What happened on the world’s longest airline flight

Editor’s Note — CNN’s Richard Quest reported live from the world’s longest nonstop flight from Singapore to New York on October 11-12.

On board flight SQ22 (CNN) — Singapore Airlines’ record-breaking inaugural world’s longest passenger flight from Singapore to New York has landed after more than 17 hours in the air.

During this 16,700 kilometer journey into the history books, I’ve been on board live reporting my experiences.

Read on for the full hour-by-hour account of what it has been like to fly in a brand-new super-efficient Airbus A350-900URL, one of a new breed of aircraft that will shape the future of long haul travel.


SQ22 has arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport. It’s taken us 17 hours and 25 minutes, give or take. Welcome to New York!

Hour 16-17:

Time to buckle up. We’re heading toward final approach.

The captain tells us we’re near the top of our descent.

Here’s photo taken shortly before the cabin was prepared for arrival. The crew still looks as glamorous as when we took off.

Richard Quest poses with Singapore Airlines cabin crew aboard history-making world's longest flight, shortly before landing.

What little or no sleep to Newark looks like.

Richard Quest/CNN

I’ve been taking questions live via LINE.

Here’s a few if the Q&As:

Q: Tony: How does it compare with the Dreamliner 787?

A: This is a much larger aircraft than the Dreamliner. We only have 161 passengers because of distance and economics. So there’s no economy class at the back. Normally a plane like this would be carrying upwards of 320 passengers because there’d be a large economy class.

Both the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 are largely made of composites not metal. They both have new engines that give greater fuel performance.

To me the 787 always feels like a sports car — it’s smaller and niftier. The A350 feels more like a grand touring car. Lots of room for everything and a comfy ride too. Both planes are exceptional.

How to tell the difference? Look at the cockpit windows. The 787 has four separate windows and looks very space age. The A350 has connected windows wrapped in black looking like a pair of sexy sunglasses. You can’t mistake the two.

Same with the wing tip. The 787 has a sporty swept back wing while the A350 has a blended winglet that twists at the end. You can’t mistake either aircraft.

One other difference. The engine nacelles on the 787 have chevrons on the back for better noise prevention and fuel efficiency.

A350 wingtip

The Airbus A350 wing tip.

Richard Quest/CNN

Boeing 787 wingtip

Boeing 787 wing tip.

CNN/Richard Quest

Q: Arya asks: Any complaints so far?

A: Arya, this is Singapore airlines — they work harder than just about any other airline to perfect the experience.

The flight has run incredibly smoothly. Food and drink available throughout. The bed – well I still find it a bit strange sleeping on an angle — but Singapore has had that arrangement for years with their business beds

From quieter cabins to special wings, find out all you need to know about the 19-hour flight from Singapore to NY.

The staff are impeccable. It’s extraordinary to see the level of attention to detail.

Even after 17 hours flying on 4 hours rest they have remained cheerful and helpful. I don’t know quite how SQ manages to train them like that

The other global carriers frankly could do with stealing some of Singapore Airlines’ techniques.

Q: Ryan asks: Have you noticed any differences in the cabin compared to other Singapore Airlines long haul planes?

A: Not any noticeable differences. The pillows and bedding are the same as other long flights. The menu has the new Canyon Ranch healthy options.

Q: Rizki asks: Is there any emergency plan if the plane needs more fuel?

A: I asked the Captain that very question. Firstly modern flight planning is ultra sophisticated. They know exactly what the winds and weather will be en route and plan accordingly for the weight of the aircraft.

And the experience shows that the Fuel usage is exactly what it’s planned to be. That said as with all flights monitoring of fuel is crucial. And yes there are plenty of places where we could stop and refuel if suddenly we needed to.

Absent an unexpected fuel leak, the pilots would never allow a situation to develop that would create a fuel emergency.

Q: Kepa: How many meals do you have (including snacks)?

A: So I had the after takeoff meal (ok, I had all three options — read below for my reviews). Then I had a late-night ice cream. A cup of hot chocolate with a biscuit before sleep one. The full meal with chicken rice after hour nine. A few dried mango slices from the snack cart and now I’ve just enjoyed a caffe latte with a few shortbread biscuits.

Quest Means Biscuits

Quest Means Biscuits: “Caught me having another snack!”

Richard Quest/CNN

I have slept for about three hours and now it’s time to get up and change out of my pajamas.

Interestingly, Singapore Airlines only gives PJs in first class. Surprised they didn’t make this flight an exception and provide sleep sweats.

Anyway. Dressed, teeth brushed and ready to answer your questions.

We are now over the Great Lakes crossing between Canada and the US.

Hour 13-15:

Snarfed down my meal. We are five hours from New York.

I am going to try to get a bit more sleep.

I am on “Quest Means Business” on Friday.

I’ll be toast!

“Heading into the night. When we next see sunrise we’ll have arrived in New York.”

Richard Quest

Hour 12:

Six hours to go and they have started serving the main meal in business class. Gotta say, I am finding their timings on meals strange.

They’ve woken the cabin to serve this. So when dinner is over, do you still want to sleep?

I’d have thought they’d do it closer to landing.

Dinner is served. (And it's far too early, if you ask Richard.)

Dinner is served. (And it’s far too early, if you ask Richard.)

Richard Quest

On Qantas’ Perth-London flight, the first meal was served 3-4 hours into the flight so people would sleep later and have a late meal before landing.

Their timings seemed to make more sense than the Singapore Airlines version.

The food and beverage manager of the world’s longest flight tells CNN’s Richard Quest how the crew decided the meal schedule.

Richard Neo, the food and beverage manager, explained that they played around with the meal timings on the SIN/SFO route, which is only slightly shorter.

Passenger preference was for a meal about eight hours after the first.

I guess the difference with Qantas is that they serve the first meal later, thus pushing everything else later.

Interesting. I still think the Singapore Airlines way leads to less sleeping time.

Main course? Richard went with the chicken.

Main course? Richard went with the chicken.

Richard Quest/CNN

We have just passed over Anchorage, Alaska and there’s a crying baby in business class.

Poor thing has been so good so far. And the mother doing her best to soothe.

Ah well.

Any business traveler will know we become obsessed by sleep on the road. The old adage is true: “Eat, sleep and pee when you can, not when you want to — you never know when you’ll get another chance!”

Hour 11:

Hennie Chin, the Singapore Airlines Lead Stewardess on the world’s longest flight, explains to CNN’s Richard Quest what sets the cabin of the Airbus A350-900ULR apart from other aircraft.

So, the cabin crew. There are 13 of them on board.

If the flight is under 19 hours, they get four hours rest. If it’s over 19 hours then they are entitled to five hours rest which is taken in chunks of time they agree between themselves.

The cabin crew have bunk beds up in the roof space at the back of the plane. Yup.

There are sleeping in very comfortable beds above the passengers.

(Many airlines have explored opening that space up for passenger beds.)

Hennie Chin used to fly on the old A340-500 flight to New York. She told me preparation is the the secret to working this long, long flight.

Get lots of rest beforehand, exercise and stretch.

Richard and lead stewardess Hennie Chin.

Richard and lead stewardess Hennie Chin.

Richard Quest/CNN

This flight is twin-class business and premium economy. Premium economy is setup in a 2-4-2 configuration.

Let me show you around.

This seat has been on Singapore Airlines planes since 2013. Currently it’s on the A350 and 777-300ER. (The A380 has a different seat.)

Richard's seat on Singapore Airlines' new A350-900ULR.

Richard’s seat on Singapore Airlines’ new A350-900ULR.

Richard Quest/CNN

Lots of great storage space for “things” that always get lost:

Richard Quest/CNN

The chair doesn’t slide out to make the bed. Instead you pull down the back of the seat and it makes a mattress bed:

Richard Quest/CNN

BUT when it’s time to sleep, weirdly you lie at an angle:

Richard tries out his seat's odd-shaped bed.

Richard tries out his seat’s odd-shaped bed.

Richard Quest/CNN

Hour 10:

I have a confession. I am enjoying this.

We are just over halfway there, about 7.5 hours from New York.

This is the part of the journey where I have eaten, watched a movie, slept, talked and walked.

Slept a bit more — and I still have the equivalent of crossing the Atlantic to do!

We are on top of the world, passing Russia off to the west and heading towards Alaska crossing the most northern part of the Pacific.

People are waking up, there will be a meal service in an hour or so.

Hour 8-9:

In about three hours, they’ll be serving meal number two. Seems like now is a good time to get some sleep!

quest cookie

A pre-sleep treat on board.

Richard Quest/CNN

Oh yes — a nice cup of hot chocolate and a biscuit before bedtime.

Hour 7:

CNN’s Richard Quest says there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of movies to choose from on the world’s longest flight.

I’m refreshed from my 20-minute nap. I am going to do my main sleep at hour nine, so now it’s time to watch a movie. KrisWorld [Singapore Air’s inflight entertainment] has more than a thousand movies.

I am one of those sad people who has seen all the movies — on planes. Boy, wasn’t “Dunkirk” good on a 14-inch screen?

Airlines like Singapore Air put huge resources into their in-flight video. It’s even more important on an ultra long flight.

krisworld singapore air inflight

Richard browses the in-flight entertainment options.

Richard Quest/CNN

More US carriers are encouraging passengers to BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and connect to the on-board server to watch blockbusters.

As one CEO told me, “our passengers have modern screens they change every few years… all I have to do is provide the content!”

My problem is, usually nothing is what I want to watch. So I end up binging on “Downton” or “The Crown.” Again.

Not tonight, though! I am going to watch “Ocean’s 8.”

P.S. Has anyone ever understood what is happening in a Bourne movie?

Hour 5-6:

So, now, the big question — when to sleep?

We have 12 hours still to run and we are now scheduled to land at 5:12 AM EST. I always try to set my watch and mentality to the time zone where I am headed.

I should really try not to sleep for another three hours at least. That won’t be easy — I haven’t been to sleep yet, and it’s really 5 AM for me. Can I stay awake another three hours? I must!

Quest worlds longest flight darkness

The plane in total darkness.

Richard Quest/CNN

Everyone around me is asleep. They’ll wake up in a few hours with six hours still to go and will land in NY exhausted.

If — IF — I can start my sleep in two or three hours, I can get a good six hours’ rest.

Richard Quest demonstrates anti-jetlag spectacles

Richard Quest demonstrates anti-jetlag spectacles

Richard Quest/CNN

I have battled jet lag remedies for years. As this article shows, the best you can do is mitigate the effect.
singapore air teddy bear

This teddy is here to keep us company.

Richard Quest/CNN

A gentle snooze as we pass Tokyo. Pretty sure Teddy and I are the only ones still awake on this plane … and hopefully one of the four pilots!

Hour 3-4:

The food and beverage manager of the world’s longest flight tells CNN’s Richard Quest how the crew decided the meal schedule.

It’s food time. It’ll come as no surprise that there’s plenty of it. The aircraft is stuffed with food and beverages.

Singapore Airlines dinner

Beef or fish or dumplings? Or, if you’re Quest, all three.

Richard Quest/CNN

The first meal in business is called “after take off.” It’s a two course meal served on airline trays.

Singapore Airlines dinner

Singapore Airlines FLight SQ22’s business class dinner menu.

Richard Quest/CNN

I tried all the main courses:

Dinner options on board Singapore Airlines flight SQ22

The good: Lobster dumplings.

Richard Quest/CNN

Steamed Lobster dumplings in superior soup. The soup was indeed superior and the dumplings very tasty. A good choice.

Dinner options on board Singapore Airlines flight SQ22

The strange: Pan-seared snapper.

Richard Quest/CNN

The snapper was a bit dry and the combinations seemed weird.

Beef with noodles

The really good: Beef with noodles.

Richard Quest/CNN

Beef Hor Fun. Chinese style wok-fried rice noodles with beef and gravy. This was the winner — very tasty.

Singapore Airlines’ manager for food and beverages, Richard Neo, is on board the flight.

He told me the airline has lots of experience in running ultra long range flights. I know from my experiences recording CNN’s Business Traveller show, the tricky bit is making food that holds its flavor after being quick chilled after cooking.

More than 500 meals will be served on this flight to the 161 passengers. The next feeding will be in about five hours. (There are noodles and loads of snacks, God forbid I get peckish in the meantime.)

Next update shortly, but you can also check out my Instagram feed @questinny

Hour 2:

Let’s talk about the navigation and the route this flight takes.

Singapore and New York are on opposite sides of the world. Today we’re taking the NOPAC North Pacific route, which sends us up over the South China Sea, passing China and Russia.

We’ll crossing the northern Pacific — where it becomes the Bering Sea — before making landfall over Alaska, northern Canada and into New York.

There are also four Polar routes that can be taken — mainly between May and August.

The route that crosses the Atlantic is only used for the return leg from Newark because of the strong headwinds the outbound would face.

The route we take is ultimately determined by the wind’s strength and direction. Also the availability of altitude and tracks across the oceans.

Hence tonight we are taking the NOPAC route, to the east of the North Pole.

Next update: FOOD! Lots to eat on board.

Hour 1:

The captain of the world’s longest flight, SL Leong, tells CNN’s Richard Quest just how much runway the flight used on takeoff and how things are going so far.

I’ve just had a conversation with the commander in charge of the flight, Captain S L Leong. He’s been telling me how the flight crew manages to pilot a plane for more than 18 hours.

There are two teams, each with a captain and first officer, that share the flying.

The first team handles take off, then rests for up to five hours while the second team flies the plane.

Then they change again for three hours — one team flying and the other sleeping.

The original captain then lands the plane.

Managing crew rest is one of the great challenges with these ultra long haul flights.

The captain told me the aircraft weighed 272 metric tons on takeoff, just eight shy of its 280 ton maximum take off weight.

We had 101 tons of fuel on board at take off. The captain expects to burn about seven tons an hour in the early part of the flight (we are carrying fuel just to carry the rest of the fuel)

Because of very strong tail winds, this inaugural flight will take around 17 hours and 25 minutes. Of course that means the return flight to Singapore will face strong head winds and that flight could take up to 19 hours.

Flight tracker

Singapore Airlines’ inflight tracker shows weather conditions en route.

Richard Quest/CNN

Take off:

We’re in the air, pushing back from the gate bang on time at 11.35 p.m. Singapore time and taking off 25 minutes later. Ahead of us lies nearly 19 hours of nonstop flying time.

The takeoff was extremely smooth despite the rainy evening in Singapore. The brand-new Airbus A350-900ULR’s twin Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines, which can generate up to 97,000 pounds of thrust, worked perfectly.

I’ve already slipped into something more comfortable.

Richard Quest on board world's longest flight

What to wear in the air — if you’re Richard Quest.

Richard Quest/CNN

So I plan to blog each hour through the flight — except for a four-hour gap when we are in Wi-Fi blackout. Next update will be at the top of the hour when I’ll give route and aircraft details. See you then.

An hour before take off:

We’ve boarded the flight via gate 8 at Changi.

There’s something exciting about a new flight. A different destination, a new experience.

Even more so when it’s the longest flight in the world. Singapore to New York… and the journey starts right now.

Singapore Airlines cabin crew

The welcoming committee as we prepare to enter the brand new Airbus A350-900ULR.

Richard Quest/CNN

The story before boarding:

Spending nearly 19 hours cooped up in an airplane may sound nightmarish to some, but when Singapore Airlines flight SQ22 takes off from its home airport bound for New York, it’s going to be a dream for others.

The record-breaking flight, involving a brand-new Airbus A350-900ULR (Ultra Long Range), will usher in a new era for air passengers and make the world just that bit smaller as it becomes the world’s longest scheduled nonstop service.

For aviation fanatics like myself, it rarely gets more exciting.

I’m lucky enough to have a ticket for this inaugural flight and I’ll be live-reporting my experiences as we depart from Singapore’s Changi Airport, then fly northeast towards Alaska before landing in Newark Liberty International Airport, just outside of New York.

Take off is scheduled ftor 11:35 p.m. Singapore time (11:35 a.m. in New York, 4:35 p.m. in London) on Thursday October 11 and, all being well, we’ll be wheels-down on the other side of the planet the following day, Friday at 6 a.m. in New York (11:00 a.m. in London, 6 p.m. Singapore).

But what will it be like to spend more than 18 hours in the air? How does the human body cope? How do the cabin crew cope? How do the airplane’s bathrooms cope?

I’ll be charting my observations — good and bad — and those of my 160 fellow passengers as we make aviation history.

Keep checking this story for live updates as we travel the 16,700 kilometers (10,376 miles) to our destination.

In the meantime, you can read more about the super-efficient aircraft we’ll be flying, and the journey we’ll be taking, here.

But first, a few words on what exactly is meant by the world’s longest flight.

It seems so easy, but it isn’t.

There are various ways to define it, with pedants arguing for hours over what it means.

Of course there is the distance flown. Then there’s the duration of the flight. Sometimes strong head winds can mean a shorter distance takes longer and vice versa.

However, we’re usually safe saying the longest flights are measured when the plane is flying the Great Circle Route: the shortest distance between two points on the globe.

For instance: flying from New York to London, the plane doesn’t go straight out over the ocean because that would mean flying at the wider part of the Earth’s circumference.

Rather, the plane heads north, making an arc past Canada, Greenland and Iceland, and down across Ireland into London.

With that in mind, these are the commonly accepted world’s longest flights:

Singapore to New York

Previously operated by Singapore Airlines using an Airbus A340-500, this flight took 18 hours to get to Newark.

It ended up being an all-business class flight. The A340-500 is a four-engine, heavy and thirsty aircraft. When fuel prices rose to more than $100 per barrel, this flight stopped being profitable. (Remember: the longer the flight, the more fuel becomes a proportion of the cost!)

By 2013 Singapore Airlines took advantage of an agreement to hand back the planes to Airbus, thereby ending the route.

Now, five years later, equipped with the more fuel-efficient A350-900 Ultra Long Haul, the airline can once again fly direct from Singapore to New York and make money.

From October 11, hands-down this will be, without controversy, the longest regularly scheduled nonstop commercial flight in the world.

Perth to London

Since 1947, the journey from Australia to London has been known as The Kangaroo Route. Back then, several hops were involved — Sydney, Darwin, Singapore, Calcutta, Karachi, Cairo, Castel Benito, Rome, London — and took some four days to complete.

And that was considered speedy.

This year Qantas did the run all in one long hop, when a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner made the journey in just over 17 hours.

There have been other aircraft capable of this distance, like the Boeing 777-200LR, Airbus A380 and A340-500, but they are heavier planes with more seats than required. It would have been difficult to make money on this “long thin route.”

Other flights in the top 10

Qantas’ Sydney-Dallas using the A380, Qatar’s Doha-Auckland, Emirates’ Dubai-Auckland, United Airlines running San Francisco-Singapore with a 787-9.

The return of Singapore-New York will put an end to all the rivalry, at least for the moment.

By connecting these two commercial centers on opposite sides of the world, the flight is probably the final long-distance route an airline can conceive to run and remain commercially viable.

Until Qantas’ Project Sunrise comes to fruition.

The Aussie carrier has tasked both Airbus and Boeing to develop long-range aircraft capable of flying 17,000 kilometers nonstop from Sydney to London. Qantas hopes to order the revamped planes by 2019 with flights beginning in 2022.

That journey, if it happens, will clock in at around 20 hours, earning world’s longest honors.

The REAL longest flight

Boeing 777-200LR Worldliner

Boeing’s 777-200LR Worldliner complete’s its record-breaking flight in 2005.


Oh, did I say that these were the longest flights?

Because the actual longest flight, according to Guinness World Records, was a 22-hour and 42-minute flight in 2005, from Hong Kong to London.

Boeing was demonstrating the capabilities of its 777-200LR — nicknamed the Worldliner — so the flight went the long way round.

I was one of only 30 passengers on board — Boeing was required to have some paying passengers to meet the criteria for beating the record.

During the nearly day-long trip, we played games, exercised, chatted with the eight pilots on board and slept on mattresses laid out at the back where the seats had been removed.

The flight took off from Hong Kong, crossed the Pacific, making landfall around Los Angeles.

From there, we flew across the United States, crossing over New York’s JFK Airport before heading out over the Atlantic and landing in London to a water-cannon salute.

Now THAT was a long flight.

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