between the US and Singapore, but doesn’t necessarily make it a better way to travel.