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The Flight Every Asia-Bound Traveler Needs to Know About

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A Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900WXB

Courtesy of Singapore Airlines

A Singapore Airlines Airbus A350-900WXB

AFAR deputy editor Jennifer Flowers makes a case for why Singapore Airlines’ new nonstop route from San Francisco to Singapore is the ideal gateway to Southeast Asia.

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When it comes to long-haul travel, few things are more energy-zapping and soul-crushing than a layover. But here’s some good news for time-strapped globe-trotters: Airlines are bringing back ultra long–haul routes that originate in the United States, making it easier to travel farther faster. One of the latest to launch is Singapore Airlines’ (SIA) daily nonstop service between San Francisco and Singapore. This is the first of several new U.S.-based nonstop flights from the airline. (It will also launch service to Singapore from both L.A. and New York in 2018.)

I jumped at the chance to board the inaugural SFO to SIN flight on October 23. As a former Singapore resident, I saw it as a way to get my Southeast Asia fix quickly and easily. Thanks to a restful journey on the new Airbus A350-900, accompanied by the superb hospitality of Singapore Airlines, the 16 hours I clocked in the sky (8,500 miles) literally flew by, allowing me to maximize my time on the ground.

Even if you don’t want to spend your entire vacation in Singapore, the city-state is a major gateway to enticing destinations nearby. I rounded out my recent trip there with a weekend in Bali. Here are the five reasons why I’m stoked about SIA’s latest long-haul route, and why you should consider it when you’re planning your next trip to Southeast Asia.

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Because it’s Singapore Airlines.
There’s simply something exciting about stepping into a Singapore Airlines airplane cabin. The staff—the women wear those iconic sarong kebayas—provide your first glimpse of Asia. Even more importantly, they offer a warm and anticipatory style of hospitality that I wish U.S. carriers would take a cue from. (Service has always been a central focus of SIA, which was the first airline in the world to offer in-flight meal options and free headsets.) It came as no surprise when I learned that flight crew–training takes 15 weeks—double the average of other carriers. From my seat in business class, I enjoyed the little things: I was delighted when a flight attendant kept an eye on my cup of green tea, coming by periodically to ask, “Would you like a refill, Ms. Flowers?”

Boarding the inaugural Singapore Airlines flight from SFO to SIN on Oct. 23, 2016

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The new Airbus A350 will make you feel better on the other side.
Midway between the Boeing 787 and the A380 in size, the new A350 was designed with comfort and wellness in mind. Your chance of headaches and fatigue are lower because the cabin is pressurized at 6,000 feet (that’s 2,000 feet lower than most commercial aircraft). It takes just three minutes for the cabin’s filtration system to refresh air and remove harmful bacteria, and sophisticated temperature controls lower the chance of in-flight chills. Higher humidity helps to prevent dry skin and cracked lips, while ambient LED lighting is meant to regulate sleep cycles. I managed to get decent shut-eye on my lie-flat seat, and while I still experienced those dreaded 3 a.m. wake-ups in Singapore, my post-flight sleeps were longer and more restful, and the jetlag-induced afternoon sinking spells I’m prone to disappeared after the first day.

The cabin interiors are designed to maximize comfort.
The interiors of Singapore Airlines’ A350 contain 253 seats and three cabin classes: business, premium economy, and economy. I was a happy camper in the airline’s next-generation business class: My 28-inch seat unfolded into a 78-inch bed, and I caught up on movies on the 18-inch LCD screen. The next best thing is the airline’s new premium economy class, which costs around half of a business class ticket, but offers enviable features: The seat pitch is 38 inches, the width is between 18.5 and 19.5 inches, the recline is eight inches, and calf and foot rests are built into the seat. Meals are also similar to multi-course business class spreads.

The interior of a Singapore Airlines A350

When you’re not sleeping, you will be well fed and entertained.
Considering the challenges of in-flight meal making, the quality of SIA’s food is surprisingly good, thanks to partnerships with notable chefs including New York’s Alfred Portale and Japan’s Yoshihiro Murata. I was impressed by the delicious and spicy lamb biryani and enjoyed my authentically prepared nasi lemak on the way home (you can pre-order your meals online before you board). Entertainment-wise, there are more than 1,000 options to wade through, and the airline’s app lets you browse and program movies in advance—a welcome modicum of control over your time on an ultra-long flight.

Lamb biryani on the inaugural Singapore Airlines flight between San Francisco and Singapore

You arrive in the early evening.
A nighttime arrival is my sweet spot for long-haul travel (the return leg reaches San Francisco in the morning, which helps passengers catch other flights within the United States). In Singapore, a touchdown in the early evening means there’s enough time to check into your hotel, freshen up, and then head out to one of the many delicious hawker stalls that stay open late (and get back in time for a full night’s sleep). 

Singapore Airlines' next-generation lie-flat business class seat on the A350 aircraft

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