July 12, 2004
Trip Date: June 30 – July 5, 2004
THIS WEEK’S EDITION
Well, I’m not sure if you know, but for the longest while the three longest distance nonstop commercial airline routes in the world were Atlanta, Georgia (ATL) to Cape Town, South Africa (CPT) – 8,127 flown by South African Airlines (SA); Newark, New Jersey (EWR) to Hong Kong (HKG) – 8,047 flown by Continental Airlines (CO) and now also Cathay Pacific Airways (CX) from New York’s (JFK); Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Melbourne, Australia (MEL) – 7, 922 flown by Qantas (QF) and United Airlines (UA).
Back on February 3 of this year, Singapore Airlines (SQ) changed that by flying nonstop using an Airbus A340-500 from LAX to Singapore (SIN) – 8,758 miles. Until June 28, 2004, this routing was the record, then, Singapore Airlines flew from Singapore to Newark and broke their own record by flying 9,524 nonstop miles to now hold the record for the longest distance commercial airline flight in the world. They also have the record for the longest flight as well on the same route.
I have flown the LAX to MEL route on United, the Hong Kong to Newark route on Continental, wanted to do the LAX to Singapore route but could not make it work, so I decided to waste no time and go for the new Newark to Singapore route. Here is what happened beginning on June 30, 2004.
I departed work on Wednesday at about noon and headed for the post office. I had received a package slip from the post office which stated that I had a package waiting and wanted to get it before I headed for the airport. I also needed to pay my rent since I would not be around when it became due.
Of course, there was a line there and the wait lasted about 10 minutes, but it seemed like a few hours for some reason. I guess when you are in a rush; everything seems to take so long.
Soon, all that was over and I was on my way to the airport. I-45 was crowded as usual, so I headed for I-10 and then to I-59, to the Hardy Toll Road, paid my $1.25 toll and was at the airport by 12:50 p.m. All these years and I’ve never bought the EZ-Pass. I parked and then a bus showed up soon. In about 10 minutes, I was at Terminal C.
Newark Liberty International, Newark New Jersey (EWR)
As I landed, I could see the Singapore Airlines (SQ) A340-500 waiting at the gate (http://www.cruisinaltitude.com/images/longest_flight/ewr/sqa345g20040630ewr.htm). It was being catered at the moment. There was also a Virgin Atlantic Airways (VS) Boeing 747-400 at gate 65. In addition to the last British Airways (BA) Boeing 777-200 destined for London, England. Moments later, another British Airways Boeing 777-200 arrived. This would be the day flight the next morning to London and finally, an Air India Boeing 747-400 and a Swiss Airbus A330. Oh, off in the distance, by Terminal A, was a Hooters Air Boeing 757-200. You can see them all here:http://www.cruisinaltitude.com/images/longest_flight/ewr/planes.htm.
My flight made its way to gate 115A where I disembarked. I headed for the gate 75 area so that I could shoot some closer shots of the A340-500 in Terminal B. After taking a bunch of photos, I headed to the Presidents Club near that gate. I had to send some e-mails and make some last minute transactions before I headed out. At about 9:05 p.m., I left and headed for Terminal B.
As the weather was good and I did not feel like walking up the stairs to the AirTrain, I decided to just walk to Terminal B. As I arrived in Terminal B, there was no line for the flight. They had two sections for check-in that matched the two classes of service on the flight (Raffles and Executive Economy). I stood on the Executive Economy line, and was called over to the Raffles section when a space became available.
As I was being checked in, I noticed a sheet of paper on the desk that offered the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse before security or the Star Alliance Lounge after security and near the gate as choices for a Lounge; I was wondering what they were going to do for a lounge and there you have it.
The agent checked me in and advised that it was a bit touch and go today as the flight was overbooked, adding that the next day looked much better. As it turned out, this was the return flight for many of the passengers who had come over on the inaugural two days ago.
I cleared security which was quite a chore. The TSA agent was only allowing three customers at a time to approach the machines, not sure why. Meanwhile, the line was building behind us. Eventually, it was my turn. I cleared and then headed for the gate area. I need to charge my batteries so I searched for a plug and was able to find one not too far from the gate. This as quite a chore for some reason.
At about 10:40 p.m., I was paged by the agent in charge. He had a seat for me in Executive Economy Class; this was the last available seat. There were still a few seats available in Raffles Class, I later found out. I made a quick stop in the men’s room and then boarded the flight.
Airbus A340-500 (9V-SGB)
Newark Liberty International, Newark New Jersey (EWR) to Singapore Changi International, Singapore (SIN)
As I boarded, I could see that the configuration in Raffles Class was 2-2-2 and in the split Executive Economy cabin (Raffles is a split cabin as well), it was 2-3-2 tapering to 2-2-2 in the last two rows. You can see the configuration athttp://img.singaporeair.com/images/english/AboutSia/FleetInformation/CabinLayouts/A345-500.gif.
Singapore Airlines’ Web site has this to say about Raffles Class:
The Raffles (business) Class cabin has 64 of SIA’s renowned SpaceBeds. Arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration, the seats have a generous pitch of 64 inches, bed width of 26 inches, bed length of 78 inches, adjustable head rest, leg rest and lumbar support, a 10.4 inch personal video monitor, AC power supply outlet and a DVD port.
The interior colors were very soothing, making me feel immediately at home as I walked to my middle seat close to the back of the plane. There is ample leg room (37 inches seat pitch), butt room (Singapore Airlines says they have the widest Economy seat (20 inches) in the world) and feet and leg room. Each seat has its own laptop power outlet (accepts Australian, European (except UK), US and Japanese plugs) and its own in-seat 9 inch video monitor with Audio and Video On Demand entertainment. This included 60 movies, 83 TV programs, 205 CDs, 12 Audio Channels, 33 Nintendo Games, 20 PC Games and 3 Multi-player games! The only other airline that I’ve flown with such an extensive programming is Emirates (EK) from London/ Gatwick (LGW) to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (DXB) on their A340-500 with 500 channels and also video on demand.
I settled in, said hello to my seat mates and delved in the reading material. Once everyone was boarded, the flight attendants came by with hot towels; these are white wash rag-sized towels complete with the Singapore Airlines logo. I was convinced then that this flight would be exceptional. I told the lady (returning home from a business trip) sitting to my left to slap me if I start getting too excited. She then turned to the guy on my right (a freshman Engineering college student from Northwestern University who was returning home for the summer) and said jokingly; “Will you be my witness?” Yes, this was going to be a good flight.
Menus (with pictures of red whole and cut apples on the cover) and amenity kits (containing a pair of light bluish gray socks, toothbrush and toothpaste) were handed out just before the safety video commenced; both nice touches.
In terms of food, here is what we had on tap for our journey:
Ham with mesclun salad and mustard sauce, chicken
The Main Event
A choice of:
Chicken in natural jus with potato puree, sauerkraut with bacon and pear (Exclusively created by Alfred Portale of Gotham Bar & Grill, New York)
Braised fillet of fish with spicy hoisin sauce, seasonal vegetables and steamed rice
The Cheese Corner
Cheese and crackers
Ice Cream bar
From The Bakery
Roll and butter
BETWEEN MEALS MENU
An assortment of snacks will be offered
A Tantalising Note
Fresh fruits with champagne syrup
The Main Event
A choice of:
Ah Yat’s braised beef brisket in live spice with Chinese greens and egg noodles (Exclusively created by Mr. Yeung Koon Hat, Hong Kong)
Cheese omelette with chicken sausage, grilled tomato and potatoes
From The Bakery
Assorted breakfast rolls, butter and fruit preserve
Typically, you name it; you can perhaps get it on board, including of course a Singapore Sling.
The safety video commenced and as it continued, we commenced the push back at three minutes shy of 11 p.m. The taxi to the runway was short and we were airborne at 10 after the hour. Our flying time was booked at 17:50 tonight; yes we had a crazy tailwind most of the way. Also, we would not go over the North Pole, but head north to Boston, then across the Atlantic Ocean, head for England, then across Europe then the Middle East and head south over Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, cross the Bay of Bengal and then onto Singapore (http://www.cruisinaltitude.com/images/longest_flight/onboard/P7010020.htm).
Of course immediately after takeoff, I started to play with the entertainment system. The system was actually activated while on the ground. Here is an overview:
There are six main sections:
Wisemen (SQ’s trademark) Audio & Video
Video and Audio on Demand Movies and TV Shows; movie trailers are also included
There were 60 choices including:
The Full Monty
Agent Cody Banks 2
Starsky & Hutch
50 First Dates
Anita & Me
Man on Fire
News & Info
Live Text News
Satellite news in various categories; this is a text service that is up to the minute
What’s the Buzz
A number of Nintendo, Multiplayer, PC Games and Brain Teasers
Learn A language
A cool application that teaches you words in other languages, based on the language you speak
Just for Kids
Games, Video and Audio on Demand for the Kids
Has information on how to use the in-seat phone as well as a list of country codes
A survey on what you think of the flight (thumbs up for me!)
After checking out the system, I initially settled on “Agent Cody Banks 2” and fast forwarded it to the part where I had left off on my last flight. Don’t you just love Video On Demand? As it turns out, I never actually watched any movie in its entirety as there was just too much stuff to do all flight long.
As the service started, the flight attendants came by with an offering of champagne and orange juice, water or whatever you wanted. Most others took the champagne offering and so did I. I had to place the glass on my chair table as it was too small for the cup holder. The cup holder is really designed for the normal sized cups. Soon after that, dinner with more drinks was served from the front of the cabin backwards (breakfast was served from the rear forward).
One thing about sitting in the middle seat is that you get served by whom ever gets to either side first, so there is a plus to sitting in the middle seat after all.
Dinner was quite delicious. As stated, there was a choice of chicken or fish, so I had the fish (http://www.cruisinaltitude.com/images/longest_flight/onboard/sqa345execonmeal20040702sin.htm). I complemented it all with some white wine which was poured into an accompanying glass with the Executive Economy logo (an “e”) on the bottom (another nice touch).
The new seat has a pretty decent recline (8 inches), a foot rest, head wings to keep your head from drooping when asleep and a leg rest. As I started to use the new seat, I noticed an ergonomic oddity: in order to plug in your computer, you have to feel for the insertion position of the plug; after a few futile minutes, I gave up, got on my knees (my seatmate on the left was away in the back socializing), figured it out and plugged in my computer. There is a chart that talks about it, but how hard could it be to plug in your computer, I thought J. The plus is that you don’t need an adapter, just your normal plug from home. The flight attendants as well as the literature did advise that you should remove your computer’s batteries before plugging in, not sure why this was a stipulation. Apart from this idiosyncrasy, these seats are awesome and here is why.
The person in front of you can recline and you can still get out of your seat without too much fuss
You can recline and not interrupt the person’s dinner behind you
No matter how far you or the person in front of you reclines, you can still watch the big in seat video screen as it tilts really well.
While you can see what others who are sitting in front of you are watching, you cannot see what the persons next to you are watching, unless you purposely lean over.
The leg rest and footrest combination works very well and are both adjustable
I can still use my computer when the person in front of me reclines, even with my feet on the foot rest. I cannot do this on any other carrier I’ve flown, and I’ve flown many with footrests.
The overhead light is soft and fades on and off, so it does not disturb the passengers around you
It has a coat hook and a compartment for knick knacks
And one subjective reason; the colors are soothing
After dinner, I headed to the lounge area in the back to check it out. It is an area just behind the last row on the left with about three or so windows. There is a place to place your drinks or eats and you can just stand there and talk. There is also a walkway to get from one side of the plane to the next without walking through the galley. Further back just in front of the galley was the snack area. There was a fruit basket, snacks galore, juices and if you wanted alcohol, all you had to do was ask. The crew is just superb. There are also areas next to the exit doors that are out of the way of the crew which can be used for standing and stretching.
There were a few other passengers standing in the “hang out area”; a guy who had flown over on the inaugural flight on 28 June. He had brought his daughter over for summer camp and was now returning. His wife would make the return trip to pick her up. There was also another lady who was returning home and thought that the trip’s timing would work for her. She was timing her arrival with her husband’s arrival from his business trip on the p.m. of 2 July.
We all chatted for maybe about 2 hours or so as we watched the sun rise over the North Atlantic Ocean. It was a beautiful thing. I had always wanted to experience that, but since I always need to be sleeping as I cross the Atlantic (need to be up when I arrived in Europe), I never did.
I made sure I put my order in for Duty Free as if you bought the 1/400th scale model of the A340-500, you get a complimentary signed certificate from the Captain saying you took the world’s longest flight, so of course I did!
This “hang out area” is a great idea and quite worth it I think. At one point it was full; there are no seats, but it promotes conversation. All they need now is some music and a disco ball J.
With about 13.5 hours to go, I said “see ya later” to my new friends and headed to my seat for a nap. We had been flying for fours hours and it did not seem that way. Before napping, I waded through the channels and found that they had the best of the Commodores CD. I dialed that in and went to sleep. Five hours later, I awoke; I got some fluid and then took another hour worth of sleep. I am sure I will take another nap before we get there.
As we passed over Lahore, Pakistan you could see the city lights below. By now the rest of the world was seeing daylight and we were into night once again. For this journey, we started at night, flew into the morning, seeing the sun rise, then flew all day, saw the sun set and will see the sun rise again when we arrive in Singapore at 4:55 a.m. or so local time. Wow, is an understatement. Picture this: since I departed Newark, you’ve gone to bed, woken up, had breakfast, gone to work, then head home and at that point I arrive in Singapore. As I write this we have 5:14 to go and we are just north of Delhi, India on a southerly heading.
One thing to note is that the flight attendants were very good about being by all the time with water and juice. This coupled with the snacks in the back (they also brought them through the cabin) made the flight so much nicer.
I had made another trip back to the “hang out area” and met some more new people; one guy who came over on Singapore’s one-stop flight via Frankfurt on the 28th, just wanted to go back on this new flight. He had left Singapore on 27 June. Another guy from Ohio was returning home to Malaysia for a visit and decided to connect in Singapore as opposed to Dubai (DXB) using Malaysia Airlines (MH) so that he could take the long flight. Still another guy who was also going to Malaysia after having worked in New York for a major electronics manufacturer was along for the longest flight claim as well. See, there are other strange people in the world J.
We ate and chatted for another hour or so and then I returned to my seat. I came back a few minutes later as I finally read the menu and noticed that I could get a Singapore Sling, so of course I ordered one, well two, as they are quite good. I will have to ensure that I get the official thing when I get to Singapore at the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel (http://www.cruisinaltitude.com/images/longest_flight/singapore/the%20longbar120040702sin.htm). While having my Sling and some roasted peanuts, I chatted for a bit again in the “hang out area.” Then I retired to my seat once again.
I was looking through the electronic catalog on the entertainment system and saw that they had “Pleasantville” with Tobey McGuire and Reese Witherspoon. It was fun to watch this movie with these two young actors before they became big time stars. I never finished it as I fell asleep about 45 minutes or so into it, just when they started to change Pleasantville due to their presence.
I awoke as there was movement in the cabin and the lights were on. It was three hours to go so we were given hot towels in preparation for breakfast. At that moment though, I was not stressed at all; I had eaten, slept, socialized, watched some TV and was in a generally good mood along with the rest of the passengers. There is something to be said about this more space thing I think.
Breakfast was orange juice, yoghurt, a choice of an omelet or beef noodles (I opted for that), a muffin and a fruit salad with a roll (http://www.cruisinaltitude.com/images/longest_flight/onboard/sqa345execonmeal220040702sin.htm).
After all that was over, they announced Duty Free sales. I continued to watch the entertainment system as well as listening to music, reading, talking to my seat mates and writing this story.
At about 200 miles out of Singapore, the Captain said his good morning, announced that Singapore was 28 degrees Celsius and that our arrival was set at 5 a.m. He signed off with saying thank you for taking the historic nonstop flight to Singapore. I was just too giddy with excitement.
At 4:29 a.m. local, we started our descent, touching down at 4:55 a.m. on Friday morning (having lost Thursday, July 1, 2004). Never lost a day heading East before, but there is always a first time. You see, we never crossed the International Date Line. The landing had a little bounce, but a perfect end to what was indeed a perfect flight.
Singapore Changi International, Singapore (SIN) – 2 July 2004
Once we got to the gate (it was still dark out), I grabbed my stuff, said goodbye to my seat mates and headed for the Exit door. I paused to take a photo of both cabins (http://www.cruisinaltitude.com/images/longest_flight/onboard/sqa345execon20040702sin.htm) and also to watch some ladies who were in Executive Economy try out the Raffles Class seats (http://www.cruisinaltitude.com/images/longest_flight/onboard/sqa345raffles20040702sin.htm).
In the jetway, I had a chance to talk with one of the Captains that flew us over (there were four flight crew members on board, they take turns flying in groups of two). He told me that the winds over the Atlantic were favorable (I did notice that we had quite the tail wind almost all the way), so they decided to take the shortest route; much to my dismay (http://www.cruisinaltitude.com/images/longest_flight/onboard/P7010029.htm). This is the second time I’ve attempted to go over the poles and did not make it; I will try yet a third time. The first was doing Hong Kong to Newark; we came the regular way by going from Hong Kong to Tokyo, then skirting the Russian Coast, crossing the Bearing Straight into Alaska, crossing Northern Canada and then coming down into the Newark area.
After stopping to check my e-mail at the free Internet kiosks all over the Terminal, I followed the signs to the Transit Hotel (Ambassador Transit Hotel) and on inquiring, found out that it was not practical. This hotel works if you want to stay in the transit area, not if you want to get into the city and do anything. The primary reason why it did not work for me this time is that the rates are based on a 6-hour stay; I have about a 17-hour stay, so by the time you do the two 6-hour rates, plus the hourly rate, it is more expensive than a hotel in the city even when you add transportation (http://www.airport-hotel.com.sg/).
I had not booked a hotel prior to my arrival as I was not sure of what I would be doing once I got here. In addition, I knew the flight was not looking too good, so I decided to play it by ear. I did take a look at a few and the best rate was the Swissotel for 120 SGD (http://www.wotif.com).
With the new found hotel price knowledge, I entered the country and then cleared customs without any incidents (last time I was here, my passport was within 6 months of expiring and I heard about it J). I headed to the Hotel Reservations desk where the agent showed me a long list of hotels and rates. The price range was from about 60 to 650 SGD (The Raffles Hotel), the exchange rate is about 1.72 to the USD. After the agent made a few calls to the hotels, I settled on the Peninsular Excelsior as it had rooms available and would be able to make one available by 8 a.m. or so.
There was a 10 SGD deposit (but no charge for the service) and as I had no local currency, I went to a nearby ATM. While there, I did notice that it was now pouring rain outside, I hope that this would not keep up all day. Once back at the hotel reservations desk, I gave the agent a fifty dollar bill, but as she had no change, I headed to the currency exchange across the hallway, where I was able to get five tens, I then returned to the desk.
I paid the 10 SGD deposit to the agent, then I reserved a space on the next shuttle to the city (the 6:40 a.m.). The cost was 7 SGD. A family of three and another single guy also got rooms at the Peninsular Excelsior and we all headed out ontime on the same shuttle.
In about 25 minutes, we were deposited at the hotel door. We all boarded the elevator and headed towards the lobby which is actually on the 6th floor.
I was first to be checked in and the check-in agent advised me that normal check in is at 2 p.m. but they would be able to accommodate me as soon as they had some rooms cleaned. Although they were fully booked last night, it would take about two hours or so to clean the rooms as guests had already checked out. [There are several early flights out of Singapore Changi to the rest of Asia, Europe and North America]. The agent at the airport had already advised me of this situation.
The only drawback with early a.m. check-in is that you cannot really get a choice room, but what the heck, I’m only here till 7 p.m. or so and I won’t be in the room for any length of time so who cares.
The desk clerk even offered me a welcome drink (fruit punch) while I waited, noting that the bar only opened at 8 a.m. She said I could wait around here, leave my bags and come back. I opted to wait there as I really had nothing better to do.
The unique thing about this hotel is its pool. It has one glass side.
As I waited, I noticed that they paged two guests and I was not called. When I inquired, I was told that they had requested smoking rooms and there were no non-smoking rooms cleaned as yet. I told her that I’d like to go and smell the smoking room and see if it would suffice (I was just tired of waiting). At that moment, she checked her computer again and found a room with two beds that had just come available. She asked me if I wanted that one and of course I said yes. She then informed me that she had upgraded me to a better room. Well, I’m in luck I guess.
I finished up my writing and then headed for the room. The room did not look like an upgraded room to me at all, I wondered what the regular room would have looked like…
I took the time to just relax a bit, after all, I had just flown half way across the world in 17:50 minutes… I got myself together after a bit and headed downstairs. It was time to see a bit of Singapore.