Easing the Agony of the Longest Flights

Increasingly popular super-long hauls—nonstop flights of 16 hours or more—are hard on a flier’s body. With an innovative new airplane, Singapore Airlines is working to make them easier.

Easing the Agony of the Longest Flights

Courtesy of Singapore Airlines

Here’s a claim spoiling for a challenge: that a 16-hour flight between Singapore and San Francisco can be comfortable.

Singapore Airlines, with a new aircraft model designed to reduce jet lag, claims it.

The airline, routinely lauded for its hospitality, plans to service the world’s longest nonstop route when it launches New York to Singapore flights later this year. (The airline is mum on when exactly, for competitive reasons, according to industry experts.) That’s about 18 hours and 9,500 miles without refueling aboard the Airbus A350-900.

The airline already uses that aircraft on the San Francisco–Singapore route, offering a glimpse of the following ways in which the lighter plane, made mostly of carbon-fiber reinforced plastic, improves the experience:


Because the new plane is largely made of plastic, rather than metal, it can handle more moisture in the air without running the risk of corroding the structure. The cabin is pressurized at 6,000 feet elevation versus 8,000, the common standard. Think of that in terms of mountain climbing or skiing; 2,000 feet higher is more dehydrating and often interferes with sleep. The air on the newer plane, refreshed and filtered every two to three minutes, maintains a comfortable 20 percent humidity versus the arid 5 to 12 percent range of most older aircraft.

Light & Space

The Airbus A350 has higher ceilings in the cabin and larger windows that create a less cramped feel while also contributing to a smoother ride. In addition, the LED lighting system, offering up to 16.7 million shades of programmable light, works to cue your circadian rhythms to rest and to rise at appropriate times with sleep-inducing settings for sunset and nighttime.


The plane, 25 percent lighter, requires less fuel, thus reducing emissions. Last year, the airline began testing biofuel flights on trans-Pacific flights. The green fuel, converted from cooking oil, produces fewer carbon emissions than standard fuel.

Higher ceilings and trick LED lighting help make the cabin of Singapore Airlines’s Airbus A350 more pleasant.

Higher ceilings and trick LED lighting help make the cabin of Singapore Airlines’s Airbus A350 more pleasant.

Courtesy of Singapore Airlines

It all sounds good on paper, of course. But does it work?

To find out, I flew the A350 between San Francisco and Singapore late last year. The ambient lighting cues seemed to work; I got the best sleep I’d ever had—up to five hours at a stretch—on a plane. The humidity was appreciable; I found the 16-hour leg back to San Francisco easier on my skin and my sinuses than the four-hour connection on an older aircraft between San Francisco and Chicago.

Did it erase jet lag? Nothing can erase a 13-hour time-zone difference, but I did feel more rested and more hydrated upon landing.

The A350 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has similar features, are growing on international routes. Singapore Airlines may take the A350 on the longest trip possible when it launches New York–Singapore, but you’ll also find the aircraft on the new Atlanta-Doha route from Qatar Airways, new Atlanta-Seoul flights from Delta Air Lines and, beginning this summer, on Lufthansa between Munich and Newark, Denver, and Vancouver. Both Cathay Pacific and Hong Kong Airlines operate the A350 between North America and Hong Kong.

What’s Next: Beds That FlySingapore Airlines isn’t done innovating. This year, it also introduced to its fleet the Airbus A380, the first in the air with permanent beds—not convertible seats. They come dressed in plush bedding with luxury suites that include their own private bathrooms with seated vanities and Lalique amenities. The airline armchair, required seating during takeoff and landing, is stationed bedside.

For those who can’t afford the new suites, there’s business class, which has also been upgraded on the A380 so that two center seats can convert to a double bed for couples traveling together.

Look for the A380 on Singapore flights to and from London, Frankfurt, Paris, and other foreign hubs.

Elaine Glusac is a freelance writer, the Frugal Traveler columnist for the New York Times, and on Instagram @eglusac.
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