Singapore Airlines will restart non-stop flights to the USA next month, with its new Airbus A350 zipping straight to San Francisco and back – but the gains of going direct will be less about saving time than enjoying a sound sleep en route.
That's a pattern which the Singaporean flag-carrier expects to be repeated in 2018, when it adds non-stop flights to Los Angeles and New York.
These direct flights shave a few hours off the total travel time when an aircraft is routed through another city to refuel, take on new crew and catering – and allow passengers an often welcome chance to stretch their legs.
However, a greater allure of non-stop flights could be the chance for non-stop slumber.
From A to B with more Zzzz
"When you actually measure the total time (between Singapore and New York) – let’s say you transit through Frankfurt – there’s not much of a difference (between non-stop and transit)," Mr Tan Pee Teck, Singapore Airlines' Senior Vice President for Product & Services, tells Australian Business Traveller.
"The only thing is that you can have a longer sleep – instead of 13 hours and then 7 hours, you’d fly non-stop."
Singapore Airlines will begin daily non-stop Singapore-San Francisco flights from 23 October 2016, with the outbound leg of the 13,600km trek taking just almost 16 hours.
(The airline predicts that overall flying time will vary between 14h30m and 17h45m "depending on direction and time of year.")
The long-standing Singapore-Hong Kong-San Francisco route – which will remain on SQ's schedule to run in parallel with the direct flight – sees a total travel time of just under 18 hours, including slightly more than an hour at Hong Kong Airport.
Over such a long flight, two hours isn't much in the scheme of things; and Singapore Airlines has strategically scheduled both flights at opposite ends of the clock, with the direct service running in the morning and the Hong Kong stopover at night.
The non-stop flights to Los Angeles are also expected to run to 16 hours, while New York trips will push the clock towards 19 hours, as alternatives to the airline's LAX and JFK services via Seoul, Tokyo and Frankfurt.
These flights will rely on a special 'ultra long-range' version of the A350 jet, which Airbus created at Singapore Airlines' behest and is now shopping around to other airlines – among them Qantas, which is eyeing non-stop flights from Sydney to New York next decade.
The A350-900ULR will carry more fuel but fewer passengers: around 170 seats, according to Airbus, compared to 253 in SQ's standard mid-range A350.
New business class to beat the long-haul blues
However, those transit-free travellers will enjoy a better ride.
Singapore Airlines will fit its long-legged A350ULR fleet with all-new business class seats – the same design will also appear on SQ's second raft of Airbus A380 superjumbos from 2017, alongside new first class suites.
The jets could also fly without any economy seats, as part of Singapore Airlines' plan for a 'premium service' dominated by business class.
The airline previously ran non-stop ‘all business class’ flights to Los Angeles and NY-adjacent Newark on its older four-engined Airbus A340 fitted with 100 seats, but axed the service in 2013 due to rising fuel costs.
Singapore Airlines CEO Mr Goh Choon Phong has previously indicated to Australian Business Traveller that he is looking beyond the former ‘all business’ model of those Airbus A340 flights.
“It will probably be more than just business class, I think it will be a mix of cabin classes” Goh said.
It's speculated that the A350ULR will see a large business class cabin bookended by compact first class and premium economy zones.
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